Posts Tagged 'Open questions'

Making an Ass of U and Me

Do you ever have those AHA moments? Those moments when something becomes so obvious to you and you want to kick yourself for not realising it before hand. Do these moments come when you realise that you have made assumptions and may be the assumption is wrong – or does this just happen to me?

Over the last few weeks or so I’ve been registering some of the assumptions that I and those around me have made.

There was the occasion when I assumed that the person I was talking with would remember a conversation we’d had 3 years ago – it took me a while to realise they didn’t.

The time when I was pitching for some work and the potential client had assumed that I would do the work for an almost non-existent budget and I’d assumed they knew what the market rate would be.

And there have been numerous times at home where I’ve made decision based on assumptions about what would be OK for my partner only to realise later that a conversation would have been useful.

At some point after assumptions have been made, it’s dawned on me that assuming really is making an Ass of U and Me. The implications of this can be pretty intense with relationships suffering and time being wasted. When we make assumptions it tends to be due to laziness – laziness in our thinking and laziness in our communication.

It seems to me that a few simple techniques, once remembered will make a big difference and reduce the amount of time spent going up dark alleyways.

The techniques to embed are:

Ask yourself what assumptions you are making and whether or not they are reasonable – for instance, I assumed that the potential client would be paying market rates and should have checked this with them much earlier in our conversations than I did as we both invested considerable time in our discussions before we reached this point. It turned out that our assumptions didn’t match.

Ask questions to clarify, check and inform – I so easily could have asked the ex colleague whether or not they remembered us talking about on-boarding several years ago, before diving in to the conversation. This would have brought us to the same place at the start of the conversation.

Be clear about the assumptions you are making – it’s sometimes worth stating up front what assumptions you are making. If we go back to my communication mishap I made a number of assumptions and it would have been more productive to state some of these upfront to check if the group were OK with them.

What assumptions have you made that have got in the way, led to conversations stumbling or led to you and others going in different directions. I’m assuming we all do this or is it just me?


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.

Asking the million dollar question

In my work I’m lucky to collaborate with some great people who have an attitude of wanting to do things differently. Inevitably I am working with them because they want to do something different in the way they communicate; this opens up a plethora of opportunities for the way they communicate as an organisation, a team or individually.

Working one on one with leaders we often reach a point where we are exploring strategies that will engage other people; in most cases this comes down to asking the million dollar question or questions.

Let’s take a typical situation……..You are about to have a team meeting and want to gain commitment from the team to take a particular direction e.g to manage something that is changing, increase performance or engage new customers. Before you go in to this meeting you know that there are likely to be some tensions, emotion and resistance. You know the team should be involved in forming the outcome yet you’re feeling uncertain about how to handle the meeting. What do you do?

Often the starting point for leaders is to find ways to avoid a discussion about the emotions or the elephants in the room and to shift in to TELL mode. This is a strategy used by many to reach an outcome which on the surface may appear to have reached commitment. For some it then comes as a surprise when the required actions to deliver on the change, the performance improvement or the new customer, don’t happen.

For the leader an alternative path to take before you go in to the meeting could include:
– Planning the parts of your meeting
– Planning what you will say to set the context for the change
– Mapping out the real or potential issues and hot spots
– Thinking about the million dollar questions you will ask

Probably the most difficult part is to think about the relevant million dollar questions and in particular how to use these questions. What ever your million dollar questions are, you are looking for the questions that:
– Involve people in the discussion
– Allow people to give their opinions
– Create a safe space for issues to be raised
– Move the team towards a collective outcome

Inevitably, your million dollar questions will need to be open questions – the How, What, Where, When and Why questions. On top of this, they need to be open questions with thought. Asking “Why aren’t you committed to this?” is likely to create a more defensive or negative response than asking “What do you need to commit to these changes?”

For many, finding the million dollar questions is hit and miss. To hit more than you miss will take practice and awareness; the planning steps mentioned above will help you to go from random shots to thoughtful engagement.

Communicating involves so much more than words

Walking through the streets of Sydney CBD I started to look at what and how people were communicating as they were going about their business. Given my comments in my recent blog about “What do leaders look like” I settled my eyes on people to see what they were communicating. I did this without eavesdropping on any conversations.

Often we think that we communicate only when we open our mouths to speak. In fact there are so many other ways we say things.

An obvious one is what we wear. There are certain uniforms that we put on to fit the situation we’re in: a common sight in the CBD is the suit, an immediate statement that communicates I’m a business person. If you see someone wearing a suit who has added in something different – a bright tie, crazy socks or a yellow jacket, then these additions also communicate something and from this we make a judgement. Your judgement about the wacky socks may be different to mine, it doesn’t really matter, what matters is that the style, the colour and the materials communicate information to us.

Think how different your thinking is when you observe someone wearing a sports shirt in the colour of a particular team. Again those clothes communicate something to you and this will vary depending on your views about the particular team.

Beyond clothes there are other things that communicate. I remember a boss I had who use to comment on the way people walk along the street. He would assess whether or not he would employ people by the way they walked. Ok this wasn’t the cleanest of recruitment policies, it did however give some useful indicators about the individuals attitude, energy level and drive.

The handshake is another aspect of body language that communicates. Personally, the limp handed shake creates an immediate negative response for me. This could be different for you.

There are other aspects of appearance that also communicate:the accessories you carry and the way you carry them, the shoes you wear, your hair style, colour, cleanliness, demeanor and attitude.

Adding in to the communication mix are the expressions on your face. Walking through the CBD the expression I noticed most was one of concentration or possibly distraction. A few had smiles on their face and others appeared sad or angry – was this really what they were feeling or my interpretation?

There are two main points from this: firstly, it is worth considering what you are communicating by the way you look and act. Secondly, question yourself about the judgements and assumptions you make about others based on what you think they are communicating. Only by having a conversation and asking questions can we really find out about people and gather useful and real information about them.

Finding the art of conversation

How do you react when you walk in to a room of people who you don’t know?

Is your immediate instinct to run for the hills fearing that you either can’t open your mouth or if you do the most inane nonsense will fall out of it?

Or do you look at the people in the room and say to yourself that you have an opportunity to have some fun and a chance to get to know people?

If your first response is actually one of fear or apprehension take comfort in the fact that you aren’t alone. For different reasons many people prefer to avoid situations where they are with people they don’t know or people that they know only slightly and they may have to make conversation.
Continue reading ‘Finding the art of conversation’