Leadership expert Lisa Schenk offers a Dozen Ways to Communicate Effectively in the Era of Corona

June 2020 — A Note from Hope: Dr. Lisa Schenk has made it her life’s work to improve people’s experience in organizations. She studied complex organizations and culture in graduate school, earning her doctorate in Organizational Communication from the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California. She put what she learned to use at McKinsey & Co working with consultants and Fortune 500 clients to implement major change initiatives through distinctive communication and transformational leadership. This is also where Lisa developed her guiding philosophy that high performing organizations and teams are the consequence of individuals who are fully engaged in work that they love.

Lisa has been a senior executive, leading the Talent function for LRW (a professional services firm based in Los Angeles).  In that role, Lisa built a strong team that reinvented leadership development, recruiting, and performance management in four years.  She also led the re-invigoration of LRW’s strong culture based in the core values of entrepreneurialism, opportunity, and impact.

She remains on the leading edge of leadership and organizational communication. She has taught at the Annenberg School and the Marshall School of Business at USC, Northwestern University and the Drucker School of Management.  Lisa’s articles on the dilemmas of knowledge workers have been published in numerous academic texts including The New Handbook of Organizational Communication (2000) and Modern Organizations and Emerging Conundrums (1999). She also is a founding board member of the L.A. chapter of Conscious Capitalism.

What does this leadership expert suggest we do in this era of Corona with so many people working from home? “We are all at risk of drowning in our email boxes and turning into Zoom zombies,” Lisa jests. “But there are ways you can get through the day with style and grace!”

Scroll down for her 12 tips, and a special gift: Breathing Techniques for Resilience.

Learn more about Lisa here.

A Dozen Ways to Communicate Effectively in the Era of Corona

By Lisa Schenk

  1. You can’t not communicate. Without ever saying a word, you are communicating immense amounts of information.  We are built to sense micro data in our environments and what you wear, how you stand, the look on your face is sending a message – whether you want it to or not.
  2. Listen more than you talk. There’s a reason we have two ears and one mouth.  When you are talking, you are not learning anything new.  When you get others talking, you are gaining information.  In an argument, ask a question rather than continuing to assert your own opinion.
  3. Stop focusing on yourself. The best way to undermine your own communication is to be worried about how you come across, how smart you sound, or how right you are. Focus on what the person or audience needs from you. This has the added benefit of taking the pressure off of you and ensures that your message will have meaning for them.
  4. Be transparent. No one knows what is going on in your mind.  If you tell people why you are saying what you are, it gives them a context to better understand your intentions and makes it more likely that they will understand what you mean.
  5. Communication is receiver-based. You can say something 10 times, but if your message is not understood by the listener, you have not actually communicated it.  The burden is on you to communicate in a way that the other can actually get your message.
  6. Check for understanding. Given all of the ways we can mis-communicate, it’s a miracle that we ever communication anything accurately.  Paraphrase what you’ve heard to be sure you aren’t leaving with the wrong message.
  7. Know no one reads email. People don’t read email – they look at it.  Long paragraphs are likely to be skimmed.  Use bullet points, highlight key points, and make sure the key message is at the top or don’t be surprised if people act like they never got your message.
  8. Realize reality is subjective. Physics is now telling us that we each live in a universe of our own making.  Any conversation that two or more people engage in will be described differently by each party.  If you make agreements, you would be wise to confirm exactly what they are before you walk away.
  9. Disclosure is reciprocal. If you want people to share important information with you, share important information with them.  If you want to build relationship with people, you need to be willing to share personal information – if they want to build relationship with you, they will reciprocate.
  10. Prime for positivity. People perform better, agree more easily, and trust others more when they are primed for positivity. Finding something nice to say can increase the effectiveness of difficult or complex communications.  Not only will everyone feel better, but you are more likely to get what you need from them.
  11. Don’t kid yourself: The only one you can change is you. Hoping that the other person will communicate better or differently will get you nowhere. Try changing what you are doing and see if you get a different result.
  12. Be willing to say, “I don’t know.” Only the confident can say they don’t know. It’s much better to strongly state that you don’t know the answer than to try to make it sound like you do.

Breathe, photo by Mez Love, Creative Commons

Why Breathing Works

Oxygen deprivation occurs when you are stressed and your breathing becomes shallow. By drawing out your inhale, you are making yourself slowly and consciously take in more oxygen. Then by holding your breath, you allow as much of that oxygen to saturate into your bloodstream as possible. Finally, by exhaling completely, expel as much carbon dioxide from your lungs as possible.

GABA is short for gamma amino butyric acid and is an inhibitory neurotransmitter essential for the proper function of your brain and the central nervous system. GABA reduces excessive brain activity and promotes a state of calm. Slow and deep breathing signals the brain to release GABA which releases cortisol and adrenaline, allowing your mind to slow down, rest, digest and repair. Below are three ways to practice healthy breathing.

​4-6-8 Breathing • Time Required: 1 minute

You may find yourself feeling light-headed after doing any of these exercises. That’s actually a sign it is working, and it will quickly pass. Feel free to do this as often as you want, but you may need to get used to it first.

  • Place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth, right behind your front teeth.
  • Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4.
  • Hold your breath for a count of 6.
  • Release your breath from your mouth with a whooshing sound for a count of 8.
  • Without a break, breathe in again for a count of 4, repeating the entire technique 3-4 times in a row, then resume normal breathing and activity.

Belly (or Pranic) Breathing • Time Required: 3 to 15 minutes

With practice, you will be able to hold your breath longer and longer, release more prana, and strengthen your diaphragm. Some teachers will add to this practice by tightening your anal muscles to “trap” the prana in your belly or let your breath out loudly (in a roar) to force as much prana out as possible.

  • Place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth, right behind your front teeth.
  • Breathe through your nose into your belly as deeply as you can. You should see your belly rising.
  • Swallow to hold the breath in your belly.
  • Hold as long as you are comfortable (even just a beat at first). This allows the old prana (or energy) to settle in your center so that you can release it and breath in new fresh energy.
  • Let your breath out as much as possible, then a little more to release as much carbon dioxide (and stale prana) as possible.
  • Take a deep breath to reset and repeat.

Balanced Breathing • Time Required: 1-3 minutes

Deepak Chopra suggests versions of this that are 2, 3, or 4 count depending on your experience with deep breathing. He does not recommend holding your breath for more that a count of 6 as this is meant to be a gentle re-set.

  • Place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth, right behind your front teeth.
  • Breathe in through your nose for a count of 5.
  • Hold for a count of 5.
  • Breath out through your nose for a count of 5.
  • Repeat 10 times as needed to center and return to presence.