Let’s face it. We could all communicate with our teams on a deeper level. So many customer service agents walk in and out of work daily, grunting at their colleagues as they drag themselves to their desks. They barely get past the surface level “hello” with each other.
Actor and communication coach Meridith Grundei wants to change that dynamic. She started her consulting company Red Ball Speaks for just that purpose, and she has helped many teams communicate and work more efficiently. Teams are seeing real results in the workplace!
“Red Ball Speaks allows teams to connect and develop deeper and more meaningful relationships with one another, while also having a ton of fun!” – Olivia, SOVOS
“It was incredible to see how our fast-pace work environment can easily lose focus; Meridith used various techniques to show us that it’s more effective to slow down and focus on collaborative communication to increase efficiency. Great learning lessons!” – Connor, SOVOS
We got a chance to catch up with Meridith amidst her busy schedule! I’ll let her tell you more about Red Ball Speaks:
Sarah: What made you start Red Ball Speaks?
Meridith: I was a consultant for someone out of Chicago and when I moved here to Colorado, I thought to myself, “heck, I could do this here!”
Sarah: What is your vision for your company? How did you make your vision happen?
Meridith: My vision is to help facilitate a fun and engaging way for people to communicate differently and effectively. To leave them with a set of tools that are applicable towards how one presents themselves and communicates with the world at large.
Meridith: My vision has happened by being persistent and finding people who have taken a risk and believe in me! Everything from there has been word of mouth. I feel incredibly grateful!
Sarah: In your workshops, how do you connect business communication and performing arts? The two styles have vast differences.
Meridith: To me, the performing arts is about a strategic collaboration. We have a set of tools or common language that we use in order to create a show, whether improvised or scripted that is enjoyable for the audience (customer).
Meridith: In business, there is also a set of tools and vocabulary that is shared in order to strategically collaborate and execute (Six Sigma, Agile etc.) that offers something to the customer or end user. To me there isn’t really a vast difference; it is just another, more interactive way of entering into a project with a different vocabulary.
Sarah: Where did you get the idea to mix performing arts and improv for the business world? How did you develop this idea into what you teach today?
Meridith: I was working for The Second City at the time and met an executive coach who was taking classes there and loved the idea of combining business acumen with improvisation. From there, we developed a curriculum focusing on the foundation of improvisation and how it applies to the business world.
Meridith: We really highlighted the following: trust, taking risk, failure, adaptability and ideation. Today, I have combined the latter as well as the importance of breath, personal presence and self-care.
Sarah: What benefits have you seen teams gain through your workshops? Any specific examples?
Meridith: I have had teams share with me that the idea of slowing down and really listening, rather than anticipating has really helped with efficiency and not making knee-jerk decisions as a reaction to something. Less backtracking.
Meridith: Teams have also shared how it has changed their ideation process and how they use their time more effectively in stand-ups, daily meetings, etc. Lastly, folks have shared that rather than saying “no” to the client or customer, they try “yes, and.”
Meridith: For example, say you are developing a website and the customer really wants a “link” on a certain page. You, as the developer, feel that the suggestion doesn’t make sense.
Meridith: Instead of going round and round with the client, you put the link where they want it. As a result, the client can see for him/herself why it doesn’t work. This becomes a more efficient “win-win”!
Sarah: Describe how a typical workshop might go.
Meridith: My workshops can range from two hours to a full day, and I design them based off of the needs of the team. The workshops are highly interactive and no one is put on the spot.
Meridith: I lead people through a series of exercises where we learn the foundations of improvisational theatre/comedy: “yes and,” collaboration, support, risk, etc. After each exercise, I allow time to reflect back on how the experience relates to business and the day-to-day.
Sarah: You probably work with all kinds of personality types. How do you adapt your coaching to help different personalities communicate at their best?
Meridith: Great question! I do my very best to meet people with where they are at. I make an effort to research the client before my arrival and to really know who is in the room.
Meridith: I have worked with a variety of industry types, and I have found that most people just need permission to laugh and have a little fun. I’m great at creating an inviting space for people to do just that.
Sarah: What is the most common barrier you find that people should overcome to be effective communicators?
Meridith: The idea that there is a lack of time.
Sarah: What advice do you these people?
Meridith: To slow it down and to listen more and listen better.
Sarah: In your opinion, what is the single most important factor in communicating effectively?
Meridith: Slowing down and saying “yes, and . . .” more often. Saying “no” to someone because of time may stifle confidence within the team and could potentially put a lid on inspiration and a potential great idea–whether that be for a new or existing project.
Meridith: I would also add trying “yes, and” with a customer. Try not to anticipate their pain point. You might be surprised.
Sarah: In business, how can managers or employees motivate those around them to communicate better?
Meridith: Trust. If a manager or employee can truly trust those on their team to make the right decisions and to run with projects, or to speak with customers, then people automatically feel empowered and respected.
Sarah: Thinking back on your training and startup, what situations or people have shaped you into the communicator you are today?
Meridith: When I was younger, I worked for a large Fortune 500 company in Chicago. During that same time, I was taking improv classes at iO Chicago and teaching at The Second City in the evenings.
Meridith: While I was working for the Fortune 500, I noticed how inefficient everything was. We had a lot of meetings that led to very little actually being accomplished. I also noticed how our manager would do most of the talking and very little listening.
Meridith: Lastly, he never once asked me about me. I was there for two years, and I’m pretty sure all he knew about me was that my hair is brown and my name. The improv classes showed me how vulnerability, story and curiosity can lead to trust.
Sarah: What are some personal challenges that you have overcome to communicate better? Any that you’re still working on?
Meridith: I am a much better listener. I really try hard not to anticipate what others are saying, and I try my darndest to stay present.
Meridith: I would have to say that I am still working on the listening part. I am a pretty passionate person and can tend to get ahead of myself. I am also an external processor, and this can sometimes be confusing for people.
Sarah: How did you overcome your challenge?
Meridith: I am pretty open about sharing what I am working on with others and often give permission to those close to me to call me out on some of my communication hiccups. So far, it has worked pretty well.
Sarah: Describe some of the places and experiences your acting and coaching career has taken you?
Meridith: I have lived and worked in San Francisco, Chicago and now here in Denver. My career as a consultant has taken me all over the US, the Czech Republic, Antwerp and Mexico.
Meridith: My life as an actor is always changing. For example, this week alone I have recorded 2 voiceover radio spots, performed 6 shows at The Denver Center, and just found out that I will be playing Mother Theresa at corporate retreat center in Keystone. My life is never dull and always full of surprises. I love it!
Sarah: What is your favorite memory with Red Ball Speaks?
Meridith: My favorite memory is the time when I was coaching a global manufacturing team in Upstate NY, and we did an exercise where we had to share a one-minute story from our life that felt comfortable to share. One gentleman shared with the group that his nine-year-old son had been in and out of chemo and was struggling with cancer.
Meridith: The entire room became still. No one in the room was aware of the pain their teammate was in. No one knew that his son had cancer. This blew my mind!
Meridith: How could this team be functioning with absolutely no room for vulnerability/sharing? This team went from struggling to stay a team to actually becoming stronger, more efficient and successful. The power of story is profound.
Sarah: Well said, Meridith. Obvisouly, Meridith Grundei works with passion to help people break down their communication barriers. And she would love to work with you! Reach out at her website or call 720-375-3742, and forever change the way you communicate with the world around you.
Sarah George is a flower–sniffing, homemade–cooking wordsmith who loves pounding out breathless stories until they fill with life. In her spare time, she loves designing her home with thrilling thrift finds and challenging herself with a good workout.