Communication is essential to the human experience, yet we are often misunderstood. People communicate with one another many times a day, each in a unique form, and the messages we send are often complex and easily misinterpreted. Every person communicates with language of some kind, but that is not where communication ends. Some people accentuate the language they use with the look in their eyes; others use hand gestures or body language to convey their meaning. Babies will cry to communicate long before they are able to talk, and deaf children may choose to ignore the people around them by closing their eyes. Expression takes many forms, but human beings aren’t the only members of the animal kingdom that express themselves in unexpected ways.
Bees have a distinct way of letting the rest of the hive know about ample food sources they discover: They dance. The “dance floor” is found inside the comb and bees use it to communicate the location of flowers (and pollen) to the other members of the hive. The orientation of a bee’s movements and the frequency of her vibrations indicate the distance of the flowers from the hive and the direction the bees will need to travel to take advantage of the food source. There are two main dances that forager bees perform: The “Round Dance,” in which the bee runs in a small circle (performed when food is nearby), and the “Tail-Wagging Dance,” which accurately describes the distance and direction of the food source from the hive to the other bees (performed when the food is a bit farther away).
Like humans, different bees will communicate in different ways, so each dance is unique to the bees performing it, as are the circumstances under which the dances are performed. For example, some European honeybees perform the Tail-Wagging Dance when the source of food is more than 100 meters away, whereas others, like some Indian bees, may do this dance when the food is just a few meters away. As the other bees watch the dance, they pay attention to what the bee is saying with its movements so that they can learn where to go for an ample supply of food.
We can take a few tips from the bees about how to communicate well and share information with others.
React, but do not rescue
Give them a reason to listen
Listening is crucial to effective communication. Without an understanding of what is actually being communicated, we are like the deaf child who simply closes his or her eyes in defiance. At times, listening actively is very hard, especially when we struggle to concentrate on the person or the message. Something that may help is to focus on your “target.” Look others in the eye; show them you are engaged in what they are saying. Think about what is being said rather than how the message is being delivered, and avoid distractions whenever possible. Many wise people have suggested that we were given two ears and one mouth for a reason; we should remember to use them in proportion when communicating with others.
React, but do not rescue
We spend less time listening to people during conversations than we’d probably like to admit. Instead, we think of ways to respond, or we search for ways to “rescue” the person from the problem. We want to solve the problem and end up imposing our own solutions on the person, whether our advice was solicited or not. Rather than defaulting to these tired strategies, try something new: Respond to what you heard. Let the person know you have heard what was said, but do not try to be a hero. Rather than “rescuing” the person, listen carefully and acknowledge what was said. Don’t be afraid to react, but save your advice for another time.
Give them a reason to listen
Offer honest and useful feedback when prompted. Share information that will be helpful, but don’t allow personal biases or ulterior motives to creep in to your conversation. Don’t begin by telling others that you know “just how they feel”; most people are offended by this on some level, and at its very best, a statement like this one is inaccurate. Don’t confuse sympathy with empathy, and don’t diminish another person’s experiences by claiming to have had the same ones. Listen with two ears and one mouth.
The dance of human communication must be carefully choreographed, but when it is performed well, all kinds of relationships will improve. Our “dance” will not only allow us to transfer information more accurately and efficiently, it will show our willingness to genuinely listen to others—and to be heard by them—helping us to take the first steps towards greater understanding and improved communication with the people around us.
Over the past year or so, I have really come to enjoy reading The Thought Leader Interview articles published by strategy+business magazine. A recent interview featured Douglas Conant, former CEO of Campbell Soup Company. Conant took the helm at Campbell in 1999 when “the company was in a very tough spot.” Campbell was in a decent position as far as several of its food categories were concerned. They were large and growing with the top or second-place brand. However, behind the scenes, things were falling apart. “Sales, earnings, market share, and employee engagement were waning, and the company was involved in several prickly legal situations.” In addition, the company’s stock price had dropped by half, from $60 per share to $30. Employee-engagement statistics were just shy of 2 to 1, so a large number of employees were dissatisfied with their jobs, to the point that they were looking for other employment. In fact, Jim Clifton from Gallup performed an employee engagement survey at Campbell and found that engagement levels were the lowest ever surveyed for a Fortune 500 company.
The situation at Campbell was dismal for a number of reasons:
Over the past year or so, I have really come to enjoy reading The Thought Leader Interview articles published by strategy+business magazine. A recent interview featured Douglas Conant, former CEO of Campbell Soup Company. Conant took the helm at Campbell in 1999 when “the company was in a very tough spot.” Campbell was in a decent position as far as several of its food categories were concerned.
They were large and growing with the top or second-place brand. However, behind the scenes, things were falling apart. “Sales, earnings, market share, and employee engagement were waning, and the company was involved in several prickly legal situations.” In addition, the company’s stock price had dropped by half, from $60 per share to $30.
Employee-engagement statistics were just shy of 2 to 1, so a large number of employees were dissatisfied with their jobs, to the point that they were looking for other employment. In fact, Jim Clifton from Gallup performed an employee engagement survey at Campbell and found that engagement levels were the lowest ever surveyed for a Fortune 500 company.
The situation at Campbell was dismal for a number of reasons:
Over-promising and under-delivering (across the board)
Poor short-term decisions
Reduced marketing spending
Actively reducing product quality
Compromised product quality because output levels were too high
Hasty cost-reduction efforts (firing 250 R&D employees in one day)
After Campbell let 250 of their R&D people go, their new-product pipeline staggered. They lost a lot of their best people and the morale of those who stayed on was precarious at best.
Conant came into Campbell after helping Kraft and Nabisco get back on the right track. However, the first few years at the iconic food company were rough. Conant commented, “You’ve got to get ‘the right people on the bus,’ as Jim Collins put it. They’ve all got to be sitting in the right seats, and they have to be highly engaged in the work. ‘You can’t talk your way out of something you behaved your way into,’ I told the staff. ‘You have to behave your way out of it.’”
It was with that paradigm that Conant “turned over 300 of the top 350 leaders in the first three years.” Half of these leaders were replaced by promoting from within and the other half were brought in from outside of the company.
Once the right people occupied the right seats on the bus, Conant and his team started to rework things throughout the company, from better addressing customer issues to revamping executive-compensation structures. Conant came to Campbell already enjoying the utter craziness a busy office offered, including the constant phone calls, endless e-mails, and incessant interruptions.
“I don’t view them as interruptions,” he said. “They’re opportunities to help advance things. So I look forward to them . . . It’s also how you bring strategies to life. As Campbell CEO, I sent 10 to 20 handwritten notes out a day. For example, I might have said, ‘I saw you did good work here. You got this line up and running on time.’ Or maybe I said, ‘You helped us get into this test market ahead of schedule.’
I avoided gratuitous compliments and focused on the business priorities; I had a part-time assistant who collected reports about what was going on in the company. Over my 10-year tenure, I wrote 30,000 notes. It got to the point where I felt something was missing if I didn’t have a chance to do it; I blocked out half an hour a day just to write the notes. I also deliberately wandered around the buildings, asking people about how things were going. It created a platform for candor: ‘Well, it’s not going very well.’ Then I could ask, ‘Really? Is there something you need?’
People can have 200 or more interactions a day, if you count e-mail. Each is an opportunity to advance the company’s agenda. We found that many executives brush these interactions aside because they’re too busy trying to get the ‘real work’ done. But this is the real work, and it ripples out around you . . .
You can’t manage every interaction well. There are times when you can’t talk to people; you have to discriminate. But if you manage three encounters better today than you did yesterday, every day, you can fundamentally change the trajectory of your leadership profile. And we’ve found that people who take on this discipline, just one interaction at a time, start to improve their ability to contribute.”
That is the lesson. When leaders connect with their people, their people feel appreciated on a personal level. When people feel appreciated, they improve their ability to contribute as professionals. Improved contributions add to the strategy of an organization and move the needle on getting things done. When things get done, organizations and leaders move closer and closer to their strategic targets.
 Kleiner, Art. “The Thought Leader: Douglas Conant.” strategy+business, August 28, 2012. http://www.strategy-business.com/article/00128?pg=all (accessed November 20, 2012).
Silence is an extremely useful, strategic listening tool. A few years ago, Strategy+Business published an article titled “Lessons of Silence” and provided five ideas to help your hearing. They are
1.Look people in the eye: Looking the person speaking in the eye while they talk forces you to listen to what they are saying. Don’t worry about taking notes either. This degree of focus supposedly helps you to remember what is said better, and the ability increases over time.
2.Don’t interrupt: Only one person should speak at a time. This will minimize misunderstandings and distractions so less clarification is needed later, which will save time in the long run.
3.Say what you mean, as simply as possible: Forcing listeners to read between the lines as you speak wastes a lot of time and energy as they try to figure out what you really mean. Save everyone time by being direct and clear as you speak.
4.When you don’t understand something, ask: Why leave a meeting without understanding the whole conversation? If you lack clarity, ask for it. Don’t let your pride get in the way.
5.Stay focused: This is difficult for many people, especially when e-mails, text messages, and other important communications are ever present. The only way to keep focused is to do it. Don’t multi-task. Don’t pay any attention to other distractions. Stay present in the conversation and focus.
These five points will help in any situation where communication is critical. Be an example of these points and maybe—just maybe—people around you will pick up on them and use them, too.
To read the original article, go to http://www.strategy-business.com/media/file/ leading_ideas-20080522.pdf.
Silence is an extremely useful, strategic listening tool. A few years ago, Strategy+Business published an article titled “Lessons of Silence” and provided five ideas to help your hearing. They are:
Look people in the eye: Looking the person speaking in the eye while they talk forces you to listen to what they are saying. Don’t worry about taking notes either. This degree of focus supposedly helps you to remember what is said better, and the ability increases over time.
Don’t interrupt: Only one person should speak at a time. This will minimize misunderstandings and distractions so less clarification is needed later, which will save time in the long run.
Say what you mean, as simply as possible: Forcing listeners to read between the lines as you speak wastes a lot of time and energy as they try to figure out what you really mean. Save everyone time by being direct and clear as you speak.
When you don’t understand something, ask: Why leave a meeting without understanding the whole conversation? If you lack clarity, ask for it. Don’t let your pride get in the way.
Stay focused: This is difficult for many people, especially when e-mails, text messages, and other important communications are ever present. The only way to keep focused is to do it. Don’t multi-task. Don’t pay any attention to other distractions. Stay present in the conversation and focus.
These five points will help in any situation where communication is critical. Be an example of these points and maybe—just maybe—people around you will pick up on them and use them, too.
The following eight points regarding Courageous Conversations might help you understand key elements about the importance of having them. They can also be looked at as reasons why we need to step up and have courageous, heart-to-heart conversations with others.
CMOE’s methodology that comes from some of the most rigorous social science research ever conducted covers a 40-year span. The research explores why it is that we as bright, articulate, and caring humans have such a difficult time being effective in conversation when important issues are at stake.
The research reveals that there are some very predictable traps that we as humans fall into when discussing challenging issues or topics with others. It is tied to the fight-or-flight response.
Our desires are usually good, and, even with our best efforts, we unintentionally create conflict or misunderstanding with others when important issues need to be discussed.
It is not because we don’t care about the issues; it is precisely because we do that creates these negative patterns resulting in ineffective conversations.
Research conducted at MIT reveals that none of us are immune. Regardless of our age, race, gender, or status in life, very predictable patterns emerge during important conversations that get in the way of being effective. Understanding what these patterns are and how to craft more effective and courageous conversations should be what life is all about.
The Courageous Conversations framework helps you remain focused on the issue or problem and not the personality or the person. It teaches you how to be direct and bold, but not overbearing. It teaches you how to be honest in a way that lets others be honest in return.
Mastering the Courageous Conversations framework will not make your difficult conversations necessarily more comfortable, because the emotional side of a conversation is real and sensitive. But it will make them more effective and can be mastered by both individuals and teams.
Fostering conditions that will enable people to act with high levels of candor, respect, and responsibility is critical as they engage in discussing difficult, complex issues.
It is understood that people learn best by doing, so if you can gain experience around these key skills and behaviors, and find opportunity to practice them, you will find greater success in the outcome and results of your courageous conversations.
The ability to deliver effective feedback is an important skill that all leaders should possess and work to improve. Feedback helps solidify relationships and builds trust between individuals. Without appropriate and timely feedback, others are forced to make assumptions about how they are perceived. This can create risk, misunderstanding, and conflict. Learning and cultivating specific skills can greatly improve the feedback that you give. There are three main areas to work on if you want to improve your ability to give feedback.
Think before you give feedback.
Give the right type of feedback.
Deliver the feedback correctly.
1. Think before you give feedback. Take the time to stop and think about what you are about to say to someone. Not only will this stop you from having “knee jerk reactions”, it will also allow you to build a plan for the conversation you are about to have. Be prompt with your feedback and do not allow excess time to pass before you deliver it. Be specific about what needs to be discussed. Develop a plan to keep the discussion on course.
2. Give the right type of feedback. Keep your focus on the behaviors of others and not on their personality or character. Don’t let your feelings and attitude towards someone add to or detract from your feedback. Balance the feedback that you give between the corrective type and the supportive type. Doing this lets people know what they are doing well and what they can try to improve upon. Be clear on your expectations. Set goals and limits on the behaviors and skills that you expect.
3. Deliver the feedback correctly. When delivering feedback, there are many skills that will help communicate your message more effectively. Be yourself. Don’t change who you are when you deliver feedback to someone. Stay calm. Really listen to the other person and don’t overreact to what they say. Use eye contact to show them that you are paying attention and clarify your understanding of what they are telling you. Lastly, share your feelings. Let people know how you connect with the feedback that you are delivering to them.
When your next feedback situation arises, try implementing these skills. You will see the effectiveness of your feedback improve as you improve on the different skills used when delivering feedback. Here is a recap of some helpful feedback skills:
Before you give feedback, develop a specific plan and be prompt with your delivery.
The content of the feedback should focus on behaviors and use a balance of corrective and supportive feedback.
When delivering feedback: be yourself, share your feelings, stay calm, use eye
Many would argue that leading a virtual team requires the same leadership skills and attributes as leading a traditional team. While the key fundamentals of leadership hold true in both cases, virtual leadership scenarios offer unique and significant challenges. Following are five areas where virtual leaders need to focus energy in order to lead effectively.
Communication– Although leaders and team members are not in the same geographic location and cannot have a face-to-face conversation, effective communication is a key to success. The virtual world offers many different means of communication. These can include phone calls, emails, text messages, instant messaging, and video conferencing.
Communication guidelines should be set before communicating with a team virtually. These guidelines could consist of regularly scheduled calls, which mode of communication is used based upon the importance of the issue at hand, and how to handle time zone differences.
Consistent, prompt, and timely communication will help a virtual leader guide their team and create synergy among its members.
Trust– Developing trust in a virtual environment is not as easy as walking down the hallway or going out to lunch to chat, with your team. When building virtual relationships with team members, relationships are built at the individual level. Remember the special needs of each person. It will be vitally important to have an open and honest relationship with a lot of feedback. A virtual leader must be willing to make themselves accessible and available to their team members.
Another great way to develop trust uses personal attention: acknowledge birthdays, anniversaries, successes, and other achievements important to the individual.
Clarity– Team members must have a clear understanding of what is expected of them. When a virtual team is working on a project, there are questions you can ask yourself as the leader to ensure clarity. These include:
Is there a clear division of tasks?
Does each team member clearly understand what their specific task is?
Does each team member know the process for reporting results?
Are deadlines understood?
Support – Virtual leaders need to understand that working in a virtual environment can be “lonely” at times for team members. They do not have the energy and excitement that is created from working in an office with other team members. As a virtual leader it will be very important to know how team members are doing emotionally. Share your support.
Another type of support that will be necessary involves the work that team members perform. Team members must know that just because they are not geographically located in the same area as their peers and leader, help is readily available from the leader or other team members if they need it.
Empowerment – Team members must feel they have the ability to exercise authority to ensure they can complete their assigned responsibilities. There could be quick decisions to be made without time to go through the communication challenges that virtual teams inherently face. Leaders must allow team members to make decisions and support the decisions that are made.
As virtual teams become more and more prevalent, focus on effective virtual leadership will also grow. As leaders transition from traditional teams to virtual teams, many of their attributes and skills that made them effective leaders will transfer over, but it is important to look at how the miles separating leaders and team members will cause some adjustments to their leadership style. The more effective leaders are at leading a virtual teams, the more they can take advantage of the many benefits virtual teams bring to an organization.
The first two tips to improve your communication were providing non-verbal support and being an active listener. These tips will help you engage in an open and honest discussion with others as you will be giving them your full attention and showing them your support with your body language. The final tip to enhance your communication skills is to express your understanding of what you heard.
Tip #3 Express Understanding
Clarification of what you thought you heard is crucial to effective communication. Improve your communication skills by going beyond simply hearing what is being said, to actively participating in the conversation. The best way to involve yourself in a discussion, when the other person is doing most of the talking, is to express your understanding of what they said. This can be done by providing feedback, asking for clarification, or simply paraphrasing what the speaker just said.
In order to gain proper understanding and alignment with the person that is speaking to you, try offering a summary or restatement of content back to the speaker. This will allow them to correct or confirm what they are trying to convey to you. It will also provide a level of support, as they will know that you are engaged in the conversation. Another way to show your understanding is to verify specific facts that you hear. Asking for clarification about names, titles, times, dates, and actions are good opportunities to show that you are interested in what the person is saying. Simply restating important facts comforts the person speaking and keeps the conversation moving forward.
Understanding the meaning of what another person said goes deeper than just the content of their words. It is important to search out the feelings and emotions behind what was said. Express your understanding of what the speaker is feeling and the reasons they feel the way they do. Clarify that you are on the same page.
Effective two-way communication does not happen by accident. To get the most possible out of a conversation, provide non-verbal support, actively listen and express your understanding. Using these three tips will improve the quality of your conversations and the relationships that you have with others.
The first tip to improve your communication was providing non-verbal support to the person you are speaking with. Non-verbal support is sitting up straight, facing the person you talking with and maintaining proper eye contact. This support creates a safe environment for open and honest communication. Although this tip brings meaningful information to the surface it is still dependent on hearing what is being said. This brings us to the second tip for improving your communication.
Tip #2 Be an Active Listener
Epictetus, the Greek philosopher, once said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” You do not have to talk a lot in order to contribute to a discussion. Active listening plays a large role in the value of a conversation. An active listener tries to understand the content of the message as well as the intentions, expectations and feelings of the sender.Paying complete attention is the biggest obstacle of active listening. Try to remain focused on the conversation and speaker at hand. Don’t pretend to be listening when your mind takes a detour to a different topic. For some of us, this is harder than for others. It is understandable that you have lots of things on your mind. Even at this very moment I am fighting to keep your attention. Avoid thinking about the future or dwelling on the past. Keep your attention in the present and on the person speaking.
Even with your mind on the present, there are still many things that can steal your attention away from the conversation. It is human nature to make judgments and feel emotions about the people you communicate with. Try not to get hung up on irrelevant observations and tune out of the conversation. Just because someone has a zit or their tie is crooked, try not to lose focus on what they are saying. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2cs8gnb42A) Keep your emotions in check. It is hard to stay engaged when you find the topic uninteresting or irrelevant. Don’t let your emotions for or against the topic or person defer your attention from completely understanding their message. Be careful not to miss what is really being conveyed. The objective of the listener is to understand what the speaker is saying and where he or she is coming from.
By using the first and second tips, you have provided non-verbal support and actively listening. The final tip, coming up in the next post, will address the importance of expressing your understanding of what was actually said.
Communication plays a large role in everyday life and is extremely important in the business world. Whether your finding out how your coworker’s weekend went or having an in-depth development conversation, effective communication raises the level of your relationships. Communicating effectively is a learned skill that can be developed with effort and practice. Understanding the full meaning of what you hear is the most crucial part of the communication process. I have three tips that will improve your communication by helping you gather a complete understanding of what is being said. Providing non-verbal support, actively listening and expressing your understanding of what you hear, will add depth to your conversations. Putting these three simple tips into practice will strengthen the relationships you have at work.
Tip #1 Non-Verbal Support
Providing non-verbal support during a conversation allows you to gather valuable social information and creates a safe environment for the conversation to take place. Giving non-verbal support starts with your body positioning. Your shoulders should be parallel to the person you are speaking with. Sit up straight and give them your full attention. Occasionally nod your head in an affirmative fashion to show that you are following what they are saying. Try leaning towards the speaker when crucial ideas are presented. Jot down a quick note of things you want to remember. Do not obsessively take notes or doodle though, as this portrays boredom or non-interest.
By far, the best non-verbal support you can provide is proper eye contact. The right amount of eye contact can be difficult to accomplish. Too much eye contact and you come across aggressive. Too little eye contact and you are seen as having little interest. Find a happy medium by looking at the person you are speaking with, while avoiding intense staring. Pay attention to the speaker, but occasionally, look away. This will help you avoid the awkward stare. However, do not look down when you break eye contact, as this indicates that you are done with your part of the conversation. Instead, look up or to the side as if you are thinking about or remembering something. Maintaining eye contact lets the person speaking know that you are paying attention. It shows them that you have an interest in what they are saying.
When you provide non-verbal support, you create a safe environment to speak. This will encourage the speaker to open up and you will get the deeper information that makes a conversation meaningful. The next article, containing tip #2, addresses active listening and provides helpful hints on listening, not just hearing, the meaningful information that your non-verbal support will draw out.
The coaching process is communication between two people to enhance ones’ skills, motivation, attitude, or performance. It is a two-way conversation that requires intelligence gathering, active listening, and flexible objectives. Coaching is an ongoing process, which over time, will lead to permanent improvement of processes and performance. There are many skills that need to be utilized in order to be a good coach. One of the most important coaching skills is the ability to ask good questions.
Questions can be used in a variety of ways and achieve multiple results. Questions are the best way to open up a dialogue and encourage active participation from another person. They are used to gather information and to clarify understanding. Questions can help you propose new ideas and strategies and they can raise the constructive tension between people. There are two types of coaching questions, open and closed ended.
Open-ended questions promote interaction by drawing out responses, information and ideas. These questions begin with, who, what, where, when, why, or how, and cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. Open-ended questions bring out feelings and opinions, which adds depth to the information that you receive.
Closed-ended questions seek specific, brief responses. They are fact finding questions used to gain commitment and to confirm what has been said. They get right to the point and save time in a conversation.
Navigate the Coaching Process
It is important to build rapport and give support while coaching. Questions are the best way to find out what the person being coached thinks and feels about the issue at hand. A good starter question might be, “What are some of the challenges you have encountered?” or “What are your reactions to this issue?” Let them know that you would like to understand their perspective. Create an environment that is relaxed and emotionally safe for open and constructive dialogue. Provide non-verbal support by maintaining eye contact and not multi-tasking during the conversation. Remember to give positive feedback about the person’s successes.
It is also possible to transfer ownership of a situation to the person being coached. Simply asking questions such as, “Do you think your current strategy is giving you the results you need?” or “What is it we are trying to accomplish as a team?” can establish the importance of the topic. Specific impact questions can help eliminate any perceptual blind spots the person being coached might have. They also add relevance to the subject at hand and provide motivation to seek new alternatives.
Use open-ended questions to gain pertinent responses and ideas, as well as the feelings and motivations driving them. Use closed-ended questions to solidify what you have been discussing and confirm your important objectives. Utilizing questions in coaching situations is the most effective way to understand where the other person is coming from, the specifics surrounding the topic at hand, and how to build cooperation and prepare to move on to a plan of action. The best way to navigate through the coaching process is to understand as much as you can about the other person and their situation. Questions provide the road map that will lead you to the end results.