Meredith Bell – Performance Support Systems

Meredith Bell, Performance Support Systems on the Thriving Solopreneur Podcast with Janine Bolon

To Learn More about Meredith Bell, [click here] to view her Media Kit.

Janine Bolon: Hi, this is Janine Bolon with The Thriving Solopreneur show. And today’s guest is Meredith Bell who has been an entrepreneur since 1982. She is an expert in helping leaders and team members improve the way they communicate with one another. She is also the co-founder and president of Performance Support Systems, which is basically a global software company out of Virginia. They have an award-winning assessment and development tool that you can use as a business consultant or if you are a leadership coach or maybe you are a human resource professional and you are just looking for improvements with performance. They can help you.

Meredith and her two business partners have worked together for over 30 years, so we are talking about a well-oiled machine here. And many of her clients have done business with them for over 20 years. So like their client retention rate is pretty high. Meredith is author and co-author of two books. Her solo book is Strong for Performance. Basically, that describes the coaching culture and training programs that basically help a business with their performance.

And today, we are going to be discussing her latest book, which is Connect with Your Team, Mastering the Top 10 Communication Skills. She co-authored that one with Denny Coates, her business partner of over 30 years. So, it is wonderful to have Meredith with us on the show today. Welcome. Welcome. Welcome.

Meredith Bell: Oh, thank you, Janine. I am very excited to be here and share information that it will be useful for your listeners.

Janine: Yeah. Well, first off, one of those things is a lot of people will say, I really want to talk to an expert and I do not want to fly by night person. I want to make sure that somebody is solid in their business model and that is why I am like, well, let me introduce you to Meredith Bell because you are one of these people. You have been around and you have seen all the tech as it has changed and communication, a lot of people talk about how it has changed so much because of the tech.

Well, it really has not, right? The way human beings communicate has not changed. I would love your perspective on that, if you do not mind, to start off with that topic.

Meredith: Oh, I would love to talk about that because the truth is basic communication skills that lead to effective relationships have not changed. We all have the same need to be understood, to be respected, to be appreciated, to be valued. And the technologies that have come on the scene in the last, however far back you want to go, ten, twenty years with texting and email, none of that replaces the real bonding that takes place in relationship building when two people can interact with each other.

And, of course, that can happen over the phone, in person, as we have learned over the last year or so virtually on video, but to really have that human connection requires interaction. It requires communication, listening, talking, giving feedback. I think one of the key things that also has not changed, and I say this with sadness, is that people still are not learning beginning in school the most effective ways to communicate.

Our parents do the best they can, but they have not had this kind of training either on how to connect. Like I was lucky to grow up in a home where my parents loved us, but they still did not really teach me how to resolve conflict when you and another person are different. My parents used to have private conversations. The kids did not really witness them, right, working out differences.

And so, most of the time, people do not have really good role models. In fact, in many cases, it is destructive. People are critical. They just do not have these interpersonal skills. And we are on a mission because we know there is so much unnecessary pain out there from people not knowing the best ways to listen, to share differences of opinion so that they do not elevate or escalate into arguments.

So there are some things that really have not changed over time and we are out to improve the way people communicate with each other.

Janine: Well, I am going to date myself a little bit. One of the things that really made me sad originally when we came up with texting and the watches was I always had imagined that when we got really cool watches, we could be like Dick Tracy, because Dick Tracy could see who he was talking to as well as hear them. And I was like, oh, man, all we can do is text on these phones and all that. Well, now, of course, you have the smart watches that can do the FaceTime or whatever you are working with at that moment.

But it was one of those things that was just like when we were able to do texting and everybody was raging about texting, I was sad because I was like, we were losing the things that were so awesome, like for our science fiction works and our people with the books and the comic books and all that, which was being able to do audiovisual. Well, 2020 has definitely brought that to the forefront for us.

So I think we need people like you to say, yes, you can still have very intimate, very personal and very solid communication, especially if you are able to see someone visually as well as hear them on Zoom. Like give us the top three things that you notice people are not doing very effectively on Zoom so that we can change our behavior and be better about our communication skills.

Meredith: Oh, what a good question. Well, one thing I would say is truly listening and being fully present with the other person. Because so many times, we are trying to multitask. So we are only giving partial attention to the person, which means we miss some of what they say. And if we are not on camera, we can be guilty of trying to do other things that they cannot see us do.

But I think it is too often we get so excited about what we want to say that we are simply waiting for our turn to talk instead of really listening to what the other person is saying, and building on either comments, observations or even concerns that they might be bringing up because we are preoccupied with what we want to say next. And if it is a difference of opinion, we often get caught up and wanting to convince the other person that we are right.

So, I think that that gets in the way of really connecting with another person. I think our egos can get in the way because we are afraid of coming across as wrong or not having our act together or other things that really build walls instead of bridges. And so I think a core foundational skill that very few people do really well, Janine, is listening. It really is, to hear not just what a person is saying in their words, but to pay attention to how they are saying it, how they look when they are saying it when we do have that video component available. And then pausing long enough to check it out because the other mistake we make is assumptions.

We assume we know what they meant because of how they sounded. Well, they could have just had an argument with a family member or gotten some tragic news. We cannot know what is going on with someone else if they react in a way that we would not have predicted or had hoped for. And so it is always good to simply ask, what is going on right now. Just to slow it down a little bit because I think there is this sense that we do not have enough time. And we are all busy and yet if we are inefficient in the way we have our conversations, we pay the price later with misunderstandings that now we have to make amends or we have to resolve issues that could have been avoided if we had slowed down long enough to ask some questions.

And I will tell you that this is something my two business partners and I still practice today after thirty years of working together. We know each other really well. But I can tell if I get on a call with Paula, let us say, and I hear something in her voice that tells me something’s not quite right. I do not just try to push ahead with whatever it was we were starting to talk about to begin with. I will stop and just ask, what is going on today?

And that might take us on a sidetrack for five or ten minutes. It does not matter. The relationship is really key there. And for me to have noticed and brought it up means a lot to her because she is trying to be businesslike. She does not want to interject a personal thing maybe. But the fact that I noticed and took time allows us to both move ahead with full attention.

Janine: Thank you so much for that, because one of the stories that I love to share regarding this concept is I ran into a multimillionaire at a airport and we were chatting, and I recognized him from one of his books. And I sat down and chatted with him and I asked him how did he get to where he was. And he talked about listening. And he said in his young days when he was a twenty-something, he thought he was king of the world but something happened for him at 29. He did not share that very private story.

But at 29, something happened and he decided for a full year, he would make sure he was not thinking of anything when someone else was speaking, that he would just sit there and listen. And then he would not formulate in his head a response, which is really saying something for men. Men and women are wired differently, but for a man to say that he was going to sit there and try to keep it as clear a mind as possible and wait until the other person had stopped talking and then try to reformulate a response is really amazing.

He became known as one of the most caring, one of the most considerate, compassionate wise men of his company at the time. And people really respected him. He says, my business just went off the charts. People felt like I was very compassionate. I always had been, I felt I had only made one small change in my life. And so that is why I was so excited about having you on because those are the type of stories where people’s businesses, seriously, they take off, they triple, quadruple because you are taking the time to literally listen to your clients. You are listening to your power partners.

A lot of solopreneurs have gotten freelancers that work with them. And so all of these things that you mention in your book connect with your team mastering the top ten communication skills. I just wanted to let folks know that listening bit really ties into your profitability. And so if you do not mind what is, I had asked you for three, and we got off on me, took you off onto the listening part. What are the other two that you can think of that people could really benefit from?

Meredith: Oh, well, one, as you were talking about that multimillionaire you spoke with, a really big thing is finding things to appreciate in others and expressing that to them. And I am not talking about buying some expensive gift. I am talking about verbally and in writing, letting people know very specifically what it is you appreciate about them.

And I will give you an example. I do not know if you are familiar with Bill Glazer. He and Dan Kennedy had the Glazer Kennedy Insider’s Circle, GKIC, which still exists. But Bill sold the company. But, back when he was running it, I would attend their conferences and I made a point during breaks to go up to him and simply let him know what it was specifically I was enjoying about that particular conference. If it was a speaker that had just been on, because I have run events myself and I know how people tend to criticize things. And I am out for looking at, what can I do to express appreciation? And I remember now what that particular thing was. What I remember is his response. He looked at me and he grinned and he said, Meredith, could you call me every day? You are always so positive and I just would love hearing those kinds of things.

And in my mind, I thought, here is a man. He is a millionaire many times over and yet he is, I would not say craving, but deeply appreciative of this kind of positive input. And I think we tend to either overlook the opportunities or withhold it because somehow we think giving to someone else is taking away from us.

Oh, also after the conference, I have found the perfect card and I wrote this lengthy note thanking him and his team for all the things they did. And I listed out, again, specific things. I opened up my newsletter which was about a twelve-page newsletter they sent out monthly. And my card was enlarged on one of the pages. And I was kind of flabbergasted. At first, I thought, oh my gosh. And then I realized it is just one more way that he appreciated my expressing appreciation.

Now, that is not why I sent the card. I just know the value of expressing to people what they mean to you. Or what they have done means to you. And so, I just think that is a really important thing we could all kick up a notch, is where our opportunities for me to say something to someone that helps them know, I appreciate what you did. I appreciate what you said. Thank you for introducing me to this person. We can never assume that somebody already knows it or that they do not need it. We all need to know that what we do matters.

And so, looking for opportunities, I think, is just a critical piece. So, that would be one. And the third one would be around feedback. And I guess I will do this in a two-pronged way, receiving feedback and giving feedback. Because, again, we are not trained how to do either one of those very effectively.

And I remember an article years ago. I do not remember where it was now, but they had interviewed a lot of CEOs of companies. What is something you regret from your leadership? And a number of them said, you know what, I wished I had addressed problems sooner. Giving people feedback more readily, because it is natural that we hope someone else sees what needs to be done, right? We are hoping they will figure it out. Well, guess what, if it is a blind spot for them and no one brings up the issue to them, it is unlikely that they are going to suddenly wake up one day and go, oh, I need to change the way I do this or that.

So, learning how to give feedback in a way that is encouraging to someone and does not feel like criticism a put-down, that they are not worthy, that they just do not measure up. But to do it in a way that affirms who they are, what they have done in the past that you do appreciate and then bringing up the specific behavior or words that were said and why that caused a problem. What was the negative consequence or impact of what they did or said? So that they know, oh, I did not realize that I caused this person that kind of. And then to let them know what it is that you would like them to do differently in the future and get them to commit to that.

It is a fairly simple process. And then expressing confidence that they can do that and that you are there to support them because it is really important to convey that you do not expect perfection from someone. That we assume they are doing their best. And if they have made this mistake, it was an honest mistake just like we would want them to extend that same courtesy to us.

So I think this whole thing of not stuffing it and resenting and becoming passive aggressive later. We have to blow up because we have let it fester inside of it so long is coming across in a way that is not judgmental but simply expresses what you need from this person, what you did not get and what you need. Does that make sense?

Janine: It does to me. Yes, I totally understand. Yep.

Meredith: On the receiving side, that is so tricky too because that is another area that it is easy to get our ego in the way. If somebody points out something to us that we said or did, the first reaction that comes naturally is justify it, explain it. Here was my rationale. And instead, if we could simply say, oh, thank you, I did not realize I did that. Thanking somebody, what you are doing there is opening the door to receive a gift.

If you can look at feedback as a gift instead of as criticism, no matter how the person delivers it, because again, most people do not have training in how to deliver feedback well. So whatever you are receiving, what you want to be asking yourself is, what is the person really trying to convey to me? What is it they are needing that they did not get from what I said or did? And not only thanking them but being willing to apologize. That is huge.

And again, we often think, I am not going to apologize and let them think I am weak. It as a sign of strength to apologize because you are letting them know, hey, I am not perfect. I am learning still. And so to have someone be willing to share that with you and thank them and then ask, what is it you need from me in the future. And then you can think about, am I willing to do with the person that is asking? Maybe what they are asking from you is not something you want to do. But to have a dialogue about it, I think, is so important because the key thing is knowing that you are wanting to support others and you would like their support as you work on, let us say, making a change.

And I will give you a quick example, going back to Denny and Paula. In the years ago, Denny would interrupt Paula and me. He would be in a hurry. He would think he would know what we were going to say. And so he jump in and finish our sentences and it was like, oh, this is not working.

So, we worked out a signal, because he was sincere about wanting to stop that habit. It was a habit. And so Paula and I came up with two things that would be supportive for him. One was when we were in person, just hold our hand up like a stop sign, and that would be his cue. Oops, I am jumping in where I should not. And the other was to simply say, I was not done yet. Or please let me finish.

And tone of voice is very important in that situation, right? Because if you say, I was not done yet, well, that is not very supportive for the person who is trying to change their behavior. So we still today, I will tell you, Janine, when we are in a conversation, the three of us, and we are kind of brainstorming or being creative and somebody’s got an idea and they jump in, we still say that. Oh, I was not done yet. Oops, we just back off and say sorry, please finish.

So it is just a natural way of interacting without getting, I was going to say, on your high horse, this whole thing of taking it personally. It is not intended personally when somebody jumps in. They are not intentionally trying to insult you and disrespect you. It is just sometimes they are excited or they forget. And so to remind people in a way that is supportive builds that trust. That is the foundation of working well with someone else or living well with someone else’s, so if it is a family member.

Janine: That was what I was definitely going to go to next was these are skills, even though the book is a business book connecting with your team, mastering the top ten communication skills, even though that is a business book, it is still one of those that say you are a solopreneur. And I have had a lot of people say, well, Janine, I do not have a team. I am like, how many freelancers do you hire to do your work for you? Or do you have a virtual assistant? Or come on now, I know that you do not live in a box.

There are people that you are integrating with in one way or another. And even with just basic networking, I have seen so many people kind of shoot themselves in the foot with basic networking because they were so intent on letting the other person know everything about them on what they did and how they could serve them, that they did not give a chance for the relationship to kind of develop to see if maybe their skill sets were not anything that that person had a desire for. I had a gentleman do that the other day to me when I was on a networking event on Zoom. And he went off and started telling me all the things I need to do for my business and all he knew about me was that I was a podcaster. He did not realize that I actually am a corporate person who has eight different businesses and three different virtual assistants who keep me running, right?

So, that was one of the funny things. He started telling me all the things he could do for me and my podcast, not realizing how many my company produces. So, that was just kind of a giggle for me. But at the same time, it let me know this guy needs a lot of coaching. He needs a Meredith. And I bought your book and sent it to him because it was like, this helped me and that is how I do that. I do not bust on people because, like you said, they are doing their best. And it is like I sent it with a note that said, I know that this book really helped me and it is not really a lie because I always get five or six gold nuggets from books like yours.

So, anyway, just wanted to let you know that that is how I have been using that. So, one of the things that is delightful about your website is you actually give us a free chapter. And it is on the most important one you talked about, it was on listening. So, how does somebody get ahold of that free chapter from you?

Meredith: Sure. It is our website, So easy to find.

Janine: Easy to find, wonderful. And is there anything else you want to wrap this show up with, anything that we have not talked about yet you want to share?

Meredith: There is one other thing that people can do if they want to be really good communicators. And that is to ask questions. You just made me think about it when you were talking about this fellow telling, telling, telling, right? We can learn so much more about the other people in our lives if we simply ask questions to learn about them. And again, not make assumptions after they answer the first question to assume we have got it and then jump in with whatever we want to say, but to slow down and to go a little deeper and to get it they are thinking about, okay, so that is an interesting perspective. What caused you to conclude that that was the case? Or what caused you to decide to go that route instead of another one?

So you really come to understand more about their thinking, what is important to them. Too often, I can tell you as a parent. I did not do this well all the time with our daughter of trying to give advice and save them from experiencing pain, right? Or making mistakes. And really, a lot of times what they simply want is a listening ear, if they are talking about something. I still remember one time jumping in with solutions to a problem my daughter had already solved. She was just trying to relay this to me and talk to me about it.

And I still, to this day, this is more than twenty years ago, I still appreciate her saying, mom, all I needed you to do was listen. I already took care of this. I mean, I was teaching classes on this and I still did not do it right. So it is a lifelong learning process. I do not want any listeners to think you are going to finally arrive and you got the answer to everything because human beings are not simple like that. The people we deal with each require individual approaches. And we just need to say, I am learning, I am growing. And I am willing to make amends if there is something I do that is hurtful or inadvertently causes problems for someone.

Janine: And that is Meredith Bell, co-author of Connect with Your Team, Mastering the Top 10 Communication Skills. How can somebody get ahold of you if they like what you are saying and they really want to get to having some one-on-one coaching with you?

Meredith: Well, interesting, we do not provide the coaching. I am always glad to have a conversation with folks. We have our books and our software tools. They can connect with me on LinkedIn, where I am active. I am also on Facebook and Twitter. My email address is [email protected]. (Click for the website here.) And I would welcome anyone to talk to me if they have questions about communicating more effectively.

Janine: Wonderful. Thank you very much for your time today. And this is Janine Bolon with The Thriving Solopreneur show. And we look forward to seeing you next Friday with a new episode. Have a great weekend.