The Voice for Insightful Leadership with Shelley Row, P.E.

Posts tagged "communication"

Is your life hectic? It seems that everyone I talk with laments their frenzied life. Have you ever considered that your customer or client is also frenzied? You can add to their frenzy with uncertainty or create an oasis of calm certainty through proactive communication. Proactive communication is a simple technique that will set you apart because of the calming response of the customer’s brain to certainty.

Before we examine further, understand that uncertainty activates a threat response in the brain. Certainty activates a reward response in the brain. If your customer is stressed, that reward response will feel like a breath of fresh air in an otherwise hectic day. They will remember that good feeling. Wouldn’t it be nice for you to be the source of that feeling for your client? That’s why you want to master proactive communication.

Proactive communication is simply providing useful information to your client in advance of their needing it. Proactive communication gives them certainty about a meeting, a delivery, a job, a deliverable or whatever it is that you provide to them.  Take Krissia, for example.

My life is particularly hectic and stressful right now. I plan to sell the house my late husband and I shared for 17 years (he bought this house in 1981). Preparing the house to be on the market has been both stressful and emotional. It feels like a sea of uncertainty and I don’t need more.

To prep the house for the market, I’m having it deep cleaned. The first person I contacted agreed to the cleaning date and scheduled a time to stop by to assess the house.  She didn’t show or call. Talk about uncertainty.  That’s when Krissia was recommended. After looking at the house, we scheduled the cleaning day. Before I had a chance to worry if she still planned to show up, I received a text from her confirming the date, the arrival time of her crew and the duration of the work. She was ON IT. Yes, it’s simply good customer service but, it feels like more than that. I never felt a flicker of uncertainty. My brain never went into threat response. Her simple and short text was proactive communication that gave me certainty. The same happened with Oscar whose crew cleaned the yard and with Chuck whose company washed the windows. Each proactively communicated with me so I never worried.

It seems so simple and yet…it’s not. I see companies all the time who add to the client’s stress by creating uncertainty.

How well do you and your organization provide proactive communication?

  • Do you confirm meetings in advance (with the location, agenda and objective)?
  • Do you confirm your arrival time for a lunch meeting?
  • Do you confirm the delivery date for the report you’re writing?
  • Do you provide progress reports? (Once upon a time, I worked for a demanding boss who constantly phoned and emailed for project information. We began providing him a short email every Friday with the status of all the projects of interest to him. We gave him certainty. The calls and emails stopped.)
  • Do you confirm order delivery for products or services you provide?
  • Do you confirm late delivery of the order, report, or service? Proactive communication is even more essential when it’s bad news. The customer may not like the news, but your proactive communication demonstrates that you are on top of the situation, that you are monitoring status and that you are interested enough to let them know. All of that is certainty.

Whether Krissia, Oscar or Chuck, none of them knew my world was spinning wildly out of control. In the midst of my whirlwind, their simple proactive communication provided certainty. Certainty activated my reward circuit and provided calm. And I will buy calm from them again. That’s what proactive communication does.

What does proactive communication look like in your organization and how well are you providing it? It could be the very thing to your client needs to feel certain that they like working with you.

You’ve been there: a dull presentation; a pointless meeting; a boring training program. And, maybe you’ve given a tedious presentation, presided over an unenthusiastic meeting or provided training when no one seemed engaged.  It doesn’t have to be that way and the fix is surprisingly easy. Here are four steps to creating engagement and retention in your audience.

  1. Purpose. In my experience, far too little time is spent clarifying purpose. For a meeting, what is the one action you want from the meeting or the participants?  For a presentation, what difference have you made for the audience one week or one month later?  For training, what difference have you made for the audience one year later? Maybe they leave with their perspective shifted in a meaningful way, or they behave differently, or they conduct their work in a new way. Whatever it is, the key to successful engagement is clarity on the outcome.
  2. Knowledge. Once you’re clear on the purpose, what knowledge does the participant need to achieve the purpose? They may require specific education, awareness of key facts or development of core skills. Identify the essential elements of learning they need to achieve the purpose.
  3. Application. Here’s the one big difference between what you did in the past and this new approach. For each element of knowledge from step 2, how can you help the participants (whether in a meeting, presentation or training) apply it in their work world? What questions can you ask to pique their interest? What discussion can you engage in that will cause them to think about application? When you present or run a meeting, it’s easy to think that you are the key person; however, the action is in the heads of the participants.  Your job is to get them to think. Learning happens in their heads when they apply the new idea to their world. Retention comes from application.
  4. Reflection. It seems counterintuitive but an excellent way to increase engagement and retention is to provide a few minutes of quiet time at the end of the presentation, meeting or training. Don’t misunderstand. This is not nap time or time to check emails. This is intentional time for the participant to think about their new understanding. Questions may include: What does this new knowledge mean to your work? What will you do differently? What new realization do you have about yourself or your world view? These questions make your content personal to them. When it’s personal to them, they care, and they remember.

The next time you have an important meeting, presentation or training, try these steps.  It is guaranteed to create engagement and retention because they do the thinking and that means they remember.

It was a dark, stormy night. Rain was falling in buckets as we drove to Houston to pick up my sister at the airport for the holidays. The white lane lines were scarcely visible. We had a general outline of the road but were stressed because of the limited visibility.  Suddenly, the road lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree. The lane lines were raised reflective markers and they glowed through the dark rain like beacons. The road was clearly visible.  There was no question that we were on our path and our relief was palpable.

Your plans for 2019 are like the road. Perhaps you set your goals and they are completely clear in your mind. But how well have you communicated those goals to staff?  Even if you see clearly, your staff may not. They may be generally on the right road but without clarity, they can feel the stress of uncertainty and that wastes energy and time. When your goals are crystal clear, your staff is relieved of that uncertainty and can focus on execution. It’s like having the road to their goals lit up with reflective markers.  How do you bring that goal clarity into your workplace?

  1. Set clear goals. Your staff wants to know that you, as the leader, know the direction of the organization. If you haven’t already, take the time to consider your 2019 goals. It’s like picking the route you’ll travel this year just as we picked the road to Houston. When you think about 2019, what course are you on? What are your goals for the year? What are the major activities you intend to accomplish? Write them down now.
  2. Metrics. How will you know that you achieved the goals? I like to ask clients, “What does success look like?” This question is a great way to crystalize your expectations. Success may look like a revenue target, or a target for new clients, or specific behaviors for customer service. Once you know what success looks like, what are the metrics? Maybe it’s financial or maybe it’s that staff manage client calls in an efficient, friendly way. For each goal, write down the metrics or behaviors you associate with your goals.
  3. Share with staff repeatedly. You need goal clarity and so do your staff. Don’t underestimate the difficulty of assisting staff to internalize the same goals. This is a key job for you! You must share the goals and share them again and again, to embed them in long-term memory. Once is not enough. Neither is printing them on a poster and thinking you’re done. Repeated, specific goals, with metrics, are the reflective markers along the way that reduce stress and provide clarity. It’s key for staff to know, really know, the expectations for them and the organization. Clarity eliminates wasted energy on speculation and allows all that energy to be directed into performance.
  4. Report progress. Progress reports demonstrate that you are serious about the goals. Visible reporting of progress reinforces the goal and creates more clarity. It reassures staff that they remain on the right road and that their way forward is still lit with bright lights.
  5. Celebrate success. Divide the goal into chunks and have mini-celebrations along the way. I recently read Chip and Dan Heath’s book, The Power of Moments. They note the success of dividing a big goal into chunks that can be rewarded along the way. The brain likes rewards for meaningful progress. Completion of interim steps encourages one to tackle the next step. What intermediate milestones can you celebrate?

We arrived in Houston safely and with less stress due to the clear, lighted path. You can provide your staff with a clear, well-lit path by identifying your goals and clearly articulating them … regularly. When you do, you reduce their uncertainty and stress so that they can focus on performance. And that makes for a great 2019!

brain and heartHoliday shopping. Holiday cooking. Holiday travel plans. Holiday decorating. Holiday visitors. Holiday hubbub. It’s easy to get lost in the holiday this-and-that. In the midst of the holiday bustle, I challenge you to also reflect and plan but in a different way. Instead of cataloging accomplishments, reflect first on what you accomplished, then on how it felt as you worked toward those accomplishments. You might discover insights that impact your 2019 goals and how you work toward them.

For example, as I reviewed my 2018 accomplishments and considered my 2019 goals, I mused at how (or if) infotuition applies here. You’re thinking, “Infotuition?” Infotuition is the integration of thinking and feeling in leadership and life. Infotuition leads me to realize that it matters both what you do and how you feel as you do it.

Try this. Identify the goals you accomplished in 2018 of which you are most proud. You may want to separate them into work, personal, community and your spiritual life. Now, consider how you felt as you worked toward these goals. Be honest. Notice what the answers tell you. Here’s what I discovered.

Shelley’s 2018 work accomplishments: earned my Certified Speaking Professional™ designation, was named an Inc. magazine as a top 100 leadership speaker, created the Insightful Leadership brand, produced a new demo video, and engaged new clients.

As I worked toward these goals I felt: Proud and pleased with the growth of the work but busy. Really, really busy. Stressed and frazzled on some days. Barely enough time to serve clients and contribute to my community service goals.

My take-away? While I’m proud of my accomplishments and want to accomplish more in 2019, I intend to approach it differently so that I create more space in the day to be creative and to devote some time to other interests, too.

Now it’s your turn. Go ahead….list your accomplishments. There’s a space here.

My accomplishments at work are:

How did I feel as I worked toward these goals? (Relaxed, exhilarated, inspired, peaceful, realistic, frantic, proud)

My accomplishments in my personal life are:

How did I feel as I worked toward these goals?

My accomplishments for my community are:

How did I feel as I worked toward these goals?

My accomplishments in my spiritual life are:

How did I feel as I worked toward these goals?

What did you discover? Are you over-extending in some areas at the expense of others? Is the price you pay for accomplishment too high? Infotuition teaches that it’s just as important to consider how you achieve your goals as what you achieve.

With this in mind, write your 2019 goals together with how you’d like to feel along the way (relaxed, exhilarated, inspired, peaceful, realistic, proud or rested). Let that clarity color the approach you take to your goals and guide the atmosphere with which you surround yourself. Now that’s infotuition!

Photo Copyright : Jan Hruby

attentionAs Thanksgiving approaches in a couple of weeks, let’s turn it upside down. Rather than giving thanks, let’s give those around us something to be thankful for.  Here’s the perfect gift – your attention.

A friend recently said to me, “The most precious gift you can give someone is your attention.” That idea stuck.  Today’s world is cluttered with demanding gadgets that insistently beep and buzz until attended to; pop-ups that relentlessly hog the screen and bully their way into the forefront.  Attention becomes a precious bit of energy that we pilfer away carelessly.

Here are three actions you can take to give others that precious gift of your attention.

  1. Your next meeting. In the next meeting you participate in or lead, walk in the door, sit down and put your phone conspicuously on the table face down and don’t touch it until you leave. As conversation unfolds, look each person in the eye and listen. Notice their reaction and the quality of the relationship that is generated by the simpe giving of your attention.
  2. Visitors in your office. You are knee-deep in emails when your co-worker walks in the door. Stop typing; remove your hands from the keyboard and turn to face your guest. For the next few minutes, give them your full attention. Perhaps you’ll find that you reach resolution quicker or you generate more interesting ideas together or, maybe, the person feels heard. That last one is indeed a precious gift.
  3. The others. This last one is my personal favorite.  As you go about your day, notice all the small interactions you have with the other people like Tim, the person taking your order at Panera; Joyce, the checker at the grocery store; or Juanita, the bank teller (all people I encountered today). Maybe for you it’s Julio who makes your coffee or Susie at the dry cleaners. Whoever it is, for each of them, pause, make eye contact, hold eye contact, smile and engage in momentary conversation. The exchange may not last a minute and yet it matters. These are people accustomed to being overlooked.  When you instead give attention to them, notice how they brighten–and all it cost you was a moment of attention.

And for me, I would like to thank you for reading. Through reading, you give me the gift of your attention. For that, I am most grateful. I hope you go and share the gift of your attention with others.

I was in my hometown of Smithville, Texas for the big Jamboree celebration. Jamboree includes a coronation, parade, dances and a livestock show and sale. For the livestock show, kids raise steers, pigs, goats, chickens and rabbits to be judged and sold. The two-year old granddaughter, Kyndall, of my childhood friend was fascinated by the rabbits. An eighth-grader holding a white bunny walked past and Kyndall was ON IT. She patted the rabbit, rubbed its ears and, in a moment of brilliance, she bent over to be at eye level with the rabbit as though she was communicating with it. It was an adorable moment that captured my attention. Here’s why.

In today’s world where email, instant messenger, LinkedIn messages and more are a predominant form of communication, the insightful leader understands the importance of relating person to person (or, for Kyndall, person to bunny). Here are three tips to be more relatable, particularly for high-stakes conversations.

  1. Make eye contact. Kyndall got it right. She made every effort to make eye contact with the rabbit. You, too, must make every effort to make eye contact and that can only happen in person. Increasingly, the staff I work with seek to hide behind email, but an insightful leader meets in person and makes eye contact – for real. Yes, it’s easier to email but the personal touch makes all the difference. Force yourself, make the time, and make the effort to talk to your staff face-to-face and eye-to-eye. That’s how you connect as people.
  2. Use language that is relatable. Multisyllabic, pretentious (big, showy) words may make us feel educated but they create a barrier to communication. Recently, I assisted a client to craft an important communication to all employees in the company. We intentionally used words that are simple and understandable to all. You create connection via your communication. Think about the simplest terms you can use to communicate effectively. Simple, concise and clear are the recipe for relatability.
  3. Show your interest. Kyndall carefully ran her tiny fingers through the rabbit’s fur and over its ears. As I watched, it was clear that she loved the rabbit and the rabbit sat calmly under her touch. Your staff may not have soft ears and fluffy fur but you can still communicate your interest through sincere curiosity about their perspective and interest in their work life. How do you express your interest in your staff? What do you know about their thoughts and ideas? Do you inquire about their suggestions to improve their work? Like Kyndall’s rabbit, people respond to those who they sense are interested. What would your staff say about your level of interest in them?

Let’s learn from Kyndall and her rabbit. As insightful leaders, you can take a few simple steps to be more relatable to your staff. It’s pays off in dedication and the hard work that comes from feeling connected.

 

“Just the facts: they speak for themselves.” That’s the approach many take when they want to persuade someone to their point of view.

But do they speak for themselves? Not so much.

From my technical background, I have observed a fact-based approach to persuasion many times but rarely successfully. It’s no wonder. The brain isn’t designed to respond to facts alone. Analytical people are responsive to reasoned arguments more often than others are; however, even they need to be motivated to pay attention. A logical argument takes a lot of energy and is less likely to work for most people

Thankfully, there are other persuasive techniques that are more promising. (Kevin Dutton’s work provides excellent insights into persuasion). After all, when persuading someone, the goal is to get to “yes,” you see (YES, UC).

1. You-focused. “What interests you about this issue?” And, “We want to address your questions first.” The word “you” is powerful. It is immediately relevant and it is always about our favorite subject. However, all too often, we are so preoccupied with our view that we think too little about theirs.

Before starting the persuasive argument, consider how the issue looks from their perspective. Why is it of interest to them? Given their background, what viewpoint are they likely to have and why? (This presumes that you did the research to know their background and preferences.) How can you put their interests in the forefront of the discussion? When you figure that out, start the discussion with that point of view. The first point can be the most influential.

2. Empathetic. People are more easily persuaded if they have a sense of relatedness, which leads to empathy. A lack of empathy can have the opposite effect. A 2002 study of doctors found that those with a less empathetic tone of voice were sued more often. Empathy counts a lot. Before beginning a persuasive discussion, take stock of the ways you connect with this person – schools, sports teams, background, and hobbies. Use examples or analogies based on these connections that reinforce your persuasive points. This is a step toward establishing empathy.

We like people better if we feel an empathetic connection. Mirror neurons help if we allow ourselves to notice the expressions, postures and feel of the other person. We start to feel what they feel. But we don’t pick up these subtle clues if we are thinking about a practical argument and push aside feelings. Relax so that you pick up on feeling clues.

3. Simple. A leader once told me, “If I can’t explain it, I can’t sell it.” Exactly. A pile of detailed, convoluted data rarely sells the idea. Neither will a barrage of multiple points. Make it easy for them to grasp and remember. What is the one thing you want them to remember, do, or agree to? Is it simple, clear and unambiguous? The reasoning part of the brain (prefrontal cortex) is energy intensive. It is easily derailed by fatigue, distraction or emotion. If you catch the person when they are tired or stressed, their ability to focus on detailed arguments is reduced. Keep it simple; include factual and emotional appeals; state the main point first and throughout. Repetition sticks. Repetition sticks.

4. Unexpected. We tend to be captivated by and remember the unexpected. Brain research shows that the emotion center in the brain (amygdala) is more sensitive to unexpected stimuli whether positive or negative. In a study, diners were divided into three groups. At the end of the meal, one group received a single candy; the second group received two candies; the third group received one candy but the server stopped as though having a change of heart, returned and gave an additional candy. The increased tip amounts (compared to the control group) for each group were 3.3%, 14.1% and a whopping 23% for the last group. The unexpected nice treatment caused a positive emotional reaction.

A friend of mine tried to persuade a company to hire her. She happened to be traveling to Maine after her interview. She mailed them a live lobster with a thank you note, and shortly afterward she got the job. Is there an unexpected twist you can add to your argument – something visual, tactile, or humorous? The unexpected turn will be more persuasive.

5. Confident. Confident and credible people are more persuasive. Walk in straight and tall; look them in the eye; have a firm handshake, and speak with confidence. A truly confident person doesn’t need to be a bully because they exude an air of self-assurance. A confident person is also open to hearing others’ concerns. If you sense concern, acknowledge it. Negative feelings come from a threat response in the brain. The threat response is reduced when the feeling is acknowledged. “I’m picking up that this topic is uncomfortable/not resonating/disagreeable for you. Tell me more about that.” There is no defensiveness but rather a confident interest in understanding fully.

Facts alone rarely lead to persuasion. Improve your persuasive approach by focusing on “you” statements, creating an empathetic connection, keeping the message simple, using an unexpected twist and exuding a quiet, confidence. YES, UC will make a difference. You’ll see.

 

Stay calmIt’s going to be a tough meeting. The topic is controversial and you feel strongly about the outcome.  Plus, there’s a person in the meeting who routinely unnerves you. It’s the kind of situation that could easily cause you to over-react and not behave at your best.  If you let the situation get the best of you, you are unlikely to achieve the outcome that you wish. What steps can you take to resource yourself to remain calm and in control of your emotions?

Recognize the Situation in Advance.  To manage yourself in situations that are challenging, it helps to know in advance when you will be in that situation.  It’s not that hard to do as triggering events are repeatable.  Think about it. Who regularly gets on your nerves at work? What situations annoy you every time? Maybe it’s when people show up unprepared despite your efforts to provide materials in advance. Or those people who just don’t care and you do. The more you can identify the types of situations and the people that knock you off center the more likely you can prepare in advance.

Make a Plan. Before the meeting, take a break to clear your thinking and make a plan.

Understand your Communication Style. What is your natural communication style: direct, engaging, hands-off? Consider the people in the meeting. How do they typically communicate and will they react constructively to your style? How will you adapt your approach to enable them to be at their best?

Prime Yourself. Priming is a technique where you feed your brain positive information so that it is in that mindset. Because of the mind/body connection, priming the brain results in subtle but powerful shifts in behavior. For example, before the big meeting you choose the story to tell your brain. “I dread this meeting. Brian is always so difficult in meetings and I’m concerned that the meeting won’t go the way I want.”  Or, “This will be a good meeting. I’m capable of managing my reactions and I’ll exhibit calm strength if others over-react. And, we’ll accomplish our objectives.” Priming with the second option is much more likely to yield the outcome you wish.

Use If/Then Planning. Consider examples of how the meeting could unfold and the actions you’ll take to manage any problems.  Examples could be: If Brian starts interrupting everyone and dominating the meeting, then I will calmly ask that he allow others to offer their ideas. If Brian takes the meeting off-track, then I will restate the objective and re-focus the discussion. If the discussion begins to go in a direction with which I don’t agree, then I will make an effort to be open to new ideas and objectively consider the best option.

Work the plan. You’ve primed yourself with positive information and you have a plan. Now, pay attention to yourself and others to stick with your plan. Notice your level of agitation. Is Brian getting to you? If so, notice your tension and consciously think about slowing your breathing; relax your jaw. These simple techniques help to rebalance the nervous system.  Also, attend to the level of agitation in others. Intervene if you notice someone getting anxious. Listen to and validate their comment and redirect the discussion so that the agitated person has a chance to settle their nervous system. Summarize the discussion frequently to make progress.

With a little preparation, you can transform a damaging situation into a productive one and you remain calm instead of becoming testy. Testy helps no one; calm helps everyone.