Too often I see leaders “wing” initial conversations. Later on, they struggle with the crucial conversations required to achieve results. Better conversations build credibility, trust, and respect which lead to better business decisions.
Don’t leave your conversations to chance. During times of change, people need more information, not less. Unfortunately, leaders fall into the trap of not communicating enough. Sometimes this happens when leaders think they don’t have anything definitive to say.
When smart people lack clear communication they chart their own course. Others make up their own stories, most of which are wrong. Without proper communication, people lack clarity and productivity will suffer.
By now you might be thinking a more spontaneous, free-flowing conversation better suits your style. But wait a minute, this may not be a prudent choice.
When businesses want results, now. And with change happening at such an alarming rate. You will want to make the most of each interaction. Spending time on the front end will definitely save you time and aggravation on the back end.
Great conversations start with preparation. Then, you can focus more on the person versus on what you want to tell them.
Consider the following as you cultivate better conversations:
1. Know Your Audience – What’s on their mind and impacting their world? Before meeting for the first time, research the people, their backgrounds, and interests.
2. One Single Purpose – You are more apt to make headway if you come prepared with a single purpose and goal for the discussion versus a laundry list of items.
3. Get Comfortable Asking and Fielding Questions – Questions and answers are at the heart of conversations. Think through what you wish to ask. Be ready to respond to those more delicate questions.
4. It’s All About Them –So often preparation time is filled with deciding what to “tell” someone and not enough time on how to handle the interpersonal and emotional aspects of conversations. Put yourself in their shoes.
Slant the conversation to be more about what they need versus about what you need. Make a point to understand their world and their concerns. Use this knowledge to determine if you can make their work just a bit easier to handle. When you enable others, you are unlocking the potential for greater outcomes.
5. Take Action – A conversation is a terrific first step, it’s the follow-up that takes conversations to action. Get clear on what actions to take following the conversation.
So before you jump into that next conversation, prepare with the end in mind.
Where could your conversations use a bit of a boost?
There is so much information coming at us. It’s easy to get overloaded and possibly stop listening and engaging in the conversations. Isolation becomes a reality.
Most of the information we hear will be sound bites and headlines that may well have been censored and filtered by others. The more layers there are in the organization, the more likely it is that the accuracy of information can be distorted. By the time the information reaches us it can be highly synthesized and possibly slanted by other points of view.
As a child I can remember sitting around the camp fire with one person starting a story and each person whispering the story from ear to ear. By the time the story got around the circle, it had morphed and changed?
Funny as this may have been at the time, in business, we can’t afford to have information distorted as it can severely impact decisions.
We each play an important role in connecting people and ideas to find unique solutions. So how do we avoid getting isolated from the conversations?
Taking a Bird’s Eye View – Each functional area sees a specific aspect of the situation and can get too focused on one solution without taking a look at the broader implications. Look at the situation from 360-degrees and take in the big picture at 30,000-feet. Then incorporate the specific details to collectively find the best solution.
Cultivating a Beginner’s Mind – OK, we’ve heard it all before, another meeting drones on. However, a fresh perspective is required to deliver better results.
It’s a trap to say, “yup, yup, move it along,” and think we’ve heard and seen it all before.
We can sabotage creative ideas when we suffocate learning and ideation. Interrupting others, making a flippant comment, and rushing to get to a decision can stifle the process.
Instead, approach situations with a beginner’s mind.
Invite exploration, seek objectivity and be open to new possibilities even if the solutions sound the same. Be willing to look at the situation from different angles, and allow even silly ideas to emerge. Imagine how silly the idea was to once think man could walk on the moon.
From a silly idea can blossom, new potential.
Diversify Thinking – Sure, the day is packed with one crisis after another and it’s difficult finding time to think let alone connecting with others. In the end, the only input we may gather is from those we directly work with every day.
We may start to think our solution is the right one without the full story. Work to break through the barriers and silos of departments and create forums to get people talking and sharing information. Find the time to seek out a diversity of ideas and opinions before getting focused on one solution.
Listening versus Hearing – A colleague of mine, Robert Maher reminds me, “There is a difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is when we recognize there is noise. Listening is the understanding of what is being said.”
To listen, especially to dissenting ideas means to let go of preconceived notions and to inquire into how others see the situation.
Broadening Constituencies – Actively seek out others across the organization even if it appears that others aren’t speaking the same language. Avoid the isolation and find ways to engage and connect with a broader spectrum of people. Take an example from the popular CBS TV show, Undercover Boss, and be open to soliciting other perspectives. Learn about what’s keeping them motivated and what’s challenging them.
What do you do to stay connected and avoid the isolation? Please share your comments in the comments section below. I learn as much from you as you do from me.
About the Author:
Hilary Potts is the author of The Executive Transition Playbook: Strategies for Starting Strong, Staying Focused and Succeeding in Your New Leadership Role.