Communication is a key aspect of our human connection with others. It's not far-fetched to say that our relationship with our business partners and associates, our employees and colleagues, and those in our social network is shaped by our conversations with them.
These conversations define the quality of our relationships. If our conversations are authentic and meaningful, the relationships have a sterling quality. If, on the other hand, they are superficial and lack authenticity, the quality of those relationships are diminished—and can even be worthless.
Though communication is key to successful business relationships, many leaders don't make communication a high priority, most often citing a lack of time as the primary reason.
If you want to raise the level of the conversation—to have a meaningful encounter with your business associates—even when you only have 10 minutes, try these nine tips:
Create Human Moments
Human moments occur when you're face to face with someone. This is particularly crucial when you're leading a group. You can't lead people without talking to them. Yet many leaders are often camped on email or spending their time behind their desk, buried in spreadsheets, or expecting employees to wrap their hearts around team goals after viewing a PowerPoint presentation.
Try dropping by someone's office and grabbing a chair for a few minutes, or stopping for a few moments by someone's cubicle. Ask about people's lives, their family and their pursuits outside the office. It only takes a few minutes, but the bridges you build over time will be there to stay.
Take People as They Are
Accepting people as they are is one of the most human approaches we can take with others. It moves us away from seeing ourselves as superior to those around us. It takes humility to do this, but people will sense it and appreciate it. Rather than criticize, dispense advice or coach without permission, this approach calms interactions and is more likely to result in a meaningful and affirming interaction. At a minimum, it prevents one of the biggest stumbling blocks in authentic conversations, and that's disqualifying others' views as less important than ours.
Resurrect a Positive, Past Experience
Think about your past experiences with your employees. What contributions did they make to your success or the success of your company? Receiving praise in the moment is always appreciated, but taking the time to let someone know you still remember a past contribution, weeks or months later, and what it meant to you is fuel for the soul. The reminder is brief; the afterglow can last a lifetime—people don't forget these comments.
Introduce the Four-Sentence Rule
One of the impediments to authentic and meaningful dialogue is individuals who monopolize a meeting, digress, run off on a tangent or otherwise find ways to suck the oxygen out of an encounter. We've all experienced countless situations where everyone in the room is deflated by these tactics and ends up waiting to escape. To put a stop to this, consider the four-sentence rule. The idea comes from George Kohlrieser, a professor of leadership and organizational behavior at the International Institute for Management Development in Switzerland.
In The Power Of Authentic Dialogue, Kohlrieser says that using the four-sentence rule in discussions or team meetings encourages people to speak in four sentences or less (except, of course, when someone is making a presentation). Keeping to four sentences forces people to think clearly about what they want to say before they speak, thereby enhancing understanding and dialogue. The rule doesn't mean that everyone can speak using only four sentences under all circumstances, but it's a useful tool when you want to engage in clear and focused interpersonal exchanges.
Notice More People
Everyone has a deep need to have a sense of belonging and to feel important. Recognize people for their expertise. It takes less than five minutes to let someone know we appreciate his or her presence and contributions. Look around you: Who is conducting well-run meetings? Who is delivering stellar presentations? Who consistently greets customers with a smile? Who stays late on a Friday afternoon to take care of some urgent work? Who boosts everyone's morale with their positive outlook? Who is always ready to pitch in?
Don't rob people of their due credit. Let go of any notion of the in-group and the out-group. Demolish in your mind any sense of hierarchy when it comes to who you communicate with and how. See everyone as part of a wide, ever expanding circle that has room in it for everyone, from the mail clerk to the vice president. While you can't devote the same time to each person, you can devote the same care in your communications with each person, however brief it might be. This is the discipline of leadership.
Express Your Feelings
In her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing, author Bronnie Ware, who worked in palliative care, says that one of the top regrets of the dying is "I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings." We may be insular and indirect when it comes to expressing feelings in a business environment, but taking a frank and open approach is a healthy option that leads to more authentic interactions.
For example, when you have an issue with a business associate and you struggle over how to best respond, consider the most candid approach: telling it as it is, respectfully but without sugar coating or beating around the bush. These types of interactions move a lot faster than skirting around issues. Rather than hurt the relationship, they strengthen it because openness builds trust. You become known as someone who speaks from the heart, someone who values transparency and authenticity. It makes you rise above the din of the crowd.
Look for Commonality
Make an effort to look for shared interests in your conversations with others. Commonality draws others to us and can open up a portal for real conversations. Shared interests or experiences stimulate us and can move us away from chit chat about the weather to getting to know the person on a deeper level. This is easy to do if you set your mind to want to look for commonalities with the people you regularly interact with. For example, what milestones are they celebrating? What do they enjoy reading? What issues do they care about? What are some of their struggles? Is there a bridge in this that can connect you for a more human and meaningful conversation?
Adopt a Conversational Tone
It's difficult to have a truly authentic conversation with someone who uses corporate speak. Using inflated language rarely works in any situation and especially so in one-on-one conversations. It creates a distance and acts as a sort of business mask that hides our humanness. If you want to connect with others, use conversational, colloquial language.
Foster an Organizational Conversation Culture
Why are small companies often better able to mobilize resources optimally and target fresh markets quickly? What accounts for the success of relatively compact organizations? The secret to their nimbleness and responsiveness, says Harvard Business School professor Boris Groysberg, is not size, but conversation: A small company operates more like two people having an ordinary conversation; big companies don’t function that way. And one of the benefits of conversation-like practices is the ability to speed up decisions. They enable a company to achieve higher degrees of trust and improved operational efficiency. As Groysberg puts it in his book, Talk Inc., "It's energy ... It's fuel. In organizational terms, conversation is what keeps the engine of value creation firing on all cylinders."
Groysberg and co-author Michael Slind provide a four-part model for establishing a culture of organizational conversations. Two tenants of the model are interactivity and intimacy. In interactivity, you forget about lectures from the top, and talk with employees, not just to them. With intimacy, you must reduce the distance—institutional as well as spatial—that would normally separate you from your employees. Talk in ways that are personal, honest and authentic. That's how you generate trust through talk.
Bruna Martinuzzi is the founder of Clarion Enterprises Ltd., and the author of two books: Presenting with Credibility: Practical Tools and Techniques for Effective Presentations and The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow.
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