Jul 14 2011

Do I? Do I What?

Do I understand you


  correctly to mean…? 


 Can you give me


an example?


When you’re not 100% sure that you fully understand the meaning and intent of someone’s words, ask paraphrasing-type questions

. . . and ask for examples.


Asking these two questions is evidence of quality leadership. Because true leaders listen. Paraphrasing and asking for examples are key indicators of effective listening. The responses clarify. The responses help ensure accurate two-way communications, and they help prevent errors and misunderstandings.

Simply by posing these two questions (plus this one), leaders can help agitated people (e.g., upset employees, irate customers, impatient investors) to jet down. The asking alone serves to build trust, loyalty, teamwork, and promote open innovative exchanges. It also, by the way (but not unimportantly), reassures, flatters, and compliments.   

Used correctly, paraphrasing is equally effective in personal life as well as business. Business partners, employer/employee and parent/child relations, teacher/student, married and unmarried couples and family relationships can all benefit by using paraphrasing.

It is, in effect, a clarification checkpoint practice that works. 


What does “used correctly” mean? Process. Dynamics. The process and dynamics of asking the questions — the how, when, where, and circumstances; the nature of the people involved; the nature of the actions to be taken or tasks to be done– all have a bearing on the value of the outcome. How you ask. Your tone of voice. Your posture.

Yes, some could see this kind of attention to communication detail as a lot of unnecessary work. Those people are choosing to feel threatened by the intrusion of having to expend extra energy and time (yes, it will take more time that “normal” for a meeting or phone call or e-exchange) to get stuff right the first time instead of on a re-visit.

If you’re not presently building these kinds of questions into your daily practice of leadership –business, home, professional practice, community organization, classroom makes no difference– put it to the test. You will find, inside of just three weeks, major improvement at many levels, including increased receptivity.

You can greatly enhance the prospects for yourself to succeed with this challenge by adding note taking to your listening time. If you think it makes people feel good to be asked if you’ve understood something correctly, or to provide an example, wait ’til you see their faces when you start jotting down what they say.

Back to the agitated communicators, when you can also ask someone: “Would you mind please slowing down (or repeating what you just said) so I can make some reminder notes for myself to be sure I don’t miss any of the important things you say, I will appreciate it. Now if I understand you correctly to mean…?” You defuse the upset.

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Dec 01 2008

99 OUT OF 100 MANAGERS . . .

What one thing


could you be doing better? 


     Before you start accounting for any business downturn you experience by blaming swings in the economy, in the stocks and bonds markets, in real estate, in interest rates, in politics, in government, in international relations, or anything else beyond your immediate control . . . STOP!

     STOP and reassess what IS within your immediate control that you’re not doing as well as you could be doing. 

     The odds are (assuming you’re willing to be honest with yourself) that one thing, if not THE one thing you could be doing better has something to do with communication.  Possible?  Or am I just imagining things?

     If you’re still with me, it seems fair to say that you probably agree that you and your employees could do a better job of communicating.  If that’s the case, then the liklihood is great that you and your employees most need to do a better job of listening.

     When you can become a more active, more effective listener, you set yourself up to be more in control of your business and better equipped to guide it through difficult times.

Take this little test . . . 

If you were the boss, choose one of the four choices offered (only one choice really works!) as to how you would most likely respond to the following situation: 

Disgusted with all the resistence given to suggestions offered, the disgruntled employee storms out of a meeting on how to increase sales, complaining loudly, “What the hell’s the point of coming up with innovative ideas around here anyway?” 

Should your response be A, B, C, or D?

A) “Don’t worry; you’ll come up with another good campaign.”

B) “I understand; I have trouble getting new ideas across myself!”

C) “Sounds like you’re discouraged about trying to change things.”

D)Can’t you re-think key aspects of the campaign and present it again next week?”

     If you answered A, B, or D, you chose a type of reponse that 99% of managers would have used.  While each shows good intentions (A is reassuring; B is sympathizing; and D is questioning) — they all represent roadblocks to effective communication with the troubled worker. 

     If you chose C, you may have an edge in effectively handling employee complaints.  A, B, and D represent expedient but totally nonproductive responses.  What’s going on?  Most bosses are in too much of a hurry to make the problem go away and aren’t willing to use active listening skills. 

(Test and conclusion from an American Airlines in-flight magazine article by Gage and Beuford)

     Partly because it takes more time, effort and energy to listen carefully and most people find it difficult to believe that it’s worth the effort.  Partly because most people (maybe even more than 99%) have no training in how to be active listeners. 

     When an employee complains, the instinct of almost all managers is to dispense with the problem as soon as possible.  These expedient kinds of responses are natural, but they don’t get to the heart of the issue, and, in fact, often deepen the employee’s feelings of not being understood, appreciated or accepted.

     Experiment:  Take one entire day and try to listen harder.  Make notes to yourself about what you think you really hear.  It certainly can’t hurt; it doesn’t cost a penny; and you might be surprised.    halalpiar 

Tomorrow: Active listening best practices that can impact your bottom line immediately

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