Courage to Create Honest Relationships


The frustration in your coworker’s voice is startling so you ask “Is anything wrong?” “No, nothing” she said, ”Everything is FINE!” Too often fine is an acronym for something else going on and it stands for frustrated, insecure, neurotic and emotional!!We’ve all experienced times where someone chooses not to be honest about what they are feeling but why does that happen? Too often people either do not feel safe to be real or are afraid they will be judged if they share their truth. They may have been taught growing up that he or she were rebuked for saying what they felt. For whatever reason, they decide not to tell what is really going on with them and instead they pretend everything is fine.


People tend to put on a mask which hides their true feelings. The key to healthy relationships is to find people who will allow you to be honest and learn to remove your mask. A trusting relationship allows you to communicate openly and honestly. These relationships are a gift to both parties and often rare.


To remove a mask one first needs to understand why they developed it in the first place. These masks are emotional masks, which people hide out of fear the world will find out their truth. The fear that if they show up they will be judged for who they are. People wear a mask to hide feelings of sadness, inadequacy, anger, and pain, and their mask to the world to be more accepted. The thought of being vulnerable is too much to bear and yet, it is the key to transformation. Do you have any idea what the foundation of your mask is?


In order to develop healthy relationships, you need to learn that you are truly fine the way you are and a worthy individual. Although you fear other’s not accepting you, it is actually you that you need to accept and see as worthy. You need to find people who create a safe space where you can take your mask off and talk honestly about your feelings and perceptions. When you do not feel good about yourself, it affects how you perceive situations. You may put a negative spin on something someone does because you filter it through your low self-worth.


Unmasked communication is about developing relationships where open and honest communication is the expected and the norm. A relationship where both parties feel comfortable to take their mask off. Where it is safe to be authentic, and no conversation is off limits. Where transparency and vulnerability are encouraged and the relationship is built on a foundation of trust. To “unmask” your communication means making small changes which allow you to be authentic.

  1. First, find someone you trust and tell them what you are trying to accomplish
  2. Take chances by making small changes. Sharing your thoughts and feelings with someone you trust who can give you honest feedback.
  3. Learn to trust this person and what they are telling you.
  4. As you become more comfortable try your new-found skill on others you trust
  5. Make sure the people with whom you share are ready for that honesty and start small.


By making small changes over time and taking an honest look at what you have to offer, you can build a foundation for healthier relationships. Small, consistent behavior changes over time will make the difference and dramatically improve the quality of your life.


Critical Leadership 101


Leadership development is crucial in any organization and absolutely essential for new leaders. Although the number one reason people quit their jobs is a poor relationship with their immediate supervisor, many organizations do not prepare these workers for their position. In fact, Workplace Leadership reports that 60% of frontline managers claim to never receive any training before stepping into a leadership role. This is especially vital when the peer becomes the boss. It is much harder for a manager to try to alter a poor initial perception, than to start off on the right foot. By investing in your people prior to them stepping into the role, they will start out with solid skills rather than having to guess at what will make things happen.


Out of fear, new managers often become the boss as opposed to a leader. To dramatically improve their ability to create productive teams, they will need to know how to deal with tough problems as they arise, and set ground work to minimize issues.


Skills needed to help your leaders develop relationships that work include:

  • Self-awareness: One must know themselves prior to leading others. They need to learn to manage themselves while leading others and this requires introspection and a clear understanding of yourself.
  • Communication: Too often new leader talks to employees instead of with employees. A key communication skill is improving your ability to listen. The people doing the job usually know more than anyone else about it. A better approach is to ask an employee about their work and how you can support them. When clear roles and responsibilities are given along with the tools to do the job, all parties benefit.
  • Emotional Intelligence: Understanding yourself and how you affect others is the cornerstone of leadership. Our bodies are wired to overreact, so when you work to improve your ability to control your emotions everyone wins. Too often the emotions of a new manager come out in their tone of voice and it changes what people hear, and influences their relationship. Improved emotional intelligence allows you to improve your self-management through social awareness and allows you to productively manage your relationships.
  • Feedback: Communication needs to be timely and given in a respectful manner. New managers are often so worried about doing a good job, they jump on every error, and forget the positive feedback which dramatically affects morale.
  • Coaching vs. Discipline: When tough issues arise a good way to handle them is by coaching the employee. Communicate to understand why a problem occurred then give clear expectations about desired changes. Ensure that the person has all the tools and support to do the job, then let them know the consequences if they choose not to change, but not in a threatening manner. A time line and two-way communication throughout the process is helpful.


By giving a new leader the tools they need to be successful, and a mentor to help them through the initial stages, the transition will be smoother. Productivity will be less disrupted and morale will be enhanced, and everyone will be the winner.

Creating an Unmasked© Culture


What does it take to create a culture where people feel safe to tell the truth! It talks leadership who understand that people will only be honest if they are recognized for it and will not speak honestly if they are punished for it! The creation of an Unmasked culture begins from the top where leadership understands the foundation is a trusting culture where honest communication is expected and respected.


Many organizations have called me in to deal with people who will not communicate. I have had leadership discuss their frustration that they ask a question at a meeting with leadership only to have no on answer. In another occasion, I was in a board room presenting to a leadership team and all the participants in the room were focused on the CEO at the other end of the table to see his reaction. Later, they all agreed with him and did not bring up any concerns they privately discussed with me at a later date! What is in it for leadership to create a culture where people communicate openly and honestly?


To make the best business decisions, a leader must have the most accurate information about what is currently going on in the workplace. If people filter the truth the leader is not privy to issues that may impact their decisions. More importantly, this type of behavior leads to firefighting and blaming which does little to permanently resolve issues and stymies innovation. People will not be honest if they are punished for their open communication, so the way a leader reacts to information determines whether or not people choose to be honest.


In switching a culture, leaders need to communicate the change and then model the accepting behavior. If they react harshly even after telling their people that they will respect honesty, then the employees believe their behavior over their words 100% of the time. Leaders need to learn how to frame their conversations and then recognize people for their honesty before they will change their behaviors. It takes consistent behavior changes over time!


Leadership Fundamentals for New Front Line Leaders


Too often excellent employees are promoted without being given the skills to lead. A good employee does not a good leader make!!According to Harvard Business Review, 60% of new managers never receive leadership development before they step into a leadership role!! In addition, 79% feel that the lack of leadership skills negatively affects the firm performance.


New frontline managers often are put into the position of leading their peers which creates additional problems if they are not coached on how to create respectful boundaries. They either are too tough on their friends or let them slide which causes issues down the road. When new leaders are coached to have the necessary conversations, this creates employee relationships that work.


Some of the skills new front line managers need are:

  • Coaching and mentoring
  • Goal setting
  • Communication skills
  • Feedback and delegation skills
  • Difficult conversation skills
  • Increased self-awareness and Emotional intelligence

With an investment into your new leaders, turnover and stress decrease, productivity increases and profitability soars. The number one reason people leave organizations is their relationship with their immediate supervisor. Why not minimize that costly outcome!!


The Time for Autocratic Leadership


Autocratic leadership, according to Kendra Cherry, is “a leadership style characterized by individual control over all decisions and little input from group members.” Autocratic leaders exude absolute control over the group and do not rely on input from group members. They dictate how work is done and creativity tends to be discouraged. There are times however, when autocratic leadership is the key to survival. When a company faces a threat that needs immediate action or in essence when the building is on fire, there is not time for a group consensus. It can also be helpful in a small group where leadership is missing and the group needs to get back on track. In addition, in instances where the chain of command is of utmost importance such as a military operation where lives are at stake, autocratic leadership is important. In the long term, however, autocratic leadership can lead to low morale and finger pointing as employees work to stay out of the line of fire.


Leaders need to use this approach wisely as there are many of the drawbacks to autocratic leadership. Leaders who use this form of leadership can be seen as dictatorial and squelch creativity in a group. One client complained that none of the supervisors spoke up at meetings and when he asked a question it was responded to with a deafening silence. Upon interviewing the supervisors, they said that any response was met with a swift retort as to why their approach was wrong and how they needed to proceed. People quickly learn to keep their head low and say nothing. The morale of this group was extremely low and the level of trust had also been negatively affected.


When one person makes all the decisions without input from others in the organization many things occur:

  1. Multi-faceted problems: In today’s workplace problems are complex and resolving them from one perspective can lead to inappropriate solutions.
  2. Communication: One-way communication can lead to misunderstandings and multiple problems.
  3. Finger pointing: When people learn they will be reprimanded for any issue, there tends to be finger pointing instead of accountability and problem solving thus affecting trust within the organization.
  4. Stress: One superintendent who was under extreme duress resulting in physical problems told me, “Don’t you know my head is on the chopping block every Monday.”


To help create a more participative culture, leaders need to transition from more authoritative to an inclusive environment, and this requires a shift from managing to leading. In order to move forward:

  • Employees need a clear picture of the vision for the organization and their role in achieving it
  • Communication needs to consistently take place helping employees understand the how and why the organization is transitioning.
  • There needs to be two-way communication to help them clear up any misperceptions.
  • Leaders need to consistently model participative behaviors
  • Employees need to be recognized for offering ideas and receive feedback as to why or why not their idea can be utilized.
  • People cannot be punished for ideas. Great places to work understand that not all ideas will work, but should not punish employees for creativity.
  • Celebrations for transitions should become commonplace.


Changing a culture is hard work and transitioning to participative from authoritative is one of the hardest. Consistent behavior changes over time coupled with constant communication is the way to move your organization forward utilizing the strengths of a diverse workplace.


Stepping Up Your Customer Service


During the last month, many organizations with which I have interacted has shown examples of superior customer service. Redecorating means interfacing with numerous organizations and coordinating contractors, and finding just the right fit for the feel we were trying to create. This also involved purchasing items and services that did not meet our needs or needed adjustments. It is during those transactions that superior customer service appeared.


First, I had ordered cushions for our deck furniture from When they arrived, I found that the larger size cushion would have fit one of our pieces much better. I called and told them I had ordered the wrong size and would like to exchange it for the next size. Erica was lovely and said she not only would help make that happen but was giving me a full refund on the first purchase even before I received the shipping label to return the item without charge. Not only that, every time I have ordered from Hayneedle, the item arrived earlier than expected. I left feeling trusted and cared for and not only rushed to keep my end of the bargain and return the first cushion, but will purchase from them again and in fact did!


Next, I had was returning a part our plumber said was not needed. As I walked out our front door to go to the Post Office, our mail man Dave pulled up. He saw the package in my hand and said, “Is that for me?” I replied, “No, I have to go to the Post Office as it does not have postage on it yet.” He said he would be glad to take it to the be mailed, so I gave him money and the next day he brought my change back. Not only does he provide excellent service, but is very personable as well.


Next, we purchased our carpet from Bill’s Carpet in Henrietta as we had on 4 previous occasions. David, our salesman was very helpful in getting the right product, and although the carpet came on schedule, one of the seams was not quite right. Matt Calder came to inspect the job, and he immediately said he agreed it could be better and would schedule his team to fix it. Although Matthew did not know I teach customer service, our discussion led to the topic when I thanked him for his prompt service. Matt responded that his father has been in business for 40 years and always “drilled into his head” the need for “fast excellent service and an excellent finished product.” He went on to say that 85% of their business is either return customers or referrals from satisfied customers. If an issue arises, his father mentored him to:

  1. Inspect the issue quickly
  2. Address the situation quickly and appropriately
  3. Make sure the customer is right with the final product


Not only did his team arrive on schedule in two days, they did a superb job and were very personable.


So even when things do not go as smoothly as possible, the way they are handled determines if a customer decided to do return business. Kudos to these organizations because the behavior of their front-line people determines the experience their customers have!


Unmasked Communication



Every day people have conversations where they hide the truth of their feelings in exchange for what they believe is a safer approach. There are many levels to communication other than the words being spoken, and all influence the message that is received. When it comes to building a healthy relationship in which each person feels safe to speak their mind, the person’s words need to match what they truly believe. More importantly, the person with whom he or she is speaking must make it safe for them to be real. They must accept where the person is at without being judgmental or taking it personally and give them the space to change the way they interact. What occurs between people that results in one or the other being afraid to speak what they believe to be the truth? And what effect does it have on the relationship between the two of them? First, let’s look at the individuals to ascertain what might cause difficulties.


Each person comes into any relationship and in fact every conversation wearing what I refer to as their back pack. Inside is every life experience the people have had prior to that moment and it influences how they perceive the meaning of the interaction. This may be a prior relationship with another person whose approach is the same or the individual’s self-worth. For whatever reason, it influences the meaning they give the communication and the reaction they have to the interaction. If they have had a bad experience in the past they may choose to hide their true feelings. Perhaps somewhere in the life they had an experience that told them they would get hurt if they were honest. It may have been a parent, teacher or significant other in the person’s life. For whatever reason, they believe that it is in their best interest to wear a mask and say what will keep them safe. You have heard that people are doing the best they can in any situation? Well at church our minister said, “People are doing the only thing they know how to do.” When a person feels they cannot voice their true opinion, they put on a mask on to prevent the listener from understanding how they really feel. By a mask, I do not mean a literal mask, but a look that defies their true feeling. Only when they feel safe will they consider taking off the mask and allow themselves to be honest.


So how does a person learn to take of their mask? It all starts with awareness. You need to want to take your mask off to begin with and then you need to find someone you trust who will let you speak your truth. It is very freeing to become congruent when your insides match your outside and it is liberating.


Secondly, you need to find a person who will allow you to become real and support you in your transition. Next, you need to start small and take the chance to share something you would otherwise hide. In a safe setting let the person know how you are feeling. If the person with whom you are speaking makes a space for you to become real, then try something a little more challenging. Over time you will begin to become more comfortable speaking your mind and the trust between you will grow.


Copyright, Beth Sears, PhD. Workplace Communication, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Learning What Creates Messaging


Many factors affect the degree of success a message has when delivered, and how a change in inter-personal dynamics can increase the ability for a person’s message to be perceived as intended. Communication is a multi-faceted interaction which all too often focuses only on the words spoken.


Many things help to determine the perception the participants will have to the message. These include the environment, the self-concept of the communicators and the physical condition of both parties. In addition, much of the meaning of the message comes from how it is given not what is said. The tone of the person’s voice, the speed of the communication and the body language all influence the message, and are too often overlooked.


First let’s take a look at the various things that influence communication.


Verbal: Almost always the first focus when it comes to communication, it is not necessarily what communicates the meaning of the message. Yet, when people think about communicating, they focus on what they want to say rather than what they want the person to understand.


Non-verbal: There are a number of important functions of nonverbal communication including the ability to complement, substitute or regulate the verbal message. These affects may come through your tone of voice, body movement, facial expressions and the use of touch and space. These also may reflect cultural variances as different cultures put different meaning to nonverbal cues.


Medium: The medium by which you choose to communicate has as much influence on the communication as the message itself. Do you communicate in person, on the phone, by texting or email all of which can dramatically influence the meaning a person takes from the message?


Some of the barriers to open and honest communication include:


Emotional noise: Certain words or actions have meaning to the person receiving the message based on what they carry in their backpack. The person may react to a certain word or cue from the speaker and it brings about an emotional reaction which may or may not have anything to do with the current event. Regardless, this affects the message and ultimately the outcome.


Distractions: In today’s fact paced world of business often distractions come into play which dramatically increase the opportunity for miscommunication. Is the person with whom you are speaking truly listening to you or just nodding in agreement with their mind elsewhere? Are they distracted by their cell phone? Are they in their head thinking of their rebuttal instead of listening to what you are saying? Is there really noise in the environment which distracts the participants? Are the people in communication so stressed with so much on their plate that they are trying to get through this conversation so they can get back to work?


When you plan a communication, it is important that you understand all of the things that influence a conversation then try to minimize the chance that the conversation will go awry. With a little planning you can increase your ability to ensure that the intended message is indeed the message received.


Customer Service Kudos


Plain and simple, customer service boils down to how a person feels when they interact with your organization. Having a great product or service does not guarantee that people will do business with your organization! If your customers feel disrespected or neglected, it doesn’t matter how good your product or service is, they will probably choose to do business elsewhere. The irony is that often poor customer service boils down to interaction with one person, and that can make or break your organization.


What does it take to create a great customer experience that brings people back time and again? First, your people must understand their role in the process. Each of us has experienced poor customer service and it often boils down to the behavior of one person! When that happens, we end up telling anyone who will listen about it. In addition, the internet allows for immediate feedback to thousands of current or prospective clients.


A couple of weeks ago, I ordered replacement cushions for our deck furniture, and was impressed with the quality when they arrived. I ordered them through Hayneedle, and I received a note inside our package to call immediately if things were not right. I had ordered a cushion that could have been a bit bigger, so I called to see about a replacement. Erica answered the phone with a pleasant greeting and was very helpful. She looked up my account and told me exactly what I needed to do. Although it was my responsibility because they sent what I had ordered, she was extremely helpful in me getting a replacement. To take it a step further, she said she would mail the return instructions, but was giving me a refund immediately, so I could reorder as long as I will ensure the original cushion was returned!


This left me feeling trusted and respected and I found myself looking for the return email so I could quickly do my part and return the original cushion. I asked to speak to her supervisor because I would if things were not right and I want to make sure Erica received credit for her approach. Actually, kudos go to Hayneedle, as they are responsible for training their people. Her tone, approach and resolution makes me want to return as a customer. Kudos Hayneedle, it was a pleasure doing business with you, and I will be back!


Unmasking Your Communication


Do you wear a mask when you communicate? In other words, do you feel comfortable communicating openly or honestly and saying what is on your mind or do you say what you think people want to hear? I have been thinking a great deal about Unmasked Communication© and the effect it has on people’s relationships. Masks prevent us from expressing who we really are and they stop us from truly connecting with other people. When you are trying to maintain an image that is incongruent with what you are feeling on the inside, it becomes a distraction. Furthermore, communication takes place on many levels and often the other person feels something is amiss. They may not know what it is, but just feel a bit of a disconnect with the other person and it influences the relationship and the connection between the two of you.


Our masks are developed starting in early childhood and we continue to wear them because it has become our norm. It feels safe because somewhere along the line we have learned that it is not safe to voice our true opinion. We also may have many different masks that we wear. I understand this very well as I spent a good number of years wearing a mask of confidence while inside I felt very insecure. When I finally took off that mask and started to share what I felt, some people did not believe me as I was very good at the mask.


In order to take off your mask and become authentic you first need to create awareness around why the mask was created in the first place. Another of the masks I wore was around being a comedian. As a child I felt invisible. The third girl in a family of 4 children left me feeling unimportant. We lived on a farm and one Sunday, I saw an article in the paper entitled, “Poverty on the Farm.” Having a quick wit, I found myself reading the article to my family in real time and inserting the names of my family into the article. The family loved it and broke out in laughter …. Ah hah, I thought, I am finally visible. From that point on, I became the family clown and found myself constantly looking for opportunities to make people laugh and thus become visible. Even as an adult, I would go to my parent’s home and I would think of one liners as my hand hit the door knob. It was not until I realized why I was doing it, and found healthier ways to show up that I felt more validated. To become more congruent, start small to make changes.

  1. If you wear a mask or two, try to understand why you put it on in the first place.
  2. Get a blank sheet of paper and write down what you do not want people to know about you or “what I pretend to be is ….” Write quickly without judgement and see what comes up for you.
  3. Find someone you trust implicitly where you feel safe to start sharing small bits of your truth. Someone who will not judge you and just be a soft spot to land for you. Let them know what you are trying to do and thank them for being a trusted friend.

When you wear a mask, it limits your ability to express yourself fully. It will take work for you to be able to take the mask off, but there is a great deal of freedom in doing it.