8 Focal Points for Deeper Listening

listening, communicationEarly in your career, your idea of being a good communicator might have been making cogent arguments and clearly expressing yourself verbally and in writing. This would prove your capability.

But those things, while very important, are not the keys to becoming really great at communication.

With experience and more confidence in yourself, you gradually discover that communication is less about how you express yourself and more about how deeply you listen to others. Listening allows you to focus on what is important to others. In turn, you can then tailor your communication to them to find common ground or to respond appropriately.

Listening requires that you move beyond merely hearing the words expressed by others. Instead it requires that you tune into communication aspects other than words. Like the insight tied to your “3rd Eye”, it’s as if your physical ears are tuned to the words used and your “3rd ear” is tuned to a deeper level.

Use your “3rd ear” to listen for one or all of the following to deepen your listening:

Commitments, Aspirations, Point Of View, Interests

What is important to this person that they would put whatever it took into accomplishing, preserving, exemplifying, etc.? What’s their vantage point?

Emotions, Fear or Disappointments

Based on tone of voice, word choice, and facial expressions, what is the overriding feeling this person is experiencing and what does that tell you? What might they regret or want to avoid?

Values or Priorities

For which principle(s) are they taking a stand? What’s important to them?

Analogies

Are they using similes, metaphors, or other comparisons? How can these analogies apply to the way forward?

The Crux of the Matter

What is at the heart of their message that they might not have put into words?

Impacts

How did you or someone else impact them? Did it help or hinder them in their pursuit?

How to Help or Serve

Underneath it all, are they asking for or do they want/need something from you?

Simply Hold Space

Sometimes, others just need a witness as they wrestle with a conundrum or to clarify their own thinking. You don’t really need to DO anything. Your presence alone is enough.

Next time, you’re listening to someone, practice zeroing in on one of these areas. What do you hear? How does it add to their words and your understanding?

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with leaders who want to confidently become the leaders they are meant to be while maximizing the “people side” of business. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Does Your Company Have a Gaping Blind Spot Around Supervisor Training?

blind spotApproximately 60% of new supervisors or first-time managers receive no leadership training and development before they are promoted to their positions. Maybe that accounts for why employees see 50% of their supervisors as ineffective. It appears that companies don’t believe or aren’t aware of the available research about the skills needed to be a good manager. Nor are they aware of the negative impacts that pile up when their managers aren’t competent.

How come? These four reasons might explain your company’s lack of attention to developing leadership skills in their managers — from the front-line up.

1. Your company doesn’t understand what competent supervisors do.

Often in the growth stage of many companies, leadership tends to promote existing staff into supervision. With such an emphasis on the technical aspects of running a company in the beginning start-up stages, you assume that supervisory capabilities will naturally grow along with the rest of the business without additional focus. That indicates that your company doesn’t have a solid plan for adding competent supervisors. Instead, it will move people into positions like checkers around the board.

Underneath this lack of planning is the notion that your company doesn’t understand what it takes to lead people. Otherwise, you would know the skills to identify in others before selecting supervisors as the company grows. Your company mistakenly assumes that by virtue of being people, your “star” employees know how to lead other people to get the best work out of them.

2. Your company sees employees as interchangeable cogs in the wheel.

“People don’t leave companies; they leave managers.” This adage has been around for decades and in my experience it’s true. You can like the company you work for while not being able to tolerate your direct supervisor. When this happens, employees leave. When your company doesn’t select and develop its managers, it’s a sign that you are willing to have higher than normal turnover. It’s almost as though you see employees as replaceable machine parts. Just hire some more. While the turnover cost per hire in entry level employee positions can be low, the volume of vacancies multiplies that low cost per hire quickly.

3. Your company underappreciates the power of “soft” skills.supervisor training

Cultivating a person with the requisite people skills to get the best out of your employees is no mean feat. It’s almost as if your company believes communicating clearly and respectfully, appreciating others, giving feedback, and all the other supervisory skills are easy to do. When you and your senior team to misses this, it indicates your lack of people skills. Perhaps, too, your company is in an industry that is based on technical knowledge and skills, creating a natural disconnect with the importance of understanding and working with people.

4. Your company focuses on the upfront expense of leadership development without understanding the payoff.

Measuring the effectiveness and impact of leadership skills is fuzzy. Also, the payoff for leadership training and development pays off more slowly over time compared to other skills training. Still, in my experience, employee complaints decrease and employee retention increases when managers are trained and provided on-the-job experiences to increase their leadership skills and knowledge. It is an investment that will likely payoff in the future; not simply an expense for an ordinary purchase.

To conclude, it might be that your company “doesn’t know what it doesn’t know.” But there’s really no excuse for having a blind spot around management and leadership training in the 21st century. The available research and your own experience working for various supervisors throughout your career should be proof enough of it’s necessity.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE?

You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with leaders who want to confidently become the leader they are meant to be, as they maximize the “people side” of business. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

5 Ways to Bolster Confidence During Chaos

confidence

Ever lose your confidence? The world is never stable. Physics teaches that everything moves toward maximum entropy (disorder or
randomness).

That means, there is always something churning and arising that can upset the current balance. When you finally come to the realization that things are “off”, the so-called chaos could have been in the works for a while before you noticed it.

Thus, when you finally notice the disorder, randomness, or chaos, it can knock you off your game. The trick is to maintain your composure and your confidence to make the necessary adjustments and re-calibrate.

So, how can you feel and telegraph the steady confidence your employees need so they don’t get spooked like a herd of wild bison?

Here are 5 tips on how to create and maintain a confident demeanor that quells uncertainty in yourself and more importantly in your employee ranks:

1. Keep a supportive mindset and confident bearing.

You are where you need to be. Don’t psych yourself out. It’s easy to let your inner critic berate you. Turn the inner critic on its head by looking for how it’s trying to serve you. Like a nagging parent who wants you to succeed, what is the good intention of the inner critic and its negative criticisms?

Additionally, you can boost your confidence by following the power posing research of Amy Cuddy, which indicated that 2 minutes of adopting a “superhero” pose led to a 20% increase in subjects feeling more powerful/confident.

2. Do rely on others to bolster confidence.

As a successful person, you might tend to think you have to put the whole company on your shoulders and carry it forward. Nothing could be further from the truth. You have a host of people who can cut through the chaos with you. You may not know everything but you can rely on others around you to shore up your weaknesses. Upgrade your network if necessary, too.

3. Toggle between forest (big picture) and the trees (details).

When an obstacle or problem arises, recognize it but then pan out and re-focus on the big picture, to gain perspective on where that obstacle fits within the grand scheme of things and to gain flexibility of response. With perspective comes confidence.

4. Spend 20% of your time on work directly affecting your big picture goals.

Remember the Pareto Principle: 20% of your efforts will lead to 80% of your results. Calendar the high-value activities that have a direct line of sight to your company goals. Then, execute those high-value activities in baby steps each day to move your goals forward. In other words, don’t try to eat the elephant all at once.

5. Take risks by following the data AND your gut.

You build confidence by being true to yourself in light of the data and seeing it pay off. This happens most noticeably when you weigh the pertinent information and take action based on your own sense of things. Then, go for it. Don’t worry — failure can build your confidence when you learn from your experience and use that learning to try again.

Confidence is an important leadership attribute and is critical during times of uncertainty. It’s your role to project the confidence necessary to create a sense of “all is well” in your employees. It does need to be tempered with humility. In other words, there is a difference between confidence and cockiness. But having the wisdom of other smart people, good data, a “can-do” attitude, and the discipline to focus on high-value daily work is how you exude and continue to build your own confidence and the confidence of your staff.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE?

You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations by gaining greater focus, self-awareness, and influence with their teams. Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.

“Just Kidding”: Handling Passive Aggressive Employees

passive aggressiveWe laugh at passive aggressive behavior on sitcoms, tune in for more on reality TV, and read the snarkiness on social media. Nonetheless, it’s no laughing matter in the workplace.

Passive aggressive behavior includes actions, inactions, and comments intended to do harm but is indirect. People who exhibit passive aggressive behaviors also tend to feel helpless or powerless in their lives, and use their passive aggressiveness as a way to cope.

Examples include: forgetting to do things, not following through, spreading rumors, giving the silent treatment, making sarcastic comments intended to send a message, and complaining about others to everyone but the person himself. In short, passive aggressiveness boils down to presenting yourself one way and behaving another to intentionally “stick it” to someone else.

On an individual level, passive aggressiveness increases uncertainty, leads to poor self-esteem and poor working relationships, and consequently, leads to lower trust, increased stress, and lower productivity. On a companywide basis, it can slow down decision-making and the execution of important initiatives.

Unfortunately, many managers are uncertain how to address this type of behavior because it seems so petty and elusive. Here, are a few tips for creating a workplace with minimal passive aggressiveness:

Expect and model forthright communication.

To avoid allowing passive aggressive behavior in your company, make sure you are a role model of healthy, respectful disagreement with curiosity about other perspectives. You can do this in a public way in your meetings by setting ground rules and behavioral norms about having full discussions in meetings where everyone is expected to contribute and acknowledging the sensitivity or contention of some issues as well as the importance of discussing those issues openly.

Highlight minority or dissenting perspectives and opinions.

Intentionally, ask those who hold an unpopular perspective to talk about their assumptions underlying their viewpoint and about the implications that will follow if their solution is or isn’t followed. By doing this, it makes it easier to craft a final decision that might accommodate differing perspectives. You can also troubleshoot the decision the group finally makes but anticipating what might go wrong. This allows those who see the weaknesses of the decision to be able to contribute.

Call it like you see it.

When passive aggressive body language, humor, gossip, or complaints about others come to your attention, you must acknowledge the behavior and dig a little deeper to find out what’s behind the behavior. Voicing concern that the person is choosing an indirect way of bringing up the issue is a place to start. Then, ask questions about why they chose an indirect way of settling the issue versus addressing the issue head on. You can then guide them to use more appropriate ways of interacting with others to get what they ultimately want.

Passive aggressive behavior is probably more common than appropriately assertive behavior and can be one of the most destructive elements to a healthy company culture. This is certainly one time when being “nice” won’t work out for your company in the long run.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations by gaining greater focus, self-awareness, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Transform Workplace Drama from Spectacle to Productivity

workplace dramaWe love our drama. Ancient Romans loved the tension and spectacle of the Colosseum with its combat to the death involving gladiators and beasts, nail-biting chariot races, and extravagant displays of sea warfare. Today, we have the tension and spectacle of reality TV, involving the emotional combat of one-up-man-ship, betrayal, and dashed hopes. It seems a natural aspect of the human condition. It’s no wonder, then, that drama comes naturally to your employees.

You know employees are caught up in drama when they aren’t focused on the overall goals your company is working to achieve. Instead, they hone in on what others are doing or not doing to bug them or to get in their way. In short, they are focused on the weeds instead of on the big picture. They delight in gossip, complaining, blaming, shaming, and explaining – mostly after not being forthcoming when the time was right, such as in meetings regarding the work and its progress.

 

“All the world’s a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed.”
― Seán O’Casey

Drama includes people who find themselves playing three standard roles: Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer. These were identified by Dr. Stephen Karpman in the 1960s. In spite of their good intentions, a person in the Victim role sees himself as powerless and put-upon; a person in Persecutor role sees himself as the only person doing things right, coming across as blaming and overbearing; and a person in the Rescuer role believes he must save the Victim who is not capable of doing so himself. Together, people in these roles can go for years, blaming each other and focusing on what each is doing wrong, instead of looking at their own contributions to the dramatics that play out.

According to David Emerald, the transformation from spectacle to productivity occurs when (1) the “Victim” refocuses on the general outcome they want to create and determine a way forward; (2) the “Rescuer” reframes the “Victim” as capable of solving his own problems; or (3) the “Persecutor” clarifies his intentions and shifts to supporting the “Victim’s” capabilities.

As a leader in your company, it’s up to you to create the conditions that discourage drama as a spectacle of complaining and blaming and, instead, encourage trust, ownership, and choice that leads to working together more productively without fear. This requires many things including the expectation that people will feel the trust required to be open and explore issues through deeper conversations that center around questions for which you don’t know the answer. (Judith Glaser would call these Level III Co-Creative conversations. See Lead Like Nobody’s Business blog and podcast with Julio Garreaud from 6/7/2016.)

Questions that could be part of these types of deeper conversations might include:

  • How do you see it?
  • What are the implications of what we are doing with respect to X?
  • What have we been assuming that might not be accurate?
  • How can we . . . ?
  • What if . . . ?
  • What might you do to achieve your original intention?

Think about how frequently these questions are used in your meetings and interactions . . . . Imagine what could happen for your company if you intentionally opened up some room for your employees to explore together possibilities for their work instead of allowing them to stay stuck in their own myopic, dramatic role.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations by gaining greater focus, self-awareness, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Ironically, Collaboration Makes Your Company More Competitive

collaborationIt used to be that leading a successful company was all about withholding knowledge, hording power, and smashing the competition. More and more, however, leaders today are called upon to be more collaborative – sometimes even with their competition.

Typical Corporate Structure Impedes Collaboration

“Collaboration” might sound like a wimpy term to some. In fact, it is typically viewed as a more feminine virtue. Yet, the costs of poor collaboration are concrete and even painful.

Ask General Motors about its non-collaborative (“competitive”), “silo-ed” culture that led to a defective ignition switch, which cost the company at least $2.7 billion dollars in repairs, rework, replacement part, and lawsuits. A consulting report concluded that the cause of the defect stemmed from a silo-based culture that covered up issues and did not collaborate well.

Similarly, many companies operate in silos and do not communicate effectively across spans of control. In some cases, if a manager in one silo needs something from a manager in another silo, the company’s formality requires her to send a request up her chain of command to her Vice President, who then reaches across the company to another Vice President, who in turn goes down the chain of command to the manager, and so on. This form of communication is extremely slow and subject to miscommunication. Add matrix-ed relationships  to this, where employees strive to serve multiple masters, balancing multiple roles and competing interests. Yeow!

Emphasis on Technical Skills Can Stifle Collaboration

Think about the highly skilled employees in companies within technical industries, who spent years learning a technical function. Often, their companies have not encouraged them to learn the nuanced interpersonal skills required to collaborate on teams. As a result they are not as effective at relating to others, conveying their ideas with impact, getting what they want, or helping others achieve their goals. Therefore, teams in these industries may not perform as well as they could. This results in stalled projects. Ironically, when you multiply this effect across the company — especially when teams have to work cross-functionally — the negative results from a lack of collaboration can hurt a company’s competitive position.

Fostering Collaboration Is Imperative

As companies become more complex, collaboration becomes a core skill that every leader, team, and business unit must have. In some cases, this means you must structure your company to make collaboration easier. In other cases, it means encouraging manager and employees to acquire new skills, attitudes, and behaviors.

Also, leadership today requires you to enhance your own collaboration skills to get what you want from those inside your company and external partners, like suppliers, vendors, regulatory agencies, and customers. Either way, you become a role model for collaboration, setting the example for the types of collaborative interactions you expect from your employees.

When you use collaboration wisely and well, you gain easier cooperation, more information, and greater facility to reach your targets. In short, you become more competitive.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE?

You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with leaders who want to confidently become the leader they are meant to be as they maximize the “people side” of business. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Be the Bigger Person When Receiving Feedback

feedbackGiving quality feedback in a respectful way can be hard. Receiving feedback in a respectful way is even harder. (Even receiving positive feedback for some is difficult.) After receiving negative feedback in particular do you notice you have heightened negative emotions or niggling thoughts that linger long afterwards? That just shows you care.

When I refer to feedback, I mean any information that is given to you about your own behavior, communication, or performance that is intended to make you aware of how you impacted someone else – whether good or bad. However, I’ll focus on receiving negative feedback, which feels harder to swallow.

 

“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.”
Bill Gates

As a business leader, you probably find yourself being the formal giver of feedback more often than a formal receiver of it. Still, there are many opportunities to receive feedback. You can solicit feedback from individuals, via employee surveys, or through a 360-degree feedback process. You may also receive unsolicited feedback from anyone you work with.

Positioning yourself as a good receiver of feedback can be very powerful for you personally and as a role model for your company. It really boils down to being the “bigger” person when receiving feedback.

If possible, you can practice receiving feedback on your terms by creating the best conditions possible to get feedback. These are situations where you have a lot of control by choosing the following: (1) the specific feedback you want (2) a non-threatening setting in which to receive the feedback, (3) and people who respect and trust to provide the feedback. Even under these conditions, it can still be hard to receive negative feedback, but these might be the best conditions for practicing the following tips for receiving unsolicited, negative feedback:

1. Keep your ego in check.

Even if you are high up the food chain, you aren’t perfect and are not above making improvements. To avoid getting your ego too involved, frame the intentions of the feedback giver in the best possible light. What are their good intentions for giving you feedback?

2. Keep your power in check.

Be aware of any power differential in your relationship with the feedback giver, especially if you have more positional power. It’s important to keep emotions down, or you risk having a chilling effect on getting future feedback. If you feel yourself getting angry, defensive, snarky, or deflecting blame back on the other person, this can be magnified by your power. Or heightened emotions may d really be signaling your insecurity around the feedback topic.

3. Gauge your intention vs. impact.

Based on the feedback, how big is the gap between how you thought you were coming across and the impact you had on others? For most feedback, this the heart of the matter, or the point of the feedback. Take stock. It is, however, harder to gauge if you don’t respect the person’s opinion.

4. Accept the feedback graciously.

To do this, be quiet and listen without arguing. Avoid minimizing the person’s opinion, turning the tables on them to give THEM feedback, or disputing the feedback. Maintain neutral facial expressions and body language, and at the end, simply thank the person for their input. You may ask clarifying questions if necessary to understand the circumstances, or you may ask for specific tips you could employ to do better next time.

5. Consider the feedback.

You don’t have to accept all feedback as true of helpful. Take time in the subsequent days or weeks to decide what feedback to accept or reject. You may want to test the feedback with others you trust or validate the feedback by noticing your behaviors in similar situations going forward.

6. Circle back to the person.

When you circle back, you do so in the spirit of letting them know you’ve been considering the feedback and to thank them again for their candor. You are not obligated to report on what you’re doing about it. Just touching base with them again lets them know there are no hard feelings and serves as a good model for receiving feedback without letting it adversely affect work relationship.

Finding out you’ve fallen short of someone’s expectations can be hard. It’s just an indication of the degree to which you do care about being the best you can be. However, you show your colleagues and employees how to be a great leader when you can practice what you preach and give feedback as good as you get it.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations by gaining greater focus, self-awareness, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.