Enhancing Your Communication Skills

Dear Friends:

I am super excited about this topic…. Communication.  It doesn’t get any more important than this. Some of you reading this blog are in the entertainment industry so you are in the center of communication. It’s what we do.  We bring our voice to the screen, the stage, the networks. We get to express ourselves publicly, globally. There are few people on the planet who get to do that. It’s a gift and it’s a big responsibility.  My question to you is, how conscious are you of your own communication. It starts here, and it starts with you.

 Are you aware of the fact that everything we do is a communication of sorts?  Language is a small part of it.  If you cross your arms during a conversation, you’re communicating.  If you are sloppy in your written correspondence, you’re communicating.  If you do a mediocre job, you’re communicating.  If you hand your script in late, you’re communicating.  It’s all communication.  Be conscious.  Really take notice this week as to how conscious and aware you are of all aspects of your communication.  

 I’ve been in an inquiry on this subject off and on for years… observing myself and others and I believe I could write a book on communication.  For now, I’ll stick to my promise to you and focus on my ten tips. Here are “10 Tips to Enhance Our Communication Skills.”


1) TAKE YOUR FILTERS OFF:  Easier said than done, but truly worth working on.  As human beings we tend to be on automatic when it comes to our first impression.  We judge without thinking and it gets in the way of communication and authentic relationships.  Jamie Walters and Sarah Fenson, in their article “A Crash Course in Communication” in Inc. magazine, suggest that “our personal filters, assumptions, judgements and beliefs can distort what we hear.”  Just being aware of, awake to and conscious of this distinction can make all the difference.  Try practicing this at least once a day for the next month and see what you observe.

2) MASTER LISTENING:  Yes, I said master.  It is an art that few of us have ever thought about.  This won’t happen overnight.  Like mastering anything it takes time.  Usually we are so focused on what we have to say, we are not really listening.  And when the other person is speaking, we are busy thinking of what we’ll say next.  I took an amazing communication course years ago and when the concept of listening came up I started to tune out, thinking this doesn’t apply to me.  I was a good listener, wasn’t I?  When I did the homework, I was shocked to realize I wasn’t listening to people at all… not really listening.  I was too busy thinking of what I had to say, or disagreeing with them, or agreeing, comparing, reflecting, judging, arguing, you name it… it wasn’t listening.  Try listening… with no agenda.  In fact, repeat back to the person what you believe they said.  It is an amazing exercise and it will get you in the habit of actually listening.

3) LISTEN FOR THE GOLD:  I love this one.  I am giving you a great gift here, so ‘listen’ carefully.  When I was leading seminars for Landmark Education years ago in Philadelphia, I was complaining to my coach about a few of the participants.  She, in her wisdom, said “just listen for the gold… listen like everything that comes out of their mouths are diamonds and pearls.”  Wow!  By the end of that seminar I had fallen in love with every participant.  I learned so much from them and had relationships I never would have had otherwise.  I saw their greatness for the first time.  I know my Newsletter focuses on your career, but try “Listening for the Gold” with your mom, dad, sisters, brothers, partners, your kids and your friends. 

4) PUT PEOPLE AT EASE – IT’S YOUR JOB:  In every Flash Forward Workshop, we produced over the years, I did an exercise on listening where people partnered up and took turns interviewing each other.  The interviewer’s job was to put the other person at ease.  I suggest you take this on.  Start now.  There are over seven billion of us on the planet and we’re all scared of each other.  Get over it!  Take on standing in leadership and make it your job… your responsibility to put people at ease in every conversation.

5) BE PRESENT, FOCUSED and CENTERED:  Make eye contact.  Speak to the person as if they are the only person in the room.  At my mom’s funeral years ago, a friend of hers told me that they loved being with her.  They said that every time she was talking with my mom, she felt like she was the most important person in the world.  She felt special and truly listened to.  Many years later one of my students was acknowledging me during a Flash Forward workshop and used the exact same words about me.  It was the best acknowledgement I’ve ever received!

6) EMPOWER PEOPLE IN YOUR CONVERSATIONS:   Complete every conversation you have with the other person being left empowered.  This can be especially difficult in a heated conversation when your emotions are running high and you are taking things personally.  Take a moment, breath, get centered and remember that your commitment is to leave the conversation with the other person being left empowered.  This will take practice.  But mastering this may very well be one of the greatest gifts you’ll ever give.

7) LEARN TO COUNT TO 10:  In other words, respond… don’t react.  This may be the key to a great relationship and partnership.  Our knee jerk reaction is often to react to what is being said, especially if it pushes our buttons.  Given that you are never ever (ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever!) upset with what you think you are, and whatever button got pushed is a trigger for something that happened years before, reacting is a total and complete waste of time and energy.  Count to 10, regain composure and deal with the conversation in the present.  My coach called this ‘getting gotten’.  I love it. You know how great it feels when someone really hears what you have to say.  Getting gotten feels so good. When you’re arguing with someone and making them wrong it’s a waste of time because they can’t hear you anyway.  They are busy thinking of their next argument. No one wins. Resistance only causes more resistance. Try listening and actually getting what the other person has to say.

8) HOW ARE YOU OCCURRING?:   I think part of the reason I have such fun interacting and why people tell me I’m approachable, easy to talk to and comfortable to be with is because I am committed to having fun and being joyful no matter what the situation.  I am seldom (possibly never) at the effect of the circumstances that surround me.  It’s something that I make a conscious effort and ‘choose’ to do.  Smile!  Have fun!  In the Dale Carnegie list of principles “How to Win Friends and Influence People” the very first heading is “Become a Friendlier Person.”  Sounds simple… well, it is.  Try it… you’ll like it!  And everyone around you will like it too.  I have literally made decisions as to who I want to work with on my films and play with in my life, based on how he or she is occurring.  As I’ve said in many of these articles, life does not occur in a vacuum, so if someone is occurring as a jerk, or being negative, or if their communication is sloppy, how are they going to be on set. Why would I want them on my team?

9) KEEP YOUR WORD:  Take a serious look at this for yourself.  Your word is really all we have to go on.  Can you be counted on to keep your word… to be your word.  If not, your communication will occur as shallow and inauthentic.  I’m not saying you will keep every promise and commitment.  All I am saying, is that if you have to renege, communicate it.  If you need to break a promise, let the person know.  Don’t just disappear and go out of communication.  “I need to revoke my promise and set up a new schedule for my payment for the workshop.”  “I’m sorry, but I need to revoke on my commitment and get the deal memo to you next Friday instead of Wednesday as planned.”  Really work at being your word and communicating.  In fact, why not take on being a master in this arena.  Use this newsletter as a launching pad for brilliant, clear, authentic, empowering communication.   I worked with a line producer once who failed to tell us that he didn’t know how to do the paperwork for one of the union’s payroll.  It wasn’t until months and months later that we got word from the payroll company that in addition to not making some of our payments that we didn’t realize had not been done, there would be additional fines and penalties. It was a reflection on us, the producers. We apologized profusely and set about hiring an accountant immediately. Another friend joined us and we worked together for over a month cleaning up the whole mess. We had taken him at his word when he said he knew all aspects of his job. If he had just told us the truth we could have all worked together during the production of the film to make sure everything was done properly and on time. Would I ever work with him again? I think you know the answer.

10) ACKNOWLEDGEMENT:  Some of my favorite exercises in all the Flash Forward workshops over the years were those related to acknowledgement.  Just having people become conscious of this word itself was fun.  The participants loved it.  Acknowledgement is probably the best ice-breaker in any situation.  Real authentic acknowledgement is something everyone loves to hear.  And when you are acknowledging the other person you are taking the attention off of you which allows you to relax, be present and focused on the other person.  Give it a try.  Acknowledge at least one person today and after you’ve done it, don’t forget to acknowledge yourself for the accomplishment!  

 Suzanne Lyons is President/Producer of Snowfall Films, Inc. (www.snowfallfilms.com) having produced/exec produced 12 feature films to date.  She co-founded the Flash Forward Institute which focused on teaching the tools of business needed to market oneself in the entertainment industry.  Her book titled Indie Film Producing: The Craft of Low Budget Filmmaking was published by Focal Press (www.suzannelyons.net/indiefilm).  She’s hosted over 130 informational videos for the industry (www.youtube.com/suzannelyons).   When time permits she does private career and business coaching.  Suzanne is originally Canadian and lives with her husband in Los Angeles, CA.