communication

Connecting the Dots for Others

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There's one area that I always work on with my clients that they never realize they need to work on. It doesn’t come up in our initial discussions about their coaching goals, but it does affect their ability to truly lead with impact and build a strong leadership brand.

Let me explain. Usually, when I ask leaders about the most critical things they want to accomplish from a business standpoint, they rattle off a list of things. The same thing happens when I ask about their teams. Very few of them can easily articulate the two or three areas of focus that guide everything they do.

For example, I have a client who has the remarkable ability to dive into a completely new area of responsibility, learn what she needs to, and restructure the work to maximize results. On top of that, she empowers and develops her team to step up and sustain the performance. She has done this time and again, and can give me countless examples. Through our work together, she has come to realize that her primary focus is on creating sustainable value while minimizing risk for the business and developing future leaders. This is her beacon that guides everything she does.

By realizing this (i.e., Connecting the Dots for herself), she can now articulate a consistent message about her focus and intent. This provides tremendous value because she can give others a way to interpret what she says and does by constantly framing her actions and decisions in the context of her areas of focus.

Remember that others will draw conclusions about what you say and do using their own filters — and they may take away something different than you intend. Let me give you an example to further explain. I have another client (let’s call her Michelle) who has a strong focus on supporting her team. This means that Michelle invests considerable time coaching her new hires, but she also recognizes the need to get her employees working independently without her day-to-day guidance.

So she was surprised at her new hire’s frustration when she scaled back her one- on-one time with him. Michelle knew that pulling back was the best support she could give him because it would serve him well in the long run. However, her employee didn’t realize what she was doing. He didn’t Connect the Dots in the same way Michelle thought he would. In fact, he had drawn the opposite conclusion. By explaining her primary focus, Michelle helped him understand that she was supporting him and how. He now has a way to interpret her actions and understand her expectations.

Remember that Connecting the Dots for others is not a “once and you’re done” exercise. You have to do it again and again — and you can’t do it unless you have Connected the Dots for yourself. So take advantage of the unique opportunity you have to provide a framework to give others insight into what you think is important, what success looks like, and what will guide your decisions. It will also create a stronger sense of conviction for you — about what you want to accomplish, how you will get there, and what you want to be known for as a leader.

Put More Power Into Your Communication Style

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Women sometimes undermine their own power in how they communicate. I see this time and again with my coaching clients, and I have made some of these mistakes myself.

Women often don’t realize how their communication style gets in their way or impacts how others view their leadership. Although women may have good intentions, those may not be apparent in their communication. I think this quote drives the point home: “We judge ourselves by our intent, but we judge others by their actions.” So, remember that your actions may be doing you a disservice, no matter how positive your intentions.

Let’s take a look at three common communication traps to see if any of them apply to you.

1.  Getting into the weeds.

Women often make the mistake of building up to their conclusions, rather than starting with the two or three key headlines. They often don’t realize how this can diminish their credibility. By taking everyone through the details first, they run the risk of losing their audience in a sea of information, or giving the impression that they can’t see the big picture or get out of the weeds. Remember you can always provide additional information if others need it — so lead with the headlines.

2.  Holding back.

Have you ever been in a meeting and never said a word? Perhaps it’s because you agreed with what others said and you didn’t see a need to convey that. Or maybe you didn’t want to be rude and talk over someone to get your point across. Or perhaps you simply wanted to respect everyone else’s time and not prolong an already long meeting. Whatever your rationale, what did your participation (or lack thereof) convey to others? Did your presence really make a difference?

So next time, speak up! Before you walk into that meeting or jump on that conference call, take five minutes to anticipate what will be discussed and develop your point of view. This will make it easier to dive right in, contribute to the discussion, and get your voice heard.

3.  Treading too softly.

Women sometimes use a tone of voice or language that reduces their power and influence. Their voice may take on a higher pitch at the end of a sentence, giving the impression that they’re asking a question rather than making a statement with a strong sense of conviction. They may speak too quietly, or use words that communicate indecisiveness: “I think”; “I guess”; and so on.

So, pay attention to what you say and how you say it. To get a better sense of how your communication comes across, ask people you trust for feedback so you know what to watch for.

The good news is that you can address these issues through minor tweaks in your communication. Identify one small step you will take this week to put more power into your communication style. Remember that small steps can lead to big results.

The Value of Being “Speechless”

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Once I lost my voice to the point of a whisper. It was truly a first for me. As an extrovert and someone who provides coaching and consulting services, it was so hard to refrain from talking. To add another interesting dimension, I also had my 6-year-old son solo that weekend, so writing down what I wanted to say wasn’t an option — unless of course I wanted to limit myself to simple three-letter or four-letter words!

So, between losing my voice and starting off that week teaching coaching skills to a group of leaders, it reminded me of two simple but important ideas relevant to leadership.

1.Notice themes in your nonverbal communication.

Sometimes we forget how much we communicate without ever uttering a word. Whether it’s that scowl on your face, the hand on your hip, or that big smile — you constantly send messages. And the nonverbal cues speak so much louder than words, carrying much more weight if there’s a “disconnect” between the two.

So, right now, take a minute to think about what you are communicating on a day-to-day basis. Do you constantly look rushed, stressed out, or too busy to stop and have a conversation? How do your nonverbal messages align with your leadership brand (i.e., what you want to be known for as a leader)? If you are unsure about what you’re communicating nonverbally, ask for feedback from people you trust.

2.Recognize how the simple act of listening can propel things forward.

During the session I facilitated, I helped leaders practice coaching skills that they can apply to any role or situation. As you might expect, we focused on listening as one of those critical skills. Through various coaching scenarios and interactive role play, the leaders focused on:

  • giving their undivided attention

  • being “in the moment”

  • listening with genuine curiosity

  • withholding judgment as they listened

As we talked about the experience, several leaders mentioned how listening in this way can make a huge difference because the other person feels heard. They went on to say how taking this approach generated more engagement, opened the other person up to exploring solutions, and ultimately helped them take action faster.

Think about this for a minute. As a leader, if your team members feel that you are willing to listen and care about their perspectives, they will get more engaged in solving their own problems — giving you more capacity to work on other priorities.

So, right now, look at the questions below to assess how effectively you listen:

  • How often do you multi-task as others are talking?

  • How much do you focus on how you would solve the person’s problem or what you would say next while the other person is talking?

  • How much do you REALLY pay attention to the person’s tone of voice, energy, nonverbal cues, and words?

Hopefully these two simple reminders have made you pause, as I did that week, to consider a small tweak you’d like to make. I urge you to identify one small step you‘ll take in the next five days to align your nonverbal communication with your leadership brand or to fine tune your listening skills. Remember, small steps can lead to big results.

Is Your Communication Style Undermining Your Credibility?

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Every day you shape how others view your leadership, through how you communicate. You send messages directly and indirectly all the time. Although this sounds really obvious, most people don’t take time to think about how their communication style affects their credibility.

The biggest opportunities to improve how we communicate typically exist when we know exactly what we mean and are laser focused on our message, because this is when we may forget to provide important context. We can leave people confused or making incorrect assumptions about our intentions.

So, here are three important questions to ask yourself before you engage someone, or to have your team think through before they approach you:

1. What do I want the other person to do with the information?

When you approach someone with information, the first thing she typically wonders is, “Why are you telling me this?”

  • Do you want me to take action? Help you problem-solve?

  • Are you just giving me an update?

  • Are you venting? Do you just need me to listen?

Remember to Connect the Dots for others to help them understand how the information impacts them and what you expect from them.

2. How important is this?

Next, ask yourself what level of priority the topic really warrants. Remember that by having a conversation focused on a single topic you may inadvertently give it more emphasis than you intended. Even the method of communication — face-to-face vs. phone or email — can convey relative importance.

Given the level of priority (high, medium, or low) what method and timing make sense? Should this topic be bundled with others? Can it wait to be discussed at a meeting you already have scheduled on another topic? Each approach communicates a different level of priority.

3. How can I connect this to the bigger picture?

Finally, consider the strategic significance of the information you want to share. If you are like most people, you have a bigger issue or business priority in mind even when you are “in the weeds.” How consistently do you make that connection for others in how you frame your message?

If you are in a leader’s office frequently talking about what seem like minor things at a surface level, it can undermine your credibility over time. Ensure the leader understands how each item relates to a bigger picture.

This week, I want to challenge you to think about these three questions as you communicate. Where do the biggest opportunities lie for you? What one step can you take to build your credibility through your communication style? Don’t forget that small steps can lead to big results.

 

© 2012 Neena Newberry | All rights reserved.

Little Things Can Say A Lot

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As an executive coach working with high-performing leaders, I regularly hear candid feedback about my clients, often information that no one has shared with them. Over the years, I have noticed how managers can draw big conclusions about their direct reports based on the “little things” they do. Unfortunately, most people can’t see their own detracting behaviors unless someone points them out. Take a look at the examples below, note which ones you do, and the indirect messages those behaviors may be sending. If you’re unsure whether some of these apply to you, ask others you trust.

1. Nervous Habits

  • Fidget with or flip your hair

  • Shake your leg when sitting

  • Tap a pen or the table

  • Keep checking your phone

What these behaviors may tell others: You can’t focus, are nervous, or would rather spend your time elsewhere.

2. Presentation style

  • Casually lean against something (e.g. podium, chair, etc.) when presenting

  • Present seated instead of standing

  • Let others take over or divert a discussion you are leading

  • Focus more on detail than headlines/key messages

What these behaviors may tell others: You don’t understand the importance of the meeting, have the influence and capability to command a room, have confidence, or see the big picture.

3. Use of time

  • Consistently run over in one-on-one or group meetings

  • Spend too much time on topics outside the scope of the discussion (e.g., personal or business) before you cover the agenda items

  • Have difficulty adjusting your approach when your presentation time gets compressed

What these may tell others: You lack time management skills, can’t manage your workload effectively, are not ready to take on more responsibility, or don’t respect others’ time.

Each of these behaviors should be considered in the context of your working environment, the company culture and what’s expected. If you engage in some of these behaviors, ask yourself (and possibly others) how they serve you or get in your way. That will help you decide what action to take, if any.

The point is to raise your awareness and make an intentional choice that aligns with your desired leadership brand. So, this week, ask others for feedback and identify one small step you will take to convey the right message to others about your capabilities. Remember, small steps can lead to big results.

 

© 2013 Neena Newberry | All rights reserved.