water cooler chatter can boost your bottom line…

07/21/2010

by anne lueneburger

As a coach, deep listening is my bread and butter. It so happens though that, thankfully, I truly am interested in people and the challenges they face.

A lot of the problems that high-potential executives run into is that, over the course of their life and training, they’ve become very task oriented, as opposed to being more people oriented. Communication with others has been overtaken by committing time to accomplishing their various tasks and assignments.

Building alliances
Interestingly enough communication, even without a specific purpose, may prove more powerful than the tasks and assignments that can consume our working lives.

One of my senior executive clients -over the course of our work together- pointed out the merits he has started to see from encouraging his team to engage in ‘water cooler communication’…  no analgesics are needed, connecting with others reduces an individual’s stress level… According to a survey by Gallup, and backed up by research teams at MIT, having conversations about non-work related topics helps to build social cohesiveness and boosts productivity. An executive who has a ‘best friend’ at work is seven times more likely to be engaged. Engaged employees are not only more productive, they are more committed to their organization, have higher retention rates and significantly higher levels of customer engagement. In other words: communication with other people matters to your bottom line too.

In addition to building alliances and social networks with colleagues, learning how to package a message that has a purpose is a powerful tool. If you are like most executives in leadership positions, you will need to be an effective communicator to win support for your ideas, and to be able to influence people. What adds complexity to this is the fact that we live in an age of increasingly diverse global-business, which opens up further room for misunderstandings.

Communicating effectively
While these factors don’t mean that you have to instantly morph from being a softly spoken communicator to a glamorous presenter, executives can learn to make exchanges more rewarding: both for themselves and for other people.

Here’s a selection of scenarios where you might find yourself in face-to-face communication:

O Inspiring your team to embrace and launch a new initiative
O Identifying and communicating a problem in the way client service is being delivered
O Giving feedback to one of your employees
O Calming an upset client who’s aggrieved that you’re not delivering at the rate he had envisioned
O Discovering unethical behavior and engaging in a ‘tough conversation’

The list goes on, and communicating makes up a significant element of your working life, so here are five basic ‘rules’ and some quick tips to help you build and improve your communication savvy:

KNOW THYSELF
As the ‘Delphi Oracle’ states – before you can connect with others, you need to understand yourself. Take time out and assess your business day – become more aware of your values, strengths, and weaknesses. Learn to be in touch with your emotions and get a grip on what reality and the perception of others looks like.

Self-awareness is only half the equation of emotional maturity, the other half is learning how to manage your emotions, as described by Dan Goleman in his highly respected publications on emotional intelligence.

What you can do: ask your supervisor, HR or your coach to introduce you to personality instruments such as the MBTI and strengths-based assessments such as the VIA-IS. Work with a mentor or a coach who is skilled in asking insightful questions that will trigger self-discovery. Have someone ‘shadow coach’ you in your daily interactions and during meetings, and ask them to offer you objective feedback. Collect peer feedback with the help of a confidential 360-degree feedback mechanism. Look into tools and interventions that will help you reduce your stress level.

HAVE EMPATHY
Having personal experience of a particular situation before helping others clearly creates true empathy, but you may not have been in the other person’s situation before. If this is the case then learn how to relate emotionally to your audience (be it one person or many). Aim to understand their state of mind by listening carefully to what they say (and what they don’t say). Look for common ground and share your observations on what you are seeing.

What you can do: take the basic principles of anger management: you can defuse tension that may arise as the result of a feedback session by ensuring that the other person is physically comfortable (offer a seat/glass of water/open a window etc.), then listen deeply (never interrupt), and finally summarize what you’ve heard and, if appropriate, offer an acknowledgement of their ‘pain’ (“I am sorry to hear what you are going through, this sounds tough”). Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and explore solutions by asking powerful open questions.

USE LANGUAGE CREATIVELY
We’ve all witnessed this – the most mundane boring stories can develop color and vibrancy if the narrator skillfully describes the context, elaborates in the right places, and injects humor and insight into the story.

What you can do: even if you are not the most gifted story teller, start by introducing a rather ‘dry’ topic with a quick personal anecdote that your audience can relate to. Consider using authoritative sources that might engage your audience. If you struggle with this concept, start by committing to two sentences that have a personal touch before you present your data, and strive to expand it from there.

BUILD TRUST
This one is huge. If you want to be a good communicator, it’s essential that you remain honest and transparent. We often have this notion that we need to be infallible to be trusted and respected and we perceive honesty about ourselves as a sign of weakness as opposed to a strength. In reality, the opposite tends to be the case.

What you can do: adopt an approach where you are more human and admit that you may have made a mistake. For better or worse making mistakes is part of our DNA, so apologize to anybody that you may have inconvenienced, and build a reputation for fulfilling your commitments. And, should you need to fall short on your promises, be honest and explain the reasons why.

AND LEARN ABOUT NON-VERBAL CUES…
Few of us are born communicators, but most of us have room to build upon our natural talents. And, as well as developing your verbal and communication skills, focus on mastering non-verbal communication too. Studies show that people will often have more faith in your body language than what comes out of your mouth. So, next time you need to engage with someone – think about what you’re saying and how you’re saying it, but also unfold your arms and offer a smile: and see how other people respond to you.

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