Tag: communication

Sharing memories, creating connection

Recently, grandson Reece asked if he could interview Cindy for a school project. He had chosen the subject of travel and began with this question: “Why did you decide to travel the world?” Ten questions later, Reece knew more than anyone else about his grandmother’s passion for seeing different places.
A couple of years before, granddaughter Haley interviewed Cindy about her early years—grade school through high school. It was fascinating to watch Cindy reflect back and find moments and stories she had not thought about or spoken about for a long time. It was also nice to watch Haley and Reece be leading the conversations thoughtfully and intentionally—so easy to forget what kids are capable of doing.
Look for opportunities to share
Kids don’t often ask about the past; it’s usually only as adults that we become curious about our parents and their childhoods.
Recently, I ran across some photographs of my father in India and Burma during WWII. It reminded me that there is a lot about my parents that I don’t know, such as how he got there and what that trip was like. And now it’s too late to ask.
I would love to be able ask my parents about what they did for fun, their first car, when they saw their first movie, their friends—even the tough times. It would be wonderful to go through all of the old black-and-white photos and ask for the stories behind each one.
Often a child’s interest in the past begins with a school project like Reece’s. Other times, however, something in the news, or perhaps their own interests or problems, will prompt a question.
Be ready for these questions. When one appears, stop, reflect on it thoughtfully, and then respond authentically from a viewpoint of sharing rather than teaching or influencing their thinking.
This is not a time for short answers!
I’m reminded of an e-mail that my daughter, Amy, sent me long ago. It was brief and to the point: “Dad, you need to share more.”
Ever since I received that note from Amy, I intentionally listen for opportunities to say more. For instance, one of the grandkids asked me about my new shotgun for pheasant hunting. So I told him about my relationship with my father, about my love of the outdoors, about our concern with having guns around the house. We probably talked for twenty minutes. That conversation reminded me that some conversations need us to focus on listening and others call for a focus on sharing.
Start a journal or collection of stories for later
We all have our own memories and stories that are prompted by familiar events of everyday life. Cindy and I were driving through a small town In Kansas, and as we passed a park, I was reminded of watching movies as a child on a big wooden board in the little city park where my grandparents lived. And that moment created a wonderful hour-long conversation about the small towns in each of our pasts.
Now that baseball season is upon us, I am reminded of Saturday afternoons of watching baseball on TV with my grandfather. The announcers were Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese, and Grandpa Pete had all kinds of superstitions. Never strike out the first batter because you’ll lose the game was one he truly believed in. He would go crazy if the Cardinal’s pitcher struck out the first batter. I’m sure the grandkids will love to hear about my grandfather.
The stories are there. The question is, Are you in touch with all the memories and stories from your past? If you are, you’ll find moments when they are wonderful additions to the conversations with family and friends.
Perhaps the most important reason of all for sharing our stories: Relationships are enhanced by having wonderful conversations about things that matter. People love stories, and when we share ours, we add depth to our relationships and broaden our points of connection.

Who might you invite to coffee?

Building relationships is part of the job
With today’s hurry-up pace, it seems we’ve simply lost the notion of slowing down and taking time to be interested in other people. Front porches have been replaced with fenced-in backyards. Company softball teams have disappeared. Events designed to get employees together after work no longer hold the same interest. We’ve lost track of what is happening in other people’s lives. We eat at our desks, and there doesn’t seem to be time to go out for coffee.
Let’s make time. There is something about the invitation to have coffee that carries a genuine interest in the other person, in connecting. Sure, Facebook and LinkedIn are designed for keeping in touch with the people in your personal and work lives to some extent. But nothing beats face-to-face conversations for developing a sense of connection and understanding. And those connections forged over coffee, tea, or lunch can provide value beyond getting to know one another better—they affect your ability to get things done in the organization.

During a leadership seminar, Ashlee shared a couple of her favorite insights about being in a leadership role. I loved this one, which she called: “With whom do I need to have a cup of coffee?”
As we were in the beginning of a new product launch, Mary Pat and I were feeling the pressure: a lot to do, and a short time to do it. It was chaotic. During a rough moment, Mary Pat said, “I am failing. I feel as if I am failing.” 
“Why?” I asked her. “All launches are chaos, and we just need to get through it.”
She then said to me, “When Dave had this job, it wasn’t this chaotic. He would be having a cup of coffee with someone now instead of being out here on the factory floor.” 
I looked at her as if she were nuts and asked how a cup of coffee would make things less chaotic. She said, “Dave knew when and with whom he needed to be building relationships to avoid the chaos and indecision.” 
Her statement has stuck with me for years. I now evaluate situations and question where a cup of coffee could solve my problem, or at a minimum make it less painful.
For many reasons, projects stop moving or commitments are not kept. If you have a relationship in place with the folks involved, discussing the problem is much easier. It’s tough to bring up an issue with someone you don’t know. Over coffee might just be the best way to have difficult conversations.
There is something about disengaging from the hectic pace of work and life—stepping away, slowing down—that creates an environment of calm and safety and permission. It allows for conversations about things that matter. And I’m not talking about a huge time investment here. Thirty minutes, once a week, and you could make new connections or deepen your relationship with fifty colleagues in a year’s time.
Take Ashlee’s advice and begin your day by thinking of someone you might invite to coffee.

Excerpted from Meetings Matter: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations by Paul Axtell.
 

Listening is a critical skill—Take this audit to see how you’re doing

Cindy and I have been traveling this year, and after every trip, we remark to ourselves about how seldom people ask us a question and then really listen. So I thought I’d take a few minutes of your day and remind you about the impact of your listening on others.

“We inhabit a culture that knows how to speak but not how to listen: so we mistake warring monologues for genuine dialogue.”  —Manfred Riedel, Between Tradition and Revolution

Why work on listening?
There are some people who are just wonderful to be around. You feel good when you are with them. If you step back and observe these people, you will begin to admire the way in which they listen.
Listening might be the most important interpersonal skill. When you give your full attention to someone, special things happen. Upsets disappear. Ideas come out. New thinking occurs. People open up. Self-esteem soars.
Yet we don’t listen very often, at least in a way that is magical. We listen mostly just enough to follow what is being said. We listen for what’s important to us. We interrupt. We finish other people’s sentences. We pretend to listen. Sometimes we don’t even pretend—instead we check our smart phones or we multitask. Certainly, we don’t often intend to make a difference with someone by how we listen to them.
“Nothing hurts more than the sense that people close to us aren’t really listening to what we have to say. We never outgrow the need to communicate what it feels like to live in our separate, private worlds of experience. An attentive ear is such a powerful force in human relationships. That is why the failure to be heard is so painful.”   —Michael Nichols The Lost Art of Listening
We all have a natural ability to listen
With a little attention and practice, you can discover how to make a difference with how you listen. It’s pretty simple. Slow down and pay complete attention to each person who speaks to you. Your attention indicates that you are interested and that you care. When you devote yourself to someone else when they speak, you make a difference to both the person and the conversation.
Awareness and practice will have an impact on your listening
Awareness is the key to making any change or progress. By noticing your behavior, and especially noticing what does not work for you, you begin on the path toward improvement. A practice is a deliberate, ongoing action that you add to your routine or way of working and living. Over time, a practice becomes a habit.
The following set of practices impact other people’s experience of being in a conversation with you. They are presented here as an audit you can use to assess yourself or you can ask a few colleagues to give you a candid assessment of what they experience when speaking with you.
Critical Listening Skills Audit
To what extent do I: (1—not at all, 5—all the time; higher scores are desirable.)

Show interest in other people and what they want to discuss?
Put my full attention into a conversation?
Treat each conversation and each person as though they matter?
Respect the other person’s speaking and their right to say it?
Allow others time to complete their comments without interrupting?
Avoid automatic reactions; pause and respond in a way that works?
Keep confidences; ask for permission to share something from the conversation?
Ask questions for clarity when needed?
Maintain appropriate eye contact when speaking or listening to someone?
Place myself in the other person’s position; seek to understand their reality?
Invite others into the conversation; encourage others to express their views?
Exhibit patience during conversations and meetings?
Practice supportive nonverbal behavior: eye contact, posture, nodding, facial expression?
Take a minute to think about what has been said before responding?
Listen with sincerity and full attention, not with a pretense of interest?
Take notes when appropriate?
Keep outside distractions to a minimum including technology?
Check to see if a conversation is finished before bringing up something new?

0–36:  It’s time to focus on personal development—especially conversational skills. (See Tell Me More by Brenda Ueland and Learning to Listen)
37–54:  Your conversational style is probably costing you influence. (See Regarding Influence and Influence Practices)
55–72:  Your conversational style is strong, leading to trust and respect. (See Trust and Respect Assessment)
73–90:  You are remarkable and great to be around.
“There can only be true listening if there is complete attention, and there can only be complete attention if there are no expectations whatsoever in the mind. And that is by no means a simple matter: As a matter of fact, it is about the hardest thing to do.”   —Toni Packer, The Silent Question: Meditating in the Stillness of Not-Knowing
Summer events will give you many opportunities to invite people into a conversation and then give them a really good listening to!
Take care,
Paul

Keeping kids connected to college-bound siblings

Dear Paul: My mother has asked me to call my younger sister regularly from college. Emily isn’t very talkative, so I’m wondering if you have any advice about how to make this work. Thanks, Stephan
Dear Stephan,
It’s wonderful that you are open to this request from your mother. Many older brothers simply forget how much their younger siblings look up to them.
Given that relationships are, in essence, a series of conversations, it is important to be thoughtful about the best way to construct some of those conversations.
It’s also important to set up definite times to talk—and do everything you can not to miss a call.
Consider the following structure for your conversations with Emily:

The first week, you should share first for about 10 minutes. That is, imagine you are responding to this question from your sister: “Stephan, what did you do this week?” Tell her about what you accomplished, the fun you had, the things that didn’t go well, things you learned, things you found yourself worrying about. Just keep reflecting on your week and finding new things to share. Over time, you’ll find that you will want to keep notes about what happens throughout the week so you can remember them in your call.
Then ask your sister to tell you about her week. When she finishes one thought, just wait. If you feel compelled to say something, try “What else?” When appropriate, make short declarations to let her know you are following the conversation. Try: “Cool,” “OK,” “Got it,” “Good…” But mostly just listen and wait. One watch out—don’t jump in with advice about what she should do unless she specifically asks for it. When people are sharing, the value is in the sharing. This is not about problem solving or looking for help. This is just talking with your sister.
At the end of the conversation, thank her for talking with you and tell her a couple of things you got out of or liked about the conversation. Perhaps, “I appreciated that you told me about….” or “I never thought about that before—that’s cool.” This lets her know that you valued the conversation and what she said. Very important.

Then the next week you can ask her to go first. Sometimes, going first gets the conversation started and helps the other person know how to respond.
Since Emily loves to listen, she will likely be slower to begin to speak. By taking the lead for a while, you help her get an understanding of what kinds of things she might talk about. With her, you are going to have to be more direct, such as “Emily, it’s your turn. I want to hear about your week, too.” Then learn to tolerate the pauses in the conversation. In life, you’ve got to learn to be willing to wait longer than the other person.
Again, let her know at the end of each conversation that you appreciate talking with her. And send her a text the next day thanking her again!
Good luck, and thank your for your question.
Paul

Are You Respectful in Your Interactions?

Kent Nerburn, in Letters to My Son, said that you need two things for a relationship to endure: You need the ability to laugh together. And you need to respect how your partner deals with the rest of the world.
I love this because it reminds us to be lighter and more accepting of invitations to enjoy life and the people around us. Nerburn is also pointing out that how we interact with the world matters. People notice how we treat others and the world in general.
Friends, family, and colleagues, in particular, notice when we do not meet their expectations for interacting with others. And just as important, if we act in ways that are consistent with our own values, standards, and beliefs for being in the world, we will be happier.
Here are some traits to reflect upon. Then take a minute to ask yourself the questions. It will give you a great idea of your current mindset, and how you interact with the rest of the world.

Treating people respectfully regardless of their position or relationship (Are you gracious?)
Being ethical (Are your standards high and consistent?)
Being loyal to those not present (Do you undermine or gossip about others?)
Choosing to engage in conversations that add value (Are your conversations worth having?)
Choosing language that expresses respect (Are you civil, courteous?)
Keeping the confidences of others (Are you discreet and mindful about what others share with you?)
Being open (Are you easy to talk to and willing to consider new ideas, questions, and views?)
Being responsive (Do you get back to people quickly when they leave messages or invitations for you?)
Being aware of others (Do you notice people who are not included or participating?)
Using simple courtesies (Do you say please, thank you?)
Respecting other people’s time (Do you ask if this is a good time to talk or avoid making unnecessary requests?)
Giving your word and keeping it (Do you follow through on your commitments?)

The good news? If you’re not happy with your answers, 2015 is just around the corner. In fact, I can’t think of a better time than the New Year to hit the reset button, to begin anew.
So whether you’re catching up with a childhood friend during the holidays or simply passing someone on the sidewalk, remind yourself of the traits above. Be conscious of thoughts, and your actions.
Dave Barry said it simply: “A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter is not a nice person.”

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