Category Archives: Leadership

Let’s schedule a meeting

As leaders, much of our communication isn’t one-on-one. It’s in groups. Often, it’s in a meeting. When we’re leading meetings, how can we make the best use of our time and our team members’ time?

When I was searching for tips, I came across a list from CBS News of Nine Hardcore Steps to Leading Incredibly Effective Meetings.  Some of the steps seemed useful. Others made me think “that would never work in higher ed.”  I’m sharing it with you because it can be good to challenge set ideas. See what you think:

  1. Never set a regular schedule. The Monday morning meeting can become boring and predictable. Alternate days of the week, times of day, and schedules to maintain team members’ interest.
  2. The agenda should only list action items. A meeting should be used to decide something or do something.
  3. Never use meetings to share information. Share the information in advance so people can make decisions. Sharing it during the meeting is a waste of people’s time.
  4. A meeting should never be primarily about “team cohesion.” Spending time together doesn’t automatically generate good working relationships.
  5. Allow digression.  Assuming they are related to the subject, tangents can produce surprisingly useful results.
  6. Clearly identify decisions, take-aways, and action steps.
  7. Create accountability.
  8. Publish a meeting recap, but only include action items.
  9. Conduct initial follow up individually. Don’t have a meeting just to share progress updates that could be shared electronically.

Maybe you had the same reaction I did to some of the items.  I liked #5, because I love a good tangent. On the other hand, I do a lot of team building activities so #4 struck a sore spot. That one made me consider how the team building activities are supporting the team’s goals.

Which tips stood out for you?  Why?

Dee Anne Bonebright

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Did you miss the conversation?

A few years ago I was shopping at Ikea and decided to get some lunch. In the cafeteria line in front of me were a mom and her young daughter. They selected their food, sat at a table not far from me, and enjoyed their meal together.

But here’s the thing – during that entire time the mom never got off her phone. She got the food, sat down, cut up her daughter’s meatballs, and ate her lunch one-handed all while conducting a long conversation with whoever was on the other end of the line. The memory of that young girl trying unsuccessfully to get her mother’s attention still makes me want to cry. They were potentially making a memory together and mom missed it.

That experience solidified my resolve to try to be present with whatever conversation I’m in. It’s still very much a work in progress, but I try to use good listening skills whether I’m at home or at work.

In our Art of Supervision course we talk about three basic elements of listening.

  1. Stay focused. Minimize internal and external distractions, pay attention to the speaker, and use nonverbal signals to show you are listening.
  2. Capture the message. Paraphrase and restate the speaker’s key points to be sure you understand them. In work situations you may want to take notes to help with future conversations.
  3. Help the speaker communicate. Ask clarifying questions. Try to understand the feelings and perceptions behind the person’s words. Don’t worry about whether you agree with the message at this point, just try to understand it.

When I can follow these three steps, it helps me stay present. Focusing my energy on listening helps me avoid distractions such as multitasking and, I hope, prevents me from missing important conversations – even when I’m right there in the same room.

Dee Anne Bonebright

Conversations and neurochemistry

“Conversations are not what we think they are.”  And so begins my new favorite book Conversational Intelligence by Judith Glaser. Powered by both neurological and cognitive research, she says that conversations go much deeper than simple information sharing. They impact the way we connect, engage, interact, and influence others, because they actually have a chemical component. Conversations can stimulate the production of hormones and neurotransmitters, stimulate body systems and nerve pathways and change our body’s chemistry, in both good and bad ways.

Think about it. When was the last conversation you had that didn’t go well? How did you feel? Threatened? Sick to your stomach? Did it change how you continued the conversation? What did you do? Retreat? Become more forceful? Or even antagonistic?

Glaser states that even at the simplest level, of asking and telling – I ask a question, you tell me an answer – conversations can become complex as questions provoke thoughts and feelings about what you mean or your intentions. If a question feels threatening, that can activate the defensive role of the amygdala to “handle” a threat.

Of course, conversations can also trigger dopamine and serotonin, those good-feeling chemicals, as you experience an exchange that increases sense of belonging, care and concern for your well being, and a shared sense of purpose. Those conversations tamp down the defensive role of the amygdala and free the prefrontal cortex to generate new ideas, insights, and wisdom.

In every conversation, we are constantly reading content and emotions sent our way and we are sending content and emotions to others. In fact, Glaser asserts that leaders are communicating that they are happy or sad with almost every communication.

Her book is full of helpful information to help increase conversational intelligence for leaders and their teams.  Here is a brief summary of Glaser’s 5-step STAR (Skills That Achieve Results) model that can help tamp down the amygdala’s threat response and can turn adversaries into partners.

  1. Build Rapport – get on the same wavelength as the person you are talking to; connect with them as a person and demonstrate you care
  2. Listen without Judgment -pay full attention to the other person as they speak and set aside the tendency to judge the person; resist the temptation to formulate your response while they are speaking; just listen
  3. Ask Discovery Questions – be curious; ask smart questions that may change your views as you listen and learn
  4. Reinforce Success – see and validate what “success looks like” for both people
  5. Dramatize the Message –  ensure understanding by telling a story or drawing a picture if needed; this can elevate awareness to make sure you are on the same wavelength

Using STAR’s five steps, Glaser says leaders can create a positive shift in brain chemistry (theirs and others) as they work towards having productive conversations that can shape reality, mind-sets, events, and outcomes in a collaborative way.

Anita Rios

 

Presenting in English when you’re not a native speaker (or even if you are)

For many people, having to speak in public is worse than going to the dentist, touching a spider, or seeing a snake in the back yard – maybe even all three combined! When the person is not a native speaker of English it can be even more nerve-wracking.

I recently ran across an author that may be helpful to you or some of your team members. Deborah Grayson Riegel and her colleague Ellen Dowling wrote a book called  Tips of the Tongue: The Nonnative English Speaker’s Guide to Mastering Public Speaking.

She posted a video on YouTube that summarizes three key points to keep in mind, whether or not English is your native language.

First, prepare thoroughly. This includes practicing what you plan to say. Out loud. More than once. I’m prone to fall into the trap Grayson Riegel warns about: spending all my time polishing the slide deck and none of it practicing what I’m going to say. As Anita mentioned in Monday’s post, that is an important part of preparation.

During the speech, Grayson Riegel recommends that nonnative speakers should not worry about having an accent, but they should slow down the speaking pace. Even native speakers of English have accents, reflecting which region they are from. Slowing down and articulating clearly, especially at the beginning, helps listeners understand each of our unique speech patterns.

Finally, she recommends pausing often during the presentation. It gives the listeners a chance to absorb and understand, and it gives speakers a chance to gather their thoughts.

These tips can help all of us be better public speakers, and they are especially helpful for nonnative English speakers.  What other tips have worked for you?

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

 

Bridge building

Not all bridges look alike but they are crucial connections when we need to get from one place to another.

At its core, leadership communication is about building connections between people – who all have their own lived experience, point of view, culture and ideas. Communication gets more complicated when you want to connect genuinely with someone who sees the world differently than you do!

Authors Claire Raines and Lara Ewing in their book, The Art of Connecting, provide tips and ideas to help leaders communicate across all points of view. They describe five principles that help strengthen connection:

  1. There is always a bridge. Move from asking if you can connect to asking yourself what you will discover and use to connect. Remind yourself that with persistence there is always something to use as a bridge between two people.
  2. Curiosity is the key.  Stay open to what you are hearing and experiencing when you are interacting with others. Remind yourself that everyone has something to teach.
  3. What you assume is what you get. Perception is reality when dealing with people.
  4. Each individual is a culture. Everyone is a complex and unique combination of factors. Don’t rely on one or two pieces to define anyone.
  5. No strings are attached. You can only control yourself. Your genuine curiosity and connection can’t be used as leverage to influence others. Authenticity is crucial.

If you look hard enough you will find a bridge to connect with anyone!

Todd Thorsgaard

I would have made it shorter

I wanted to start this post with the quote “I’m sorry this is so long. I didn’t have time to make it shorter.” Turns out that has been attributed to a lot of people, starting with Blaise Pascal in 1657 and including Benjamin Franklin in 1750.

That means that for at least 350 years people have known that it’s harder to write a short and concise letter or document than a long one. Twitter aside, that is still true.

Here are some tips from writing consultant Mary Cullen at 87 advanced tips for business writing:

  • Purpose: Before you start, ask “who is my reader” and “what do I want them to know or do?”  If you don’t have an answer, there’s no purpose for continuing.
  • Plan: For a standard business document or email, spend about half of the time planning and half of the time writing.
  • Everyday language. Avoid jargon. Never use a big word when a small word will do.
  • Clear language. Use strong verbs (“We need to decide”… is better than “we need to make a decision”…) Any time a word is not truly needed, cut it.

Cullen says that online readers can only handle about 7 lines of text before readability goes down and they are more likely to skip it.  Adding headers, lists, and white space can help – as in the paragraph above.

As leaders, we can feel too busy to edit. But taking the time to remove extra words and present a clear message can save time in the long run. People will actually read what we send and are more likely to get the point!

Dee Anne Bonebright

How to listen? – Don’t talk!

Simon Sinek offers a simple, yet powerful, rule for leaders to be better listeners. Refrain from sharing your opinion until everyone else has spoken! It is his “Lesson Four” for successful leaders.

Your people are super-attuned to your words and behaviors and naturally search for cues to understand what your priorities are. This human tendency can get in the way when you want to hear their opinions, ideas, insights or concerns – to truly listen to them.

Inc. magazine recently shared three tips to help leaders “talk last” to ensure that their people talk first.

  1. Listen – and do absolutely nothing else! Don’t speak verbally or non-verbally. Do your best to eliminate gestures, head nodding, comments, affirmations, or concerns until all have shared and others have commented.
  2. Ask questions like an interviewer. When you do talk start by asking “unbiased” or clarification questions. Think of yourself as an outside interviewer who just wants to better understand what you have heard – with no stake in the game! Seek to discover the “why” behind their ideas and then the “how” before you add your perspective.
  3. Disagree and commit. If you have concerns about what you are hearing, continue to explore the reason behind their ideas until you completely understand the why  – then share your ideas. If possible commit to trying their idea or search for potential alternatives that address all points of view.

I think you will be impressed by what you hear if your people have the space to speak – first!

Todd Thorsgaard