Archive for January, 2015

What People Do During Conference Calls

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

The growing number of articles on the fast-disappearing art of listening has tapped into one of my pet peeves. I’m pretty certain most, if not all, of you have noticed that people increasingly are attempting to multi-task instead of focusing on what they’re purportedly doing. This includes so-called “communication” activities!

It isn’t just my imagination. According to a report in “Harvard Business Review” based on research by Intercall, 65% of the people on a conference call are doing other work; 63% are writing emails, and 55% are eating. A high percentage of others are going to the rest room, texting, checking social media and even doing their shopping (no kidding).

One of the most obvious signs that someone is hurriedly trying to “check things off the to-do list” is when the person answers an email containing several questions or concerns, but responds to only the first one. It’s clear that the person read only the first line, or the first paragraph, of the original email and feels a sense of having “handled” it by responding at all.

Another indicator of preoccupation is a conference call during which only one or two people of a number on the call say anything. Sometimes this may be because a high-level executive in an organization is on the call and others are too timid to express their opinions or observations. But in other cases, such as the strangest conference call I’ve ever experienced, several of the people on the line were joint decision-makers–and yet, only one of the five spoke at all during a 20-30 minute call. The rest of the conversation was between the primary client contact and me. It was very odd that the partners, for whom the call was arranged, said nothing. My primary contact explained later that “they’re busy executives who probably were doing other things” during the call. That begs the question, “What was the purpose, then?”

A sense of humor helps me to cope with puzzling situations such as that. So I was delighted to discover this well-written and artfully executed video. It’s an entertaining demonstration of what happens all too often when the leader of a project meeting or conference call attempts to get down to business. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did–but of course, not during a conference call!

Powerful Listening Wins Employee Engagement

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

Listening Ear

When you hear the word “communication,” what do you think of first: speaking, or listening? My hunch is that most of us think of speaking. In our hyper-busy, 24/7 culture, in fact, the “art” of listening–truly listening in a focused, intentional way–has been lost. It may sound like an oxymoron, but there is power in the ability to listen.

In fact, listening is an absolutely essential skill for leaders to develop. According to a recent Gallup poll, 63% of the global workforce is not engaged, and that translates into a waste of half a trillion dollars! And listening is one of the most powerful ways to engage employees, writes Greg McKeown in a wonderful article in “Harvard Business Review”. Unfortunately, leaders, like most of us, tend to focus on the messages they need to convey and forget that they need to listen to their employees.

By listening carefully to the people in their organizations on a regular basis, leaders will learn invaluable information:

  • what’s on employees’ and customers’ minds
  • what employees most want from their leaders
  • what employees most need from their leaders

What can be done to close the communication gap between leaders and their employees? McKeown suggests adapting a listening process used by the Quakers called the “Clearness Committee.” He describes in some detail how the process works and acknowledges that few companies would have time to invest in it.

But McKeown says the business world can adapt the process this way: “When one of your team members comes to you with a particular challenge, you can ask her questions to define what the real dilemma is, instead of jumping in with premature, well-intended solutions that actually miss the mark”….and you can increase the ratio of listening to speaking by asking questions.

He suggests spending at least 50% of any conversation actively listening to the other person speak. “The bottom line is this: if you want to engage your employees at a whole new level, if you want to become a person of greater influence, and if you want to discover a new kind of power — listen.”

Listening A Hot Topic

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

Listening is a topic that’s been getting frequent attention in recent weeks. I suspect the reason is that fewer and fewer people listen closely to anyone or anything anymore. In a 24/7-connected world, more and more people are multitasking nearly all their waking hours. Or, more accurately, they’re attempting to multitask, which studies have shown isn’t, in fact, productive.

In my experience it’s been obvious that people on conference calls are often checking their phones and emails, reviewing papers on their desks, and answering questions from direct reports and co-workers instead of paying attention to the meeting discussion, not to mention participating in it! And some workshop attendees are on their laptops much of the time, purportedly taking notes but often working on their own projects.

Listening–truly listening, by giving someone your undivided attention–is an increasingly rare practice that many seem not to value highly. As a communication consultant whose entire career has focused on written and verbal interaction, this is very disconcerting. If we don’t listen carefully to one another, how we will ever reach learn waht we need to know? How we will ever reach an understanding of what we’re doing, where we’re going, what we need, what we want, etc.

So imagine how pleased I was to see today’s article in The Wall Street Journal that says focused listening is among the behaviors that conveys intelligence to others. Sue Shellenbarger reports that “a lot of people do things that make them look dumb” (such as using big words or looking very serious) when they’re trying to look smart. The people they’re trying to impress read these efforts as trying too hard, so the attempts to look smart actually have the opposite effect.

To look smart, the first thing a person needs to do is this: Put away the phone and look directly at the person you’re speaking to! According to Nora A. Murphy, an associate professor of psychology at Loyola Marymount University in L.A. who’s conducted a number of studies on the subject, the other behaviors that convey intelligence are sitting up straight, speaking clearly in “a pleasant voice,” displaying self-confidence, and actually engaging in a conversation. Some of the ways to do that, says Suzanne Bates, chief executive of Bates Communications in Wellesley, Mass., are indicating you understand the person’s point, asking questions and being willing to hear another’s point of view.

Who knows? By actively listening, people may learn more than they ever imagined, all the while seeming more intelligent than ever. So what have you got to lose? Put down that phone, get away from email–and start listening!