Call 911!

“You in the red shirt call 911!”  The instructor in my CPR training class was demonstrating the importance of making a very clear and specific request.  She explained that if you say, “Someone call 911” it’s likely that no one will call because they all assume someone else will do it.

Most of us aren’t dealing with emergency situations every day so you might be wondering why I’m writing about this.  Almost all of my clients need help communicating effectively and this advice translates to non-emergency situations as well.  Here are a couple of examples:

  • “Jenny I need you to follow up with accounting on this past due issue by Friday at noon” is more effective than “Somebody needs to take care of this past due issue ASAP.”
  • “Would you play back what I said so I can be sure we’re on the same page?”

Effective communication is making your request clear and specific so you can get what you need.  How can you apply this today?

Adjusting Your Style to Your Audience

On the Harvard Business Review website there are more than 10,000 articles, books, webinars and videos that mention communication skills.  Would you agree that effective communication is essential to success in business?

For my clients who struggle with adjusting their style to their audience in formal presentations or everyday interactions, I recommend the following methodology:

  1. Identify your goal
  • So you can be intentional about your approach
  1. Know your audience
  • What are their expectations and personality types?
  1. Get feedback in advance
  • For formal presentations and discussions that might be difficult
  • Build consensus with key stakeholders who will support your position
  1. Follow up
  • Ensure your message was heard
  • Learn how you can improve

The more you practice, the more effectively you will be able to communicate in any situation.  As they say in the theatre business, “Break a leg!”

How Am I Doing?

During his three terms as the mayor of New York Ed Koch asked everyone he met, “How’m I doin’?”  He didn’t want to wait for an election to find out.  How did you do last year?  Did you ask?

The more senior your role, the less likely you are to have a formal discussion about how you’re doing.  Many companies have moved away from formal evaluations completely.  Whether you get formal feedback or not, you may be reluctant to ask your boss for informal feedback because:

  • You don’t want to be micromanaged
  • No news is good news
  • It’s the boss’s job to initiate these conversations
  • You might have to make some changes

If it is important to you to know what you’re doing well and how you could improve, and you work for someone who isn’t good at giving feedback, you owe it to your boss and yourself to find an approach that works well for both of you.

Real time feedback is best but not everyone is comfortable with that.  Ask your boss what she or he prefers.  You might get the best feedback during conversations over coffee.  If more structure appeals to you, you could suggest regularly scheduled discussions focused on one or two key areas.

If you don’t ask, then how will you know how you’re doing?

Need to have a Fierce Conversation?

In a recent webinar for the Society of Women Engineers, I had the opportunity to speak to more than 850 people about Fierce Conversations. You may be familiar with the book by Susan Scott, who defines a Fierce Conversation as one in which we come out from behind ourselves into the conversation and make it real. That means we have to be authentic and say what we mean. We have to resist the temptation to answer, “Everything is fine” when it really isn’t. We have to say what is true – in a way that others can hear it.

Often we avoid engaging someone in a conversation because we worry that they might feel hurt or get defensive. They might refuse to talk or get emotional. But Fierce Conversations can’t be dependent on how others respond. If you know something must change, then you’re the one who must change it. 

The Fierce Conversations model includes an opening statement in which you:
  1. Name the issue
  2. Provide a specific example of the behavior or situation you want to change
  3. Describe your emotions about this issue
  4. Clarify what is at stake
  5. Identify your contribution to this problem
  6. Indicate your wish to resolve this issue
  7. Invite the other person to respond
Then you can:
  1. Listen and ensure that the other person feels understood
  2. Reach resolution and determine how to move forward
  3. Make an agreement and commit to holding each other accountable
As Susan Scott says, “Our lives succeed or fail one conversation at a time. The quality of our lives is largely determined by the quality of the questions we ask – and the quality of our answers.”  
 
What Fierce Conversation do you need to have?

It’s Not Always About You

I received a very snarky comment on a team building evaluation recently and it really upset me. This was a particularly challenging group and I worked hard to give them what they needed to learn about themselves and each other and to practice communicating and collaborating while having fun.

Because the comment was harsh and not at all constructive, it threw me right into my stress behavior. I couldn’t focus on all the positive comments because all I could see was the negative one. It took me several days and multiple conversations with trusted advisors before I realized, “Maybe it wasn’t about me.” As I always tell my team building participants, “I teach this stuff and I still forget it sometimes.”

The person who made the comment obviously didn’t get what he needed in the session. If the evaluations hadn’t been anonymous, I would have asked him what was missing. Asking others what they need is a foundational practice I teach in team building. What I forgot is that focusing on the other person’s needs can be really difficult when I am not getting what I need.

The ideal scenario is to meet the other person halfway, but that requires two willing parties. Sometimes you have to go all the way to the other side to find out what they need. That might be easier if you remember that their behavior may not be about you.

Whom do you need to meet halfway?

The Power of Storytelling

“This work changed my life.” When a client tells me that, I am grateful, humbled and energized to continue finding opportunities to help people fulfill their potential. This particular client was very good at telling people what he thought they wanted to hear, but I knew he meant what he said because he had worked hard on being authentic. He had learned how to let people know that he cared about them personally.

Sharing stories about his struggles as the new kid in school and his challenges in meeting his parents’ extraordinarily high expectations helped my client connect with his colleagues at a deeper level. As a result, they trusted him to tell them the truth and lead them through a very challenging time in their business.

Our storytelling tradition has been around since humans started talking around a campfire. Technology allows us to share our stories in different ways now, but we are still moved by someone who stimulates our imagination and our emotions. Your stories hold the power to persuade, teach and inspire – how will you use them?

For ideas and examples of great storytelling, check out

https://www.ted.com/talks, http://themoth.org/radio and www.storytellingsuccess.com