Category Archives: Communication

Problems Talking With People

Have you ever had days when it seems impossible to talk to people effectively? Either they are being total jerks or they just don’t get what you are saying. By the end of the conversation you are ready to scream. I know I’ve had plenty of those days in my career, and at home. All my energy is drained by the end of the day and the thought of doing it all again the next day can be depressing.

The only way around that is to find a way to communicate more effectively, even when the other person isn’t cooperating. This can be very hard and at times it will feel like you are climbing a mountain, over and over again. However, if you practice a few simple things it will be easier in the moment and get better over time.

For those who don’t seem to understand the message these three steps will improve your communications:

  1. Meet the person at their level: It’s easy to start from your baseline and expect people to be right there along side of you. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. You need to figure out where that person is and meet them there. Then you can start to get your message across.
  2. Stop and listen intently: Once you’ve shared information take the time to ask if they understand you and then be quiet. Listen closely to what they say without judgment or rushing to correct them. Wait to see what they say.
  3. Acknowledge their response: Take a moment to reflect back what you heard from them. This lets them know you paid attention to them and heard what they said. They might be wrong, but they were heard. Now they will be more open to listening to you.

All too often we get in a hurry to dump information and run to the next person, task or meeting. We aren’t taking the time to make sure we are heard and then we blame the other person for “not getting it”. Is it really their fault? Maybe they didn’t listen or they didn’t care enough to retain what they heard. Maybe we didn’t take the time to be clear and verify we were heard correctly. Sure it takes more time up front, but it saves time, energy and money down the line because things are done right the first time.

The other side of the challenge is talking to jerks. Communicating with problem people is a topic I addressed in Energize Your Leadership, a collaborative book I had the pleasure to create with a group of 15 leaders from around the world. In my chapter I shared stories about some of the problem people I have crossed paths with and how I learned to be a better communicator because of the challenges they presented.

The three key lessons I shared in dealing with problem people are:

  1. Set boundaries to improve relationships
  2. Pause before hitting “Send”
  3. Come from a place of respect

It was a unique opportunity to work with 15 thought leaders from around the world to create a book whose purpose was to help others discover new ways to create energy, ignite/re-ignite their passion for leading, and break through their barriers. I have gotten to know many amazing and inspiring people who were willing to open up about their leadership journey. The stories are real world struggles and shared with the goal of helping others learn.

If you would like to learn more about the book, the authors and our story check it out at http://www.energizeyourleadership.net.

To buy the book you can go to Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Energize-Your-Leadership-Discover-Through-ebook/dp/B00WC5UI1C/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1431985874&sr=1-1&keywords=energize+your+leadership.

Front-Cover

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Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays

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December 24, 2013 · 11:42 am

Project Communication Challenges

Businessman sleeping at the presentationIf you have been part of a project, large or small, you have seen communication challenges.  These challenges seem to crop up often yet the good news is that they can be addressed.  When you take the time to pay attention to the project’s communications and work at doing it well things will go much smoother for you.

Here’s look at some of the biggest challenges: 

  • Poor Planning – This shows up in several ways: a lack of information, wrong information for the audience, and information at the wrong time.
  • Ineffective Messages – These cause delays in action or decisions, mistakes due to misunderstanding, and confusion about what is happening.
  • Organizational Issues – In some organizations team members are assigned to multiple projects which means the PM is competing for their attention, virtual teams are becoming more common which adds complexity to communicating, and working globally introduces delays due to time zone differences.
  • Language Constraints – As business becomes more global language barriers can get in the way of communicating effectively.  Different meanings for words and gestures, lack of a common language among a global team, and cultural communication styles are all issues the PM must learn to handle.
  • Style and Skills – The communication style and skill level of the PM can introduce challenges.  Very direct people can seem overbearing to those who are indirect while indirect people seem to never get to the point to direct communicators.   Being uncomfortable in front of a group can impact the effectiveness of the message.

The communication plan and its effectiveness is a key component to delivering a successful project.  If the PM or team leader has the skills to adapt to different audiences and different styles they will be more effective.  This helps the project in the following ways:

  • Decisions will get made in a timely manner
  • Tasks are completed correctly when due
  • Changes are handled promptly and with less conflict
  • Problems and issues are addressed properly and promptly
  • Stakeholders understand the changes and impact

Communication is the breakfast of Champions” – Ken Blanchard

If you are a Project Manager or a Team Leader take the time to focus on communicating well and develop your communication skills.  If you are seeing delays in decisions, mistakes, missed due dates, or confusion about changes then you may need to work on improving your project communications.   For more information how you can improve your skills check out a free White Paper on “5 Keys to Effective Project Communication” by clicking here.

Thanks to my colleagues in LinkedIn’s The Project Manager Network – #1 Group for Project Managers for their contributions to this topic.

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Quote for Oct 2nd

ListeningCritical in this process of wisdom being passed down is that you also need to take it in; you need to listen to it.
Andrew Zuckerman

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Are You Planning Your Communications?

Business Meeting NotesWhether you are a leader or not you need to plan your communications when you will be sharing ideas, changes or updates with others.  Have you taken the time to think about the message you want to deliver?

If you are involved in a project, particularly one that involves change, you need to stop and think about what you are going to say to people, how it will be shared, and how frequently you will update them.  Change is really difficult for the majority of people to accept so you need to pay attention to what you say to them and how you say it.

Here are 5 steps to follow to ensure your message gets through properly:

  1. Address WIIFM:  Each of us wants to know “What’s in it for me?” so address that is all your communications.  This may be the impact the change will have on them; it may be why the change is happening.  Helping them understand why they should care will help get them on board.
  2. Vary Delivery:  People need to receive information multiple times before they will really get the message.  Some people will want to hear it and others will want to see it, so mix up how you deliver the message, use presentations that include great visuals, send emails, use newsletter, send postcards, do posters, discuss it at department meetings, or have town hall type of meetings.  There are endless variations of how you can share the message so use a wide variety.
  3. Change the Message:  Make sure you change the wording of your messages.  Address questions is some, share vision for future in others, present information from different perspectives, give the business case, or share personal stories.  Change is often complex and breaking the information up into a variety of different messages will make it easier for people to absorb.
  4. Repeat Often:  Since it takes multiple times for people to grasp the entire message you will need to share information more often than you think is needed.  Keeping the lines of communication open means that you will need to be frequently sharing information with others.  You can enlist the help of your project team and early adopters to spread the word.
  5. Be Open for Questions:  There will be questions about what, why, how and when.  Make sure you have a forum for people to ask the questions and get answers.  Maybe it’s a meeting or series of meetings.  It could be a Q&A area on your company intranet.  Use a newsletter with FAQ’s.  Let people share their fears by asking question and honor their concerns by taking time to provide answers.

Take the time to craft a solid communication plan to help ensure a smoother project.  Address why this is happening, how it impacts people and what they should expect.  Find different ways to share information by using different media, different words, different pictures, and so on to make sure people get all the information they need.

The hardest part of almost every project is making sure the people involved or impacted understand what is happening and what they need to do.  Take the time to plan your communication well and your project will encounter fewer people issues.

How do you make sure your message is getting to all the right people?

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When You Are Grateful Do You Show It?

Thank you noteThis past weekend was Memorial Day here in the US which is a time for our country to stop and say thank you to all of our military, past and present.  It’s a wonderful way of acknowledging the gift of service these men and women give to the rest of us.  We also have many other, less formal, days of recognition throughout the year like boss’s day, admin assistant day, grandparent’s day, etc.  Why limit our thanks to a handful of days a year?

This past Saturday my son’s scout troop place small flags on the graves of veterans in two of the local cemeteries under the direction of a gentleman from the American Legion.  As the boys finished up he thanked them for their help in recognizing our veterans.  Before we left my son went over to him and thanked him for his service to our country.  The look of surprise and appreciation in his eyes was worth the moment it took to nudge my son into action.  To have a teenager go out of his way to say thanks obviously meant a lot to him.  This happened during a time when, as a country, we go out of our way to say thank you to the military members.  It reminded me that sometimes the small gestures mean more than grand events.

As leaders we should be looking for ways to appreciate the people around us.  Saying thanks for a good job, thanking someone for their extra effort, congratulations on a project well executed, complimenting someone on a good idea, recognizing that a person stepped up to solve a problem, the list is endless.  Often our organizations have formal methods for rewarding and recognizing people.  While these are great and needed, the simple human contact of personally looking someone in the eye and saying “Thank You” means more to them.  I still have a hand written thank you note a senior manager wrote to me after a project I worked on over 15 years ago.  It made me feel good to receive that acknowledgement of my contribution.

Studies show that people will do the things that are recognized.  If all we notice and comment on in our daily interactions are mistakes, problems, and challenges then we will get more mistakes, problems and challenges.  If we spend time recognizing the often quiet work well done, problems solved without help, challenges met then we will get more work well done, problems solved and challenges met.  We get what we focus on most.  This is also the time for a personal touch, not an electronic one.  If possible thank the person face-to-face.  It doesn’t have to be in front of a group or a big production, just stop focus on them and share your appreciation.  If you are dealing with people who work remotely from you, make the phone call and only discuss your appreciation.

Also, make sure to do this as close to the time the event occurred as you can.  This amplifies the meaning of the thanks.  It is possible that you will not learn of it for a while, that’s okay as long as you jump on the chance to recognize the behavior.  You can say “I just heard about what you did … Thank you.”  It will still carry enormous power.

Simple acts of gratitude will earn loyalty from your team.  They will know that you appreciate them and they will respond in kind.  Take the time to recognize the good in your team.  As well, look for ways to say thanks to your boss and your peers.  All of us could use a kind word, and the further up the ladder you go the less often you hear them.  Go first and show your gratitude.

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Are You Learning?

Businessman sleeping at the presentationThis past weekend I attended an amazing seminar where there were several speakers.  I learned a lot from each one of them.  In all honesty there was one who really did not resonate with me at all.  He had great content but his delivery left me kind of cold, his style was not mine at all.  This on top of a conversation about can we learn from people we don’t respect rally got me thinking about how much information we can learn from people we don’t like.

As leaders it is important to keep learning about your organization, your industry, your customers and how to be a better leader.  This may mean taking the time to learn from people who are not in your current circle of friends and colleagues.  In fact, I would challenge you to take the time to learn from people you don’t like or are unsure if you would like.

Why learn from people who you don’t like or respect?  First they will have a very different view of the world which will broaden your view.  You may not ever agree with their ideas or opinions and that’s okay.  However, if you take the time to listen and understand their perspective it will give you information about how others see things and you might find new nuggets of information that help you move forward.  Additionally, by looking at things from a different perspective you may uncover new solutions or ideas on how to make your products better or more valuable to your customers.  Lastly, you may discover new uses or customers for your products or services.

If you only learn from people who are like you or who hold similar ideas and values you are missing out on new aspects of the world.  The wonderful thing about the current times is how small the world has become through technology.  Having the ability to connect and relate to others is now at our fingertips.  To make the most of these connections it is imperative that we take the time to listen to others and hopefully find common ground.  This allows us to develop deeper connections with others.  In a leadership role you will have many occasions where you will work with someone you really don’t like and yet you must find a way to work with them.  Learning to connect and find that common ground is a key to being successful.  This skill can be developed by looking around you and finding ways to learn from everyone who crosses your path.

You can learn from anyone and everyone.  It may be that you learn what not to do or how not to act.  It may be that you learn a new way of doing things or new behaviors.  Or it may be that you learn to see the world in new ways through new eyes.  All of these are valuable lessons and may come from people you like and respect or from people that are distasteful to you.  Any way you look at it, learning is the key to growth.  As leader make learning a part of your day, each and every day.

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Are You Interested or Interesting?

ListeningWhen you are interacting with others what is your mind set?  Are you looking for their reaction to you or are you looking to learn more about them?  The first approach is egocentric and means you are more concerned about being interesting.  The second approach is focused on others and means you are more concerned about what the other person has to say.  If you think about past experiences, when someone listened to you it left you feeling much better than if they spent the time talking about themselves.

Truly connecting with people means that you must be concerned with what is going for them, and interested in what they have to say.  It’s a two way street.  You hear them and they hear you.  If one of you is doing all the talking then there is no real connection going on.

This issue can show up during an introduction or during an interaction with someone you know already.  If you are a boss and are meeting one-on-one with an employee are you doing the talking or are you listening?  It’s important to listen more than you talk when you are engaging with someone.  It gives them a sense that you value what they have to say which leads to them feeling valued.  Even if you are giving feedback or direction it’s important to take the time to listen to their perspective on what you shared.

Additionally as a leader you need to be interested in what is important to your team.  This means that you have to take the time to listen to their concerns and issues.  If you are genuinely interested in what is going on with others, they will feel respected and trusted.  If you are consistent in this approach people will trust you to be there for them.  You have shown that their interests matter to you.

You don’t have to have all the solutions to their problems, in fact its better if you help them find their own solutions.  One of the best bosses I ever had would let me vent about a situation and then ask me how I was going to handle it.  He rarely offered solutions, unless I specifically asked and even then he would find a way to make me figure it out.  During that same time I had regular contact with another manager who when you shared your problems he would jump in to solve them.  While I was frustrated with my boss on occasion because I would have loved some guidance, I actually felt more empowered and valued in that relationship.  I liked the other manager a lot, and yet at times I felt like he didn’t trust me or my team to find the solution.  While I liked both of them, I respected and trusted my boss more because my success seemed to matter more to him.

The amazing thing about being genuinely interested in others is that they will respond by caring about your interests.  Putting others first shows that you are willing to help them reach their goals and objectives.  In turn they will want to know what matters to you and will help you with your goals and objectives.  Focus your efforts in being interested in others instead of being interesting to others.  You will get more trust, respect and assistance in return.

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Quote for Mar 28th

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

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Quote for Mar 21st

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 

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