Are your poor communication skills costing you valuable career progression? – Exclusive interview with Ethan F Becker

If you’ve got a burning desire to advance your career, you have got to develop your communication skills. Advanced communication is a powerful and valuable life skill…but how can you teach yourself how to communicate like a pro?

Are you frustrated by working in an environment where your say doesn’t count? Do you feel like you’re wasting your breath every time you talk? Feel like you’re repeating yourself, but with the same results?

Meet Ethan F Becker, President of the Speech Improvement Company in the USA. Ethan lets you in on valuable insider tricks and tips to instantly improve your communication skills at work, and shares his secrets on how implementing his key strategies will improve your career.

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Starting as a communications undergraduate, Ethan has completed his MBA and is currently working on his PhD. He is also the co-author of Mastering Communication at Work: How Great Managers Speak, Influence, and Lead.

Ethan is an expert in the field of workforce communication, and has dedicated his life to the purpose of helping others through nurturing and improving their communication skills.

Broaching subjects as broad as the psychology of how our thoughts are formed to the
articulation of our words, Ethan teaches people why certain communication techniques are fundamentally the same right across the world, and how only the implementation of these techniques differ from culture to culture.

Ethan’s techniques are rooted in the teachings of the ancient Greek philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato, offering modern-day solutions based on age-old wisdoms. Focusing on management skills such as effective listening, motivation, persuasion and team building, this interview contains crucial information for every single person with both management aspirations and responsibilities.

You will discover why Ethan’s communication strategies will make you a better and more effective manager, and how companies are implementing these ideas across the world. If you want to know how to make the things happen that you NEED to make happen, Ethan’s information contains the key to achieving your goals.

Tackling the issue of power differences leading to a lack of communication in a corporate structure, Ethan offers real-life solutions to real-life problems, with easy and simple solutions you can implement in your own life. If you’re struggling with lack of communication between you, your boss and your colleagues, you cannot miss the vital information contained in this interview.

Understanding how people are motivated in different ways and by different forces allows for not only a unique understanding of individual mindsets, but also optimum performance results. Sharing management secrets he has gained by working with companies such as IBM, EMI Publishing, Google, Harvard Business School and even the White House, Ethan offers a valuable insight into the thought process of the people you work with, and how to leverage this information to your advantage.

The benefits of more effective communication include an increase in idea generation, more streamlined systems, and a more productive working environment.

With all the advantages provided by something as simple as controlling and improving your communication skills, can you afford NOT to listen to Ethan’s knowledge, and benefit from his expertise?

You can follow these links to learn more about Ethan and the Speech Improvement company.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

JURGEN: Welcome, everybody! Thanks for tuning in to another session of the Niche Interview. My name is Jurgen van Pletsen.

And today I’ve got the privilege of talking to Ethan F. Becker, the author of a book called ‘Mastering Communication at Work’. Ethan’s book got a 5-star rating on Amazon. I recently finished reading it, and I just knew that I had to get Ethan on the line, and talk to him about this, and share this book with the world out there.

Basically, what the book is about is how you communicate to your colleagues in a work environment. It talks a little bit about the psychology behind communication between people, and some of the tricks, and tips that you can do in order to come across more effectively, and get more out of your career, I guess, than what you would’ve if you didn’t do this.

Ethan has a Bachelor of Science in Communication. He’s also got an MBA, and he’s currently doing a PhD in Psychology with an emphasis on industry and organisational psychology. He lives in Massachusetts, and his international working experience, I guess, coaching, training, and presenting to large corporations is quite extensive. He’s been all over the world: Japan, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, and work for some very, very well-known names such as The Harvard University, Bain Capital, Forrester Research, Canon, the FBI is here – just a whole heap of interesting clients.

And so today we’ve got Ethan on the phone, and we’re very, very pleased to speak to him.

Ethan, hi! Are you there?

ETHAN: I am here. It’s great to be communicating through Australia through the technology.

JURGEN: Great, Ethan! Thanks very much for taking the call.

So the next hour or so we’ll talk a little bit about your history, a little bit about the Speech Improvement Company that you run as well as just some content from the book itself. I’d like to ask you a few questions about exploring some of those topics and concepts in a bit more detail.

For our listeners out there that may have not heard of you, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? Who is Ethan Becker?

ETHAN: Sure, absolutely.

You did a nice job describing in the general sense sort of who I am. I’m a second generation speech coach. My parents actually founded this firm back in 1960s. I grew up in this business. We’re the oldest speech coaching firm in The United States.

As a kid, when I was 4 years old I was learning about theories of Aristotle at the dinner table. As I grew up, I just assumed everybody knew this stuff. It was a lot of fun. But ironically, I actually wanted nothing to do with this business. I actually really tried to avoid it because as a younger boy in a family business, my job was to like clean the trash around the building, and things like that. And it’s just always been in the family. I have siblings, and we’ve all sort of been involved in some form or another.

About 10 years ago, I came back into the family business as a grown-up after going off and doing my own career, my own things. It was actually going to be a temporary thing. My mother, at the time, was going through breast cancer for which she survived. It was a tough thing for the family, and my parents asked if I would come onboard, and just help for like a month – to help work with some of my mother’s clients because while she was going through chemo, she really couldn’t work with clients. Here 10 years later…

JURGEN: Still there

ETHAN: Reality is, I fell in love with it.

Coming back as a grown up, really, I thought everybody knew this stuff. And to be able to help other people for a living, it’s just a phenomenal thing. I really, really enjoyed my journey, my career change into it 10 years ago, and the journey ever since. It just continues. It’s very exciting.

JURGEN: It’s quite a story.

Ethan, what did you do before this 10 years that you came back? What were your education and your work history?

ETHAN: Sure. My undergraduate degree was in Communication. My emphasis was on television and film production. And I had a very clear plan which was to go from Boston to California right after graduation and make Hollywood movies, and I knew it for 6 years. That was the plan. There was no question about it.

So in college when I was in uni, as a Film major, I was that guy that was like I knew everything about the industry. I knew everything about the equipment, about the technical, and the __[04:42]. I was that kid that was…film-television guy – mostly on the TV side, and then I double majored in film and television.

And then after college, I got a job as a producer in Boston starting in a small production company, and work up to producer, but doing television commercials, and corporate training videos. Lot of fun that kind of thing. I ended up getting into the video editing side of that, and I really enjoyed it because you get to tell stories. You’re dealing with the messaging, and figuring out what’s the best way to tell this story. I did that for a few years, and then I realised there was no money in it, and I realised that I wasn’t getting to California. And my girlfriend – turned wife – back then at the time, we were __[05:29]. So going to California wasn’t really an exciting option at that point.

And then I ended up taking a position in a large corporate company that built some of the video editing technology that pioneered the video we see on the Internet today.

JURGEN: Oh wow!

ETHAN: A company called Media 100. This was a company that made equipment. Before Media 100, there was only 1 other company that did this. It was called Avid Technology. They were the big gun.

So I joined Media 100, which at the time, was the small underdog. I was an editor on Media 100. I was a customer and then I went to work for the company as a technical sales executive, which at the time, was this brand new concept. Now you see these better sales engineers in every company, but at the time, it was really pretty new.

My manager, a guy by the name of Matt Allard had this vision to bring in these technical guys who could help the sales team really do not just technical, but people who can really communicate well.

Now being a son of 2 speech coaches who have PhDs in Speech Communication, I was a great communicator.

JURGEN: Well, that’s a good fit right there.

ETHAN: Yeah, and it was all about computers which I loved, and it was in the film and television industry which I loved so it’s so much fun.

And at the time, the company was this tiny little startup, and there was only about 30 people. So I say a large company, I guess, it’s relative. But it was only about 30 people. But by the time I left, the company had grown. I was there for about 7 or 8 years, and we grew from 30 people to __[07:04] hundred people.

JURGEN: 600?

ETHAN: And from $3 million to $80 million a year. It was a huge revolution in the digital video industry. It was great. It was a phenomenal journey. We had so much fun. We were the underdog. It was a story of David and Goliath. Goliath was the Avid. It was just great fun.

And I traveled around the world – throughout all of the United States and throughout the world doing presentations on the product, and talking with our business partners, and helping to just put the good word out there, and it’s just great.

I mean, when you’re passionate about something, it’s very easy to sell it. It was great fun.

JURGEN: Wow! That’s pretty exciting. That’s huge growth from $3 million to $80 million in like 6 years. That’s unbelievable.

I’m actually quite curious about Media 100 now. What exactly is the technology that you guys developed over there and used? How is that being used today?

ETHAN: Media 100 made both hardware and software for the Macintosh that allowed you to take video, and bring it into the computer, and edit it. Now this was back in 1989-1990 is when they started. But the product has been shipped until 1993, I think. But they started the development back then when Avid came out.

And here’s an interesting story: so when Avid came out, Avid was the big gun. I mean, they still are. Well, they’re having trouble with Apple right now. But at the time, what happened was this fellow by the name of John Molinari, he was the General Manager at a company called Data Translation. Now Data Translation made imaging hardware for NASA. This is the kind of hardware that goes out in outer space to see closeup shots of the earth. It’s really phenomenal imaging stuff.

And this guy John was the son of the owner of that company, and he went over to Avid and said “Hey Avid, look at what we’ve got here. We’ve got this fantastic computer hardware that will take your computer software…” because Avid’s a software company – “…and because our imaging is so good, your customers will be able to bring their film onto the computer, and the picture quality will be so good it will go from the computer right out to broadcast television.”

Basically at the time, the way it worked is if you were in the television industry, if you’re going to edit the television show, you had to take sort of like rough draft copies, and picture quality wasn’t that good, and you would use that to actually edit the show. And then when you’re done, they all have these little __[09:41] numbers burned in, and you would write those numbers down, and go back, and spend about a thousand dollars an hour for what’s called an online editor who would do the high picture quality, but it was this huge time-consuming, expensive extra step.

So John went to Avid and said “Hey look, we got hardware that’ll make your stuff online quality.” And Avid basically laughed at him, and said it’ll never happen. Nobody will ever accept that. They were pretty rude, and sent him off, and he went and wrote a business __[10:09]. Three years later, Media 100 shipped. It was this phenomenal fun Macintosh tool.

Now, Avid was based on some editing. Media 100 was based on computer interface. It was truly non-linear editing.

And then over the years, it’s all Quicktime-based, so over the years, we learned that you could take – so I was an Avid editor, and when I used Media 100, I learned I could take the Media 100, and take this video in using Quicktime, and bring it into any Apple computer product, and use that product to create special effects to the imaging. Before that, you had to spend about $300,000 to go to buy equipment. Nobody would buy it. You’d have to go to a company that had the equipment to do this stuff.

But here on the Mac, for $200, I could get a little software program from Mac that makes my face morph. So it’s like “That’s so cool!”

But the picture quality was broadcast television, so it was really great.

So over the years, it was this battle. Avid would say Media 100 is a nobody, and Media 100, piece by piece, had a product that sold for about $20,000. Avid sold for about $150,000. So the big joke was “Hey, I’ll buy 3 Media 100s and enjoy driving my Lexus while you have your Avid.” It was quite fun.

The reality is both companies are about 30 minutes away from each other. Ultimately, Media 100 – it fill around, actually. The company was sold – I left in 2000. When the company got sold, I ended up actually developing online streaming media site, and we partnered with a company called Canon USA. What we did was we built this website – at the time, now keep in mind, there was no video on the internet at the time. But Media 100 was a product that had the video, and from this file, and you could just choose ‘Export’, and link it to any file format you want.

So we purchased a company in California that lets you create Real video, Windows Media or Quicktime files. We decided to develop that. So what we did is we built this website called www.icanstream.com, which is now gone. But at the time, this brand new idea. And the idea was to allow people to upload their own personal videos in all of the formats because the research we had done said “Look, if you have to download a plug-in, we’re just not going to use it.”

So we built a player that lets you upload 6 files: 3 high quality broadband files and 3 low quality for a 56k modem playback. And once you uploaded it, it’s like you could go and log in for free, create an account, and upload as much video as you wanted to, and then people could come – and when they watch it, the player would automatically detect your computer, and browser, and connection, and just play that version. Well, it’s fantastic! It was a really pretty big deal. If you Google it, you’ll still see the press releases for it.

And then of course what happened is __[13:04] Media 100 sold the whole project, and that whole division of the company for about $16 million to a company called AutoDesk. AutoDesk shut down the site, shut down the project, and one year later, Macromedia came out with Flash video, and then one year later, YouTube launched. Our entire team was devastated.

JURGEN: I’m just thinking, I’ve heard this story before but it doesn’t have your name on it.

ETHAN: Yeah, you got it, buddy.

All those days were really quite fun. It was a lot of communication. It was just the good times. And then towards the end, the company got really big, and as many companies transition into the difficult time when they get big, politics start to come in, and it’s not as fun as it was in the beginning.

That is a long story, but hopefully that’s enjoyable.

JURGEN: Very interesting one. I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole Macromedia Flash video – sounds like Media 100 basically changed the way the average person can get in touch with, I guess, doing video. I mean, you threw numbers out there that if you wanted Avid, you’d pay $150,000 or you can have your TV broadcast edited at a thousand dollars an hour by someone that had the right equipment.

I mean, thinking about that now after YouTube is online, and I guess, the way that you guys also started building sites for online, and so on, how easy it’s become to edit video and sign it. It’s like a whole different world.

ETHAN: Funny story. I mean, we really weren’t pioneers back then. If you look at the average production company, you get a guy who’s a producer, and he does corporate videos, that’s the guy who – maybe his client could be __[14:48] say “Hey…corporate…video.” and he’ll charge them thousand dollars. He actually makes his living, right? Well…going to buy a $300,000 Henry system or an Avid system. He would go to a production shop that owns one, and he’d pay them a thousand dollars an hour, and charge them back to the client.

Well, we changed the industry because we let that guy buy his own system for like 20 grand, and still charge the client a thousand bucks an hour, but he had more control, he didn’t have to rush, he didn’t have to worry if he’s out of time. It was really a pretty cool thing.

What happened in the industry, what changed it was Apple and Macromedia. So Macromedia came out with this product for Windows, and it was a product called Final Cut which you may have heard of now. Now it’s called Final Cut Pro.

So Final Cut, in our world, we were going to buy it from Macromedia, and use it as our Windows-based, low-end, entry-level product. We were trained on it. We were all sort of figured it out. We decided that it wasn’t really a good fit for our customer base because it was a very complex interface and our users were used to a very simplified one. We passed on it. Apple bought it and shut down the Windows development of it, ported it over to Mac OS, came to our office, and Steve Jobs went to John Molinari “Hey listen, I still want you to be a developer for Apple.” because we were a pretty big developer back then. “I want you to still be a developer, and we’re going to compete __[16:28] but I still want you to develop.” That was pretty…

All the money had dumped into the Windows development of our product, and we started to lose a bit. Our fans – because they’re all Macheads…again, Final Cut really took off.

Media 100’s still around, much less expensive to purchase these days. The company has been bought and sold a couple of times now. The big battle is between Avid and Apple right now.

Fun industry. I’m out of it these days, but as you can tell, I enjoy talking about those days.

JURGEN: It’s a fascinating story isn’t it? It’s like that side that you don’t normally hear because you read the book, and you watch some of the interviews online but you don’t hear all these interesting background on where the kind of journey that you took, the history you’ve traveled. It’s almost like the world we know today, you can see how it’s been shaped over time if you listen to these little stories.

ETHAN: It’s fun. Behind the scenes, the rivalry between Media 100 and Avid was huge, but it was also playful. Because the two companies were close by, sometimes there were people who would go from one company to the other. So we would haze each other. At the trade shows, like you to NABs (National Association of Broadcasters) for instance, this is serious business. Security everywhere and stuff. But the night before the show, we would go __[17:48] inside the booth so we all miss each other. It was kind of fun. We won’t do anything real serious, but it was a fun rivalry. Anyway, that’s for sure.

So moving onto other industries, I guess.

JURGEN: We have talked a little bit about your Speech Improvement Company that your parents started. What is the mission of your company? What is the ultimate goal of the Speech Improvement Company?

ETHAN: The goal for the company is to help people to do 2 things: to communicate in 2 areas around communication. One, is to be comfortable around this whole business of communication – talking with others. Two, is to be really good at it. Whatever the ‘it’ happens to be. So that could be standing up in front of a group, giving a formal presentation. It could be a one-on-one kind of communication that you have to do. The mission is to help people improve, to help people get better at the communicating they do – in those two areas – to be comfortable and really good at it. And to be good at it – that could range anything from the mechanics of the speech meaning literally the articulation of sound, the production of sound to the psychology of how you form your thoughts. So you learn how to listen. How do you learn how to craft words together…that are going to be effective at sharing your messages at hearing messages.

We’ll go, in some cases, deep into the psychology, and the comfort part matters because if we’re not comfortable, it’s really hard to implement technique or style. When people get nervous, it’s not easy to do that. One of the things we find is that people get nervous all over the world.

Sometimes when I’m asked “Ethan, how can you take these American views, and bring them over to other countries, other cultures?” It’s actually quite an easy thing. First of all, most…all about communication was from the Greeks. Aristotle introduced a lot about effective communicating. But at the end of the day, it’s not about a culture. It’s about technique. It’s about communication. And how you implement the technique will be unique to the culture. There’s no question about that. There are definitely things that are unique whether you’re in Germany, or Malaysia, or Korea, or Japan, Australia. And then there are some fundamentals that do not change, that are present in all of the cultures, at least, that I’ve experienced. It’s just a matter of how you decide to use those fundamentals, how you turn them on, how you implement them. That’s what’s going to be unique to the culture.

JURGEN: Right. And can you give us some examples of what some of those fundamental things might be that you found to be consistent across different cultures and geographical barriers, I guess?

ETHAN: To begin with, things like nervousness. People get nervous whether they’re in Germany or Australia or Connecticut. It happens. It’s one of the top 3 fears in the United States, worst, outside of the US. Much of because of where the psychology of disciplining children, and how people are raised changes. But that’s a fairly common one. That doesn’t mean everybody in the world gets nervous, but that’s one that is present all over the place. And the psychology of what contributes to a human being being nervous standing in front of a group of people are generally similar concepts. The specific experiences will be unique, but what causes it, why do we have this as an adult – that kind of stuff doesn’t really change. It’s a human condition.

Aside from that, we get things like listening. You need to learn how to listen whether you’re in Japan or California. You’ve got to learn how to listen. It’s a skill – whatever your culture is.

Motivating teams. Now we’re getting more into things that are not unique to the culture of a country, but they’re more unique to industry, meaning in a church, there may not be the same structure of team building that is required – I mean, depends on the church – but in the general sense compared to, let’s say, a computer company where there is the SQA Department, there is a Tech Support Department, there is Marketing. There are teams and they need to be motivated to do things.

The core fundamentals how are human beings motivated, that doesn’t change. That doesn’t mean you can use the same technique you use in Australia in Singapore. You have to look at each case. You have to look at the personality of the people, and so forth. But the need for a motivation doesn’t change. Persuading people in business environments, people have ideas, and they want to persuade things from persuading their manager for giving them a day off to persuading finance to approve a budget. Those kind of fundamentals in business environments are universal.

JURGEN: Definitely. I agree. I’m a business person myself, which later on I’m going to ask you question about the silos that I’ve seen in organisations that I’ve worked with, and what your advice would be for organisations, I guess, to break down those silos because, like you said, in a tech company, for instance, there would be lots of different divisions – as with any organisation. And the left hand often doesn’t know what the right hand’s doing, and you have all these misinformation, incompatible communication – things that are going through – and no one really is aligned, so to speak, and how to kind of combat that because there’s all these different things you can do, but I’d be quite interested to hear what your views on that is.

ETHAN: Sure. And the topic you’re bringing up about silos in organisations is also, by the way, a good example of something that happens in multiple cultures in multiple countries. And it’s a serious issue because when people are not communicating, that’s when efforts are doubled, money is wasted, ideas are squashed. When people are communicating, idea thrive, things get streamlined, becomes more efficient. That doesn’t happen because you brought in a consultant to tell you about any process. It happens because people learn how to communicate with each other.

What happens in the silos is, yeah, we work with our team, and we develop a good relationship with those on our team, and then the concept or the attitude about other teams become shaped. And it starts at the top. It starts at the top. Not so much the CEO. The CEO certainly has to have the vision to say “Hey look, we want to break these silos down.” It’s the next level – those executives and the management under them who have got to connect, they have got to be communicating with each other, and then instilling in their teams that they need to communicate with the other silos. That’s easy to say.

JURGEN: Yeah, that’s right.

ETHAN: It’s easy for me to say. That’s a “Here’s what you’re supposed to do.” right? That doesnt’ mean that an executive – if you’re that executive, you can’t just say to your team “Hey, go talk to everybody.” It’s probably not going to be very effective. You’ve got to do things. You’ve got to take action to train and teach people how to communicate through activities that foster communication. We call it creating a ‘culture of communication’ in an organisation.

A culture of communication in an organisation is when everyone in the organisation feels __[25:01] comfortable and confident talking with everyone else in the organisation, and it breaks the silos, it breaks the “I’m afraid of the boss.” And as a result, people are talking with each other. “If there’s a problem, just tell me about it. Don’t be afraid of me. Just tell me so I know.”

Now, there’s a burden on the managers in those situations because the managers, their communication style creates a fear that intimidates people from just telling them like it is, and as a result, people either say nothing at all, and the manager finds out that the project’s overdue after the fact or people just sort of suffer in silence or they just lie about it. They say “Oh no, it’s great.” Well it isn’t.

So the burden’s on everybody. It’s on the manager. It’s on the employee.

What’s the fix? You got to teach communication skills. You got to teach people how to listen and how to communicate their ideas in a way that’s not going to get the other person frustrated or upset.

A good example would be talking about the book “Mastering Communication at Work”. Chapter 1 focuses on probably one of the more popular skills that people enjoy learning about which is Aristotle’s discussion of inductive and deductive reasoning. It’s a great example of where communication breakdown happens.

Inductive people like to have all the background information first, and then the point, and deductive people like to have the point right upfront, and then the background information. And when these people meet each other, there’s a high level of frustration, and then that shows. And the result of that showing could result in someone feeling disrespected, feelings are hurt.

I’ve talked with managers who have said to me “So what, Ethan, if the feelings get hurt?” and my response is “So what? You want to make money?” ‘So what?’ I get that. I get the hard, the tough, suck it up. I get that. Trust me. I coach my kid’s sports teams. I know about “Hey, grin and bare it.”

In business, when you do that, it costs money because what happens with the ‘So what?’ is if your employee goes home, and now spends the night worrying because they think they’re in trouble, because they think they disappointed you or whatever it is, and in the next day, and in the next month, they’re not focused to their work. They’re not going to be as productive as they could be because they’re distracted because they don’t know how to tell the boss. A big part of that is on the boss to create an environment to do things so that the relationship gets strong enough so that people can just tell them like it is.

Is this helpful stuff? I know I’m just sort of going on and on here.

JURGEN: Definitely helpful because those feelings that you have just described now: the employee going home and worrying whether they really pissed the person off or anything like that. I mean, those things, I’m sure anyone that’s ever worked in any kind of organisation has had those feelings.

If it is something as simple as this inductive and deductive listening or reasoning method that you described in the first chapter, that’s a very, very effective quick and easy way to give yourself a bit of a tool there to use and assess someone, and respond in the appropriate manner.

Your book’s full of little things like that which I found really valuable, and the way that it’s written as well. It’s more like a reference guide than an actual book. Whenever I’ve got a particular problem like is it motivating the team or is it about delegating tasks effectively or giving criticism in a way that doesn’t make the other person feel like the person we just described, that’s what I really like about it. It’s just easy to reference everything.

ETHAN: I’m really glad to hear that. It’s great to hear it, really, because we intended it that way so it’s great to hear that.

JURGEN: All right. It definitely shows. You’ve got a nice templated format there that you’ve talked about all the topics. I really enjoyed having it as a reference guide, I guess, in the back.

In your first chapter you mentioned matching the listeners’ tendency. Is this the inductive and deductive reasoning thing we just talked about?

ETHAN: Yes, it is.

JURGEN: Can you maybe, for the guys out there, describe how that works?

ETHAN: What happens is we’re not either inductive or deductive. We call each other that… The reality is that we’re all both of these, but with tendency. We tend to lean more towards one side or the other. As you learn about whether you’re an inductive or deductive thinker, you pretty quickly get to figure out which way you tend to lean. And I say it’s a tendency because I could be an inductive thinker in one environment and deductive in another.

Here’s a good universal __[29:21] cross-cultures experience that I have witnessed with a lot of people. Think about your average teenager; your average 17-year old boy. He comes home, and he walks into the kitchen, and the parent is there, and in an inductive way the parent is very curious about how the day went, and “What did you do in school today? Can you tell me all the things you did?” I’ll set this up, and for you as the listeners, I want you to imagine what do you think the 17-year old boy is going to say? Walk in the kitchen, I’m the parent and I say “Tommy, hi! It’s good to see you back from school. So what did you do in school today/How was school today?” the answer to which would be – what do you think?

JURGEN: Just like “I’m hungry.” or something.

ETHAN: Yeah, exactly. It was a one word answer. “Hey, how was school today?” “Good” “What did you do today?” “Nothing” Very deductive – deductive state of mind. What happens? The parent gets frustrated then the kid gets frustrated, and the relationship gets tainted.

Now, I know we’re talking about business here, but it’s okay to talk about this in a personal side, too, because we learn from that. And quite frankly, a lot of business people are parents. So ideally, you want to match what your listeners need you to be.

In that case, if the kid says “Good”, you just say “Great!” and you move on. Now it’s hard because the parent is saying “Oh my son is moving away from me. I’m losing my contact.” Hey listen, if you want to keep it, you got to match their tendency.

And of course, how do people switch? Five seconds later, that same kid goes into his room, picks up his cellphone, and calls his friend, and is as inductive as ever talking about his day at school, but that’s because the relationship is different. But there’s an inductive-deductive.

Now in a business environment, we hear this all the time. The more senior we become in an organisation, the more deductive we tend to be, and that’s because the nature of the position – doesn’t have anything to do with what country you’re in. It doesn’t have anything to do with your gender. It has to do with the environment that you’re in. The more senior you become in an organisation, the more deductive you tend to be because you got a lot of stuff going on. Just tell me the point. I will have to assume the details or I will ask you for the details. That’s from the executive perspective.

From the subordinate’s perspective, it’s very frustrating because the subordinate is saying to him/herself ‘Hey, I don’t want to just tell him the point because he’s going to think I’m a nutjob. He needs to know the details. He’s got to understand the context.’ and the skill is to match what your listener needs you to be. It’s not about you. That’s probably the most important communication that anyone can learn. It’s not about you. You’re not learning about inductive-deductive because you need it. You’re learning it because listeners need you to be communicating in that manner if you want to be effective.

JURGEN: And it makes it easier for everyone.

That actually ties in perfectly with one of our mailback questions. I think I will just jump straight to this one.

If I can ask a quick question from Andrew here in Perth. Andrew says “If I’m an inductive thinker, how can I train myself or practice to be more deductive so that I can communicate effectively at work?”

ETHAN: There are a lot of things. I can’t go over all of them over the phone, but here’s a hallmark assignment. For Andrew and for others who are looking to train themselves either direction – you can try to go the other direction – I want you to go and have 4 conversations, and here’s what they’re going to be: Conversation #1: I want you to go and find the most inductive person that you can think of and have an inductive conversation with that person. That means you’re going to have to think about it before you get there. It can be anything. It can be about going to the beach. It doesn’t matter what it’s about. Make it inductive. Think in advance ‘How will I make this inductive?’ then go have the conversation. That’s #1. They don’t even need to know they’re (the other person) a part of this, by the way. So you can do this without their knowledge.

Conversation #2: Find the most deductive person you can think of, and do the same thing.

These are the first two conversations, and one of these is going to feel extremely easy – kind of like a waste of time because it’s so easy. The other one is going to feel just wrong. And it’s important to remember it’s not about right or wrong. It’s about what’s effective or ineffective. And this is a good hallmark experiment because it’s going to draw this to your attention; bring it to the forefront of your mind of the differences.

Conversation #3: Go back to the inductive person or find another one, and have a deductive conversation with them. Be as deductive as you can be with them, and then see what you notice. What can you observe about what’s happening in that situation?

And then Conversation #4: Find the most deductive person you can think of, and be as inductive as you can possibly be, and then duck because they might throw something at you.

But going to do these 4 conversations is really a great exercise because it really brings to the forefront of your mind how to think in the other way. You’ve got to practice it. You’ve got to pay attention to how other people are doing it. It’s not easy. It’s very easy to understand it, very easy to understand this concept. To do it is difficult. Why? Because those people who tend to lean on the inductive side absolutely swear that it is the right way to be, and that anyone who’s being inductive is being irrational, and not thinking it through.

Because anyone who is deductive, if they lean on that side, they swear that that is the right way to be, and anyone who’s inductive is just wasting my time. It’s comical in that way. They’re both right.

JURGEN: That’s a good exercise, Ethan. Thank you very much. I hope Andrew’s listening to this. Did you enjoy that, mate? I’m certainly going to go try that.

Ethan, how can someone improve the way that they motivate people? So we know the deductive and inductive listening is kind of the first step to build, I guess, an understanding or so of people, and be tolerant. It’s kind of like it adds credibility to relationship. It is important for you to be able to motivate someone.

Just through speaking, what are some of the things that people can do to motivate people?

ETHAN: To motivate someone, you’ve got to understand how they think and what motivates them. It’s not a one size fits all. We’re dynamic as people.

In the book, we put a chapter on motivation. And in fact, there’s actually a matrix that was created by my father back in the 1970s. It was a variation on the psychology that suggests people are motivated for achievement, recognition, or affection, and power. This is a psychology notion that’s been around for a while now.

What we changed in the 1970s is we…that concept that people are motivated for achievement, affection, and power with Aristotle’s mode of persuasion. And when you cross-reference it, that is ethos, pathos, and logos where the idea that people will be persuaded by credibility, emotion or logic. And when you cross-reference that, you get a matrix. Now I’m not a big fan of people __[36:44] but matrix gave you a bunch of…

It’s not an absolute. But what it can do, though, it actually is a very very handy tool for the manager because you can say – and the concept, by the way, it’s not just a cross-reference. The concept is that people are motivated for things and they’re motivated by things.

I’m motivated for things like achievement, meaning, I’m doing this – an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. I just want to know I did my job. That’s an achievement. I’m motivated for that. They like that. They’re going to strive for that. And then I’m motivated by things like ethos, pathos, and logos (credibility) because if I’m the type of person that’s motivated by ethos then I’m going to be more motivated to do this because you told me that the CEO thinks this is important. However, if I’m not motivated by ethos, you say that, I’m going take offence to you. What do I care what that guy says?

This will really help – the tool really helps managers not only the __[37:48] to avoid pitfalls and traps. …who the sales manager, and he thought he was going to motivate his team, and so he came __[37:56] the team about 50 people in the call centre, and he shows up with $100 bill, gets to the front of the room, holds up the $100 bill, and he says “The first person to make 30 calls will get this crisp $100 bill.” And then he sticks it on the bulletin board with a tack. Half the group immediately started picking up the call, and dialing as fast as they can. Half the group took offence, and started looking at each other, and they started to slow down. So later when feedback was sought out was “You don’t have to pay me to do my job. It’s my job. I get paid for this. You don’t have to bribe me to do my job.” And it’s a great example of how we can very easily just assume the entire group is motivated the same way.

With a sales organisation, it’s not a terrible assumption. I mean, most people who go into the business of selling – I work with a lot of sales professionals around the world – there’s a certain attitude about doing it for the dough/money. What a terrible assumption.

But here’s a good example of how you can very easily – look, just because it worked with your last company, you’re managing in your last group, and you motivated them one way, you got to look at the group in front of you. You got to look at the people on that group and say ‘What are they motivated for and what are they motivated by?’ And then that will guide you on things like activities, __[39:14] tone of voice – all of that kind of stuff.

JURGEN: That is excellent. I am actually looking at that diagram right now on Page 38 for those of you who have the book. It’s a really, really good easy way to kind of cross-match those 3 things on each axis, I guess, against each other.

ETHAN: I was just going to add one other tip here is that for those of you who are looking at the motivation matrix, and you’re looking at this, a common question that I get is “Well Ethan, I’m looking at this but I don’t know where to put my employee.” or “I don’t think this fits because I could put them in 2 boxes.” That’s really common. Why? Because we’re dynamic as people.

There are 2 separate issues. One, is you don’t know where to put them, and two is, you want to put them in 2 different boxes. People can be in 2 different boxes. If that’s the case, now you have to just cross-reference the person with the topic. What are you trying to motivate them to do?

If my wife is trying to motivate me to clean the backyard, I’m going to be in one box. If my boss is trying to motivate me to do a good job on the report for the Board of Directors, I might be motivated a different way.

How do you know that? That comes down to this fundamental management/communication strategy of you’ve got to know your people. You’ve got to develop the relationships with your people. If you don’t know where they go, that is a sign for you that you are not doing enough what we call ‘human interaction’ with your people: taking them out for lunch, or getting to know them, or getting to know what they like. A lot of managers see that as slacking off or they shouldn’t have to do that. It’s your job.

As a manager, it’s a really important notion to recognise that when you’re a manager – I often ask people what business they’re in, and they always tell me “Well, I’m in the computer business.” or “I’m in the book business.” When you’re a manager, you’re in the people business. A manager’s job is to get things done through other people. That means it is your job to know them, to spend time having cups of coffee with them, get to know how they think, support them, give them feedback. So if you don’t know where they go on the matrix, that’s okay.

Now you know what you got to do. You’ve got to get to know them a little better.

JURGEN: Because without them, you can’t do what you need to do. You can’t make happen what needs to happen unless you’ve got their support. And if you don’t know them, and if you’re the kind of guy that – I guess if they want to be inductive, and you just never spent some time with them getting to know them then you will never know what motivates them. That’s really good tool to use.

ETHAN: That’s right. Not only that, you end up doing a lot of the work yourself for being really stressed out.

JURGEN: Which is not good

The next question, Ethan, that I have here is about giving feedback on work. Giving good feedback is very difficult thing to do especially if you’re new to it, and you don’t want to alienate the person, but you also want them to learn through the experience.

What, in your experience, is a good way to give feedback, and what are some of the pitfalls, I guess, that we can aim to avoid when doing so?

ETHAN: That’s a very good question. Giving feedback is a very important management skill. You don’t want to take it lightly. A lot of times we just assume we know how to give feedback because, look, you talk to me and I talk back to you. It’s a skill. And that means as any skill, you’ve got to practice it. You don’t just do it by accident.

Here in the States we play basketball a lot. And when I coach the kids on basketball, there are skills that they have to learn. They have to learn how to pass, shoot, and dribble. I suppose I could use the same analogy with football being the rest of the world outside of the United States plays football (soccer for those US friends). You have to learn how to pass, shoot, and dribble.

Anybody can learn how to dribble. Let’s go soccer for a moment. Anybody can learn how to dribble. You just kick the ball, and walk along with it, and you’re dribbling but that doesn’t mean you’re very good at it. If you want to become a good dribbler, dribble around people, don’t let them get the ball away from you. You’ve got to practice. It doesn’t happen by accident. That is a skill that you’ve got to practice. The technique is in how you curve and swerve. That happens through practice. Giving feedback is a skill. You don’t just do it because someone said “Give feedback.”

My kids are young right now so I don’t just get out there, and say “dribble”, and hope for the best. I mean, you got to show them how, and they have to practice how to dribble. Feedback’s the same way.

What are you practicing? We actually put some of the techniques in the book, actually. In the general sense, you want to pay attention to how you are crafting your feedback. You need to know what your outcome is. What are you expecting? So it’s not just random.

And in the general sense, you do 3 things: you describe the specific behaviour you’re talking about, you then describe the result of that behaviour, and then you prescribe the correct behaviour. What would you like to see? So describe, describe, prescribe is what we ought to say at the Speech Improvement Company.

That’s the technique. That’s like dribbling – kick the ball. That’s the technique. How you do it: you’ve got to practice it. So that means going into your office or if you don’t have an office, go into your car, and shut the door, think it through, say it out loud. When you practice communication, you have to practice it out loud because when you practice in your own mind silently, it’s always perfect.

JURGEN: Yeah

ETHAN: You’ve got to practice it out loud. And what are you practicing? Well, which words are you using? Are there words that if you use this word, it’s going to trigger the other person to get frustrated or upset? You want to look for that kind of stuff.

A great way to practice is to record yourself. If you don’t have a recorder, just call your own voicemail.

JURGEN: Good idea

ETHAN: And practice the conversation, and then listen back, and as you listen back, you want to listen ‘Hey, did I have a tone in my voice like an attitude? Did I sound supportive?’ Not just the words ‘But did my tone sound supportive? Are there any words that I used that are going to distract this person from what I want?’ which is behaviour change. Meaning, ‘If I say this one word, are they going to get frustrated or distracted thinking that that’s the only thing I’m focusing?’

In the general sense, you’ve got to think it through, and practice it out loud, and then you’ll be good at it. I don’t know a lot of managers that can…top of their head.

JURGEN: I like how you’re just giving these valuable techniques away. Thank you very much for saying that. I’m sure people would love to hear these things.

ETHAN: I’ll just share with you. In our business, we really are in it for the cause. We all want to make the money. We wall want to make a living, of course, right? But we’re in it for the cause. We do whatever we can to help whenever we can. We can’t give everything away for free, of course. We wouldn’t have a business, right? But when we can, we do.

Locally here in Boston, for instance, when folks come in to the office – sometimes folks come in, and they’re not with a company or they’re on their own, they’re very very nervous, we’ll find a way to help them out when we can.

JURGEN: On that, what kind of people normally use your services? Who’s the Speech Improvement Company for?

ETHAN: It’s such a wide range. It’s fascinating. Really, anyone who has to talk as a part of what they do, that’s who we help.

One day, we’ll get, literally, it could be leaders of countries to leaders of companies to people who are just starting out in their careers – anyone, literally, who has to talk as a part of what they do, well that’s what we do: we help them to become more comfortable, and more effective at it. So yes, we’ve worked with many presidential elections. A lot of the work I do overseas starts by foreign governments contacting the White House in The United States, and then the White House will refer people to us in Boston, and then the relationships get developed so then I go overseas, I get introduced to other people, and I meet business partners, and it goes from there.

Pretty much all of our marketing is word-of-mouth. And it’s not an easy thing. Working on presidential elections are kind of tough, and we sign non-disclosure agreements so we can’t discuss names. We can’t post it on our website. The work itself is not necessarily enjoyable. When you’re working with a presidential campaign, a lot of times the candidate comes, and they’ll have 9 or 10 consultants/advisors with them. Everyone in the room has a big ego and our ego is big enough. We train for this stuff. We study it. I’m kind of joking around…but at the end of day, it’s really hard…

Imagine if I was trying to coach you on your communication, and everything I advise you on, 10 other people have to chime in with their opinion whether they think it’s a good thing or not. How are you, as a human being, supposed to process that, and actually then be effective?

We do the work because it’s good work, and we get good referrals from it, and so forth. But I know every 4 years here in The United States – put it this way: when our coaching team gets together, no one’s raising their hand really fast when somebody’s saying “Who wants to work with the particular…”

JURGEN: Presidential election or something

ETHAN: We’ve done it for decades. It’s part of the job. We don’t mind it. But at the end of the day, it’s a good cause.

JURGEN: Cool! I’ve been watching a few episodes of the West Wing lately, and yeah, that kind of – I don’t know if it’s really like that, but it kind of encapsulates what you’ve just mentioned there with all the advisors and everything else.

ETHAN: I had a foreign official that I was working with years ago, and when I sat down in private with him, he said “I want you to teach me to talk the way they do on the West Wing.” I’m looking at him, the first thing I thought is “Your PR guy couldn’t have told me that in advance?” I know what he means. I know what the guy meant. I’m joking because the reality is that’s all fake. I mean, people don’t really talk that way. It’s superficial.

JURGEN: Of course, yeah

ETHAN: In real life, we make mistakes on a regular basis. I’m a professional speech coach, I’m not perfect. Nobody’s perfect. On television, though, for some reason it’s really weird. Everybody has the right thing to say all the time. It contributes to this fear of public speaking. Television is one of the 4 contributors to the fear of public speaking.

JURGEN: I agree

ETHAN: Interesting topic to be for another show.

JURGEN: Great! By the way, __[49:44] about always being perfect and that stuff.

I had a chat to him to what we’re doing now – with another gentleman from the States, David Rendall. He had this concept of unleashing your inner freak. The words and stuff was a bit weird, but all it was about, really, is making the most of your strength, and not really worrying about your weaknesses that much. I think anyone in that situation – certainly, I agree that TV has ruined the fun out of trying something, and having a crack, and if it doesn’t work out, you kind of try again, and that kind of thing. It really diminished that sense of ourselves that we had because everything is so perfect, and edited, and created flawlessly, and so on. And this guy’s advice – he was really good to chat to…

ETHAN: Yeah, I’d love to hear it. It’s good advice.

When we do coaching, the idea is to work with people’s strengths not just because you want to be nice to people. But because it matters. If somebody’s good at something, you want them to continue to do that, and strengthen it, and then you work on the areas that they need to improve, and it gets a lot better.

By the way, this talk about television, it’s not an anti-TV campaign. TV’s great. I watch all sorts of shows at night. It’s just as you’re enjoying television, it’s one more piece of fantasy that sometimes we forget. We just assume everybody talks like that in real life, and then when we get up to give our presentations, sometimes we make the mistake, and then we feel very nervous, we don’t even know why. Well, it’s because the model we’ve seen on television is everybody gets it right all the time. As you’re watching it, it’s nice to enjoy it, and then say “Yeah, this is also fantasy.”

JURGEN: It’s drawing that line.

Anyways, Ethan, I think we’re about out of time. Unless you have some more time, I think we’ll call it a day at that.

ETHAN: Okay

JURGEN: I want to thank you very much for chatting with me today, and sharing all these insights, and stories with us. I’m sure everyone out there listening to this will take a few of these techniques that you’ve mentioned like the 4 conversations, and their 3-step feedback plan to heart, and really go and practice those things, and go try it, and learn how to communicate in the workplace.

ETHAN: If your listeners are interested in hearing about this kind of stuff, there are some resources they can go to. Our website which is www.speechimprovement.com has some audio clips and tips – just free stuff that different coaches have put up there. I have a podcast that – I haven’t recorded in a while, but it’s still up there on iTunes. If you search for ‘Ethan Becker’ you’ll see it’s got 26 different episodes. That’s up there.

And…more of this dialogue, this kind of conversation. We do travel around the world – if somebody’s thinking about bringing me out to their company – I mean, I’m all over the place, literally. They should just contact our office and we can talk with them about what we do for their particular organisation.

JURGEN: Great! I very much enjoy talking with you, Ethan. If you’re ever in Australia, I’m on the Western Australian side, you should give me a call if you want to catch up.

ETHAN: Absolutely!

JURGEN: If you want to catch up or something like that. It’d be quite good to have a coffee with you.

Other than that, enjoy the rest of your day. I think you guys just started. I’m going to go to bed now.

ETHAN: Yeah

JURGEN: It’s pretty late here.

ETHAN: Well, thanks so much for reaching out to me and for having me on the show. If there are other topics that you want to talk about, let me know. We do a lot of this kind of stuff with political campaigns and analysis when that stuff’s happening or if there’s topics that are hot, and you want to talk about it in the context of communication whether it’s business like sometimes we talk with people about like BT: how should they manage…media with this kind of stuff. Just let me know. Reach out and I’ll be glad to hop on the show and help on any way I can.

JURGEN: Great! Ethan, thank you very much for your time. I’ll speak to you soon then.

ETHAN: Okay. Take care. Cheers.

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2 Responses to Are your poor communication skills costing you valuable career progression? – Exclusive interview with Ethan F Becker

  1. dan Cummings says:

    This is powerful stuff. You have some great ideas!

  2. WYNAND says:

    Goeie interview. Ek het sy boek gelees en dit is baie applicable in ons lyn van werk.

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Ethan Becker

President of the speech Improvement Company and author of Mastering Communications at Work

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