Expanding Leadership Conversations
[Time to read: 6 minutes]
One of the most difficult and yet most inspiring leadership skills to develop is effective communication.
I think most people know when they have talked with a leader who communicates well: They feel inspired and perhaps more importantly – they feel listened to.
Most of my working life has been in the information technology sector where things tend move fast – including conversations!
Over many years I have witnessed conversations where leaders have demonstrated excellent communication skills and also conversations that made people cringe!
So, how do we become better communicators and improve the quality of our business conversations?
Well, I like to use strategies that are quick and easy to implement as life is complex enough already! So, in this article I’ll share three communication strategies that have been helpful for me and for my clients:
My partner knows when I’m not listening to her. She’ll be talking to me and occasionally in the middle of our conversation my mind may wander – she has become an expert at interrupting my wandering mind by saying “What?!” in the middle of the silence.
It gets me every-time and brings me back to the conversation!
Although she teases me about this, it raises an important point that when our mind wanders in the middle of a conversation and we stop listening to what the other person has to say – it says a LOT to them.
This behaviour communicates that what they have to say is not important to you and that you choose not to listen to them.
In coaching, the coach listens at different levels to hear what the client is saying but also (just as importantly) what they are NOT saying.
When we ‘tune out’ of a conversation we can miss important information.
Clearing your mind of those wandering thoughts through breathing can help you stayed tuned and focused on what is being said. However, one of the most effective ways to listen to other people is to be curious and remain curious about what they have to say.
When you have a curious mindset in a conversation you ask different questions, you listen more to their responses and in turn you both get more out of the conversation.
A great way to create curiosity is to say the word: “curious” in your mind as you start the conversation.
Don’t do all the thinking
Back in my IT business I developed a habit of trying to solve problems for other people by doing the thinking for them, by telling them what to do next.
A member of staff would come to see me, describe their problem, and ask me what to do. Back then I thought that telling them what to do would provide the best solution to the problem.
However, soon after I started my coach training, I learnt that this was counter-productive for the member of staff that was asking for my advice.
Telling them what to do didn’t help them to develop their skills or problem-solving capabilities. So, once I learnt this, when a member of staff asked me what to do, I created the habit of asking: “What do you think we should do?”. Typically, the solution they came up with would have been the one I would have suggested. But many times, their solution was much better than mine!
Remember that the person in front of you is resourceful and creative – they may not demonstrate it at times, but your conversation is an excellent opportunity for them to practice that! They do have a solution to the problem, it’s just that you may need to tease it out of them!
Create and give time to others
I remember many years ago when I was an Electronic Engineer for a U.S IT company called Welch Allyn (Data Collection Division); I visited their head-office in up-state New York for annual product training. One day we had a tour of the Medical Division head-office a few miles away. It was a large state-of-the-art facility surrounded by beautiful gardens.
I was impressed.
However, I was even more impressed when the owner of the business – Bill Allyn took the time to show me and my fellow engineers around the facility.
Here was a multi-millionaire that employed 1000s of people showing a bunch of junior engineers around the factory.
That memory has remained with me for decades. It reminds me of the importance to create and make time for others in conversations, no matter what level they are in the business.
So, the next time you have a conversation with a member of your team – make time for them – don’t rush the conversation.
As a side note, I remember asking Bill: “How many people work here?”. He responded: “Hopefully all of them!”.
I believe the importance of effective communication in leadership cannot be understated. It can make the difference between a good leader and a great leader.
In this article we have learned three easy to use strategies that can help to bring more awareness to our business conversations. But of course, these strategies can be used in all types of conversations outside of the business as well:
- Get curious – Bringing a curious mindset to conversations will help you to listen at a deeper level to the other person. So rather than thinking about what you want to say next, you’ll be focused on what the other person has to say. They’ll know that you’re listening to them – and they’ll remember that.
- Don’t do all the thinking – Although you may know the solution to the problem that the person in front of you has just described, try to resist the temptation to tell them what to do. Remember, this is an opportunity for the other person to think, learn and grow. Try asking “What do you think we should do?”. Their solution may be something that you didn’t think of!
- Create and give time to others – For me, this is one of the most inspiring traits of an excellent leader. Time is a gift that you can create and give to others. I know your schedule will be busy – the other person will know that as well. But if you schedule time for them to chat with you, you’ll be sending them an important message that they are important and that you value what they have to say.
As with all strategies it will take practice to master these skills. But the rewards for the other people that you will be talking to can be unlimited.
One day they could be in a leadership position just like you are. The chances are that they’ll remember their conversations with you and be inspired by you – just like I was from my meeting with Bill Allyn.
I hope you found this article helpful.
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