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January 17, 2010

What People Say – Open to Interpretation

Communication is the essence of great management. Taking the time to spend time talking and most importantly listening to your people will always be the basis of the relationships we build. Yet how we interpret what we hear can be less than correct.

We cannot always assume that the words we hear mean what we think they do. We give trust to our experiences that have kept us safe, but in the world of work, this can let us down sometimes and we fail to make the best of people because of it.

Often what people say means something very different to them than it might to you. As a manager, you have the luxury of being able to detach from worrying too much about this, as your people will generally follow what you tell them to do – up to a point.

But this isn’t your whole answer. You need your people to be onside when it comes to the information you give out to them, so that they are aligned with the expectations you have of them.

More, when they don’t clearly understand what you mean, they will become frustrated when they do what they hear you want, only to find out subsequently, that this wasn’t really the case. This can seriously damage any relationship you have with them, especially when it happens more than once.

On the other hand, as a manager, it’s easy to place your interpretation on what you hear said and create assumptions based on this. Your beliefs about people can be spoiled by your interpretation of what was said, rather than making the effort to get under the skin of the detail and work really hard to understand what they really meant.

On both sides then, dissemination of information, attitudes and even simple comment is wide open to misinformation, because our ears are not theirs. The words that are said do not neccesarily have the same meaning as what we hear.

Whilst a solution to this is to double-check both that what you say is clearly understood by them and that what they say you have clearly understood, there is a further consideration to make.

Sometimes, you need to stand in a different place than you have always done. Your appreciation of what is said is subject to your own filters through which you hear the world.

It’s vital sometimes to appreciate that the words you hear and interpret for yourself don’t have the edge that you imagine.

That your ‘spin’ is yours and not theirs.

This requires a step-change in your ability to shift your own thinking and by doing this, you are much more likely to get the real value of the thinking and ideas that are being shared.

And you are better equipped for maximizing the relationships you build, rather than wasting time and energy frustrated by the words that others use and hearing them only through your own, filtered and consequently tainted ears.

Filed under Blog, Developing Your People, Management Basics, Managing Me by Martin

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It’s Not Them, It’s You

Author: Mary Jo Asmus

You’re leading a monthly meeting. You’ve asked your team members to provide their input on a topic. Unlike your teenager who at least shrugs his shoulders (or says “I don’t know”) when you ask for his opinion, you get silent stares from your team. What could be going on?

Are your team members incompetent? Do they even know enough about the subject to speak up? Don’t they know that their input is important? Actually, you may need to look to yourself and your behavior as the cause.

The behaviors you exhibit may be shutting your team down. Luckily, these behaviors can be fixed over time, increasing the likelihood that you will get the input you seek. Let’s explore the behaviors that may be preventing your team from speaking up:

You are not listening
Are you doing all the talking? Are you shutting people down or cutting them off?

You have ignored your team’s input
Do you have a history of asking for input and then doing whatever you think is right anyway?

You are asking the wrong kind of questions
Are your questions the kind that don’t foster discussion (yes/no questions for example)?  Are the questions you are asking ones that you already know the answers to?

You supply the answers to the questions
Do you ask the question and then supply your own answers? Are you allowing the silence necessary for your team to consider their answer (yes, silence can be a good thing in this case)?

You shoot the messenger
Do you respond with your opinion (often negative) to the responses you’ve received? Do you feel the need to judge every answer?

Are you showing impatience or temper?
Does your body language indicate that you are not getting the kind of answers you want? Are you rolling your eyes or sighing when a team member responds to a question? Worse yet, are you showing signs of anger or exhibiting outbursts?

Is it possible that any of these behaviors apply to you? Ask someone you trust to observe you and provide some feedback. If you find that you are exhibiting any of the behaviors above, you need to change your behavior.

You’ve lost respect – for yourself and for others – and are on a downward spiral. It’s recoverable. More about how to recover in the next post.

© Mary Jo Asmus is a a former executive in a Fortune 100 company, who now owns and operates a leadership solutions firm called Aspire Collaborative Services at http://www.aspire-cs.com

Filed under Blog, Developing Your People, Managing Me by Martin

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