effective communication posts
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March 29th, 2012
In a recent post (see Stumped! What to Do When a Meeting Agenda is Derailed?), I discussed my nemesis Georgina; the powerful and influential new team member who was dominating meetings by speaking for 90 minutes without taking a single breath. I decided to confront Georgina one-on-one to see if we could negotiate a solution.
Georgina told me that the team was in what she described as a sort of paralysis. As an experienced business leader she was having difficulty trying to identify what issues were holding them back. She had never before been faced with such palatable ineffectiveness. She found that the only way to engage them was to return to business basics and try to outline a vision for everyone at the table.
I realized that Georgina and I were facing the same problem from different perspectives. We both sought to increase the effectiveness of the team. To that end we decided to create a game plan for increasing team effectiveness together. Georgina will identify strategic directions that she wants to bring forward to the group based on her years in the trenches of business, and I will support her efforts by working my meeting fairy magic: providing a proper format for discussion, presentations, votes and decision-making.
With a better understanding of each other’s perspectives, I feel like we can clear the path of obstacles and move forward with redoubled efforts. I can initiate and maintain effective meeting structure and Georgina can take a breath here and there. It always helps to confront a problem head on.
What have you done in the face of being side-tracked in your role?
February 02nd, 2012
So many corporate teams are raddled by strained resources, frequent deadlines and multi-tasking. I am working with a few clients in exactly this position. In one case, the CEO still manages to schedule regular management meetings. This is a good thing for reviewing progress, learning new team competencies and if need be, recalibrating objectives for better results. The not-so-good part is that because they are only monthly, the meeting agendas are generally so chock-a-block that there is little time to ‘renew and connect’.
Recently, this team acquired a new member. Let’s call her Georgina. She has great power and influence and a strong willingness to participate. She will be instrumental in helping to promote the company’s vision of the future. She has also achieved great results before, literally rebounding from the depths of bankruptcy. The CEO and the team recognize her potential for helping them all achieve better results this year.
My role on this team is, as usual, “meeting fairy” instilling the importance of team norms.. My responsibility is to provide an equal and open forum and make sure that all agenda items receive adequate coverage.
I now face a new challenge with Georgina in these brisk meetings. I have noticed among her talents one incredible skill: she can speak for up to 90 minutes without a single break – I kid you not! As an experienced meeting fairy, I am extremely skilled at jumping in with force after a breath or slight pause to move the conversation on. But, wow, with Georgina I fear I have met my match!
So what am I to do about this powerful, authoritative and influential person who dominates the forum? What do you need to do when all participants of a meeting buy-in and agree to the norms except one rebel?
This problem illustrates one very basic rule of thumb: get all new members to buy in to the team norms for meeting participation. I must make this the key issue.
I have decided to meet one-to-one with Georgina in order to do three things:
- Bring forward the team norms.
- Be transparent about my inability to fulfill my meeting fairy responsibilities with her monologue behavior.
- Negotiate a solution for future meetings with her input.
Have you ever met a Georgina in one of your meetings? If so, what did you do?
Next week I will post the outcome of my conversation with Georgina – come back to find out what happened!
September 30th, 2011
Sounds so simple, but there is a complexity here that sometimes, when discussing a topic with others around the boardroom table, we often forget. It’s this complexity that can lead to gossip and misinterpretations.
I recently facilitated a team meeting where two individuals were engaged in a topic they were both passionate about. In fact, they were so passionate and energized by their own opinions that, part way into the conversation, they chose to both select ‘sending data’ as a personal strategy.
What I mean by this is that, instead of one person stating their position and then the other person responding with a similar position, these two people dove more deeply into their own viewpoints. With bolder voice tones and intensified body positions, anyone observing them would conclude that they were locked in a heated disagreement.
It was at this point of their conversation that I interjected, as I wanted to find out if their team members were having the same experience I was. I asked each person sitting around the boardroom table if they thought these two were agreeing or disagreeing with one another. Unanimously, they all interpreted that the two were disagreeing.
This surprised the two in question, as they both stated that they agreed with each other. Yet, if I had not asked these two for clarification, everyone would have left the boardroom thinking that a disagreement had just taken place. Wow! This is a perfect example of how quickly one ineffective conversation can lead to messy misinterpretations.
The next time you are in a conversation or a meeting, consider not only how many ‘receivers’ are interpreting what you’re saying, but also how they might be receiving that data.
- Choose effective statements such as: “I agree with you and want to add…” or “we are making the same point and I want to stress…”,
- Use a positive tone of voice and,
- Display welcoming body language to clearly communicate your point.
- Not sure if your point is getting across? Ask someone to reflect back to you what they hear you saying.
We often overlook when speaking in a group, the number of ‘receivers’ who are quietly listening and collecting assumptions to discuss with others outside of this meeting.
Have you been in a similar situation? Tell us how your data was recently received by a larger audience than you intended?
August 04th, 2011
Building a high-functioning team takes courage, commitment, tenacity and a willingness to work with one another. In order to improve teamwork, it’s important to try something new, change a behaviour, spice up the team a bit with a new approach and then review to see if it worked or fell short of success.
Teamwork Challenge Tip #8: Clean Out the Closet
Co-worker assumptions are killers for team productivity.
By choosing to believe our own ‘story’ about a team member, we can really get team projects off-track…
- Suzy’s too lazy to get her task(s) done.
- Tom doesn’t believe we can reach our sales targets.
- Melanie’s siding with John in production and will never see our side of the story.
Instead of getting stuck in your own assumptions, why not check them out? Part of effective communication is ‘checking out our assumptions’.
Perhaps you’ll change some of your project actions once you realize that Suzy is caregiving for her aging mother as soon as she leaves work every night and, as a result, is having difficulty keeping up. Meanwhile, Tom has recently lost 4 of his preferred customers and is feeling defeated. In reality, Melanie is perplexed by our problem and has been asking John to help find solutions.
In the next 24-hours, try to check-out one of your co-worker assumptions. What’s the real story?
Remember to try something new, change a behaviour, spice up the team a bit with a new approach and then analyze the results. Let us know if this week’s teamwork challenge tip made a positive or negative impact on the effectiveness of your team.
We’re now three-quarters of the way through The Teamwork Challenge. How’s it going for you? Are you ready to get naked?
June 27th, 2011
Are you an internal or an external processor? Why is this important to know?
Do you find you need to talk out loud in order to work through issues? If yes, then you are an external processor or someone who needs to think on the outside.
Perhaps you’re more into mulling things around in your head before sharing your thoughts? Then you are an internal processor or someone who think’s best on the inside.
Regardless of which processor you identified with most, the communication loop can really help increase your effectiveness with both internal and external processors.
When dealing with an external processor, the ability to reflect information back to them is really helpful, as it can help them move their processing forward bit by bit.
However, when speaking to an internal processor, you may need to request that they repeat back what they heard you say. This helps them to bring their thoughts out into verbal communication.
How about you? Do you have more difficulty communicating with an external or an internal processor? Let us know.
May 23rd, 2011
I am often brought in to executive teams which are newly formed or in some sort of stalemate. My job is to help re-birth the team (hence the company name ‘reneevations’).
Setting norms of engagement for improved executive team development and productivity is essential. Once executive teams understand the problem solving stages and key conversations required, they can ignite productivity like never before.
- Identify the Problem/Issue/Challenge
- Gather the Facts
- Brainstorm – search for ALL possible ways
- Develop, then choose a Plan of Action
- Gain/Obtain Commitment from Stakeholders
- Implement the Action Plans
- Evaluate/Revise/Articulate the Learning’s for future use
- Celebrate, Celebrate, Dance to the Music!
Have you been part of a newly formed team? What were the challenges you faced?
Check out next week’s blog to find out more about positive perspectives.
May 04th, 2011
Have you ever been in a meeting and realized that every time a particular individual speaks, the meeting goes off course? Meeting after meeting, you watch this individual and you wonder how this person is able to take the meeting off course every time.
Get your meetings back on track using these three rules:
- State your observation
- Get curious
- Suggest something new
Recently, I facilitated a meeting where exactly what I have just described was happening over and over and over again. I finally took it upon myself to ask the individual’s permission to discuss his meeting behaviours. Once his permission was given, I stated my observation.
“George,* I noticed that when you make a statement, you then add a story to illustrate that statement’s point. Out of that story, comes the second story and then often comes a third story. Do you have an awareness of this?”
George responded, “Yes.”
I then got curious, “Okay, why do you do that?”
George explained “When I’m making my statement, I’m looking for a response from the receiver. If I don’t see a head nod or some eye activity, I think they don’t understand what I’ve said so I add another story. If they do ask a question or make a statement, I continue with another story.”
I repeated back to him what I heard him say and then added “I understand you’re layering the stories because you’re making an assumption that your colleagues don’t understand you because they have not given you a response.”
George reconfirms that I have heard him correctly and then I continue by sharing with him my experience. “I start to lose the point you made in your original statement as I try to figure out how the multiple stories relate to one another…can you see how that might happen?”
When George says yes, I suggest to George that perhaps he could try a different behaviour to test if it would be more effective. “Try making a statement and then perhaps tell one story. Solicit the receiver’s response by asking them to repeat back what they heard you say.”
George was willing to try this on for size. How about you?
*Name has been changed.
March 16th, 2011
Individuals need to be highly aware of their own assumptions in order to avoid being blinded by missing key data in conversations with co-workers. A critical element of productive conversation is the ability to assess what you really know from what you think you know.
Each of us needs to continually check-out our assumptions to have crystal clear conversations.
Recently, I met with a top executive of a large organization. He is an extremely busy man or rather, that’s the assumption I made. He announced his desire to stay connected with our team project, then stated it was relatively impossible for him to do that based on his schedule.
I asked him how I could support his ability to stay connected to our project, thinking maybe I could produce a dashboard of progress for him. His response was “Just call my assistant to book a face-to-face appointment with me”.
Okay, now this was not the answer I expected.
When I reflected back to him that he had stated it was “relatively impossible for him to connect based on his schedule”, he shook his head and said “Yes that’s right. I can’t connect with the team during their regular progress meetings, as they conflict with my schedule. But, I have many openings to connect with individuals on the team with face-to face meetings in my office and I wish to do so”.
I had made an assumption based on his title in the organization and his statement that he was point-blank too busy. Had I not inquired more deeply, I would not have had a crystal clear understanding of what he meant.
I was missing some key data! Do you have a similar story of how an assumption almost trumped your productivity? Let me know.
March 01st, 2011
According to Wikipedia, Emotional Intelligence is “a self-perceived ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups.”
It’s safe to say, then, that heightened emotional intelligence skills boost effective communication, enrich team collaboration and increase the ability to get results.
The other day, I was on a call with a new work colleague and realized that, despite our light banter, the conversation was bumping along instead of flowing smoothly. With each response that left my mouth, I felt as if my colleague was judging my competence. Problem solving was a distant and fading notion.
Technical issues in our webinar studio gave me the break I needed to get our conversation back on track. I told my colleague I needed to deal with this situation and would call her back in 10-minutes.
It turns out it was the break we both needed. When I called her back, she revealed that she had a great deal invested in the problem we were trying to solve and had been experiencing a lot of anxiety.
Her self-awareness and courage to manage her anxiety by simply stating them to me provided the clarity I needed to appreciate her anxiety and investment in a solution. Immediately, the direction of our conversation switched from ineffective to effective. Our conversation flowed smoothly, we collaborated to make a final decision and our end result was met.
Do you have an example of how a conversation gone wrong was re-directed with a pinch of emotional intelligence?
January 06th, 2011
Do you have someone on your team who requires a great deal of hand-holding? Do you feel as if you need to work closely with a particular individual to protect others on the team? If so, you may be taking care of this individual instead of holding them accountable for their actions.
As leaders and workplace peers, it’s important not to fall into the trap of taking care of others. Once we do this, our own job responsibilities and productivity decreases. Instead we need to have the courage to give people feedback, outline expectations and monitor consistent behavioural results.
I do this by offering corrective or directive feedback. Corrective feedback involves articulating the behaviours which are eroding team effectiveness ie: pls. do less of this… Directive feedback articulates behaviours which are promoting team effectiveness ie: pls. do more of this…
This comment from a reader provides a perfect example of the need for corrective feedback:
…Meetings were interrupted with external noises like lip smacking when disagreeing with others and constant tapping of the fingers on the table. This person was a very competent employee when they wanted to be, but had external personal issues that brought all kinds of challenges to the work place. As a supervisor, I had to modify their behaviour on many occasions. Understanding that medical issues were contributing to this “attitude”, I was very patient. I’ve had to set ground rules entering meetings with others and then have one-on-one meetings to allow room for venting. So far, I’ve been able to direct this negative “energy” in a positive direction by offering a venue to vent.
While I am a great believer that we sometimes need to provide venting opportunities for people on our team, it needs to happen with the intention to ultimately work through a problem. For example: vent some, be aware and responsible for my own part in the problem and, most importantly, work through a plan of action for improvement.
However, if this ‘venting’ persists for venting-sake, we need a new approach. Here’s what I would do if I was in my readers shoes:
- Check out my Assumptions: If the employee was often presenting the same type of venting for example; complaining about others on the team. I may open up my communication model and teach the employee the importance of checking-out my assumptions. I would give the employee corrective feedback that her complaining about people was now taking up valuable time on both of our parts and it would be more effective if she went to each of the individuals to check-out her assumptions with them. I would be more than happy to participate in these conversations.
- Give corrective feedback: If the employee used behaviors of lip-smacking and finger-tapping in meetings as a way of communicating her own discomfort or frustration. I would use my own emotional intelligence competence to discuss the behavior, give her corrective feedback and look for behavioral changes in future meetings. For example: I may ‘check-out’ my assumption. “My assumption is that when you tap your fingers and smack your lips, you are feeling frustrated, uncomfortable or even angry with the discussion – is that true”. If she responds yes, I would then direct her to a more productive behavior. “In the future, I would like you to voice your discomfort and the reason for this discomfort, it will help move the meeting to a more productive outcome. For example if you said today, I am really frustrated that we are talking about this project for the fourth time this month, I would really like to move on to a solution. Others in the room would be aware of your position instead of distracted by your behaviors.”
In both of these choices, I would be moving this employee into new behaviors as well as, improving their level of emotional intelligence. Directing her to be aware of her behaviors and to manage them with the skill of communication with others.
Let me know if you have seen any similar ‘taking care’ of vs. ‘holding accountable’ behaviors with people on your team.
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