Category Archives: Communication Skills

A 4-Step Plan for Effective Communication

4 step plan for effective communication

Communication is tough.  It is one of the hardest things to consistently do so that everyone feels a part of the team and no one gets left behind.  It is also one of the most important characteristics of a healthy and thriving team.

Here’s a simple, 4-step plan to develop an effective communication plan for your team. Read more

5 Simple Relationship Building Exercises that Your Team Needs Now. #5 is Powerful!

Relationship building team exercises

Whether you have a new team, new team members, or an established team, trust is one of the most critical and fundamental issues you need to establish within the group.  It is one of the critical skills that top teams possess. Relationship building exercises can help to establish trust by helping your team get to know one another and build on the relationships that are already there.

These 5 simple exercises can be used by themselves or you can imbed these exercises in part of a larger event or team building day to work on building trust or increasing trust with your team.

1.  The Question Ball

Take a medium-sized beach ball and write 10-12 questions on it.  Form a circle with your team and the leader will pass the ball to someone.  When the person catches it, they must answer the question closest to their right thumb (no pivoting the ball if you don’t like the question!)  Pass the ball around the circle until everyone has answered at least one question.  Feel free to repeat!

Sample questions:

  • What is your favorite place to eat?
  • What is your favorite movie?
  • Where do you like to go for vacation?
  • What is your favorite book/author?
  • What’s the most unique thing in your office

Here’s a list of 25 Questions from a recent article in Inc. Magazine that I saw recently you can use for this game.

2. M&M Game

Divide your team into groups of 4-5.  Pass a bag of M&M’s around each group and tell each person to “take as much as you need.”  That’s all you will tell them.  If they ask, just repeat the instruction.

Once everyone has gotten some M&M’s, tell them they will go around the circle and tell the other members of the group one unique thing about themselves for every M&M they took.

Have group members continue until all M&M’s are gone.  Switch up the groups and do it again.

3.  Passing Trains

This activity requires a little bit of preparation.  You need to prepare envelopes that have the following questions in them, and the number of envelopes should equal half of your group size.  (i.e., if you have a group of 20 people, you need 10 envelopes that include all of the questions.)

  • What’s the strangest talent you have?
  • What is your strangest fear or phobia?
  • What are 3 things still left on your bucket list? OR
  • What are 2 things that you have crossed off your bucket list?
  • Choose a movie title for the story of your life.
  • If there was a movie about your life, what actor would you want to play you?

Here’s a post that has a list of 45 Questions from LifeHack that you can use to pull more or different questions in to this exercise.

Set up 2 rows of chairs.  The rows of chairs should be side by side facing in opposite directions so that when people sit in the they will be sitting in rows – half of the team all facing one direction (one behind the other – not side by side) in a row and the other half facing the opposite way in a row (picture trains passing by each other with the caboose of one at the engine of the other.)

Give one row a set of envelopes.  This group will stay put and ask the questions.  The other group will move forward one chair (the person in the very first chair will move to the back at the end of each round.)

Each round lasts 2 minutes and the group with the questions can ask as many questions as possible in the allotted time.  Once the round is over, the row of moving people move forward one and time starts over.

The activity is over when the people who are moving end up at the same spot that they started.  Now, have the group share interesting facts that they learned about each other during the activity.  If you have time, you can switch and have the people who moved asked the questions and get the other side to move.

4.  Pair-Share

Pair your group members up and have them sit face-to-face.  Have them pick a Person “A” and a Person “B”.  When you tell them to begin, Person A will start and have 60 seconds to answer a question.  During the 60 seconds, Person B should just sit and listen.

At the end of the 60 seconds, Person B will summarize what they heard Person A share.  Then, Person B will spend 60 seconds answering the same question and Person A will just listen.  At the end, Person A will spend 30 seconds reflecting back what they heard Person b share.

Have the pairs switch and go another round.  Do as many rounds as you have time for.

Potential questions:

What is one of your most significant accomplishments?

Who is someone who has made a big impact on your life?

if you could go back and change one thing in your life, what would it be?

Here’s another list of 50 Questions that you could choose from for this activity.

5.  The Greatness I See in You…

This is an incredibly powerful activity; however, I wouldn’t just jump into this one without at least doing 2 or 3 other activities beforehand.  It can be a highly emotional activity and can also be a barrier-breaker in teams.

Have your group form a “U” with their chairs and leave space for someone to stand at the end.  Team members will take turns standing in the open part of the U and allow team members to compliment them using one word to complete the sentence, “The greatness I see in you is boldness.”

Participants go as they think of an encouraging word.  Team members can go more than once in complimenting their team mates.  Give each team member ample time to be encouraged in the circle.  Usually 1-2 minutes is enough.  Just be sure that you allow equitable time for all team members.

(A great thing to do for people is to have someone write down all the responses on a piece of paper and save it for a rainy day.)

What other activities have you done to get to know your team mates?  What’s worked for you?  Let me know in the comments below and share if this has been helpful to you!  Thanks!

Image credit Bigstock Photo, Wavebreak Media Ltd

Why Authenticity is a Powerful Leadership Tool, Part 3

lead by example authentic leadership

In my last two posts, I discussed why leaders don’t practice authenticity, as well as why authenticity is a powerful leadership tool.  Today, I want to discuss how to be more authentic as a leader.  These are a few suggestions, and this is by no means an exhaustive list, but simply to serve as a challenge for all of us (myself included) to lead with more authenticity.

5 Ways to be a more authentic leader:

Share a personal story

Your individual story doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out tear-jerker, but simply something people don’t know about you.  Talk about your family, your kids, your dog (or cat – eesh!).  Tell people about your favorite vacation spot (here’s mine) or one of your hobbies.

Let people in and let them know what you like and what you’re like.  There are some things, however, that you want to keep to yourself.

Tell one of your most embarrassing moments

Telling an embarrassing moment shows a true willingness to be vulnerable with your team.  You don’t have to share every embarrassing moment (for some, this could take a while :)).  Sharing this kind of story, though, helps make you approachable and seem more “human”.

Show interest in others

I think we’ve all been around those people who do nothing but talk about themselves.  To me, this shows a lack of self-confidence.  Nothing says “insecurity” like a conversation all about me, me, me.  Ask questions of others, get to know them and what they like. You don’t even have to engage in a long conversation, you can show interest and build trust quickly.

Laugh at yourself

I love to laugh and have always loved a good joke; however, it took me a long time to learn to laugh at myself and not take life so seriously.  (I had such a problem with anxiety I had an ulcer before the 8th grade and 3 of them in college.)  Once I did learn to laugh at myself, a new level of freedom opened up for me, and now I laugh at myself quite often.  (TBH – there’s a lot to laugh at!)

Share your vision and dreams

Our vision and dreams do not define us, but they give others a better glimpse of who we really are. Share your leadership vision with your team.

What is your vision for your own life and work?

What are you passionate about?

What keeps you up at night with excitement or anxiety?

Authenticity, like leadership, is a journey.  There may be times when you overstep the authenticity boundaries, or people may feel that you aren’t “real” enough.  Keep trying, and eventually you will find the right balance in this area.

Previous Posts:

Why Authenticity is a Powerful Leadership Tool, Part 1

Why Authenticity is a Powerful Leadership Tool, Part 2

What are some other ways to be an authentic leader?  How do you practice authenticity with your team?  Talk to me, Goose!  Let me know in the comments below. 

Why Authenticity is a Powerful Leadership Tool, Part 2

Authenticity and relationships

Last Thursday, we talked about the definition of authentic leadership, as well as looked at why some leaders shy away from authenticity in Part 1. Today, I want to talk about authenticity as a leadership tool, and why it is so powerful.

The Power of Authenticity

What is the power behind authenticity?  What are the results of a leader who is authentic and works to build his authenticity?  Here are several key by-products of a leader pursuing authenticity.

“To be nobody but myself-in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make me somebody else-means to fight the hardest battle any human can fight, and never stop fighting.”   E. E. Cummings

Authenticity creates trust

Trust is a key component in any team.  Millennials tend to trust leaders who are authentic over leaders who are not.  The younger generation is very adept at telling the difference between the two kinds of leaders.  They are quick to discern the false from the true.

People who keep their thoughts, feelings, and personal lives close to their vest are hard to get to know, at best, and, at worst, can be intimidating.  These kinds of attitudes don’t build trust, and worst-case scenario can breed an atmosphere akin to walking on eggshells.

Authenticity gives others permission

Being authentic gives others permission to be authentic as well.  As the leader goes, so goes the team. When the leader gives off an air of authenticity, you are likely to find a team who is more authentic as well.


This is an area that is “caught” be example more then “taught”.  As others see you being authentic, they feel the freedom to do the same.  People (I  believe) naturally want to be free to be themselves.  Authenticity produces trust (above) and also prevents walls from building up among team members and serves to break down walls that have already been raised, which is the next by-product of being authentic.

Authenticity breaks down walls

When you are genuine and allow others to be genuine around you, it creates an environment that a.) prevents barriers from forming between you and team members, and b.) begins to break down walls that were there to begin with.

Authentic leadership strives to keep the channels of communication open between leadership and team members and among team members themselves.  People know and feel the level of authenticity and acceptance in a team and typically adjust their level of openness accordingly.

Authenticity is what gives us freedom to be ourselves and be comfortable with who we are, and it’s also what gives us access to connecting with other people in a meaningful and genuine way.   – Mike Robbins

Now that we’ve discovered the “why” behind a lack of authenticity from leaders and the power of being authentic as a leader, let’s turn to some ways that you can be more authentic as a leader.  These are things that will take practice and pushing yourself outside your comfort zone but well worth the effort.

Next week, we will finish this series on Why Authenticity is a Powerful Leadership Tool in the third and final post in this series.


Image credit: Bigstock Photo, kbuntu


Why Authenticity is a Powerful Leadership Tool, Part 1

authentic leadership powerful tool

“We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.”
― May Sarton

The dictionary defines authentic as “not false or copied; genuine; real”.  Michael Hyatt wrote a post a couple of years ago defining authentic leadership.  In his post, he shares 5 traits of authentic leaders:

  1. Authentic leaders have insight.
  2. Authentic leaders demonstrate initiative.
  3. Authentic leaders exert influence.
  4. Authentic leaders have impact.
  5. Authentic leaders exercise integrity.

Last year, Forbes online also did a post defining authentic leadership.  They outlined 4 characteristics of authentic leaders:

  1. Authentic leaders are self-aware and genuine.
  2. Authentic leaders are mission driven and focused on results.
  3. Authentic leaders lead with their heart [and minds].
  4. Authentic leaders focus on the long-term.

In this series of posts (there will be 3), though, I want to explore why authenticity is so powerful in leadership.  What is it about being a genuine leader that draws others in and makes for great leaders and teams?  First, though, I think we need to look at the “why behind the why.”  Why are more leaders not engaged in authentic leadership?

Reasons leaders are not authentic:


Leaders are human and like many of us, many leaders fear rejection.  They fear that they others will reject them if they show weakness.  For many younger workers, walls are a sign of weakness, and the ability to be authentic and real is a sign of strength.  Learn to cope with rejection and fear, and take a leap of faith into becoming a more authentic leader.


Another reason that people are not authentic is pride.  This is something I struggle with.  Along with pride comes the question, “What will people think of me?”  As leaders, we must move beyond that question (as hard as it can be at times) and move into the realm of being authentic with those we lead.


Many leaders have control issues.  They want to control every situation and as part of that, keep their personal lives and feelings to themselves.  There is a sense of fear here, but it centers around losing control (of themselves, of others, or the situation).  Ironically, when leaders try to maintain control too much, it is often lost in the process.

Keeping such tight reins on control also shows a lack of trust in your team when you refuse to let go and allow others to blossom.

“Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway.”
Mother Theresa


In what ways do you resist being authentic with your team?  What do you think is behind that fear of being authentic?  Let me know in the comments below!

Read the rest of the series:

Why Authenticity is a Powerful Leadership Tool, Part 2

Why Authenticity is a Powerful Leadership Tool, Part 3

Image credit: nexusplexus / 123RF Stock Photo

4 Creative and Effective Debriefing Exercises to Enhance Your Team Building Activities

Facilitation of group & debriefing

Debriefing after team building exercises is an essential, though often neglected, part of team building.  Processing the activities takes time, energy, and intentionality.  There are various ways to debrief activities; however, most facilitators stick to simply asking questions after each exercise.  While this is fine, there are alternate ways to process team building activities.  Variety is the spice of life, right?

Here are 4 creative and under-used ways to help people process these events, as well as some of the reasoning behind why these techniques are so important to the overall strategy of team building.

The Purpose of Debriefing Team Building Activities

There are several reasons why it is important to take team members through a specific debrief process, and to make an event more than just fun and games.

  • Typically, people “show up” in these activities how they “show up” in real life
  • Debriefing shows team strengths that might be overlooked or discounted in other situations
  • Processing uncovers team issues and begins the process of restoration
  • It connects the experience to real-life situations
  • Team growth happens after a process of reflection, honest feedback, and wrestling with issues

Debrief Activity #1 – Journal Writing

For this activity, participants write about their experience in a journal.  You want to give ample time for them to write.  Some people will be more comfortable with this than others, but it’s a good exercise to stretch people.  Challenge people to write a full page or two about their experience, their thoughts, what they learned about themselves and others during the exercise(s).

This is good to do after a 1/2 day or full day of activities.  It helps solidify the things they’ve learned and discovered about their team, and they can also help

Personally, I would give the team about 15-20 minutes to write.  After that, bring the team together and have them share what they wrote.  They do not have to read it word for word, but they should share about their experience.  This helps other people remember things that they may have forgotten and also identify with other’s experiences.

Debrief Activity #2 – Write a Poem

For this processing time, team members are [challenged] to write a poem about their experience. You will be amazed at the creative ability of some people.  Encourage them that this will not be submitted for publication anywhere and it is just for this team on this day.  Let them know that it doesn’t have to rhyme and that they should feel free to be as creative as they want with it.

If you’d like, you could pair people up to work together on the poem.  Just be cautious that it doesn’t turn into a competition of who wrote the best poem. You want people to feel the freedom to share without feeling like they are being judged or graded on their work.

Debrief Activity #3 – Make a Poster

This exercise will require a bit of preparation before hand.  There are two ways that you can have group members make posters:

– Using markers, pencils, etc. and draw about their experience

– Gather a bunch of magazines and have the team cut out pictures to make a collage.

Again, you can have people pair up or have everyone do their own collage/poster of the day’s events.  Encourage the team to not just focus on events, but also demonstrate through pictures what they learned and the lessons that they will take home form the day and begin to implement in their work and life.

Debrief Activity #4 – Create and Perform a Skit

Of the 4 activities, this one will be the most time-consuming and may be preferable to use on a multi-day event.  For this processing activity, divide the team into groups and have them create and perform a skit, telling about their team building experience.  You will want to limit the amount of time for each skit (3-4 minutes) so you can plan accordingly.

Give each group 20-30 minutes to brainstorm and plan their short skit, and then each group will perform their skit for the rest of the team.  You could make up awards for best, most creative, silliest, and most dramatic, but I would be careful about making this too competitive.

Any debrief exercise still needs to focus on the purposes listed above, not on the creativity of the individuals or seeing who can come up with the best skit, collage, poem, etc.  I hope these are helpful and something that you can begin to implement with your teams right away.

Additional Resources

A Teachable Moment: A Facilitator’s Guide to Activities for Processing, Debriefing, Reviewing and Reflection (affiliate link)

Processing the Experience: Enhancing and Generalizing Learning 2nd (second) Edition by Luckner, John L., Nadler, Reldan S. [1997] (affiliate link)

What are some other creative ways to debrief your team after team building activities?  Share them in the comments below. 

Did you find this article useful?  Please share with your friends on Twitter or Facebook.  Thank you for your support.
Image credit: wavebreakmediamicro / 123RF Stock Photo

2 Communication Activities You Can Use With Your Team Today. #2 is More In-Depth.

The best communication activities for your team.

Here are 2 short activities that you can use with your team to improve communication, understanding, and team morale.  These communication activities can be part of a team meeting or used as a segment of leadership trainings.

[We would love to know your experience with these activities.  If you use them, let us know how they go in the comments below.  If they are useful, please share on Facebook, Twitter, or let others know about our site.  Thank you!]

Communication Activity #1 – Viewing Life through Other’s Eyes

What if you could see what’s going on inside someone – what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling, or what they’re going through?  Would you be more compassionate?  More understanding?

As you work with teams and are a part of teams, there is a tendency to view things from your own perspective, to see things only from your point of view.

When you begin to consider others and their thoughts, feelings, opinions, and seek to understand before seeking to be understood, then you begin to be more effective at working with people.  You become better at zooming out and seeing situations from more than one perspective.

This video, which was shown recently at one of our team meetings, shows what it would be like to see inside the thoughts and circumstances of others.

As you watch this video, ask yourself some questions:

  1. If some of my team members were going through similar circumstances, would it change the way I treat them?  Would it change how I talk to them?
  2. How do my circumstances affect my work, life, emotions?
  3. How can I be more compassionate to other’s situations?
  4. How can I get to know my team members in a way that I can be more understanding or supportive?



Debriefing the Video

1.  As you watched the video, what answers to the above questions came to mind?

2.  How would you respond differently to people if you knew what was going on in their life?

3.  How can you build relationships with others so that you can approach them with more empathy?

4.  What do you need to do in your own life to show more compassion to others?

Communication Activity #2 – Engaged Listening

For this activity, have people pair up with someone who they do not know very well.  Tell them to sit face to face with their knees almost touching.  Also, have them pick a Person A and a Person B (this will determine who goes first in each activity).

Round 1

In this round, Person A will go first and will be talking for 2 minutes about an accomplishment that they are very proud of.  If person A finishes before the 2 minutes are up, Person A and Person B have to sit quietly (no talking) for the remainder of the time.

Person B will act as if this is the most wonderful thing they’ve ever heard in their life!  Have them step into the greatest actor/actress role that they can muster.

Round 2

In this round, Person A will repeat their story from Round 1 and, again, will have 2 minutes to share about their accomplishment.

This time, Person B will act as if this is the worst accomplishment in the world.  They will again have to put on their acting hat and play the part.

Round 3

In this round, Person A will repeat their story from Round 1 and, again, will have 2 minutes to share about their accomplishment.

This time, Person B will act as if this is the most boring story that they’ve ever heard.  Again, acting hats required for Person B.

Rounds 4 – 6

As we say in our trainings, “What’s good for the goose, is good for the gander.”  For the next 3 rounds, have Person A and B switch roles.

Now, Person B will be sharing one of her most proud accomplishments, and Person A will put on their acting hat and go through all 3 rounds as before.

Debriefing Part One

After you have finished the rounds above, ask your team:

  1. For the speaker: what did it feel like to have the other respond to you with excitement?  With negativity?  With boredom? [Allow multiple responses.]
  2. For the “actor” – what was it like to respond in the different ways?  Was it easy?  Hard?  How did it make you feel?  [Again, allow multiple responses.]
  3. What is your normal style of communication?  When do you feel the most heard by others?

The Engaged Listening Posture – Instruction

People may have heard of active listening, but this is a bit different.  Engaged listening doesn’t require head nodding, verbal affirmations (such as “mmm hmm” or “sure”, etc.), or anything other than an open body posture, attentive listening, and paraphrasing back to the person what you heard.

Body posture

When you are practicing engaged listening, your body posture is open. Do not cross legs or arms, feet flat on the floor, with hands rested on your knees with palms up to represent an openness to listening.

While you are listening, you do not have to say anything or nod your head (in fact try NOT to do those things, and merely listen to what the person is saying).

You are present with this person and experiencing the moment with them while they are sharing.

Final Two Rounds

Have Person A go first and, again, share the same accomplishment from before for 2 minutes.  Person B practices Engaged Listening.  If Person A finishes before the 2 minutes, both persons remain quiet until the time is up.

When the time is over, have Person B paraphrase what Person A shared for 30 seconds.

Next, have Person B share about their accomplishment and Person A will practice Engaged Listening.  Again, if Person B finishes before the time is up, both are to remain quiet until the time is over.

When the time is over, have Person A paraphrase what Person B shared for 30 seconds.

Debriefing Engaged Listening

What was it like to be heard in this way?  What was it like to listen in this way?

How can you practice this with your team mates at work?  With your family at home?

What kind of difference would this make in your style of communication if you practiced this on a regular basis?


Take your team through these communication activities and answering the questions above.  What other questions would you ask your team?  How did it go?  Please share your experience with these in the comments below.  We want to know!

5 Quick Ways to Build Trust with Your Team in Five Minutes or Less

team trust building

Trust is a necessary component to any team.  According to Patrick Lencioni in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team trust is the foundational attribute on which everything else must be built to form a successful team.

Although building this kind of trust takes time, here are a few quick ways that you can build trust with your workers.  These should not be the only ways you seek to build trust, but they are specific practices that can be used on a daily basis to build up trust over time.

1.  Ask questions about others

People love to talk about themselves and what’s important to them.  A quick way to build trust and rapport is to ask people questions.

“How was Jonah’s basketball game?”

“How’s your mother doing?”

“How many boxes of girl scout cookies has your daughter sold?” (Be careful, though, this one might cost you some $$!)

These questions do a couple of things.  One, it lets people know that you’ve been listening and paying attention to them beyond the work atmosphere.  Knowing and asking about their kids, spouse, family can be a quick and easy way to build rapport with your people.

2. Listen

One of the biggest ways to build trust is by listening.  Take 5 minutes and listen to a co-worker.  If the course of the conversation begins to turn negative (gossip or back-biting another worker), steer the conversation back in a more positive direction.

According to the Center for Conflict Resolution, listening to someone does several things:

  • stops arguments and defuse strong emotions,
  • helps the other person feel heard,
  • helps the other person to listen to you,
  • helps you persuade the other person,
  • improves relationships.

3.  Show concern for your team

Check in with your employees from time to time.  Don’t just ask about how their project or presentation is coming along.  Show concern for them as a person.  Is someone abnormally quiet or seem withdrawn?  Ask them if they are okay and take time to listen.  A simple question showing genuine concern can pay huge dividends down the road.

People want to know that you care about them beyond their contribution to the organization.  As a leader, you walk a fine line between compassion, understanding, and knowing that deadlines have to be met and the company does have to be productive and profitable.  However, if you have to sacrifice relationships in order to do that, then no one wins in the long run.

4.  Find common ground

It really doesn’t take long to build rapport with people.  There are very few people that I can’t find something in common with in a very short time of talking with them.  Sports teams, kids, favorite vacation spots, good books or authors, movies, and music are just some of the things you can talk about to see what you have in common.  You’re probably even connected by someone you both know (and it’s probably Kevin Bacon, by the way!)

5.  Ask people their opinion

“What do you think?” is a powerful question.  It builds trust by showing that you are truly interested in someone’s feedback.  People want to voice their opinion and feel heard even if you do not take their advice.

Asking other’s opinion can also be a benefit to you, the leader.  It will give you various perspectives from which you can make the best decision.  Someone may have thought of a unique insight that you hadn’t.  After you have heard several points of view, you can make the decision you feel is best.


These can’t be merely “tactics” to gain people’s trust.  Your team can sense if you really care or if you’re just going through the motions.  There must be a genuine interest behind these questions and trust-building techniques.  Otherwise, you may quickly lose the very trust you are trying to build.

Feedback:  What other ways do you build trust with your team?  What effective ways have you found to build a quick rapport with others?  Let us know in the comments below!

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