For years, I gave myself high scores as a communicator. I could present in front of a group, think on my feet, talk to anyone and even deliver bad news. I thought I had communication nailed. Then along came an incredible tool called feedback. As part of a personal development process, my colleagues provided me with feedback on my effectiveness as a communicator. The good news is that they confirmed the strengths mentioned above. And, they also pointed out that my communication needed improvement in some key ways. The main opportunity they shared was that I wasn’t fully communicating, I was only broadcasting. I was missing the most important part of my communication with others, receiving information or listening.
Needless to say, it took some time to process their feedback. When I was ready to hear the truth, I asked the question, “What specifically can I do to be a better communicator?”. The responses came in and centered around a few themes:
- Acknowledge what the other person said or asked, before responding.
- Give the other person the time and support they need to complete their message or question.
- Close your mouth and open your mind.
After working through the initial pain of self-awareness, which confirmed that I indeed needed to control my broadcasting-only tendency, I began the journey of self-management to ensure I was limiting my talking and focusing on the other person. The first thing I worked on was my response. Rather than listen to others only as a means to prepare and provide my response, I started listening fully to the other person and then responded by first acknowledging or affirming what they said:
“Thank you for letting me know”
This affirming let the other person know they were heard.
Then, I had to stop using the word “but.” “That’s interesting, but…,” sounds like the other shoe is about to drop, or what the other person just said is wrong or has no value. From my days as a Living As A Leader participant, I learned a technique called “Affirm AND Redirect.” The use of the word “and” supported my initial, positive response and moved things into a conversation of what can/should be done.
“That’s interesting AND how would that work?”
“Thank you for letting me know AND I’d like to think about it and talk again later.”
“Great question AND what have you tried already?”
Acknowledging the other person before continuing the conversation worked well. Now I had to get them talking and stop my mind from responding. I used the best and only tool available, the question. I found myself saying things like:
“Tell me more about that.”
“Where would you begin?”
“What would that look like?”
I then really listened to their answers, asked more questions and allowed the conversation to go wherever their responses took me in order to help the other person solve their problem, come up with a solution or make a meaningful contribution.
Although feedback can be surprising or difficult, it can help us. We become more skilled, more comfortable with communication and better able to meet the needs of others!
At Living As A Leader, we offer a Leadership Development Series designed to produce leaders that can positively shape the cultural environment, reduce turnover and achieve crucial business initiatives. We do this by providing training, coaching and consulting with a focus on pragmatic communication tools for leaders at all levels of your organization.
For more information, contact Steph Kotlarek at firstname.lastname@example.org