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Learning to develop the finer elements of conversation is part of the leadership skill set. This doesn’t mean every ‘leader’ get’s this… I am sure we can think of a list of leaders that were frankly considered…Assholes. (Steve Jobs comes to mind with his tirades and degrading way.)
If you are going for the “asshole leader”, you can ignore the rest of this post.
If you are still here, let me share with you a personal (and relevant) experience with you.
I had something to say. I wanted to be heard. I had waited nearly three weeks to have this conversation.
I had been traveling non-stop for 11 months to Canada. I had grown tired of the travel, but more so of the lack of growth, I was experiencing. My frustration had reached a breaking point as it was all I could think about. I was consumed with making a shift in my development plan.
I finally got a chance to sit down with my manager to discuss this burning issue.
Well, we did have our chat. It was not ideal. In fact, it kind of sucked.
I prepared for the conversation more so than our typical meetings. I wanted to make a change to my current project. I was a project manager for a consulting engagement exceeding $100 million. And my manager was not listening.
First, I was not his priority at that moment. He kept checking his email and even took two phone calls during our chat. I just didn’t feel like this was important to him. Second, it seemed all he was thinking about was the impact on his revenue projections with my desire to make a change.
The final straw was me getting crystal clear in what I wanted. I needed a change to a new project and a new experience to continue my personal development. And all my manager could talk about was my bill rate on the project being $435 per hour. Yes. That is a truckload per hour, but in consulting you only get a small fraction of that bill rate.
No matter what I said, I felt ignored.
He left our conversation with an “I’ll look into it.” response.
Well, nothing changed. I left the company six weeks later to start a new opportunity for the growth that I wanted and needed. My manager ended up losing all of the money I was netting his consulting practice. Ouch! All because he didn’t listen to what was going on.
Have you ever had a conversation like that? Maybe you were the manager. Maybe you were the employee. Or maybe you were the spouse.
Looking at this experience from the outside you can tell the conversation was clearly lacking key elements of charm and attention.
With this being said, I want to give you 5 ways to improve your leadership communication immediately:
1. Removing Distractions
We live in a busy and chaotic world. You have to be intentional about removing the possible distractions that could interfere with the moment.
Maybe it is simply a conscious action to say “Let me turn off my cell so we can talk.” Then putting it away to remove temptation.
Does this scare you? Are you afraid to miss something?
Well, if you have a scheduled conversation with someone, you should be able to make that person feel as if they are the most important person at that moment. I am sure there are excuses why you can’t do this…you are a leader, right? You are important.
I get it. I used to think this too.
However, taking a few minutes to cut off distractions will set the tone for the conversation that makes this time well spent.
Showing up distracted is just a waste of everyone’s time.
2. Practicing Presence
After removing distractions, you still have to show up in a way that connects you to your audience, even if the audience is one person. You have a choice to be in the room or somewhere else.
You always have a choice.
If you choose to be present, you will have a different experience than if you just show up with no purpose.
Presence is a dance in the moment thing. You know it when you feel it. And you know it when it isn’t there. One sign of having leadership presence is looking others in the eye. I know this is a simple tip, but you would be amazed of those not comfortable with a connection via the optical pathways to the brain.
Be careful here, because you can lose presence in a flash by letting your mind wander to something else.
I like to jot done notes to keep me present to the moment. You don’t have to do it my way; however, the practice of presence is a game changer if you want the other person to feel appreciated in your time together.
3. Listening with Care
It goes without saying that you are going to be listening, right?
Listening is a critical component of a conversation. I invite you to listen beyond the words. Listen for the emotion of the other person. Listen to what is going on that is driving this conversation.
One question you can ask yourself is “What is really going on here in this conversation?” You can ask this question to your audience if appropriate. But your ability to connect to the listener’s real issue is important.
Also, you can listen to their body language too. Are the words they are saying in alignment with their body? Is there a shift in their body that makes you think there is more going on than the words they are telling you?
Learn more about Body Language in a popular TEDx talk by Amy Cuddy on the subject.
Listening is NOT just listening so that you can respond. Deep listening is what allows the conversation to leave the person feeling heard and valued.
4. Asking Better Questions
As a leader, you are quite custom to talking and sharing. You are likely very good at giving answers. However, how are you at asking questions?
Questions are the doorway to what is going on. If you want to improve your leadership communication, you must realize that this is a dialogue, not a monolog.
A monolog is common in leadership with the need to delegate and influence. Dialogue is a more powerful way to communicate. Dare I say dialogue is even better at influencing to a new future or shifting behaviors.
Asking better questions is a break from the typical HOW and WHAT questions. Better questions don’t have an exact formula so to speak. And it is certainly not about the 2 or 3 part question that seems to ramble on for days. (This is what I call the “train of thought with no caboose.”)
Sometimes the better question is just “why?” And followed up with “why is that important to you?” Don’t be afraid to ask a series of WHY questions to get to the real issue.
The sign of a “better question” is one that is not easily responded to with a “pat” answer. When the question invokes a body shift and a long pause to think…you are on the right track.
Asking better questions will give you more connection with your listener. Asking questions that help them make decisions for themselves is a coaching technique that can improve your leadership effectiveness.
5. Expressing Empathy
This one might be the hardest for many leaders. It is putting you in their shoes. It is looking at the world from a different perspective.
Empathy gets lip-service in leadership, but rarely does it come out. This is the area I struggle the most in my communication. I have to be intentional about expressing empathy because it doesn’t come naturally to me.
I’m working on it. I know it is important for leadership.
Expressing empathy allows you to say words and show emotions that show you care. When someone believes you care about them and their concerns, you are more likely to have a clear connection to them.
In wrapping up the five ways to improve leadership communication, I encourage you to choose the ones that you like best, put into immediate action and see the difference in your communications. You can practice them with everyone…yes, everyone. This means your team, your clients, your family and even your dog. I’m sure your dog would love some deeper level of attention and love.
Let me know how you are using this information. Email me at [email protected] to share your tips or successes with this message.