Ever had a project introduced in a meeting and thought, “What are these guys smoking? That will never work.” Did you stay silent and subsequently watch the same project move forward with disastrous results? Did you ever have a great idea but thought no one would listen so stayed quiet? Did you later learn that your idea was tried somewhere else to great success? What about attending a meeting where nothing useful happens or following a process where nothing of value is accomplished? These kinds of scenarios are played out all the time in organizations and sadly, we’ve come to take them for granted. We often accept them as part of the cost of doing business, but what if we changed the dynamic, what if we stopped having meetings and started having real conversations. Its not as difficult as it sounds and it doesn’t require special training or agenda making. Getting into that right groove is a question of trial and error and will reflect the will and makeup of the group but their are some basic interpersonal communication skills that can help.
- Know Your Audience: As a speaker take the time to consider the audience, their state of mind and experience. Have you prepared them for the presentation? Ask yourself if what you are presenting is truly engaging. Would it capture your attention? Look at their body language, are you reaching them? If its two in the afternoon, do they need to stand a stretch for a minute?
- Actively Listen: As an audience member you have a role to play and sitting passively isn’t it. Think about the last really fantastic conversation you had. An exchange of ideas where you felt heard and where you could really connect to what was being said. What did it feel like? What was happening was that you were actively listening. You were hearing what the person meant without contemplating blame, accusation or what you were going to say next. You listened without prejudice and the same was being done for you. Try it the next time you’re in a meeting. Do not distract yourself with e-mail or other things that will take away from your ability to listen. Do not multi-task.
- Say it If You Mean It: Speak with honesty and from your personal perspective. Speak because you have something of value to contribute. Do not speak defensively or to blame, speak about how something makes you feel. In business settings we are often told to suspend emotion and speak “professionally”. While screaming fits and temper tantrums are not helpful, you can only have an emotionless place if it’s devoid of humans.
- Don’t let dogma distract you: We all have ideas or beliefs we hold to be true, things we are “certain” of. Those ideas shape and inform how we see, hear and understand people and ideas. These paradigms help us to navigate the world around us so they are very important, but they can also act like blinders, blocking our ability to see facts. It’s important to step back periodically and try to see the world through different eyes. This doesn’t mean live in perpetual self doubt, but stay open to new concepts. The same principle holds true when talking to colleagues. Suspend your beliefs, listen with an open mind to what they are saying, you might be surprised by what you learn. Notably, you may gain a better understanding of yourself and why you have the beliefs you do.
- Accept Conflict: If you work with people who care about what they do then inevitably there will be moments of conflict. This does not have to be a bad thing. In fact, the absence of dissenting voices can be a terrifying thing, it could be that you’re all stuck in the same paradigm. Recall the tragedy of the Challenger. Anticipate that you will not always see things in the same way. There are bound to be people who have a different take on the world. Take the time to listen to those ideas. Give yourself a chance to learn something new or see something old in a new way.
- Slow Down and Smell the Coffee: Sometimes after someone delivers a presentation or proposes an idea we ask, any questions? Generally we give listeners an entire six seconds to form their thoughts. Imagine, talking to a group for anywhere from ten to thirty minutes about an idea or project and then giving them six seconds to digest, integrate and develop questions. Is it any wonder so many meetings and teleconference calls are packed with “awkward silence”? The real question is, is that silence really awkward? Consider slowing the conversation and giving people the opportunity to ask and engage during presentations. Consider having a conversation rather than a presentation. Pause and ask people what they think. Ask specific people to feedback what they heard.
What was the last great conversation you had at home or at work? What made it great for you?
- Three Deep Breaths, Finding Power and Purpose in a Stressed-Out World, author, Thomas Crum
- The Art of Possibility authors Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander
- Oracle of the Obvious, Secrets of Common Sense Leadership, authors Dena Hurst and Ray Jorgensen (the e-book is much cheaper than the paperback, consider loaning this one from the library if you can’t access e-books)