Month: October 2013

ATTENTION “TALKERS”: Learn How To “Fence With Control”

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As an executive, being able to communicate effectively at all levels is important.  Equally important is the ability to effectively listen.  If you’re a Talker like me (and anyone who knows me will tell you that I am definitely a Talker!), you have to find a good technique to balance the two and be an effective “bi-directional” communicator.

I was talking about this very topic with Mark Hall, a friend and mentor of mine.  Mark likens communication to the sport fencing, knowing when to lunge, parry, feint, attack, etc.  I think it’s a good analogy.  Depending on the type of communication, the various aspects of the analogy have merit.  For example, in a negotiation there is a time to listen but there may well be a time to cut your “opponent” off with a lunge.  On the other hand, in a coaching session, one is far more likely to “disengage.”  Different techniques for different scenarios.

As a Talker, I want to share a few effective techniques that I’ve learned that help me keep my mouth shut and “off the attack” when attacking isn’t helpful.  The goal of these techniques is to avoid cutting someone off when they’re talking, which sends the dual message that 1) you’re not listening; and 2) that you’re not interested:

  • Smoke Detector: We talkers are intimately familiar with that overpowering urge to just cut off the other speaker and SAY SOMETHING!!  I refer to this as the “Smoke Detector”.  Use this urge as a signal NOT to talk.  The few times when this may be the wrong approach will be far outweighed by those times where this technique will benefit you.  Don’t overthink it – when you “hear the alarm” get out of the building!
  • Count To Three: When the urge strikes you, first wait for the other person to STOP speaking and then deliberately and slowly count to three….and THEN speak.  I learned this technique from a former boss/colleague of mine, Ann Weaver and it is extremely effective.
  • Finger Tap: An alternative to ‘Count to Three’ is the Finger Tap.  It’s basically the same approach but you make the physical effort of tapping your finger three times on your knee.  This technique came from Mark Hall.
  • Remember The Goal: Remember the goal of your conversation and ask yourself, “is what I am about to say REALLY going to help me get to my goal?”  (and you have to ask it exactly like that, by the way).
  • Reflect: If you’re not familiar with reflective listening techniques, Google and learn them.  It’s standard “communications stuff” with which most of us are familiar but if applied diligently, these techniques work.  It’s a good way to make sure you are RESPONDING to the other person and not just talking about their question or concern.

We Talkers need to be on a constant vigil to keep ourselves in check and strike a balance between effective speaking and listening.  Only by doing so can we be the effective communicators that our executive roles require of us on both a personal and professional basis.  Whether communicating up, down or laterally, the ability to “fence” with style and grace will allow you to not only be successful in your own right but to be a strong example to your teams and colleagues.

© 2013, Mark E. Calabrese

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“Bad Luck” or “Bad Choices”?

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We’ve all had things go wrong at work and at home and the paradigm through which we interpret such situations says a lot about us as individuals.  I think about it as ‘bad luck’ versus ‘bad choices’.

“Bad luck” is just that – a happenstance of fortune over which you, the innocent victim, had no part.  Bad luck implies circumstances beyond your control – that it was “fate” that landed you in a predicament.  It says less about your character and more about the general unfairness of life and the world in general.  Or does it?

Most people view “bad luck” as another way of saying that it wasn’t your fault – that you had “no control”.  Reflecting on my own experiences, my instances of “bad luck” seem to have had far less to do with fate and far more to do with my own choices.  Take a few moments and reflect candidly on your own misfortunes and ask yourself what part you played in setting yourself up….then ask yourself how YOU interpreted the incident – was it bad luck or bad choices?

Personally, I’d prefer to be the victim of bad choices over bad luck.  While it’s true that you are 100% responsible for your choices, you are also 100% in control of whether you make such choices again.  With “luck” you don’t get those kind of numbers – it’s all random and it is all beyond your control.  Thus, if you caused your own grief through your own choices, that means you can also AVOID said-grief in the future.  When we are responsible for our own bad situations, the good news is that we are also in control and simply chose not to make the smarter choices.

As an executive, you can use this exercise to understand the level of accountability in your own teams.  When things go wrong, do your managers suffer from bad luck or bad choices?  A strong leadership team knows they are in control of their choices and will act accordingly, taking ownership of both their successes and failures.

Listen to your managers as they discuss (or lament!) their own bad situations and see how they interpret the incident.  Seek to empower and promote those who “are the victim of bad choices”, especially if they own up to and LEARN from them.  This way, you will promote accountability and leadership that learns from (and OWNS) their mistakes.

© 2013, Mark E. Calabrese