Communicating at Work – 5 Reasons Why You are a Poor Listener and What You Can Do About It

I’m going to suggest that most people are poor (or at best, fair) listeners. If you don’t believe you are a poor listener than consider the list below and might walk away with a different belief. In fact, you might wonder how anyone manages to listen without misunderstanding considering all the hoops we put messages through.

Most people listen from their point-of-view or autobiographically while only a small percentage listen with true empathy. Listening from the speaker’s standpoint takes energy, awareness and understanding. It strikes me as a bit like acting. You need to portray a character but you can’t help bring yourself to the role.

Consider the filters that “color” your listening and decide for yourself whether or not your listening skills could use a little help.

1. Education Level: I bet I have your attention already. Too little education in the eyes of the listener and the incoming communication might run through the “I’m not smart enough “or” they think they are better” filter. Reverse the situation and the thoughts and you can see how much education level affects all listeners.

2. Culture: Ethnicity, customs and traditions are filters that are addressed a bit more openly, as suggested by the popularity of diversity training. Visual components that indicate or suggest a different culture may help the aware listener. He or she could use the clues as a reminder to consider how the speaker’s background might support their viewpoint. Conversely, the unaware listener uses the differences to support their own opinion.

3. Economic Background: The “I worked for everything” listener might use this filter to avoid believing the more “economically advantaged” speaker. Just as the other “message sifters” mentioned, economic background can be a barrier to empathic listening no matter which side of the economic coin you were born on. The film “Slumdog Millionaire” comes to mind as a great example of prejudicial listening.

4. Family Messages: Was your family open and demonstrative or indirect and more formal? Did you receive the message that people are generally good or generally evil? What obvious or subliminal messages did you grow up with? Consider how your viewpoint colors your listening. The challenge here is recognizing that other families may not have grown up the same way you did. Remember the first time you had dinner at a friend’s house? Was the dinner conversation lively and encouraged or were controversial topics hush-hush? Think about it.

5. Birth Order: I admit that as the middle child of seven and the first female my mediating qualities were enhanced. Listening to someone who loves conflict and takes the opposing viewpoint just for fun is a challenge for me. How has being the only, first, last or middle child tinted your listening ability?

These are just five of the filters incoming messages go through before we hear a message. I could have included religion, personality and location but the point remains the same—listening from your audience’s perspective takes an acute awareness of your own filters first.

Practice understanding, become knowledgeable and use attentiveness as the tools to becoming a better listener. Misunderstandings will decrease and you might just learn something.

Want more listening tips? First, get FREE instant access to your 6-part audio series on The Power of  Effective Communication by putting your first name and email in the boxes on the upper right. Now pick up a copy of my book, Misunderstood! The Fast Guide to Communicating at Work-What to Say, How to Say It and When to Shut Up, for dozens more tips you can put to use immediately.

Workplace Communication – Assertive Communication Techniques to Get Your Message Across and Be Heard

Assertive communication techniques that allow you to express yourself clearly while still earning respect take a bit of practice but are well worth the effort. Assertive means without becoming loud, angry or irritated. And, respect is not synonymous with agreement it means with proper concern and courtesy.

Here are 5 assertive communication techniques your can practice to be heard without being misunderstood:

1. Self-disclosure is revealing information about yourself that allows others to respond to you by creating a shared vulnerability. This is particularly difficult for managers and leaders to practice as sharing personal deficiencies no matter how common or insignificant are discouraged.

“I don’t know much about…” is a powerful statement that suggests your willingness to learn is greater than your need to be right.

Using the common feel, felt, found approach can also be effective self-disclosure technique:

“I understand how you feel, I felt that way myself when the company changed hands, but then I found that by listening to their point-of view I realized we had many common values.”

2. Acknowledging without agreeing is another communication skill assertive people practice. This is especially helpful when dealing with a dissenter during a meeting or presentation.

“What an interesting thought…” acknowledges the speaker without encouraging further conversation.

“That might be true and here are my thoughts…” is another option.

3. Calm repetition of the same words is a communication skill that is useful when giving information that might not be well-received.

“My intention is to provide you with the details of the new program…” clearly stated in a firm but calm voice repeatedly until you are acknowledged and given the platform is one possible phrasing.

4.Negative assertion is a bit trickier to use and requires a neutral tone of voice. Occasionally someone may attempt to make you wrong especially regarding principles. You might try this:

“Let me understand, you are saying I’m wrong?” Again, a calm non-accusatory voice is important.

5. When a criticism has been directed at you without explanation, assertively ask for more information while repeating the negative comment.

“What is it about my sales presentation that makes you say it is difficult to follow?

These are just a few communication skills everyone can practice in the workplace to create a more respectful environment while decreasing misunderstandings.

What has worked for you? Leave your thoughts.

And, if you want more tips just like the ones above  pick up a copy of my book, Misunderstood! The Fast Guide to Communicating at Work–What to Say, How to Say It and When to Shut Up. People just love how easy it is to apply.

Communication at Work—5 Strategies for Developing Leadership and Building Trust

Trust in the workplace, trust in leadership and connecting with others were the key phrases I found in a recent search for the best selling business books. It’s a sign of the times. A lack of leadership and trustworthiness in the workplace appears to be the norm.

Leadership is something everyone in the workplace can practice—not just CEOs and business owners. Communicating trustworthiness starts with honest intention and self-awareness. Additionally, you cannot be an effective communicator or leader if you do not provoke trust in others.

Here are 5 strategies for developing leadership and establishing trust:

1. Tell the truth. Easy to say—difficult to practice. Yet truth is what your customers, co-workers, employees, shareholders and vendors want from you. If a product is going to be delivered late, if a report is not completed, if quality is a problem, if earnings are down tell the truth about it. Most people CAN handle the truth. And, it prompts others to be honest. Truth requires no managing or memorization. Tell the truth—it’s easier.

2. Take action. Leadership means evaluating the available information and moving forward. The best leaders make difficult and timely decisions with about 70-80% of the information. You may never get all the details and waiting to act may result in tragedy. Evaluate and be proactive.

3. Do what you say you are going to do. Okay, this may be a combination of the first two strategies but it bears its own heading. Both actions and in-actions influence others. If you promise to return a call, handle a matter, or show up on time—follow through.

4. Be consistent. Leadership requires consistency in behavior, mood and communication both at home and at work. Nothing kills trust like in-congruency between what you do and say to one person and what you do and say to another.

5. Model what you expect from others. Don’t ask others to do something you wouldn’t do. Trust is developed when you live to ethics.

Communicating leadership requires an inner confidence and an outer personality that can convey that confidence to others both verbally and non-verbally. Many leaders possess the self-confidence to perform tasks and reach goals but lack the ability to connect with people. Trustworthiness is earned through communication not just results.

If you’re serious about developing your leadership qualities start by assessing your communication skills by filling in your name and email address in the boxes on your upper right and grabbing  your FREE 6 part audio on the Power of Effective Communication . You’ll be surprised by your answers–try it it’s fun!

Don’t forget to pick up a copy of my book, Misunderstood! the Fast Guide to Communicating at Work–What to Say, How to Say It and When to Shut Up.

Communication at Work: 3 Ways to Improve Communication and Avoid Misunderstanding

Probably everyone has experienced a misunderstanding, misinterpretation or a miscommunication at work. It seems that communication breakdowns are so common they are accepted as business as usual. Each time I ask someone if they have ever been misunderstood at work the answer is always yes– demonstrated with a shy smile, a nodding head and maybe rolling eyes. I suspect some guilt in those answers.

When I ask what the cost of such a misunderstanding might be the immediate response seems to trigger a train-of-thought ending in ‘aha’ moment. Suddenly, the real costs associated with even a simple miscommunication begin to appear like a magicians unending scarf trick. Loss of a customer today due to a misunderstanding could mean lost revenue in the future.  Loss of production time now might result in a missed opportunity later. Miscommunication with a co-worker might result in bad feelings, poor morale, less productivity or costly mistakes. In some professions the result of a misunderstanding can result in death.

Here’s how you can decrease misunderstandings and communicate more effectively:

1. Take responsibility for your communication. Whether or not you have initiated a conversation does not let you off the hook for confirming what was said and intended. Create a mind-set that releases you from being right so you have the opportunity to learn.

I recently encountered a sales clerk who refused to shift her thinking about a situation even when her supervisor explained why a garment I was returning had a different number than the receipt. As far as the clerk was concerned, I did not have a receipt and she proceeded to handle the transaction as such. This resulted in more issues, more time lost and a second round of a managers intervention. Not to mention my growing aggravation.

To the manager’s credit she did an excellent job of explaining what probably happened and after overriding a computer default she expected the return to be handled smoothly. Unfortunately, she failed to confirm the clerk’s interpretation of her message assuming she understood.

Responsibility means verifying that your message was interpreted as you intended.

2. Match your listener’s communication style. If you are a fast talker but your listener is slower paced they may miss what you are saying as they struggle to process your message. If your style is less direct and you prefer to use a lot of words when communicating you may find that someone with a direct style may lose interest, become distracted and misunderstand your message.

Observe your listener and adjust your style accordingly. If you are the receiver, listen from the speaker’s point-of-view and confirm what you’ve heard. Context is as important as content. Your frame of reference can easily distort a positive intention if it doesn’t match the speaker’s point of reference.

3. Handle a misunderstanding immediately. If something has gone wrong in the communication process open up the lines of communication as soon as possible. Often the result of a misinterpretation doesn’t come to the forefront until a further action has taken place. Rather than place blame, seek to rectify the situation and move forward.

The cost of misunderstandings is too big to ignore. Be a part of the solution by taking responsibility, shifting your style and handling misunderstandings quickly.

If you’re serious about improving your communication skills but don’t want to go back to school just pick up a copy of my book, Misunderstood! The Fast Guide to Communicating at Work–What to Say, How to Say It and When to Shut Up. Do it now!

Don’t forget to pick up your FREE 6-part audio on the Power of Effective Communication.
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Workplace Communication—How to Use Assertive Communication and Stand Up for Your Rights

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Assertive behavior in the workplace is the dynamic balance between aggressive and passive conduct. Maintaining this balance is crucial for managing relationships and standing up for your rights. Understanding and using assertive behavior is a critical business communication skill.

To get a sense of the dynamic range between passive and aggressive behavior think of child’s seesaw with assertiveness sitting on the fulcrum point.  Consider assertive communication as the delicate movement needed to maintain balance before the plank hits the passive or aggressive ground might. 

Behavior too far toward the aggressive end and your behavior might be viewed as abusive. Yet, displaying behavior  too far to the passive side and your conduct might suggest you are hiding something.

Standing up for your rights assertively is mature behavior and it creates a balanced work environment.

Assertive communication says you have healthy sense of yourself, you regard others as equals, and it indicates a desire for personal growth.

Assertive behavior does not violate the right of others from being heard, nor does it violate your own right from self-expression. Aggressive behavior is bully behavior and every workplace seems to have at least one destructive player that feels the need to win over everything else.

When encountering an aggressive personality it is best to remember that this person is operating from fear. This is a good time to don your Teflon coat to keep any personal attack from sticking. If you are constantly being interrupted while you are making a point, it is acceptable to take back the stage to finish your statement. Saying something such as “let me finish my point, John,” in a calm, steady, well-modulated voice is an acceptable technique. Repeat as needed. This pegs you as having the voice of reason and leadership.

If you are the aggressor it would be wise to examine the results of your behavior as well as your motives. Do others avoid you? Are co-workers reluctant to support your point-of view? You might be gaining the upper hand in some situations but at what cost. What are you afraid of losing if you allow others their right to an opposing opinion?

Passive behavior as a communication style can be just as damaging—to you as well as to others. It indicates low self-esteem (as does aggressive behavior) it expects others to guess your thoughts and motives and it slows down productivity. At first glance, a passive employee may seem ideal—does their work and doesn’t say much. What is missing from that equation is the possibility of better ideas and solutions to problems. Passive communication creates guess work on the part of others, and it invites aggressive responses.

If you are prone to passive behavior consider asserting yourself in low-risk situations. Give your opinion on a light hearted but controversial topic during a lunchtime break. Adding your opinion about whose going to win American Idol, Dancing with the Stars or the World Series rarely causes more than playful banter while adding color to the conversation. From there practice taking more risks by asserting yourself at meetings, even if it is to agree with others. Your voice is important. You have the same rights as others and letting others violate them is unfair to all parties.

Should you encounter a passive communicator help them out by encouraging their thoughts and refusing to take “I don’t care what we do” or “it doesn’t matter to me” as answers.

Assertive communication allows for fair exchange, collaboration and teamwork. Assertive behavior from everyone creates a productive and pleasant workplace.

What do you think?

Want more tips you can put to use immediately? Then pick up a copy of my book, Misunderstood! The Fast Guide to Communicating at Work–What to Say, How to Say It and When to Shut Up. Oh, and don’t forget your FREE 6 part audio on The Power of Effective Communication–just put your name and email in the boxes on your upper right to get instant access.

Leadership–10 Qualities for Success

dreamstimefree_4260686Leadership requires  far more than a list of 10 qualities but for the sake of space and feedback I’ve listed a few I don’t usually see mentioned.

It goes without saying that the broad category of  communication skills is a quality I believe every leader needs to succeed so I’ve chosen not to put it on my list.  I  consider communication skills to include speaking, presenting, selling and  persuading. I did, however, include listening on my list simply because some things require emphasis.

Here’s my list:
1. Active Listening Skills--and being able to ask “is there anything more?”
2. Empathy–and having a deep understanding of priorities (using the 10,10,10 method)
3. Inspirational–being able to create an environment that supports motivated people
4. Courage–and the conviction to carry out intentions and tough decisions when it really counts
5. Clarity of intention–and the insight to question your motives
6. Servant Leadership–and the wisdom to know what that means
7. Humor–and humility, they often travel hand-in-hand
8. Vision–and the ability to enroll your team in the journey
9. Vitality–even the physically incapacitated can possess the extraordinary mental vigor to lead
10.Confidence–not arrogance but faith in your abilities to lead

and 10+ Trustworthiness and Moral Fortitude

Your thoughts?

Successful Communication Equals Business Success

1125736_busy_businessman_1How successful you are at communicating determines the degree to which you will be successful in business. Giving instructions, conducting interviews, presentations or selling all involve communication.  Where do you stand?

“The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives.”

Tony Robbins said that and he was right. The good news is that communication skills can always improved. Start by evaluating your current ability.

Here are a 5 ways to determine how successful you are at expressing yourself:

Ask for and listen to feedback. Most people are fearful of doing this. Few people like to hear the unvarnished truth about how well they come across to others. Yet, this may be the key to unlocking your business growth. Ask people you trust to give you an honest response. Ask a mix of family, friends and business associates to get a better profile. Then listen, really listen. Decide what might be true and choose to make some changes. Be open to the information and thank them for their honesty.

What kind of clients do you have? Are you working with people you enjoy and respect? Do they express themselves well? Do they recommend you to others? 

Would you want to associate with you? What message do you send to others about the people you socialize and do business with? Do you have a variety of associations? “You can’t fly with eagles if you’re hanging out with turkeys,” is a saying that holds a lot of truth. Take a critical look at your relationships and ask yourself if you need to make some changes.

How careful are you about your written or viral communications? Have you gotten lax about grammar and spelling? Do you speak or write in “text?” Do your articles, reports or books have numerous errors that erode your credibility?

How well do you follow-up? This is a big one. Success in personal and business relationships has everything to do with how well you follow-up. I’m including the courtesy of responding to an RSVP on an invitation. Failure to respond affects business—it doesn’t matter if it’s a wedding or a business function—the consequence is far reaching. If this were the benchmark for successful communication most people would be in trouble. On the business side, customer dissatisfaction is overwhelmingly about the lack of follow-up.

Take an honest look at these questions. Choose one you know you can change immediately and implement it now.

Leave me you thoughts. What burning question do you have about communicating in business?

Communicating at Work – Negotiating and Persuasive Conversations

dreamstimefree_3471831Negotiate anything, anytime.

Negotiations and persuasive communication are the skills most requested by business professionals. Communicating in the workplace requires tact, awareness, timing and the right words.

Here are three more key elements for successful negotiating and persuasive conversations:

1.  Keep control of your emotions.

Negotiations trigger your emotions when you fail to realize that you are an adult speaking to another adult. Too frequently people fall into the “child-to-adult” role where pleading replaces negotiating. If you find that your emotions are surfacing excuse yourself from the situation rather than blundering ahead while blubbering. Get a hold of yourself–you’re an adult.

2.  Know what you want–specifically.

Don’t leave the details of your request up to someone else. I once negotiated the terms of my firing. (Yes, everything is negotiable!) I was young and caught off guard (most people are) and found myself losing control. (see #1 above) I stated that I wanted further discussion but that I needed to leave the building for a short time. This gave me time to make decisions about what would serve me best in the next few weeks. I came back and asked for  1.) an office 2.) in another building where I could make calls 3.) a receptionist that would receive and forward my calls without comment and 4.) at least 3 weeks to conduct my job search. I don’t know where I got the nerve to ask for this but I felt the firing was unjustified. I got everything. And I got a job with a 43% increase within a week. Know what you want.

3.  Know who you are talking to.

Will you be speaking to a dominant personality with a tendency toward angry outbursts? Or will you be lucky enough to be engaging a logical person or someone with high empathy? Tailor your communication to the behavior type you’ll be persuading or negotiating with.

Negotiating is a learned skill necessary for business success. Invest some time to learn the language and you’ll begin to feel at ease in any persuasive conversation.

Communicating: How You Say it Creates the Meaning of the Message

380519_message_padWords are important but intonation and context create the meaning in your communication. Misunderstandings come largely from a misinterpretation of the context or the framework around the words. The meaning of the message becomes distorted. Even a single word can cause a response so far from the original intention that a conversation breaks down instantly.

Take the word, “oh.” It can mean a multitude of things depending on how you say it:

  • “Oh?” a question.
  • “Oooh!” understanding.
  • “Uh oh.” A mistake.
  • “Oooh?” as in, “You are in trouble now!”
  • “Ohhhhh!” as in, “I really like that!”

If “oh?”(a question) is the response to wonderful news when “ohhhhh!” (I like that) might have been the expected response the conversation could take a distinctly different turn. The bearer of good news who was feeling elated might suddenly be questioning their own feelings.

Just thinking about the turns this short exchange could take is the stuff of sit-coms. She said this and he heard that. Yikes.

In sit-coms the endings are always happy but in real life the consequences might not wrap up with contented, evolved human beings.

How you say it—food for thought.

The Top 5 Things I Learned as a Sales Manager

1095397_thanks___ 1. No matter how ridiculous the behavior from employees never forget the underlying emotion is always fear.

I’ve seen tipsy job candidates as well as drunk-as-a-lord employees. Tears in the workplace—far too many to count. Witnessing even one employee’s full-out, red-faced, nose-running tantrum that scared the living daylights out of customers  is more than enough. Lying—seems to go with the territory. Back-stabbing behavior followed by incredulous “who-me” denials from that one off-kilter worker–not uncommon.

It’s important to remember that fear is the grand motivator and a universal human behavior. This belief has saved my sanity.

2. Customers – see above.

The old saying “buyers are liars” comes to mind.  I’ve listened to customers denying ever signing a contract even when presented with the document not only signed but initialed in three places.  Refusing to accept delivery. Bounced checks. Stealing.  All routine.

I’ve seen enough to jade me for life unless I put it all into perspective. Grateful, appreciative, understanding, referral-giving customers outweighed the wacky ones by far. I discovered that taping a glowing note or two from a good client where I could  frequently see was helpful.

3. You’re responsible for the whole shebang.

Just own it. I’ve dealt with drug addicts parked at the back door and snakes slithering across the front entrance. The remnants of sodden ceiling panels spattered on furniture, imported rugs and public walkways—when they could no longer hold their weight—simply meant having the local 24-hour cleaning service on speed-dial. Until the AC unit got fixed (correctly) this was a weekly event.

Electrical problems, smoke-filled showrooms and 100-degree offices became as trivial as jammed copiers and dead phone service.

I’ve dragged myself out of bed at 3:00 a.m. to answer alarm calls a dozen times only to discover—well, nothing much. Chandeliers crashing to the floor from their tether in the stockroom will surely set off a motion detector but are really nothing to become alarmed about, especially after the second or third time.

I learned that you’ll be on a first-name basis with the police, fire and E.M.T. departments so it’s best to cultivate a friendly smile.

4. Appreciation and creative latitude produces the best work.

I’ve witness pure genius and remarkable solutions produced when the freedom to innovate is present.

5. You leave a little mark on everyone.

Remember who you are and where you are.  You’ll never know what indelible  impression you’ll leave on someone. A careless remark uttered under stress may be regrettable. A few words of encouragement and understanding marks you as human. A note of gratitude from a co-worker—priceless.