Stacey Hanke

How to improve communication at work

16 Aug 2019   |   Culture

Stacey Hanke

How to improve communication at work

16 Aug 2019   |   Culture

We all know the importance of communication at work, but what about the connection with influence?

Just because you have a great title doesn’t mean everyone should stop and listen to you. Being influential in your communication can happen at any stage, but most of us don’t put the work in when we need to.

Stacey Hanke tells us that if you want to learn how to communicate better, the first step is getting feedback. If you’re not getting honest feedback, then you’re not basing your perceptions of your influence on reality. Stacey unlocks some keys to learn how to improve your communication and also be more influential.

What we learned from this episode

-Most people turn on their best efforts and focus only when the stakes are high. But, influence is not something we turn on and off. No matter where you show up, people always get the best out of you.

-Record yourself talking or speaking. Just one recording will give you plenty of things to work on as you continuously develop your communication skills and influence.

-There’s a difference between eye connection and eye contact. Eye connection means you stay with someone for a full sentence or thought. You pause as you transition your eyes from one person to the next. The minute you make the connection with the next person, that’s the sign of your next sentence. When those come together, the biggest tip and recommendation is to only speak when you see eye.

What you can do right now

-Take a step back for a week or so and analyze how many of your conversations are face-to-face and how many of them are through technology.

-Proactively ask for feedback on your interactions. Even before you start a meeting or a presentation, tell them the things you want them to watch out for. It’s called prepared feedback.

-Start recording yourself and just put yourself in your listeners’ eyes and ears. You’ll know what’s working for you, to enhance, you’ll also know where you’re creating distractions.

Key quotes

“Are you really basing your level of influence off of how you feel or are you basing it off of fact?”

“The CEO catches you in the hallway, think about how you stand, and you’ve never really thought about it otherwise.”

Links mentioned

Influence Redefined: Be the Leader You Were Meant to Be, Monday to Monday

Stacey’s website

Today, our guest is Stacey Hanke. She’s a speaker, executive mentor, and author of the book “Influence Redefined.” And today we’re talking about Work Minus Communicating Without Influence. Hi, Stacey. How are you today?

Hey, Neil. I’m good. Thanks for the opportunity and trusting me with your listeners.

Yeah, absolutely. I have no doubt about this one. It’s going to be really good. Why don’t you start off just giving a little bit of a background about yourself and what you do?

Well, it’s kind of ironic. I wanted to be on TV. I wanted to be a newscaster. I did broadcasting in college. I wanted to be the next Katie Couric. But that obviously did not pan out. And then after that, I started to work for large corporations and training and development. That’s where everything really started to evolve. Because no matter what topic I would train on, it’d be everything from time management to leadership skills, I realized it doesn’t matter how smart you are if you cannot communicate that message in a way that people understand, that they can determine whether or not they want to act. It just doesn’t work. So, I started Stacey Hanke Inc. for 17 years this August. And our main focus is exactly what you had said, it’s really to make individuals more aware of how much influence they really have rather than what they believe to be true. And the way we define influence I think is a little unique too with some definitions, and that is that we believe it’s body language and messaging, they need to be consistent every day of the week, no matter what medium you’re trying to influence through.

So, I want to start off talking about this idea of understanding how influential you are. Some people assume, I have a good position, I have a good title, I have a lot of people listening to me so therefore I am influential. But you’re saying that there’s a little bit of a step back we need to do.

Yeah, I think there is. And I know that’s a really bold statement, especially because your listeners don’t even know me, for me to say you may not be as influential as you think you are. I think it’s twofold. There’s two reasons behind that comment. First, most of us define it differently. I’ve seen it too many times where individuals will turn on their best focus and their A effort when they need it the most, high stakes presentation, high stakes board meeting. To me, influence is not something that you turn on, you turn off. It really is that no matter where you show up, people never have to guess who it is. They always get the best of you. And then that goes back to my comment earlier. It’s body language and messaging are congruent. I think people believe they’re more influential because of the word believe. They believe that if I feel good, if I know what to say, it’s easy, I’m confident, I’ve been in my industry for a long time, I know how to talk, I do it all the time. But if you’re not truly getting feedback, like someone is not truly giving you honest feedback that is more than “Good, nice job, that was great,” and if you’re not consistently experiencing yourself through the eyes and ears of your listeners, I challenge everyone, are you really basing your level of influence off of how you feel or are you basing it off of fact? Fact is reality. Fact is the perceptions everyone else around you has of you.

So, let’s take the example of somebody who they’re a team leader, they’re in a multinational organization, they lead big meetings, they should have influence at least. What are the questions they should be asking in terms of how to figure out what this feedback is that they need to get?

That’s such a tough position to be in because you have to find the person that’s really going to be honest with you. Because who’s going to tell the CEO that they “um” and “ah” too often? No one’s going to tell him that. And it’s finding someone, it could be someone even in your personal life. I think a lot of time people in our personal life will always tell us the truth. And it’s asking them. But you got to do it before. So, I call it prepared feedback. So, give an example. If you and I were going into a meeting, I would ask you before what exactly I’m working on, what I want you to watch for, what I want you to listen for, both in my verbal and nonverbal communication, how I want to come across, I want to come across trustworthy, credible, would you watch for all of that? And then after the meeting, if it’s a position where others are around us and you cannot coach me in the moment, Neil, then we take a quick five minutes after that meeting and you tell me exactly what you observed. The feedback is flawed when we get off this interview that we’re doing today and then I ask you, how do you think I did? Well, I totally throw you underneath the bus because you’re wondering, I don’t even know what you want me to look for. And that’s where that person would say to you, well, that was good. So, that’s the first thing is really ask for feedback. 

If it’s a leader that they don’t even have someone at work that they feel like they could really ask to give them feedback, the next best option is start recording yourself. Start recording yourself on your technical gadgets, which is probably just your phone, audio record, video record yourself as often as you can to really get a sense of, well, this is how I feel, this is what I think based on how people are responding to me how my message is coming across. Now, when you watch that video playback, that’s the truth and that’s the reality. I really think, Neil, that is the one gap in our development. If we can actually think about video and audio recording yourself, you could do that even more than just to check to see your level of influence. It really would encompass everything about your behavior, everything about how you interact based on a phone call versus when it’s a high stakes meeting. Probably the best advice I can give to anyone is really start recording yourself and just put yourself in your listeners’ eyes and ears. Because from that point, you’ll know. You’ll know what’s working for you, to enhance, you’ll also know where you’re creating distractions that you may not even realize is happening right now.

So, you just ask people to do something that they’re going to be totally afraid to do. I’m sure you give this advice to lots of people. And the first interaction is, I don’t really need to do that. I’m sure I can come up with something else. Mostly because they know if I listen to that, I’m going to hate it. I’m going to hear something I don’t like. It’s not going to sound like me. I mean, is it just a matter of just do it, just get it done? Or is there anything else to get over it?

Just do it. Exactly. Get over it. I was working with a group of CEOs yesterday here in Chicago, which is where I’m based. We were talking about that. And the first step I do, I literally get them up on their feet, and they need to record each other. And there was some mumbling. And finally I said, you’re leaders. What are you mumbling about? I said, don’t you rather want to know than not know what everyone is saying behind your back? See, that’s the issue is if we really are not getting that constructive feedback, and we’re not watching our playbacks, we’re not videotaping, we don’t always know what everyone is saying behind our backs. I have learned over the years that a lot of times the reputation that we create is what people say behind our backs. And it’s not taking that risk of are you assuming how you’re coming across? Once you start watching the playbacks, too, Neil, that’s when you can take a really deep dive into, well, why do you have more success with this conversation versus another? Why is this employee responding more to you than the other employee? You really get a chance to take a close look on opportunities where you can continuously develop.

So, at the point in your career, where you’re at, you’re interacting with a lot of top level leaders trying to help people at that top level of their career as they go through. But a lot of people coming in, maybe they don’t have the sponsor, they don’t have the money to be able to put into hiring an assistant that’s going to be there to help them to see all these things. So, at what level in someone’s career should they start thinking about this? Is this something like once they have the position then match communication? Or how early can they start this?

I don’t think it’s ever too late. And I don’t think it’s too early either. I think about the work that I do, if I would have had this information or this knowledge in high school, in college, what better off I would have been, my early part of my career. Because the longer that you wait to really start honing in on changing your behavior, and that’s really what it is, when you’re looking at your level of communication, both verbally and non verbally, it’s about changing behavior. Well, the older we get, the harder it is, because those habits have been years with you. I always recommend the sooner, the better, and start really just taking a closer look at the conversations you have with friends, family. It doesn’t have to be just focusing on when you’re at work. One of the things I do when I work with recommendations that I give to leaders is take the skills and techniques that we teach to grow their influence, practice in your day to day, put heavy focus on it when you’re in comfortable situations like hanging out with friends and family. That’s what we mean by Monday to Monday, that it’s not, you’ve got a big board meeting coming up, think about brevity. The CEO catches you in the hallway, think about how you stand, and you’ve never really thought about it otherwise. The more you can think in terms like an athlete, or any type of professional musician, however they are practicing Monday through Friday, is how they perform on Saturday. I think the difference with us is every day for us is game day. It’s more about being conscious of every conversation that you’re in. What is your body language doing? What is your messaging communicating?

So, walk us through the different types of communication scenarios. For example, you’re going to have some situations where you have a small group, maybe just two or three people you’re meeting about. Other times you have one on one conversations. And then on occasion, you’re going to be addressing a large group of 100 or so. So, what are the different mindsets, because when I’m thinking about just going and talking to one person, I don’t necessarily think deeply about my communication style as if I’m going to be addressing a large audience. So, how do I navigate that?

And I think that’s our biggest fault, Neil. You’re not alone with that comment. We don’t think about it just through our day to day, then suddenly, when something like a large group of 100 plus whatever that number may be, suddenly we start thinking about how we’re delivering. And at that point, you’re running the risk of it being too late because you’re trying now to focus on an area of your communication that you don’t regularly focus on. It’s like the professional athletes. They only think about their position on the golf club at the actual tournament. Otherwise, they really don’t think about it. I mean, there’s going to be a problem there. I teach core skills, your posture will either convey or not convey confidence is one of the core skills. Pausing is the core skill to brevity. And then eye connection. notice the difference in terminology rather than eye contact, is the only skill that conveys trust. I always start with those three key skills. And I’ll show individuals, Neil, how to use those three when you’re in a small group, a large group, or a meeting setting. They really don’t change much.

Where they change is the adaptability meaning how you gesture to a large group is going to be a lot broader in your gestures than when you’re obviously one on one with someone. When you’re in a large group, now you have to use more examples, more analogies, more different ways that you’re interacting and creating engagement because you are talking to so many different personality and learning styles. When you’re one on one, you’re just thinking about that one person in front of you so your level of interaction could even be higher, getting them to do most of the talking to figure out, well, how can I adapt the message for this one single person, rather you can feel how that’s a lot different than when you’re with a large group. So to go back to golf, for any of our listeners that may have played golf, I think this analogy applies to any sport. What probably makes golf so difficult is you learn the core skills of how to hang on to the golf club, how to swing, how to follow through, yet the adaptability comes into play based on the obstacles on the court, and how far away from the green you are. And that’s when it gets complicated.

You piqued my interest about eye connection versus eye contact. Explain that.

Think of eye contact, we’ve always been told if you’re speaking to more than two people, look at everyone. And that becomes more of a scanning. You’ll see individuals, they sometimes will talk to the floor, some individuals will look up at the ceiling hoping that the words fall down on them. If they ever have anything with them, maybe an agenda on their phone or their laptop, or maybe they’re working with a PowerPoint, sometimes they’re talking to those objects rather than connecting with the listeners. Well, imagine when you’re sitting in a small group around the table and eye connection means you stay with someone for a full sentence or thought. You pause as you transition your eyes from one person to the next. The minute you make the connection with the next person, that’s the sign of your next sentence. When those come together, the biggest tip and recommendation is to only speak when you see eye. You can look away to gain your focus, you might need to gain a key concept or idea on your agenda that might be sitting on your phone in front of you. You can look away. Don’t talk when you do it. Because if you’re focused in your eyes, you’ll be focused in your thoughts. The minute you look away and you’re still talking, say you’re one on one with someone, I watch a lot of people interacting one on one. And one of the individuals talking is talking to that person’s shoes, or they’re talking to the top of their head, the more you lose connection through your eyes, the more you communicate to your listeners that “do anything but listen to me.” And usually what they’ll do is they’ll go on their phone, they’ll start checking email or social media.

Now you’ve made me feel like we should have done this as a video podcast instead of just audio.


Well, one thing we talk about on the show a lot is this dichotomy between being a better human, working better with technology, understanding that division is coming soon, we need to be better at that. So, how do the skills that you teach enable us to just be better humans and do things that computers can’t do?

We are losing the art of face to face communication because of the technology. As I walk the corporate hallways, and I’m guessing you can relate and every listener on this call, how many times you look up, and everyone is down on their phone. They’re just walking past each other, everyone’s down on their phone doing their own thing. We’re becoming really caught into this disconnection and feeling like if I’m in a meeting, and suddenly my phone goes off, I have to check. Well, unless you’re doing brain surgery, I don’t know, or unless you’ve got a family emergency, is that email, is that text more important than a human body in front of you? I think we also hide, I think we hide behind social media, I think we hide behind emails. And it’s just easier for us to send out an email rather than pick up the phone call, God forbid we had a phone conversation with someone, or to pick up our feet and just get up and walk next door if that’s an opportunity.

I think that the other thing that we forget with social media, and Facebook is a prime example of this, even LinkedIn, whatever you post on those social media outlets, or any email or text message that you send, your name is still on it. So keep in mind that just because someone cannot see you, your name is still on it. And now the risk is even greater because all that listener has, that receiver has, are your words. I like to say sometimes, hang up the email and pick up the phone. There’s still situations and many situations that we have to have a face to face conversation. I came across this week, Neil, and it’s too fresh in my mind for me even to quote the right resource. The whole article was about this whole idea of you’ve got to have a face to face conversation. That is the only way that a relationship truly will be developed. And we’re trying to build these fake relationships through Facebook. Now, I’m a big fan of social media. We are heavily active in social media. I also use it with purpose. I use it in a way as a resource rather than a place that I’m going to build relationships, whether that’s with friends, family, clients, and acquaintances.

It’s stunning that we have these phones, but the phone app is actually probably the least used app that we have on the phone. We’re using everything else except for calling people.

Yeah, we’re just losing that connection and engagement. And I get this sometimes when I work with… and I’m not pointing fingers because I think all generations are guilty. I’ve had conversations, though, Neil, with individuals that are new in the corporate world, and they’re making comments to me, I struggle with face to face. It’s just not what I’m used to. It raised my eyebrows because I’m thinking, well, maybe you spent a lot of time on your phone at work. But do you ever have conversations with your family and friends? And it’s really becoming a disconnected world. Maybe it’s a matter of best advice I can give to our listeners today is just take a step back for a week, just for a week. Just really analyze how many of your conversations are over the phone or in person or FaceTime or Zoom rather than how many times are you communicating via technology? There’s a study, the article, and refreshing my memory right now, the article I was referring to earlier, Neil, it was talking about how when the majority of your communication with human beings are via technology, it’s equivalent to loneliness, which is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. And I remember it being so high because I thought, oh, my God, that’s the impact of loneliness? And now they’re tying it to these fake, not fake, fake, unrealistic relationships that we’re creating through social media.

And now I’m even thinking about the fact that in email, Gmail can auto complete your sentences for you or suggest, Hey, did you want to say this instead, and a suggestion for a text message to send back to somebody. In one way, it’s nice, it saves time, it helps you to complete something faster. But again, it’s almost like the machine is learning how to communicate in that way like a human. So, we need to go the other way and find ways to have more of these face to face, adlib, eye contact, eye connection conversations.

Right. Exactly. And again, I think if you just take a step back and look at why do you send the email, if it truly is the best approach to grab this person’s attention based on the conversation you’re having or the message in the email, then yeah, definitely send it. If not, just take a step back. And perhaps you could save you and that listener a lot more time by having a quick conversation. We’ll do that a lot in my organization. If I get an email, and it’s this long email, I sometimes find myself I’ll start responding thinking this is not going to go the way it’s supposed to go. Because what I’m thinking in my head as I’m writing this email, I don’t even know if it’s going to come across the right way. And by picking up the phone, you save so much time, even if it’s just leaving a voicemail message and saying, “I wanted you to hear my voice and hear the message this way. I’ll also send you an email so you have it in print.”

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, as humans, one of our unique abilities is the ability to pull up on lots of contexts. Like you said, we hear voice modulation, we hear a slight intonation, we see the body language somebody’s coming with us about, we see the eye contact they have, and we interpret based on that. And it’s a beautiful thing we can do as humans. But we lose that ability when it’s just a text email.

Yeah, we do. We could talk hours about that.

No, I know, man. Well, we’ve packed a ton of stuff in here. Where can we go next? What do people need to know in terms of what communication is coming on the forefront? Like as new communication forms come, how can we adapt to those and continue to push down towards the deeper human connections? I mean, do you see technology moving towards enabling those deeper human connections or are moving us more towards talking like machines?

I think technology, obviously, it’s always going to be advancing. I can’t see it going the opposite way. And then I think it’s more of the challenge of not getting caught up in that world. And going back to everything that you and I have talked about that, you need to have that face to face conversation, and just being careful to not get caught up in, well, it’s so much easier to just send a text. And I’m guilty of it too. I’m definitely not perfect at it. I’m constantly thinking before I hit send and really thinking through, gosh, I haven’t talked to this person for a long time. What would it do to our relationship if I actually had coffee with them? Or if I actually just had a quick phone call or FaceTime? We’ve got that technology, too. I think as far as where it’s going, speaking of FaceTime, I think we need to take more advantage of that. We do a lot of our sales calls via Zoom. And that way we can see the potential client or the current client. We cannot get to everyone’s office, I think we can use more of that technology. When we do our live webinars for clients, my request is I will do the webinar only if I can see participants and they can see me. So, I think it’s more about taking the technology that we currently have and any of the new technology that will continue to come our way, and compare it to how can we use the best technology that is the closest to building relationships like a face to face conversation does?

Stacey, I love what you’re saying because you’re pushing us to address the fears that we have, whether it’s recording our own voice, whether it’s feeling like, oh, no, what if this person responds poorly to what I say. All the things you’re talking about are about how we can stand up to these fears, address them, and try to make the right response to them. It’s really a beautiful thing.

Yeah, and it’s just really the whole conversation is to get your listeners thinking about what am I doing right now, both verbally and non verbally? How am I showing up? How am I staying showed up and what do I leave behind? And if that’s working for me, well then, how can I make it even better? If it’s not working, what can I do, even if it’s just small changes in the day, because if you don’t start today, and you keep saying “someday,” you and I both know someday will never happen.

Well, Stacey, it’s been great. Why don’t you let us know where we can go to learn more about you, your book, and your work?

Thank you. It’s easy to find us. Just go on our website where there are a lot of resources. We want to be a resource from afar. And that is We’d love to get connected with you there.

Definitely everyone go check it out. Check out the book. It’s got a lot of great tips in it and just being able to think about how we’re communicating influence. Stacey, thanks so much for being on the show.

Thank you. Appreciate it.

Stacey is author of two books;  Influence Redefined…Be the Leader You Were Meant to Be, Monday to Monday® and Yes You Can! Everything You Need to Know From A to Z to Influence Others To Take Action. Her books provide practical and immediate skills and techniques that have given thousands the ability to enhance their influence Monday to Monday®. Stacey helps individuals eliminate the static that plagues communicative delivery  — to persuade, sell, influence and communicate face-to-face with a clear message. She has trained and presented to thousands to rid business leaders of bad body language habits and to choose words wisely in the financial industry to the healthcare industry to government and everyone in between. Her client list is vast from Coca-Cola, FedEx, Kohl’s, United States Army, Navy and Air Force, McDonald’s, Publicis Media, Nationwide, US Cellular, Pfizer, GE, General Mills and Abbvie. Her team works with Directors up to the C-Suite.  In addition to her client list, she has been the Emcee for Tedx.  She has inspired thousands as a featured guest on media outlets including; The New York Times, Forbes, Entrepreneur, Thrive, SmartMoney magazine, The Economist and Business Week.  She is a Certified Speaking Professional—a valuable accreditation earned by less than 10% of speakers worldwide.

Her work ethic was forged in her childhood years, growing up on a farm.  She gave up the pitchfork to take her message across the country, and to help leaders see and hear what their audiences see and hear rather than what they believe to be true.  She gives executives what has been described as the “greatest gift of all” – to see themselves as others see them.

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