All posts by Maureen Merrill

The Nerve: 4 Ways to Take Charge of Jitters

=tribune speeches room microphone

Prepare to Not Wuss Out Under Pressure

Sometimes, we have it down cold. Then, just when it’s time to show it, we blow it.  From deer-in-headlights, sweating, shaking, can’t-do-it anxiety to mildly annoying apprehension, nerves are natural responses to being watched, heard, or evaluated.

Old adages don’t help. Butterflies don’t fly in formation, so our imaginations just snicker at that impossibility.  Visualizing the audience undressed or in some other vulnerable position requires too much psychic stress to conjure too many unwelcome images.

read more

Refrain and Replace – “Banished Words” and What to Use Instead

Word definition in dictionary.

The annual ‘Banished Words” List, a favorite of mine, seeks to strike out nonsensical, over-used and tasteless expressions. 2016’s bad boys include bigly, dadbod, and guesstimate, and most of us can easily come up with better boys to use instead. The clever folks at Lake Superior State University, who have complied the offending terms for 42 years, don’t always offer alternatives to the words they want gone. This year, they do suggest “concentrate” or “look” in place of focus, a word that has perhaps lost itself.

read more

Productive Meetings Every Time

People Meeting Conference Seminar Audience Concept

“The purpose of meetings is not to talk – the purpose of meetings is to arrive at ideas, solutions, plans and decisions.”   —  Alexander Kjerulf, Happy Hour is 9 to 5

When we want most anything to go better, the basic how-to can be easy. Making the needed changes is much harder, so the problem persists. We all dislike boring, unproductive meetings.

In 2017, will we continue to complain, and struggle? Or could we make meetings valuable by adopting a few basic habits based on research and common sense?

read more

Employee Motivation Today

Young business team in a meeting discussing progress of the company. Creative professionals sitting around a table in office.

No one’s a generation-bot.  As organizational leaders assess employee engagement, or lack of it, that recognition will help.

Millennials have won some real trophies. Back to that near the end of this 1.3-minute read. ;-|

My clients who are planning their annual team retreats share a few big concerns this year, most of them around employee engagement. We’re talking about motivation, work ethic and communication, and about the relationships between team members of the Millennial, Gen X and Baby Boomer generations.

read more

The Opinion Reflex: Take Command

Close-up of people communicating while sitting in circle and gesturing

In a recent post I suggested that most of think that we’re better listeners than others are. And, if you asked six people about that, you’d likely get not just six answers, but six –or more – opinions on the subject.

As I see it, we tend to have an Opinion Reflex. Nearly everything we hear prompts us to pull up our position on the subject – based mostly on what we already know, or think, or feel. I suspect that we judge, evaluate and take sides almost automatically, maybe even before we’ve heard the whole story.  The Opinion Reflex is a powerful, overwhelming habit, one that can kill genuine listening, and therefore genuine conversation. I’d love to be a world-class listener all the time – well, a lot of the time! – but whenever that reflex takes over, forget it.

read more

Good Listener? You? 3 Ways to be Sure

Young manager interviewing a potential worker

Ask the next six people you see, “Are you a good listener?” and you’ll likely hear six kinds of “yes.”  It’s a quality that most of us take pride in, like being a good driver or a bad liar.

But if you then ask, “Are most people good listeners?” you’ll get far fewer positive responses.

Which probably means that some of us don’t listen as well as we think we do.  We do know that good listeners pay attention, ask questions, and exhibit encouraging non-verbal cues while maintaining an open mind.  Easy!  But how do we know we’re doing all that? By checking our own behavior in real time.

read more

Sexist Communication: Just “Locker Room Banter”?


I’ve long disliked and decried casual profanity that’s become an unwanted aural intrusion on public communication almost every day. I recoil from the various jarring words that get tossed around no matter how many toddlers, reserved older ladies or impressionable kids are present. And at social events, I think: Come on! It’s a party! If you really look at most profane talk, you see that it’s almost always sexist, whichever gender engages in it.

When a fairly extreme example surfaced last weekend, I almost appreciated the negative response. People do care!? Then came the claim that it was simply “locker room” speech. So I asked male friends to comment on my personal Facebook and got an earful – mostly confirming my hunch that such extreme language is rare, as I’d hoped. (I’d also pointed out that as horrid as groping is, it’s also very rare.)

read more

Non-Verbal Confidence: Four Barriers to Remove on the Spot


Removing obstacles between communicators sounds like easy good sense to most of us.  Yet we often use various kinds of barriers to defend ourselves – against invasion of our space by stranger or too-fast intimacy with new acquaintances, or from simple exposure.   Since external and internal barriers are ubiquitous, its easy to let them stand even when they don’t serve our purposes.

A few quick hacks for removing barriers:

  • Drop the hands barrier.

The first thing that most speakers do is raise their two hands to the front of their stomach. Guess where the eyes of the audience go?  Right where we’d rather they not. The linked hands form a barrier that divides your body in half and imposes a physical and psychological barrier to the audience.

read more

A Touchy Subject… But What is Seen is Perceived

Young woman trying to choose a dress to wear holding up a red and yellow garment on a hanger with a look of indecision as she battles to make up her mind

It steps on toes and offends feelings and wrenches righteously held principles, but I’m saying it:  Dress matters.

Last week, I walked into a professional office to see impeccably tasteful furnishings and artwork attesting to the care, cash and thought that went into the surroundings. The colorful, comfortable décor extended from the reception area to the conference rooms and workspaces.  Large brass lettering and a brass company logo were affixed, gleaming, to the entry wall.  Someone had been paid to vacuum, dust, straighten and polish every surface and corner.  I recalled that the company’s website was equally well designed, curated and maintained.  As with so many workplaces, the pride taken in the visual environment was impressive and unmistakable.

read more