listening skills

December 21, 2010

10 Things for Managers To Do With a Spare Hour

There are those times when you’ve got your management act together when you reach those ‘One Minute Manager’ (Ken Blanchard) moments.

In the first book of the series (there are lots of great follow-ups), our star manager ensures that he’s able to spend a fair bit of time gazing out of the window because all the plates are spinning perfectly, with the minimal of intervention.

So, when you’re in that place with your management performance, what to do?

Here are ten ideas that you might want to consider when you are able to devote a spare hour to any activity you choose. The list is, of course, not exhaustive and you will have some favorites of your own.

That said, if you never have time to spare, taking a look at some of these will help you make that time, because the outcomes they will tend to produce will be constructive in magnifying the available time you have.

So, what’s not to like about these?

1. Pick an item to delegate – finding something that you permanently do NOT need to do yourself is a good first step. Second is to find someone who genuinely will benefit from doing that task. Thirdly, take the time to explain why you are delegating to them and the outcome you are looking for (don’t necessarily tell them how!).

2. Say ‘thank yous’ – just get out there and catch your people doing something right and thank them for it. This one is really simple and extremely productive.

3. Take an alternative view – ask yourself what would happen to a situation if you took exactly the opposite course of action than you have a current tendency towards. Just wonder about it a little.

4. Go and listen – get into easy conversations with your people and spend much more (90%) of the time in the conversation listening and work at just 10% of hearing your own voice.

5. Ask for help – go seek someone else’s help with a problem you are challenged with.

6. Ask for feedback – simple as it says – go off and ask someone on your team how you did with something recently. Listen to what they say, discipline yourself to NOT make excuses, if it isn’t positive. Just listen, absorb and thank then for their honesty. Feedback is a gift.

7. Be nosy – go poke around where your people work – not with personal stuff, but find out what they’re working on and ask questions that will help them tell you more about it (and then listen a lot – of course!).

8. Take a walk – yep, it’s time to ‘leave the building’. Spend a little time (you have an hour I’m giving you, right?) and go for a walk. No, there’s no catch!

9. Ask a customer – work out a way to interact with a customer or client informally. It might be a chat on the shopfloor. It might need a phone call to a random client. Whatever, just go for it and – you got it – listen!

10. Ring yourself – as a final challenge to your customer/client service, take a chance and ring into your own business, ask for yourself and test the experience. You will find it a revealing and, hopefully, a rewarding experience, even when you find out that your line is engaged!

How much fun is that? Instead of filling that hour with other ‘stuff’, you qualify all of these activities for that very productive ‘Quadrant 2’ as defined by Stephen Covey in ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’. Important and not Urgent.

All the more valuable and value-creating because of that.

Filed under Blog, Management Basics, Managing Me by Martin

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April 7, 2010

Words We Hear – 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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February 14, 2010

Management Listening – The Vital Ingredient In Employee Development

There are many tactics managers adopt when they are interacting with their teams.

On a one-to-one basis, nothing is more important than the capacity to take the time to listen effectively.

Getting to know your people well is one of the most important activities for anyone in a management or supervisory position. Armed with good knowledge about your people, you can make effective and often rapid progress.

Taking the time to spend with them, as often as you can and as one-to-one as you can is the first step, but what do you do with that important time?

Whilst many might say that spending the time telling them about your ideas and plans for the future; the way you want them to work for you and what your expectations are would be right, there is one activity that is much more important.

Taking the time to listen to them, closely where possible, is an incredibly important behavior for any manager to demonstrate, as often as they can.

So, why does listening matter as a tool to develop your people? Well, listening is the vital tool that will make you stand out as a great manager.

It has its twists and turns that you need to practice and that will enhance it as a productive skill for you as you evolve, because listening to others creates a partnership that is much more equal than the old command and control management structures.

Within that equality, you are able to leverage the perspectives, skills and talents that cumulatively, your people will bring to your team.

This is so much more than just you.

By listening carefully, you build your relationship and you help them develop. Your people learn that they themselves are powerful contributors and that you value them.

They learn as they speak as they see you listen, because it gives them the time and confidence to process thoughts and ideas as they go.

This works for many people in itself, whilst to be fair, some prefer to consider matters for themselves in their own time, yet with the time you’ve given them and that free space to air their thoughts, they will have a head start when they start to think through issues for themselves.

Listening shows them that you take them seriously and that their contribution makes a difference.

Whilst this might seem pretty much a given, you will be amazed at how many employees feel that they don’t matter and that ‘nobody ever listens’.

Even though you think you might have it right, there’s always scope to expand and learn yourself – as you listen.

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

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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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December 10, 2008

Listening Skills Revisited – 8 – Don’t Forget ‘Virtual’

When we are talking about communication, it does not necessarily refer to face-to-face communication.

Memos, emails, phone calls, video calls, letters etc are all important in your behaviors.

Whenever you have contact from someone on your team, make sure you acknowledge it as soon as you can at least – even if you are going to take time to reply to it.

It’s just as important as the times you can have conversations – maybe even more so.

If you looking to develop a functional, productive team, it is important to make your employees feel that they are an indispensable part of it.

Putting your listening skills to optimum use when you are communicating with the people working under you can truly make the difference.

Filed under Developing Your People, Managing Me by Martin

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December 3, 2008

Listening Skills Revisited – 7 – See the Value

Informal communication within the office is an excellent way to collect feedback about the way things are going – policies, ideas, plans, relationships even.

Not only can what you hear around the place have a great value in terms of ‘intelligence’, but if you start to get creative, you will seek out feedback from teams away from your own.

For example, you might be able to find out how the sales department feel about the impact your admin team have on their side of the business, and use that knowledge to make focused improvements yourself.

Filed under Developing Your People, Managing Me by Martin

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November 27, 2008

Listening Skills Revisited – 6 – All Ideas are Valued

If one of your employees gives you a suggestion in a meeting or otherwise, encourage them.

If you don’t like their idea don’t dismiss it off-handedly. Explore with them where there may be flaws.

Your personal experience should feed into the success of the team as a whole.

Always listen encouragingly to their ideas and make sure that you compliment them on their enthusiasm and positive participation.

Filed under Developing Your People, Managing Me by Martin

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November 20, 2008

Listening Skills Revisited – 5 – It’s a Motivator Too

Your great listening skills also helps to motivate your people perform to their best.

Realistically speaking if your employees are happy and feel important and fulfilled in their work, then tangible rewards like pay raises, bonuses etc. take a back seat.

Supporting the organization that shows they care (through your excellent listening skills!) becomes their top priority.

By involving them in the working of the company as much as possible, it provides them with a clear view of what lies ahead in terms of company plans, future aims and goals.

Filed under Developing Your People, Managing Me by Martin

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November 13, 2008

Listening Skills Revisited – 4 – Recall is Good

If you are fully involved in the conversation, you will also tend to maintain a good memory of it, which will be handy for future reference.

If, for example, your employee discusses a problem with you to seek your advice, a follow up to the conversation would mean a lot to them.

Filed under Developing Your People, Management Basics by Martin

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November 6, 2008

Listening Skills Revisited – 3 – Encourage Them!

Make them feel comfortable and ensure they know that they have your undivided attention.

Smile occasionally 🙂

Lean in. If you have a grip on the topic of conversation, ask questions, – showing that you are interested in the conversation – and them as individuals!

If you are not clear about something that is said feel free to ask for elaboration or explanation.

Filed under Developing Your People, Managing Me by Martin

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