Experts Share Thoughts on Communication: A Frontline Festival

Welcome back to the Let’s Grow Leaders Frontline Festival. Our August Festival is all about communication. Thanks to Joy and Tom Guthrie of Vizwerx Group for the great pic and to all our contributors! Next month’s Festival is all about Building Effective Peer Relationships. New contributors welcome.

Refining Your Personal Communication Style

To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others. – Tony Robbins

According to David Dye of Trailblaze, new leaders often focus on making an impression. He suggests that’s the wrong place to focus your initial communication. Rather, effective leaders first communicate service and authenticityFollow David.

Jeff Harmon of Brilliance Within Coaching advises that leading yourself requires that you slow down so you can assess and re-calibrate–and communicate with yourself.  Here are 19 questions to ask.  Follow Jeff. 

Robert Kennedy of relates that communication not only involves transmitting information but also involves being aware of the signals you receive in return.  Following some simple observations can increase the impact and power of your conversations dramatically. Follow Robert.

Melissa Lamson of Lamson Consulting admits there are still times when men have difficulty finding common ground with their female colleagues. As a result, some professional relationships suffer and the team doesn’t work quite as efficiently as it could. She offers tips to help men connect with female colleagues. Follow Melissa.

Scott Mabry of Soul to Work shares the importance of communicating and aligning our beliefs, as leaders, for the people we serve, and the importance of letting them influence and inspire our beliefs along the way. Follow Scott.

John Manning of Map Consulting says, “I’m busy. You’re busy. We’re all busy and have demanding lives to lead. But what would happen if you made a commitment to set aside time to become a more engaging leader? I don’t just mean talking more to others in some sort of charming manner (although that can help). I’m referring to getting involved in other’s lives. Here are some tips how.” Follow John.  

Matt McWilliams of Matt McWilliams Consulting shares that good communication does not come naturally, even in the closest groups of people who have been together for years. So, communication must be taught and what is taught must be practicedFollow Matt.

Have you ever wondered, “Why is nobody listening to me?!” Leadership Coach Julie Pierce (Empowered by Pierce) shares the 4 critical questions to ask to make your communication count. Follow Julie.

Alli Polin of Break the Frame  shares that most communication is rife with jargon. To make a connection, learn to meet people where they are, understand their language and needs, and flex your style to build the relationship.  Follow Alli.

Stop talking. Questions make it worse. Don’t be yourself! Counterintuitive advice on how to have better communication, not just more communication from Skip Prichard of Leadership Insights.  Follow Skip.

Jim Ryan of Soft Skills for Hard Jobs discusses the importance of getting back to people quickly. Follow Jim.

Jesse Lyn Stoner of Seapoint Center for Collaborative Leadership  observes that when people in the US work with people in other countries, we often expect them to adapt to our language and customs, without realizing how much more respectful it would be for us to adapt to them. She gives 8 simple and easy things you can do in your email communications that demonstrate your respect. Follow Jesse Lyn.

Communicating with Your Team

The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said. – Peter Drucker

Beth Beutler of H.O.P.E. Unlimited gives tips to help you engage your more introverted team membersFollow Beth.

Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership simply states, “Conversations are the way that leaders get things done.”  Follow Wally.

Paul LaRue of The UPwards Leader shares a post about strengthening and perpetuating communication throughout your team.  Follow Paul.

According to Dan McCarthy of Management and Leadership, Many managers know how to “run” a meeting, but not all know how to “facilitate” a meeting. Meeting facilitation involves getting everyone involved in identifying and solving problems. Teams will almost always develop better, more creative solutions than any one manager could and will be more likely to support the implementation of the solutions.    Follow Dan.

Robyn McLeod of Thoughtful Leaders Blog  presents three techniques for writing compelling dialogue that also serve as important ways to improve communication with your team. Follow Robyn.

Communicating Well in Challenging Situations

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. – George Bernard Shaw

Nikki Heise of Ridgeline Coaching shares a post giving leaders something to do when they hear the same “broken record” of resistance.  She explores the power of listening to and then acknowledging and validating people so they can get past objections and move to action. Follow Nikki.

John Hunter of Curious Cat Management Improvement says that most often there is no continuity or rigorous examination of past attempts in communicating change. In such situations I see no reason to be surprised that most people just see random changes by whoever is in charge that just must be survived until the next random change. Follow John.

Barbara Kimmel of Trust Across America asks “How do low-trust leaders communicate when faced with a trust breach? Here’s a quick sampling of 10 one-liners pulled from the headlines over the past several weeks. Follow Barbara.

Terri Klass of Terri Klass Consulting notes that when we collaborate on a project, differences of approach can cause feisty debates with the people we work with rather than embracing perspectives that may be very different from our own. Here are four ways to communicate for collaboration.  Follow Terri. 

Jeff Miller of The Faithful Pacesetters asks “What are the consequences of leadership not being straightforward?” Misunderstood goals, Unchecked Improper Conduct, Destruction of an Organization. Follow Jeff.

When you are facing a change at work, home or community be sure to consider the grief process as you craft your message. Thanks, Michelle Pallas of  Follow Michelle.

The silliness of the way Hollywood movies and TV shows depicts the FBI is pure entertainment for someone like LaRae Quy of Mental Toughness Center! a former FBI agent. The danger that lurks, however, is that impressionable audiences actually start to believe all they see, read, and hear about bullying, intimidation, and rudeness. The fact is, FBI agents use persuasion to get the job done in the majority of cases, not brute strength and ignorance. Follow LaRae.

John Stoker of DialogueWORKS shares that the challenge in holding a conversation with someone who is in authority over you has to do with the quality of the relationship. This post breaks down how to talk to a boss and be more influential or even sell an idea or solution in a way that helps your manager understand the situation from a different perspective. Follow John.

Mightier than the sword: Ida B. Well’s battle against injustice inspires writers today. Thanks, Dr. Artika Tyner of the Planting People. Growing Justice Institute  Follow Artika.

Call for Submissions. The September Frontline Festival is about Peer Relationships. Please send your submissions no later than September 10th. New participants (including LinkedIn Bloggers) welcome. Click here to join in!

improved communication

You Lost Me at Hello: Practical Tips for Better Communication

You’ve done important work, and you’re trying to get the team to understand your point. But before you get to page 3, John’s flipping to the back of the deck, Carol’s obviously distracted by her text messages, and you’d swear you saw a glimpse of Words With Friends on Tracy’s iPad. It’s true, that’s rude. What’s equally true is that this scene is calling for better communication.

I spoke with Joseph McCormack, author of Brief: Make a bigger Impact by Saying Less. His book offers great advice and tools for everything from presentations to sales pitches to small talk. I asked him for some advice for some of the more difficult communication situations.

Better Communication:  Q &A with Joseph McCormack

Q- What do you do when you’re presenting and you notice visible distractions like jumping ahead or multi-tasking?
A- First don’t let it happen. Plan better.  But to bring them back, speak in headlines. People fidget because they’re confused. Use stories to draw them back in. When speakers tell stories, they automatically relax. That comfort, along with the story, makes a connection that draws-in attention.

Q-What if you work in a Powerpoint and bullet-point addicted culture?  How can you incorporate some of these ideas and still fit in with the culture?
A- Be prepared to give the entire presentation in 3 minutes if something happened to your slides. Then start with that executive summary. Now they have a map to follow as you give the rest of your presentation. Also, there’s a free online tool called Haikudeck which helps you great visual presentations (I checked it out.  Love it!)

Q- You advocate the use of stories, but don’t stories take longer than sticking to the facts?
A- You’ve really got to practice, so you can get down to the essential elements of the story. Don’t tell the 5 minute version.Get the details that drill down to the core and enhance the meaning.

Q-What suggestions do you have for leaders giving tough feedback or messages to their teams?
A- Think about what you’re really trying to say, and say THAT as early as possible  Don’t extend the pain. Give bad news upfront and then the explanation.

Bonus Tip:

When you’re done with a phone call, look at the elapsed time before you hit end. Then ask yourself if what you accomplished was worth the investment.

For more information about Brief and to watch videos click here.

Small Gestures of Trust Build Great Results

I was attending a breakout session on social media strategy at the International Customer Service Association conference, when the presenter asked, “who allows their reps to have Facebook on their work computers?” This is not the norm in the call center space, but one guy raised his hand. I knew immediately whose table I wanted to sit at for lunch. Where there’s one gesture of trust, there’s generally others and I wanted to learn everything he had to share.

Lunch was great, the conversation even better and just as I suspected Klaus Buellesbach, Director of Ace Hardware Care Centers, has an amazing track record of results.

His quality results and other metrics are quite strong, and despite substantial organizational change, his center has had no turnover for two years (with the exception of one retirement). Trust leads to engagement which leads to low-turnover, which builds competence and confidence, which creates great customer experiences, which inspires customer loyalty. Amen.

Here’s his secret for building trust

Build from Within

“When I get into a new situation, I build a high-performance team with the people that are there. I never bring people from the last job along. I look for the gifts the current team has and build on it in a unique way. What this creates is big trust and some very different teams. You could never put all the teams I have led side by side and say, of course, ”this is the team that Klaus built.”

It’s not his fingerprints on the team or is it? It’s his unleashing of the talent he discovers to create a unique masterpiece. My guess, if you put these teams “side by side” they would really enjoy that conversation.

Get Everyone Involved in the Big Picture

He asks big questions to create larger context for the work. He has trust in the team to inspire the vision.

“Besides running a contact center, what is it that we really need to accomplish this year?

“What does a care center really stand for?”

When the employee surveys come back, he empowers a team to discuss them over a 7 week period, so there is time to go deep. ”We can’t implement all of their suggestions, but we usually can do most of them.” That matters.

Be Humble

Klaus is a great example of confident humility. It’s all about the people and how he can involve and support them.

“I want to know before I speak; and understand before I act. I ensure I understand the whole situation first.”

Know Your People

Start every day on the floor really talking to people about things that matter to them. People need to know you care about them and their interests. This is where the Facebook thing came in.

“We have a number of parents in our center. We found that the school systems are starting to communicate through websites as well as via phone. Parents want to be able to check in. Most phones have data plans so pulling up Facebook is part of the routine. We support corporate social media inquiries in our center. It is a small step from there to allowing our team to keep up with their personal lives. As long as their quality and productivity metrics are good, we treat them as adults and let them take care of their lives.”

Look Beyond the Numbers

To build a world-class customer service organization you have to focus on the intangibles. There are lots of ways to measure customer loyalty none of which are perfect. He focuses on ensuring every customer is completely satisfied every time, and doesn’t get overly excited about small changes to the numbers. In the long run great service wins and the numbers work out.

Team Trouble? How to Build a Team One Person at a Time

My phone rang again this week. It was a front-line leader I have known for years having team trouble.

“I can’t get them motivated. They just don’t seem to care like I do. I am not sure what to do, I’ve tried everything.”

I have received this same call many times over the years, not from this person but from others in similar circumstances.

When the frustration level hits a wall like that, I go back to my most fundamental belief about team building: great teams are built one person at a time.

Until that fundamental trust is built between the leader and each individual team member, team meetings will likely remain superficial and team builders won’t get much traction.

Also, it’s a lot less daunting to think about how you can empower one person’s success, rather than feeling like you need to influence an entire team all at once.

Doing this involves meeting the person where they are. And as Dan Rockwell suggests, adapting your style the person you are working to influence.

Steps for One Person at a Time Team Building

Set the stage with the group

  • Start positive: express your commitment to their development
  • Be careful not to position it as fixing something broken
  • Let the team know you will be reaching out to set up individual meetings

Prepare by thinking about your impressions of each person

  • What are they most proud of?
  • What do they care most about?
  • What excites them?
  • What’s their biggest strength?
  • What seems to scare them?
  • Who do they respect? Why?
  • What is their role on the team?
  • What do they want to do next?

Hold individual discussions

  • Ask some of the questions above
  • Really listen
  • Resist the urge to comment or challenge, take it all in
  • Consider: what surprised you? What did you learn?
  • Agree on one or two key actions with measurements of success
  • Pick one great thing and ask them to share back at the next team meeting
  • Establish time to check in

On the side

  • Find time to learn more about who they are and what they do outside of work
  • Share a bit about yourself and look for common interests
  • Look for opportunities to work with them on something fun
  • Encourage opportunities for team members to work together

Incorporate some highlights into future team meetings

  • Start with asking each team member to share something they are proud of
  • Ask them to share a best practice or teach something
  • Have them share wins around their key actions

Please share your experiences what team building techniques have worked best for you?

Don’t Get a Mentor

I was recently on a hiking tour of the Utah National Parks with my son. After the first big day of hiking, Seb (6) looks at me and says, “if we are going to do this again tomorrow, we will need some help, let’s each pick 3 Pokemon to take along we can summon them up as needed. They’ve got some good skills that can help”

Turns out he leverages Pokemon like I engage mentors.

I have wonderful “mentors” turned life-long friends who I can rely on (and they can rely on) as needed. At this stage, I can pretty much anticipate the reaction I will get depending on who I call.

  • One keeps challenging me to take weird jobs
  • Another encourages me to develop my interest and practice of spirituality in leadership (ironically, because it’s important to me, not because it’s particularly important to him)
  • Another I call when I need to be humbled, or get ahead of myself
  • And, another I call when I am down and need someone to tell me I am “wonderful”
  • And others

Why Mentoring Programs Don’t Work

Stop looking for formal programs and mentors. Such programs seldom work. The matches are artificial. The “rules” forced. I’ve built such programs over the years. I’ve mentored and been mentored in such scenes. The truth is, the best relationships develop organically.

Invest time, energy, and commitment into real relationships with great people you stumble on throughout your career. Like any other friendship, if you keep your eyes, heart and mind open, these folks will show up.

My advice to young leaders:

  • find a mentor early
  • keep adding them along the way
  • invest time and energy
  • care about them as much as they care about you
  • be deliberate about keeping the magic alive

Hang on and Give Back

One of my favorite such mentors, Gary, died several years ago. I keep his help alive by thinking “what would Gary say” Sometimes his advice just seems to surface when I am on a long run, or really stuck I know he is still impacting my life and career.

The best part of having had great mentors, is the chance to give it back (same rules apply).

And when it’s real, I never let it go.

This is mentoring week on Let’s Grow Leaders. I will address a mentoring topic each day. I hope you will join in the conversation.

Listen Well: Better Get a Bucket

I believe that after integrity, listening is the second most important leadership skill.

And it is also one of the most difficult.

Listening well is hard.Listening well, consistently, is even harder.

Lately, I have been paying more attention to what is happening when the listening is good.

The key is having some good buckets– categories to help you organize what you hear, and to feed it back.

People need to know that you have heard them that you are with them and that you got the gist.

Buckets help you organize your listening and feedback.

One on One

Imagine an emotional co-worker coming to you with a long story about why a project is in jeopardy. You listen intently to what she has to say, and look for the main ideas.After she is done, you can respond with empathy and understanding.

“I am hearing three main concerns here let me see I have this right “and then spill your buckets.

Helping someone to organize their own thoughts makes them feel better, and usually calmer. Situations seem easier to tackle when they are simplified into groups.

Bigger Groups

This also works in larger contexts as well. I recently watched an executive who was hosting a big conference get up every 3 hours and feedback the big ideas he heard from each speaker. He put his buckets on display, reinforced key messages, and modeled the level of listening that should be happening.

I have also used this technique in large town hall meetings. Rather than respond to every comment, I listen intently and then share (and respond to) the main buckets of issues.

There is value in the trying

Of course sometimes, your buckets will be wrong. That’s okay.

It at least helps the conversation along in a productive way.

Try taking a bucket to your next meeting. It’s exciting to see what might fill it up.