There’s one type of communication you engage in more often than any other. It’s conversation. You are in conversation – online or on-ground – more frequently than you get opportunities to deliver presentations, webinars or otherwise engage with people in a more formal or structured setting.

While there are many presentation skills courses (including the one I teach at UCLA Extension), very few people receive guidelines or feedback about how to speak up effectively in a dyad or small group conversation. That’s why conversations are the biggest threat to your personal brand and reputation.

You have a lot of practice, and no principles

Here’s a secret only professional communicators know. There is no casual conversation in business.

What happens to your reputation or personal brand when you’re “just talking” creates a lasting, negative perception about you that will be hard to shake. And, yet you probably treat conversation as a spontaneous event, where no one’s really prepared remarks.

Let’s take the conversation you’re likely to engage in during a meeting. A typical meeting is scheduled to discuss an issue, get a consensus or decision and set in motion some action plans.

These are the five ways you damage your personal brand, by unknowingly behaving badly

1. Scattershot

Definition: Broad but random and haphazard talk. You might be narrating your unprocessed stream-of-consciousness, and inadvertently broadcast your brain’s synapse gone wild.

Example: “Choosing the ideal weather for our association’s event makes me think about global warming, and polar bears, which I haven’t seen since I visited the San Diego Zoo in 2010, when my mother was here for a visit from Chicago, which is where they had that world exposition to introduce ice cream cones. It’s the windy city. Remember that old song ‘Wendy?’ by The Association?”

2. Hijack

Definition: To commandeer, stop and steal from. This is either your well-meaning attempt to prevent the group from going in the wrong direction or your direct attack on the leader’s authority, in order to wrest control of the issue.

Example: “I know we’ve been brought together so we can accept or reject the offer, but let’s brainstorm!”

3. Dog pile – (AKA Me Too!)

Definition: Jumping on top of a group or another person, creating a crushing tower. This is when you rush to say you should get credit for a good answer, even though someone else already made the point.

Example: “Yes, me, too! I agree! That’s what I would have said! Exactly my point!”

4. Hoaxing

Definition: An attempt to trick someone into believing your interest is genuine or your intention is good. This is when you try to disguise your disapproval or agenda, by using a transparent leading question.

Example: “Would you really want to tell clients that?” “Do you think they would be offended?” “Do you think we can afford for you to do that?”

5. Roundabouting

Definition: Taking a circuitous or indirect route. This is when you attempt to conceal your real request or agenda by burying it. This is when you (misguidedly) put a needle in a haystack.

Example: “I wanted us to come together to discuss the financial investment in marketing. I also wanted to address the facilities management costs in the budget that was submitted. And finally, can I ask you a favor? Could I get Friday off so I can go to my financial planner’s wedding?”

The first step to breaking these habits is recognizing when you’re doing one of them. The next step is stopping, before the words leave your mouth. But you may want to use a powerful alternative; a conversational structure that will make your point and not just shut you up. There’s a simple solution for each one of these conversational habits. It involves a two-word construction: would-because. If you’d like my instructional worksheet with examples: email me at [email protected] with the subject line: would-because.


Nance Rosen is the author of Speak Up! & Succeed. She speaks to business audiences around the world and is a resource for press, including print, broadcast and online journalists and bloggers covering social media and careers. Read more at NanceRosenBlog. Twitter name: nancerosen