Posts Tagged ‘communication’

spiders1“I don’t know” can be hard words to utter when you are trying to lead or guide people. I’ve always said you have to become comfortable with the unknown in order to take people somewhere new.

But there was something I didn’t get (read as something I didn’t know) that went beyond my comfort with the unknown. I didn’t get that people were not always comfortable with my willingness to admit that I didn’t know. Their expectation that I knew something was valid and they could fairly assume was the reason I was there to begin with.

I suspect this lands in sector known as building trust, but I sensed still that I wasn’t getting it. I think I have a handle on the communicating and the relationship building and the proof is in the pudding tactics. So what I realized I needed to do was help them redefine the idea of knowing.

For most of us knowing is knowledge, facts, figures, available answers, definitive solutions. But to a continuous improvement or a change person, knowing is defined by the process of getting to a desired state. The knowing is how to navigate the path to that future state.

I suppose this seems like a rather “duh-like” epiphany but it hit home that I needed to take extra care in coming back to the idea of process as knowing: by hook, crook, allegory, anecdote or metaphor. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. Clearly, there is no one way to explain or communicate. Every environment is different. It’s like marketing. Repeat the message in different ways until it begins to crystallize.

As Tom Petty might say, the knowing is the hardest part.


“Know thyself” is a good Greek saying. As a change agent I’ve always thought “Know thy role” is also a good saying. And as a change agent one of the things I’ve found most helpful is tackling the slippery idea of role.

What is a change agent’s role? The biggest challenge I’ve discovered is arriving at a common understanding of that role. Does everybody involved think it‘s the same thing? The answer is usually no. That’s OK. It provides us with the opportunity to think a little deeper and know thy role.

The three groups that need to be on the same page: you, the management and the team. 

Let’s start with you. What do you think your role is? This is probably different for each of us. It might be different for each project. That’s OK. The goal is to understand your expectations of yourself for this project. If you don’t have clarity, who will? 

You might define this yourself. You might define it along with your manager. Defining this before you start helps you know where to insert yourself and where to draw lines. Of course you always you need to be adaptable, but having a starting point is priceless. 

Now, what does management think your role is? They probably have ideas of what you will and won’t be doing. They’ll probably be different than your ideas. That’s OK.  A little negotiation may be in order. Negotiations often hinge around perceptions, wishes and realities. Be positive but real. If your role has to change, try to make sure all parts of the role you defined are handled by someone. 

And lastly, what does the team think your role is? Here is where you’ll probably get the most variety of belief. This is also going to be more of an education than a negotiation. Based on the agreements made above, you’ll walk through the approach and what it is you’ll be doing. And sometime you’ll need to talk about what you won’t be doing. 

That’s not to say there won’t be any negotiation. The team’s level of sophistication will enter into the equation. Some teams may need you to do things others wouldn’t. Again, be positive but realistic. 

Why is this important? 

Obviously, it starts out as just good communication. We should talk about these expectations as part of the greater project anyway. But in the end it’s about relationship building. You are working towards avoiding misunderstandings that lead to disruptions in flow. About minimizing the “Why are you doing that?” scenarios that lead to friction about the wrong things. How many times have people thought you were over stepping your boundaries when you thought you were just doing your job? That’s never good for trust, I am sure of that.

And the reality is you can’t do everything. So having everyone on the same page about your role also allows you to begin defining other people’s roles.


People know when you’re not listening.

That’s it. That’s today’s important lesson. Trust me, it’s far more significant than it seems.

To understand why it is so significant we start with basic human condition of needing to feel valued. This need doesn’t go away just because you are at work. In fact feeling valued is one of the few things that can turn work into something more than just work. How sweet is that? Pretty sweet.

There are people who have thought about this a lot, whether personal or work related. Check these examples out. and

You can provide feelings of value in many ways, like through recognition or appreciation, and that’s important to do.

But you can destroy all that value building by doing one little thing: by not listening.

Let’s try an empathy exercise here. Let’s go back and reflect on our own personal and professional lives and even our childhoods and think about how you felt when you thought someone ignored you, cut you off, gave you a canned response, poo-pooed you, brushed your concerns away or was clearly distracted. I’m going to guess you didn’t like it. You felt you weren’t being taken seriously. You felt you were being dismissed or belittled.

Now, should we be tougher and have thicker skin and be more Zen about these things? Sure. Are we always able to do that? No. And just because I think you can handle being dismissed doesn’t mean I should do it.

That’s why listening is so important. Because it’s powerful. Because it’s personal. Because it’s subtle.

Especially because it is subtle. It’s the art of communication. It’s why companies spend billions of dollars a year crafting their messages to consumers. You have to work at it.

The art and science of listening is then to gain information and understanding while not sparking negative reactions.

The good thing is listening skills can be learned. There’s a whole school of thought around the idea of active listening. There are books and training and gurus aplenty. Lots of good resources out there like this These resources provide you with the science but remember that there is an art part.

You have to avoid the pitfalls of applying these listening tools mechanically, though. You have to make your listening is genuine or at least project the feeling that you are trying to be genuine.

The mechanical application ends up in a scenario where someone is sitting across from you and waits for you to finish and says “I hear what you’re saying” or “Let me repeat what I think you said.”

What the hell? is what I think. Are you a robot? Did you just read that off the Quick Tips sheet from the Active Listening class you just went to? You seem intelligent. But you just listened to what I had to say and the most personal and thought out thing you can say is “here’s what I think you just said.”

OK, so that what is a little harsh. But the point is don’t be a robot.  Because I’m not a robot. Just prove to me that you were listening.  Treat me as individual and behave like you’re having a unique interaction. Because that’s what I feel it is.