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The Many Faces of Interpersonal Communication

January 2, 2013

Borrowed from

By the very definition of our profession in Student Affairs, we spend the vast majority of our time interacting with students, parents, colleagues, employees, alumni and so many other individuals.  We can be the most proficient writers and public speakers, but if we cannot interact in appropriate manners with the dozens of people we cross paths with every day, we will be swimming upstream every step of the way.

As I think about a typical day for me I will often begin with a quick check-in with the staff in my office to get the day rolling.  This is sometimes informal “good mornings” and at other times will be intentional discussions about the day’s activities we will face.  Later in the morning as I make my rounds throughout our student center, I will interact with some students moving in between classes and meetings, a few housekeepers diligently trying to keep up with the foot traffic, a col

league or two in the area for a meeting or a program, and some of our tenants who provide services in the facility.  I’ll spend much of the rest of my time in meetings with a wide variety of colleagues, employees, administrators, and students.  Each of these require a different set of interpersonal skill sets to appreciate their distinct needs at those moments.

The ACUI core competency Communication includes three separate skill sets: Oral Communication, Written Communication, and Interpersonal Communication.  This last one encompasses a knowledge base in “leadership and management theories and practices as they relate directly to communication styles” and “skills a

s they relate to advising a diverse population of individuals and groups.”  Like all skill sets, there is a list of skills that we all should embrace including the ability to:

  • understand the emotions of others displayed through words, tone, and nonverbal feedback;
  • actively listen;
  • demonstrate sensitivity to and an appreciation for how others feel and respond appropriately based on the situation;
  • pro-actively move a group toward consensus, effectively solve problems, and accomplish tasks by evoking active participation;
  • discuss difficult subjects in a constructive manner with individual staff, with a team, as well as across the organization.

One of these that I professionally find the most challenging is to respond appropriately based on how others feel in each unique situation.  It is so important to tailor each response to the individual or group you are engaged with and this takes energy and a concerted effort to analyze each and every time.  However, I know if I am successful, the end result will be bring a high level of satisfaction to that person or group and ultimately will have ripple effects on the subject we are discussing.

On the other hand, moving a group towards active participation is an area that I feel I thrive in.  This skill set is directly linked to my StrengthsQuest top 5 and I take every opportunity I can to engage with my staff, colleagues and students in these action-oriented situations.  I enjoy finding ways to help others to maximize their abilities and to connect with each other.  This is only accomplished by understanding the people I am with, what makes them tick, and what they need to be motivated towards action.

So what Interpersonal Communication skills do you struggle with the most in your daily routines?  What skills do you utilize the most effectively every day and get the most enjoyment from?

Please take the time to join us for a more in-depth examination of this skill set on the next College Unions and Activities Discussion (CUAD) podcast on August 16, at 1pm ( and then further discussions on Twitter by following #ACUICC.

This post was originally seen on the Association of College Unions International’s (ACUI) Blog The Commons as part of a year-long series of educating about the association’s Core Competencies.

Ruffling Politial Feathers

July 26, 2012


Some call it being a radical.  Some say it is challenging the process.  Others would call it disrespectful to the culture.  The flip side would say it is the only way to enact change.

We have all most likely been on both sides of this coin as we have watched others make decisions, take action and stand up for something different than the norm.  We ourselves may have been the ones challenging the process…I certainly know that I have had my fair share of ruffling political feathers.
I have been called all of these above and many more labels because of such, some good/some not so pleasant.  So what have I learned from these experiences?  Well, I’m still learning every time, no two situations are the same, but I’ll share a few personal reasonings, insights and cautions.
  • Start with Good Intentions: Every decision I have ever made has been with good intentions to move an initiative (either my own or someone else’s) which I felt would better a person, an organization or a system.  I have never had malicious intentions.  This is key, as anyone with ulterior motives that are for personal gain only are not acting with integrity and not what I am addressing here.
  • The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions: Even with the best of intentions, resistance to change is inevitable and if you do fully understand the culture, predict the obstacles or get buy-in, you are bound to go down a road that will be difficult to overcome.
  • Pick Your Battles: This should go without saying, but unfortunately I have seen others, and yes chosen myself, to fight every fight that comes along.  Instead, be intentional with which battles you will hang your hat…and reputation…on.
  • Have a Game Plan: Change management, transition management, strategic planning, they all have at a minimum one thing in common – there are specific theoretical processes that exist and should be followed.  You should not simply stand up for something you believe in without having a plan.  If you want to enact change without simply being known as the person with the biggest mouth or the biggest barrier, take calculated steps along the way and have a reason for each.  There are plenty of resources that can teach you change management, start with the guru: John Kotter (the Harvard Business Professor, not the TV show).
  • You Gotta Know When to Walk Away, Know When to Run: Kenny Rogers knows what he’s talking about.  Be able to identify when things are not going your way and when the battle is either completely lost or simply not worth it…walk away.  If all of these situations exist and you have been given a clear message from the most influential people around you that enough is enough…run and work on the next tip.
  • Damage Control: Regardless if you were successful or went down in flames, you will have to play some damage control.  The name of this post says it all, you are ruffling feathers, you are going to burn bridges, and there is a good chance you will make a few enemies.  That was never the goal, but it is usually inevitable, so learn to mitigate this along the way and definitely make amends where you can afterwards.
Change is good, change is inevitable, but change for change sake is not the goal.  First break all the rules, challenge the process, make a difference and do it smartly.  Personally, as someone with Significance in my top 5 strengths, I have a deep desire to make a difference in the world.  I have always been drawn to change, to doing things a little differently and to be recognized for being the person who improved things for the better.  I’d like to think I have accomplished this in many ways and will continue to do so.
To thrive at implementing change in an organizational environment, you must realize this is a political world and the more influence you hold, the better your chances will be at succeeding and without ruffling too many feathers.
Have you ruffled a feather or two in your time?  Was it worth it?

My Quest for Strength(s)

March 19, 2012

I was first introduced to Gallup data about management when my supervisor gave me a copy of First Break All the Rules which shares what the greatest managers in the world all seem to have in common.  This groundbreaking research led to our current quest to discover our strengths and I have been fascinated by this concept for many years. 

So I was excited to hear that Gallup, Inc. was an educational partner and strengths would be a major component of the 2012 ACUI Annual Conference in Boston, MA.  Our first introduction was during the keynote by Shane Lopez who challenged just knowing your top five strengths will not bring you meaning, but using them will change your life.

The quest to build some muscle was just beginning at ACUI.  As Sharon Kinard from Cal State University – Northridge (Creating a Can-Do Workforce through StrengthsQuest) said Talent Themes are not strengths until you start working them out.  It’s like going to the gym and building your biceps, you have to start out with lower weights and slowly increase, the same is true for our talent themes becoming strengths.  

So that’s what I’m doing noImagew.  I attended my Strengths Coaching session with Mark Pogue, VP of of the Educational Practices for Gallup, Inc., and learned so much in just 15 minutes.  I felt he had a crystal ball with the questions asked.  Our talent themes truly create a window into our character and our inner spirit.  What is important to remember is it’s not just about your top 1 or 2 themes, it is about the collective of your top 5 (and even 10 if you are lucky enough to get access to them).  Knowing how they relate to each other and working on them will make you the best person and student affairs professional you have the potential of becoming.  

I took on Shane’s Strengths 5 Ways and will be using my Activator theme in a unique and novel way everyday for the next 5 days.  I have already done so today by sending an e-mail to staff back at Virginia Tech to get a vacant job posted ASAP because of all the amazing young professionals I have met this weekend on the job hunt.  I do not want to miss out on this perfect timing to bring in these energetic and magnificent individuals.  Mark told me I was on my way and keep looking for these opportunities to take immediate action on the ideas that I come across while at the conference.

My challenge to ACUI membership is take your StrengthsQuest, come by the Marriott Atrium Lounge on the 3rd floor and sign-up for a coaching session and get started on your Strengths 5 Ways. 

Then, be sure to attend as many strengths sessions as you can find or simply strike up a conversation with someone about their strengths and what positive experiences have they had which link up to their strengths.  If you want to have a great conversation, find Rick Miller from Texas A&M University – Commerce, who serves with me on the ACUI International Education Council and lives and breaths strengths.  He’ll share with you so many creative ways to bring this tool to your campus and your students.

Presentations to Talk About

September 24, 2011

Have you been to a keynote or presentation that when it’s over you just can’t stop talking about?  What was it that had you so captivated?  Did the information blow your mind?  Did the speaker inspire you to action?  Was the message so off base you can’t think of anything except disputing it?  Whatever the reason, in the end, the speaker was successful if when you walk out, you continue discussing the presentation.

I recently saw a presentation that was so poor, I have not been able to stop talking about it, unfortunately in a bad way.  This person did not provide any new or useful information and his presentation style was as if he was lecturing to a Freshman intro class, not the room full of educated professionals he was facing.  This got me thinking about what makes for a good presentation.

I have come up with four main types of presentations that keep us talking long after they finish.  These fall into two different categories.

Category: Content

  • Positive Conent: This includes new, useful or motivating information that will have a positive impact on your or the work you do.  You continue the dialogue well after the speech and often refer back in your own teachings.  One of the best examples of this I have seen is Dennis Snow, a former manager within Disney University who now speaks about customer service.
  • Disputable Content: This is information that you passionately disagree with and that your ongoing dialogues are those presenting alternative information.  At last year’s ACUI International Conference, James Fowler was just this type as he offered some very controversial messages about social media.  Whether it was accurate or not, the concepts kept people talking for months after.

Category: Delivery

  • Inspirational: This is when regardless of the content or the message, the style of the presenter creates a huge emotional impact on you.  Also at last year’s ACUI International Conference I witnessed the most inspirational speaker I have ever seen.  Lt. Dan Choi spoke on being opening gay in the military and all that I could think about was this must have been what it was like to hear Dr. Martin Luther King speak (OK, maybe a stretch of a comparison, but it was pretty powerful) and I wasn’t even directly connected to his content.
  • You’ve Lost Me:  This is where the delivery or style was so weak, with poor transitions, examples that make no sense at all, metaphors that are not linked to the content and other disasters that the audience is just lost (but not uninterested…that’s actually type #5).  This is the only of these four that the continued dialogue is for the wrong reasons, you just keep saying “what was the person thinking?”  The speaker I discussed earlier falls into this category (he’ll remain nameless to be fair).

The fifth type I just hinted at is one that creates no dialogue afterwards because the content was not new nor challengeable and the delivery was just plain boring that you lose interest altogether.  We’ll call this Clock Watching.

When giving your own presentations or keynotes, obviously you want to have a positive impact (I would hope) and really, any of the first three above does that (yes, even disputable content, even though it’s not positive towards your message).  You should always take your presentations very seriously, your audience is investing their time into you, you should do the same for them.

A wonderful book I use before every presentation I give is The Exceptional Presenter by Timothy J. Koegel.  I love the useable tips throughout this book.

The 5 components of a great presentation:

  1. Begin with a Purpose: Clearly identify the 1, 2 or 3 key points you want the audience to remember
  2. Objective/Purpose/Mission/Goal: Identify what you will cover (not in detail, just the basic agenda for the presentation)
  3. Position/Situation/Issues: State the current situation or issues (basically, why are you here)
  4. End Result/Benefits/Consequences: Describe what will happen of taking or not taking action
  5. Next Step/Action Plan/Time Line: This is your call to action

Remember this sequence: Tell them what you’re going to tell them (opening) – Tell them (body) – Tell them what you just told them (close) and you’ll be setting up the audience to walk away with your key points.

Think about all of the presentations and keynotes that you have seen, which of these do you remember the most.  What stands about about them?  What parts of their message or style do you remember vividly?  If you want to learn more tips about presenting, study great speakers.  Check out TED Talks to find short presentations of great content and delivery.

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