Dealing With Overwhelm 


Dealing with overwhelm when working on improving your communication skills

Dealing with Overwhelm
A Strategy For Consistently Improved Performance

I work with both native and non-native English speakers who are working on improving their communication skills. Each individual has different goals and challenges, and I design a program based on their unique needs. The issue of overwhelm can arise after a person has been coming for a while and been introduced to and taught more and more strategies and techniques for their growth and development.

For example, a speaker's challenge may be that they habitually sit through meetings without speaking and then when they go to speak, end up sending out a rush of words, leaving any number of impressions, including that they're abrupt, pushy, frazzled, or disempowered. A strategy we may practice is to have them focus solely on their breathing-from a few minutes before the meeting, and throughout the duration. You'd be surprised the difference this can make in a person's performance, and you'd be surprised how many people hold their breath-especially when they're nervous! It can have a huge impact on performance.

But what about the other strategies and targets they're working on, like focusing their speech more toward the front of their mouth (for increased clarity)... or feeling their feet on the floor (for grounding and projecting a sense of authority) or... opening up their throat more when they speak (for greater resonance and tone)? It's too much to think about at once; in fact, it's impossible to focus on every one of them.

The solution? I tell them "Choose your target." Remind yourself of your various goals, but for a specific meeting, focus on just one of them. It's fascinating how focusing your attention on something tangible can actually help keep you more engaged, present and clear-thinking during an interaction. That re-direction of energy takes you out of the noise and chaos of your brain or the tension your body automatically returns to. After the interaction, assess how you did with your goal and how it impacted your performance. At the next meeting, focus solely on another one of your targets.

By focusing on a different element each time, you're gradually reminding yourself and reinforcing all of them. Focus on one target all week-carry it over into as many communicative opportunities and contexts in your life as you can. This creates "muscle memory" and new patterns of behavior start to become more habitual. This won't happen without conscious effort, awareness, and persistence on your part.

Another benefit to focusing on one target at a time? It often triggers another great benefit; for example, when you are grounded, with a sense of your feet on the floor and a feeling of "settledness," you're much more inclined to allow your breath to drop down deeper into your body, causing your exhalations to be longer, triggering the parasympathetic reflexes that naturally make you calmer and clearer-thinking.

The trick is to not become complacent or cocky or lazy and stop the work you're doing. As human beings, we can slip, forget... and the next thing we know, we're back in some kind of rut. Again, don't get overwhelmed and flustered! Remind yourself of your goals and go back to addressing one at a time. When you like the results, focus on the next one.

Now, for my non-native clients:

There may be so many aspects of English and communication that you're working on... So, again, you need to choose one. (Sometimes you can work on more than one at a time; just have them both in your consciousness... for the day or for the week.)


You're working on the "th" sound. Say to yourself "In this conversation, I'm going to use the 'th' sound correctly consistently. I know I'll have the opportunity because I'll be talking about 'the weather.'"

My spouse and I will speak only in English for an entire evening. This will force me to find the words I need to express myself for more nuanced expression. If I don't have the words, I will rely on my intonation and body language, but I will challenge myself first with the vocabulary and grammar.

Today, I will make opportunities for myself to speak to as many people as I can in English, and I will do it with the mindset "My English is perfect."

I will be aware of and use appropriate intonation for asking questions and stating declaratives during this meeting/conversation I plan on having today.

I will talk out loud to myself about what I am thinking for 5 minutes each day-in English, finding the words I need and reflecting on how I could say it better.

I will use the words I have been practicing in my sessions in real conversation. (For example, one client's words were "elevator," "eliminate," and "priority"- all words he used frequently at work.)

So... Choose your target for the conversation, the meeting, the day, or the week. Firmly establish the goal-at the beginning of the week and each morning, and again before the meeting. Picture yourself at that meeting, breathing fully and calmly, offering your input comfortably, and being received positively. Then do it... You killed! This builds momentum and creates a precedence for future performance. Gold.

Don't fall victim to overwhelm. Work strategically, smartly, and... be kind to yourself. Remember, we all have a natural resistance to change... So, one target at a time. As long as you keep working at it, you WILL improve.

That's the facts!