Posts Tagged 'Conversations'

Saying what’s on your mind

As an advocate for clear and authentic communication I would tend to endorse the idea that we should say what’s on our mind. I do this though with a big HOWEVER……

Some people would view the idea of saying what’s on their mind as being absolutely the right thing to do. The HOWEVER with this is that it often goes with the idea of engaging mouth before brain and the repercussions can be widespread and on occasion damaging.

For others the idea of saying what’s on their mind would fill them with dread, bring out the cold sweats and cause lock-jaw. These people are at the other end of the scale and engage brain before mouth, letting their brain convince them that they can’t speak up.

So where’s the happy medium and how do any of us reach this point in every conversation that we have? Whilst an important part of being authentic is to say what’s on your mind I think there are some caveats around it. For instance:
– Be conscious of what you want to achieve by saying what ever it is you want to say
– Check out what response you may get
– Be ready for a potentially emotional response

Let me give you an example – last week I met a man who I hadn’t seen for 3 to 4 years. I know him as being a jolly and friendly man so when he greeted me with a smile on his face and said ” You’re obviously enjoying the good life as you look chubbier” I hesitated. In this instance:
– I’m not sure he was conscious of what he wanted to achieve by saying this. I suspect he thought he was being funny
– He certainly didn’t think about the response he would get.
– I don’t think he was ready for an emotional response. I wonder what would have happened if I’d burst in to tear or started commenting on his own appearance?

This really does highlight for me that we do influence relationships one conversation at a time and that every conversation has consequences. So finding the right balance takes thought and most importantly awareness. I know there are times when I could do with thinking more before starting a conversation and saying what’s on my mind? What about you – any experiences of getting it very right or very wrong?

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Listening to Winston Churchill

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen”
Winston Churchill

I love this quote from Winston Churchill as it seems to me that so many people find it difficult to listen, really listen. No doubt you have heard and understand that communicating involves so much more than words, yet how often do you or those around you put more effort in to speaking than listening?

Over the years I have been criticised by people I’ve worked with, for being too quiet in meetings, comments have followed along the lines of……”If you want to be a leader in this organisation you need to speak up more and stamp your mark” Even as a relatively new manager many years ago I wondered about this. Now, with years of maturity and experience on my side I actually quite enjoy it when I hear these comments as I recognise that this isn’t about me but about the person making the statement. It usually comes from someone who doesn’t have the courage “to sit down and listen.”

In the workplace (and out of it) we all come across people who are:
– The broadcaster – the ones who have to take centre stage and get their point across loudly and regularly
– The external thinker – who want to say what’s on their mind in any situation
– The uncomfortable with silencer – who fills the space when there is any kind of silence

With these people I would question how much listening and observing they are doing with the recipients of the communication.

There are also people who are:
– Great at listening and observing and then can use all the information they have gathered to take a discussion forward
– There are the listeners who create a space for others to say what they need to say
– The questioners who listen to what is being said and use questions well to reach further understanding, direction, to show empathy and to reach decisions

In any working situation it can be appropriate to have people in a discussion who can take up any of these roles as they all have a purpose. For communication to be effective it may be that sometimes the more avid talkers need to have courage to sit down and listen and those who prefer to listen and observe have courage to stand up and speak.

What ever your preferred style – now may be the time to try out something new and see how well your working relationships grow.

The myth of engineers as communicators

Earlier this week I had an unusual experience that has left its mark on me. I spent the day at a client’s office and was in a series of meetings that kept me on my toes as a communicator. That in itself is fairly normal, what struck me as unusual was the number of times I was told through the day that I needed to understand that I was communicating with “Engineers”. The way it was said and the number of times it was said had me wondering if I should be approaching the way I was communicating with them as though I was talking to someone from a different planet or a particularly special species of being.

I have worked with engineers, accountants, lawyers and many other professions yet it seems that it is engineers who often hold on to their role/ background as a badge of honour or an excuse, to explain why they communicate the way they do. What comes across is the message – “You’ll have to excuse us, we can’t help it as we are engineers and we can only communicate in this particular way” This sentence usually follows an engineer communicating in a way that is either incredibly direct or not being able to communicate at all.

Admittedly engineers are more likely to be left brain than right brain thinkers; with more emphasis on facts, logic , structure and reasoning. But is it really true that all engineers have no capacity to use the right side of their brain? That they have no emotional awareness of self and others that would bring about a different style of communication? That they can’t see that the way they communicate impacts their relationships?

Personally, I think the “Engineer” thing is a cop-out. Having worked with engineers who are open to looking at different styles of communicating, who are willing to build their awareness of their own style and how it helps or hinders their communication, I am convinced that engineers, just like people in other roles, can and want to communicate effectively.

So to all the engineers out there who use the “I’m an engineer” thing as a label and excuse, I ask you to be open to the opportunities you can create for yourself to strengthen working relationships through your communication. And to the many engineers who I know are great communicators I apologies for including you with your comrades who continue to believe that they can only communicate the way they currently do it.

There’s a time and a place for certain conversations

A friend was telling me the other day about her experience in the bank. Standing in the queue she was feeling a bit fidgety as she had lots to do and wanted to get out of the bank as quickly as possible. The queue inched forward until there was just one person in front of her. The moment came when the gentleman in front was about to be served and at this precise moment his phone rang and he took the call.

He quickly became involved in a conversation, talking with a booming voice that could be heard by all. The call continued for several minutes with those around not sure what to do; should my friend jump ahead of him to the teller that was now free? Instead she waited patiently as the man chatted away. With baited breadth everyone waited for a signal that the call was coming to an end, instead the gentleman involved upped his volume and said to his phone friend – “What you mean you can’t pee?”

On the same day this happened I was out about in Sydney and overheard numerous conversations that made me realise that often we communicate in ways that suit us rather than the other person or people in the conversation. I think this happens in the workplace as well as in the bank.

Understanding what you want to achieve in any conversation is the starting point for working out the appropriate environment and time for your conversation to happen. Some people are particularly inclined to say things as they come in to their head to get things off their chest. Whilst this may work for them does it work for the recipients and is the information received in the way that’s intended?

It would seem that the person on the other end of the call wanted someone to listen and probably to be sympathetic. So how could the man in the bank have handled the conversation differently so he was able to do these things? In this case I think changing the time and the environment may have meant a better conversation taking place.

A conversation can only be truly successful if real listening takes place, finding the environment and time is a starting point for this to happen.

Reasons to avoid difficult conversations

Ever find yourself coming up with reasons to justify why you avoid having conversations that are difficult or confrontational?

As I talk with people in business about the challenges they are facing, it often becomes clear that they are avoiding the difficult conversations or using them as an opportunity to attack others. Which ever path is taken, it tends to mean that you have no chance of achieving the results you want. This has a corrosive effect on the business and for the people involved. Some of the unproductive knocks on effects of these behaviours are:

» Time wasted on conversations that don’t achieve anything
» Break down in relationships that are needed to get things done
» Loss of innovative thinking
» Negative impact on productivity due to time wasted on the wrong actions, the wrong conversations and remedial activities

A Mercer study (2005) showed that only 39% of employees believe mangers do a good job confronting issues before they turn in to major problems. If 60% managers aren’t dealing with the big issues why is it and what can be done about it? What does it mean about the behaviours of these managers, what stops them from confronting issues and having difficult conversations?

There seem to be two main reasons that people don’t have conversations that are difficult or potentially confrontational. Our ability and willingness to have these conversations is dependent on:

» Each person’s previous experience of dealing with difficult conversations – both in the workplace and in other aspects of life. For instance, someone who has been embarrassed, belittled or ignored may find it difficult to say what is on their mind
» The culture of the organisation – does it encourage debate at all levels, is conflict managed so it’s productive, is power/ hierarchy seen as a given when decisions and discussions take place?

Given that we all have different experiences that shape our ability to have difficult conversations and you may be working in an environment that doesn’t encourage these discussions to take place, what can you do and what are the likely results?

Fear tends to prevent people from having the difficult conversations. A starting point when coaching people facing this situation is to be clear on:
» What’s the result that you want to achieve by having the conversation?
And
» What are the consequences of not having the conversation?

Being clear on the outcome you want makes it easier to articulate it clearly and to hold your ground. And thinking about the consequences of not having the conversation often makes it clear that you have to do something differently. For instance, you may realise that not having the conversation is damaging the ability of you and others to get work done; it may be blocking the development of new ideas and could even lead to inappropriate actions being taken. On a personal level it may increase your stress levels, effect relationships and lead to disengagement.

The consequences of not doing anything usually outweigh the risk of doing something. To help you prepare and be ready for the difficult conversations that will arise at some point in your work, take a look at the Kandula tips on Having Difficult Conversations