Executive Communication Coach Interview: Carol Buckland
August 20, 2017
TCC Executive Communication Coach Carol Buckland tells us more about her role, her past experiences in communication, and the value of writing and confidence to effective communication.
What led you to The Communication Center?
I joined TCC because of another Executive Communication Coach, Jeanne Meserve. She and I had worked together at CNN, and we both left the company. She joined TCC first, and TCC was looking for some communicators and coaches. She thought of me and I’m very appreciative that she did!
What have been the highlights of your coaching experience?
The highlight is when you see someone learn something about themselves that makes them a better communicator, or when someone grasps a technique or idea that you offer them. The highlight is when you see them start to integrate it into how they communicate – not just professionally, but personally as well.
One of the things that we talk about is doing “transformational work” – we do change people’s lives. We give them additional confidence, additional tools. I think that the highlight is whenever you can walk away from a training and realize you’ve made a difference with someone. Occasionally, you hear from people weeks, months, even a year later who can recall something that they experienced or learned in one of the coaching sessions that has helped them do better, made them more confident.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I originally wanted to be a geologist and then I wanted to be a diplomat. After realizing that with rocks, you can talk to them, but they don’t talk back, I realized that I wanted to use my ability to write and connect in some way. I was never one of those people who knew absolutely, from the moment I was born, what I wanted to be. I knew I wanted to assist people.
I was in the middle of my security check with the State Department to be in the Foreign Service when I had an internship at what was then the Robert MacNeil Report on PBS – I was still going to graduate school. They offered me a job, and I thought “Alright, I’ll be a journalist for a while and then I’ll apply those communication skills to a job in the State Department.” – Well, 3 decades went by and I never made it back to the State Department.
I always wanted to have international experiences. Through CNN, I traveled to a great many countries I never would have seen. I have also had the opportunity to travel through The Communication Center, which has been very gratifying. It’s also because we do so much work with international clients, we are in a globalized world. We are interconnected, and that is driven home to me every week through TCC.
Have you been able to use your international skills at TCC?
One of the things I realize increasingly, and part of me wishes I had known of it earlier, is that, because I’m exposed to people who are citizens of other countries, I have gotten out of my American bubble. My cultural references are not everyone’s cultural references. We go back to a quote we often use, George Bernard Shaw’s: “The problem with communication is that it’s the illusion that it’s occurred.”
Very often because we accept surface-level communication, we don’t realize that not only have we not communicated, we have left people more confused. Through our participants, I have learned sensitivity, self-awareness, and to respect that there are differences, not for better or worse, but just different. It makes me more aware of my surroundings and more sensitive, especially during personal travel. I think it’s made me a better person, at least I hope!
You were a senior news writer at CNN. How do you relay that experience to your coaching here at TCC?
In news, you need to be clear, you need to be concise. You may have visuals, which are dynamic, but you need to be compelling. You need to find the right word at the right time and be aware that the wrong word at the wrong time can create misunderstandings, and can create serious problems. You come to appreciate the power of language, at least as a writer.
I also appreciated that time was a limited resource. I once wrote a 2-min history of the Vietnam War. You learn to say “Is this important? Do people have to know it?” I learned to edit myself, which I believe helps me help other people identify their main message and identify what is really important.
The other thing that I learned, as I was behind the camera and I was writing for other people, is it taught me to listen for other people’s most effective voices. At the MacNeil Report, Robert MacNeil, a very elegant writer, wrote in multi-clauses – he would have sentences that were very, very long. Whereas Jim Leher, again, an extremely gifted writer, had much shorter sentences. Jim Lehrer didn’t necessarily feel comfortable reading what I would write for Robert MacNeil. It taught me that one of the wonderful things about communication is yes, you have core concepts, but how you deliver them, how you achieve them – that is what you have to look inside yourself and find.
What are your past experiences in on-camera work? How have they translated to coaching?
I did do a little work on-camera at CNN as a movie reviewer. I am actually currently training to be a museum docent and part of our training involves videotaping our presentations. It certainly enhanced my empathy for people because I have noticed the habits we have when we see ourselves. We concentrate on the flaws and we pick ourselves apart. We don’t look at it holistically. We also don’t say “you did that well” or “you can expand on that.”
Watching other people on camera has taught me that there are different ways to be effective. Watching myself and giving myself feedback, I have learned further how to give other people effective feedback. But mostly, it’s being empathetic and recognizing that it takes courage to put yourself out there.
Effective communication requires courage, because you’re not talking at people, you have to talk to them, with them. You have to make a connection – which means opening yourself up.
What can we find you doing when you are not at TCC?
When I am not at TCC, my avocation is cooking and baking. I like to feed people. I also am a big fan of the movies, and I like to read. I like to learn. As a former journalist, I used to say that a day I went where I didn’t meet someone new or learn something I didn’t know was a day wasted.
TCC has renewed that. Because of the people I work with, in terms of my colleagues, as well as our clients – I go home feeling like I’ve met new and incredible people and I have learned things that I never expected to know. I learn about subjects I may not have considered interesting because of the passion, the conviction and the intelligence that our clients bring. They communicate with me, as much as I try to communicate with them.
Over the years, what stood out as your favorite part of being on the TCC team?
It’s the people that I work with. We know each other well. We know our strengths, we know our foibles. It’s a very collaborative group, it’s also a team that challenges each other. It’s a team spirit that is energizing and you want to do well because the people around you are doing their best.
By the same token, we have people coming into us every day who are challenged sometimes, but they are also challenging in that you want to live up and do well by them. These are people that you want to give 100% to because they deserve it.
What do you consider your favorite course to teach?
We call the course Assertive Communication for Women and Confident Communication for Women. This is a course I helped create, it’s my baby. I have been a feminist since I was in my teens. There’s the Chinese proverb: “Women hold up half the sky.” If I can help other women work on their communication muscles, to make sure that sky stays up there, I consider that fulfilling.
I get to meet incredible women. Whenever you wonder, “Where’s the future going?” I look at these women that I am meeting and, as I help them with their confidence, they are make me more confident. I have had a lot of incredible women in my life who have given to me, taught me, mentored me. I have said thank you to them, but that doesn’t go far enough. For me, assertive and confident communication and is my way of paying forward what other women of confidence, of assertiveness, have given me.
Anything to add?
I come to work every day knowing I’m going to have an interesting, educational, energizing and fun time. I am eager to get to work, I am eager to know what is going to be new, what is going to be next.