“Everybody’s Talkin‘” is a song written and recorded by singer-songwriter Fred Neil in 1966. One of my favorite renditions is by Harry Nilsson. The first line goes like this:
“Everybody’s is talkin’ at me, I can’t hear a word they are saying. Only the echoes of my mind…”
Reminds me so much of what I hear from much front-line staff about their managers and leaders; we are talking and no one is listening! Really, how sad is this?
Everybody’s talking. Your customers and clients are talking. Your employees are talking, along with your partners. The challenge for most leaders who engage in conversations is how best to deal with the positive or negative feedback that they hear. Without a good strategy the default is silence and with that silence comes the perception that ‘they are not listening.’
Maybe they are and maybe they are not, but I have always believed with few exceptions, leaders and managers go to work to try and do the best they can do under the circumstances. I can not imagine a leader going to work thinking, “I wonder what will be the best way to screw this up?”
And yet, screw-ups happen and the silence continues in part to maybe being a little vulnerable and really not knowing what to do. The most powerful three words any leader can say is…”I don’t know.”
If you ignore conversations, you are ignoring valuable feedback, possibly a new innovation or even a solution to a troubling situation. These conversations will continue to happen, whether you are there or not. So why not be there.
Here are five simple steps for better conversations: listen, understand, value, interpret, and contribute.
You were given two ears and one mouth for a reason. It’s a common rule that you should listen twice as much as you speak. For those that are extroverted, this might be a challenge for you and possibly a growth area to explore. Listening shows the other party that you value them and the information that they are giving.
Covey in his ‘7 Habits for Highly Effective People’ talks about seeking first to understand before you can be understood. To understand is to set aside your “hidden agendas”, your biases, and staying curious. Keep asking questions to dig deeper into the meaning of the information that you are hearing. Many times what you first hear is only the surface of the issue. The real deal is below the water line and that is where you need to be. If you find yourself treading, ask a deeper question. You do not want to form a conclusion or a judgment at this step – EVER!
Negative feedback can be hard to take personally. Many times it does feel like a personal attack and there are times that it is! All conversations are valuable and provide valuable information for you. Good or bad, it’s just information and information is valuable. So hold the frame that everyone’s contribution to a conversation is worth listening to. We judge far too often based on our biases and past experiences of an individual that they may be not worthy of your attention and avoid the conversation. Make the time, make the effort and make the connection.
Before you can respond, assuming that you have listened and understood what is going on, is to interpret the information. One of my go-to question that I ask myself especially if it’s a tough conversation with high emotions is, “How am I contributing to this situation?” Sometimes the answer to that question can be very revealing. Sometimes, there is no answer and it is “far better to remain silent, then remove all doubt.”
The final step is your contribution. Before you speak your words of wisdom, make sure that it will add value to the conversation. Adding value without feeding your ego is a true contribution and keeps you open for more feedback. It will also ensure that you are being heard too.
Five simple steps. Have a comment or feedback for me? I would love to hear it.
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RICK RUPPENTHAL is a professional Personal and Leadership Transformational Coach and a Certified Change Practitioner. As a retired paramedic of 30 years, Rick has held positions in leadership, education, as a coach and a mentor. Through those experiences, understanding, and adaptability, Rick has dedicated his life to a continual journey of self-discovery, adventure, and guiding others on their own journey of being their best self.