Monthly Archives: September 2015

Want to cut through the noise? Listen

not-listening-Tshirt“The big miss for most leaders is that they fail to understand that the purpose of communication is not to message, but to engage – THIS REQUIRES LISTENING.” –Mike Myatt, author, Leadership Matters

Happy Labor Day! Hopefully, you’re relaxing and recharging today on our national holiday set aside for recognizing the contributions that American workers have made to our country. Just in case you’re checking your email or social media, I thought I’d give you some food for thought.

As leaders, we often think of communication in terms of getting our message heard in a sea of competing messages. We create communication plans that outline important messages. We compile lists of key stakeholder groups and determine the most effective modes of communication such as email, newsletters, video, presentations or speeches. However, as Mike Myatt points out the primary purpose of communication is not to message, but to engage.

Following that logic, one of the best ways to cut through the noise may be to listen. Seems counterintuitive, right? Well perhaps not.

Think of the best leaders you have encountered in your career.

Were they the ones who spoke most eloquently or persuasively, focusing primarily on getting their message heard? Were they the leaders who spoke most of the time during a meeting expecting others to listen?

Or were they the ones who actively listened to their employees and stakeholders? Were they the leaders who were genuinely interested in hearing others’ perspectives and ideas and demonstrated that they heard by asking good questions?

In my experience, I’ve found the best leaders I’ve known are those who actively listen and engage others. Early in my career, I was lucky to work with a leader who was very careful not to dominate meetings by speaking too much. I talked to her once about it and learned that she purposely sat back and let other people speak first. Being very aware of her positional power, she didn’t want to dampen the conversation by putting her perspective on the table first. She drew out the quiet people and she asked good questions. It probably helped that she was an anthropologist first before moving into academic leadership. She was greatly respected by the university community for her strong leadership. From her example, I learned that really great leaders listen more and talk less.

In our workplaces, people want to feel heard. They want to feel valued for their contributions. It may seem overly simplistic, but the most effective way to help people feel heard and valued is to listen. Employees and stakeholders will be more likely to listen to you, when you are actively listening to them. I think it’s a sound strategy for cutting through the noise. What do you think?

Do you have any practical advice for leaders who are practicing listening more and talking less?

Anita Rios



Communicating in a bite-sized world

town crier free to useOne challenge for communicating through the noise is what some of you called “communicating in a bite-sized world.” As leaders, we are competing for the attention of our team members, colleagues, and other stakeholders.  We know that effective messages are brief and yet memorable–and that’s not always easy to achieve.

Like most academics, I like to think that I can create clear, compelling messages. But I also have a tendency to fall in love with my own words.  I’m almost embarrassed to admit the length of my first dissertation draft. Suffice it to say that my long-suffering advisors very kindly told me that I needed to delete about half of it!

On the other hand, we have all experienced leadership messages that are brief, attention-grabbing, and have no real content. John Hamm from Harvard Business Review called these “roller-coaster pronouncements” that fail to clarify terms and create shared understanding.

How can we find the balance between providing enough specific information to help the organization move forward, without becoming either too wordy to too vague?

A blog from Forbes offered some suggestions:

  • Use the fewest words possible. Remove technical terms, jargon, and other sources of complexity. This means that you need to understand your message very clearly so you can explain it to others.
  • Use your own voice. Present the message genuinely in a way that lets people recognize your underlying values.
  • Be visible. Electronic communication is a key strategy, but there are times when nothing substitutes for face-to-face connections.
  • Listen. Communicating is more than getting the message out. Leaders often don’t get direct feedback about how our messages are received. It’s up to us to pay attention to verbal and non-verbal reactions from others.

Dee Anne Bonebright




That went fast!

Hello fallStudents are back on campus. Classes have started. And in Minnesota, the state fair is here….all signs that it is time to start blogging again.

As we dive back into the daily challenges that leaders face, we encourage you to continue to read along and share your thoughts with us.

One of the tough issues leaders shared with us last year was the challenge you face communicating through the noise and distractions of our busy and technical world. The following quote highlights both the challenges leaders face and the importance of communication.

The need for clear communication increases in direct proportion to the level of volatility an organization faces. Volatility is characterized by lots of noise. By noise, I mean signals that lack relevance. Volatile situations are also rich in the potential for confusion and unintended consequences. In such situations, the quality of leadership is invariably a reflection of the clarity of communication regarding where the organization is going and how it intends to get there.

During September we will be sharing ideas and resources about:

  • How to get your message heard
  • Using stories and emotions
  • Cutting through the distractions
  • Dealing with a bite-sized world
  • Customizing and tailoring your message
  • The importance of dialogue

As always we would love to hear what you have discovered that could help others.

sunset at cabin2While the sun may be setting earlier at the cabin we are excited to be back with you!

Todd Thorsgaard