A Time and Place for Vital Conversation

Avoiding Vital ConversationNow is Not the Time.

You ever hear that from someone when you want to have a vital conversation? You want to talk about where the relationship is going.

I am not ready to talk about that.

You want to discuss your future in the organization.

This is not a good time to have that discussion.

Perhaps you have used this response yourself with others. Maybe even told it to yourself when you are faced with something that had to be addressed in the workplace or on your team. Adam is a gregarious person and has been with the team a few months. Everyone likes Adam. He always makes everyone laugh and he’s always ready to make the party lively. The problem is Adam is consistently not meeting his deadlines for deliverables on projects. It puts the project behind and causes everyone else to have to work longer and harder to make it up. So far, because Adam is so likable, the rest of the team has been good-natured about it but you know it won’t last for long.  You need to have a critical conversation now and it will be unpleasant.

Well, we have a couple of fires we need to put out, we’ve had somewhat of a crisis around here, and we need to meet these deliverables. It’s not a good time to upset the apple cart. Now is not a good time.

Vital Conversations Are Timely

As I write this, we in America are a day away from experiencing what is now being called The Worst Mass Shooting in American History. In Las Vegas, someone with unknown motives (at this time) utilized a number of rifles modified to be fully automatic to rain gunfire down on a crowd at a concert. Fully-automatic means the one pull of the trigger will fire off a lot of bullets within a very short span of time. The result at this moment is over 58 killed and over 517 wounded. It is tragic and horrendous. Across the country, emotions are high on this one.

Predictably, some have seen this as an opportunity to renew discussions of gun control. Others have railed against those people, calling them insensitive and politically opportunistic. They say that now is not the right time to talk about these things. Yet that is precisely why that vital conversation needs to occur.

Timing is Not Easy to Determine

Timing is a tricky game. Those who have mastered a sense of timing have gone far because of the right action at the right time. The rest of us struggle and learn from it (or don’t) every day.

However, because mastering timing is so difficult, many of us fall victim to what John Maxwell calls the Law of Diminishing Intent. In his book, The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, Maxwell defines the law as one of increasing inaction. Specifically, John Maxwell says “The longer you wait to do something you should do now, the greater the odds are that you will never do it.” In other words, every time you put it off for later, the less likely it is you will address it ever.

Therefore, the time is now. Or at the very least we should set the time to discuss now. At least that action in the right direction is progress. Life Coach Mel Robbins advances another theory which factors in here that she calls the Five-Second Rule.

No, this is not the one regarding food on the floor. I’ve seen too many floors and the ways that too many people clean floors to buy into that one.

Robbins’ states her rule like this: If you have an impulse to act on a goal, you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will kill the idea.

It’s Now

The time for vital conversation is now.So the time for vital conversation is now.

The time to talk about gun control is now because in five seconds our mind will be on something else. Waiting got no results after Sandy Hook School shooting, it got no results after Pulse Nightclub shooting, no results after the Virginia Tech shooting, and nowhere after the University of Texas shooting.

It’s time to have that vital conversation about contributing to the team. Or about your future with the organization. And about where the relationship is going.

Rules of Vital Conversation

Just remember some basic ground rules for vital conversation, because to talk strictly out of emotion is to step back and not forward.

  1. Get Yourself Straight. Make sure you are in the right mode to have the conversation. You need to put aside strong negative emotions and be in a mindset for positive intent. If we start off making the other person the enemy we won’t get positive results.
  2. Eliminate Assumptions. Don’t go into the conversation assuming what the other person will do or say. That’s dangerous because we tend to then create the entire conversation flow around that and develop our mindset accordingly.
  3. Tell Your Story. In the book Crucial Conversations, this is expressed as sharing facts and then sharing the meaning you attach to those facts.
  4. Don’t Accuse. A vital conversation is not a denouement or court. Your role is not to blame but to find a resolution.
  5. Invite Exchange. Hear their story. Use Active Listening skills to find understanding. Look for shared meaning or connection. That’s where real vital conversation can begin.
  6. Agree to Action. That action might be a plan of improvement or an adjustment of roles. Sometimes it is simply another meeting date and time to continue. Other times it could be separation.

Action is Critical for Moving Forward.

Without an action plan of some sort, we are having vital conversations for the sake of conversation and nothing else. Without positive action, resentment grows – on both sides – and productivity fades further away.

What ways have you faced up to vital conversation or avoided it? Which point hit from above hit you the most? What more can you add?

Leave your comments here on this page or email me at psimkins (at) BoldlyLead.com

And be sure to ask for a copy of my eBook 15 Innovative Ways to Show Employees You Care (and Not Break the Bank). It’s yours FREE!

Effective Listening Helps the Bad Become Good and the Good Become Better

Are You Great at Listening?

employees not listening to bossMost people think they are great listeners. Multiple studies however have shown that many significantly overrate their ability to listen effectively.

So let’s start by making the concession that you likely believe you are a good or excellent listener.

Listening Quiz

It is probably a good idea to confirm that. Just to make sure. Answer this quick quiz to see how you rate. Answer each question with either Always, Sometimes, Rarely, or Never.

Be tough on yourself here with your ratings. If people have to ask you to pay attention to them, for example, then you would probably rate yourself low on #2 despite your strong feelings that you do pay attention.

  1. I allow a speaker to finish without interrupting
  2. I focus only on the speaker and avoid distractions
  3. I don’t get upset or agitated when when I disagree with the speaker
  4. I try to be interested in what the speaker is saying
  5. I work at retaining important facts from the speaker
  6. I repeat the details to make sure I understand them

Now, give yourself four points for each Always, three points for each Sometimes, two for each Rarely, and one for each Never.

Quiz Results

If you score below 18 points, then you likely are not as good a listener as you believe you are.

If you discovered you are not as good as you thought, you are in good company. As I mentioned earlier, most people feel they are good to excellent listeners but the studies show that actually almost all of us are poor listeners. It gets worse as we get older and has nothing to do with our physical abilities. It has to do with our environment.

We Are Not Naturally Good Listeners

listening earI freely admit that I am not naturally a good listener. Attribute that to whatever you want. That I like to talk and be heard. That I am often opinionated. Because I make assumptions and pursue them. Or simply that I think I know more than the speaker.

The biggest barriers to effective listening (particularly in the business community) are environmental distractions such cell phone, email, other demands for attention and preparing a reply to the speaker’s message. The second one is huge. Most of us feel we must reply immediately to whatever someone says. In fact, the late Stephen Covey once said

“Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply.”

Listening IS Learnable

Knowing that I am not naturally a good listener, I also know I need to intentionally work at listening more carefully and become better at it.

Perhaps that is the good news in all this. Whether you rated as a good or poor listener, it is simple (but not easy) to become a better listener than you are now.

[tweetthis]It is simple (but not easy) to become a better listener than you are now.[/tweetthis]

Critical Leadership Skill

As a leader, this is a critical skill. James E. Lillie, former CEO of Jarden Corporation, says it is THE MOST IMPORTANT SKILL a leader must have. So does current CEO Dave Abney of UPS. And former Amgen CEO Kevin Sharer.

What’s the value of listening for a leader?

  • Listening shows you care
  • It allows you to become engaged with your employees
  • It develops your empathy
  • It fosters understanding
  • You can develop your emotional intelligence
  • Listening builds trust

You can read more about the value of listening for leaders here.

So the excellent listener can become the excellent leader. It therefore pays to be intentional about our listening skills.

Six Quick Tips for Listening Better

That’s all well and good, but how do you go about becoming a better listener? Start by focusing on some basic techniques. Again, they are simple but not necessarily easy.

1. Keep Your Focus on the Speaker

Look at them. Make eye contact. It not only gets you to keep your attention on them but also allows you to pick up the non-verbal cues that add context and meaning to their words. A 1981 study showed that only 7% of our understanding comes from words. The rest comes from how we say it and the perception that comes from our interpretation of non-verbal behavior.

2. Avoid Distractions

Put your phone down or in your pocket. Turn away from the computer keyboard. Stop whatever else you were doing. People want to believe they can multi-task – that they can listen and do some work or check email at the same time – but the research actually tells us that we are ALL lousy multi-taskers. We aren’t designed for it. Pay attention to the person who is speaking.

3. Don’t Be a Distraction Yourself

For one, don’t interrupt. It shows a lack of respect for the speaker and what they have to say. Usually we interrupt because we are so anxious to insert our thoughts or opinions. As a result, we never fully understand the speaker’s intent.
Along the same lines, don’t change the subject. Hijacking their message to pursue something else again insinuates that their message – and by extension they – doesn’t matter.

4. Encourage the Speaker

Using small acknowledgements like “uh-huh!“, “I see.“, “go on“, “tell me more” and other similar interjections affirms to the speaker that we are listening and encouraging them to continue. If you are going to hear the message, why not hear all of it?

5. Manage Your Emotions

When we allow ourselves to react to words or thoughts, especially when they are counter to our own opinions, we significantly diminish our ability to understand. It’s kind of like a faucet handle. As we react emotionally, we turn that faucet handle and the flow of water becomes less and less until it is just a trickle. Then eventually not at all. Emotional content is necessary and so we need to be careful that it doesn’t overtake us.

If you want to see evidence of this, look at discussions of current events on social media like Facebook. Most participants react emotionally instead of responding thoughtfully. As a result, no one understands, no new thoughts are shared, and tensions run high. Friendships and connections are lost.

6. Confirm Understanding

Create a comprehension sandwich. When the speaker finishes, pause. Your first words after that should be “What I understand you to say is…” followed by a paraphrase of their message. Then finish by asking “Is that correct?” The lead-in helps set the stage that you are seeking understanding and not providing a counterpoint. The paraphrase helps to put it into your own words to internalize the message. The finish allows the speaker to confirm your understanding or improve your understanding.

For big bonus points, your next response after understanding is achieved is not to make a statement but to ask a question. It allows the speaker to further share their thoughts and your learn and understand even more.

Listening as Leaders

As a leader, we need information and input. We won’t get it when we are talking but get all we need when we are listening.

What listening skill do others praise you for? Which skill do you pride yourself on? Where do you need the greatest improvement?

Share your thoughts here or email me at psimkins@BoldlyLead.com.

If you email me you can also get a FREE copy of my e-book 15 Innovative Ways to Show Employees You Care Without Breaking the Bank. it provides some excellent proven methods for creating connections with your employees at minimal or no cost. If you want to start building engagement, you want this book to help establish those channels of caring.

Just Can’t Communicate

I heard Zig Ziglar tell this joke about communication many years ago.

A woman meets with an attorney and says “I want to divorce my husband!

“OK” the attorney responds, “let’s start with a few questions first.”

“Like what?” she asks.

“Well, do you have any grounds?”

“Yes, we have about 5 acres out in the country.”

“No, I mean do you have a grudge?”

“No, but we have a nice, wide carport and a storage shed.”

“Let me ask this a different way. Do you have any complaints about him?”

“Like what?”

“Well, does he beat you up?”

“No, I’m up at least an hour before him every day.”

“Well, what about your role here? Do you ever wake up grouchy?”

“No, when he’s in a bad mood I just let him sleep.”

Exasperated, the attorney finally asks, “Why exactly do you want to get a divorce?”

“Well,” she replies, “the guy just can’t communicate!”

Communication Fail

Our biggest struggle with communication is when we simply assume it happened. You can hear the assumption in the language people use. You may have heard statements like this from others or even coming out of your own mouth. I know I have.

“It made perfect sense to me!”

“How could I be any clearer?!”

“Why can’t you understand this?!”

“What do I have to do to get through to you?!”

“Do I have to say it again?!”

Yes, You Do

So the assumption that communication happened just because we said something is a strong impulse. And despite evidence again and again that it doesn’t work that way, we persist. And communication fails.

communication fail during the telephone gameDid you ever play the Telephone Game when you were a kid? You may remember how it’s played. Everyone sits or stands next to each other. One person whispers something in the next person’s ear, usually some silly phrase or complex sentence. That person then whispers it to the next and so on until everyone hears it. The last person then repeats what they heard, which is usually only vaguely related to what the first person said.

Why does it come out like that? Shouldn’t the message successfully pass along accurately every time? In fact, it almost never does. Here are some reasons why:

  1. As listeners, we are not always focused as much as we should be on what is being said. Since the speaker can only say the phrase once, we have to rely on what we think was said.
  2. Related to that, our brain tends to fill in the unfamiliar with the familiar. So words that were missed get substituted with words we know.
  3. As speakers, our own tone, inflection, pronunciation, and mindset effect how the words come out.

Communication Success

Relating that to our daily communication, what we say and how we say it has a great effect on what people hear. The environment in which the conversation took place makes a difference. The mindset of the listener also has an impact on what they hear and how they interpret it.

So for communication to be successful it is important to be aware of our own emotions and attitudes. We must also be mindful of the emotions and attitudes of the listener. Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone who is angry or upset or fearful or stressed? How about when you were angry or upset or fearful or stressed? How well did that really go?

A farmer who wants to grow crops doesn’t just throw seeds out and hope they grow. The farmer will prepare the environment where he wants things to grow. He might till the ground so the dirt is fresh and airy. He might fertilize and water the ground. When spreading the seeds, he might make sure they end up in the right place for optimal growth. When he sets up the environment correctly, anticipates weather and other conditions that can negatively impact the crops, and provides ongoing care then the farmer can enjoy a successful harvest.

Tips for Better Communication

If we truly desire to communicate successfully, like a farmer sowing seeds, we have to make sure we have the right environment.

  • Check Your Own Emotions. When we are emotionally charged we are more concerned with having our say than we are with communicating.
  • Check the Listener’s Emotions. While sometimes it is unavoidable, it’s best to not attempt communication when the other person is experiencing high emotions before the conversation begins.
  • Choose Words Familiar with the Other Person. You ever have someone talk to you with jargon totally unfamiliar to you? People connect better with words they already have a relationship with.
  • Ask for Understanding. Don’t assume they know what you mean. Ask them to repeat back what they hear you to say. It keeps them involved in the communication and it ensures that it actually occurs.

So, I’m curious. What’s the funniest or dumbest thing you have heard someone say during a communication breakdown? Share it here in the comments or email me at psimkins@BoldlyLead.com.

Are You a Great Listener?

Have you ever run into someone who seems to an excellent listener? Did you think they must have been born with it?

Truth is we are born to be lousy listeners. What listening we typically pick up tends to be determined by our training and environment.

For example, ancient man learned to listen carefully for the sounds of predators that may threaten his clan but probably turned off the chatter of his wife and kids. HIs job was detecting and protecting against danger, so his on-the-job training was in listening for threats. The need for food drove him, so as part of his training he learned to listen for signs of potential food sources he could hunt down. Nothing else mattered and so he wasn’t trained to listen to it.

A Good Listener is NOT Natural

listening earAt least, not naturally a good listener unless our instincts draw our focus to something. So we listen for signs of danger and we listen for opportunity to provide for ourselves. Everything else just whizzes by like an endless stream of 1s and 0s.

Too Much Listening to Do

Our world has changed, however, and there is much more listening we MUST do and much more to which we MUST listen. The challenging of listening is multiplied exponentially for leaders.

For a leader to succeed he has to be aware of the thoughts of his team; each person’s mindset, attitude, aspirations, and ideas. Leaders must have an antenna constantly in tune with the broadcast of each and every employee or team member.

[tweetthis]Leaders must have antennae tuned to the broadcast of every team member. #listening[/tweetthis]

Good Listeners Enjoy a Wealth of Benefits:

Listeners Builds Trust

Trust is the foundation for any relationship or connection. Why? Because when we actively listen to others it means we are telling them that what they have to say matters – that THEY matter. We treat their ego with respect.  Nothing shows love, respect, and esteem more than the intent listening ear.  Listening connects with others by putting them first.

[tweetthis]Nothing shows love, respect, and esteem more than the intent listening ear. #listening[/tweetthis]

Ever have someone interrupt you in the middle of your thought? How did that make you feel? Interruptions are one of my pet peeves. To me, it signals that someone has no respect for what you have to say; that their thought is more important that yours. We trust people who respect us.

Good Listeners Gain Understanding

When we listen actively we increase our chances of grasping what someone is really trying to say. Far too often, we listen just enough to hear the trigger word that allows us to formulate and deliver a reaction, usually negative. You cannot truly understand when your own thoughts get in the way. Active listeners learn to put their own thoughts aside to consider others.

Effective Listeners Add to their Knowledge Bank

The purpose of communication in general is to gather or exchange information. Great leaders know that by being a good listener they get more information. Information is invaluable to a leader. Things you need to know such as how people are really feeling about things, their likes and dislikes, their dreams and desires, and what they value. The more you know, the better you can serve them.

Listeners Create Pause

The stillness of listening allows us to absorb and think through rather than react. Too many leaders tend towards react; thinking that as a leader they must be able to make immediate decisions and reactions. I have to temper myself constantly with this, being a highly interactive and fast-paced person. I remind myself to listen and not react. The stillness of listening and not reacting allows me be more deliberate, make better decisions, and respond instead of react.

Active Listeners Encourage Connection

People connect with people who can empathize and relate to them. They don’t want judgement and really don’t want answers. Philip Stanhope, once Earl of Chesterfield, said that “most people would rather you heard their story than granted their request.” When you listen to their story, value it and them, you open up the clear path to deeper connections. Until you connect, you cannot influence or lead.

True Listeners Discover Sparks of Creativity

Listening allows new thoughts and new ideas to enter our consciousness. I often find that something someone else says ignites an idea in my mind. From that also comes collaboration – working together to build and bring an idea to fruition. In addition, once you demonstrate your willingness and ability to listen, people will open up to you even more with the seeds for great ideas.

How to Start Listening Better

    In that moment, the speaker needs ALL of your intention. Put the smartphone down, stop tapping the keys on the keyboard, don’t do anything else but focus on the speaker.
    Eye contact lets them know you are paying attention and that you value them. Here’s the caveat: don’t start them down. In general, make eye contact about 60-80% of the time.
    Don’t interrupt them, but ask questions that help seek clarity. Jim Rohn used to say one of the best phrases to use to spark conversation is simply to say “That’s interesting! Tell me more!
    After they finish, repeat back them what you understood them to say. This allows them to either affirm or correct your understanding. This insures the message is fully received. Begin with “What I heard you say is…” and finish with “Is that correct?” Then let them confirm it or change it.

What is the biggest challenge you face to become a better listener? Share when you feel you listened very well and what resulted from it. Share when you experienced a bad circumstance from someone not listening well.

Don’t want to share your story here? Email me at psimkins@BoldlyLead.com

Talking is Not Listening

Have you ever been involved in a conversation and then 10 seconds later you couldn’t remember what they said or even if what they said was significant?  It’s not uncommon; in fact, it happens to all of us on a regular basis every day.  We hear, but we don’t really listen with the intent to understand or attach any significance to what is going on.  But a little active listening can go a long way towards building successful relationships.
One of the biggest hurdles we have in communicating with others is when we fool ourselves into thinking that communication has actually taken place.  We talk and we talk; we are pretty sure that we have gotten through, mostly because we have made sure we got our say in.  And then we may listen – or more accurately we hear but we don’t really listen because we are busy formulating our response or we have simply moved on to the point we want to make.
Stephen Covey once observed that
most people don’t listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply.

Our Own Agenda

Too often we are concerned with our own agenda than we are with achieving any kind of understanding in a communication.
As leaders, one of the most important things we do; whether we are a leader in the workplace, a leader in the community, or a even a leader in our home, one of the most important things we do is listen to others to achieve understanding.  When we do that, we can help others reach their goals.  When we help others reach their goals, then our goals become possible as well.
[snaptweet]Nothing shows love, respect, and esteem more than a careful listening ear.  When we listen with others, we treat them with esteem and we able to achieve more because we build better relationships.[/snaptweet]

So here’s a few things that will help you become a more active listener today and achieve better results:

  1. LOOK AT THE SPEAKER – I’m easily distracted and will be engaged in conversation while looking at a computer screen or something in the distance that has caught my eye.  You need to take the time to focus on the person and you can do that easiest when you are looking at them.
  2. DECIDE NOT TO REPLY IMMEDIATELY – Often we are too busy formulating a response to really hear what is being said.  By deciding not make an immediate response, you free yourself up to listen and understand.
  3. KEEP YOUR EMOTIONS IN CHECK – Once our emotions take over we often shut down and we are too busy reacting emotionally to really hear what is being said.  The more you control that, the more you can listen to really understand before you respond.
  4. ASK QUESTIONS – Even if you think you know what they are going to say, asking questions can help clarify things.
  5. PROVIDE FEEDBACK TO UNDERSTAND – Paraphrase what the speaker has said and put it in your own words to ensure that there is shared meaning.  If you got it wrong they will correct you and if you got right they will confirm it.

Chances are you have a meeting or will interact with someone today.  Pick one activity to work on; for example, focus on looking at the speaker and dropping distractions.  See how it works.   How did it work for you?