Listening – the lost art that improves results

Smart people talk fast and think fast.  Often, they struggle to “slow down” and LISTEN.

A wise CEO once told me that enthusiastic employees (especially smart ones) are often so busy thinking forward to plan a response that they are not hearing the conversation of the moment, and miss key points or issues in a given situation.

How does one stay “in the moment” and really hear the full conversation?  This is a skill that can be practiced.

1) Prepare your mind ahead of time, stop all non-relevant activities before your conversation begins.

2) Mentally review the topic or subject matter beforehand — also consider your audience – who are you listening to?  do you know the details or background of the issue at hand?

3) Maintain eye contact at all times, try to focus on the key points of the conversation – show the speaker that you are sincerely interested and fully engaged in the conversation

4) When your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the present moment, to the key points of conversation.  Keep repeating this behavior and you will improve your concentration ability

5) Avoid distractions – position yourself away from noisy areas and known distractions

6) Acknowledge any emotional reactions from the speaker – anger, sadness etc.

7) Remain calm yourself, particularly if you are emotional about the topic.  One trick?  Breathe slowly and focus on calm, slow breaths as you watch your speaker.  Remember that you are there to listen and understand, not to respond emotionally.

8 ) Repeat back the essential points of the discussion – the speaker will feel “heard” and “listened to”.    Difficult situations can be diffused simply by allowing the speaker to vent and be acknowledged.

9) Use non-verbal signals to acknowledge your speaker (nod your head, lean forward, smile, etc)

10) Stay neutral – try not to formulate a “position” that agrees or disagrees – simply encourage the full exploration of the issue / train of thought


Creating Accountability at work – 3 ways to engage your team

A manager said an interesting thing in my office the other day, “I have plausible deniability if this projects goes wrong.” I was a little taken aback — what exactly does that mean?  If a project goes great, I’ll take the credit — but if it crashes, then I have a great excuse?  ….where is accountability in business?

As a leader, how do we build accountability in our people?  in our organization?

One way is to embed accountability everywhere we can in our systems and procedures:

a) Action Log: a colleague of mine uses an “action log” to hold her team accountable.  She has designed a spreadsheet, listing all the team’s tasks in rows and using right hand columns to track “Who” is accountable, by “When”, followed by comments on “How” (that is, the details or expectations within that task process) or “Why” (context or strategic reasons). The current date column is conditionally formatted to be red, yellow or green based on the deadline date compared to the current date.  That is, as the deadline looms closer, the cell turns to yellow and then red.
At regular staff meetings (these can be weekly or daily) the list is reviewed by the whole group, and each person on the “who” list is accountable publicly to the team for their tasks. My friend noted that at the first few meetings there was “squirming” as Action Log deadlines were not met, but eventually the staff fell into a focused routine.

The added benefit?  There is a permanent documented list of accomplishments for the group to look back on – positive reinforcement!

b) Transparency Reporting: Build reporting capability in your department or company that publishes results — good or bad — regularly to all stakeholders.   What reports to use?  Measure those things you want accountability on, and ask those who are accountable to “own the report” and present it to their peers and/or management.  Ownership of the issues increases accountability.

c) Team Dynamics – Add a Personal Accountability Buddy: google accountability and you’ll find lots of information on using an “accountability buddy”.  This can be on a personal level (i.e. to help you work out/lose weight) or a business level (i.e. a business or life coach).  The principle here is to create an atmosphere where employees are engaged, where they have a high level of trust and can support each other to constantly improve a situation or meet specific goals.

Whether you use a systemic approach or encourage a “team culture”, increased accountability will build business credibility and increase customer confidence in your group’s results.

Accelerate your Career: 4-eye’d Employee (pt4: the 4-eye’d employee)

The following is based on a presentation made to the UBCO (University of British Columbia Okanagan) female business students affiliated with the Sauder School of Business on January 28, 2011. (Presenters: Meryle Corbett, CMA,FCMA CFO of Kelowna Flightcraft Group of Companies; and Paulette Rennie, President of ValleyFirst Credit Union)

What strategies will make YOU successful in business? A group of C-suite executives agreed that the key to a rising business career includes four main characteristics. They are described below in our series, “The 4-eyed employee” :
So what are we talking about? The first “eye” or “I” attribute is the underlying foundation for business success:
The second “eye” or “I” attribute is the secret to longevity in your career:
The third “eye” or “I” attribute is the driver of where and how far you go:
The fourth “eye” or “I” attribute is the attribute that will accelerate your accomplishments:
This is the magic ingredient that makes careers soar!  Even though you can be intelligent, of the highest integrity and a great worker with lots of initiative, sometimes it’s a combination of luck, timing and “street smarts” that will make your career take off.
a) Read body language and get to know your customer / boss / client
One great style assessment tool is the DISC model:  Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, Compliance.    Are you task-oriented, needing a high level of control over your world?  Are you a relationship-based consensus builder?  Are you an analyzer preferring routine activity?  are you most comfortable with rules and regulations and heavy structure?    Do you have problems relating to peers because their style is different than yours?  Do you have problems with team members  or subordinates “clashing”?
The DISC assessment tool enables individuals to view their leadership and business style in a comparative way to others, and offers solutions to help them leverage their own styles to work most effectively with others.  Learning how to read your audience can enable higher levels of success.
b) Use your right-brain creative side as well as your left-brain logic.
The ability to look at an issue from all angles will give you an advantage to help you find innovative solutions.  A great technique is to use the six thinking hats.
c) Listen to your inner voice.
In thirty years of business, my little voice has never been wrong.  I have ignored it on occasion (to avoid a conflict, or because I was too busy to deal with a small detail) — always with some measure of regret.  Your instinct will develop over the years and “fine tune” your gut feel of situations – there is an intuitive capability that remains just under the surface of our everyday thinking, if we only work on utilizing it.