Suzanne W

Articles & Insights

Straight Talk: You’re out of control. Don’t fight it.

Things change. The environment, you, others. Sometimes these changes are so big they threaten to overwhelm us, and other times, so tiny and subtle that we don’t even tap into the iteration.

I’ve been away to write my second book and… I didn’t write it. I wrote zero words, nothing at all. For the past eight days, I’ve been nestled on a remote Tasmanian rural island in the Bass Strait. The locals on the island knew my friend and I were there to write, as we were at an artist’s residential retreat. Each day when they asked me how’s the writing going, my sheepish reply was the same. I’ve been thinking about writing…

I was unhappy with my supposed lack of progress. Shifting uncomfortably throughout the day, knowing that I was there to write. After all, I had all the moving parts planned and ready, I knew what I wanted to write, what, why, how, and yet it just didn’t eventuate. I couldn’t find the flow I needed no matter how hard I tried. Instead, I ventured out into the township. I found myself in deeply moving, fascinating and often hilarious conversations with strangers in the one and only coffee shop. Sitting in the outdoor lounge chairs in a rustic rural country setting with farmers and small business owners, I spent hours in unplanned conversation.

The Studio

I’m in a perpetually curious learning state. I want to know why people think what they do, how it impacts them, what their life is like and how they created it that way. Are they content? What would they change? What does life mean to them? In return for the questions I learn, grow and open up my field of vision, cement my own beliefs.

Then, I met Gavin. A retired man on the Island. In one of our many unplanned conversations, he recounted with tears in his eyes, a story of a moment between him and his young daughter many years ago.

She was a shy perfectionist type. He saw her increasingly hold back. hesitating, missing out on friendships and opportunities. One afternoon, he asked her to go walking with him. She was confused. It was raining outside. He explained that he just needed to take her out for a little while. So, she took his hand and they started walking. Their hair was dripping wet, and it was getting cold. At this point, the little girl turned to her father, and asked him, Daddy, why? He turned to her and looked steadily into her eyes, took her hands firmly in his and said…

Darling, because we can.

At that moment, sitting on the street, Gavin turned to me and held my gaze, he paused and said, I hope you find what you’re looking for. I don’t remember much about what he said after that because I was desperately trying not to cry. Eventually, the tears just tumbled onto my cheeks. I hadn’t told him much about myself at all, yet he saw me.

You see, for the first time in a long time, my capacity isn’t matching my pace. In the recent years, I’ve been outcome focused to the point of obsession. I set out to do something and it gets done. Simple. My carefully constructed environment allowed me to focus on my work, my career, my professional development, without interruption. In the recent six months, my life has significantly changed. I made some major personal decisions. I underestimated that how the increase in emotional processing, practical changes and time needed to absorb and re-calibrate life would take of me.

So, I kept up the rate of activity of the past, making plans to do many things like attend events, write books, create new programs, continue my community work. But, life had changed. I needed time for other things now. My capacity to achieve like I had before was reduced. Even if I had the time, I often found myself not being able to complete the planned creative activity simply as I couldn’t conjure in that given moment, what I needed to produce.

So, I found myself on an island at an artists retreat, with a blank page. I finally allowed myself to see that my capacity to produce new things doesn’t match the altered pace and additional factors of my present life. I was learning a deeper lesson. To trust, not force. I decided to stop trying to write and to let myself write my internal book. To listen to the locals. Learn from the land. Spend time slowing down and hearing myself. It takes a great deal of trust to do this. Trust in myself, and that all will be exactly as it should be. The thing is -I realise- this is still progress.

We are all a conduit to the impact we have on our families, our workplaces, our life goals, on any given achievement. But, if we aren’t able to fully engage due to the internal noise, the external pressures then we are only going to give a diminished effort. A great mentor of mine Peter Cook says, 99% commitment is the hardest of all. So I committed to being on an Island with wonderfully interesting people. I spent time allowing myself to rejuvenate, to listen, to experience the stars at night, to spend time building a fire, to watch the pademelon wallabies hop and eat, and hold baby wombats (too cute I know).

wombat cuddles

Before I lose you to the baby wombats, let me tell you this. On the day I left, in that same street where I let go, I waved goodbye to the locals, realising I knew almost all of them by name on the street at that moment. I love community and co-creation. I felt inspired, connected and full of permission to change what is needed at the moment to enable progress, even when it’s not the type of progress intended or the format planned. Pretty zen I know.

And now, here I am typing at the speed of light. On the plane in the direction of home. Writing to you. Sharing some of my internal book in which all our pages are still being formed. This is co-creation. A big topic for my next book. The trick is to let those pages unfold within us, so we can engage them fully, and meaningfully. There are always internal factors (things we can influence) and external circumstances (things we can’t control). A friend of mine once said, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. Prepare what you can, and be willing to change. It’s a good point.

Articles & Insights

7 Traits of Leaders Who Turn Clarity into Reality

Having clarity for your organisational vision is one thing; progressing that clear vision and strategy is entirely another. Many organisations spend a fortune on being extremely clear about what they want to achieve and continuously communicate it gung ho to their senior leaders, but with perhaps less talk about turning it into a reality. According to PWC ‘research shows that 70 percent of strategic failures occur due to poor execution.’

A leader who has great responsibility in influencing others, and producing results, needs to take their skills into their own hands and consider how they progress goals and visions through their very own leadership traits.

In studying leaders in action, I frequently observe communication styles and importantly their own sense of self and personal resilience whilst interacting with their people. Narrowing down the most powerful traits of a leader who passes on clarity has been inspiring not only personally, but to see how others react in their presence.


These leaders personify the following:

They are believable

Believability encompasses a leader showing alignment in their communication, confidence in the truth and exhibiting a sense of doing the right thing.


They don’t hide the hard stuff

By communicating all the elements of reality, people are more likely to trust someone who discusses and approaches the good, bad and indifferent. Recognising the hard stuff that is shareable (minus confidential or yet to be released information) helps teams productively consider all options and angles.


They make assertive decisions

Quick decision making in simple and easy situations brings confidence to those who need to act. The more leaders appear to need time to consider in simple situations, the more it shows they may not have clarity needed to progress. According to Joseph Folkman’s research ‘…leaders who ranked high in both characteristics (assertiveness and judgement) had an actual 71% chance of being rated as one of the best leaders.’ This is opposed to less than 12% when only one of the characteristics are displayed.


They openly map their high-level outcomes

Quite often leaders are several steps ahead in their knowledge, thinking and planning but the team is frequently lagging in exposure to information. Therefore, leaders who consistently explain and recap high level outcomes will keep people on task and focussed.


They know the difference between direction and collaboration

Great leaders will be direct when needed and collaborate at other times. Clear goals and visions aren’t always up for discussion (get on or off the bus comes to mind here). So knowing when to direct and when to collaborate helps others to follow well and interact appropriately in meetings and discussions.


They don’t get caught up in emotions or politics

Senior leaders in particular, are barraged daily with ego, politics and agendas from many conflicting stakeholders. Their ability to filter unnecessary emotional side-tracks and stick to facts, logic and end goals are essential in not wasting time or energy. When communicating back to the wider team, this is essential not to bring with them the unproductive chatter.


They keep on track with pragmatism

I’m a huge fan of pragmatism. Patterns, sequences and trends that leaders can apply with evidence and practical application enabling progress. To do this well, leaders need to understand pragmatism’s counterpart; emotions. Emotional acuity and intelligence will help progress and clarity continue, where emotions and facts are clearly separated.


Patrick Lencioni’s The Advantage is a brilliant read for more on clarity. As Lencioni states, ‘Alignment and clarity cannot be achieved in one fell swoop with a series of buzzwords and aspirational phrases crammed together. It requires a much more rigorous and unpretentious approach.’

Articles & Insights

Straight Talk: Don’t you ever stop?

Don’t you ever stop?

It’s my most dreaded question and frankly it makes me sweat. It hasn’t sat well with me for a long time, because I felt the curse of judgement.

Judgement of myself.

I have often wondered if there was something wrong with me. My little inner voice asked, am I supposed to stop more than I do – am I doing life wrong? Equally, I struggle with the question: what hobbies do you have? It makes me panic. I don’t sew, or paint, or enjoy gardening. Honestly, the closest hobby I have, is probably thinking about eating chinese roast pork (not even eating it).

I have come to believe, there are a couple of reasons people tend to ask these questions

They genuinely want to know how I manage my time so they can learn about their productivity (the type who are always learning)

They are confronted by the sheer amount of activity in my life, and are projecting their own lack of productivity by comparing to me (there’s no other way to say it)

This seemingly innocent line of questioning by others in my life, tends to make me ‘front up’ to defend myself. But defend myself from what? I decided to work through this on almost a weekly basis with my health mentor. She picked up on it too, and asked me how do I switch off? I just couldn’t answer. It was a foreign concept.

Deep within me, I have a yearning to progress and an inherent need to explore, change and be involved in the evolution of our world. It’s an insatiable appetite for learning, understanding and doing.


Does this serve me? Yes.

Does it ever inhibit me? Rarely.

Do I feel tired from it. No.


I’ve found that when someone is querying that I’m doing too much, I now ask myself if my activity is serving me, and I ask them: what is it that they see in order to ask that question? Perhaps they can see evidence I’m not yet privy to. If I feel abundant and resourceful – I thank them for giving me a chance to check back into myself – but internally realise their question is most likely about them.

After years of this experience, I’ve realised that what I do is manage energy well, and unapologetically. I know what my purpose is in life. It’s so clear I am compelled to strive for it constantly. I know how I work, what I contribute to and how to go about getting it. I am self aware most of the time, and have learned to listen to my voice and body signals and alter the course of my energy accordingly.

So do I ever stop? No. I am a constantly moving ball of energy. Switching off or stopping, is more like turning down the dial or changing direction for a little while. Think of a river, does a river ever stop? It certainly runs dry, but it never stops. It moves, ebbs and flows, changes direction and alters its speed. But, it never stops, until it is no longer or morphs into something bigger than itself.

The world is changing and how we regard time is also changing. It’s happening right now, people are working several jobs in flexible ways, dispersing their leisure time as it fits in with their life. Soon we will be working an average of six jobs and taking short breaks rather than big long holidays. The sharing economy will see us using many of our skill sets, in ways that create exchanges (sometimes money, sometimes learning, sometimes contribution, sometimes all of those things). I think we could all do well to get clearer about what our purpose at any given time is (life, projects, work, relationships) and understand our motivational preferences to affect the outcome of that purpose.


Here are some questions for you to consider:

  • Do you know your own standards for all the parts of your life?
  • What’s in or out for you?
  • How do you know life is working vs when it’s a like moving through mud?
  • When are you the best version of you?
  • When do you feel full up emotionally?


I’m interested in your answers. Please share. Thought you might like to know…I now have an answer to both questions:

Don’t you ever stop?: It depends on what you mean by stopping. I manage my energy well and in a way that suits me. Thanks for asking! How about you?

Do you have hobbies?: Yes. Curiosity. Oh, and sometimes I eat chinese roast pork.


Articles & Insights

Leaders Have Forgotten why being Sceptical is Useful

Think of a person you know who displays sceptical behaviour such as; doubting, questioning, seeking answers, exploring gaps, or playing devil’s advocate. How do you respond to them or those traits? For many it can be a relatively uncomfortable interaction and experience.

It is easy to confuse scepticism with cynicism. Somewhere along the way some of us have intertwined the two. Let’s clarify: a cynic is a person who distrusts information, can be wholly self-serving and hard to convince even when presented with evidence. Scepticism on the other hand from a philosophical viewpoint, relates to a belief that knowledge is possible and obtainable through seeking evidence and taking part in education.

In his book, Don’t Believe Everything You Think, author Thomas E. Kida tells a story whereby he wakes up and thinks he sees a ghost, though admits he doesn’t actually believe in ghosts. When telling the story to others, he realised how quickly they almost certainly decided there must then indeed be ghosts, whatever else could it be? Upon further research, he found counter evidence that humans can experience hypnopompic hallucinations – essentially a state of waking and seeing perceptive illusions. Who knows, perhaps he did see a ghost, but did that have to be the only conclusion?

In today’s workplace, the art of probing, using critical thinking and purposeful enquiry has increasingly diminished. If it does exist it is met with frustration and annoyance. Those who seek and question are many times labeled an obtrusive or difficult person. When I observe leaders from afar, and frequently watch their busy fast paced environments and steadfast pursuit for results, it’s no wonder I find them falling into a trap of single mindedness. More so than ever we know that moving this quickly can prevent us from smelling the roses, and in this case capturing alternative thoughts, ideas or useful information.

How can we embrace scepticism and use it well?

For the Sceptic: Use Rapport to Challenge

In behavioural change, a high level of rapport and trust is used to ensure people can recognise and participate in change, change that may be confronting to them personally. The trick is to know when you have enough rapport to challenge someone without losing them to self-preservation (like putting walls up or no longer listening to you). When you are the sceptic, understand that using good lead-in sentences and seeking permission to be contrary is very helpful. Stating your intention for example: I want to give an alternative view, and totally accept it may be challenged, is that ok? This can help people consider the alternative thinking rather than getting their back up before the words are even out of your mouth!

Receiving Scepticism: Take Learning On

Having a learning mindset, will help you take the approach of growing your thinking. Many times, trying to be right or perfect stops this from happening. As Peter Cook says in his new book The New Rules of Management, ‘The idea of being willing to tolerate a discomfort level of seven or eight out of ten is not a bad way to think about it. To grow or improve in any domain of your life or business, you have to willing to be a bit uncomfortable.’ Learning is generally uncomfortable and many leaders do not want to show discomfort for fear of looking weak. This will prohibit productive change. When faced with a sceptic, frame the situation in a way that your brain knows you could gain more information or perhaps learn something new to add to the situation. It doesn’t mean you will, though if you value growth and change, you will give it a good shot and stop yourself from blocking the alternative views.

As a leader, it is your responsibility to encourage positive scepticism as a constructive skillset. Without it, you may prevent growth or progress in your pursuits and projects.

Originally published in Leadership HQ Magazine

Articles & Insights

Counter-Intuitive Change

When there is a prolonged amount of time during the middle of a change journey -those long moments where the outcome seems too far away, or reactions to change are preventing results – leaders often tend to resort to responding with control measures.

Whether this is personal control (leadership style) or organisational (external factors, people, stakeholders, systems), this protracted moment is often where the change journey will derail.

Control almost always has a positive intent, though in times of change… control can be surprisingly counter-intuitive.

Think about what drives control. 

Or even how it feels.

What it means.

Imagine being controlling or controlled (that may not be too hard!)

Control points are important to risk. Boundaries are important too. However when senior people in organisations impact opportunity, creativity and momentum because they are acting through fear or any driver that is self-serving (business drivers, KPI’s, financial return, personal status, wanting to be good) then there is a significant flow on effect.

DOWNLOAD: 6 Ways Leaders Relinquish Control to Generate Change

Articles & Insights

Are you changing or controlling?

Have you noticed, when there is a prolonged amount of time during the middle of a change journey – those long moments where the outcome seems too far away, or reactions to change are preventing results – leaders often tend to resort to responding with control measures?
Whether this is personal control (leadership style) or organisational (external factors, people, stakeholders, systems), this protracted moment is often where the change journey will derail.

Control almost always has a positive intent, though in times of change, control can be surprisingly counter-intuitive.

Experiencing change can be exciting. Many senior leaders enjoy embarking on a new initiative. The freshness of new ideas that carry hope and progress, which causes a positive upswing.

Entering into the gap between the beginning and the outcome is when change traditionally gets hard.

How a person reacts in that space, through change, is the single most important part of the change process.

DOWNLOAD: 6 Ways Leaders Relinquish Control to Generate Change

Articles & Insights

Grinners are Winners: Workplace is a laughing matter

Being responsible for the success or failure of an entire organisation is a job to be taken seriously. But how serious is too serious?

Are our leaders losing their sense of ­humour under pressure?

Laughter is a tremendous way to build rapport, engage teams and bring people together. As Victor Borge once said, “when people are laughing together, they are not fighting each other”. It may seem frivolous to think of laughter as a tool of the 21st century workplace, but in a recent report 79 per cent of executives believe an employee’s sense of humour plays an important role in how well they fit in with the corporate culture. It’s worth wondering if they believe it also applies to them?

Recently, I had the pleasure of seeing AC Grayling speak at an event, after plucking up the ­courage to buy one of his books, Thinking of Answers, which sometimes requires a dictionary to read his ponderings. In it, he says: “Laughter cuts through most ­tangles, it punctures pomposity.”

I truly admire this sentiment, because pomposity — self-­importance — appears to be a ­barrier to genuine leadership. When you think about what it takes to positively laugh, you ­realise it requires you to let your guard down. It requires that you express emotion and show others a vulnerable version of yourself.

One of the first things I do when working with clients, whether it’s one-to-one advisory, workshops or on stage, is to find a way to laugh together. It builds a sense of rapport and engagement quicker than any other technique.

If you want people to listen, consider, engage or learn, then you must provide an environment that enables them to do so.

If you think about comedians and how they get to say controversial points that most others would not get away with, it is because they have created the environment to broach subjects in a way people can tolerate.

Recognising the value of laughter in leadership can be a helpful way to get into a more ­resourceful state of mind, which is key to self-efficacy.

As The Happy Human author Scott Williams writes: “Laughter is a universal language. A ubiquitous part of natural human behaviour designed to make us feel better!”

“The action of laughter not only brings an immediate feel-good response that elevates our mood, but also triggers a series of internal events or reactions that ultimately deliver many long-term health benefits.”

Peter Spitzer, a GP, medical ­director and co-founder of The Humour Foundation, said plenty of studies have shown laughter can combat many common ills, and research suggests humour may lower blood pressure and release endorphins. He said laughter is also thought to improve circulation, stimulate the nervous system, heighten the immune system and strengthen the heart.

These are all great reasons to focus on lightening up at work. If you have found yourself laughing less, or struggling to unite your team, perhaps think about ways you can incorporate some laughter in your communication.

If you are a person who does not genuinely feel comfortable leading laughter, encourage people in your team who do, and let them take the lead in providing the tool that fosters a positive leadership culture.

This article was originally published in The Australian.

Articles & Insights

3 Powerful Ways Inspiring Leaders Deal with Problems

Problems as a leader are inevitable, such as: missing deadlines, managing expectations, team friction and poor communication. These certainly cause hurdles contributing to pressure and stress. Whilst some problems can be bigger than others and harder to navigate, it’s not the actual problem but the human mind-set that gets in the way. Leaders get uncomfortable when uncertainty strikes, because within problems, are gaps.

From our early careers and indeed lives, we are guided to smooth things over, fill in the gaps, cover the silences and have everything ‘just so’. Having a gap is often akin to failure. But, problems and gaps actually shape us. They help us to stretch, consider, choose, think, analyse, understand our boundaries and beliefs in order to ultimately, solve and grow. This is also called innovation.

A problem itself is really just fact, a set of non-emotive data.  The emotion leaders attach to the fact can be where problems get hard. Emotions can carry people into a spiral particularly when they’ve attached the emotion to something they experienced some time ago, and then allow it to compound over time. The brain seeks to continue to prove what it sees or experiences as true, so we find ways to keep attaching our emotional version to the facts that surround us. Stacking the connections in our neural pathways over and over again, so that it all becomes so big. The good news is: the spiral can be prevented.

In his book, Creativity & Problem Solving, Brian Tracy says: ‘Everybody is inherently creative. Creativity is a tool provided by nature to man to ensure survival, and to deal with the inevitable problems and challenges of daily life.’ If we employed more principles of creativity, we will uniquely solve more problems.

Here are 3 creative principles leaders can practice to allow problems to shape them rather than limit them:

Get more comfortable with not knowing

Life doesn’t come at us in straight lines. Searching for gaps, understanding that sometimes we need to wait, or stand back, or change perspective until an answer appears, is important. Trusting that not knowing can mean gaining a totally new piece of information. It takes self-trust and patience to deal with not knowing. Have you ever had a manager or leader who demonstrated the ability to just slow it down, think and ask questions? Did you feel included, respected and appreciative that they were willing to engage, not just dictate? The answer is likely, yes.

Embrace gaps and increase critical thinking

Realise where emotion meets fact. Look at what is occurring from a critical standpoint. Be critical. Analyse the information in front of you. Write it down, make categories on pages, and fill in what you know to be a fact and what is an emotion. Get used to checking yourself and those around you. What are you placing importance on? Within gaps, so much more can be found if we allow ourselves to look more deeply. That’s where innovation, new ideas and connections will be made. Go a step further and encourage your peers, your board, your teams to use this method in meetings, performance reviews or meetings with importance.

Solve little problems quickly.

Leaving little problems to fester will only make them stronger. The subconscious will continue to ponder, work through, store information even when the conscious isn’t aware of it. If leaders let arguments, financial situations, negative thoughts, worry or any other nagging issues continue unsolved, it will cause the bigger problem to form a stronger foundation. Get used to listening to your thinking. Get used to checking the meaning and coming to the healthy conclusion to put the problem to bed once and for all. No need to waste your energy on what can be solved quickly. Ask the same of the people in your team. Help them to realise what a little problem is versus a small problem. Ask of them to diffuse the little problems to ensure focus is where it should be.

Workplaces deserve the best leaders who have so much impact on those around them. Get used to them, problems happen anyway. Be a problem solver, and a good one at that.

Originally published in The Educator adjusted for Principals (Head of Schools)

Articles & Insights

The other side of R U OK?

A man came right up to me at the R U OK? event we held in WA and said ‘this is bullshit. People don’t care.’, another woman who I was buying some bread from at the opposite stall to us had the same sentiment. Her son is still waiting for a bed in a psychiatric unit and doesn’t feel that the question relates to them at all. There’s a 20-day wait and asking that question won’t help them, he needs help NOW.

These are just two experiences of adverse reactions I experienced face to face, let alone reading many thoughts online about how R U OK? is just a silly question that does absolutely nothing to really help those in need.

When I had the chance to explain the campaign, the intent and why we were doing what we were doing, those two people started to change their minds about R U OK? Interestingly, simply using the R U OK? four step process with each of the people who were adversary helped them in some way. I was even asked to attend another event to represent R U OK? that is being held by the man who thought R U OK? was ‘bullshit’.

So what did I say to help a deeper understanding?

Firstly, just as the R U OK? model promotes, I listened. I heard their perspective and current issues. When hearing the whole perspective I realised they weren’t actually talking about R U OK? they were talking about the education system, the hospital or care facility breakdown, they were having issues with the way the country is being run. They weren’t actually against asking another human being if they are ok. They didn’t feel ok themselves and were struggling.

I acknowledged their issues, and with absolutely no way of being able to change the bigger issues in that moment, I simply heard them. I then explained the reason R U OK? exists.

VISION: A world where we’re all connected and are protected from suicide.

MISSION: To inspire and empower everyone to meaningfully connect with people around them and support anyone struggling with life.

The mission isn’t about solving the issues of government, or systems that govern healthcare, though I am sure those systems are influenced by the campaign. The mission is about having a peer-to-peer conversation that supports someone to not feel isolated or alone. To really listen and make some connection which helps them to get through a tough spot in life.

Are you wondering what the 4 steps are?

1: Ask are you ok?

2: Listen without judgement

3: Create action

4: Check back in

I’m being simplistic, but that’s the point, if we take away all the complexity of the wider problems and see the simplicity in the R U OK? message, I believe the value is then understood.

The issue continues to be that people often don’t know how to ask, or how to deal with the response if someone isn’t ok. That I can totally understand. The good news is we don’t have to be experts to ask the question and hear the person out. We don’t have to be the solution or fix anything at all. In my experience most people are capable of coming to their own conclusion to help themselves, they just have to muddle through some emotions to get clarity. Often a supportive person and an ear to listen helps move that along.

Hearing a senior leader mention ‘liability’ at a talk I did in a corporate setting, for the national awareness day, was telling. He said that he felt he and his team were too disconnected from hearing issues from others because they had fallen into the trap of just offering EAP (employee assistance program) due to fear of being held liable if they were to help the person with issues in a work setting. He started to realise that having humanity and compassion for someone isn’t solving their issues or going to make him or his team liable. He reflected on the line between liability and humanity and wanted to change so they had the culture of caring, and of course still referring to professionals when appropriate.

Essentially, people do better when they have someone they can count on. All people experience life up’s and down’s. This movement, in my view, is about reducing apathy and increasing meaningful conversations at work, at home or in the street.

The R U OK? website has a wealth of resources, ideas and ways to connect with those around you who may need support.

I’m honoured to represent this organisation as a Community Ambassador, and have a personal mission to help others get equipped in asking questions of each other – questions that support wellbeing and then to hear the reality and truths of others internal worlds, because suicide is not an option in my world.

Even when it seems like ‘bullshit’ to others, taking time to listen and converse made the world of difference in helping the people I interacted with understand the deeper meaning to this national campaign. They also had the chance to talk about their struggle. Together we can lighten that load.

My quest: to make R U OK day – every day.


Suzanne banana smile

Articles & Insights

How to Say What you Mean at Work

Years ago when I worked in the corporate world, I was told by my team member that I was being disingenuous. Whilst digging a deeper hole for myself, and then trying hard to convince her that I meant what I said, I knew she was right. I was saying one thing, and meaning another. Two fateful sentences ‘I would help you if I could, but I can’t’, took me three months to clean up and were an outstanding lesson in why being genuine and saying what I mean is better.

During the everyday life of any workplace, noticing the subtle differences in language during communication is crucial. When dealing with conflict, the HR advisor is often the third party, and being in this slightly removed perceptual position can give insights the conflicted parties are not aware of in the moment.

Language is ever complex, and has many different ways of being spoken and received. There is a time and a place for all sorts of language, though particularly in conflict and to prevent conflict, it’s best to be direct and clear.

Here are three ways humans express and interpret words and body language:

Implied: Hinting at what you mean, using words that indicate though don’t actually express directly. Often implied language is physically understood.

Inferred: The way a person receives information with their view of the world attached to it. Often one may guess at the meaning because it isn’t clear.

Literal: A way of communicating (both giving and receiving) information that is direct, factual and not exaggerated. Literal is generally hard to misinterpret.

Well-regarded and trusted people tend to speak very clearly and literally, they do not leave room for misinterpretation. There are some very tangible factors to being able to say what you mean, and these include both internal and external practices.

It takes emotional insight and character to be able to stand strong and speak directly, especially with compassion and empathy.

The capacity and capability model for direct communication explains how to build the ‘saying what we mean’ muscle.

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 11.38.58 AM

The internal capacity refers to emotional aptitude particularly when faced with or preparing for conflict. Just as importantly, the external capability relates more so to skillsets and physical dimensions; how someone acts and their use of communication tools, rather than who they are and how they feel.


  • Environmental Factors: ensuring the right time and place is appropriate
  • Reading Signals: using sensory acuity and seeing/hearing body and voice cues
  • Language Skills: speaking clearly and using appropriate words for the situation


  • Intention: stating your intention clearly and being transparent
  • Self-Belief: working on the inner sense of belief and feeling confident
  • Courage: to speak your truth and kindly

Encouraging literal and direct communication in the workplace can support prevention of conflict. According to CPP Global Human Capital Report, 1 in 8 senior leaders say they are spending time in frequent or continual conflict. Also, employees stated that with support, 85% of them have changed the way they approach conflict over the course of their working lives; becoming more proactive and taking it less personally as a result of experience.

It is the responsibility of all leaders and HR professionals in the workplace to encourage all employees an opportunity to say what they mean. Increasingly, our workplace experiences are those of ‘smoothing over’, or avoiding issues, which only lead to added friction. Take the step to increase guidance and support genuine communication at work. The cost of not doing so is 2.1 hours of productivity per employee per week and emotional unrest.

What can you do? Use the references, the model of communication and start noticing where others are implying or inferring. Get literal, be direct and help everyone say what they mean.

This article was edited and published at AHRI HRM