Listen – Do You Want to Know a Secret?

In a recent coaching session a client shared a secret:  “I realized that the reason I haven’t been very productive since my move is that I don’t have anyone I can really talk to,” she said.  “I have work friends and attend networking events, but I don’t feel a deep connection to anyone.”

Loneliness is officially a public health crisis.  According to a 2018 survey, 22% of adults in the US and 23% in the UK say they always or often feel lonely, lack companionship, feel left out or isolated.  The number of single-occupant households is growing in Denmark, Germany and Canada.  Britain was the first nation in history to appoint a minister for loneliness.

As technology continues to make it easier to do things without interacting with each other, why should we make the effort?  Humans have survived because our brains are wired for connection.  There are serious physical and emotional consequences to spending too much time in isolation.

What should we do?  As Amy Banks points out in Four Ways to Click: Rewire Your Brain for Stronger, More Rewarding Relationship, “when you’re judging, you’re not listening… if you’re not judging, you can listen more and feel calmer,” which makes interacting with others much easier.  The author of Cracking the Code of Sustained Collaboration in Harvard Business Review recommends teaching people to listen so that judgment can give way to curiosity and people can value others’ perspectives as much as their own.  Brené Brown challenges us to “listen with the same passion with which we want to be heard.”

Listening is the secret to the deep connection that creates nourishing relationships.  How can you claim this for yourself or offer it to someone else today?

Try Not to Think About This

Do you think of your phone as a connector or a disconnector?  The answer may be both, although research warns that having our phones where we can see them, even if they are turned off, means our brains don’t work as well.  Interestingly, the process of not thinking about something depletes our limited cognitive resources.  If all our neurons aren’t firing we might miss important non-verbal cues that help us connect with people.

That concept might not have registered if you’re reading this on your phone — trying to ignore your phone actually makes it harder for you to connect.  Experiments on this phenomenon proved that our brains work best when our phones aren’t even in the room with us because we are so addicted to the adrenalin jolts we get every time we pick them up.

Although your palms might be sweaty just thinking about disconnecting from your phone for a while, I invite you to take a deep breath and envision the benefits of better connections.  Bottom line:  leaving your phone out of sight could improve your EQ and your IQ.

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?