3 Tips to Better Listening

Listening is one of the most important things we do as human beings and projects a well-developed Executive Presence. It demonstrates respect to others, it enables us to understand the other people’s wants and needs, and it can inform and improve our responses. All of us yearn to be heard and acknowledged by others. The challenge is that we think we’re listening to each other, but we’re not. We’re usually just formatting our responses. As Stephen Covey says, we need to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Here are three strategies that can help:

 

1. Lower the “cone of silence”

Our world is filled with distractions, both external and internal. What pulls your focus away from the other person and their message? If you’re old enough to remember the ‘60’s TV show, “Get Smart”, you’ll remember the “cone of silence”. The cone would descend over two people who needed to privately discuss top-secret information. I know, the cone never worked and actually prevented them from hearing each other, but you get the point. When someone is talking to you, try lowering your own cone of silence to block out everything going on around you.

Distractions generally fall into one of these four categories:

• Your physical comfort – you’re hungry, thirsty, cold, hot, or tired.

• Your psychological barriers – you’re bored or daydreaming, or their topic triggers thoughts of your own past experiences.

• The speaker’s style – they have a monotone voice or accent you don’t understand, or their personal grooming presents a challenge (bad breath, body odor, etc.)

• External interruptions – phone calls or notifications, outside noise or activity, visitors.

Listening takes energy and focus. You must first decide to listen, then work to eliminate all distractions. Stop multitasking, maintain eye contact (where the eyes go the ears will follow) and lower that cone!

2. Clean out your filters

Every message we hear is run through our personal filters, which can include our opinions of the person or issue, our past experiences, prejudices about the idea, and personal agendas. They’re stored in our subconscious and prevent us from being truly present. These biases can distort the message and even trigger our emotions. Develop an awareness of your filters and don’t let them get in the way of true understanding.

Take responsibility for interpretation. Words mean different things to different people, so you might need to ask for definitions (“What did they mean by ‘in the running?’”. “Are you talking about the A Project or B Project?”). Ask clarifying questions if you’re confused (“Are you referring to…?”, “I think I missed something, can you go back to…”). Most people don’t add enough specifics when they speak, so instead of making assumptions and creating a disconnect, make it your job to help them communicate more clearly before you respond.

3. Summarize occasionally

A few summaries as you listen will not only help confirm your understanding of their content, but allow you to also figure out their intent“So what you’re saying is…”, “So you’re suggesting…, is that correct”? You’re floating ideas for confirmation and direction—and what they answer will help you formulate your next question or comment. Your summaries and questions can also help them figure out what’s missing, what’s possible, and what isn’t.

As you can see, effective listening often requires you to do some talking, along with focusing like a laser. Incorporate the three techniques above to their content—and your content will be better as a result.

©Jill Bremer 2017

Test Your Email Best Practices

Here’s a quick True-False quiz to test your email skills:

  1. Three- to four-word subject lines are best.
  2. Subject lines should be changed when topics change.
  3. Including six names in the “To:” box is acceptable.
  4. All caps should never be used in email messages.
  5. The best length for emails is between 50-125 words.

EXTRA CREDIT: The best time to send emails is 4:00 pm.

Click here to see the answers. Hint: scroll to the bottom of the page.

Five Ways to Make a Poor First Impression

“You never have a second chance to make a first impression.” You’ve heard that for years, but there is a lot of truth in it. We size up others quickly because it helps us make sense of our world and feel safe in it. Research conducted by Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital suggests that people judge competence, likeability, trustworthiness, and attractiveness in 250 milliseconds based simply on what they see before them! And good or bad, we tend to cling to our initial judgments of others and view them through that lens for a very long time. So try to always put your best foot forward!

Here’s what not to do:

Arrive Underdressed

It’s hard to lose points by overdressing, but you certainly can by underdressing. As Hamlet said, “The apparel oft proclaims the man.” So, what is yours proclaiming today? How you dress tells the world just what you think about yourself and those you’re with. Why not convey intelligence, respect, and confidence? Do your homework, figure out the dress code, then kick it up a half a notch and choose accordingly. You can always lose the jacket, tie, or extra accessories once you scope out the room, but it’s hard to make those things materialize out of thin air.

Focus on Your Phone

You can only have one quality conversation at a time, so if you want to make a positive first impression, you’re going to have to put the phone away. On silent. Or better yet, off. You never want people to think that anything is more important than the conversation you’re having with them right here and right now. If you must make or take a call, excuse yourself and move away to talk in private. Then return and hope they haven’t moved on to someone more present and personable.

Use Negative Body Language

Our body language is another element that conveys how interested we are in others. Eyes that constantly dart around or focus on the floor, slumped postures, crossed arms, and grim expressions tell others you’re probably bored, angry, depressed, or all of the above. Face people heart-to-heart, make attentive eye contact, smile occasionally, and others will find you fascinating because you found them interesting.

Shake Hands Like a Limp Fish

…or a wet noodle or a bonecrusher or fingers-only princess style. Yikes! Your handshake sets the tone for whatever follows. Don’t gross them out with a handshake that creates questions instead of confidence. Offer your entire hand, move in until web meets web, grasp firmly, shake lightly (no pumping!), then release. Add to that a smile and eye contact, along with something pleasant like, “Hello, it’s nice to meet you.”

Having Nothing to Offer

Here’s another reason to do some homework ahead of time. Research the people you’ll be meeting as well as their companies, industries, and current issues. Prep some questions and insights you could share that would demonstrate your interest in them and knowledge of what’s going on in their worlds. But you can’t be all business either. Prep for lighter conversations, too. Books, movies, sports, theater, food, museums, and travel are all fun topics for small talk, so be ready to share your experiences and recommendations.

Need feedback on the impressions you’re making on others? We have training and coaching programs that can help! www.theedgeexecutivecoaching.com

© 2017 Jill Bremer

 

Dining Etiquette: When to Talk Business

Americans love to combine food and business. Whether it’s breakfast, brunch, lunch, tea, cocktails or dinner, we enjoy merging these two activities and eating while we also brainstorm ideas, finalize deals, nurture relationships, even make hiring and promotion decisions. Here are some tips for handling the business conversation properly.

If you’re meeting over breakfast, you’ll need to get down to business quickly, perhaps even before you’re seated at the table. People usually can’t linger over a long breakfast, so get the discussion going while you’re standing at the hostess stand or even on the way to the restaurant.

When meeting over lunch, it’s best to wait until all parties have ordered. People often need more time to read through this menu (compared to breakfast), so don’t interrupt their decision-making process with business talk. Otherwise, the orders will be delayed and lunch will run late for everyone.

When you’re combining business with dinner, it’s proper to wait until the dessert/coffee course before bringing up the issues at hand. In some cultures, it’s taboo to talk business at all over a meal. They use these settings purely for building and solidifying relationships, not to talk shop. But stateside, if you do want to talk business, wait until the final course. Of course, if your guests bring the subject up earlier, take the cue that it’s okay to talk now.

Final Tip: When you’re the host, be sure to choose restaurants that take reservations, so you can respect your guests’ time. 

© 2017 Jill Bremer

Your Partner’s Office Holiday Party: Are You a Help or Hindrance?

Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) Directed by Blake EdwardsShown: Audrey Hepburn (2nd from right)

Will you be accompanying your partner to their workplace #holiday #party? If so, you have an important role to play at that event, one that supports and doesn’t sabotage. Here are 7 #etiquette tips that will help you both shine!

  1. Have a prep session with them beforehand and find out about the people you’ll be meeting and topics to pursue and steer away from. Make sure you understand your partner’s job and a little about the company they work for, as well.
  2. Your job is to make them look good. Let them have the spotlight, so don’t overpower the conversations. Share only flattering stories and remarks; don’t embarrass them in any way.
  3. Put the phone away and be fully present and engaged at the event. If you take any pictures, make sure you get others’ permission before posting them or tagging people. I recommend running anything you want to post or tweet by your partner first.
  4. You may not want to leave your partner’s side, but make sure you aren’t overly clingy or controlling of his or her time. This event is an opportunity for both of you to work the room and make positive impressions, so don’t be a barrier to that.
  5. If your partner fails to introduce you to someone, it’s probably because they’ve forgotten that person’s name. Save them by jumping in and introducing yourself before things get awkward.
  6. Use a filter—no off-color remarks, jokes, or flirting with others. These could come back to haunt you both.
  7. Limit alcohol to little or none. Why? See #6.

Holiday events are a great way for you and your partner to #network, meet new people, and have fun all at the same time. Just remember, it’s still a work function, so do everything you can to put your best foot forward. Happy Holidays!

© Jill Bremer 2016

Trick-or-Treat Etiquette for Children

Trick or treaters on the porchHalloween is a great time to teach manners to our children and how to be both gracious and grateful to others. Parents: role-play the steps below with your children. Have them ring your own doorbell and provide a little coaching.

Kids:

  1. Ring doorbells or knock on doors once, then be patient as you wait for the door to open. Don’t pound on doors or ring bells repeatedly.
  2. Make eye contact with homeowners when they open their door and smile as you say “Trick or Treat”.
  3. When the candy is dropped into your bag, be sure to say “thank you”, making eye contact again and smiling—even when it’s candy you don’t like. 🙂
  4. If you’re told you can reach into the candy bowl yourself, take one piece, not a handful.
  5. If they compliment your costume, say “thank you” again!

© Jill Bremer 2016

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