I’m a late starter.
I began drinking coffee at age 50, mainly because my experience to date had been delivering countless cups of home-brewed Nescafé and toasted sandwiches over many years to my parents on the front porch and, quite frankly, it didn’t look all that appealing.
In recent years I had become known for drinking Green Tea (with dark chocolate on the side – see my GREEN TEA AND DARK CHOCOLATE blog). I began drinking Green Tea because the experience of sitting with friends in a coffee shop and drinking water was no longer doing it for me, and because my naturopath told me it was full of anti-oxidants and apparently that’s good.
I was privileged to have my first coffee delivered to me in the Di Bella Boardroom, by my colleague, friend and great coach, Gian Di Bella. It blew my head off so I’ve toned my preferred brew down. I now order a ‘Michelleuccino’ – skinny cappuccino in a mug, extra chocolate on top. This special combination does a couple of things: satisfies my chocolate addiction; controls the calories (yes it does!); tells me something about the person/establishment serving me – do they listen and are they flexible and accommodating; and it often enhances the experience for me – I get my coffee delivered with a smile and a comment like ‘skinny cap for the lady with EXTRA CHOC on top!’
I love it. I feel special. I go back for more.
Great experience seems to be sadly lacking. Having said that, a great experience not only stays with me, I talk about it, pay it forward, and develop loyalties through it. All things being equal (or not) ie, the quality of the coffee, I will frequent the coffee shop with the better experience.
We buy, and buy-in to great experience and that includes the experience that organisations provide their clients, and for you as a leader, it must also include the people who provide the experience for the client, your people.
We’ve spent decades mastering the collection and analysis of data and information. That’s great but it’s no longer enough.
The challenges of employee engagement are distraction, elevated expectations, personal goals and desires, and wanting to feel part of something of value and that they respect. Particularly for the younger generations, it is not uncommon for them to leave your employ ‘because I didn’t like working there’. They seek alignment with values and great experiences.
How do your colleagues/team experience you?
Do you make them feel valued and respected? Do you give them dedicated time, and more importantly during that time are you totally present and focusing 100% on them?
What is the experience of a conversation with you?
Are you a teller? Is your opinion and expertise the most valuable input to the discussion, or do you ask great questions to help them think things through and experience the joy of resolving issues on their own? Perhaps you have to admit that you like the sound of your own voice and you’re addicted to being right?*
What are meetings with you like?
Are they productive or stagnant wastes of time? Do you provide the agenda, or do you check in on the needs of each individual and dig to make sure that what they say is really what they need? Do they truly feel heard and gain value from attending – or is it just you? Are they giving lip service to your perceived needs because you are the boss?
How do you experience others?
Do you seek to elevate them, to dig deep to find and facilitate their ‘awesome’? Do you accept them for the unique combination of strengths and weaknesses that they are, and work to help them be successful? Are you open to being challenged or disagreed with, even if they are not elegant in that endeavour?
And most importantly…how do you know the answers to these questions? Have you ever asked?
What is your next question?
(*’Addicted to Being Right’ – wonderful words from Judith Glaser – Author of Conversational Intelligence)
It’s interesting that one of the most consistent comments I get at the end of my Rewired Conversations program is ‘I didn’t realise what a bad listener I was!’
Our perceptions of what constitutes a good listener have changed over time. Consider this gem from the 1980’s…
1. Sit up
2. Look interested
3. Lean forward
5. Act interested
6. Nod your head to show that you are tuned in
7. Track the speaker with your eyes
These ideas are focused on what you do, and what you are seen to be doing – sadly with no mention of the purpose or process of actual listening. I would call this…listening without substance!
Great listening, or listening WITH substance is focused on who you are in a conversation and how you are showing up. You can show up as a Consultant to the thinking of others, or you can show up as a Facilitator of great thinking for all.
Let me explain the difference…
When you show up as a Consultant, you show up with the purpose of being the expert in the conversation or meeting. You have content expertise, or a leadership responsibility that brings status and responsibility and feel compelled to bring that into the conversation, or you have experience or insight into the situation at hand that could be helpful. That’s fine, but the risk of showing up with a Consultant mindset is that you might listen for:
• The problem you know how to solve (which may not be the problem they need to solve)
• Opportunities to share your expertise or experience (when that may not help the situation)
• The information that supports your thinking on the matter (to make you feel useful and valued)
• Information that you want to know or that might be useful for you (to benefit your KPI’s or desired outcomes)
The Consultant mindset is normal for us because it satisfies a number of our motivational needs. Our need for Status (a feeling of being valued and respected); and our need for Predictability and Control (when we are in control of the situation, we feel secure). The dopamine hit we get when we contribute or solve a problem for others is addictive, but not always useful.
On the downside, our tendency to make assumptions and to want to jump straight into the satisfaction of solution mode mean that we miss discovering the real issues that need to be addressed. Mostly, we talk a lot and waste a lot of time.
When you show up as a Facilitator, you show up with the purpose of skilfully enabling great thinking – both yours and others. My definition of a powerful conversation is one where…
“Everybody leaves the conversation with different thinking than when they came!”
This requires a different level of listening. As the Facilitator, your focus and expertise is on the quality of thinking you and others are engaging in. Your energy is focused on what is going on with others in the conversation, not just what is being said. You might listen for:
• Emotion and energy (where does the truth and the real issues lie)
• Patterns in language (is there an unseen pattern that needs to be highlighted for greater clarity)
• Choice of words and focus (is there a repeated word, or theme, or a tendency for negative over positive that tells a story)
• Ways to help the thinking (what curious questions need to be asked to help clarity)
• What others need to be fully focused and present in the conversation (is the conversation going off on tangents)
When you show up as a Consultant, it’s all about you and your needs. When you show up as a Facilitator of Thinking, it’s all about others and the greater outcome.
The thing is, leaders have KPI’s, targets and desired outcomes to meet, and the reality is that in order to achieve those, they need to mobilise their teams and colleagues. And in order to make it work for you as a leader, you need it to work for them. And you need to listen in a different way if you are to have any chance of figuring out what ‘working for them’ looks like.
Test yourself today on whether you are showing up as a Consultant, or a Facilitator of Thinking. Would love to hear your thoughts…
If you would love to delve much deeper into the idea of listening, I can highly recommend the latest book from my friend and colleague, Oscar Trimboli – ‘Deep Listening’. You can access it on Amazon here… or from Oscar’s website.