Active Listening – You’re Speaking Volumes and You Haven’t Said a Word 4

Active listening (Receiving) is as important to communication as effective speaking (Sending). If the receiver doesn’t receive the message the way the sender intended – then what ever the sender said means absolutely nothing. How many times have you told the sender that you understood the message only to discover that you never really understood what they meant? How many times have you verbally told someone what you wanted done and although they told you they understood – when you went back to check-in on them – they where doing the complete opposite of what you said?

Active listening is a process in which the listener interacts with the speaker. To really listen requires mental and verbal paraphrasing and attention to nonverbal cues like tones, gestures, and facial expressions. The next time you have an opportunity to listen to someone try to be actively involved by developing / demonstrating these five skills for active listening. (Experts would have us believe that we communicate 40% of the time by listening)

Five Skills for Active Listening:

  1. Restating and Summarizing: You should be able to restate what the speaker said and or summarize the discussion. The speaker should hear their own words being played back to them. (So what you are saying is …. or – If I heard you correctly you said ….)
  2. Paraphrasing: You are paraphrasing what the speaker said by repeating it as accurately as you can – using your own words. It goes beyond restating and summarizing because you are giving the speaker your interpretation of what the speaker said. How many times have you made assumptions on what was said based on your interpretation? (Oh – I thought you meant ….). If you met someone in the hallway after the discussion could you tell that person what the discussion was about?
  3. Non-Words: Listeners can show the speaker that they are listening by verbally acknowledging the speaker. (Green light responses) Examples of non-words are “ah … huh, yeah, hmmmm, oh …” etc. Keep in mind that we communicate 38% of the time by our tone of voice. Try not to sound sarcastic or condescending.
  4. Supporting Statements: Another way to verbally acknowledge a speaker is to use supporting statements. Examples of supporting statements are – “Go on – tell me more, And then what happened? OMG – I see what you mean” etc.
  5. Nonverbal Messages: If you remember any thing at all remember that we communicate 55% of the time by body language alone.
Your nonverbal messages must be the same as your verbal messages so that the speaker feels that you are being sincere. People believe your nonverbal messages as being more accurate. Your actions and words must be congruent – they must be as one or the other person is going to believe the nonverbal messages you are sending as being what you really meant to say.  
Your verbal responses should include nonverbal responses such as body angle and stance, facial expressions, arms, legs, hands and feet. Your body language should appear open and receptive. Hands down at your side not folded across your chest. You can either help or hinder communication through the nonverbal messages you send as the listener. Rolling your eyes, yawning, looking around the room, glancing at your watch or tapping the floor are telling the speaker that you aren’t interested in them or what they are saying. 
Remember – “There is no such thing as a bad listener. There is only a person with inflexible listening habits.” You can learn to be an “Active” listener. Remember – You cannot not communicate. You are speaking volumes without saying a word. 

Good Goals Start With The End in Mind – Set SMART Targets

“A good goal is like a strenuous exercise … it makes you stretch”.  Where would you like to be in 6, 9 or 12 months from now? Are you happy with the direction your career is headed in? What is the number one item on your bucket list that you’d like to accomplish this year? Life is a planned event. Wishing and hoping won’t make it so. You need to put a plan together to accomplish your goals. Think of your plan as a road map. There may be some roadblocks, detours and highways under construction, but if you don’t lose sight of where you want to end up, eventually you will get there.

Here are some basic guidelines on setting goals. Remember to always start with the end in mind and walk your plan backwards to the here and now. Think of it as setting SMART Targets.

S – Specific: You’ve got to name it to claim it. Write down what you want to achieve. Don’t generalize. A well written goal needs to be specific. (You need to have a Dr. Phil moment and be very clear on what it is you want to accomplish) How much weight do you want to lose? How much money do you want to save? What skill or skills do you need to learn to a get that promotion?

M – Measurable: You’ve got to be able to measure your progress to know if you are going in the right direction. Break long-term goals down into small  bite size pieces. Do step one – then step two – then step three – etc. What results do you expect to see in a day, week or month? If you can’t measure it – don’t do it. If you can’t measure it how do you know you have the right plan?

A – Attainable: Don’t set yourself up for failure. You have to be honest with yourself. You have to be 100% convinced that what ever you set out to do is doable. If not – you’re beat before you start.

R – Realistic: To lose 20 pounds in a week might not be healthy or realistic. To loose one pound in a week may be more in line. Why commit to completing a task in 20 minutes if you think it might take 40?

T – Time-Based: An expected date of completion is a great motivator. It helps create a sense of urgency. However, don’t sell yourself too short. Add in some time to compensate for those roadblocks, detours, and highways under construction that you may bump into along the way. (A good rule of thumb suggests that however long you think it’s going to take for you accomplish your goal – times that by two.)

Be sure to commit your plan to writing. It will give you something to refer back to as you monitor your progress. Keep in mind that there are no perfect plans. You may have to adjust your plan if you see that it won’t accomplish what you set out to do. By committing it to writing you are giving it the same status that you’d give any contractual agreement. You are making a personal commitment with yourself.  Remember – Success in life or for that matter success in any undertaking is a matter of staying focused. Have a plan – and work your plan. You’ll be amazed by how much you can accomplish.

Managers vs. Leaders – The Debate Continues

A half-century ago Peter F. Drucker – who is considered to be the most influential management thinkers of all time – brought the practice of management to the forefront; and other notables have been trying to ‘one-up’ him ever since. The debate will continue long after you have finished reading this blog post. But I wanted to take this opportunity to state my position on the subject. I’ve spent 40 + years managing and leading people, and based on my experiences I believe the two: managers and leaders, have more in common with one another – then not. They are mutually inclusive of one another – not mutually exclusive of one another, in spite of what some leadership experts would have us believe. The lines between the two are definitely blurred – if not disappearing all together.

Warren Bennis – a renowned leadership expert (and Professor and Founding Chairman of the Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California) – cites integrity, dedication, magnanimity, humility, openness and creativity as the six qualities of a leader. Henry Kissinger (who served as National Security Advisor and later as Secretary of State in the administrations of USA President’s Nixon and Ford) said that the task of a leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been. Walter Bond – a former NBA player who is considered to be one of the World’s preeminent experts on personal accountability – refers to micro-management as one of the most common forms of leadership.

Now, who am I to disagree with the likes of a Bennis, Kissinger or Bond? After all I’ve only written one book on the subject – collectively they have written some of the most respected books on leadership. But it seems to me they could have just as easily been talking about the attributes of a manager as opposed to a leader. I know we can separate managing and leading conceptually – but in practical terms – should they be, or can they be, separated at all? How would you like to be managed by someone who doesn’t know how to lead? How would you like to be led by someone who doesn’t know how to manage themselves or others?

Do we manage more than we lead or lead more than we manage? Is there really that much of a difference between the two to even bother trying to justify one over the other? I think 21st Century Managers need to be able to do both well. I believe those two titles are interchangeable. I don’t think you can be one without being the other and vice-versa. The role of Manager and Leader is situtationally based. You have to ensure that the day-to-day things that need to get done to make the organization work are being done (that’s managing). But you also need to spend some of your time thinking about where the organization needs to go to stay competitive and to maintain or grow market share (that’s leading).

“Leadership cannot simply delegate management; instead of distinguishing managers from leaders, we should be seeing managers as leaders, and leadership as management practiced well” so suggests Henry Mintzberg (Professor Mintzberg is an international renowned academic and author of a number of books on business and management). I’m with Henry on this one. Forget about being a leader – practice managing well and people will want to follow you. If you can’t communicate, educate and delegate effectively and get people to buy into what you are saying and doing – then it really doesn’t matter what title you have.

How to Provide Exceptional Customer Service in These Tough Times 1

Your customer’s buying habits are changing. Today’s consumer is a much more informed consumer and a much more demanding one – especially in these economically challenging times. Customers are tired of feeling like they have been taken advantage of and are less likely to be fooled by slick advertising campaigns that make unsubstantiated claims about the prowess of your product or service. They want their needs met and are willing to take their business elsewhere if you fall short. To ignore this trend would be to do so at your peril. I believe the only advantage that you have left – to set yourself apart from your competition – is the level of customer service that you provide.

Providing customer service, let alone exceptional service, is challenging at the best of times. And to make matters worse you are under attack on two fronts. First: The cost of doing business continues to rise – and – Second: Your competitors are reducing their retail prices in an attempt to entice shoppers to spend what little disposable income they may have left. If you are forced to lower your retail prices in order to compete – it will put tremendous pressure on your margins and your ability to stay in business. Can you afford to offer exceptional customer service in order to maintain or grow your market share? Or will so-so service do?

Exceptional customer service is difficult to define because it’s all about perception. (Perception is the new reality) It doesn’t matter what you think. It only matters what your customer thinks. If your customer thinks you are providing exceptional customer service – then you are. (Of course the opposite is also true) Your challenge is to figure out how to use the customer’s perception of exceptional customer service to your advantage. What type of customer service is the consumer looking for? The other question to ask yourself is – what aren’t they looking for? Perhaps the answer to these two questions can be found in a survey conducted by Eticon Inc.

According to 1,281 consumers who participated in a customer service survey, what isn’t exceptional is rude telephone behaviour, especially unreturned phone calls. A “don’t care attitude” was listed by 55% of the respondents as a good enough reason not to do repeat business. Another 35% cited ignoring them to carry on a private conversation with another employee in person or on the phone was not exceptional service. Asked how they would respond to rudeness, 58% said they would take their business elsewhere. Here’s the kicker. In 42% of the replies, respondents said they would go out of their way to do business with where they got polite, respectful treatment. How much does it cost to be polite and to treat your customers with respect?

What is your perception of exceptional customer service? I don’t think you have to train your sales people to run up and down the aisles looking for customers. I believe all you have to do is teach your staff how you want them to react when your customers find them. (And trust me they will find them.) Companies spend thousands if not millions of advertising dollars a year to lure customers into their place of business but then allow their sales people to ignore them when they show up.

Here’s the key. All you have to be, to be exceptional in the eyes of the customer, is to be better than the last shopping experience that they had. All you have to be, to be exceptional is to be better than your competition. According to that survey, it’s really not that tough at all.