Be quiet!
How to make sure you talk less and listen more!

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“Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.”

~ Doug Larson ~

Kevin is on the management fast track at a Fortune 500 company. He’s outgoing, friendly, never met a stranger. He sees himself as a real deal-maker. Yet a lot of people in Kevin’s world routinely keep their distance when he enters the room. Even some of his clients seem to shut down when he’s around. He doesn’t quite understand why others don’t see him the same way he sees himself.

In his recent 360 review, ten stakeholders did provide quality feedback to Kevin. These insights began to shed some light on the situation. Frankly, he just talks too much. His co-workers and managers see him as a bit of a phony, maybe someone who’s not as smart as he thinks he is, even as someone who’s not to be trusted. The main message he heard in the feedback was to talk less and listen more.

Kevin realized he needed to make some immediate changes. His first thought was “hire an executive coach” and he did exactly that. He knew that getting advice and feedback from a neutral third party could speed up and enhance his process of personal change dramatically.

Kevin’s coach was very specific. “In order to project confidence and speak with authority, you need to talk less and listen more. What you have, Kevin, (to quote Cool Hand Luke) is a failure to communicate.” Within a week after his executive coach was hired, the two of them created this 4-step plan:

1. For at least the first two weeks, don’t speak up in meetings at all, unless someone addresses you directly. Listen and take notes instead.

2. For the next two weeks, when you’re with clients or in a meeting, don’t speak up or offer opinions unless someone asks you. Instead ask questions, such as “Where did you find that information?” or “What do you think the outcome of that strategy would be?” Take notes on the answers.

3. Cultivate relationships with senior managers whose attitude and behavior you admire. Spend time with them and begin to model your communication style after theirs. Schedule regular coffee dates or informal meetings and ask for their advice and feedback.

4. After practicing the listening strategy for a month, gradually begin to speak up in meetings, offer new ideas to clients, and make low-key comments in groups or with other co-workers. Keep notes about how others are reacting to you now and adjust your strategy accordingly. Always, however, emphasize listening over speaking.

“Here’s the bottom line,” Kevin’s executive coach told him. “And this is what you hired me for! People don’t listen to you because they are too accustomed to your having something to say for every occasion. When you make a habit of talking less (or not at all), you’ll get their attention immediately when you do speak up.”

Six months later, Kevin felt that his implementation of the 4-step plan had totally changed how he was perceived in the company. He had his strategy of talking less and listening more.

Are the people you work with tuning you out? Take a look at your communication style and see how much time you spend talking rather than listening. Follow Kevin’s four-step plan, or hire an executive coach for assistance. Joel can provide some valuable suggestions. Why not email him today?

Talkback: Have you made successful changes in your communication style? How did you do it? Share your story here.

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Workplace Conflict: Blessing or Curse?

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“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph”

~ Thomas Paine ~

Client Martina Asks: Lately, my office has become Conflict Central. We can’t have a meeting without someone leaving in a snit because his or her idea was rejected. There’s a lot of door slamming and loud voices. People who used to socialize together after work aren’t even speaking. Worst of all, our productivity is in the tank. As a team leader, I feel some responsibility to do something about this. I’d like to be the person who turns the team around and gets our projects back on track. What do you suggest?

Coach Joel Answers: Conflict has become a way of life in many organizations. In fact, a whole industry has been created around training people how to resolve conflicts. Just Google “conflict resolution” and you’ll see what I mean. But a lot of these tried-and-true, theoretical methods are not particularly effective. Some people thrive on conflict and love to create more of it. If you have one or more of those on your team, your job is going to be challenging.

How about this? Instead of seeing conflict as a negative, a big problem to be solved—how about looking at conflict as an opportunity to become even better than you are?

Martina seemed unconvinced but willing to go along—for a while anyway. Here’s the outline of actions steps that Joel and Martina put together.

  • Step 1: Develop an internal support team. Gather around a table with a few team members who you know are not happy with the current situation and would welcome an opportunity to be part of turning it around. Look for people who are open to using conflict as an opportunity to get better, not just a problem to be solved.
  • Step 2: Clearly define the problem. The problem is NOT that Joe’s a jerk who won’t go along with anything; or the work load is too heavy; or the boss’s expectations are unrealistic. Just as married people seldom fight about the budget, work teams seldom fight about the work load. What they both want is control. The problem is that nobody yet is able to see conflict as an opportunity and share control to build a better organization. It’s your job to show them how.
  • Step 3: Make your adversaries part of the solution. Not everyone will see the possibilities. However, you must, first of all, respect those whose opinions differ from yours. Invite them in. Give those who are willing to work together a seat at the table and get everything out in the open. During this kind of communication, the key ground rule is “no argument.” The key tool is listening and letting the other person know he or she has been heard. My book about Difficult Conversations provides a lot more detail about how this technique can work for you.
  • Step 4: Capture ideas and pick the top 5. Every person at the table will have ideas. Some will have merit; some will not. Make sure that your brainstorming session doesn’t deteriorate into an “us against them” free-for-all. Choose ideas from all different perspectives, ideas that are positive and will forward the action, not short-term solutions that will put a band-aid on an open wound.
  • Step 5: Team up to move up. Take your top five ideas and let each team member choose to be part of an implementation team that puts one of those into action. Develop a timeline for completion and an interim schedule for progress reports.

In short, the secret to conflict resolution is not “Can’t we all just get along?” The secret is giving people a project to work on where their ideas and creativity are respected and where they can see the results of their efforts.

What’s the biggest conflict in your workplace right now? Start making a list of steps you can take personally to turn this conflict into a big step forward for your team and for the company. Joel has helped many of his clients do exactly that. Email him today to discuss possibilities.

Talkback: Have you successfully turned a conflict into an opportunity? We’d love to hear how you did it. Share your experience below.

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3 Self-Defeating Habits to Break Right Now

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“A bad habit never disappears miraculously. It’s an undo-it-yourself project.”

~ Abigail Van Buren ~

Client Mitch Asks: I’ve just finished getting the results of my annual 360 review, and boy, am I discouraged! You would not believe the stuff people said about me. They say I’m causing the team to miss deadlines because I put things off until the last minute. The truth is, I work a lot better under pressure. The stress just makes me kick it up a notch and that’s when I get really creative. And around here, deadlines are missed all the time. Why am I to blame? Right now, I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop—there’s a pink slip in my future. I’m sure of that. If everybody says about me is true, who would want me around anyway? Guess I’d better polish up the old resume.

Coach Joel Answers: Let’s take a step back here. I know performance reviews can be pretty upsetting, but they can also present an opportunity. Here’s another point of view you might consider. From what I heard you saying, I can pinpoint at least three self-defeating habits that are probably what’s behind all that unfavorable feedback. Here’s my short list of damaging habits. If you can break these, I’m sure you can turn things around.

  • Procrastinating
  • Rationalizing
  • Catastrophic thinking

1. Procrastinating. You say you work best under pressure, but what is that pressure really costing you in terms of stress? Not to mention the poor image you’re projecting to your co-workers. Here’s the nugget for breaking any habit: you can’t just say, “I’m going to stop procrastinating.” You need to replace that negative habit with a positive one. For the next month, try starting every day at work by doing your hardest task. If it’s calling clients, do that first. If there’s a major project on the horizon, create an outline of what you need to do and take the first step. Once you’ve made a start, the rest of your day or your project will fall into place more easily.

2. Rationalizing is a way of excusing ineffective behavior. Actually, it’s a lie you tell yourself in order to preserve your self-esteem and give yourself permission to keep doing what you’re doing. You say you’re more creative under pressure. How can you replace that thought? Give yourself permission to be creative when you’re not under pressure, when you can actually enjoy the process. Let’s say you have a major client presentation coming up and you need a PowerPoint deck. Slow down. Take a relaxed half an hour to experiment with color palettes and designs. Do an Internet search for videos you could import. Your end result will be far more creative than something you throw together at the last minute, without time to visualize the end result or its effect on your client. And you won’t have to make excuses for missing deadlines or turning in a mediocre project.

3. Catastrophic thinking. You say there’s a pink slip in your future? That’s carrying one negative review to the extreme. Think about the language you’re using when you talk to yourself about this issue. Do you hear extreme words like, “never,” or “always?”

“Nobody wants me around. I’ll never find another job. I always get blamed when thing go wrong.” Right now, your team is seeing you in a negative light. If you want to build more positive relationships, you need to take action.

Instead of buying into your destructive self-talk, make a list of ten things you do really well, ten successes you’ve had in this job or in previous jobs. Write these down and re-read the list every time you catch yourself going into catastrophic mode.

And last but not least, commit to this change strategy by sharing it with your boss. Let her know that your 360 review was a great wake-up call because it showed you some changes you need to make. Tell her what those changes are and what you plan to do about them. Set up an appointment to review your progress in 30 days. Nothing will hold you accountable like sharing your commitment with someone else. There’s real power in public declaration.

Do you have some self-defeating habits you need to turn around? Email Joel today for some suggestions.

Talkback: Have you successfully replaced a bad habit with a good one? Share your turnaround strategy here.

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8 Skills for Mastering Conflict Resolution

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“For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument, debate.”

~ Margaret Heffernan ~

Anna has always been a competent and conscientious employee, but she couldn’t figure out how to really shine as a leader. Her mentor suggested she evaluate what skills her office needed most and work to fill the gap. Anna realized that office conflicts were wasting valuable time and energy. Coworkers were avoiding conflict at all costs until it came to a head, and several of her coworkers had left the company because of the negative atmosphere. By honing her conflict resolution skills, Anna knew she could really get noticed.

Conflict resolution is an invaluable skill that will make you shine as an employee, because few people do it really well. Helping conflicts to happen in healthy ways will boost ingenuity, foster harmonious relationships, and increase job satisfaction. Whether you’re mediating conflicts for others or resolving a conflict with a coworker or even with your boss, these tips will help you to master this skill.

1. Predict conflicts.

Conflicts don’t always have to catch you off guard. Look for personality clashes and underlying tensions that could surface during a challenging moment. That will help you to circumvent them when possible by curbing bad behavior before it gets out of hand, and to anticipate how to handle tense situations.

2. Let both parties cool down.

Don’t attempt to find a solution while everyone is boiling mad. Give people time and space to cool down and reflect on the situation. Let them know you’ll help resolve the conflict after everyone has had some breathing room.

3. Articulate the conflict.

Clearly state what is happening and why it’s important to solve the conflict. Ask all parties if they agree with your summary of the situation. You can’t solve the problem until you know what problem you’re solving.

4. Get to the root of the issue.

Personality clashes and past disagreements that flare up might cloud the issue. If you’ve taken the time to predict what types of conflicts might arise in your workplace, you’ll have a better idea of their root causes. Ask yourself if you’ve seen a pattern at play.

5. Make sure both parties feel heard.

Schedule one-on-one time with each party, if possible, to make sure they’ve each had the chance to fully air their concerns and feel heard. If you’re involved in the conflict, reach out to a colleague who can help you understand the other party’s perspective, and ask your advocate for advice if need be.

6. Foster collaboration or compromise.

Solutions that involve collaboration or compromise are the most productive, because they ensure everyone’s needs are met. They’re far more productive than having one party accommodate the other’s wishes completely, or having both parties compete head-on to show their solution is best. While negotiating the solution, consider whether one party is more domineering or vocal than the other. If so, work to draw the more reserved party out to make sure no one’s needs are being overlooked.

7. Communicate expectations with everyone.

Communicating expectations clearly will help avoid future conflicts. Clear communication also makes people feel valued. If the office already has formal protocol related to the issue at hand, communicate it to the entire office. If not, assemble a small team of people to develop a protocol that coworkers can look to in the future.

8. Solicit solutions

Ask for potential solutions from all parties involved in the conflict. If other coworkers have investment in the issue at hand, ask the whole office for solutions. When the people in conflict see its resolution as a joint effort, they’ll be more likely to feel acknowledged, supported, and treated fairly.

Working to build positive relationships with coworkers on a daily basis will help them trust your methods of conflict resolution. Making this effort will poise you to take leadership in the conflict resolution process. Like Anna, as you hone stellar conflict resolution skills, your boss will come to see you as a leader in your workplace.

Anne purchased my book Difficult Conversations which provided her with the practical tactics for some of the crucial communication she was prepared to begin having.

For the next week, take notice of any tension brewing in your office and predict what conflicts might arise from it. Take action each day to address a potential area of conflict, such as asking a coworker what might alleviate her frustrations with fellow team members. Take notes on what worked and what didn’t, and email Joel for feedback.

Talkback: Have conflict resolution skills gotten you noticed? Have you seen them benefit your coworkers? Share your experiences here.

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Career Advancement – 5 Key ways to Stand Out

The secret of joy in work is contained in one word – excellence.”

~ Pearl Buck ~

Client Maria Asks: I’ve been with my company for six years now, and I’ve gone as far as I can go. It’s time to move to a bigger playing field. How can I really set myself apart from the crowd? I know I’m good at what I do, but how do I convey that without overselling myself or looking like an egomaniac?

Coach Joel Answers: You’re smart to be planning ahead in this situation, and you’re in the perfect spot for a career advancement move. There’s a lot you can do to prepare, but I think there are 5 key things that will really make you stand out and gain career advancement.

  • Become a master communicator
  • Make critical thinking a way of life
  • Make their goals your goals
  • Be someone special
  • Tell a good story

Here’s how each of these strategies will work to advance your career. These are not just things to do—they are who you are in the eyes of your next boss and the new job success you want to create.

1. Become a master communicator. Technical knowledge is important. But the #1 skill that employers are looking for today is communication–people who can write and speak impeccably. This means that every bit of written communication between you and any future employer needs to be letter-perfect. This includes emails and texts, not just your resume. It also applies to your profile on LinkedIn and other social media sites. Speaking well is equally important. If you tend to freeze up in presentations or stutter in group meetings, join Toastmasters or take a public speaking seminar.

2. Make critical thinking a way of life. Your future employer values people who can think on their feet. Problem-solving is important, but problem-avoidance is even better. Learn to think ahead about the potential outcomes of your strategies. Never underestimate the Law of Unintended Consequences—the possibility that your actions may produce unexpected results. Fire prevention beats firefighting every time.

3. Make their goals your goals. Working for a company you’re proud to be with is the best of all possible worlds. As you research potential employers, go after only those whose mission and vision you can totally support. Once you’re on the job, that same mindset applies to your boss’s personal goals. She wants to open two new sales territories? You can do that. He wants to be the premier provider of services in your industry? You want the same thing. Align your vision with theirs and you’re both winners.

4. Be someone special. Have a signature skill that enhances your brand, something that you are confident you can do better than almost anyone else. What principles did learn about excellence and winning that you’ll be using on the job? Did you overcome a major personal challenge to get where you are today? Now you can use that experience to meet any challenge your employer throws at you. Which leads us directly to #5:

5. Tell a good story. Every prospective employer has heard the laundry list of the qualities that make a good employee: teamwork, integrity, creativity, dedication. Instead of reciting the expected list, tell a story. Illustrate something you have done that shows your creativity. Talk about leading a team and the results you produced. Your next boss will remember the story, even if he or she forgets the words that started it.

Remember, none of this is done out of ego or overconfidence. Or in the immortal words of Dizzy Dean: “It ain’t bragging if you can do it.” And I’m sure you can do it!

Are you looking for the next big thing? Ready for a dramatic career advancement move? Email Joel today for his suggestions.

Talkback: Have you successfully changed jobs or careers recently? Share your success story here.

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