The 9 Communication Rules You Need to Succeed

From the new book Speak Up, Show Up, and Stand Out 

Is your communication sabotaging your effectiveness? 

Welcome to our crowded world.  Today instant global communication—where we prize speed over effectiveness—is contributing to massive misunderstandings and conflict.

Everyone is distracted. Chances are that your messages—whether electronic or face-to-face—are being undervalued, misunderstood, or flat-out ignored.

If you don’t know how to get your message across effectively, or how to handle the negativity that is  hurled at you via emails, text messages, and online posts, you don’t stand a chance.

What price are you paying for ineffective communicate? 

  • Stress at work and at home
  • Feeling as if your job is never done
  • Frustrated that you are being misinterpreted
  • Spending too much time dealing with constant misunderstandings

Enter the 9 Communication Rules

More than ever before we need communication guidelines to help us navigate sticky situations and resolve difficult conversations.

These aren’t your standard rules.  They are value-based guidelines that tell people who you are and what you will and will not stand for.

Speak Up


The 9 communication rules will set you apart: You will stand out. 

Apply them each time you communicate (consistency is key).  You will:

  • Capture the attention of others
  • Create a strong presence
  • Quickly resolve misunderstandings and conflict
  • Be viewed as an influencer or leader regardless of your title or position.

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Dr. Loretta Malandro is the CEO of the Malandro Consulting Group ( and the author of several landmark business communication books including: Fearless Leadership, Say It Right the First Time, and her new book, “Speak Up, Show Up, and Stand Out: The 9 Communication Rules You Need to Succeed”.

Don’t Take the Bait! When People Dodge Your Question

Dodger of words

From the author of Speak Up, Show Up, and Stand Out & Fearless Leadership

Do you want to tear your hair out when people refuse to answer your question? You may be dealing with a dodger—someone who beats around the bush or throws up a smokescreen to avoid dealing with your question or concern.

Here is a two-prong approach for handling dodgers:

  1. Spot dodging tip-offs. These phrases signal the conversation is about to be taken off course. If you can’t spot them, you can’t stop them.


Common Dodging Tip-Off Phrases:

  • “I have a different concern.”
  • “This reminds me of….”
  • “My concern is….”
  • “This raises another question.”
  • “The real problem is….”
  • “Your problem is….”


  1. Intervene immediately. Don’t let the dodger steer the conversation in another direction. Respectfully interrupt the conversation the moment you spot the dodge and redirect it back to your question or concern. See examples below.



Don’t take the bait. Be smooth (and keep your emotions out of your response) and the dodger will have nowhere to go.

Dodging Questions slide Malandro


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Dr. Loretta Malandro is the CEO of the Malandro Consulting Group ( and the author of several landmark business communication books including: Fearless Leadership, Say It Right the First Time, and her new book, “Speak Up, Show Up, and Stand Out: The 9 Communication Rules You Need to Succeed”.


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Do You Feel Pressure to Immediately Respond to Electronic Messages?

From the author of Speak Up, Show Up, and Stand Out & Fearless Leadership






Pressure to Respond

With the avalanche of emails, texts, IMs, you name it, most people feel the constant pressure to respond instantly. And act on this impulse.

Take the following quiz to determine if you are an instant-responder.

pressure slide

 Instant Response

An instant response is not always your best response.  You may say the wrong thing, provide inaccurate information, create a misunderstanding, or set off a volatile email exchange. Take the pressure off yourself to respond instantly by asking:

  1. Is it necessary to respond?  If your answer is yes, reply with a buy-time message such as “I will respond to your message no later than (time/day/date).
  2. Is it urgent to respond?  If yes, respond.
  3. Is my response effective?  Take the time to reread your message before you send it. Think about the voice mail you are about to leave. Are you about to say something you will regret?

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Dr. Loretta Malandro is the CEO of the Malandro Consulting Group ( and the author of several landmark business communication books including: Fearless Leadership, Say It Right the First Time, and her new book, “Speak Up, Show Up, and Stand Out: The 9 Communication Rules You Need to Succeed”.


The Riskiest Word to Use at Work: Try It and See What Happens

Riskiest Word

The Riskiest Word to Use at Work:
Try It and See What Happens

By Dr. Loretta Malandro


You’re standing at the altar taking your marriage vows. The person officiating your wedding asks: “Will you take this woman/man to be your lawful wedded wife/husband?” Without hesitation you enthusiastically blurt out your response and say: “I’ll try”.

You’re doomed. Pack your bags and go home. Your marriage is on the skids before it starts.

There’s a reason why we use the words “I do” in marriage vows: It’s the language of commitment. Your marriage partner isn’t going to tolerate your no-commitment response of “I’ll try”.

This negative reaction is not limited to altar; it occurs in the workplace daily. Do you tolerate no-commitment language in yourself and in others? Before you deny your culpability in allowing the word try to persist, consider how many times per day you use this word and how many times you hear it being used by your coworkers, friends, and family.

We keep the overworked word try around for a simple reason: We love the flexibility that it gives us. But let’s cut to the chase. Flexibility is much too nice of a word. What we really love about the word try is its built-in escape hatch: We can effortlessly avoid being held accountable for delivering on a promise for the obvious reason that we never make a promise.

What message are you sending when you use the word try? The word try falls in the category of hedging language: Words and phrases used to avoid 1) making a commitment, 2) taking a decisive stand, and 3) being held accountable.

The definition of the word try is to make an effort to do something, attempt to accomplish or complete something, give something a shot, or take a crack at the problem. Nowhere in this definition will you find anything about committing. Try is not a commitment—it lacks a clear goal, passion, dedication, and confidence.

But there’s more. The word try signals failure before you even step out of the gate. You’re communicating that you might tackle the problem but you are not committing to resolving it or taking accountability for achieving the goal. See blog entitled “Ferguson’s Mayor Uses Slippery Communication”, October 2014, for more examples of hedging language.

Are you losing points on the Perception Scale? If you are in the habit of using the word try at work, in job interviews, in your resume, in electronic communication, or in meetings, you will be labeled as timid, weak, lacking in initiative, and definitely not leader material. The repetitive use of the word try weakens both your message and the perceptions others have of you.

How often does the word “try” creep into your everyday language? Take a look at the following list of commonly used try phrases. Which do you use? What phrases do you hear from your coworkers, your direct reports, and your superiors?

  • I’ll give it a try.
  • I’ll do my best.
  • It’s worth trying.
  • I’ll give it my best shot.
  • I tried everything.
  • I’m trying to be productive.
  • I’m trying to explain.
  • I’ll try to close the deal.
  • I tried to handle the issue.
  • Try to keep your chin up.
  • I’ll try again.
  • I try to act respectful.


Are you sabotaging yourself? Words shape our reality and our actions. When you use the word try—instead of providing a clean “yes” or “no” response or a decisive “I commit” or “I am not committing” statement—you set yourself up for failure. You kill your own motivation to achieve the goal by giving yourself an out before you even begin. Worse, you erode your confidence because what you are saying to yourself is that you are uncertain that you can succeed. When you stumble or fail, instead of recovering quickly, you’ll send your self-esteem in a downward spiral with an “I told you so” to yourself. After all, you didn’t believe in yourself from the beginning.

Imagine using the word “try” to motivate others: Athletic coaches are known for inspiring their teams to achieve great success. How do they do it? There are many views on this matter but one thing is certain: Great coaches do not use hedging language such as try. These coaches take a bold stand and inspire confidence in others.

But what if the following famous coaches used the word try and variations of this term? Would you be inspired? Compare the rewritten quote using try language with the actual quote and see what you think.

  • Vince Lombardi, Hall of Fame NFL football coach

Rewritten: “Winning isn’t everything, but it’s worth trying.”

Actual: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”


  • Bear Bryant, American college football coach

Rewritten: “I’ll put you through hell, but at the end we will have given it our best shot.”

Actual: “I’ll put you through hell, but at the end of it all we’ll be champions.


  • Mike Ditka, Award winning NFL football coach

Rewritten: “If you are determined enough and are willing to pay the price, you will know you have tried your best.

Actual: “If you are determined enough and willing to pay the price, you can get it done.”


  • Herb Brooks, Gold medal-winning head coach of U.S. Olympic hockey team

Rewritten: “You were born to try. You were born to attempt to be a player…This moment is yours so try, try, and try again.”

Actual: “You were born to be a player. You were meant to be here. This moment is yours.”


  • Bobby Knight, American basketball coach:

Rewritten: “Most people have the desire to try, few have the desire to prepare to win.”

Actual: “Most people have the will to win, few have the will to prepare to win.”


Simple changes you can make to boost your credibility and confidence: It’s not complicated. To increase your communication effectiveness you will need to take a bold stand and be crystal clear about what you are or are not committing to. Here are a few tips. For additional tips and skills, see Rule 6—Commit or Do Not Commit in Speak Up, Show Up, and Stand Out.

1)      Replace “try” with “I will”: Stop trying and just do it. Nike got the point; follow their lead. Use power phrases such as: “I will,” “my commitment is,” “you can count on me to,” or “I promise to”. Then follow through with action and deliver on your commitments.

2)      When you really want to say no, say no. Don’t mislead people by using the word try when you really mean no. This will erode your credibility. For instance, say no when you feel a timeframe or commitment is unreasonable or something that you do not want to take on. Be straight and be clear.

3)      Confidently take a stand and state your position. Don’t erode how others perceive you by watering down your point-of-view or commitment with the word try or other hedging phrases. Like the Little Engine that could, declare what you will and can do: “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. I know I can.”


For those of you who love the word try, it does let you ride the fence and avoid being held accountable. This linguistic perk may bring you some small comfort, but don’t lose sight of the fact that in the eyes of your employer or future employer, the word try means you can’t be counted on. Too much reliance on this word, instead of committing or not, can result in you being marginalized, taken off the high performer list, or losing career advancement opportunities. Is this small word worth all of that?

Choose your words carefully. Yoda was right: “There is no try. Only do, or do not.”


Loretta Malandro Keynote Speaker

Dr. Loretta Malandro is the CEO of the Malandro Consulting Group ( and the author of several landmark business communication books published by McGraw-Hill including: Fearless Leadership, Say It Right the First Time, and her new book which is being released November 2014, “Speak Up, Show Up, and Stand Out: The 9 Communication Rules You Need to Succeed”.


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Ferguson’s Mayor Uses Slippery Communication: Don’t Make the Same Mistake

Malandro Communication

Hedging is a form of slippery communication where people hedge their bets with words and phrases that give them an escape route such as: “I think”, “probably“, “maybe”, “possibly”, “I’ll try”, “can be”, and “hopefully”. We are assaulted by hedging language daily—from politicians who won’t make definite statements to leaders who won’t commit to anything to friends and coworkers who won’t level with you.

What makes hedging language slick (and devious) is that because it is so commonplace, it is seldom challenged. People who use hedging as a tactic know this. Hedging language gives people a way out, a way to avoid being held accountable for a promise or definitive position for the obvious reason: they aren’t making one or taking one.

In the News:Ferguson’s Mayor James Knowles comments on September 30, 2014 after the aftermath of the shooting death of Michael Brown received mixed reviews. Why? An important factor: He uses hedging language to: 1) avoid taking a definitive stand, and 2) to make the problem appear less significant than it is. Here’s an excerpt—notice the phrases in bold:

I think what it showed waseven though I always knew againthat African-Americans had experiences that were frustrating, definitely frustrating, many of that never bubbled to the surface. So I think what really opened my eyes was how significant that can be for many people.”

A second excerpt shows the same use of hedging language. In an interview by Tamron Hall, host of MSHBC’s New Nation, on ______, Knowles said:

“…been looking at ways to hopefullyincrease the number of African-American applicants.”

Let’s Break It Down: When people hedge, there’s nothing to grab hold of, no solid ground to stand on. But that’s the point—the hedger always wants an escape hatch so no one can nail him or her down to anything.

We don’t know whether Mayor Knowles use of hedging language is an unconscious habit or a deliberate tactic, but the effect is still the same. Hedging produces a negative reaction leaving people feeling frustrated and upset because they never know where the speaker or leader stands. Here are several factors that contribute to this reaction:

  • Using Hedging Words and Phrases Weakens Message: “Commit or do not commit—don’t hedge” is Rule Number 6 in Speak Up Show Up, and Stand Out. Mayor Knowles would be wise to apply this rule when he speaks. How about some straight forward communication such as “What it showed me” versus “I think what it showed me”. Do you think it showed you or did it show you, Mayor? One small change changes everything.
  • Using Vague Words Plays down the Seriousness of the Problem: Take the word “frustrating” as it is used to describe the experiences of African-Americans in Ferguson, Missouri. Frustrating is a light-weight word with broad meaning ranging from unsatisfying to exasperating. So what is it? As listeners we don’t have a clue what is meant. But most people will perceive the word frustrated as vague and minimizing the gravity of the issue. Even when the Mayor attempts to pump up the word frustrating by saying “definitely frustrating” it is a futile attempt. The word simply does not describe the seriousness of the issue. How about changing the Mayor’s phrase from “African-Americans had experiences that were frustrating, definitely frustrating” to “African-Americans have experiences that are deeply disturbing (or upsetting)”. Notice the change from past tense to present tense which leads to the next form of hedging.
  • Using Past Tense to Minimize the Problem or Implying that the Problem No Longer Exists:  Mayor Knowles relies heavily on the use of past tense references such as “was,” “were,” “bubbled,” and “had”. In the phrase “African-Americans had experiences that were….” Let’s stop right here. Is the Mayor really saying that these experiences happened in the past and that they no longer occur?
  • Using “Can be” instead of “Is” Makes Message Sound Hesitant: The Mayor states:“So I think what really opened my eyes was how significant that can be for many people.” Weak again. Is the Mayor implying that it is only a possibility that many people “can be” experiencing this situation as significant? A “can be” hedge provides an escape route. There is nothing you can hold the Mayor accountable for. What the Mayor is really saying with the phrase “can be” is that he’s not sure who or if this applies to anyone. Slick, huh?


Rewrite of Mayor Knowles Message: By eliminating “I think” phrases, plus past tense usage (was/were) and replacing the phrase “can be” the Mayor would have a much stronger message that would show exactly what he is committed to. Below is a new script, something the Mayor could have said if he really wanted to take a strong stand:

“…what really opened my eyes is how significant these issues are. What it showed me is that African-Americans have many experiences that are deeply disturbing to them as a culture, and they are equally disturbing to us as a community and to me personally as a leader. I missed this completely and it’s unacceptable. I let you down. My eyes are now open and I see what I need to do. I am committing today to resolve these critical issues for African-Americans and for our community as a whole. What I am asking myself is “How did I miss this? And what do I need to do differently to…. ”

Actions you can take to avoid hedging and to increase your message strength: Just as passwords have an assessment of weak to strong, so do messages. You may be using common hedging language that weakens your chance in a job interview, in getting that promotion that you want, or in getting the response you need. Here are some guidelines that will put you on a more effective path:

1)      Eliminate common hedging phrases from your writing and speaking: Drop words such as “try”, “maybe”, “possibly” and hopefully”. Use direct communication and either commit or do not commit. For example, commit by saying, “I will” not “I’ll try”. Or do not commit by saying “No, I cannot commit until “x” is handled, instead of using the fallback phrase “Yes, but…” which is really a no in disguise.

2)      Talk in the present tense to add power to your message: In a job interview, which is stronger: “I was a Systems Engineer” or “I am a Systems Engineer”. In talking with your boss, which is stronger: “It can be achieved” or “I will achieve this.” In talking to a coworker, which is stronger: “I had the feeling…. or “I have the feeling…. Or, an obvious one: Which is stronger with your significant other: “I was in love with you” or “I am in love with you.” Talking in a “now” time frame forces you to own what you are saying and talk in a straight forward manner. The benefits: You dramatically increase your ability to positively influence others.

3)      Be precise and use words that describe exactly what you mean: Don’t water down your message or minimize your concern by using vague or tentative language. If you’re upset don’t say, “I’m a little concerned about….” Be direct and say, “I’m upset”. If you’re referring to someone else don’t dance around the issue by trying to avoid conflict or trying to be nice by saying, “perhaps you may want to consider the possibility that this may be something that could….” These words add up to a whole lot of nothing. Practice eliminating hedging language and say what you mean, such as: “I am asking you take a serious look at how your actions are affecting the team.”


Hedging language—from non-commitment words, using the past tense when the present tense is more accurate, and using non-specific language leaves people feeling uncertain, confused, and irritated. If you hedge, you have a surefire formula that sending a weak message that diminishes your power. My question to you is: “Why are you hedging and with whom?” Answer this and you’ll learn a lot about yourself. You may be avoiding conflict or you may be avoiding being held accountable.


Loretta Malandro Keynote Speaker

Dr. Loretta Malandro is the CEO of the Malandro Consulting Group ( and the author of several landmark business communication books published by McGraw-Hill including: Fearless Leadership, Say It Right the First Time, and her new book which is being released November 2014, “Speak Up, Show Up, and Stand Out: The 9 Communication Rules You Need to Succeed”.

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When You Make a Mistake Come Clean Immediately or Pay the Price like Goodell

By Dr. Loretta Malandro


When you make a mistake, especially a big one, you must come clean immediately, be transparent and authentic, and drop all double-talk. Or pay the price of lost credibility and trust as Goodell did.

In the News:Let’s take a short excerpt from Roger Goodell, the NFL Commissioner, when he addressed the media on Friday, September 19, 2014. He was quoted as saying: “At our best, the NFL sets an example that makes a positive difference. Unfortunately over the last several weeks, we’ve seen all too much of the NFL doing wrong. That starts with me. I said this before back on August 28 and say it again now, I got it wrong in the handling of the Ray Rice matter and I’m sorry for that. I got it wrong on a number of levels, from the process that I led to the decision that I reached. But now I will get it right and do whatever is necessary to accomplish that.”

Let’s Break It Down: Too Much Hedging, Not Enough Straight Talk

As a communication expert, here are my time-seasoned dos and don’ts to communicating effectivity and authentically when the world is watching you apologize.

  • Stop the PR Campaign: When you’ve made a major mistake, this is not the time to talk about the good things you or your organization have done. Goodell’s opening line “At our best, the NFL sets an example that makes a positive difference” is irritating and useless. Who cares about the good stuff when there is an urgent matter at hand?People see right through the ruse of talking about past good deeds. Drop all preambles and go straight to the real message: Sincerely apologize and take full accountability for your actions.
  • Drop filler words and phrases used to pad the message: Fillers are used to soften a message and/or minimize the significance of an issue. “Unfortunately” and “I said this before and I’ll say it again,” are examples of filler language. They make listeners work to strip out the soft cushioning phrases to understand what is really being said. When people are upset, fillers escalate the intensity of negative feelings and judgments.
  • Avoid phrases that come across as cliché or scripted: “I got it wrong” is repeated several times and then used again in what sounds like a speechwriter’s clever phrase: “I got it wrong…but now I will get it right….” Clever? Not in this context. Memorable? In a negative manner. Authentic? Absolutely not. This play on words waters down the message and makes the apology seem disingenuous. How about dropping scripted language and speaking from the heart? For instance: “I blew it” or “I made a big mistake” and “I am talking to you today because I want to publicly take full accountability for my action and my lack of action.”
  • Be specific about what you did or did not do: People need to know that the person apologizing understands the full extent of how his or her actions affect others. “I got it wrong on a number of levels” a phrase used by Goodell, is vague and ambiguous. What does this mean? What levels? Are we climbing a staircase? As a listener, we are left to fill in the blanks and interpret the message. Goodell misses the opportunity to own his mistakes in a public forum by being sincere and detailed. If he did, we might actually believe that he is genuinely taking accountability. He would need to be honest and stop dancing around the issue such as:  “I made several mistakes. First, I did not talk to you when the Ray Rice matter surfaced. I waited over a week. My behavior was unacceptable. With an issue of this significance, I needed to talk with you immediately. Second, I made a number of mistakes from the process I led to the decision that I reached. They are….”
  • Dump sweeping and empty promises about the future. If you want to get people more upset than they already are, just make a promise about the future that is meaningless. Take Goodell’s broad and empty promise: “…now I will get it right and do whatever is necessary to accomplish that.” Do you have any idea of what this means in terms of action? Are you convinced that things will be different in the future? Or, are you bristling with the deflection just used? Goodell needed to make a bold commitment about where the NFL stands on this highly sensitive manner—now and for the future. He also needed to deliver a specific plan so we, his listeners, would know what exactly would be different in the future to prevent the same (big) mistake from occurring again.


Actions you can take if you make a whopper of a mistake: Even if your company never ends up as headline news for all the wrong reasons, you’ll want to know how to best communicate so you don’t lose customers, shareholders, loyal fans, and your prize players (or employees, if you will.)

If you need to come clean about a mistake you’ve made, learn what not to do from others. Take control of a challenging situation and:

1)      Communicate immediately to the appropriate person(s).

Do not postpone the conversation even for a day. If you do, things will get worse and emotions will escalate.

2)      Drop all preambles, explanations and excuses. Sincerely take accountability and apologize.

Forgo lengthy explanations, reasons, and excuses for why you did what you did. Stick to the facts. Take accountability and genuinely apologize. Example: “I dropped the ball big time. I let you down and the team down and I deeply regret my actions.”

3)      State—in precise terms—how your actions affected others:

People want to know if you really got it—that you truly understand the full extent of how your actions created a big problem for others. So address this: “I know I have disappointed you and I have lost your trust. I also know that my actions—and my lack of action—have hurt the reputation and credibility of our team. All of this is my accountability. I will not run from the damage I have caused. I must—and I will—change my behavior and I will address the actions I am taking with you today.”

4)      Make an authentic commitment about what will be different in the future.

What we call commitment today are words without action. An authentic commitment requires a) precise actions, and b) “by when” dates so everything is tied down in time. Without a time commitment, no one can be held accountable. You may not have all the details, but your apology will not be taken seriously unless you communicate the first steps you will take in addressing the situation. For example: “I know these are just words right now. You need to see real change in me and action. The actions I will take are….You can count on this being done in under 90 days. I will give you a progress report every month starting at the end of this month. I will include you in every step of this process. I want to regain your confidence and trust.”


Loretta Malandro Keynote Speaker

Dr. Loretta Malandro is the CEO of the Malandro Consulting Group ( and the author of several landmark business communication books published by McGraw-Hill including: Fearless Leadership, Say It Right the First Time, and her new book which is being released November 2014, “Speak Up, Show Up, and Stand Out”.


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Are You Being Seduced by Obama’s Words? 4 Communication Red Flags that You May Be Missing

Obama Communication

by Dr. Loretta Malandro

Are you being duped by word manipulators? It’s easy to miss word combinations that are used to get you to agree with the speaker’s message, even when you don’t.

In the News: It only takes a single paragraph to see how word manipulation is used to control what you hear or read. The word manipulator’s goal is to increase your receptivity to his or her message. Let’s take an excerpt from Obama’s speech to the nation from the State Floor of the White House on September 10, 2014:

“As Commander-in-Chief, my highest priority is the security of the American people. Over the last several years, we have consistently taken the fight to terrorists who threaten our country. We took out Osama bin Laden and much of al Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We’ve targeted al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, and recently eliminated the top commander of its affiliate in Somalia. We’ve done so while bringing more than 140,000 American troops home from Iraq, and drawing down our forces in Afghanistan, where our combat mission will end later this year. Thanks to our military and counterterrorism professionals, America is safer.”

Let’s Break It Down: The rhetoric is smooth and our responses are automatic. Beware: You may be missing communication red flags that you are being manipulated. Watch out for:

  • Communication Red Flag #1: Starting with an Emotional Appeal: When anxiety is high, people want to be reassured. This is often accomplished with an emotional appeal. For example: “As Commander-in-Chief, my highest priority is the security of the American people”. Think about it. This sounds good—of course we want to feel safe—but is there any commitment or action? So what if his highest priority is the safety of the American people? This empty emotional appeal can lure us into a false sense of safety.
  • Communication Red Flag #2: Talking about the Past: Many speakers talk about the past in an attempt to create a positive context for the not-so-good-news you are about to hear. The most common approach is to list a series of successes. Take a look at these phrases: “consistently fighting terrorists,” “we took out Osama bin Laden,” “recently eliminated a [top commander],” “while bringing more than 140,000 American troops home”. The listing tactic is a ploy to get you to agree that there are many past successes and you can count on more in the future. Do you agree with the past successes? Or, are you getting annoyed or angry waiting for the solution to the real problem at hand?
  • Communication Red Flag #3: Drawing Broad-Sweeping Conclusions based on Alleged Past Successes: Here’s where the word manipulation gets tricky. The speaker provides you with a list of past successes. You may even find yourself nodding your head as you agree. Then, without realizing it, you are presented with a conclusion and you automatically agree because it seems to follow logically. In the Obama example the conclusion is: “Thanks to our military and counterterrorism professionals, America is safer.” Do you agree? Is America safer?
  • Communication Red Flag #4: Using Verifiable Facts to Get You to Agree with a Conclusion: Facts or information presented as factual may be a trap. The mind can automatically settle into the mindset of “these are the facts” and “you can’t argue with the facts”. When this happens, it’s easy for the speaker to get you to agree with just about anything. Take a look at some of the verifiable facts that Obama offers: “more than 140,000 troops,” “we took out Osama bin Laden,” and “we are drawing down our forces in Afghanistan”. Verifiable facts increase the tendency for people to buy into the message or conclusion. Do you fall into this trap?


Actions you can take to create positive reactions in people by avoiding word manipulation: You don’t have to be the President of the United States or a formal leader in an organization to gain the benefits of effective communication. These simple but profound guidelines will help you avoid common pitfalls that create negative reactions in others. A caveat: If you use the following tips to manipulate, they will backfire. People are highly attuned to “BS” and will not believe your message.

1)      Kill empty Emotional Appeals and Take a Bold Stand.

Instead of saying, “my highest priority is the security of the American people” which is a non-actionable statement, Obama could have turned this into a bold leadership stand by saying, “My highest priority and commitment is to you, the American people. I will make sure that America is safe and that you feel secure.” Using the language of “I will” is strong and reassuring; it commits the speaker to action. The words, of course, are not enough. As a speaker, you will need to outline what you will do to fulfill your promise.

2)      Stop Talking About What You Did in the Past.

If someone is upset with you or if you are dealing with a delicate situation, do not talk about the good things you did in the past. Not only do they not matter, they will increase the likelihood of negative reactions to what you have to say.

3)      Do Talk About Your Commitment.

Don’t assume that people know what you are committed to. State your heart-felt commitment out loud such as: “I am committed to resolving this situation and taking immediate action to prevent it from occurring again.”

4)      Let Your Listener’s Draw Their Own Conclusions.

In order to resolve a breakdown or handle a challenge, people need to understand what happened. Present the facts about what happened but do not draw your own conclusions. For example: “These are the facts and I want you to draw your own conclusion. What I need to do—and will do—is….”


You will get a much better response when your goal is to influence people, not control them as word manipulators attempt to do. Protect yourself from people who use words to lead you in the direction they want you to go. Ask: “Where am I being seduced by words and agreeing to something, even when I don’t agree?”


Loretta Malandro Keynote Speaker

Loretta Malandro is the CEO of the Malandro Consulting Group ( and the author of several landmark business communication books published by McGraw-Hill including: Fearless Leadership, Say It Right the First Time, and her new book which is being released November 2014, “Speak Up, Show Up, and Stand Out”.

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What Keeps CEOs Up at Night

Malandro Consulting Executive Leadership

What leaders want and need across geographies and businesses is not dissimilar. Worldwide, CEO’s and executives are concerned about the ability of their organizations to deliver:

  1. Consistent execution of strategy by top management
  2. Sustained and steady top-line growth
  3. Customer loyalty and retention


In a recent study where CEO’s were asked, “What do your leaders need to do better to meet your challenges?” they consistently responded:


  • Improve Retention: Getting and keeping the right people
  • Effectively Manage Change: Producing fast, sustainable results
  • Build Accountability: Driving business results and being responsible for impact on people.

The business needs are clear, yet many executives stay up nights worrying about why their organizations are not hitting their targets. The answer may be misdiagnosed and untreated leadership dysfunction. Behavior is the infrastructure that either derails a company or ensures its success.


The Cost of Treating the Symptoms, and Not the Problem

It is a costly mistake when leaders misdiagnose behavioral issues. Enormous expenditures of money, time and energy are spent on organizational initiatives that treat the symptoms and not the problem. Total quality management, reengineering, right sizing, enterprise integration, sophisticated IT shops, and turnarounds do not work when there is an underlying behavioral problem. Leaders must be aligned and collaborative when it comes to restructuring, new processes and systems. Organizational change does not result in behavioral change.

Everybody suffers when there is leadership dysfunction. The problem is not clear. The environment is unproductive, downbeat and unsafe. The same breakdowns and problems occur again and again. People are frustrated because leaders are not cohesive and are tackling the wrong problem. People disengage, withhold their discretionary effort and leave the organization, either physically or emotionally.

Secondary problems emerge when there is a lack of cohesive leadership: Poor attraction and retention of talent, significant underperformance, inconsistent execution and low employee engagement. Worse yet, nothing helps. Increased compensation and benefits, a better work environment, perks and other worthy employee benefits put salve on the wound but are ineffective in healing it.

Does Your Organization Have Leadership Dysfunction?

Leadership Malandro Consulting

The following assessment is designed to help CEO’s and other executives identify if leadership dysfunction is present in their organization. The following questions focus on the top 10 leadership behaviors that derail organizational success.


Unproductive Leadership Behavior Assessment

  1. Do leaders ask you to referee their conflict?

Description: Leaders come to you with unresolved conflict between themselves and other individuals or business areas. They lobby for your support and expect you to resolve issues and problems that they are not handling.

Escalating Behavior: Problems between peers are escalated to an authority figure rather than individuals taking accountability for resolving the issue with one another.



  1. Do you repeat the same message over and over again with little response or action?

Description: Your message is clear and articulate, however, leaders give lip service to your words or feign confusion or a lack of understanding. Regardless of how many different ways you deliver your message, you are met with resistance.

Hedging Behavior:   Delaying and confusion tactics are used to avoid committing and being held accountable for a specific action or result.


  1. Do senior leadership groups, of the company and key businesses, lack cohesion and synergy?

Description: Senior leadership groups lack synergism (i.e., working together as a single entity”) and do not deliver a consistent and cohesive message to the organization.

Leaders view one another as: 1) adversaries who are competing for resources, 2) a group, not a team, or 3) heads of diverse business areas that do not require enterprise-wide collaboration or partnership.

We-They Behavior:   There are two forms of We-they thinking and acting: 1) Leaders who work in silos competing for resources and power by driving their personal agenda, and 2) Leaders who selectively work with other leaders and groups. Both types of behavior prevent a cohesive leadership group from emerging.



  1. Is there a lack of leadership alignment?

Description:   Some leaders are fully aligned and on board while others are not. You have various levels of leadership alignment ranging from leaders who actively resist to leaders who are authentically aligned (i.e., intellectually and emotionally committed).

False Alignment Behavior: Leaders say they are aligned in meetings but behave differently after the meeting is over. They withhold their emotional commitment and demonstrate a lack of support by their silence, inaction, lack of enthusiasm, failure to encourage and enroll others, and lack of public commitment.


  1. Are leaders complacent and lacking a sense of urgency?

Description:   Some leaders are complacent and unwilling to change anything that alters their comfort level with the status quo. Implementation is agonizingly slow, innovation is non-existent, and new ideas for dramatically improving organizational effectiveness and efficiency are met with skepticism.

Entitlement Behavior: People view the organization and others as existing to serve their needs. This attitude of “the organization owes me” results in negative ways of getting personal needs met without regard to the impact on business results or people. When entitlement is present, people cling to the status quo rather than risk an uncertain future.



  1. Do the same (few) leaders dominate meetings and decision-making?

Description:   Some leaders do not speak up in meetings and when they do speak up, they do not share their real concerns. Meetings default to a few vocal people who control the discussion and drive decisions.   Attempts to get others to speak up are met with little or no success.

Low Trust Behavior: Leaders lack trust and do not feel safe or confident in telling the truth about issues, concerns and workplace problems for fear of repercussions (e.g., loss of credibility, limiting impact on career, being ostracized, judged, fired).


  1. Do leaders blame others, the company or circumstances for their lack of results?

Description:   Leaders justify poor results with reasons, excuses and explanations. Speaking and actions demonstrate a lack of personal accountability and ownership for business results.

Victim Behavior: People blame others or circumstances for the situation/problem and refuse to accept personal accountability for how their actions contributed to the situation. The lack of accountability results in an external focus on what others are not doing instead of an internal focus where the individual asks the question, “Where am I in the way and what behavior do I need to change”?


  1. Do leaders complain about projects and initiatives, the company, the senior group?

Description: Disgruntled leaders complain to one another about what’s wrong, what’s not working, what’s not possible, what will never work and what leaders are doing wrong.

Conspiratorial Behavior: When people are dissatisfied, they conspire with others (e.g., private conversations, rumors, gossip) to gain support and agreement and actively gather evidence to reinforce their point of view. Conspiratorial behavior spreads and contaminates entire organizations and business units. People who are new to the organization are particularly vulnerable and are quickly indoctrinated by dissatisfied individuals who present a negative and limiting view about other leaders and the organization.

  1. Do leaders lack initiative, strategic thinking and/or proactive behavior?

Description: Leaders are disengaged and focus on tactical needs rather than being proactive and adopting an enterprise perspective. The focus is on managing the status quo rather than initiating new action to achieve strategic business needs.

Shrinking the Game Behavior: Disengaged people reduce their focus to their individual area of responsibility thereby limiting their participation and contributions to the larger business. This is referred to as shrinking the game. The behavior is usually based on a belief that nothing will change and it is no longer worth the effort to fight losing battles. These beliefs fuel wait and see and non-participatory behaviors.

10.  Do leaders deny that people problems exists (e.g., denying that there is resistance to change, relationship and alignments issues)?

Description: Leaders argue for the status quo and deny that there are problems with how people are working together. Instead they focus on the easier to discuss issues such as business concerns. There is an unwillingness to talking straight responsibly and confront the real behavioral issues that are undermining business results.

Denial Behavior: People avoid discussing sensitive and uncomfortable issues about people dysfunction by denying that it exists. Denial behavior is easily observed when people rotate the discussion away from behavior (theirs and others), to business issues that they can debate and argue. Denial keeps people and the organization stuck in place and presents an insurmountable barrier to change.

Tried everything else and it still hasn’t worked?

Malandro Consutling

When Change Isn’t Happening Fast Enough


Are you treating the symptoms and not the real problem?

You’re under pressure to grow the business and increase sales and revenues fast. You know exactly what needs to be done. You’ve assessed the problem, communicated clear expectations, made significant organizational changes, initiated efforts to address key process and system changes, brought in outside experts and yet the results have been disappointing. Your company and leaders are not performing to their capacity. There is resistance to change and nothing is happening fast enough. Dissatisfied customers, inconsistent execution, underperforming businesses, absence of innovation, unmet objectives, low flexibility and agility, and the inability to respond and adapt quickly, plague the organization. You’ve tried everything and it still hasn’t worked.


The Misdiagnosed Problem: Leadership Blind Spots

If you are experiencing painfully slow change, a lack of leadership alignment and people not working effectively together, it is likely that you have a behavioral problem, not an organizational issue.

Leadership dysfunction—good people behaving in unproductive, derailing or damaging ways—is the most frequently misdiagnosed problem in organizations today. This unproductive behavior undermines change, thwarts customer satisfaction and prevents companies from achieving their strategic objectives. Leadership dysfunction leads to a bigger problem: People dysfunction. People underperforming and engaging in dysfunctional behaviors due to the lack of aligned and cohesive leadership.

Common behavioral identifiers of people dysfunction include: Resistance to change, lack of leadership alignment, turf protection (silos), internal competition, victim and entitlement mentality, blame and finger-pointing, lack of collaboration and partnership, lack of a cohesive senior group, underground conspiracies, absence of trust, lack of personal accountability, low morale, no teamwork, excuses for poor performance, and low employee engagement.

Because the symptoms of people dysfunction manifest as workplace deficiencies and inefficiencies, it is easy to misdiagnose. Addressing behavioral issues with enterprise restructuring, process and system solutions treats the symptoms and not the problem.

People dysfunction may be pervasive or localized in one or two underperforming businesses. Unrecognized and unresolved it grows and contaminates the entire organization. Disengaged people conspire and enroll others in negative and destructive conversations that erode business results and bottom line dollars.