Effective Listening

How to deal with Moaners and Whiners

Do you spend a disproportionate amount of your time listening to team members moaning and complaining about things? And do you then spend more time trying to sort it out for them? Maybe making phone calls, sending emails, talking to other departments, or finding out more details and  information?

You may feel it’s your job as a manager to sort this. That it shows your support for your team member.  I’m afraid, most of the time, you would be wrong. If someone comes to you whining and moaning and you take responsibility for dealing with it, what have they learned? They’ve learned that they don’t need to think for themselves. That when there’s a problem they just need to tell you and leave it with you. And most importantly, they don’t need to grow and develop because you will take the load.

Even when they have a valid concern I would argue that the first thing to do as a manager is to leave responsibility with them and support them to tackle it. So, the obvious question is “how?” The answer is, “by taking a coaching approach.”

  1. Demonstrate you are listening. Notice I didn’t just say listen. The other person needs to KNOW you are listening. It might seem more time consuming but actually the interaction is likely to go on much longer if your team member doesn’t feel heard.
  2. Ask quality questions rather than providing suggestions and solutions. This will show them you are listening, help them to think things through, and keep responsibility with them.
  3. Ask them what they want. When people are caught up in complaining, feeling hard done by, and blaming other things, it’s really difficult to focus on what they want as an outcome. Shift the focus on to outcomes and break the cycle of moaning about what is happening or not happening in the moment.
  4. Ask them what their options are. People in this situation feel disempowered so you will need to ask questions that raise their awareness and encourage ownership.  This is the opportunity to repeatedly use one of my favourite coaching questions, “what else?”
  5. If you are successful in getting the person to identify what they want and what options are available to them, you can move onto what they are going to do. If not, if the person is still too caught up in the emotion or the detail of it all, arrange to meet up again, probably later that day to hear their desired outcome and options, once they’ve had time to reflect and free up their thinking.

People who habitually moan and complain suck the life out of you and the rest of the team. Is it possible that in your efforts to support them you might be perpetuating the problem?

How do you handle it?

7 Simple Steps to Getting Heard in Meetings

The Apprentice in the UK has come to an end for another year. While I don’t take the programme too seriously in relation to real business, I am fascinated to observe the dynamics between the candidates and between the candidates and Lord Sugar and his panel. Having heard how Susan felt undermined due to her age, and seen Tom’s strategy of politely raising his hand in an effort to be heard, I have been giving more thought to how to get heard in meetings.

  • Are you ever in meetings where everyone is talking over you?
  • Do you feel frustrated that you aren’t getting credit for your ideas and suggestions?
  • Do you hang back like someone waiting to jump in at skipping?

Here are my quick tips for becoming a key contributor whose input is seen as invaluable:

  1. Listen – This probably isn’t what you want to hear (see what I did there? :-)) This doesn’t mean staying silent and passive. It means listening effectively so you can find ways to link your point to others. Rather than focussing on what you want to say, just make a few bullet points as notes and then turn your attention to listening to others. When you acknowledge and build on what others have contributed they are more likely to return the favour.
  2. Try holding up your hand – I know Tom from the Apprentice tried this with apparently little affect. This could have been because he did it in an eager school boy way. It doesn’t do to be reaching as high as possible, whilst still sitting on your seat and saying “me, me, me!” Okay a slight exaggeration. Try holding up your hand more like a stop signal and saying “I would like to say something”
  3. Interrupt – If the person doing the talking is long winded and moving off topic, everyone will be very grateful if you interrupt and say something like “can I stop you there and just summarise where we are up to?” Or “Can I make sure we are all clear about the point you’re making.”
  4. If they interrupt – and you aren’t the person being long winded and moving off topic, say firmly “Please let me finish.”
  5. Speak with clarity and confidence. – You will come across as having more gravitas and credibility if you slow down, think before you speak and ensure you don’t sound tentative. Others tend to dismiss people who appear to lack confidence.
  6. Ditch the language that undermines your message – If I had a pound for every time I hear someone, usually women, start their point with “This might sound silly but….” Or “This might be just me but…” Aargh! You might as well just say, don’t bother listening to what I’m about to tell you because even I don’t value it.
  7. Learn from experience – Think about the times when your communication has had the desired effect, when you have been listened to, when you have commanded attention and been acknowledged for your input. What did you do? What did you say? What was happening around you? What helped? Now just rinse and repeat! 🙂

Let me know how you get on and if there’s anything I can help you with.

Do you care enough to pay attention?

I always thought I had a bad memory about some things, and then I realised I just hadn’t cared enough to pay attention.

Although we all like to think we are good listeners, dig a bit deeper and we can usually identify beliefs that get in the way.

“I haven’t got time”

“I know what they are going to say ‘cos I’ve heard it all before”

“We never agree”

“They are so boring!”

“I already know what I’m going to do” etc.

How arrogant we are. And what opportunities could we be missing? Attending to people fully can have so many benefits for them, for you, for your customers and for your business. Who’s to say that the person you’ve written off as boring and predictable might, at this very moment, have a great idea they are trying to share? Who’s to say that someone who always comes across as confident and competent might need your acknowledgement right now?

A couple of years ago I decided it would demonstrate my respect to my learners and my audiences if I could learn and remember their names right from the outset. I didn’t have any special technique, I just decided to concentrate and be interested when I first learned their name and a little about them. I now make it my party piece to reel off all their names as soon as we sit down, and use them throughout our time together.

What helps me to really listen and remember is to make sure I am present in the moment. Not thinking about what else I could be doing, not scanning the room for other conversations that are going on, and not half listening whilst doing something else. In other words I just decide to care.

Tony Allessandra describes this eloquently in relation to taking photos. When you point your camera at a person, the background becomes blurred. When you point at the background the person becomes blurred.

  • In a time where there are so many demands on your attention, what do you do to keep the subject of your attention in focus and blur everything else out?

  • How do you remind yourself to care?

What’s your listening sin?

Know how to listen, and you will profit even from those who talk badly
Plutarch (46 AD – 120 AD)

I believe I’m a good listener. Most of us do, don’t we? Effective listening isn’t rocket science and most of us can reel off exactly what we should be doing to show we are listening, but in practice, so much can get in the way can’t it?

When I deliver coaching skills programmes for managers we “confess our listening sins” in a light hearted way and then seriously commit to keeping them front of mind in order to address them.

Here are some of the obstacles to effective listening:

  • Being distracted by something seemingly more exciting going on nearby such as hearing your name mentioned
  • Deciding that you’ve heard this message so many times before
  • Hearing something that clashes with your values, beliefs, or opinions
  • Thinking about something you’d rather be doing or somewhere you’d rather be
  • Preparing your response
  • Telling people what you would do if you were them, or were in their situation even when they haven’t asked you to
  • Finishing off the other person’s sentence for them in your own head or even out loud

In order to develop and maintain effective listening skills we need to constantly check in with ourselves and consciously practice them.

So, it’s time to ‘fess up! What listening sins are you guilty of and what strategies do you use to stay focused on the speaker and what they are saying?

3 Ways to Manage Your Boss and Stay Sane

Be honest, have you moaned about your boss today? this week? or this month? Many of us do, and some with good cause. The fact remains though; you need your boss more than your boss needs you. If you are in a difficult relationship with your boss you only really have two choices a) learn how to make it work as well as possible or b) leave.

Before you pack up your desk and shout “I’m out of here!” just remember, it’s a tough market out there, and bear in mind, your boss will insist he or she had to let you go because you just weren’t cutting the mustard.

So you decide to stay. What can you do?

Manage expectations

As you progress up the organisation your boss is less likely to be able to accurately manage and measure your workload and outputs, so may just keep piling on the work until you finally buckle. That’s why you need to be really clear about what you can do, and by when, even if you dread having that potentially difficult conversation. When you agree expectations early, and revisit them often, it will save you from the even more difficult conversations when you are consistently failing to deliver results within the set deadlines.

Enlist the support of others

Identify and build strong relationships with other senior managers and influencers in the organisation. They may be people who seem to deal well with your boss, who you can learn from or ask advice. They may even be in a position to have a word directly with your boss, but only once you have won their trust and are not seen as a whinger or manipulator. If all else fails they may be a safety net that allows you to change department and work for them in the future.

Manage yourself

Be aware that you are communicating every second of every day, even when you aren’t speaking. Make sure the message you are communicating is a positive one. When you show you are anxious, angry or stressed it can be detrimental to your credibility as a leader, has a bad effect on your health and well-being and will undermine the performance of your team, which in turn leads to more problems with the boss. Do whatever it takes to get support for yourself, stay positive and energised in your interactions, and supportive of your team.

What strategies have you used to manage upwards?

Why Leaders Become Derailed

Much research (for example by Daniel Goleman and Lombardo and Eichinger) has been carried out as to why leaders end up seriously underperforming or being fired and it’s rarely down to lack of business acumen or technical expertise.

The reasons leaders become derailed include:

Overused strengths. When a strength is overused it becomes a weakness. Imagine someone who is really driven to perform but is so competitive that he steps on everyone to get where he wants to go.

Over Confidence. When confidence becomes complacency or even arrogance it can cause problems. Great leaders are also great learners. Once the learning stops, leaders, their people and their businesses stop growing and developing. Who can afford to stagnate in this day and age?

Lack of self management. This links back to my previous post about knowing yourself and showing yourself, with skill. While direct reports want to know their leaders on a personal level in order to build trust, they do not feel safe and secure coping with tears or tantrums.

Poor relationship skills. Outstanding leaders don’t become outstanding on their own. They rely on building strong, productive relationships with the people around them.

Not knowing their impact on others. We learn most, not from books or courses but from our bosses. Both good bosses and bad bosses. Great leaders can see themselves through the eyes of those they interact with. They also realise that they are communicating all the time, not just through their words but even more so through their actions. Knowing this helps them chose what they are communicating, consciously and carefully.

My questions to you are:

  • Which of these elements is most likely to derail you?
  • What can you do to prevent this?