Try giving first. Be clear in you’re own mind what you can offer.
Instead of writing that email get off your keister and walk down the hall and talk to her. Or use the video camera on your computer (or get one) and have a Skype video conference. Or pick up the phone if that’s your only option
Let them see your face, hear your voice, see your body language. Look at theirs. Build the freaking relationship. Then you’ll be a fantastic communicator.
p.s. When using a video-conference tool, look at the camera when they’re talking. It’ll make it look like you’re paying attention. Oh, and pay attention. That helps too.
My wife and I have been together so long that both of us believes we know what the other is thinking. But we don’t. When forget we get into trouble.
We cannot know what is written on somebody’s heart. We cannot make assumptions based on our observations of their behaviour filtered through our perception of the world. “We don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we are” (Goethe).
It’s important to clarify instead of assume. To ask questions instead of judging. To try to get, if possible, others to tell us what their intentions, motivations, or reasoning is. To listen.
Ask questions. Ask open-ended questions. Squash as many of your own assumptions as you can.
We often try to avoid conflict. What we end up doing is preserving artificial harmony, which erodes trust and committment. Passionate debate and creative conflict is often what’s needed. Laying it all on the table. Being vulnerable. This doesn’t mean we have to make (or tolerate) personal attacks.
Stick to the facts, and if you need to then describe the consequences of those facts as you see them. For example, you may draw the conclusion that an employee is lazy when they come to work a half an hour late every morning.
If you start the conversation “Hey, you’re lazy.” you’re not going to get very far. You might need start the conversation something like “When you come into work half an hour late every morning [the fact] it makes you look lazy [the result as you see them].”
Stick to the facts. Don’t attack people.
You must speak your own truth. This goes together with the previous “discuss facts” directive. The passionate debate and creative conflict can’t happen if you don’t give to the conversation. If you’re the leader (manager, executive) then a big part of your job is to make sure everybody is heard before deciding. Even if you think you already know what decision you’re going to make.
With people very often you have to go slow to speed up.
Without being heard, there is no committment. Even if your employees (volunteers, children) don’t agree with the final decision (and they don’t have to, because commitment isn’t about consensus), you’ll have a better chance of getting their agreement if you’ve listened to and heard them. Speak your truth, hear their truth.
Speak up, and let others speak
Summary for Leaders
- Clarify assumptions, ask questions
- Debate facts, not personalities
- Speak up, leave room for others to speak
Interesting in driving execution in your business? Talk to the Business Execution Experts: RESULTS.com
“Communication is what the listener does” – Mark Horstman
Last week I encouraged you to be more than an active listener. I encouraged you to be a generous, respectful, and calm listener instead. While the “active” listening techniques of eye contact and body language are useful, they don’t go deep enough.
What does generous listening look like in practice? Here are three actionable, specific techniques for being a generous listener:
Listen With Your Mind
Personally I have a hard time even hearing what’s being said, or staying focused. My mind will drift off, especially if somebody’s rabbiting on about a topic that doesn’t interest me. Or I’ve already decided in irrelevant to where I want the conversation to go. Or I’m thinking furiously about what my response is going to be to an earlier statement, and I miss their real point.
Repeat the words they are saying to yourself in your head.
This will get you back on track. It will bring your mind back to what they’re saying. Don’t worry about having an immediate response ready the moment they take a breath. Having an immediate response ready the moment they stop talking is just another form of interrupting. Take a breath before you reply.
If you’re interrupting you’re not listening. If you’re not listening, they’ll know it and are less likely to be listening to you. Then how are you going to influence them? Just don’t.
This includes waiting for them to pause so you can elbow your way into the conversation with your witty retort. Bite your tongue. Take notes. Clench your teeth and grunt “Uh-Huh” or “Mmm-hmm” until your throat hurts if you have to.
Then count to five in your head after you think they’re done.
The “Uh-Huh” sound is a great way to move the conversation along, signal that you’re listening, and still not agreeing or making a commitment you don’t want to make.
I admit that most feedback is poorly delivered, feels like a personal attack, and isn’t actionable. Doesn’t matter.
Say “thank-you” and take it. Questions for clarification only.
No retorts, no rationalizations, no justification. At the very least you’ll be helping them practice, and they might even give better feedback the next time. Or send them to my website, which has many articles on giving feedback.
“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” — Winston Churchill
The biggest influencing skill is the skill of listening. You cannot hope to be heard until you’ve listened. Your influence will only reach to the extent you’ve payed and attention – and have been seen to pay attention.
As a listener, most of what we think of as listening happens inside our head. Let’s set the table and invite our speaker to sit with us:
Be a Generous Listener
Generous listening is the assumption of favourable intent. It means if somebody says something that can be taken in more than one way, they meant the good way. Or they are, in their own way, trying to help you. Or maybe you misunderstood?
I told a close friend of mine once that she “had to own her own shit.” I meant that she had to take responsibility for her own emotions and actions. She thought I had said “had to eat her own shit.” A subtle but important difference. Hilarity ensued.
Be a Respectful Listener
Is it safe to tell you bad news or give unfavourable feedback? Can you handle the truth? Listening means being vulnerable sometimes. Putting yourself out there. Exposing yourself to things that are hard to hear and maybe even hurtful.
Can you be compassionate and understand that the person telling you the bad news might be feeling vulnerable too? That if they’re telling you something unfavourable that it might actually be happening?
Be a Calm Listener
Your silence is not mean you agree with what is being said. Not interrupting, however, shows respect. Not interrupting is listening.
Sometimes people take a while to get to their point. They need to feel safe before they can get to what they really want. Personally this drives me nuts, but my therapist was really good at it.
President Lyndon Johnson was especially good at this. He could actively listen for hours, and spent much time on the telephone, waiting patiently to pounce when the speaker got to what they really wanted. [On listening to Johnson’s private phone calls]
Can you think of a conversation you’ve had in the past that might have gone differently with using any one of these techniques? What upcoming conversation can you apply these techniques too?
The problem is never the problem. The response to the problem is almost always the real problem. (Perception is all there is.) ~ Tom Peters
Some business owners react badly to social media. One of my clients was railing against on-line criticism, now that he was on Facebook. He took it seriously, superior service being a big part of his strategy, and something he personally believed in. It’s how he was and how he built his business.
He couldn’t make somebody take it back, he couldn’t fix it. For the action-oriented entrepreneur guy that he was frustrated.
Then he went for lunch with another very smart woman, who told him: “Garry, people have always been saying that kind of thing about your business. The only difference now is that you’re hearing it.”
When he related this too me he was calm. The realization was, he told me, that the internet wasn’t just about getting his message out. It was also about hearing what his customers had to say and using that to make his business better. Even when what his customers had to say was something he didn’t really want to hear.
Especially when what his customers had to say was something he didn’t want to hear.
My recommendation? If you want to have an effective on-line presence, it’s less about pushing your message and more about listening to your customers. As Covey said: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Here is an example of good “seeking” that I wrote about earlier this year, when I wrote about my encounter with an on-line bookstore. They listened hard and used it as an opportunity to turn my customer experience around.
What is your company doing to listen to your customers? What you’ve heard and what you feel doesn’t count. What does the research and the facts tell you? What are your customer actually saying?
Part 2 of Karl & Bernie’s conversation about how the rules for comedy improvisation can and should be applied to business and life. Have fun!
So my buddy Karl and I finally recorded another podcast on the topic of Improv Lessons for the Corporate World. Give a listen and let us know what you think.
You can also find some previous resources at:
One of the more frequent issues facing organizations is around internal communication. Sometimes employees say they don’t know what’s going on despite great effort made at communicating, or the leader has a clear idea of where they want to go but nobody seems to be following.
Even worse is when the leadership thinks it’s doing a good job communicating (“Look, we have a newsletter!”), but the internal survey comes back with “lack of communication” written all over it. This is what I like to call failing the “Am I smoking crack?” check.
Good news: at least you’re checking. That puts you ahead of 90% of the companies out there.
What simple behaviors do leaders who communicate well engage in? Here’s a couple of things I’ve noticed.
- Listen – Maybe your one-way communication to your organization isn’t the problem. Maybe it’s that you’re not listening to what they’re saying. People generally aren’t ready to listen until they feel they’ve been heard. Maybe they’re trying to tell you something important? What are you telling people when you listen to them.
- Have a Simple and Consistent Message– remember KISS? “Keep it Simple Stupid?” The “stupid” in this case is not the people you’re talking to. It’s you. If you think that a wordy, complicated, bland message is going to engage people to action then you’re being stupid.If you’re going to ask people to listen to you at least do them the courtesy and have the courage to actually say something. Be bold, brave, and brief.What is your message?
- Link Purpose to Action– can you answer the “So What?” question? Does everybody in your organization know where they fit in? If they don’t know how what they do supports the company – what the company is trying to do and what their part is – then they tend to switch off.If you can’t draw a line between somebody’s role in your company to the company’s larger vision, strategy, and goals, then why do they work for you again?
- See Every Interaction as an Opportunity – every interaction with all employees is an opportunity to communicate. Beginning at the hiring process, on-boarding, newsletters, celebrations, feedback, one-on-ones, coaching, how your company runs meetings, who you fire (or not), who you promote(or not), etc. All the simple things that outstanding managers do well.How does your company behave during a crisis? What does how often and how you communicate say about you and your company? Sometimes it’s a case of “your actions are so loud I can’t hear what you’re saying”.
- Forget E-Mail – notice how I didn’t mention e-mails (until now). If you think you’re communicating through e-mail you might want to have another think. Talking a lot is also not communicating (see point 1. above).
When We Don’t Give Feedback
I was working with a client on hiring best practices two weeks ago, who shared with me how they lost one of their best people. She was working in a corporate environment at the executive level. They described her as the kind of person you hire and then figure out what to do with them. No matter which position she was slotted into, or was created for her, she excelled.
Suddenly one day she handed in her resignation. They were surprised and shocked. “You’re one of our best people. We want you to keep working here. You’re going to be hard to replace.”, they told her.
She said, “I wish somebody had told me. That’s the first time I’d heard I was doing a good job, but now I’ve accepted another position. Sorry.”
When was the last time you told your best worker they were doing a good job?
When We Give Feedback
What about the last time you offered advice that somebody genuinely listened to you? When somebody accepted what you had to say, or even just tried what you suggested? For me that’s the part I enjoy most about my job. When a clients come back and tells me that they tried that different approach and it works! It makes smile because they often seem so surprised. It’s even more gratifying when it has a big impact on somebody’s life, lets them do well, or helps their company grow.
We Owe Feedback
Managers and leaders owe the people working for us guidance on how well they’re doing. People can’t do better if they don’t know how well they’re doing now. They’re less likely to keep doing the right things if nobody tells them. Top performers, the kind of people whom we dream of working for or with us push us to do better. They expect and demand to know how well they’re doing. They want to be measured, they want to see progress, and they want to keep doing better.
Like a high-performance athlete they are competitive. Like any high-performance athlete they have a coach. They can’t succeed without realistic, timely, specific observations of their performance. If they don’t get it where they are now, they tend to move on to somewhere else where they can.
They are on the path of continually learning and improvement. They listen to what others have to tell them so they can become masters of their craft. Even when it’s hard to listen. Especially when it’s hard to listen.
Which path are you on? Do you receive and evaluate feedback gracefully? Do you have a hard time giving feedback because you have a hard time receiving it?