Management Success Tip #185: The Non-Rocket Science Art of Listening

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You know how irritating it is when someone you’re talking to, usually a close friend or family member, is texting while you’re trying to get across something really important to you? Or maybe they’re not looking at you, but at something else? Or when they give you that blank stare as in “Whatever you’re saying it’s just so much blabla”?

Now with that close friend or family member, you have the freedom to say “Hey, listen up! This is important!” But when you are texting, looking at something or someone other than the person in front of you, or thinking about something totally unrelated which causes that blank stare, while your employee is trying to get across something really important to them—that employee does not have the freedom to say “Hey, listen up! This is important!” All your employee can do is stand there, feeling disrespected, dismissed and in general, devalued.

Not a great way to manage your peeps! Back in 1957, Ralph G. Nichols and Leonard A. Stevens wrote in a 1957 HBR article (yes, Harvard Business Review existed even waaaay back then); “It can be stated, with practically no qualification, that people in general do not know how to listen. They have ears that hear very well, but seldom have they acquired the necessary aural skills which would allow those ears to be used effectively for what is called listening.” Nichols and Stevens studied thousands of students and hundreds of business people, and what they found was that most retained only 50% of what they had heard—immediately after they’d heard it! And only 25% some six months later.

What does listening involve? Basically, your attention. Your 100% attention on what the person is saying to you, on looking at them, preferably engaging good eye contact, and acknowledging that you are listening by either nodding your head from time to time or saying something like “Uh-huh.”

Not rocket science. But it does mean you can’t be formulating your response while they are talking, nor can you text, daydream, tune out or otherwise withdraw your attention from the individual in front of you.

Accord your employees the basic respect of really listening to them, and they will respect you in turn.

Management Success Tip #184: How to Communicate Criticism So It Gets Heard!

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It would be a lovely world if employees did everything they were supposed to do, exactly the way you wanted it and in the time frame you desired. Your managerial tasks would be reduced to making glowing reports to the higher-ups, and handing out congratulations.

Unfortunately, there are times—probably more than you’d like—where you must set employees straight, get them back on track (or sometimes on the track in the first place), and point out the flaws, problems and failures in their work. The easiest option is to say your criticism like it is, and have done with it.

However, as Sheila Heen, a lecturer at Harvard Law School and co-author of “Thanks for the Feedback” so accurately states, showing people how they stack up is the “emotionally loudest” type of feedback. No matter how softly spoken, gently worded, or accurate your criticism is, it tends to overpower any appreciation or coaching, especially among younger workers.

This is no doubt one of the reasons for the success of Dr. Gottman’s famous “5:1” ratio in relationships: it takes five positive comments to balance out one negative comment.

Two helpful guidelines:

  1. Yes, follow Dr. Gottman’s ratio and do your best to offer five positive comments to counteract your one negative comment. Not necessarily in the same conversation, that would be beyond phony, but as a general rule of good communication. Be deliberate in finding positive things to say about your employee’s work, since the negative things are all to easy to come up with.
  2. Be specific with your criticism. “Your work is sloppy” is useless. It is hurtful and doesn’t give your employee any direction. To a legal assistant, for example, “Your work is sloppy” is better relayed as follows: “Please be sure to include legal references in footnotes at the end of every page. Please check your punctuation and spelling before handing over a brief for my review.”

Positivity works best when mixed with a small dose of judicious criticism.

Management Success Tip #167: What’s “Meaningful Work” Anyway? Find Out by Asking!

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People expect more from work now than a paycheck and decent working conditions. Especially the younger generations (read 40 on down) want purpose, a sense that their work is meaningful. It is what makes them happy. Studies have shown that workers are motivated most powerfully by making progress at something that is personally meaningful.

But what is that? What is personally meaningful to one employee may not be personally meaningful to another.

Don’t guess. You’re hardly the man behind the curtain: ask!

What Monique Valcour calls the “coaching” function of management: “. . . restrain your impulse to provide the answers. Your path is not your employeeʼs path. Open-ended questions, not answers, are the tools of coaching. You succeed as a coach by helping your team members articulate their goals and challenges and find their own answers. This is how people clarify their priorities and devise strategies that resonate with what they care about most and that they will be committed to putting into action.”

It may feel odd to you to ask open-ended questions of your employees: “What do you want for yourself this year?” “How do you see yourself developing your talents?” rather than “Do this, do that.” And “Tell me more” as a follow-up may really upset your usual managerial apple-cart. But the little bit of time and effort it may take to work with your employees in this manner will pay off big dividends in terms of their motivation and commitment.

Management Success Tip #166: Want Engaged Employees? Listen and Learn!

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If you really want to insult someone, simply turn your back to them as they are talking to you. Be aware though, you may end up getting pulled rudely back around and even hit for such an act of disrespect.

What you may not realize, is that when you’re texting or answering your phone when an employee is talking to you, you’re engaging in the same disrespectful behavior. You are psychologically turning your back on them. More subtly, if you’re not giving your employee your full attention with your eyes as well as your ears, you are also “turning your back.”

Nothing is more important than not only listening to your employees, but also making it clear to them, by your attention and body language, that you are hearing them. “Employees are almost always telling their bosses how they feel, what they want or what they are doing, but sometimes this falls on deaf ears,” says Piera Palazzolo. “Make sure you listen and hear what your employees are saying to you. This will make you more attentive and caring as a manager, and will also help you know what your team is doing and how you can help them accomplish their goals.”

Isn’t that what you want? To know how your team is doing, and how you can best assist them in accomplishing their goals? When you do that, you end up with engaged, motivated employees who truly care about the company and strive for work-excellence.

Be a better-than-good manager. Join the ranks of the best. Listen and learn!

Management Success Tip #159: How to Be Nice And Tough AND Successful!

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Mr/Ms Tough Guy/Gal? Mr/Ms Nice Guy/Gal? Which should you be? Our society values “tough” above almost everything else – at least according to the media – yet today’s business uber-stars, from Richard Branson to Barrie Bergman claim that you don’t have to choose: tough and nice aren’t incompatible.

But how does that work? In real life, yours for example. In the real workplace. The one you work at, day in day out.

According to Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval, co-authors of “The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World with Kindness,” two of the primary techniques are to listen to others, and to quit arguing your point.

Everyone has something of value to contribute. It may be a contribution of more or less worth, given the situation, but everyone deserves a respectful listen.

That’s where nice meets tough appropriately. The nice part is where you listen, genuinely, with respect, to your employee’s input. Where you listen for the value in what your employee has to say. And that you give his or her contribution the same consideration you give everyone else’s. The tough part is where you decide how to use the input, given all the other issues that must be considered.

Secondly, don’t argue your point. There’s a world of difference between stating your position, and arguing it. I conduct focus groups for attorneys (among other things) – it’s a great way pre-trial of uncovering issues, developing themes, and so forth. It fascinates me how some attorneys feel the need to argue with the mock jurors about the “verdict” they rendered, rather than respect the information gleaned from the group, and consider its value when shaping their case.

So it is with you. Listen, don’t argue. Take into account what you heard, and you will reap the enormous benefit of being both nice AND tough – all to your greater success.

Management Success Tip #154: Indulge In A Powerful Motivator: Thank Your Employees

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You’d think that saying “thank you” or “I appreciate what you did here” would be normal, business-as-usual, in the workplace. You certainly think that you do your fair share of appreciating your employees. You may very well, however, here’s a wake-up call from UK’s performance improvement consultants Maritz (as discussed by business consultant Steve Roesler): their “research has found that almost one in five of us (19 per cent) have never been thanked for our efforts at work while more than a third only hear those two little words once or twice a year.”

More importantly, approximately one third of workers “receive regular recognition and are thanked several times a week, something that (as more than eight out of 10 of those surveyed acknowledged) has a positive impact on their desire to remain with their employer.”

Even if you think you already recognize, appreciate, and actually speak words of thanks and appreciation to your employees, think again. Are there workers you regularly thank, but some you take for granted? Are there workers you overlook in your thanks? Do you only think “Gee, good work, I appreciate that” in your mind, or do you actually speak the words?

When you next do a walk-through, or as a team meeting concludes, make the effort to catch an employee – or several – in the act of doing something right, and thank them, right there on the spot, in specifics, for what they’ve done right.

Thanks matter.

Management Success Tip #136: Drive Employee Performance and Business Success With Effective Asks

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If failure to appreciate employees is the single most important factor that drives workers screaming out of a company, appreciating your employees is one of the best ways of not only keeping them, but supporting their very best performance and productivity.

Appreciating employees goes way beyond bonuses and awards. It is, as the saying goes, “the little things,” your day to day practices, that show employees they are appreciated.

And one of the easiest, best ways to show employees you value them (which is what appreciation is all about), is to ask them, on a regular basis, for their thoughts and comments.

Kevin Eikenberry, in a recent “Remarkable Learning” tip, suggests nine questions that effectively elicit employee thoughts:

“1. What is your intention?
2. How would you suggest we proceed?
3. What is your recommendation?
4. How do you think/feel about it?
5. What do you see contributing to this problem?
6. What is the best next step?
7. What is your biggest concern?
8. Can you say more about that?
9. What is your greatest wish?”

Ask these and similar questions frequently, you’ll greatly enhance employee engagement, as well as glean all sorts of useful ideas with which to increase your company’s success.