Listening is an important part of being an effective leader. In this series of emails we will be looking at this topic to hopefully help us to become better listeners.
What does it mean to really listen to others?
Listening involves more than hearing the words of others. It involves giving others our undivided attention as we try to accurately receive and interpret what they are saying through their words, tone and non- verbal cues. Listening is an active process in which we invest our focused attention on others. This means that the priority is placed on what others are trying to communicate to us and not our own ideas and responses.
Why is listening so important?
When we listen to others, our relationship with them is strengthened. Listening shows that we care about what they have to say and value the relationship. When people feel heard they are generally put at ease and are more likely to be in a better place to accept our decisions, even if they may not align with their views. Listening also helps us to get an accurate picture of the problems and issues that individuals or teams are facing.
Is it a skill that can be learnt?
Some leaders are not naturally good listeners. In the next email we will explore some barriers to effective listening. Even though some may not be naturally good listeners, it is a skill that can be developed. The place to start is by making a commitment to be a better listener and then reminding ourselves to listen actively in each conversation. It may not come easily and it may be quite draining emotionally, but it is definitely a skill worth developing
Do you see yourself as a good listener?
Would others say that you are a good listener?
Homework: In your conversations at home and at work this week be intentional about tuning in and listening to others.
|“We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.” Zeno of Citium 330 B.C.|
When planning for 2017 with your team or organisation, there are three words that can be very useful: Continue, Stop and Start. These words can bring a simple clarity to the forward planning process. The three words can be posed as questions for your team or organisation to think about for 2017 and beyond.
CONTINUE: What things are going well and should be kept?
It is useful and encouraging to pause at the end of the year to reflect on the elements of your organisation that are going well. “Going well” means the program, service or product is producing the outcomes that were hoped for and is continuing to help the organisation fufill its strategic vision. There needs to be some analysis undertaken to justify it being given the tick of approval. What programs and services are really working and should be kept for 2017?
It is also helpful to look at and value the positive aspects of how members of your organisation work together and treat each other. What are the positive aspects of your organisation’s culture that need to be taken with you into 2017?
STOP: What things should we stop doing?
There may be some programs, ways of doing things or patterns of interpersonal relations that should be left in 2016. So often organisations are kept back from maximal effectiveness because they are carrying too much baggage. What aspects of your organisation should be decommissioned? Don’t let sentimentality rule the future.
Are there aspects of your organisation’s culture that are destructive or unfair? Is their bullying that hasn’t been addressed? Are there actions or behaviours happening that lead to team members feeling devalued and unappreciated? Are there organisational decision making structures and communication processes that are hindering advancement? This is a good time to name the items on the STOP list and create pathways for them to actually stop. Wishful thinking is not enough.
START: What new initiatives could be started?
As a result of the stopping you may have created some space for new things to appear. Sometimes organisations claim to be innovative, but their innovations are all things of the past now set in stone. Innovation is a continual process of trying new things. Sometimes they will fail and other times they will succeed. That is the nature of innovation. Has your organisation become stale? What fresh ideas can bring growth for the future? These may be programs, systems, products or finding better ways of people working together. How much of your budget and time goes into research and development?
For 2017: What do you personally need to continue, stop, start?
What does your organisation need to continue, stop, start?
“The electric light did not come from the continuous improvement of candles” Oren Harari
As we have been working through the theme of encouragement, you may be feeling a little “left out”. You may be in a situation where you rarely, if ever, receive encouragement for your work. This can very discouraging and the chances are that you will become more disengaged in your work over time. An absence of encouragement can also lead to people starting to doubt the quality of their work and whether their leaders are satisfied with their performance. What can you do in situations where there is a drought of encouragements?
Ask yourself whether you are the only one not receiving encouragement?
If you are the only one, then there might be a personality clash or possibly some performance issues, however, it is more likely that everyone in your team is in the same boat. If this is the case, don’t take it personally.
Ask your team leader for feedback.
Some leaders are not aware of the importance of giving regular encouragements to their team members. You may need to ask them how they think you are going and whether there are any areas of your performance that they are concerned about. Maybe ask for a regular check in so that you can chat about your work.
Treasure the encouragements that you do receive.
I often encourage people to file the encouraging emails or cards that they receive. These files are great to open on gloomy days when we are doubting ourselves. Also, when receiving encouragements, see them as a gift to be treasured.
Your team leader may never be a warm encourager, so stop waiting for it to happen. Be confident in yourself and let this be the strength that sustains you. Of course, this confidence needs to be built on evidence that you are actually doing a good job. Self-efficacy is the internal sense that we are capable of doing our job well.
Next time you are feeling left out and feeling the effects of a lack of encouragement in your life know that, sadly, there are many people like yourself, and put into practice the hints mentioned above.
“A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.” Mark Twain
Our encourgements will have more impact if they are based on data. If we ground our comments in data and events, then there is a higher chance that our words will really have an impact and not be just dismissed as only being “nice” to others. When we encourage others it is important to:
Ground the encouragement in actual events
Rather than a general “you are doing a great job”, encouragement is more powerful when it is descriptive and specific. It is great to give the person a specific example of when they were performing well, e.g. what was it about their actions that was noteworthy and how are their actions impacting others or the output of the team? If possible, it is useful to couch it in a story: “Remember the other day when…..and everyone was…..and you …………..this meant…….”
Support the words with data from feedback or surveys
I find that it gives our encouragement more weight when it is based on feedback from others, information that demonstrates improvement and high performance or the results of credible surveys.
One tool that I use to do this is the Clifton Strengthsfinder© online survey which highlights a person’s top 5 strengths. Over many years, I have found this survey to be amazingly accurate and can deliver very insightful feedback to people about what they do naturally well. In the workshops I facilitate, I ask other team members to share examples of how they have seen these strengths in action.
It is such an uplifting feeling to be in a room where people are encouraging each other and having some “aha” moments about how others in the team are wired.
What tools are you using to give more depth to your encouragements?
Do you have ways of collecting improvement data and positive feedback?
“Without data you’re just another person with an opinion.”
W. Edwards Deming
The key to building strong relationships doesn’t just involve saying positive and encouraging things to others and never mentioning your concerns or constructive criticisms. It is more about finding a balance between your encouragements and the difficult conversations that are essential to have from time to time.
So how much should we encourage others?
Not too little
Some leaders give far more criticisms than encouragements. They are quick to point out errors and shortcomings and do not naturally encourage others. There are many reasons for people developing a critical style, but at the end of the day the result is the same: team members are discouraged and feel devalued. I have worked in teams in which the team members have been disheartened by never receiving encouragement from their team leaders. I often wonder how long they will be able to stay in that team.
Not too much
Studies have shown that giving too much praise and acknowledgement can be counterproductive as the positive words lose their weight. An “everything is wonderful” approach fails to acknowledge specific good work and accepts under-performance. If “everything is wonderful” then nothing truly is.
What is just right? The Encouragement ratio
An interesting research project, carried out by John Gottman examined what would be a healthy ratio of positive to negative interactions in a marriage relationship. The research suggested that a healthy ratio would be 5 to 1, that is, 5 times more positive interactions than negative ones. Other studies have found that in the workplace a ratio of 3 to 1 will help the team relationships and productivity.
Of course the ratio will be affected by many things but it does give us all something to think about regarding our own encouragement style. The moral of the story is to do more encouraging than giving negative comments. This will strengthen relationships and build trust, which, in turn, will make giving negative feedback more effective.
If someone was to record all of your interactions with others at home and at work, what would be your encouragement to criticism ratio?
How can you work at developing a more consistent style of giving encouragements?
” Correction does much, but encouragement does more” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Do you see yourself as an encourager? If I was to ask your team members if they think you are an encourager, what would they say? To me, an encourager is someone who gives encouragement on a regular basis to those around them and tries to have a positive, rather than critical, outlook of others.
While some find it natural and easy to encourage others, many of us need to work at it. To be an encourager it is important to see the benefits of encouragement and then make it a regular and natural part of the way we interact with others.
Regular encouragement benefits:
those who we encourage
We all know that children thrive on encouragement and affirmation, but sometimes we forget that the adults we work with are just “grown up” children who need encouragement just as much. Sadly, in many organisations, team members and leaders are encouragement deprived. It seems that no one notices or remarks on their good work nor takes the time to bolster their self-confidence. When people are encouragement deprived they often become discouraged and disengaged from their work.
Just a few words can really lift the mood of people who are being encouraged and strengthen their perceptions of self-efficacy. We should never underestimate the power of encouragement.
Various research projects have demonstrated the powerful effect of having a team culture of encouragement. It helps empower team members, build a greater sense of team cohesion and helps team members to relax and not feel like they are walking on ice. A healthy positive tone in the group helps the team to be more effective and attracts new members.
Although we shouldn’t encourage others just to feel good, the truth is that it does feel good to build people up rather than tear them down. When we encourage others we sense that we have made a positive impact in their lives and helped them to grow.
In this series of leadership and life we will look at various aspects related to encouraging others and I hope that it will help us all to grow in the art of encouraging.
What overall impact do your feel you have on others?
- make them feel better about themselves
- make them feel worse about themselves
- no real impact
What impact would you like to have on others?
Who can you encourage in the next hour, day or week?
“I can live for two months on a compliment”
Teamwork depends on everyone in the team – working. Sometimes it may feel like it’s only some doing the work while the rest are not doing their fair share. When team members are “loafing” this can be very frustrating for the rest of the team as it impacts on relationships within the group as well as productivity.
If you are a team leader, then a part of your responsibility is to build a healthy and productive team. This may involve responding to people who seem to be loafing. Here are some tips.
Check your expectations. Is this person really loafing or are they simply not living up to your unrealistic expectations? Some team leaders are so “full on” that everyone seems to be loafing when compared to their frenetic work style.
Communicate your expectations. It is important to communicate your expectations with team members. These expectations include work hours, productivity, speed, quality of work and how to work well with other team members.
Take “loafers” seriously. If they continue to get away with substandard attendance and performance, then others in the group may become resentful towards them and perhaps you too, for not dealing with it.
Don’t do their work. Sometimes leaders cover for those who are loafing by doing their work. This is counterproductive as it increases the leader’s workload and allows the non performance to continue.
Try to understand the reasons for their behaviours. In speaking to a team member who you feel is “loafing”, it is helpful to start with a caring and positive approach and ask them if there are any issues that are leading to their behaviours.
Give them examples of where they were perceived to be “loafing”. Convincing someone that they are, in fact, “loafing” isn’t straight forward as in their minds they may feel that they are performing well. That is why using specific examples from work situations is important.
Explain the consequences of “loafing”. It is important to explain the consequences of “loafing” on the rest of their team. Some people don’t realise that there can be a growing animosity towards them by the more conscientious members of the team, that their inaction results in a lowered output from the team and their behaviours may create a question mark regarding their future in that position. If people are paid to do a job then it is reasonable to say that without the job being done properly they forfeit their right to have it.
Offer support to help the person to change their behaviours and attitudes. Dealing with team members who have an ongoing “loafing” record will often need more than just a motivational talk from you. They may need some coaching to help them overcome the attitudes and habits that are leading to their actions.
Don’t assume that “loafers” are lazy. Sometimes people assume that “loafers” are generally lazy people. This may be true but sometimes they are simply loafing in one area of their lives but may show great commitment to others.
Are you doing someone else’s work because they aren’t?
Are there any team members you could work with to help them to be more effective and productive in your team?
“Laziness is nothing more than the habit of resting before you are tired”