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  • 0 LISTENING ON SCREEN

    Virtual working has turned many of us into unwitting stars of the 10” screen. And while the pandemic zeitgeist is that humanity, young and old, has evolved into sophisticated technology users, there are still some glitches. We have all learned to stay calm when we get kicked out of a meeting and mined our homes for the most compelling and tidy corners to use as Zoom backdrops. We even remember to mute our microphones. But the truth is, for many of us, collaborating through a screen still doesn’t feel natural. At The Training Connection, we’ve been developing new resources to provide mentees with strategies for driving their partnerships from a distance and engaging with their partners virtually. We tend to emphasize attributes such as being prepared, articulating goals, and following up as a means not only for maintaining progress but also avoiding awkward conversations. In this month’s newsletter, we are going to zero in on listening. Listening, as in the art of conversation When communicating through a screen, it can be hard to find the right rhythm between speaking and processing what others are saying. Part of the reason is that nonverbal clues are limited, for both parties. It’s harder to see if the other person is stifling a yawn or fidgeting (“Is this story boring to them?”). Sometimes we can’t get over our own image (“Is that really what my neck looks like?”) or maybe there’s person out of view asking a question (“Mom, can I have a snack?”). There’s at once a lot more going on and, as a result, a lot less in terms of conversational give and take. Psychology Today urges us to lean into listening in order to be heard ourselves. In a recent article, they explained, “in order to know what to say in response, we must know what has been said to us.” Since virtual meetings don’t afford us the same opportunities and cues as in-person meetings, we need to work really hard to simply hear what’s being said. Listening and being present makes us happy Here’s the thing. When unfocused and spacing out, we aren’t only dissatisfied with what we get out of the conversation, we’re downright unhappy. Harvard psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert developed an app to study the “wandering mind.” They contacted 2,250 volunteers at random times throughout the day to find out what they were doing, what they were thinking while doing it, and whether they were happy. They learned that we spend 47% of our waking hours thinking about something other than what we are doing at that moment. According to Killingsworth and Gilbert, we are happiest when we are doing things like exercising or having a conversation- because those activities require us to stay focused on what we are doing. Put your active listening on display People who work in sales are trained to listen more than they talk. They understand that you can’t sell someone something they don’t want. A good salesperson will listen to their customer- a lot- to better understand their context and needs before recommending a product. Being a good listener makes it more likely that they will close the deal. Not to mention, people who are good listeners tend to be perceived as more sincere. Here are some ways to actively listen: Physical signs of listening Sit still, face forward, camera on. Look at the speaker (not at yourself). Take notes. Nod or smile when something they’ve said resonates. Show that you’ve received the message Ask questions periodically, which reinforces your learning and assures the speaker of your attention. Summarize what they’ve said (“so what you mean is…”). Hold judgement, don’t be defensive, avoid sharing opinions or personal anecdotes. Listen to them instead of planning what you’ll say next. Save a great idea until the end. Exude the spirit of a listener Be curious (“That’s fascinating. How did you become interested in this topic?”). Look for commonalities between you and the speaker (“I can’t believe you’re a runner too!”). Stay out of the chat. When people are presenting, don’t participate in the sidebar, stay in the main conversation. Set a good example and encourage others to speak Organizing your words ahead of the meeting so that you can speak in a calm manner with a clear message will help align the talk with the natural pauses. Preparing also ensures that you don’t overwhelm with too many details- which sets the stage for others to run on with their words instead of saying productive things. Send out the agenda in advance and consider starting with something that will encourage others to volunteer or speak up. Maybe even an ice breaker. Sometimes, if you are talking to someone who isn’t a good listener, you can lead them into better behavior by setting an example for how to do it. Save it One reason to stay quiet and listen instead is that it keeps you from using all your best material at once. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld once revealed that he believes his edge in joke-writing comes from his habit of writing things down and saving them for the right time. Don’t reveal too much. If you have a great story you want to tell, but it doesn’t fit the conversation perfectly, maybe save it for a time that it does. Also, your stories have the most impact when they’re fresh, not told over and over. If you aren’t always speaking, when you do speak- people listen.  

  • 0 Power of the Pause

    There’s power in a pause. A pause can come in many different forms – the pause for summer or holiday break, the pause of a good night’s sleep – even the visual “pause” of the white space a graphic artist might use as a design element. But interestingly enough, one of the most powerful pauses can come in the form of a simple pause in a conversation. All excellent listeners are masters of the pause. They are comfortable with silences. When the other person finishes speaking, they take a breath and relax before saying anything. They know that the pause is a key part of good communications. Pausing before speaking or responding has many benefits, including: 1. Avoiding the risk of interrupting the speaker if he or she has just stopped to gather his or her thoughts. One of the pillars of good communication is building trust - and active listening does just that. When pausing for a moment before responding in a conversation, the speaker will often continue speaking. He or she will be sharing additional information and insight which greatly improves the chances that your response will speak directly to the points the speaker is trying to convey. 2. Showing you are giving careful consideration to what the speaker has just said. By carefully considering the other person’s words, you are paying him or her a compliment by giving them the gift of attention and contemplation. You are implicitly saying that you consider what he or she has said to be important and worthy of quiet reflection. You can often give the speaker a feeling of value with your silence, raising their self-esteem and confidence in the process. 3. Giving you, the listener, time to actually hear, absorb and understand the speaker more fully. The more time you take to reflect upon what has just been said, the more conscious you will be of their real meaning. You will be more alert to how the speaker’s words connect with other things you know about them, increasing your ability to craft your response with a more holistic approach that takes into consideration many factors. And pausing isn’t just useful for listeners, it can be a powerful tool for a speaker as well: 1. The easiest way to pause effectively is to use the moment of silence to take a deep breath. A deep breath sends oxygen to the brain, which can help a speaker to be more functional and alert, think more clearly and even reset the timbre and tone of voice. A deep breath can also calm nerves – which tend to result in speakers talking too quickly and breathlessly, which becomes a vicious cycle. A pause for a deep breath can break this cycle. 2. Pausing increases credibility. A pause suggests a speaker is thinking about what they are about to share. It requires a tremendous level of confidence to purposely pause during a presentation, as there is enormous pressure to talk continuously when in front of a group. Inserting periodic pauses when communicating with others, or when presenting to a group, will convey a level of composure, poise and confidence – it’s also an effective tool for grabbing or refocusing attention. 3. A pause can substitute for those “filler” words – the "you know," "um," "ah," "like," "so," "whatever" – words that add no value and, when repeatedly uttered, will distract your listeners. The secret to eliminating filler words is to use a pause instead. This sounds simple, but it's not always easy and will likely take practice and diligence. But the results will be well worth the investment.  

  • 0 Effective Communication

    The office is a dynamic place. Deadlines are in constant motion, work volumes fluctuate, org charts shift and departmental responsibilities change.  And that’s just when things are moving along normally. Today, this quick pace is even further compounded by several concurrent trends. For one, we are all navigating a historically robust workforce with as many as five generations working side-by-side in some offices. With our age differences comes different expectations from our social interactions. Also, rapid advances in technology means we regularly need to take time to learn new systems and alternative approaches to productivity, which can be stressful and require us to speak with employees outside of our regular workflow. While the physical workforce is changing, so is the way we work, including flex schedules and more time spent in home offices. A recent Gallup poll revealed that 74% of American workers spend between 1 and 10 hours a week working remotely with either their computer or electronic device. This means less in-person collaboration and more reliance on email to get the job done. Successfully navigating a changing workforce and organizational culture requires a firm foundation in effective communication. Things might feel confusing and hectic at times, but in this newsletter we will share some simple strategies for your written correspondence and face-to-face interactions that will improve your office relationships and set you apart as a competent employee. Five Tips for Communicating Effectively Every interaction in the office is an opportunity for you to both positively impact your projects while also asserting your competence and leadership potential. Here are some tips to remember in your next correspondence or meeting. Share ideas when communicating issues. When explaining a problem to your supervisor, think ahead to some possible solutions. Instead of simply dumping a conflict on their plate, use your critical thinking and decision-making abilities to take the first stab at developing the fix. For example, consider the difference between these two messages: Example A. “I’m stuck on the proposal paperwork. The budget isn’t coming out right. Can you help?” Example B. “I’m having some trouble with the numbers on the proposal paperwork. If we allocate three employees to the project for three months, we’ll go over budget. I wondered about having two fixed employees and asking a third to come on at the very end. Or, instead, we might ask if we can be assigned one of the summer interns.”   Be clear and concise. Whether writing emails, leaving voicemails, or speaking in person, steal a page from a newspaper journalist. Share the most important information first. Be direct and clear. Follow-up with the details. With everyone’s inboxes overflowing, assume you will only have the reader’s full attention for the first two sentences. Listen. Remember the old saying, “Listen more than you speak. That’s why you have two ears and one mouth.” Listening is a difficult skill because our brains are busy with ideas and interjections. Practice putting them on hold here and there. When communicating, let the other person finish their thoughts. Intense listening communicates sincerity, trustworthiness, and caring. Drop defensiveness. Things go wrong. Every day. The way you handle those problems speaks volumes about your leadership potential. If your supervisor approaches you with a question about a mistake on the meeting agenda, instead of replying, “That was Briana. I wrote the agenda but Briana was the one who was supposed to be editing it.” Try something like this, “I’m sorry to see that. Would you like for us to distribute a clean copy to the team?” Read communication preferences/styles. We each have different preferences when it comes to communication and decision-making. For example, if your colleague is quiet and reserved try to limit the chatter, write your notes out ahead of time, speak a little quieter and stay focused. Plan your discussion in bullets. Have all the details in hand. Don’t just drop by - plan the meeting in advance so they have time to prepare. Get your emailing skills together As we said, keep your communication clear and concise. This is especially true when it comes to email which - because it is one-sided- can become long-winded and disorganized. Fast Company suggests this brilliant acronym for a well-constructed email: BRIEF. B- Background: Provide some context. R- Reason: Tell them why they should put this issue on their radar. I- Information: Share 2-3 details and consider putting them in bullet form. E- End: Set the tone here. Are you asking for help? Or letting them know you’ve put things on track? F- Follow-up: Consider the kinds of questions the recipient might have and get the answers ready. Shut down your email every once in a while A recent Forbes article discussed the risks of an organizational culture that is completely reliant on technology. They argued that email is too fast, too organized and, that its “effectiveness” can at times be its greatest flaw. Wrapping up our response quickly and streamlining our questions might squash the possibility of discussing what they call “the first whisper of a new idea or potential solution to a problem.” Although face-to-face communication is hard work, can be messy, and leaves us open to being challenged, it’s often how innovation is born. A quick reminder about non-verbal communication What you say is important. But don’t underestimate the impact of what you don’t say. Here are a few things you can do to demonstrate poise and focus without uttering a single word. Check your posture. Both feet flat on the floor, shoulders back, neck straight so that your ears are just over your shoulders. Stop to notice their eye color. When you meet someone, pause to see what color eyes they have- the extra second will communicate your sincerity. Give them a little room. If the person you’re speaking to folds their arms- step back a little. They might be telling you that they need more space. Show that you are calm, pleasant, and optimistic. Plus, smiling makes you feel good.