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
Do you remember the scene in “Talledega Nights” when Will Farrell’s character, Ricky Bobby, was being interviewed on TV and let his hands float awkwardly into the shot for no apparent reason? Have you ever felt the same way? Most of the people I coach tell me the same thing Ricky Bobby said: “I’m not sure what to do with my hands!” Let me offer some assistance.
Gestures, like our vocal inflection, are vital when we’re delivering a presentation. They add emphasis and help the audience understand what we believe is important. Think of your gestures as the visual bold, italic, and underlining of your speech. And there’s probably something in every sentence you say that needs a little emphasis. Adding a gesture of some kind will help make your points.
I have three guidelines for effective gestures. Give these a try as you practice your next presentation.
First, gestures need to be above-the-waist to count. No half-hearted flippy hands down by your legs, please, and no elbows-velcro’d-to-your-side gestures, either. Gestures need to be up where we can see them with air in the armpits.
Second, try one-handed gestures. Use two hands when you absolutely need them, but for the rest of the time, one hand is enough. I think gestures instantly look more natural and relaxed when you utilize one just one arm. I know what your next question is—and that leads me right into point #3.
Third, what do you do with the hand that’s left behind? Plant it somewhere! Rest those finger tips on the top of the conference table or the side of the lectern. Grasp the top of the chair or flipchart easel you’re standing next to. For many presentations, the leftover hand will be busy holding a hand-held mic or remote clicker. And, contrary to many other speaker coaches, I’m a big fan of one hand in the pocket. I think people, especially men, look instantly cool and calm with one hand tucked away. Now, it can’t live in that pocket for the entire presentation, but it stay there for a short while.
When one hand is grounded somewhere touching something, it can instantly relax you. You don’t feel like you’re floating out in space. Then, when you find your groove a few minutes in to the speech, you can let go and have that hand available for gesturing going forward.
So, for all you Ricky Bobbys out there, don’t fret. Try these tricks and you can “shake-and-bake” with the best of them, too!
© Jill Bremer 2017
Here’s a quick True-False quiz to test your email skills:
- Three- to four-word subject lines are best.
- Subject lines should be changed when topics change.
- Including six names in the “To:” box is acceptable.
- All caps should never be used in email messages.
- 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.
“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:
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