TTLS S1 11 | Impact Of Communication

 

This episode is important as we think about the impact of communication. As we examine toxic leadership behaviors, I am sure many leaders want to ensure they are showing up as they intend to, maximizing their impact to inspire and motivate others.

The Toxic Leadership Podcast

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Dr. Kevin Sansberry II is a behavioral scientist and executive coach with expertise in toxic leadership, human capital strategy, and creating inclusive cultures of belonging to enhance organization performance. Over the years, Kevin has focused on providing research-informed solutions in various settings such as higher education, nonprofit, sales, and corporate environments.

Follow KEVRA: The Culture Company on Linkedin to keep up with your favorite behavioral scientist, Dr. Sansberry. At KEVRA: The Culture Company, we partner to effectively evolve your organizational culture by focusing on competency development, best practices, and leading research to deliver systemic and innovative solutions for company success.

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The Impact Of Communication And Toxic Leadership With Expert Alex Perry

Alex Perry is a CEO of Practically Speaking, LLC, author of Minivan Mogul: A Crash Course in Confidence for Women and host of the Minivan Mogul Podcast. This episode is important to me as we think about the impact of communication. As we examine toxic leadership behaviors, I’m sure many leaders want to ensure that they are showing up the way they intend to, maximizing their impact to inspire and motivate others. Alex is a communication expert who helps others share their stories using storytelling, laughter and humor. She even serves my speaking coach to TEDx. I’m a big believer and a lifelong fan. Let’s get to it.

Welcome to the show. We have Alex Perry. How are you doing?

I’m doing great. How are you?

I am doing well. Alex and I met through some TEDx work and communication coaching. I’m excited about the angle and power of communication as we think about toxic leadership. Before we jump into that, I would love to hear your story and background. Give our audience a flavor of who you are.

Kevin was a speaker. I coached him through TEDx Cincinnati. I’m going to shamelessly plug for his TEDx Talk because it’s outstanding. If you are looking for information on toxic leadership and how people show up in the workplace, google search. Thank you for the kind introduction, as I plug you. Thanks for asking about my background.

What is a little different about me and how I’ve got started in the realm of communication? My background, I was a Speech Language Pathologist for nearly seventeen and a half years. I worked with people, who either by accident, illness, injury or even by birth, either didn’t have all the prerequisite communication skills that they needed or lost their ability to speak.

The last six and half years of my work, I spent on a brain injury unit. It was working with people who were talking one day, and then not talking the next. For me, that powers the work that I do. That’s where I started. Years ago, I branched out of speech language pathology and moved into the world of corporate communication.

70% of women don’t believe that they have entrepreneurial skills enough to run their own businesses.

I will walk you through the whole story but the premise of this is that I look at professionals every day and think, “You don’t realize what an exceptional communicator you already are.” My background is I started with people who are talking one day, not talking the next. I saw the pain of people not being able to say what they needed and wanted to say. That has fueled my business.

I left speech pathology. I took a job working for a firm that the premise of their business was an executive presence, public speaking and storytelling. I took that role. I did that for a couple of years and realized that it was a terrible fit. I left that role and was hanging out in the middle of nowhere with nothing. I didn’t know what I was going to do.

I didn’t want to go back to speech language pathology. I had zero business background and was terrified. I thought, “There is no way that not for love nor money could I possibly run my own business,” which is a common thing among entrepreneurs. You talk about imposter syndrome and the faces that people put on. Seventy percent of women don’t believe that they have entrepreneurial skills enough to run their own businesses.

I was one of those but I found myself in a little church outside of the city that I live in sharing a part of my personal story and talking about how I had given up this role. I didn’t know what I was going to do. Sharing parts of my personal story, a woman came up to me afterward and said, “Alex, I want to hire you. I see how you speak.”

I don’t think I could run my own business. There’s no way. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I was job searching. I tried to get a job in sales. I had no resume to be applying for sales jobs. No one in Indianapolis would talk to me at all. I sat for two months with this little idea in a book about, “If I did have a business, I would call it this but I can’t possibly do that,” there I am in a church. A woman comes up to me and says, “I want to hire you.” I went home and I opened up an LLC. I had nothing. No business sense.

From there, I have successfully created Practically Speaking. In the last few years, I have done my own TEDx Talk. I have worked my way into being a TEDx coach. I work with companies and individuals alike on their communication skills, both from presentations and public speaking to interpersonal communications, specifically around confidence.

TTLS S1 11 | Impact Of Communication

Impact Of Communication: It’s a problem when someone is unwilling to provide you with adequate support.

 

To make you giggle, my very first business plan was to get 100,000 followers on Instagram. That’s not a business plan. I had no business plan, nothing. It’s like making some insurmountable amount of money that you were not going to make in your first year, especially if you are me and you have zero business sense. I had that. I’m still not due to give it yet. I’ve got another year to complete that goal, which is hilarious.

I never intended to write a book. I published my first book in 2020. I have also then subsequently written a journal companion piece to go with it that will come out. What I tell people is, “Your word shapes your reality.” I have learned that more in the last several years than I would have ever thought possible. That’s how I’ve got here, Kevin. That’s how I’ve got to coach you. I did a TEDx Talk in Cincinnati. They were like, “You are a coach. Would you even be willing?” I’m like, “I would be willing to come help.” That’s how we met.

I have never heard that story before so I appreciate all that. That’s awesome. Talk to us about your experience with toxic leadership. That’s our focus of the show. I want to hear your experience and purview.

It was interesting. When I went and applied for this role, I was so excited about the idea of being able to work with speakers and professionals, especially. I come from healthcare. I live in scrubs. I work with very broken people. It’s incredibly rewarding to work but I knew I was always fascinated with the corporate world. I wanted to be involved in it. I so much wanted to fit in in that world.

When I had this opportunity, it came from a google search. How do you find a job? You ask Google. I was like, “Corporate speech pathology. Where do I find a job?” I happened to find a job that was nearby. This woman was hiring. She had a similar background that I did. It’s one of those that looking back, you know more than you give yourself credit for. I will say it that way.

I went through the interview process. It was pretty intense, multiple interviews, doing presentations and things. There were things even during the interview process where my gut was like, “I’m not so sure about this person and how they operate but I wanted the job.” I don’t know if you have ever been in that position where you are willing to put blinders on towards someone’s behavior because you want that situation, relationship, job, and the prestige of working for a particular company. I wanted that so I went ahead and took the job, even though in my gut I was like, “There are some things that I know are not right.” I felt something was off.

Express your feelings of gratitude in an unrestrained and heartfelt manner.

I get into the role. I had set very clear expectations at the beginning around the hours that I could work. I’m a mom. I tell people that upfront. I was very clear about how I needed my hours to be. This was a part-time gig. She was like, “It’s totally fine. No problem. Go whatever you think.” I remember on my very first day, we are in the car together going to some client appointment. I was talking about my hours and she goes, “Really? That’s all you can do?”

You had already set this expectation before you signed the dotted line.

Day one and you are new in the role. I’m feeling weird and wonky. I’m like, “I want this to work.” I learned some things along the way. First of all, this is purely anecdotal. I have no research. I know this to be true. You can tell me if it’s true with you or if you have seen it before. You can tell the quality of a boss by the number of administrative assistants that they have had and gone through.

I learned very quickly that this person had been through many. The EA that was working when I was first hired started to warn me about particular behaviors. Very passive, aggressive behaviors, underlying comments that she would make. The EA told me like, “You were her second choice. She wanted a different girl but you were the one that showed up.” I’m sitting there and putting up with it, Kevin. I had taken this huge leap by taking this huge risk.

From there, it was a lot of comments about, “You need to learn this yourself. I’m not going to help you,” which is a warning sign. When someone is unwilling to provide you with adequate support, there’s a problem. It’s the mentality of, “I learned it the hard way. You are going to learn it the hard way, too.” It seems a terrible way to lead or to be a guide. I was thinking like, “I look for a guide to show me the easy way.”

It’s like leading by perpetuating harm. It’s like, “I went through this but I don’t want you to go through this.” It’s not that. It’s like, “Since I went through it, you’ve got to go through it.”

It’s very common. You see that a lot with women, especially. It’s like, “I worked my way to this. Now, you have to. Sorry about your luck.” It is hard. Other things were talking down about me in front of the administrative assistant, which I talked about. She at one point looked at the administrative assistant and said, “Alex has lots of boundaries.”

I pulled her aside and talked to her. I was like, “That’s not okay for you to talk that way.” She’s like, “It’s true.” Probably the most pivotal thing of this whole experience for me was a moment. I share this story a lot. It’s in the book and I do this in my keynote. Have you ever had a boss that has a favorite client? They talk about them all the time.

She had this favorite client and here I am new on the job. I’m maybe 90 days in. She’s like, “I want you to come and observe this session. I don’t want you to say anything.” I can do that. I can sit quietly and take notes. The way she described this woman, you would have thought that she was going to walk in on a cloud. I was so excited to meet this woman.

The woman comes in. She is magical. She’s tall, blonde and beautiful. She’s got a foreign accent, which I, as a Midwestern girl is short and a little awkward. By a little awkward, I mean a lot awkward. She walks in. She’s a part of this huge medical company, a high-level executive. I’m drooling and was so excited. I keep my cool. I don’t say anything. I watch the session. I do everything I’m supposed to do until the three of us get up to leave.

We are walking out of the office. We are heading toward the front door and the woman looks at me. She says, “It was so nice to meet you.” I look at her and nod my head down a little bit like a little bow. She sticks out her hand and I stick out my hand. I said, “It was so very nice to meet you, too.” I said it just like that. She walks out the door. The office door slams. My boss looks right at me and says, “We need to talk.”

TTLS S1 11 | Impact Of Communication

Impact Of Communication: Communication training creates psychological safety where people can discuss what is challenging.

 

I’m thinking in this moment, naive Alex, that we are going to talk about everything that I learned. I’m going to get to showcase what I observed in the session, talk about what I know about communication and all of that. We go and sit down in my office. My boss looks at me and says, “How do you think that went?” I was like, “I thought it was great.” I started to list off everything that I could think of. I was like, “I learned this and I saw this. What do you think about our presentation?” She holds up her hand and makes that universal stop signal. She’s like, “How do you think you did?”

I had no idea how to answer that question because I was like, “Fine. I didn’t talk.” She looks at me and makes this scrunched-up face like disgust. She starts to rub her fingers together and was like, “You are so effusive.” I sat there and thought, “Holy heck, I don’t know what effusive means.” I have no clue but I knew by her body language and look.

Here I was 90 days in. I risked everything for this job. I did what you are not supposed to do. I knew it was bad. I stood up and started to cry. I walked over and grabbed a Kleenex. I sit down and wipe away the tears. She looks at me and she goes, “You are hard on yourself, aren’t you?” I said, “Yes, I am.” She said, “Good. We won’t need to have this conversation again.” She got up and walked out. I should have left then. I didn’t. I stayed on and off for the next two years. I quit at one point, and then went back because I loved the work so much. I love my work. I adore what I do.

This whole piece around effusive and her looking at me, I knew on some level what she meant, which was, “You are too much. Tone it down. Reign it in. Button it up.” I tried for nearly two years to do that. It almost broke me. I ended up in therapy, completely questioning who I was and how I operated. I thought I was a good person. I had beaten myself down to a level that you can’t even begin to explain because of this one person’s comment. A note for your audience, always looks up the word. Do you know what effusive means? It took me until I had opened my business.

I have heard it used like extravagant.

It means expressing feelings of gratitude in an unrestrained and heartfelt manner. I will be damned. That’s how I want people to remember me when I die. I hope people think of me as effusive. Once I left that toxic environment, I have embraced effusive. People laugh all the time. They are like, “Alex, you need to get #effusive T-shirts.” Women come up to me and they are like, “I have gotten the same feedback. You are too much. You are not enough.”

You are constantly trying to fit into someone else’s mold of what’s supposed to be right for you. It’s soul-crushing. You want to talk toxic, let’s take people. Take what’s inherently great about them, suck it away from them, and try to make them act a certain way, which is why I’m so passionate about the work I do because I’m not looking to change people’s communication. I’m looking for ways to help them be more effective. To remind people that you are inherently a good communicator. You know these rules and you can do this well. You can also not call people names like effusive.

The first thing people get wrong with communication is trying to perfect it instead of looking at it and saying that there’s a broad way to communicate.

What I love about what you are saying is I was one of your clients. You honed in on who I am as a communicator. Not, “Kevin, don’t use your arms that much.” I’m like, “I use my arms like an octopus. I’m using them as I talk.” You were great at showcasing who I am and what I’m good at, not what the textbooks say, what you think or how you speak. I appreciated hearing that story. Unfortunately, it took you to go through toxicity to learn that. That’s unfortunate but I’m glad you found the bright spot in the darkness.

It has been the greatest learning for me because I know what my mission is. I know how I want to help people. Much of what impairs people’s ability to speak is the questions around what’s right and wrong. We are taught very much performance-based speaking, that everything is a performance and we always have to be on, which immediately strips us of any authenticity that we might have. To your point with putting on masks, “I have my public speaking mask on.”

Another point I want our audience to know is, you’ve got pulled back into the toxic work environment because of your love of what you were doing. For a lot of people, our passion for a mission or vision gets taken advantage of. We put up with things but we’ve got to pay for therapy. We’ve got to do this. We’ve got caught up. We can’t sleep at night.

You are paying for it with your health because you are going home and drinking half a bottle of Merlot to cope.

We put up with that nasty exchange. It’s like, “Do what you love but kill yourself while you are doing it.” That’s not a fair exchange. I’m sitting here like, “You lasted two years.”

On and off. I quit over the phone once, which was ridiculous but then I went back because I thought, “I haven’t given it my all. I need to go back, try again and reestablish.” I gave it my all. “Something is wrong with me,” which is what so many high performers do. We blame ourselves instead of looking around going, “This is not the way we treat other humans. This is not effective and helpful.” It’s that construct of power. You are in a position of power. Therefore, you hold that over me. I’ve got a disadvantage. I fight and rebel against that.

It also perpetuates people to be a perfectionist. You self-criticize at night. I’m probably sure there were countless nights where you are like, “Should I have said that? I made this tiny mistake and I’m harping over it without spending time on my kid. I can’t spend time at the moment because I’m thinking about tomorrow.”

You overthink everything, which is a sign of low confidence. When you overthink, seek out perfection and are unable to take a step, paralysis by analysis, that’s low confidence. What we don’t realize is that sometimes that low confidence comes from the environment that we are in. I love that quote where it says, “You don’t blame the flower or the plant if it doesn’t grow. You look at the soil.” Sometimes, you planted it in a freaking desert.

No water and wrong soil content but since you like the sun, you stay there. That’s tough. You are one of my favorite experts in communication. I view communication as one of the many antidotes to counteracting this toxicity. When you think about that, how does communication training help foster that positive work environment and counteract the toxicity that we described?

TTLS S1 11 | Impact Of Communication

Impact Of Communication: It’s toxic when we develop a workplace language that other people don’t understand.

 

Communication training when it’s done well, fosters an environment that creates psychological safety to where people can discuss what is hard, challenging and where they are stuck. When you learn how to communicate well with others, you learn how to ask questions versus making assumptions. Learn how to lean on each other for information versus always being the expert in the room.

I’m tired of hearing people coach other people to be the expert in the room. What I am finding is that impairs a lot of people because they feel like they have to know everything and we don’t. That’s why we work in teams. I don’t know everything. If I’m faced with a toxic work environment, I’m going to call you because you know how to consult in a toxic work environment. I don’t. That doesn’t make me a poor leader. That makes me an extraordinary leader because I know where the people need to go.

If I’m afraid to ask for help and I don’t communicate well enough with the people in my environment to even know who to ask, I’m siloing a lot. We don’t understand and take the time to listen to other people to figure out what they do and how we can work together. Broadly to answer that question, great communication training is going to start with listening. We listen to each other. The Lord knows that is a very rare and precious trait. Someone willing to sit and listen because we are all clamoring for a space to talk.

When it comes to that communication, especially at the toxic leader level, there are communications like the output. That lack of communication may be due to lack of confidence or sometimes overconfidence, to be honest.

“I’ve got it all figured out. I don’t need another person. I have been doing it for a while. I couldn’t possibly look at the new person who happens to be two generations below me. What on Earth do they know?” They have a whole different skillset and wealth of information that you need and want. The other thing that happens in communication that’s toxic is when we develop a workplace language that other people don’t understand.

Jargon, acronym, even little things that you might say lingo-wise that go with your company. I preach this all the time and I get so much pushback because we all want to sound smart. We use words that other people don’t understand, which is immediately alienating that makes someone feel like an outsider. Effusive is my great example. I don’t know what it meant.

If I use acronyms that you don’t understand, everybody around the table is doing it and you are the new person, all of a sudden, you feel at an extreme disadvantage because nobody has explained it. You are afraid to ask. You are afraid of the public shaming that might and often does happen when you are new and you don’t have the answer.

Learn to trust your gut.

Language automatically signals in group and out group. Language is how we create those bonds with another human and that could be body or verbal language. The moment I’m using language as disconnecting, whether I know it or not, I am sending a signal that you don’t belong. I’m sending a signal that you are different because you don’t know this. You don’t have the codex in your pocket so you can’t look it up. I will tell you, a lot of companies have jargon where this isn’t common jargon. This is jargon they made up. You can’t even go on the internet and look it up sometimes. When it comes to communication training, implementation, and sustainability, what do people get wrong?

The first thing that people get wrong with communication is trying to perfect it. We try to perfect it and say that there is a right way and a wrong way to communicate, instead of looking at it and saying that there’s a broad way to communicate in the world, which speaks multiple languages and has multiple cultures. Embracing the idea that we’re not all going to do it the same but if we work together, we can get there, which sounds incredibly altruistic. I also believe that it’s true if you put the work in.

People get that wrong. This ties into your toxic leadership of who requests that their staff get communication training but then they are unwilling to do the training themselves, which to me is a red flag, that this will never fly because the way we are designed as humans like pack animals is we are going to look at the person above and if they are not doing the thing, then why are we doing the thing? That’s also a huge credibility ding for the leader.

More and more, we are craving authentic leadership and transparent people. We don’t want to work for liars or people who consistently demonstrate incongruent behavior. Nobody is perfect but if you say you were going to work on communication skills and you are not a part of it as the leadership, then there’s a problem.

The incongruent behavior is not lying necessarily but it’s a form of. You might as well be.

Call it a hypocrite. “You all need this but I don’t need it. I’m not going to follow these rules. These are the rules for the company but I’m not going to do this. I’m not going to actively engage in the behavior that I expect from you.” To me, it seems like tyranny over leadership.

One thing I see a lot of is, “We value diversity inclusion but we are doing it this way.” They don’t say anything about it. ” With psychological safety, those actions speak louder than words.

It’s why representation matters.

I don’t know what the percentage is offhand about communication but I know that they talk about how body language is louder than the words somebody says. I have heard that someone could say something but we watch body language innately. Even the research, talks about we watch actions more than words.

I say it a little differently. It’s called the Mehrabian myth. You might see this in public speaking where so many percent come from this and only a certain percentage comes from your words. That is an often misquoted and misinterpreted study. The important piece that comes out of that is that when we are unclear, we will default to body language and we will look for that.

When I talk about leadership presence and what I’m looking for in leaders, your character, who you are, is demonstrated by how you show what’s important to you. If I say as a leader that diversity and inclusion are important to me and yet my board is all White males, I am not operating in line with what I say my character is. I’m showing you that my value set is different 100%.

We look at those actions so it’s a protective mechanism not to be harmed at me. It’s a defense mechanism. If you could go back and change how you reacted to having that toxic leader, what would you do differently?

I would have trusted my gut and not taken the job from day one. I find this to be very true. I do a lot of work around confidence and communication with women. There are a lot of research and social conditioning that shows that we are inherently taught not to trust our gut. From a broad-paced perspective and not to get into a gender disparity conversation, you think about it. We are not even trusted with making decisions with our own bodies.

It was only 1978 before we were able to get alone without our husband’s approval. I was alive then. I don’t want to play a comparison game but when you think about that innately as humans, I would say this to men too we know deep down, we are not taught to trust that sense. I would have said to a young woman who’s like, “I see some warning signs. This is the job that I want.” We are so conditioned. You can power through it out. We are taught to doubt ourselves, not to trust ourselves. “Are you reading it that way?” Someone will come along and say, “What if she meant this?” I love this one, too. “These kinds of opportunities only come around once.”

I doubt what was my intuitive sense based on behaviors that I saw. I knew and felt uncomfortable with it but I couldn’t articulate it at that point. I’ve got myself into a situation that then prolonged for two years and ended up in therapy. It has led to one of the greatest joys of my life. I believe firmly that we go through trials so we can come back better on the other end. You know if you are not in the right place. Take care of yourself and get yourself out. There will be another opportunity. There will be more and better things but there is no need to put yourself through suffering if you can already see the writing on the wall before you even start.

I truly like hearing about intuition and trusting your guts because we are conditioned not to. I want to thank you for saying that. This has been awesome. I loved hearing your story and the wisdom of what you have learned over the years. Based on the insights and what we talked about if you could leave our audience with some words of wisdom, what would that be?

My words of wisdom are when in doubt, steer with confidence, which means trust your gut. You know who you are. The world and social media are trying to shake you. If you are a professional development junkie, you are probably reading this. You are looking for that formula that someone else has that says, “If I do all these things, then I will show up like me.” Instead of saying, “I already know who I am. I am going to show up like me.” This is something that you do well, Kevin. You are like, “This is who I am and this is how I show up.” Be you.

Before we go, are there any initiatives you are working on? Your journal is coming out so I want to know more about that. How can people reach you?

First of all, you can sign up for my newsletter at www.PSWithAlex.com. It does come out once a week. It has all of my programs that are going on but I promise you, it’s not spammy. It’s generally pretty darn entertaining. That’s one way you can reach me. Another thing that you can do is you can check out my book, which is Minivan Mogul: A Crash Course in Confidence for Women. I will tell you that men read it, too. That is my book.

The accompanying journal is the Minivan Moguls Driver’s Manual. It’s the warning lights of low confidence and what to do about them. It’s designed for the busy person who doesn’t have time to sit, do 18 meditations, and journal 17 pages. It’s designed to open up. “Here’s what I’m struggling with. I’m struggling with overthinking. What’s one thing I can do to get better now?” It has some space to write if you want to. I’m also a minivan-driving mom so I’m like, “If you don’t want to write, don’t write. You don’t have to. Stop that stuff.” You are trying to force yourself to journal, you are like, “This is ridiculous. I don’t feel like journaling.” “Then don’t journal. It’s great that it works for you but if it doesn’t, let it go.”

From a purely communication standpoint, I’ve got a couple of different offerings that your audience may be interested in. If you are like, “I want to be a public speaker, get on a stage and craft my signature message,” I have the keys to your public speaking success series that is going on. We will also go on again soon so that’s a series of successions where you can hop into any or all of them. You have some access to me for coaching once a month via a group.

The world is trying to shake you. You need to know who you are so you can show up as yourself.

I also have for women. I have my Communicate With Confidence group that is a very small and limited group. I limited it to six women. I run it four times a year. We go in-depth on what are the things that women need to do to become better communicators and to develop confidence around saying what they need and want to say. I offer all kinds of company workshops and keynotes as well. You can find all that on my website. Those are my big things. Also, feel free to hop into the Minivan Moguls Facebook group because I do fun stuff there, too.

This has been phenomenal. Thank you for our conversation. We will continue to link up and find different ways to thrive together.

Thank you, Kevin.

Thanks for reading the show. Until next time.

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