Three cornerstones of successful communication

Who are the leader-managers you admire most? Chances are, they excel at communication. Chances are, they have a knack of getting on with people and winning their cooperation. Chances are they shine at three cornerstones of successful communication.

The first cornerstone is really an attitude, or an approach to life and to people; the second two are the skill sets of gathering good information and of giving good information.

  1. Respect: respecting yourself and respecting others
  2. Gathering good information: this takes empathy, the ability to see situations from other points of view, not just your own. This makes you willing to listen and helps you understand the whats, whys and wherefores of other people’s thinking.
  3. Giving good information: what good is it to have an opinion, an idea, or some information if you can’t share it clearly with others?

Here’s your challenge: For the rest of the week, pay attention to three aspects of your communication:

  1. how respectfully you treat others and how respectfully you encourage others to treat you
  2. how carefully you listen to others and put yourself in their shoes so you can figure out where they’re coming from
  3. how clearly and succinctly you give information to others.

That will show you your strengths and where your opportunities to improve are.

Advertisements

How to give feedback

Leader-managers owe it to employees to let them know their contributions are appreciated and how they could contribute even more effectively. No doubt you agree.

But do you get hung up on the word ‘feedback’? Don’t. Banish it from your mind and replace it with the word ‘information’. That way, you aren’t thinking ‘complaints’ and ‘criticisms’ but ‘insights’ offered in a caring, helpful way. Caring, helpful insights are indispensable to healthy workplaces and work teams.

This means banishing negative general comments and body language that implies ‘Oh, no – not you again’. Sarcasm, rolling your eyes, ignoring people or their efforts, and even heavy ‘hints’ fall into this category. It also means banishing telling people they’ve done something ‘wrong’ without explaining how to do it ‘right’.

Instead, motivate and lift people’s spirits with positive general comments that show you’re glad to be working with them. When you want to make sure what you’re commenting on is repeated, be specific – say what you appreciate and why you appreciate it. That builds and maintains first-rate performance.

When you want to help someone contribute more effectively, be constructive. Provide practical information that can help the person lift their performance.

So here’s your challenge for this week: Tell each of your team members something that you appreciate about the way they work and contribute. In a different conversation, show them how they could tackle a task to achieve a more effective outcome. (To find out why to separate your positive and constructive comments, see my blog Why the ‘sandwich technique’ for feedback doesn’t work.)

The lights are on but no one’s home

Years ago, I participated in a training exercise I’ve never forgotten. To this day, it makes me queasy with discomfort!

The trainer asked us to pair up and one person in each pair was to leave the room for a couple of minutes. I went out. While we were out, the trainer instructed those remaining that when their partners returned, they were to engage us in conversation and listen. BUT – they were to offer no sign whatsoever that they were listening. No eye contact, no nods, no grunts, no nuffink.

I can tell you, I found the absence of those non-verbal ‘encouragers’ not only extremely off-putting, but actually quite distressing.

Two things happened very quickly:

  1. I reached the firm conclusion that my partner was an absolute dork.
  2. I dried right up.

Normally, as those of you who know me know, I can talk the hind leg off a donkey, but with someone sitting opposite me, just sitting there like a lump and doing absolutely nothing, I completely lost my train of thought. I began rambling wildly. And then I ground to a halt. I was most uncomfortable to say the least.

That made me realise, in a very visceral way, how important it is to not just ‘sit there’ and listen. We need to do something.

So here are six small but crucial things to do when you’re listening to someone:

  1. Make eye contact.
  2. Nod.
  3. Say ‘uh-huh, ‘I see’ and ‘mmm’ a lot.
  4. Repeat a key word or phrase.
  5. Orient your body towards the speaker.
  6. Lean slightly forward towards the speaker.

That way, you won’t find your conversational partner drying up and thinking you’re an absolute dork.

The link between achievement and self-esteem

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? The jury is in but divided, but more about that later.

However, the jury is in on which comes first, self-esteem or achievement. Some scientists noticed that providing lots and lots of empty praise — giving every kid in the race, including the last one, a trophy — leads to inflated but baseless self-esteem. It can even have the opposite effect to what the providers of lots and lots of meaningless praise intend. The researchers found that kids with unrealistically high self-esteem might be more willing to enter dangerous territory, like cheating, experimenting with drugs and stealing.

It’s also been shown that telling kids they’re smart, whether they are or not, makes even the genuinely smart kids less willing to apply effort, preventing them for reaching their full potential. These genuinely smart kids end up thinking that putting in effort to learn means they aren’t smart and they become more concerned with protecting their reputation as smart, in looking smart then being smart.

So, to have the sort of high self-esteem that’s worth something, you need to achieve worthwhile goals first. To do that, you need three things:

  1. You need to put in effort and understand that trying hard does make a difference.
  2. You need willpower to keep putting in the effort. We’ve talked about the importance of willpower before and the good news that it’s just like a muscle: the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets.
  3. And you need something called self-compassion, which is different from self-esteem. While self-esteem often involves the need to be special and above average, when you have self-compassion you don’t compare yourself to others and you can cope realistically with mistakes and failure without them crushing your self-esteem—after all, everyone makes mistakes and falls short sometimes.People with self-compassion tend to look after themselves by exercising more and eating more healthily for instance. They have learning goals rather than performance goals and learn for it’s own sake, not for grades or to impress people.

These three qualities — effort, willpower and self-compassion — are what help you achieve and your achievements build genuine self-esteem. Once you’ve earned your self-esteem, you are likely to be happier, more optimistic and more motivated than people with low self-esteem, and less likely to be anxious, depressed and negative. You’re not going to be an obnoxious person with an over-sized ego based on nothing, either.

The bottom line is, earn your self-esteem through your achievements, not from just be ing handed a trophy for merely running in the race.

And as for the which came first, the chicken or the egg, well, that’s still a conundrum. Some scientists say the chicken did because two non-chickens mated and, via a genetic mutation, produced the first chicken. So the chicken came first. But other scientists say the egg came first because two non-chickens mated and via that same genetic mutation, produced the first chicken. But their logic is that since it was a chicken inside the egg, the egg came first.

Add ten years to your life

A study from the Mayo Clinic proved that an optimistic attitude can extend your life by up to 20%. For most of us, that’s more than ten years. And not only does a rosy outlook help us live longer, it helps us enjoy our lives more. That’s because optimists are generally more active and mentally fit in their later years than old grumps.

Probably the easiest way to increase your positivity quotient and with it, your longevity and happiness quotients, is to surround yourself with other optimists, because good spirits are catching.

Another easy thing you can do is put your attention onto what is going well and what is good in your life. Now, for some people, that’s kind of hard. If you’re working in a toxic environment or burdened with working long hours just to keep up, keeping the chin up can be a challenge. Other people are just naturally pessimistic.

Whatever the cause, if you tend to see the glass half empty rather than half full, here’s what to do: Recognise a negative thought when you have one and immediately replace it with a more positive thought. You might reframe it, for instance, or take your mind to a happy place for a minute to reduce your stress level. Be diligent about this because after three weeks, it will have become a habit.

Are you a hard core pessimist? You might also need to take five minutes at the beginning of every day to actually write down something you’re looking forward to that day. And take five minutes at night to jot down five things you’re grateful for, maybe simple things like the great weather or your pretty garden, or big things, like your health and your family. Those two easy actions will dramatically boost your outlook on life and with it, your longevity.

The bottom line is: Our thoughts create our life, so, to live a long and happy life, think happy thoughts. It might sound simple, but it’s powerful and it works.

Plus, you’ll be a better role model to your team and your family.

 

Do you walk your talk?

We all know people who say one thing and do another. The manager who says: ‘I believe in participation’ but fails to listen to people’s ideas and suggestions. Translation: ‘I don’t believe people have ideas or suggestions worth listening to.’ Or the manager who says ‘My team is first rate’ but constantly checks up on them and avoids delegating work. Translation: ‘I don’t trust my team so I need to keep an eye on them.’

Are those managers hypocrites? Maybe. I think there are three more likely reasons they say one thing and do another:

  1. They really do value participation or think their team is great but their core beliefs–their hearts, which guide their day-to-day actions, haven’t caught up with their heads yet.
  2. Participation and saying positive things about your team may be part of the organisation’s values and culture but they aren’t part of the manager’s values or core beliefs. So the manager gives lip service to the company talk, but but doesn’t walk it.
  3. A stronger value or belief overrides the manager’s weaker value of participation or belief their team is great. Maybe the organisation punishes mistakes and the manager values staying out of trouble more than trusting the team to do its work or come up with sound suggestions.

Whatever the reason, failing to walk your talk costs you credibility, trust and respect. The trouble is, people generally don’t know when their deeds aren’t matching their words. It’s the ‘blind spot’, and we all have them.

So what to do? Here are three ideas:

  1. When you trust the people you work with enough, you can ask them for some honest feedback.
  2. You can listen to your words and spend some time quietly reflecting on whether your actions match them.
  3. You can consider whether your own values match your organisation’s values and when they don’t, you can start polishing up your CV.

Walking your talk is an important part of integrity and authenticity. It gives your formal authority legitimacy, without which, your leadership is … well let’s be honest here … doomed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The art of subtle coaching

Coaching is one of every leader-manager’s most important activities. You’re probably most familiar with coaching to improve already-good performance by gently tweaking someone’s behaviour to further enhance their results. My Describe–Explain–Suggest model is one way to do this, and my Flag–Example–Benefit model is another. Also useful is the Intent–Outcome model, where you help someone compare and contrast what they intended by their behaviour or actions with the actual outcome and then help them find ways to bring their intention and outcome closer together. Socratic questioning, where you help people find their own insights and solutions is another powerful coaching technique. (You can find examples of these models and techniques in Chapters 16 and 26.)

There’s another, more subtle type of coaching that I learned by reflecting on the way a former boss, Chris (let’s call him), coached me. It was my first job out of Uni, where my referent group was still that of uni students and I therefore dressed in ‘student uniform’ rather than ‘business attire’. Not a good look; enough said.

When we went to industry meetings together, Chris would introduce me like this: ‘This is Kris Cole, our safety and training officer. She’s very professional.’ That’s all, ‘She’s very professional’.

Chris was embedding a description of myself in my subconscious as being ‘very professional’. It affected my behaviour and yes, it affected the way I dressed, too. Without consciously realising it, I gradually began to grow into Chris’s description of me.

(You may be wondering why he didn’t just tell me, ‘Kris, you look like a mess; please fix up your image’. Well imagine my reaction to that: I can tell you right now I’d have crossed my arms, stamped my foot, pouted a bit and said, ‘It doesn’t matter how a person dresses; it just matters how well they do their job!’ I’d probably have tossed my hair, too. No, the direct approach would definitely not have worked. The subtle approach did.)

Chris subtly coached me in other ways, too. He’d pass on rules of thumb that I could easily follow. He’d relate illustrative personal stories or examples that gave me mental scaffolds to generalise from, to use to analyse problems or to make sense of experience. He thought out loud a lot, giving me insight into a really smart manager’s thinking processes and showing me how to consider matters from various angles before reaching a decision.

That was all incredibly valuable. But what I most treasure was the way Chris highlighted the positive, so I felt good about myself and willing and able to do my best work. I would like to think that every leader-manager makes time to regularly highlight the positive in people and give them something to grow into.