Tag Archives: communicating effectively

Conversation-powered leadership

I thought it would be apropos to wrap up our month of exploring the fundamental leadership competence of effective communication by recommending the book Talk, Inc.  In it, authors Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind draw on the experience of leaders in organizations around the world, who are using the power of conversation to increase employee engagement and strategic alignment.

While top-down, one-way communication has been typically used in hierarchical organizations as a way to distribute news to internal and external audiences, it is a relic of a command-and-control model which no longer works.  Groysberg and Slind assert that  “…. people–and the energies and capabilities that lie inside them–are the ultimate source of optimal performance and sustainable competitive advantage.”  Given that, they have found thriving organizations that are using organizational conversation to engage the best in their people to drive performance.

Organizational conversation, in their words,  replicates the elements of good person-to-person conversation where the scale of the conversation is small and intimate; the structure of the conversation is dynamic and interactive; participation is equal and inclusive and the approach is focused and intentional.

Where they have seen organizational conversation flourishing, it has the following four elements:

Intimacy – leaders reduce the distance, institutional as well as spatial–that separate them from their employees. They do this by cultivating the art of listening to people at all levels of the organization and by learning to talk with those people in ways that are personal, honest, and authentic.

Interactivity – leaders talk with employees not just to them. Cultural norms are now favoring dialogue over monologue and changes in the technology of communication especially with social media, support this shift.

Inclusion – leaders invite all employees to add their ideas into the conversational mix. And they call upon employees to participate in the work of representing their organization as unofficial bloggers or trained brand ambassadors.

Intentionality – leaders promote conversation that develops and follows an agenda that aligns with the strategic objectives of their organization.

I’d encourage you to pick up a copy of the book in your local library or bookstore to learn more. Their insights about how to make organizational cultures more intimate, interactive, inclusive, and intentional through purposeful organizational conversation make it a good read.

Anita Rios

 

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Communicating effectively – or not

By guest blogger John Kearns

Early in my career as an academic leader, I was serving as my university’s business dean. One day, a department chair named Michelle stopped by my office and said she needed to speak with me about an adjunct faculty member. I recognized the person’s name, but I could only vaguely match the name to a face.

“Does he have a mustache?” I asked.

Michelle gasped and covered her upper lip with her palm. “What??? Do I have a mustache?!?”

“No, no!” I sputtered, imagining that I had somehow managed to blow up the great working relationship I had built over time with one of my chairs. I immediately tried to clarify: “Does the adjunct have a mustache?”

“Oh,” Michelle said, suddenly realizing it was just a misunderstanding. “Yes,” she said matter-of-factly, “he does.” The conversation continued, thankfully without any further awkwardness.

I felt terrible for days. I assumed it was my fault. Had I been staring at Michelle’s upper lip when I asked the question? (Probably not.) Had I used the wrong pronoun – you instead of he? (Definitely not.)

And yet Michelle had, for a brief moment, been pretty certain that her dean thought she had a mustache. The more I reflected on what I would later call the mustache incident, the more it taught me a critical lesson about how, in a hierarchical organization, some people are listening to their leader on two levels. On one level, they’re listening to your words and taking them at face value. But on another level–and this is where you can stumble onto an interpersonal explosive device–they’re expecting the worst: bad news or a difficult request or a negative comment. You may have never acted with anything but integrity and respect as a leader, but for some people there is always the expectation that eventually you are going to slip up and reveal that you are, in fact, a horrible boss after all.

From that day forward, I approached every form of communication, from email to memos to speeches, on two levels:

  1. What I hoped my audience would hear
  2. How my words might be interpreted in the worst possible way

It didn’t always keep me from the occasional fumble, but no one ever again wondered if I was inquiring about a mustache.

John Kearns serves as Minnesota State’s senior writer for executive and strategic communication

Communicating with clarity

Have you ever listened to a presentation and walked away not knowing what you were supposed to do with the information? Worse yet, was there a time where you didn’t remember much that was said? As leaders, we face the challenge of how to create memorable messages and communicate with clarity all the time.

Knowing that, my team and I decided to ramp up our game recently and do a dry run of three separate presentations we were preparing. After each practice presentation, I asked the team to provide constructive feedback to each presenter. What we learned in the process was invaluable.

While each of us thought we were communicating our information clearly, once each slide deck was presented, the resulting messages weren’t always crystal clear. One of our team members remarked, “I’m not understanding the purpose of your presentation…what do you want the audience to do with the information?” That one question helped each of us refine our approach, reduce the number of key points we tried to communicate, and create clear consistent messaging. The outcome was much better when each of us went “live” with our presentations last week.

Focusing on the top 2 or 3 messages you want your audience to hear and understand can really help refine a message. Additionally, here are some tips for communicating with clarity adapted from workplace communication skills expert Deb Calvert:

  1. Consider Your Audience: Who is your audience? What specifically do they need to know? And what do you want them to do with the information?
  2. Say Exactly What You Mean: Think about communicating your message in a direct and unoffensive way. What superfluous information can you eliminate?
  3. Avoid Jargon: Eliminate specialized terminology that may not make sense to your audience. Keep language clear and understandable.
  4. Keep it Short and Simple: What are the highlights and key points in your message? Be prepared to answer questions, but don’t overwhelm your audience with details unless they ask.
  5. Ask for a Playback:  What do you expect your audience to do in response to your communication? To check for understanding, ask them to play back what they will do.
  6. Over-Communicate: Is your message important? If so , repeat it! Repetition helps people to remember key messages. In my team, we have a saying “8 times, 8 ways.” People need to see and hear a message multiple times through multiple channels in order to retain the information.

What tips do you have for communicating with clarity?

Anita Rios

 

 

 

 

 

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Not feeling heard?

“We didn’t feel like we were heard.

People were dancing around the topic to avoid offending anyone.

How can I get my message understood?”

Do those comments sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone. Those exact phrases were shared with me last week by a leader who was asking for help to communicate more effectively.

While the acts of listening, speaking, and sharing ideas seems straightforward and simple, they are anything but; especially when you add in the fact that we each bring our own filters or lenses through which we interpret messages. And if there are positional power differences or emotions are running high, communications can be fraught with peril.

During this month, we will be taking a deep dive into our Minnesota State leadership competency: communicates effectively, defined as:

  • Effectively conveys ideas and shares information with others using appropriate methods
  • Listens carefully and understands differing points of view
  • Presents ideas clearly and concisely

Please join in the conversation by sharing your leadership and communication challenges.

Anita Rios

Stay curious

childs curiosity“Life is best experienced with a sense of awe, wonder and discovery. Go about life with a child’s curiosity.” – Tom Gregory

I’ve been musing lately about what makes people exceptional communicators. And I’ve noticed one commonality. They are interested in others and their ideas. While they may be very interesting people themselves, they don’t focus on only telling their story. They draw out other people’s stories. And they focus on learning and discovery in the process.

I have a dear colleague who I consider a master communicator. I’ve always appreciated her ability to connect with people, put them at ease with a warm smile, and ask them questions about themselves. Her natural curiosity fires this talent and she has built strong relationships at work and in her personal life as a result.

In my leadership journey, I’ve tried to focus on being a good communicator by asking questions and encouraging dialogue with others. Still, I have to remind myself to stay curious at times. If I’m lulled into thinking I’m the only expert on a particular topic, or if I’m feeling rushed by deadlines, my curiosity can be dulled.  It’s in those times that I can miss an opportunity to approach a situation, a problem, or a person with awe and wonder.

What do you do to stay curious?

Anita Rios