Icebreakers – Communication Skills

For good or ill, your conversation is your advertisement. Every time you open your mouth you let men look into your mind. Do they see it well clothed, neat, businesswise? (Bruce Barton).

Let’s take this idea a step further. Imagine our words coming out of our mouth dressed in different clothing according to how we speak and communicate. For instance, you might be at a business meeting dressed in an expensive designer suit but the words coming out of your mouth are dressed in a grubby and well-used sweat suit.

Think about how you talk at work. Describe the clothing your conversation currently wears. Is this how you would like it to be dressed? If not, what clothing should your conversation wear?

Successful communication can be compared to a flower. At first, it is a bud; you see the outer petals but don’t really know the shape of the flower inside. As time passes, the bud opens more and more, and finally a beautiful flower reveals itself.

People are the same way, whether in business conversations or at home. And just like some flowers bloom more quickly than others, some people take longer to open up than others.

How long does it take you to open up? Is there anything that makes you open up more quickly? What makes you close up again once you’ve started opening?

A wise man once said, “Nothing is so simple that it cannot be misunderstood.” Tell us about a time when you misunderstood someone and trouble resulted.

When you have a difference of opinion with someone, is your communication style:

  • Truth or dare;
  • Strip poker;
  • Checkers;
  • Go fish;
  • Solitaire; or
  • Chess?


We are all familiar with the concept of the invisible man, whether it is H.G. Wells classic novel, the old Abbott and Costello movie, or the book, Memoirs of an Invisible Man, and resultant movie with Chevy Chase and Darryl Hannah.

If you were the invisible man (or woman), and you were walking around your workplace, what would you think about what you heard and saw?

Terry L. Paulson, Ph.D., gives professional speakers this advice: “Nothing makes an audience feel more important than a speaker who takes the time to get to know the special needs, vocabulary, and history of their group.”

Think about a time when you took the time to understand the needs, vocabulary, and history of the person you were going to talk to before the conversation actually took place. What were the results?

Susan Morem in her book, How to Gain the Professional Edge, has a list of “good telephone protocol.” These points include:

  • Good telephone etiquette requires that all phone calls be returned within one business day.
  • Make sure you have a purpose for your call: a call interrupts someone.
  • Get to the point, avoid lengthy small talk.
  • Give full attention to the person on the telephone.
  • If disconnected, the person who placed the call should reestablish the call.
  • Don’t take calls when someone is in your office.

Which rule is most often violated in your organization?

Calvin Coolidge stated that, “No one ever listened themselves out of a job.” Think about the various managers you’ve had. Then tell me about the one with the best communication skills and how those communication skills made a difference to you – and to others in the workplace.

Would you describe your communication skills as being most like:

  • A pervasively fragrant lilac;
  • A delicately scented rose;
  • A no-scent orchid; or
  • A flower of the Corpse Plant (the bloom smells like a dirty diaper pail)?

In Lilly Walter’s book, Secrets of Successful Speakers, a contributor states, “I watched a famous woman golfer speak once. She carried a huge white handbag loaded with junk and plunked it on the lectern. We looked at it throughout her presentation. I don’t remember a word she said, but I do remember the handbag.”

In the same way, we all do things that detract from getting our message heard. It might be looking people in the eye for too long a period of time, being overly shy, or being enthusiastic in a group whose norm is to be reticent. These detract from our message being heard in the same way that the speaker’s prominent handbag did.

What “large, white handbag” are you carrying around?

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