Getting Your Point Across: 4 Steps to Effective Virtual Communications

In some form or fashion, working virtually is the reality for most of us today. And whether you’re working with colleagues, customers, vendors or others, there are more tools and apps than ever to help you collaborate across town, across the country or across the globe.

But no matter how many tools and devices you have, effective collaboration still comes down to how effectively the parties communicate with each other. Particularly when you don’t have the advantage of visual cues, tone of voice or cultural nuances, the chances for miscommunication are high.

Here are 4 steps for making sure your communications get across in the way you intended, no matter what technology you use (or even if you’re communicating in person!):

1. Give them the context: You develop your communications with a specific frame of reference in mind, but your audience doesn’t necessarily have the same mindset going in. This is one of the reasons why email and other brief written communications can be so prone to misunderstanding. The context isn’t there, so the receiver feels like it’s coming out of the blue or misinterprets your intention.

Preempt the problem by letting them know upfront what’s going on, why you’re communicating and what the big picture is. This is important to clarify both for yourself (before you communicate) and for your listener.

2. Give them the agenda: Everyone’s juggling multiple priorities. We all have very full plates. Especially when you’re working with dispersed team members who may not have much daily interaction, rambling messages or confusing requests can feel frustrating, intrusive and disrespectful of people’s time.

Don’t just wing it. Give people a high-level agenda or plan that sets expectations about what you’re trying to accomplish in a way that’s appropriate for the format or communication vehicle.

3. Give them the what: Of course, the facts and data—the what—are important, but oftentimes, the tendency is to jump right in to the content. If you haven’t set up the context and expectations, people may misinterpret what you’re saying, have trouble following your train of thought or simply tune out.

Dive into the content after doing those first two steps, and people will understand the data within the framing you desire. This will help you deliver it in a much more effective way while giving your listener the critical information they need.

4. Give them a way to engage: Stories and interaction are what allow people to quickly make connections with what you’re talking about—and that means what you’re communicating is more likely to stick with them.

We do this naturally in our heads, trying to make connections to what it is we’re hearing, so if you can facilitate that process through relevant stories, you’ll find you’ll get much better impact and people will really understand what you mean. Do this throughout your communications, and whenever possible, make it a two-way interaction so people feel involved and that their participation matters.

Because these steps hit all of the quadrants of the Whole Brain® Model, no matter how diverse the thinking preferences of your audience, you’ll be able to “speak the language” of their thinking to make sure your communication gets across—whether it’s across the phone, across email, across Skype or across the room—in the way you intended.

Try them out in your next virtual meeting or in the next team communications you send out to see how it works!



The SAGA of Managing Your Thinking in a Chaotic World

Today’s biggest cognitive challenge—especially at work—is managing the sheer volume of information and noise in the environment. No matter how skilled you think you are at multi-tasking, what you’re really asking your brain to do is task switch, and there’s plenty of research that shows the brain just isn’t very good at it.

So how do you get clarity and results when your attention is fragmented?

You have to consciously choose to manage your thinking. And that’s where filters come into play.

Clarity requires metacognition—thinking about your thinking: what you notice, where your mental energy goes, what you overlook. These are your mental filters.

Mental filters take the infinite streams of data that are available to you and separate what you notice from what you tend not to notice. The problem is your filters are not freely chosen. Instead, they’re put in place by unconscious forces. They work at a level below your conscious awareness.

Once you realize you have a set of filters in place, however, you can make them conscious. You can shine the light of awareness on them, bring them out in the open, examine them and evaluate them.

At that point you’re free to change filters. If your current set of filters is creating more complexity than clarity, then choose new filters. The key is to manage your filters instead of letting them manage you. When you do, they’ll help you:

  • Focus attention by pointing at what’s most important for you to notice right now and what you do not need to pay attention to.
  • Make meaning by consciously choosing how to interpret the events you notice.
  • Move into action based on your interpretations with an understanding of the mental demands required.

The way you habitually think on a daily basis—your default filters—can create blind spots that prevent you, your team and your organization from getting what you want.

You can use the Whole Brain® Model to recognize these default filters without judging yourself (level 1 meta cognition). With this baseline knowledge, you can intentionally put new mental filters in place to shift your mindset, discover your options and take action to get results you want (level 2 meta cognition).

There are many filters, and none of them are “right” for all people at all times. As I’ve worked in the field of Whole Brain® Thinking over the past 30 years, I’ve sorted through hundreds of options. But I’ve found that the following four filters apply to the challenges most of us are or will be facing. You can remember them by the acronym SAGA:

  •  Solving—Question your assumptions, shift your mindset and create breakthrough solutions.
  •  Aligning—Collaborate, leverage disagreement and get to closure even in the midst of conflict.
  •  Growing—Change at a deeper level when internal motivation or external challenges move you toward significant, long-term learning.
  •  Adapting—Flex your thinking and change your behavior in response to challenges that don’t require deep learning.

I’ll be exploring this topic more over the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, think about this: Which filter can you leverage right now for maximum benefit?


How efficient is your sales thinking?

With so many of us pressed for time and juggling more and more responsibilities, it doesn’t make sense to focus energy and attention on areas that will be unnecessary—or even detrimental—to the sale.

By learning how to diagnose the thinking styles of customers, sales people can quickly engage their prospects, understand their pain points, articulate value in a more compelling way, and close deals faster.

But this isn’t just a strategy that will benefit the sales team.

Whether you’re selling a product or service, trying to get buy-in for your ideas, or need to work more productively with internal customers and stakeholders, paying attention to their thinking helps you get outside your own head so you can focus on what’s really driving the decision-making process for that specific person.

So, how do you think like your customer?

In a video lesson for Athena Online’s MyQuickCoach series, Ann Herrmann-Nehdi, explains how specific questions, comments and even the environment can reveal a great deal about:

  • What your customer cares about
  • How they prefer to be communicated with
  • What types of information you should focus on, and just as importantly, the kinds you don’t want or need to waste time on

As you watch the video, consider how you might apply a knowledge of customer thinking to improve other areas of your business, including:

  • Improving the efficiency and user-friendliness of processes
  • Fine-tuning marketing and communication approaches
  • Developing, segmenting or redesigning product offerings

Watch the video: Connecting with the Customer

Research Reveals Keys to Increasing Team Productivity

How do you increase the efficiency of a group of people? How do you get more output from your existing human resources?

Those were the questions Charles G. DeRidder and Mark A. Wilcox examined as part of a six-year research study they conducted with the USDA Forest Service.

The premise of their study was that a diversity of thinking would help teams reach new performance benchmarks. Using the Whole Brain® Model as the foundation for their work, along with thinking style data from Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument® (HBDI®) assessments, they documented significant improvements in efficiency and effectiveness when teams were designed to include a balance of thinking preferences.

Among their findings and lessons learned:

  • Teams that are balanced in terms of thinking preferences are more effective; they consider more options and make better decisions.
  • Whole Brained teams were 66% more efficient than homogenous teams.
  • 70% or more of the teams were “successful” when Whole Brained vs. 30% or less when not.
  • Size matters: 7 members is the ideal team size.

As DeRidder and Wilcox observed, if you want to break through to the next level of production and increase team productivity/efficiency, “The answer is clear: Organize mentally balanced teams that match the task.”

Download the full research report to read more about the study, methodology and outcomes: Improving Group Productivity: Whole Brain® Teams Set New Benchmarks

Watch: In this video, Ann Herrmann-Nehdi shares tips for improving team performance.

Outsourcing your Cognitive Overload

conference room

Like many others, I recently took off on vacation for a week. In the process I validated something learned earlier this year, that the most productive day of the year is universally the same day across the world: The day before you leave on vacation. 

In order for me to mentally disconnect, I found myself in a very focused way, reviewing all of the short- and long-term projects and goals I have on my plate.

We are all carrying around a much greater “cognitive load” these days, and vacation time, even if it is just a long weekend, provides an opportunity to give ourselves a necessary breather. Our brains need the break to function optimally.

Most people consider their cognitive load in a traditional and linear format—like a to-do list. The challenge is this format does not lend itself to the complex and interdependent work we live in today.

Today’s world creates a lot of cognitive load, where our work and personal lives overlap and create even more complexities. We’re checking e-mails in the evening and on weekends, and making phone calls to resolve personal issues during the day.

One colleague from IBM said it this way: The issue is no longer work-life balance; effective work-life integration is the challenge!

So how can you lighten your load? One solution is to draw out a map of your cognitive load.

1. Take out a blank sheet of paper (or use a Walk-Around Pad), and map your cognitive load against the different thinking styles as depicted in th four quadrants of the Whole Brain® Model:

A Quadrant: Financial, technical issues

B Quadrant: Unfinished projects, plans, organizational issues

C Quadrant: People and interpersonal issues

D Quadrant: Long-term concerns, “big picture” issues

 2. “Unload” by writing down the key areas that represent cognitive load for you, those areas that weigh heaviest in your mind, for both work and personal.

 3. Now look at the list. Is there anything you can outsource or delegate?

Leaving for a business trip or vacation is the perfect time to do this review since we will be doing it anyway. I went through this process and realized that in some areas, I was holding on to items I could easily outsource to others. Some call this delegation. I do plenty of that, too. However, the concept of outsourcing clearly implies the ownership is actually with the other entity.

On my list I had several items that I could just drop or defer to later in the year. Those were unloaded from the list.

In addition, I had “worrying about the stock market and our position in it” in the A quadrant. We are all struggling with the volatility of the market, overload of information and the worries that can create. My husband usually manages our stocks in our household, yet I was still hanging onto the “worrying.” I realized that by officially outsourcing this to him, I could let go of the worry with it.

What cognitive overload could you drop, outsource or delegate? 

Time Management the Whole Brain® Way

conference room

Recently over in our LinkedIn Group, someone asked how people tend to manage time according to their HBDI® Profile. 

With so many of us being asked to do more with less and manage multiple streams of information and tasks, effective time management has become a necessity, and your HBDI® Profile gives you insights into how your thinking preferences impact the way you manage time.

 In this video, Time Management the Whole Brain® Way, you’ll learn some tips for managing time based on your thinking styles.

 If you’re an HBDI® Certified Practitioner, be sure to also visit the Practitioners Area of our website to download the slides, “Time Orientation and Time Management The Whole Brain® Way.” Go to the Practitioner Resources section and look under “General Information.”

 What are some of your best time management tips? How are you using what we know about the brain to get a better handle on time?

Can Your Brain Be Time Literate? Only If You Use Your Whole Brain®!

     Karen Leland’s recent article in Chief Learning Office Magazine entitled The Time-Literate Organization is relevant to anyone who touches digital media today. In previous posts I have described how multi-tasking is actually a brain productivity killer. As a serial processing system, the brain is not designed to do two things at once. In the article, Karen cites some important statistics:

  • On average workers spend only 10.5 minutes on a task before being interrupted.
  • It takes an average of 23 minutes to return to the original task – not to mention the time required to mentally re-engage with the task to be effective.
  • We are attempting to manage 15 projects a day (vs. 5 in the past).
  • 50% of us are either handling too many tasks at one time or are frequently interrupted in the workday, or both.
  • The typical executive spends 4.5 hours a week looking for lost papers.

      The demands now placed on all of us are not only increasing the number of things we need to attend to, shortening the time we have available, but also increasing the complexity of the work, as the breadth of task types has exploded often beyond our “normal” scope and preferences. We are indeed living in The Era of And, but I believe we can make our brains more time literate by paying attention to our natural preferences and energy level.

    I have started applying our research on Whole Brain® Thinking to better manage and deal with the never ending onslaught of items that hits my virtual desk. If you apply Archimedes Principle of Displacement, which states that when you choose to do something you are by default choosing to not do something else, you need to make intentional mental choices about where your time and mental energy will go.

     Often we find ourselves doing things that we would rather do as opposed to what we have to do as part of our criteria in prioritization. For example, I know from my HBDI® Profile that I really prefer not to do administrative tasks, and they will often be those tasks that get relegated to the next day, later on or never.

      Using the Whole Brain® Walk-Around, I sort my tasks into the types of mental requirements demanded by them. Next, from my HBDI® data, I know that my energy level is greatest late at night. My experience has shown me that I’m better off doing low-preference tasks (B) in the early morning timeframe and “rewarding myself” with high-preference tasks late in the day. I can use the late-at-night timeframe for those tasks that fall clearly in my strongest preference zones  – more creative (D) and analytical tasks (A), as you can see from my profile.


     What do you do to get through your digital onslaught? Try looking at your preferences and then walking around the brain to prioritize.

“My Brain is Full”…Time for Spring Cleaning?


As spring begins to slowly emerge, I am reminded of the natural desire to do “spring cleaning.” We may do that for our homes, our closets or our offices, but do we do that for our minds?

Research on learning has shown that we need to clear some space to allow for new learning to occur. “Much of what we learn in a day, we don’t really need to remember,” Chiara Cirelli, of the Center for Sleep and Consciousness says. “If you’ve used up all the space, you can’t learn more before you clean out the junk that is filling up your brain.”

I know I have experienced that feeling of “my brain is full.” It happens even faster on a day when I am sleep deprived. There is a reason for that: Once again, sleep is one critical ingredient to our ability to refresh and renew our “learning space.” Many have shared with me that a full brain actually prevents them from sleeping, which just perpetuates the cycle.

What are some ways you can do some mental “spring cleaning?”

  1. Take a “brain dump” break once a day or at least one a week. Depending on your preference, it can be in the evening after a full day or in the morning to get organized, or both. Just writing the stuff down that is floating in your head can allow you to let it go and help move it onto long-term memory. It is even better if you keep a running priority list that you can review and update. (Whole Brain® Model “B quadrant” tip)
  2. Power up by taking a mini-walk, run or mental breather. Often the “noise” in our heads is the same information cycling around again and again. Just taking a five-minute physical break will send blood flow to your brain, and that’s often enough to flush out the clutter and allow you to refocus. (Whole Brain® Model “C quadrant” tip)
  3. Leverage technology. Use recorders, smartphones or your gadget of choice to capture a recurring thought for processing later or for filing in your brain dump list. (Whole Brain® Model “A quadrant” tip)
  4. Treat your brain to some escape. Daydream, take a powernap or listen to some music to calm your thinking and give it a rest. It does not take much to shift your brain state. (Whole Brain® Model “D quadrant” tip)

Oh, by the way, don’t wait for Spring!