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WHY GET SERIOUS ABOUT LISTENING SKILLS WHEN YOU MANAGE PEOPLE?

Let us not mince words: deep listening is a 21st century hack for productivity. We dedicate so much time on learning how to communicate, how to negotiate, what words to use to influence others, then we do not spend the equal amount of time on our inner skills. We simply do not know how to be an effective listener that goes beyond just nodding and establishing an eye contact. What does it mean to listen to people that it might trigger sustainable change in your management style?

Do you know that executives spend about 83% of their time o listening? * HBR claimed in 2017 that “On average, about one-quarter of CEOs’ days are spent alone, including sending emails. Another 10% is spent on personal matters, and 8% is spent traveling. The remainder (56%) is spent with at least one other person, which mostly involves meetings, most of which are planned ahead of time.”** so something between 56 to 83% leaders listen. Unfortunately, I have not heard yet about the research on the quality of this listening. There are so many articles on external distractions connected with technology. What about such inner distractions as biases, prejudices, inner clutter, fears and habitual interactions with people?

If you want to be an effective leader and get serious about your listening skills, start with evaluating what non-listening type you might incorporate from time to time.

Types of non-listeners

An aggressive non-listener.

This type just has so much experience and knowledge (usually gained at highly responsibilite and highly exposed positions) that they do not want to waste their precious time on listening to things they have already heard. Moreover, the ones that did not work in the past. An Aggressive Non-Listener has very limited trust in learning something new from the others, so he/she might pay attention to few people in the team who are stronger negotiators than they are or who gained the advantage and proved themselves in the past. But generally, this non-listener doesn’t value much other people’s opinions.  Remember, if you judge others as less smart than you, it can get in your way and you will stop listening to them.

Common belief: I know what you are going to say after a few first words.

Typical behavior: interrupting, snap and cynical comments, questions that lead to exposing somebody’s ignorance, excessive using lack-of-time excuses, body language that shows disrespect or indifference (no eye contact, extended looks away, turning into different direction than your conversationalist), might give short speeches instead of talking, sometimes could listen only to parts of a message that interest them and reject or ignore everything else.

Remedy: If you happen to suffer from this condition, try these:

  • Notice who you treat this way
  • Observe what topics make you feel superior to others
  • Switch on curiosity. Whenever you feel the urge to stop you conversationalist in the middle of the sentence, think “I am going to listen for all the things that make me curious in what he says” or “I wonder how she can surprise me here?”
  • Remember 5 minutes spent on curious listening can be more productive than 30 minutes of convincing somebody else that they are not right.

A distracted non-listener

This non-listener has a lot of going on right now. Deadline is pushing deadline and priorities resemble more the unpredictable wheel of fortune than something they can manage. What do they do instead of listening and being present? They are in their heads planning and forecasting.

Common belief: I am so busy that I cannot stop thinking about what I have to do.

Typical behavior: multitasking (e.g. talking to somebody and reading an email), their mind is wandering even if they are in a meeting; it is hard for them to keep track of what’s happening around;  they have difficulty keeping track of the flow of any conversation, they might hop from one topic to the next, they comments tend to be chaotic and not connected with the main subject;

Remedy: Once I heard “Wherever you are, be all there.” If you are this non-listener you are probably never fully present, not with the family, not in the meeting and not even at one-on-one. How to be all focused on one moment and time?

  • Write down all the task you need to fulfill.
  • Establish your own priorities, however, do not get attached to them too much. These are priorities for right now.
  • Switch on trust. Whenever you are at the meeting, remember that you have already noted down you tasks for today, so they are safe. You will not miss anything.
  • To be sure that you are here and know use paraphrasing: repeat what you have just heard with you own words. Start: “I want to be sure that I fully understand you. You just said… Have I missed anything?”

A creative non-listener

If you happen to be a Creative Non-Listener, it might be virtually impossible for you to carefully listen to others and appear creative at the same time. Because for this type, the creativity is being in their head and experiencing a non-stoppable performance of ideas, concepts and possibilities. It might happen that when they connect the dots in their heads, they instantly go from A to Z and this way discover completely new territory but at the same time they lose touch with the reality. The result? Your team will get lost in your ideas and stop using their own resourcefulness.

Common belief: I have so many great ideas.

Typical behavior: interrupting, chaotic speech, changing topics, connecting ideas that are difficult to follow, enthusiasm, energy and optimism, might spent too much time in the future, superficial discussion over important topics, hyperactivity that might make the rest of the team quiet and withdrawn.

Remedy: Because there are so many benefits to being creative, people does not learn how to be a receiving part of a discussion. However, it seems that this skill makes leaders particularly good at developing next generations of managers. If you want to move your leadership to the next level, learn how to encourage others’ creativity.   

  • Embrace the silence.
  • Focus on forming insightful questions that naturally continue the conversation
  • Switch on note taking. Write down the things you find interesting in what others bring up at the meeting. If you cannot take notes at the time, listen with the intention to highlight what you liked about others’ input at the end of the discussion.
  • Leave your ideas to be expressed at the end or at all if they have already been said.

A defensive non-listener

A Defensive Non-Listener feels attacked or endangered because they hear a general statement and personalize it. This underlying impression takes its toll while listening to others. For example, they might take innocent comments about the project as personal attacks on their managing skills. Such listening creates impressions of insecurity and a lack of confidence. Sometimes, however, they might behave like a cross-examining attorney, namely they will be listening very carefully just to collect information that can be used against the other person.

Common belief: They are going to hurt me/attack me/expose me.

Typical behavior: defensiveness, excuses, ‘yes, but’ game, taking jokes or sarcastic comments personally, personalizing impersonal statements, avoiding certain topics, blaming game.

Remedy: Because being a Defensive Non-Listener is pretty common in a stressful period or in the company where it is important to find the culprit, it might be a good idea to implement a few ways of dealing with it.

  • Whenever you spot you have started to behave as a Defensive Non-Listener, slow down and take deep breaths to self-soothe.
  • Do not interrupt.
  • Gather feedback about the topic that seems to trigger you.
  • Switch on comparing to standards. Do not assign personal meaning to what others say. Instead focus on standards that need to be met.
  • Ask for specifics around the standards.
  • Find something to agree with.
  • Think what actions need to be done to have a positive outcome next time.

An intrusive non-listener

An Intrusive Non-listener gives an unsolicited advice whenever they can and, however, they have good intentions with these comments in private life, as in professional one, they just do more harm than good. You might believe that with limited time you have at work, it is natural to provide your people with quick answers. Besides, you probably have the feeling that it strengthens your authority. Quite the opposite. Too much advice makes your people more dependent on you, reduces their initiative and, let’s face it, annoys those who want to develop.

Common belief: I can help you. Only I know how.

Typical behavior: too much monitoring, so called saving-time strategies, too much instruction giving and control comparing to too little delegating, treating experienced employees as beginners, reducing independence, leaving too little space for people to take ownership.

Remedy: If this listening type sounds familiar:

  • Refresh the concept of situational leadership, which is an adaptive leadership style that was described by Ken Blanchard. Firstly, evaluate your team members in terms of their maturity and choose the leadership style that best fits their goals and circumstances. Some of them might be absolute beginners, adepts, independent workers or experts. Depending on it use instructions, delegation, or coaching as your tools.
  • Switch on humility. Humble leaders give their people chance to share their views, spark creativity in others, encourage more ownership by giving the team a voice in decision making process.
  • Use storytelling instead of advice giving, for example, say: “Your situation reminds me of the moment when I/person X…. What I did then was…. What’s in it for you?”***

After evaluation

It might happen that you will recognize more than one style in listening. Or that one of them is used by you more often that you would like to. Don’t worry.

Susan A. David said “At work, especially when things get intense, we too often fall back on our old stories about who we believe ourselves to be.” I couldn’t agree more. That’s why whenever I work with leaders, I show them my concept of personal development.

It reminds an atom diagram.

There is our center, the core basic self. Whenever we learn new things, whenever we try and adopt new behaviors, we move further from the core. Too much of stress, chaos, or intense experiences the gravitation pulls us back to our basic patterns.

In that view development is about how fast we recognize that we got back to the core and how fast we dust ourselves up and try again to do our best.

* According to Oscar Trimboli during the podcast “The Modern Manager” episode 42.

**https://hbr.org/2017/10/a-survey-of-how-1000-ceos-spend-their-day-reveals-what-makes-leaders-successful

*** https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/veiled-advice-hallway-coaching-part-4-inga-bieli%C5%84ska-pcc-ma/

 

Photo by Antenna on Unsplash
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QUESTION OF THE DAY

Growing a culture requires a good storyteller. Changing a culture requires a persuasive editor. Ryan Lilly, Entrepreneurship and economic development consultant

The question of the day is: What team culture other than your own speaks to you?

That particular question is very interesting for two different reasons. It will make you think what culture you are creating right now with your own team. Second, what other ways of creating team culture are appealing to you.

Somehow, on this discovery, you may find out that you like what you created. Or that you like the majority of what you created. You may start noticing interesting aspects of other teams. For example, one you used to be a part of, has something you want to emulate in your own team. This way it can trigger some kind of change. Think. What team culture other than your own speaks to you?

 

HALLWAY COACHING – THE TOOL FOR A BUSY MANAGER

The more I work with managers, the more I feel they could really do great things with the use of some coaching tools. And I am not the only one who thinks that. Companies keep sending leaders on extensive courses, so they can implement GROW, OSCAR or GOLD coaching models in their daily work. I could not be happier. I know coaching approach works wonders.

However, it is not fully taken advantage of at work. Mostly, because it takes time to have GROW session done in an office and there are some issues with the concept of discretion. One of my clients told me, “Inga, I just simply don’t have time to do a 45-minute coaching session often than once a year. And if I do it once a year, I may as well not do it at all.”

Because of such a feedback and being inspired by Robert Hargrove’s Masterful Coaching I created the concept of hallway coaching – the set of simple questions and remarks that help leaders shift people’s thinking models. The main principle of hallway coaching is to get the best possible results in the shortest possible time.

There are four basic framework we teach leaders to use while coaching:

  • Getting out of the maze
  • Thinking partner
  • Veiled Advice
  • Remodeling thinking models

These talks enable leaders to develop in their employees new skills, help them seek fresh solution and go beyond typical actions and what is crucial, they are great tools to reframe excuses.

Getting out of the maze

The most common complaint I get from my clients, who lead teams, is the fact that their people do not try harder and that they tend to use the same actions/solutions on and on even if these are the least optimal ones. As sometimes people really do not know what to do and what way to choose, they might feel lost or stuck in the labyrinth. Maybe all the known options look unappealing at the time. It is possible that they lack some courage and do not investigate any original and courageous choices. Eventually they come a leader for a piece of advice. Of course, it would be easy to tell them what to do, however, it would be the least educational technique to choose from.  What I love about coaching tools for managers is that they eradicate giving pieces of advice and giving instruction. They use some self-discovery approach and that’s why they are truly beneficial for team members.

Getting out of the maze is a set of questions that help people get out of the rut of their thinking and help them move forward to a solution. The main idea behind hallway coaching is based on the premises that a good question is a leader’s best friend since it gives the best possible results in the shortest possible time.   A good question asked in the right moment can trigger innovative thinking so employees can declare new possibilities, fresh actions and original solutions to old problems.

A leader could ask some of these questions:

  • What is possible?
  • What can you do more of?
  • What can you do less of?
  • How can you approach this issue differently?
  • What would X do in this situation?
  • What should happen so you could do Y…?
  • What would make new action worthwhile?
  • Let’s imagine you are not going to change anything in your way of dealing with this issue, what would be the worst case scenario then?
  • What may you lose dealing with it old way?
  • What benefits may you/a team/a company get form a new way of action?

So as you can see the purpose of these questions is to stretch thinking and to play with different ideas in the safe environment so an employee gets Ariadne’s thread to get out of the maze and feels no longer stuck.

Thinking partner

We all love obvious or elegant solutions, don’t we. How common are they in modern fast-pacing and changing business environment? Not as common as you would like to, probably. Some issues might not have simple answers. Yet. They do not have them yet. As a leader you must have seen thousand situations like that while managing your team.

And in moments like this your employee may need a thinking partner more than a boss, a teacher and mentor.

A thinking partner role is to:

  • Be a helpful conversationalist
  • Assist in finding excellent solutions
  • Review the initial idea
  • Get on a higher level and see the big picture
  • Normalize uncertainty
  • Allow discovery
  • Support unpredictable timelines and results
  • Challenge the idea
  • Act as a devil’s advocate to check the feasibility of a proposal

How to use hallway coaching to be a thinking partner?

Invite a person you talk to challenge anything in a proposal. Act as if it was correct only in 80%, but you want to change the remaining 20% from top to bottom. Be picky. You can, because you do it with the issue and the proposal best interest in heart.

Ask many questions such as:

  • What are you premises here?
  • What should have happened for 100% so your solution could work?
  • What can go wrong?
  • Find three reasons that it will not work at all?
  • What are you going to do about those reasons?
  • What are you going to lose when you implement this plan? How are you going to tackle this loss?
  • If you take this path, what will make your opponents happy?
  • Who outside of obvious stakeholders will gain something after implementing your solution? Are you OK with that?

As a thinking partner you may want to take into consideration some of the limiting thinking dysfunctions (so called thinking biases) such as:

Catastrophizing: an irrational belief that something is far worse than it actually is.

  • What severe repercussions of your solution can you name?
  • What other risky or undesirable consequences can it bring?
  • What are you going to do about it?

Idealistic optimism that everything will be fine.

  • Find three risky things in your solution?
  • Let’s imagine there is a backlog or delay in your plan. What steps are you going to take then?
  • What could your biggest critic say about this plan and why? What is true here?

Drawing some preliminary and premature conclusions based on too generalized findings.

  • What concrete evidence do you have that this plan is going to work and is the best possible?
  • When do you expect first results of your solution?
  • How much time is the implementation phase going to take? How do you know it is a sufficient amount of time?

Warning!

A thinking partner coaching model is going to work only if you have the best interest of a person and his plan in mind. The questions above asked in the harsh manner, or publicly with the intention to humiliate somebody, are not likely to bring anything valuable, but shame and discouragement.

I do recommend to let your employee at the beginning that you are going to play a devil’s advocate for a bit, so you both can fully revise a proposal.

Veiled Advice

Since my book, where I describe hallway coaching, was published in Poland, I have got lot of feedback on this one technique: Veiled Advice. One of the duties of a good manager is to be a mentor for her/his team members. Yet, when you give piece of advice all the time it may inactivate your people’s innovation.

My clients told me that after using this tool their teams’ independence skyrocketed.

Say said:

I finally stopped serving up ideas on a plate.

For such a long time I believed that my team lacked great ideas. It turned out that when I changed my compulsive advice-giving into storytelling, innovations appeared one by one.

Now I have a tool to develop less experienced employees, who used to do to a letter what I told. They missed the point. I wanted them to improve my ways. With veiled advice it works this way.

So what is it about?

With limited time you have at work, it is natural to provide your people with quick answers.. Besides, you probably have the feeling that it strengthens your authority. One of the leaders I worked with sat in open space with his team and was almost unable to complete any task. Why? He was so involved in helping and giving advice. When asked why he did it, he said that it is the manager’s duty to help the team. Yeah, that’s right. Yet, it’s good to redefine such service to the team. You want to do your work as well, don’t you.

Thus, instead of jumping out immediately with an answer, take advantage of storytelling.

Storytelling is a technique that uses the fictional story, an anecdote from personal life or a historical fact to boost somebody’s creativity and elevate their emotions. With the help of a hidden message (a metaphor) you can offer a new perspective.

Don’t think that it is very complex and difficult. As a hallway coaching tool storytelling boils down to two simple techniques. When an employee asks for advice, or you can see that he/she is in a deadlock situation, say

  • Your situation reminds me of the moment when I/person X…. What I did then was…. What’s in it for you?
  • I once did something similar / Once Something similar happened to one of my colleagues. What from what I said is useful for you? How is it useful?

This way, you show the possibility and yet you leave a listener to make an independent decision about what to do with this perspective.

Remodeling Thinking Patterns

Whenever I think about change, there is a clear vision of full house remodeling, with walls being moved, windows made bigger, with colors repainted. It takes a great care and effort to finish this endeavor. Yet, many people to it, because they want to live in a comfortable and pleasant surroundings. It is quite similar to remodeling thinking patterns. One of the role of a successful leader is to be a sort of a construction worker, who helps people think and perceive any situation in a way that serves them well.

If you have never met at work a person, who complains, sees everything in gloomy colors, or has limiting believes, you can stop reading now. This is not a text for you.

While using remodeling thinking patterns coaching, a leader asks questions that can assist in reframing thinking that makes finding solutions impossible. For example, your employee has a very strong conviction that he can’t do anything with an issue he’s currently experiencing with a project. This is a very destructive concept: I cannot do anything about it. Mainly, because it is hardly ever true, somehow, it stops a person from looking for ideas.

A leader’s role is to ruffle some feathers here by asking:

  • What could you change in the way you look at this situation?
  • How might you change your reasoning here?
  • What filter do you use while looking at this problem? How can you transform it?
  • What preconceived ideas do you have here?
  • What do you assume now?
  • What else is true here?
  • What don’t you see?
  • What are you avoiding?
  • What can you learn from this person/this situation?
  • How can you transform this issue into win-win?
  • What is possible for you here if you think this way?
  • What are you likely to do, when you keep on repeating “I can’t”?

It is very important to remember that while asking these questions you may want to pay closer attention to your tone and body language. For example, you could incorporate a Friend or a Wizard Voice described by Marilyn Atkinson below.

WDZIĘCZNY JAK… LIDER

  1. Doceniaj pracę swojego zespołu mówiąc:
    • Dziękuję, za twoje zaangażowanie w pomoc nowemu pracownikowi.
    • Jestem wdzięczny za twoje pytania. Wniosły dzisiaj bardzo dużo do dyskusji.
  2. Zacznij dzień od znalezienia przynajmniej jednej osoby, której chcesz podziękować.
  3. Zadawaj sobie pytania:
    • Jak z mojej decyzji skorzysta zespół?
    • Jak z mojej decyzji skorzysta organizacja?
    • Jak z mojej decyzji skorzysta klient?
  4. Przypominaj sobie, co sprawiło, że chciałeś mieć daną osobę w swoim zespole.
  5. Podziękuj sobie.

 

wdzieczny-jak-lider

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Coachowie kochają coaching, ale jedna z najważniejszych kompetencji jest umiejętność wycofania się w odpowiednim momencie. Czytaj dalej

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