Category Archives: Communication Skills

I Sound Like My Mother

“I tell them what to do and all they do is argue,” complained Cheryl.

“How does that sound?” I asked. “Pretend I am running the line. What mistake could I make that needs correction?”

“They always forget to inspect incoming materials for quality. They just dump the parts in the bin. This company hired me to prevent quality errors. It starts by inspecting the incoming plastic parts,” Cheryl explained.

“So, I take a box of incoming plastic parts and I dump them into the bin for assembly, but I don’t check them for quality, first?”

“Exactly,” said Cheryl. “You can’t do that. I personally inspected all the incoming parts from yesterday and now you have them all mixed up. What were you thinking? You will have to pull all the parts out of the bin and re-inspect every one. We have a 20 percent failure rate on finished goods and it’s all your fault.”

“What kind of response do you get?” I queried.

“Oh, they say they never had to inspect parts before I came along, or that they didn’t make the damn parts so it’s not their fault. I can’t seem to get them to take responsibility. They sound like little kids. -I didn’t do it, not my fault.-”

“So, if they sound like little kids, what do you sound like?”

“What do you mean?” Cheryl became quietly curious.

“If they sound like children, do you sound like a parent?”

Cheryl stopped cold. She was ticking the conversation back in her head. “My goodness, I sound like my mother.”

“And when you sound like a critical parent, what kind of response do you invite?” I asked.

“When I sound like a critical parent, I invite them to argue with me?” Cheryl’s question sounded more like an answer.

“So, we have to figure out a way to correct the behavior without inviting an argument.”

An Inventive Way to Solve a Problem

My coffee was piping hot, hazelnut with a little cream. Cheryl’s meeting was to start in a few minutes. She was determined to turn things around with her team. She was hired as a troubleshooter in Quality Control, but finding the problem and fixing the problem are two different things.

“So today, you said you were going to listen?” I asked.

Cheryl nodded “Yes.”

“What position will you be listening from?”

The question caught Cheryl off-guard. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

“The way we see the world is often influenced by our position. In fact, you have listened to your team before, but you were listening from a position of judgment, so you didn’t hear what they had to say.” I stopped to let that sink in. “What position will you be listening from today?” I repeated.

“I guess I will be trying to understand their point of view.”

“Not bad, but not aggressive enough to be effective. What position do you want to be listening from?”

Cheryl was stumped. “Curiosity?” she finally blurted out.

I nodded. “So, when you sit in your meeting today, you will be listening from the position of a curious child?”

Cheryl smiled.

“And curious children always have a lot more fun than stuffy old Quality Control managers,” I said. “And curious children often invent interesting ways to solve problems.”

Don’t Invite an Argument

“I tell them what to do and all they do is argue,” complained Cheryl.

“How does that sound?” I asked. “Pretend I am running the line. What mistake could I make that needs correction?”

“They always forget to inspect incoming materials for quality. They just dump the parts in the bin. This company hired me to prevent quality errors. It starts by inspecting the incoming plastic parts,” Cheryl explained.

“So, I take a box of incoming plastic parts and I dump them into the bin for assembly, but I don’t check them for quality, first?”

“Exactly,” said Cheryl. “You can’t do that. I personally inspected all the incoming parts from yesterday and now you have them all mixed up. What were you thinking? You will have to pull all the parts out of the bin and re-inspect every one. We have a 20 percent failure rate on finished goods and it’s all your fault.”

“What kind of response do you get?” I queried.

“Oh, they say they never had to inspect parts before I came along, or that they didn’t make the damn parts so it’s not their fault. I can’t seem to get them to take responsibility. They sound like little kids. –I didn’t do it, not my fault.-”

“So, if they sound like little kids, what do you sound like?”

“What do you mean?” Cheryl became quietly curious.

“If they sound like children, do you sound like a parent?”

Cheryl stopped cold. She was ticking the conversation back in her head. “My goodness, I sound like my mother.”

“And when you sound like a critical parent, what kind of response do you invite?” I asked.

“When I sound like a critical parent, I invite them to argue with me?” Cheryl’s question sounded more like an answer.

“So, we have to figure out a way to correct the behavior without inviting an argument.”

Curiousity Doesn’t Kill the Cat

Cheryl was determined to turn things around with her team. She was hired as a troubleshooter in Quality Control, but finding the problem and fixing the problem are two different things.

“So today, you said you were going to listen?” I asked.

Cheryl nodded “Yes.”

“What position will you be listening from?”

The question caught Cheryl off-guard. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

“The way we see the world is often influenced by our position. In fact, you have listened to your team before, but you were listening from a position of judgment, so you didn’t hear what they had to say.” I stopped to let that sink in. “What position will you be listening from today?” I repeated.

“I guess I will try to understand their point of view.”

“Not bad, but not aggressive enough to be effective. What position do you want to be listening from?”

Cheryl was stumped. “Curiosity?” she finally blurted out.

I nodded. “So, when you sit in your meeting today, you will be listening from the position of a curious child?”

Cheryl smiled.

“And curious children always have a lot more fun than stuffy old Quality Control managers,” I said. “And curious children often invent interesting ways to solve problems.”

You Could Wear a Sign

“I am taking over a new department,” explained Ellen. “It’s not a promotion, just a new department. I heard through the grapevine that some people are off-balance wondering what life is going to be like under my direction. Two people said they might quit. How do I let them know that I am not going to be some micro-managing monster?”

“You could wear a sign,” I suggested.

Ellen laughed. “Be serious. I want to let them know that I am not some control freak boss.”

“It sounds backward,” I started, “but instead of telling them about you, why don’t you find out about them?”

Ellen looked puzzled.

“Look, you may be under the microscope. If you become genuinely interested in each of your team members, you will accomplish two things. First, the focus will immediately shift away from you. Second, asking questions about them will speak volumes about you.”

Seven Stages of Listening

Every conversation can be calibrated. Every conversation has a platform. These are the seven stages of listening.

  1. Ignoring completely
  2. Pretending to listen
  3. Listening selectively
  4. Listening to respond
  5. Listening to understand
  6. Listening to learn
  7. Listening for the intersection where someone else’s experience meets our experience on which we can build trust.

Thinking about your relationships, as a manager, as a friend, as a stranger, as a parent. Where is your intersection with reality?

It’s Not About Talking

“Communication. My biggest issue is communication,” explained Lawrence. “That’s what it all boils down to. If we could just communicate. If we just would communicate more effectively, things would be better.”

“Do you have trouble speaking?” I asked.

“No,” he retorted. “I always know what I want to say.”

“Well, then it seems you have that part down. If talking is the one part of communication that you don’t have a problem with, what is the other part of the conversation?”

Lawrence was a bit chagrined. He was no dummy. “Listening,” he replied.

“Lawrence, if you just listen, your customer will tell you how they want to be treated. If you just listen, your team will tell you how to solve the problem. If you just listen, your team member will tell you how they want to be lead.

“Most managers think communication is all about talking, when, the critical part is all about listening.”

Managerial Impact Related to Trust

“Isn’t that kind of personal?”

“Well, yes.”

“Doesn’t it make people uncomfortable to talk about that?”

“Well, no.”

People like to talk about themselves. In fact, most people are actually waiting for someone to come along so they can talk about things close to the heart, what they believe in, things important. They have been waiting all their lives for someone like you to listen.

The impact you have, as a manager, directly relates to the trust in the working relationship. How do you create that trust? How do you, as a manager, create a foundation of trust that you can build on, over and over?

Our Next Subject Area Kicks Off April 12
Communication, the Mineral Rights Conversation, explores a step-by-step method to create that foundation. Most Mineral Rights Conversations last 15-30 minutes, but I have used this powerful formula to create that trust in as little as six minutes.

  • What does your team member want out of the job?
  • What influences your team member to make certain decisions?
  • What type of work does your team member place a high value on?

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They’re Not Listening

“I think I am pretty good at explaining our policies and procedures. I mean, we spent a lot of time developing our processes. We have tested things. We know the best way to get things done. So, why doesn’t my team listen to me?” complained Megan.

“What happens?” I ask.

“Okay, there are 13 steps in this process. And there are certain things that you have to look for, like you can mess up step number two and you won’t notice until step number six, so you have to take the whole thing apart back to step two.”

“Sounds complicated.”

Megan gave me the look. “That’s why I have to explain it. But they don’t seem to listen, then they start doing things their own way. About half the production has to be scrapped.”

“What do you think is happening?”

“They’re just not listening to me,” Megan stated flatly.

“I think you are right. They’re not listening to you. Sounds like they care more about what they think than what you think?” I watched Megan for her response. She didn’t like what I said, but I was just confirming what she had observed. They weren’t listening to her.

“How can you use that to your advantage?” I continued. Megan’s look at me was similar to the look she gave her team. “Megan, let’s try something different. I got this camera from some promo give-away. Here, take it. It’s only 6 megapixel and the chip will only take 25 pictures, but why don’t you give your team this camera and ask them to document this 13 step process and see what you get.”

“But they will get it all wrong,” she protested.

“Yes, but it’s a good place to start. Tell me how it goes.”

Wrong Question

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

Question:

I use questions to coach my team members, and they provide answers but not always the right answer. As a result, the conversation can appear like an inquisition. It’s challenging, at that time, not to revert to “telling” rather than “asking“.

Response:

If you are asking a question and you don’t get the response you want, it’s not because the response is wrong, it’s because you are asking the wrong question.