“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson~
Caleb, a manager in his workplace, often found himself fumbling for words. He wanted to learn how to make the most of his daily interactions with employees, even the brief ones. He reached out to several mentors in leadership positions. “What are the most important things you say to your employees?” he asked.
Strong leaders use phrases that give employees a powerful motivational boost, his mentors said. These phrases aren’t just sprinkled into a conversation. Rather, they often guide the direction of a conversation by opening a space for authentic sharing of ideas and appreciation. These five phrases are the building blocks to positive relationships based on strong communication, Caleb’s mentors told him.
- “You have what it takes.” It’s crucial to let people know you believe in them. They need to feel confident in their abilities in order to fully apply themselves. Find ways each day to express your confidence in people. Encourage them to take risks when you believe they’re likely to succeed, and to tackle ambitious projects.
- “How does that work?”This phrase resounds with humbleness, as well as the self-assurance to admit that you don’t know everything. As a leader, it’s vital to recognize that everyone possesses specific expertise and a distinct perspective. Knowing when to encourage them to share their expertise is an important skill for a leader. This is a good phrase to use in a meeting with more reserved team members who don’t normally boast about their knowledge. When you know they can explain something well that others will benefit from knowing, give them a confidence boost by asking this question.
- “I’m impressed.” This is one of the most important phrases used by leaders. When you take notice of others’ skills or contributions, let them know. Be specific about what you admire about their talents and efforts. Sharing your appreciation will encourage them to continue making a strong effort in the future. Use this phrase in front of other employees or higher-ups so that others will take notice as well, making this simple phrase an even bigger motivation booster.
- “What do you need?” Asking what employees need in order to carry out their work effectively shows you want to be supportive of their efforts. It also reveals a high level of confidence in others. Rather than micromanaging how their work should be carried out, you’re viewing them as the expert in how it should be done. A strong leader has the ability to play a supportive role by asking this question and following through. Posing this question in a more general way—in terms of how the workplace or job conditions could better meet employees’ needs—may help reveal broader areas of need, such as help with stress management or budgeting time.
- “What is your vision?” Likewise, this question shows that you value the ideas of others. You want them to feel invested in their work. And you know they’ll feel much more invested if they play a strong role in designing their own work performance goals. During one-on-one meetings, you should also ask them about their vision for their career and how they plan to work toward it over the next several years. This will show that you care about their career goals and will help you prepare talented team members for advancement.
Leaders who use these phrases are positioning themselves for advancement by improving employees’ job satisfaction and getting the most of their people. “Write down these phrases and keep them somewhere handy, on your desk or wall,” one mentor told Caleb. “Make sure they’re in a spot where you’ll look at them often, so you’ll have a continual reminder to use them. You’ll soon use them without thinking about it, and it will feel more natural every day.”
Try using all four of these phrases over the next couple of days. Email Joel for more advice on making your people feel motivated to excel in their jobs.
Have you used these phrases with people you supervise? Do you have other favorite phrases for motivating people that you’d like to share?
“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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“I am not a teacher, but an awakener.”
~ Robert Frost ~
Randy is more than a little anxious. He’s been moving ahead rapidly on the fast track with his company and he knows that his C-level managers see him as an emerging leader. Now, however, his boss has just presented him with a new challenge: mentor two employees who have just joined the firm. Randy has had a few good mentors in the past, but there’s a big difference between having one and being one. And he hasn’t been one since he tutored his girlfriend in math when they were high school seniors. He needs to be ready in two weeks. What to do first?
Like all creative leaders, Randy begins to brainstorm and research. Within a few hours, he has the outline of a game plan and knows exactly what he needs to do to become a great mentor:
- Develop a servant mentality
- Ask the right questions
- Cultivate their strengths
- Model executive presence
- Put them in the spotlight
1. Develop a servant mentality. The mentee is the star of your little show, so always keep him or her in the limelight. They may not be comfortable there, at least in the beginning. Every actor has butterflies on opening night, after all. Your job is to cheerlead, comfort, and encourage. And stay in the background.
2. Ask the right questions. Robert Ridel, in his book Critical Thinking for Everyday Life, says that “to question is to understand.” Probing, open-ended questions often lead other people to discover answers and ideas that they didn’t know they had. Always approach questioning from the positive point of view:
- Why do you think that worked so well?
- What would you do differently next time?
- If you were the client, what questions would you ask?
3. Cultivate their strengths. Being in a new position, or with a new company, is challenging in itself. Fear of failure may lie pretty close to the surface. Now is the time to remind your mentee of what she or he has already accomplished. They landed this job, didn’t they? And that was based on a track record of prior successes. Get them to talk about those successes and how to translate them into the current environment. This doesn’t mean you should ignore the downside. As George Lucas said, when discussing Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones, “Mentors have a way of seeing more of our faults than we would like. It’s the only way we grow.” You can see both sides but always accentuate the positive.
4. Model executive presence. You already have the right skills and attitude. That’s why you were chosen to become a mentor. You are not only talented, you create an impact when you enter the room. You know how to influence others, and you consistently provide added value to every project you manage. Always demonstrate these traits when working with your mentees. Come from a place of teaching, not from ego.
Good approach: “We just made a really successful presentation. Why do you think it worked?”
Not so good: “Wow! That was fantastic. I just love it when I knock it out of the park.”
5. Put them in the spotlight. When your mentee scores a win, give him the credit. Let him know when he hits a home run. Don’t hesitate to brag to your peers and C-level executives about what a great job he’s doing. Then use that win as a foundation for continuing to grow.
Six months after Randy took on his first two mentees, he was asked to develop a mentoring model to be implemented company-wide. Today, mentoring is a way of life, based on the initial plan he put together.
Are you about to become a mentor? Or are you already a mentor and need some new ideas to motivate your mentees? Email Joel today for his suggestions.
Talkback: Have you successfully mentored employees or others in your industry? What tips would you like to share with our readers?
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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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“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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