Tag Archives: listening

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

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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

 

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

Can you hear me?

Are you reacting differently to these quotes? Would it be different if they weren’t attached to the photos or attributed to a specific person?

This isn’t a new phenomenon but it seems to be getting worse. We are not very good at listening to people we perceive as different from ourselves. That makes it hard to build inclusive work teams, share diverse points of view, and leverage the strengths of everyone on your team.

The founders of Living Room Conversations want to help people actually listen to each other rather than debate and talk at each other. Recently a number of leaders at several of our campuses have used the Living Room conversation agreements and topic-specific conversation guides to tackle the tough topics of status, privilege and race with diverse groups of faculty and staff.

Conversation Agreements

  1. Be curious and open to learning
  2. Show respect and suspend judgement
  3. Look for common ground and appreciate differences
  4. Be authentic and welcome that from others
  5. Be purposeful and to the point
  6. Own and guide the conversation

The actual conversations become structured “deep listening sessions” that include an orientation to the process, intentional time-keeping and facilitation and a closing period. An example of the status and privilege guide can be found here – Conversation Guide.

I can attest to the almost magical listening and sharing that occurs during a living room conversation. People stop interrupting each other, they smile as they hear the stories others share, and they are surprised by how easy it is to share their own story with people who are actually listening to them.

When we asked participants after the conversations the majority responded that they had not changed their personal points of view but they now could see more common ground with their colleagues, despite their differences. Further, there was universal support for more dialogue.

Using a structure to help people actually listen to each other can provide a starting point for greater inclusion, in the workplace and beyond.

Todd Thorsgaard

Truly understand by hearing everything.

To truly understand others, leaders need to listen – not talk! That may sound easy but in the day-to-day crush of work and deadlines and priorities it is a challenge. Yet the payoff is huge. In fact, one study discovered that the strongest predictor of trust is a leaders ability to listen with empathy and respond based on what they hear.

Harvard Business Review suggests that leaders focus on three crucial “behavioral sets” to improve their listening.

  1. Actively recognizing ALL verbal and nonverbal cues. People speak with much more than the words they use and listening is different than just reading a transcript of their statement. We all have “misheard” or “misread” an email. Empathic listening involves paying attention to things like tone, emphasis, energy, excitement, reticence, body movement, gestures, and facial expressions. Seeking to understand both what is being said and what isn’t being said demonstrates true listening.
  2. Processing the message or tactical listening. Sharpen your skills and use techniques or tools to help you follow along with the speaker, remember what is being said, keep track of key points, identify areas of agreement/disagreement, and capture the overall message. This can be as simple as taking notes, using summary statements and minimizing distractions. It also involves giving up control of the conversation and focusing all attention on the other person.
  3. Assuring others that genuine listening has occurred and that conversations will continue.  Only the people on your team can accurately state if they feel listened to. Leaders need to use verbal and nonverbal actions to share the message that they are listening and want to continue listening. Ideas include verbal acknowledgements, clarifying questions, summary statements, check-in’s, paraphrasing and at times even restating a point being made. Your non-verbals are also being watched so eye contact, posture, facing each other, nodding along, and mirroring body language all reinforce your empathic listening.

Learning to listen builds trust and helps you say more with less talking.

Todd Thorsgaard

“Tell me more about that….”

(Click on image to expand)

To truly understand someone you need to care about them, at least a little bit. As a proud introverted leader that sounds daunting. Yet a close look at the Gallup Q12 Engagement Index shows that a “manager caring about their people” is a clear determinant of employee engagement!

How can you get to know your people while still respecting and acknowledging the natural boundaries that exist between leaders and their teams? You are busy, your people are busy, and you are their boss. Leaders can’t become best friends or confidants, but genuine caring about employees as a whole person is crucial. For most leaders the problem isn’t the genuine caring but figuring out HOW to show their interest and caring in a work setting.

A recent article in Forbes highlights “Seven Ways a Leader Can Get to Know Their Team Better” with practical ideas.

  1. Help Your People Succeed Anywhere, Not Just in Their Current Role. Remind yourself and your people that success and development in their current role will help them in their future, regardless of where they choose to go.
  2. Schedule Regular Celebrations. This isn’t a new idea but in the chaotic world of work it is easily overlooked. Taking time together and talking about non-work topics builds stronger relationships.
  3. Manage By Walking Around. Get up and informally talk with your people. Share personal anecdotes and inquire about non-work activities, milestones, and experiences.
  4. Talk Naturally During Downtimes. Take advantage of the time before meetings, in the hallway, on the elevator, or while webinars are starting to chat about anything other than work.
  5. Ask About Displayed Photos, Trinkets, Mementos, Art Work, etc. This is my favorite! I started the post with a saying I have posted on my wall and I have many stories behind it. What your people display is important to them and asking about it will help you truly connect.
  6. Make Sure to Listen! All your hard work will be for naught if you don’t actually listen. Enough said.
  7. It Requires Variety. Genuineness and caring is not one size fits all. When you open up your interactions to the whole person you need to be flexible and adaptable.

Ask about that photo and see what you learn. I bet it will be interesting.

Todd Thorsgaard

Don’t forget the endings!

It is tempting to focus on the new beginnings as a leader. We craft messages that highlight the benefits of the new system or the new structure. We glowingly describe the advantages of a new procedure or we document the potential dollars saved “after” the change is implemented. Yet study after study have confirmed that often we never reach the hoped-for Shangri-la.

William Bridges, in the 25th anniversary edition of his ground breaking book,  (Bridges, William. Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. Da Capo Press. 2009.)  counsels leaders to actually meet their people where they are at, the endings they are facing! All new beginnings include something ending or being lost. When we only focus on the new beginnings and ignore that our people are losing something we won’t get to the new beginning as smoothly or successfully as we hope.

Think about it, a new school year also means the end of unstructured summer time. A new leader also means the end of knowing how your previous leader liked to get updates. Or a new house also means not knowing where the closest take-out pizza place is!

It isn’t necessary, or even advisable, to wallow in the losses and endings but it is important to start there to ensure a better transition to the new beginning. Specifically Bridges advises leaders to work with their people and make sure they understand what losses they are experiencing. It may be a loss of:

  • competency
  • comfort
  • status
  • influence
  • routines
  • independence
  • or many others

While many of these losses can and will be replaced or redefined you can help your people understand what is actually ending and what isn’t ending. As an example, the human resource division at Minnesota State is changing to a service center model for HR transactions. Most employee record keeping and status changes will be done by staff at four regional centers. Campus HR staff will clearly feel a loss of direct connection with people on their campus since they won’t be processing the paper work in this new model. It is important for campus HR leaders to acknowledge that loss and also highlight that their staff  will still have have access to employee records. They will be able to answer questions and will still have a personal relationship with the faculty and staff on their campus. Lack of clarity on what is ending and what is staying can lead to the natural tendency to over estimate what is ending!

Yes, the new beginnings are bright and shiny but we need to see and acknowledge that our people are experiencing some losses and endings if we want them to join us on the other side of the change.

Todd Thorsgaard