Posts Tagged ‘listening’

Storytelling and Listening for A Collaborative Culture

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

Do you have a collaborative culture? One where people are open to others’ ideas? Where individuals consider how their colleagues’ ideas can work, rather than instantly pointing out why they won’t work? A culture where people are comfortable expressing even “far out” thoughts,  knowing that it’s safe because everyone realizes that sometimes the farthest out ideas are the ones that spark absolutely brilliant new products or services?

If you don’t have a collaborative culture but want to build one, storytelling is a tool you can’t do without. By sharing stories with one another–where you came from, why you believe what you believe, how you learned valuable lessons about work and life–you get to know one another, discover shared values and interests–and Speakingbuild strong connections. The bonds developed over time through workplace story swaps lead to a strong sense of “being in this together” and motivate people to listen carefully to one another. They will begin to treat treat one another with more respect and will develop a ready willingness to collaborate and help one other. I’ve seen this happen time and again when leading work teams through my Corporate Storytelling® system.

Listening to others’ stories is a crucial component of the process. As Nelson Farris, Nike’s official storyteller for many years, says the company’s success “is based on collaboration, and the only way you’re going to collaborate is to talk to each other. That means you have to talk and then listen.

“Listening is huge. If we don’t listen, then the collaboration begins to disintegrate.”

Here are a few steps to get started with storytelling to build a collaborative culture:

  • Tell a well-developed organizational story, or a personal “lesson learned” story that conveys your values, your mission and your specific goals
  • Tell this story–and others you develop–repeatedly and systematically
  • Train others in your organization on how to tell stories
  • Underscore to your employees and other stakeholders the importance of telling values-based stories
  • Incorporate storytelling in regularly held meetings

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!

Managers Need Training to Meet Expanding Expectations

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

A survey reported in “The Wall Street Journal” yesterday discovered that, while companies are adding responsibilities to managers’ already heavy workloads, they aren’t providing training that helps those managers handle their expanding responsibilities. Standard approaches, such as relying on “loaned executive” programs to nonprofits, company-developed formal training, or support from HR, were rated as the least helpful forms of training.

The most helpful training, according to managers surveyed, were provided by external leadership programs, encouragement from family and friends and support from peer networks. Leadership training for people who are promoted is the main exception.

However, the author and conductor of the survey, Herminia Ibarra, quickly adds that fewer people are being promoted, so the overall benefits of such training are not as far-reaching as previously. One of her conclusions is that continual training should be the standard, especially for “promising” managers, who will have the opportunity to learn from their peers over a long period of time as they all develop their skills. Ibarra also recommends that organizations facilitate more cross-departmental collaboration so that individuals get to know co-workers in other areas and gain better understanding of the roles and operations across the company.

Another recent survey found that soft skills training is the greatest needed in the corporate world. Individuals who lack so-called “people skills,” including the core component of communication, are unable to collaborate and that inability results in diminishes productivity and overall organizational effectiveness. Corporate Storytelling training provides the tools not only for clearly informing, directing, and supporting others, but also teaches the importance of listening–an often overlooked necessity in today’s constantly “plugged-in” world.

How are your storytelling and listening skills?

Communication Skills Among Top 10 Tips for New Executives

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

A top executive recently wrote an article in The Wall Street Journal listing the top “10 Tips for New Executives”, and two important communication skills were among them. Fay Vincent rose to the top of three distinctly different enterprises, demonstrating that he knows what he’s talking about. He’s the former president and CEO of Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., executive vice president of Coca-Cola Co., and the eighth commissioner of Major League Baseball. He’s the kind of person we’d all like to have had advice from in the early stages of our careers, and his 10 Tips are insights he wishes he had known sooner.

The two communication skills he included on his list are

  • Listening for advice
  • Explaining your strategy frequently, stated in different ways

Why are these two skills important? Vincent explains that regular interaction with employees at all levels and listening to what they’re talking about is essential for effective leadership. You need to know what’s important to the people you’re asking to follow you. If anyone wants to talk with you, take time to listen to their views and if it’s a criticism, consider the person’s position and respond thoughtfully, even when you disagree.

Repeatedly explaining your core strategy will ensure that everyone is moving in the same direction and maximizing productivity. By rephrasing the strategy periodically, people at all levels, who may have different communication skills and vocabularies, will be sure to hear your meaning. In other words, let there be no doubt what success looks like in your organization. I would add to this that telling stories of “people caught doing things right” is a proven way to make your goals clear. People understand a story and can apply the lesson to their own jobs much more easily than they can “translate” a high-level mission statement. Are you listening?