348: Monique Russell—To Lead With Clarity, You First Must Communicate Confidently

Learn how you, yes you, can become an awesome communicator!

In July of 2020 I had the pleasure of interviewing the very delightful Monique Russell, a leading executive communications coach who will share with you how to clearly communicate what you want to say in an effective way. I loved our conversation and learned so much from Monique that I had to share her wisdom with you again. Do you find yourself full of great ideas but struggle to tell others about them? Do you become self-conscious whenever you make a presentation? Monique has a great perspective on how to conquer all of these and succeed! Listen and share.

Watch my interview with Monique here:

card for Monique Russell

A communications roadblock is also an opportunity

As Monique tells us, “Right now, you may have achieved great success in gaining recognition for your good ideas and expertise, but you haven’t connected in a way in which others recognize the full value and quality of your leadership. It’s hard to connect, and others don’t seem to understand or buy into the full vision of where you see the team heading.” The opportunity? A time to learn new skills and polish your emerging style.

About Monique Russell

Originally from The Bahamas and Nigeria, Monique is the communications expert you want on your team. Founder of Clear Communication Solutions, an international training, coaching and consulting firm that teaches effective communications and leadership skills, she is passionate about teaching women leaders and teams how to turn “likes” into “loves” in their businesses and in their lives. Major organizations such as Centers for Disease Control, Verizon, Intel, Equifax and the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, trust Monique to teach effective communication strategies that foster connection, community, creativity and courage. You can too! You can contact Monique here.

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Read the transcript of our podcast here

Andi Simon: Welcome to On the Brink With Andi Simon. Hi, I’m Andi Simon, your host. And as you know, my job is to find people who can help you see, feel and think in new ways. I really want to help you get off the brink and soar. And these are very fast changing times: the pandemic, and the recession, the economic disruption, have really created all kinds of new ways of working and living. And so today, I wanted to find somebody who can help you think about communication. What is communication anyhow? You know, out of context, what do those words mean? Do your emails really get the response you’re looking for?

I was listening to somebody, not that long ago, who was telling me that everybody is making up all kinds of decisions as they work remotely and they’re not talking to each other the way they might have if they were in the same office together. But they’re feeling quite independent and empowered. Is that good or bad? How do we communicate? So today, on LinkedIn, Monique Russell came asking to link and so we linked and then we probed a little more. And Monique is a marvelous expert in communications. So let me tell you about her and then she’ll tell you about herself because I do think you get a better picture from people’s own words about their journey.

So Monique is originally from the Bahamas and Nigeria. She is a communications expert whom people say you want on your team, and this is really a chance for personal leadership. She’s passionate about teaching women, leaders, and teams how to turn likes into loves. So you can see why we have so much in common, both in our business and in our personal lives. Remember, our lives are nothing but conversations. They’re all about communicating. So what words we use matter, how we do it matters.

Monique has helped companies like the CDC, Verizon, Intel, Equifax, large companies globally. They trust her to teach effective communication strategies. And I love her four C’s: connection, community, creativity, and courage. So today, I hope you’re going to find that you are fostering communication, connection, creativity, and courage. Because these are not simple times. It’s not more of the same. Let’s do it better. These are different times. How do we change?

And since I love to help you change, Monique, thank you for joining me today. It’s such a pleasure to see you. Tell the listeners about yourself. Who’s Monique? What’s your journey all about? And how did you become the woman you are today?

Monique Russell: Thank you so much, Andi. I’m just delighted to be here and speaking with you. So I am from the original beautiful Bahamas and Nigeria. That’s where I grew up. I grew up in the islands. I lived with my mom and my brothers and my stepdad. And my mom was a high school teacher. And so she’s been an educator for all her life. So you can imagine just the influence and the impact that I had growing up, having a love for learning, having a love for reading and just watching her take personal development messages, audios, as she was developing herself. I kind of got caught onto some of it. She never said, Monique sit down, we’re gonna listen to this. But I happened to have exposure to seeing her do it and some seeds were planted.

So I left the warm islands and I went to Minnesota, which was very, very cold. We had a family tradition where the guys would go to St. John’s, the girls would go to St. Ben’s, and that’s where I started, at St. Ben’s, before I moved to St. Cloud. And I studied the whole science of communications. My goal was to get on TV to be a broadcast journalist covering stories all over the world. I studied marketing, PR, and advertising, which ended up being my graduate degrees. So I left with three degrees in the science of communications. And then I was off. I was off to conquer the world.

Andi Simon: Which really was who you were. It wasn’t a job to do, or a career to develop. I’m hearing someone who had an understanding of who she was and what she could contribute to the world. This is really exciting. Please continue.

Monique Russell: Let me tell you how exciting it was. I knew from the moment I was three years old having class with my dolls that I was born to teach. And I started actually speaking officially in front of people at the age of eight, so when I left, I had every bit of confidence you could possibly imagine. I had enough for me, for you, and your entire family. But let me tell you, after I graduated, I applied for jobs left, right and center. And I didn’t find the job that I wanted in my field. I couldn’t find a job in journalism. I didn’t find a job in PR and advertising.

It was like a Catch-22. They’re looking for experience, but you have the degree, and so when you did find something in the broadcast field, there was no way that I would be able to take care of myself and my family at the time. I had already had a son. So I started as an executive support. Still, with all the confidence and the bubbly excitement that I had, it wasn’t my plan. It was not where I wanted to be. And I contributed and I showed up the way I knew how, and I won awards. I got recognized because nobody considered me to be a threat in the executive support role. So I got a peek behind how things worked, which leaders stood out, which ones were frustrated. What made them tick and what brought the team together.

And because I was already nosy, curious about everything, as the investigative journalists, I always wanted to know what was going on. And they would come to me to ask me questions because of my personality, how to handle certain things with employees, how to handle certain things with their peers. I was all in the mix. But I will say this, after a while, I moved to Atlanta, and I came across a group called WATTS: Women Aspiring Together to Succeed. I did not know that I had lost my confidence during this time. I didn’t know because I was successful. I was accomplishing things and I was being recognized. I had my family. My kids were thriving, and things were okay.

So I thought, but there’s something that happened. And when I started freelancing, when I moved to Atlanta, I had a situation where my business partner and I were working on this project. And that project, just, you know, it was going well, it was going great. And then one day we had a call. And on that call, the client called us and I thought they were going to just go ahead and you know, renew, because I knew I was doing a great job. And I got on that call. And I’m like, you know, hello, this is Monique, Mrs. Bubbly personality. But on that call, something happened. What happened was, they started to ask questions about billing.

I was working with my business partner. He was the contractor above me. And he had a contractor above him. So I was two levels in and didn’t have correct direct billing with the client. But I did lead meetings, I did do the research, I did provide the value. And so I thought, this was just fantastic. But on that call, they started asking things like, Alright, we’re two years in, we understand why the bill was much higher on the front end, you have to do this work, you have to do whatever you had to do. But now we’re almost two years in and we don’t understand what the people are doing with Monique on this project, the other two people that are working.

And Andi, I promise you, I just didn’t know what to do. Because at that time, you think you’re getting on a call for one thing and then it just hoodwinked you. And so I was like, Okay, what two people are they talking about? And before I realized what was happening, the prime contractor added two additional people that were working with me that did not exist. Oh, gosh. I said nothing.

Andi Simon: Or your credibility was gone.

Monique Russell: I said absolutely nothing. I said nothing. I was frozen. I was frozen in that moment. And I said, Wait a minute. I mean, why did I not speak up? I literally sat in my car. I think I must have sat there for 30 or 45 minutes after just replaying what happened. I should have said this, but if I said that, they might have taken everything back for two years. I might have to pay everything. All sorts of things went through my mind.

But I will say it was the catalyst for me to really open up and say, Okay, where in my life am I not speaking up, what else is going on? And that led to a deep investigation. And I realized that I had lost my confidence. I wasn’t feeling fulfilled. I was getting recognized, but it wasn’t where I was feeling that I was truly in my zone in my sphere of influence. Because yes, I was doing communications but that was on the marketing side, which I don’t do anymore. I wasn’t interested in that.

So that’s kind of my journey, but where I am today through that exposure with the women doing my vision board. And it’s so funny because I always set goals. But I had this new way of setting goals, which was a vision board. And I put these things on my vision board. And I’m going to tell you, yesterday, I was going through so many of not only my boards, but you know, ones from 2015, from 2017. And I looked at it, and I was like, the things that I’ve put on, there’s probably about two things on there. But when I look at it, even down to the detail of what I would be creating, and who I would be serving, and where I would be speaking, and what I would be doing, right where I would travel, I’ve already traveled to those places.

So this thing works. Some of them didn’t happen in the exact way that I envisioned. But it did happen. So that was a catalyst for me. And then I started investing more in coaching. And then it just really strengthened me in my strength and gift area. So I wasn’t speaking at that time. But that’s what pushed me back to my gifts. It pushed me back to that little girl who was teaching early in her make-believe classroom. So that’s a part of my story.

Andi Simon: But it’s so important because you had an aha moment. You had an epiphany. And I could feel your brain trying to figure it out because I could hear that as well. But then once you figured it out, you knew you never wanted it to be there again. But who were you? And then what? What value can you offer others? But what point is it if we don’t help others do something better, as a result of what we can begin to offer them.

So now that your story is perfect, because it sets the stage for all people who are listening and watching who are also looking at all the changes going on now, trying to think through them, what is the epiphany here? How am I being transformed? What will this mean in terms of the conversations I have, or the communication I have? So as you’re looking at both your own journey, let’s start with some of the insights that you can share, but also what you might like our listeners to begin to do or change.

Monique Russell: I think we are thrust into change and transformation by either vision, what we see as possible for us, which was part of my journey, but I also had the pain of writing. Or the pain, which is, where we are right now? Because it’s an uncomfortable situation. And I love the way you framed it up in terms of, you know, what would it look like? What would it look like at the end of 2020? What will you say? What will be your story about what 2020 meant for you and how you transformed from the inside out?

I think right now we are in a space, communication-wise, where people are more receptive to deeper levels of conversation. They’re more open to having heart to heart conversation, heart to heart connection. It’s still kind of scary because everyone is pretty much on this same cataclysmic, seismic shift. It’s like, I’m not going to stand out and look crazy.

Andi Simon: I want to connect here because it’s important. We do a lot of visualization with our clients. As you’re discussing, you had to do your storyboards. And I often do them. I’m doing a program, a leadership development for a long-standing client, and I’m starting with your visualization: What are you going to look like? But, you know, today we share this common transformation going on. So it doesn’t seem so crazy to come up with some cool ideas.

Maybe it’s a good time to rethink who you are and where you’re going. But you know your thoughts, so how do I do that? It’s really interesting listening to you, because I can already visualize that 2020 is tomorrow.

Monique Russell: How do you begin to do that if you use your physiology and you combine that vision. You combine the goal or the idea of who you want to become, because that’s going to pull you stronger. When things come up, when the crap hits the fan, that desire is going to pull you even further towards that vision. So using your physiology, and what I mean is, the power of your breath. Getting yourself into that very calm state because we have to think about, what level do you want to create at? Everything’s energy. So do I want to create from a place of fear? Oh, I gotta find some clients. I don’t know what I’m gonna do.

What you create in that state isn’t really going to be lasting, but if you create something in a state where you are inspired, and you’re driven, and you could actually feel it in your body, like you literally could feel it in your skin, it’s already going to activate the next step. So the visioning part is essential. But vision is nothing without action. So you have to take the steps to put in the action.

Based on my ideal vision of myself, my higher vision of myself, how will I get there? Who do I need to be in my corner to help me get there? What do I need to be exposed to? What do I need to read? Who do I need to model? What do I need to watch? How can I break stuff? How can I break stuff, come up with stuff, just come out and put it out there? Just try not to limit yourself from any idea because right now everything’s up for grabs.

So many people felt like online and remote working was going to be something that would be difficult. Well, if this does not accelerate, remote working is here to stay. I don’t know what to say. So just know that everything is up for grabs. Begin with your vision, take your vision and put it into actionable steps. Find someone who can help you make sure that you are on track with what you say you want to do. That’s the piece.

A lot of times, we come up with a goal. So get into a community of people who can feed your infectious desire. Get into a community with someone who can hold you accountable, if that’s what you need, but not in a place where anybody’s coming behind you to whip you into saying, You got to do this, because that’s not how I work in my practice. It’s inspiring…maybe if you didn’t complete a task, let’s explore what’s going on. Let’s explore what’s really going on here. But someone has to hold a space for you to go ahead and achieve what you want and celebrate you for doing that.

Andi Simon: You know, I often use a metaphor, since we help companies and people in those companies change: your points are extremely important. And of course, emphasizing because ideas are important, the more ideas you have, the more likely you’ll have big ones, you just don’t know which ones they are. So let them all come together. Let that shower time when the brain is sorting them out, but ideas by themselves aren’t going to get you someplace. To your point, once I visualize it, that won’t either. We often backward plan it, but I love small wins. And I love to begin to concretize that abstraction into action, and actually doing more.

We talked about turning observations into innovations. And then how do you actually convert it. But the metaphor I use is theater, and I say to people, if you all knew how to play Macbeth really well, you would keep playing it. But now you can’t play it anymore. There’s no more applause. Nobody’s buying your products. You know, there’s nobody who’s hired you anymore.

All of the things you did so well, you’re not able to do anymore. So we’re gonna play Hamlet instead. But you don’t have a script. You haven’t written the script, you haven’t rehearsed it. You have no director to help you on stage, you have no colleagues who are going to play with you or perform. So how are we going to put this play on, and it’s not improvisation because even that’s well-rehearsed.

But the metaphor takes it away from “I can’t do that” to “Oh, that’s how we do that.” I said, Robert Redford can play different roles, or Vanessa Redgrave can play different roles. So can you and now it’s your turn to make up the new one, or two or three, because you don’t know which ones are going to feel the best. But you’ve got an opportunity to be a creative person. And you’re gonna have others who, like you, are trying to figure it out. So help each other.

So as you’re talking about this, how does communication change in some fashion? Because we started the conversation about communication. And I don’t want us to leave without helping them change their voice, their tone, what they expect from emails and face to face. There’s something very human, and how we talk to each other. That helps us to your point: I want people to support me, to help me get to where I’m going when the conversations change. Let’s concretize it a little bit because I think the abstraction will leave them saying, “That’s a good idea. How do I do that?” So how do we do that?

Monique Russell: Absolutely. So making sure when you’re communicating, even in a remote space, you want to make sure that your message is clear. I don’t care how you deliver it, if it’s text, if it’s voice, if it’s email, if the message is unclear, that message is going to be lost. And so the first thing is making sure that you understand what it is that you want to communicate. That I really cannot emphasize that enough. How do you do that? You can ask yourself, write yourself a question, what do I want? That’s as simple as it gets written.

Do I want my manager to give me time off, help me run this meeting. the meeting to end at 12:55 instead of 1:257, whatever it is, what do I want? What’s the outcome of my message? What’s the outcome of this contact? What am I trying to do with this person? And once you get clear about what you want, then you could start to put it into action. Right now we are bombarded with so much information that your message has to be concise. Don’t do the five paragraphs, nobody’s reading it, nobody’s reading it. They’re scanning.

Go ahead and make sure that your message and your communication, if it’s an email, is in visual form, bullets, underlining essentials, because people will scan towards those things, if they are important. I had a client work with me and she had a whole lot of information in her presentation. And that was an issue that came up because the people who needed to actually make the decision, they completely missed this major issue. And when I dive down deeper, I said, Well, where was the issue? It was in the presentation, it was in the presentation, it was on the screen, no one could miss it.

Well, she didn’t call attention to it. It wasn’t highlighted anywhere. People are not going to zone in to what you want them to zone in on and you have to call attention to it. When you’re driving on the road, you see people with big signs, and they’re doing the dancing. As big as those things are, they want to get your attention. So you can see what they’re trying to say at a moment’s notice. Same thing with the billboards.

So in your email communication, you want to make sure that you’re clear, and that you’re concise. If there’s anything that needs special attention, you want to say, I want to call your attention to this, let’s focus on that. Make sure that the key things that you need solutions and answers for, you create space for that type of communication. Those are tips you can do right now.

Andi Simon: Well, emails are often difficult to read because you don’t know the feeling that went through them. We have a bunch of folks who are on our staff, and sometimes they get irritated if I send something back without the implicit meaning. And they react to it without it being totally out of context. So what they heard wasn’t what I meant or said or felt, but they were reading it from where they were and how it felt to them.

And it was interesting over the years to begin to realize that it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it, and you can’t do it in words in an email. So it opens it up for all kinds of other stuff. Even texting is sometimes easier. And putting your picture part is really important. Draw a picture.

Monique Russell: Yeah, definitely, definitely. And you’re right. And the other thing, too, is that’s why the clarity is so important because sometimes we send a message and we think that it’s clear, but it’s not. And then you have to ask, well, what did you mean by that, and then there’s a lot of processing, out loud processing of this and that, or whatever.

I have worked remotely for most of my career. So I’ve dealt with emails with many different sets of people. And to be honest, if you take the time up front, I know you feel like, I just gotta get this out, I gotta get this out, you’re going to spend time one way or the other. If you send out your information without taking that time upfront to really get your message clear, you’re going to spend time in confusion. You’re going to spend time going back and forth. That’s not what I meant. That’s what I said. Oh, you didn’t get it. The back and forth, one email will turn into 15 because nobody wants to pick up the phone.

So you know, if you spend the time upfront, spending that time to get the message clear, your chances of it being received well will increase. Another thing is to also learn about communication styles. In my practice, I use some assessments to help people have an awareness of how people receive information. So If you understand how someone receives information, chances are you can build that rapport and you can have a better chance of making sure that the message is received. Communication is two ways. It’s not just one way. So making sure that your message is received by understanding the different communication styles and personality styles is very, very helpful.

Andi Simon: I had one client who wanted to give everybody a color code on their wall, that people when they walked in knew what kind of disc or personality they were, which ones needed a lot of data, slow processors, which ones were jokers. Which ones had different archetypes. In some ways, the intent was to simplify it and improve communication; on the other hand, it had added another dimension to figuring out who that person was and what it was that they were looking for. But the intent is correct.

How do we improve messaging, and meaning, and how do we hear each other because humans are herd animals. We live in groups. And we share a common culture with values, beliefs, stories to share. We mimic each other, our bonding is essential. And now we’re all remote. Although you’re in Atlanta, and I’m in New York, I feel like you’re my next door neighbor. And so we go back to the things that humans need to be in good communication, but also to bond and to feel like they can trust the person on the other side to do the right thing.

But quite frankly, I think technology is making it so much easier. You know, I don’t have to write a letter and wait a year for it to arrive. And I can do my diary every night and I can read it because it’s tight. But it’s a really important thing to be aware of, that communication requires multiple senses. How in this remote world that we’re in now, do eyes and face and body communication take place, this is important.

Monique Russell: It is extremely important. When you’re watching someone or you’re connecting with someone on the screen, I do feel like, especially with all the Zoom video conferencing, it actually heightens our state too, because now we’re paying attention to so many different things.

You might be looking at your own face, you might be thinking about all sorts of stuff. So things that you can do is perhaps not have your image on where you’re getting distracted. Anything that will take you away from being present. Try to minimize that. If you don’t have to use video, use audio because, you know, sometimes it might get distracting. But if you are using your video, be present, don’t be working on something else. Don’t be trying to go on your cell phone because that also communicates non-verbally that I’m really focused on not really paying attention.

Your chances of missing the message increases like, so what did you say? You know, you just totally missed it. So now you have to be even more intentional about how you show up using video. Your self-care regimen is crucial. When you are tired, you just want to get that message out. You don’t have time to think about how you’re responding. You want to just get that message going. And when I’m tired, and they listen, I try not to be dealing with meetings and emails, so rejuvenating and hydrating. I know these things are things people have heard before. I always talk about the HALT.

Andi Simon: Me too! Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. You see, people don’t realize that it’s not the brain that’s engaged. It’s the heart. It’s the eyes. It’s how it feels. It’s how you feel. So you’re a whole person. I preach it all the time. Because we can’t control the emotions, because that’s what’s going to be communicating. But you know, you’re saying something I want to emphasize. It’s extremely important. I almost like the idea that we can hold virtual meetings like this.

I’ve been doing virtual presentations, workshops for 30 people in the room. And it’s going to help them actually get something out of it. Because there’s no wandering that isn’t visible. And since you’re recording it, everybody’s faces are there. It’s very interesting that you might actually have better experiences with better communication going on. If you begin to turn lemons into lemonade, or limes into margaritas, as somebody said to me, but it’s a time where you can use this to your advantage.

Because if people are wandering, whoever that business leader is who organized this can actually see them doing that. And now you can begin to have to explain a little bit about your lack of engagement, or the inability of us to engage you. But I’ve been watching the meetings and they are really, really involved. But part of me as a workshop or speaker, is to keep them involved. And you can see it, it’s not even, they’re not in a big room with 100 people, and you can’t see anybody.

So every one of them becomes a personal conversation you’re having, even when there are 30 of them. It requires a very deep commitment to employ engagement tools, and communicating effectively, like you’re doing. Now, we’re getting close to wrapping up time. Monique, this has been such a pleasure. Give the listeners one, two or three things you don’t want them to forget. They often remember the ending better than the beginning. And as much as I enjoyed your own story, I will not forget that aha moment. But I also don’t think I can create an aha moment for them. But what can we leave them with?

Monique Russell: Well, I will say, invest in your public speaking skills. That will put you in line with trends and where we’re headed; it will never ever go out of style. So if you don’t remember anything at all, invest in public speaking. It’s not just about getting on big stages. It’s really about what we’re doing right here. So public speaking will help you to refine your message, learn how to respond to questions, and learn how to engage your audience. You are the facilitator. You’re a speaker, even if you don’t think that you are. That’s what I will say: invest in your public speaking skills and definitely know that you can rewrite your own story.

Andi Simon: I was hoping you were gonna say that, I could feel it coming because at the end of the day, you live your story. You think there’s a reality, but there’s only a perception of one; we are creating stories. And once it’s in your brain, it really deletes everything that doesn’t fit the story, but everything that used to affirm that might not be operating right now.

And so now, you need a new story. It’s not that hard to create one; visualize it, put it on a piece of paper, put it up on your mirror, look at it, it will do something to your brain. Stories change your brain. And the research is very compelling. And so all of a sudden, you begin to see a new you and then you begin to live it, so every time you add a new chapter in that little movie set. Put a little picture up there as a post that celebrates the accomplishment. How can they reach you if they’d like to know more about Monique Russell and how you can help them?

Monique Russell: Oh, you can connect with me on LinkedIn. This is where you and I met. Monique Russell Clear Communication coach or my website, clearcommunicationsolutions.com. I’m on the internet as Clear Communication Coach. So if you drop that into Google with my name, it will come up and you can find me anywhere on the internet: Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube.

Andi Simon: Yes. And I love your videos. They are very instructional in short bites as sound bites, but they are terrific. Terrific to watch. And it’s been a pleasure to get to know you. Thank you so much for joining us. For all of our listeners, the number of people who send us emails, just amazing. I can’t thank you enough from across the globe. And we are, I don’t know, over 130,000 monthly listeners downloading.

Remember our job is to help you get off the brink. So the podcasts On the Brink with Andi Simon are intentional to help you change how you see, feel and think in new ways. How do you get a picture through a new lens? This is important because that’s how you make decisions; it’s what you see and how it feels, so it’s not inconsequential.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our talk today with Monique Russell. It’s truly been my pleasure to share her with you. And keep those emails coming, at info@Andisimon.com. My two award-winning books: Rethink: Smashing The Myths of Women in Business and On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights are both on Amazon so check them out. Have a great day. Please stay safe, stay healthy. Stay well. Smile!