If you’ve been listening to the Leader to Leader podcast for a while, you know how I value stimulating the right conversation. I use the word “right” intentionally. Anyone can fill the void (or silence) with meaningless words – I’m interested in the conversations that generate inspiration! How do you avoid the unintentional impact of careless conversations?
Practice, Practice, Practice
Well first, I think you have to let me make the case that damage can occur when a conversation isn’t thought out. It’s not easy to do; however, anyone can do it. Huh?! Like all skills that require effort to master, having meaningful conversations takes practice.
If you are gifted with gab, then you might think “I’m all good here – moving on to another podcast.” I don’t want you to stay because this podcast is better. Please stay because I think what I have to offer you will help.
And this isn’t a guilt trip! We’ve all had careless conversations like the ones I’m about to describe. I just want you to think about it a little before you engage. Talk for the sake of talk is not value adding for the participants. When you know how to generate meaningful conversation, it will actually feel a little awkward participating in conversations about the weather.
That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for these types of conversations. There are plenty of instances where this type of discussion is perfectly acceptable. But when was the last time you did something because it was “acceptable?”
The Acceptability Test
It’s acceptable to be viewed as an average performer. Are you good with that? It’s acceptable to be a perfectionist and never put anything out there because you don’t feel like it’s good enough. How’s that working out for you? It’s acceptable to binge watch seven seasons of your favorite series on Netflix. Was that productive?
The point is this: when you participate in a careless conversation, it can have a devaluing impact on the participants. Ever had one of these conversations with your spouse?
Are You Listening To Me
Me to my wife, Ginger: How was your day? (while I’m staring at my phone)
Her: (intuitively knowing I’m not hearing anything she’s saying) Well, it started a little weird when the Easter Bunny tried to carjack the person next to me. Then at lunch, I was approached by the guy who sends all of those emails from Africa saying that I’ve inherited a lot of money. Turns out it’s true. He showed me a briefcase loaded with cash, some of which I used to buy groceries for dinner tonight. Since we just had igloo meatloaf on Saturday, we’re having your favorite tonight: tuna and Jello pie!
Me: Wow Hon, that sounds great. You had a really busy day. (having missed everything she just said, and in my mind feeling like I can tick the box “speak with my spouse”). The worst part is that this leads to being together while completely apart!
And if you want to be apart long-term, go ahead and use the recipes for igloo meatloaf or tuna and Jello pie. Nothing says love and warmth like an igloo meatloaf. No, I’m not kidding. These are real recipes. You heard it here first…or, maybe you have been going to counseling for the last three decades because your grandma heard it first and made it for you.
Easing Your Conscience
I recognize that this is an extreme and silly example. Hopefully, you can recall a similar conversation with your spouse, child, friend, or coworker that validates my point. These careless conversations don’t do anything but ease your conscience – they contribute zero value. And worse, inadvertently, they can damage our relationships.
Proximity ≠ Spending Time Together
My wife, Ginger, said something a while back that I think we all need to acknowledge: being in the same geographical proximity is not equivalent to spending time together. Your conversations have to be intentional and purposeful. They should be designed to indicate that you care about the person you are talking to. A careless conversation doesn’t do this.
Imagine this circumstance. It plays out thousands of times per day in businesses all around the world. You have an important deadline approaching and you require input from your leader. You send a text or email with several questions. The response you receive answers only one of them.
Frustrated, you send another note and ask the other three questions that didn’t get answered the first time. Your leader responds to two of the three. Of course, the one that didn’t get answered is most important. You are now on your third engagement and have wasted more than an hour trying to get answers to questions you need to simply do your job.
Listening Communicates Care
Regardless of the medium utilized, it’s a time waster to participate in careless or thoughtless conversations. No one wants to participate in these discussions. And like me in the example I shared where I provide a distracted response, the other person feels like you don’t care enough to pay attention. It doesn’t matter what you say.
It stands out when it happens to you. I want it to stand out when you do it to others. This isn’t about people’s feelings…at least not directly. It’s about engaging your team and being productive, improving efficiency, and eliminating waste. There is no reason for your team to have to chase you because you are careless in your response.
Shutdown Distracted Conversations
Have you ever had an opportunity to have an important conversation with someone you respect or admire? Maybe you’ve been waiting for a while for this moment. Is there anything more disappointing than recognizing that the other participant is so distracted that there is nothing you can do to hold their attention for any length of time? I’ve learned to shut down those conversations.
There is no use sharing important words or thoughts or questions with someone who isn’t listening. Move on as quickly as you can. You don’t need that level of frustration. It doesn’t hurt to communicate this as well: “It seems that I’ve caught you at a bad time and you have many other things on your mind. Let me know if there’s a better time for us to talk.”
Being “available” or physically present isn’t doing your team any favors. Validating them with good listening skills is one of the highest compliments you can pay someone who takes time to talk with you.
The Only Person In The Room
It’s often said that one of the best examples of making you feel like you are the only person in the room was the way President Bill Clinton would lock eyes with, and actively listen, to what you are saying. He was a pretty important guy with a lot of demands for his attention. What a compliment to have someone say that they felt they had his full attention.
I recently read Donald Miller describe the reason why he switched rental car companies. The company he had been using had a great “script” for “engaging” with the customer. Maybe if you had never rented a car before or it was your first time renting from company X, you would feel like they “cared” about you. The tenth time you had the same identical conversation might change your opinion.
What Donald described was a scripted list of questions that he quickly caught and could anticipate. It made me laugh when he described how he jumped ahead in their script with a coming question that the agent was going to ask and then answered it for them. Stunned silence, right?! The agent is baffled and has a look like “What just happened? I don’t know what to do next.”
Do They Feel Heard
This is no different than when you try to script conversations for representatives in your call center. Granted, a guide is necessary to prevent needless action, but come on! When the same customer is calling about the same problem that they have had for three days in a row now, is it really necessary to go through the script with them? It’s careless conversation that will leave the customer feeling like you really aren’t listening.
Regretfully, I can recall instances of failing to follow my own advice. But I’m committed to improving. I hope that you are too. No one wants to be the person with something important or significant to say that’s completely missed by a room full of people who need to hear it. But alas, their attention is devoted to their open laptops, looking at email, or whatever else they might have to do. And they leave your words to fall on dead ears.
You Validate Through Listening
Don’t be that person. Leave your device behind and listen closely to the one that’s talking to you. As you exercise good listening skills, you communicate and validate how important they are to you. Be the one leader that this person encounters who will leave that conversation saying “Wow, she really listened to what I was saying. I felt like there was no one else in the room.”
Next week, I’ll share with you a handful of questions that you can use to stimulate the kind of productive conversations you desire. It’s always good to have a question or two on hand to demonstrate how you are different. You aren’t wasting time, or participating in careless conversations, you are inspiring and engaging. So tune in next week where I will share some good questions you can use to start a productive conversation.
Resources Mentioned In This Episode:
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Now, go lead like someone you would want to follow!