Posts Tagged ‘communication’

People Skills, Schmeople Skills. Who Needs ‘Em?

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

While looking through a university continuing education course catalog, it hit me. Wow, look at all those technical skill-building courses! And yet, very few courses focused on what really makes a difference in business: people skills.

I then came across this:

“The Stanford Research Institute, Harvard University, and the Carnegie Foundation once spent over one million dollars and five years of research studying why some people succeed. After the study was concluded, it was determined that 15% of the reason a person is able to get a job, keep a job, and move ahead in that job, is determined by his or her technical skills and knowledge, regardless of the profession. The other 85% of the reason a person is able to get a job, keep that job, and move ahead in that job, is directly related to people skills. It soon becomes apparent that working with people and managing people, starting with ourselves, must be a high priority if we are going to be successful.”

If that’s the case, why is so much training devoted to technical skill-building, and so little to people skills?

Of course, this doesn’t just apply to training. Given the choice between developing a system or developing a relationship, perhaps it’s the latter one should focus on.

I’ve heard it said that ninety percent of success in business is due to good communication. I would bet it’s the thing that is on most people’s “least favorite things to deal with” list. That’s certainly my conclusion based on the number of issues, problems and challenges that I’ve seen that could be resolved with more effective communication… but isn’t.

What is communication? Would you agree that it seems many people think that the definition of communication is “talking”? But we all know communication is as much about listening as anything else.

I once had a coaching client who faced a situation where groups of people were not working well together. We discussed ways to make things better and came to the conclusion that more communication was needed, so I asked how she was going to deal with it. Her reply was, “I’m going to tell them what to do, how to behave, when to do it, everything. Obviously, they can’t figure it out.” When I then asked her whether telling people what to do was the only way of fixing a communication problem, she looked confused. After some coaching she went into a meeting with the two groups, described her expectations (collaborative work through lots of communication), and then asked them to come up with some ideas of how to improve things. She then sat back and simply facilitated the communication. The groups came up with a process, and things began working much better.

Business is all about the results, the bottom line, and yet it’s only through people that the results happen. It’s only through people that business happens.

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Facing The Problem

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Why do people who are facing a problem talk to other people about it – people who can’t help with the problem – rather than talking to people who can help? Could it be human nature? Or just that it’s easiest?

Tom plays a forward position on a soccer team, and he has a problem… with a teammate named Kurt. It seems that he feels let down by Kurt, that he isn’t doing his share and yet is getting a lot of attention from the coaches. Too much attention. Other players on the team have noticed the same thing, and yet none of them have done anything about it. Well, except complain amongst themselves.

Tom: “Why does Kurt get all the attention?”

Sergio: “I don’t know, but I’m getting tired of it.”

Adam: “Yeah, I’m getting tired of Kurt not holding up his end, and getting all the credit.”

Tom: “This sucks! Kurt is ruining this team.”

Antonio: “I agree, he’s a jerk.”

And on and on. But note who’s involved in these conversations, and who isn’t. Everyone but the one person that should be – Kurt.

What happens when Tom complains to his teammates about Kurt? They, in turn, complain about him as well, feeding and adding to the problem. In fact, what may have been a small problem in the beginning turns into a big problem because Tom and his teammates didn’t face the problem.

If Tom or his teammates addressed the problem where it began – with Kurt and/or the coaches – then the problem may have stayed as a small one instead of festering, building, and turning into a big problem.

There are problem-identifiers and problem-solvers – which one do you want to be? If you have a problem with someone on your team, in your workplace, or anywhere for that matter, deal with it with the one person that can do something about it. Don’t talk to others about the problem, because all you’ll do is make it worse.

Address problems at the level they began; with the person at the center of the problem. Do not complain to others, or pile on when others complain. If someone complains to you about someone else, ask them, “Have you addressed this with that person?” If the answer is no, suggest that complaining to you will not make the issue go away. In fact, it will only make it worse.

Of course, if you need someone to just vent to, or want to talk about the situation in hopes of working out how best to handle it, great. Just choose someone who won’t pile on and make the problem worse. Teammates and co-workers are often not the right person; find a mentor or friend who is not intimately involved to discuss the situation with.

If someone else complains to you about a teammate or co-worker, by you agreeing and adding to the feelings, you are contributing to the problem just as much as the person identified as the problem. In fact, you may be making things worse than they really are.

Face and address problems with the one person that can do something about it, and don’t get dragged into a situation where you add to it. That is, if you want your team to perform at a high level.

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Are You Listening?

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

listening_deviceI went into a restaurant the other day, and upon sitting down at a table a male server strolled up – acting very cool, almost to the point of appearing to not care whether I was there or not – and said, “Hey buddy. A beer? Iced tea?”

I replied, “A Pepsi, please.” “You bet,” and off he sauntered.

I sat there looking over the menu, decided what I wanted, and placed the menu on the table in the obvious “someone-come-take-my-order-please” position.

I sat… and sat… and sat… Still no drink.

Mr. Cool Server looked my way a few times from across the restaurant, but still no drink.

Finally, after what was definitely more than five minutes without anyone seeming to admit that I even existed, a woman server walked over and asked if anyone had taken my drink order. “Yes, someone took it but I think he may have forgotten,” I replied, “And I’d also like to order my meal.” She took my order, walked over to the end of the bar and began touching in my order on that magic screen. I also overheard her tell another server to get me a Pepsi.

About that time Mr. Cool Server looked at me from across the restaurant, appeared to realize he had forgotten my drink, picked up a glass and flipped it around like some type of juggler, filled it with Pepsi, and brought it to my table. “Here you go, Bud.” (Mr. Cool Server and I were best friends now… apparently)

The woman server told the other server not to bother getting my drink and then turned to me and asked again what it was I wanted to eat. She had forgotten.

My point to this story is that neither server truly listened to me. They were going through the motions, but not engaged in listening to me, their customer. That’s not a good thing for someone in the service business!

How often have you caught yourself doing this kind of thing? You know, half listening to someone, but not completely? I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person to have done this. And I’m not just talking about when conversing with your spouse!

Try this for a day: Pay attention, completely, to every conversation you’re involved in. How do you do that? One way is to repeat, in your mind, everything the other person is saying, while they are saying it. I know what you’re thinking: Then how am I going to form what I want to say in reply – how am I going to prepare what I want to say next? That’s just the point. Don’t prepare. Instead, just listen.

You may be surprised at how difficult this is. Why? Because it’s not our normal way of communicating. But, communicating is a two-way street. For many people, communicating is a one-way – it’s all about them talking. But listening is an equal to talking in the communication process.

You may also be surprised at how effective it is. Try it. Totally engage in listening for a day. Who knows? You might like it. You might find that you hear a lot more. You might find that the people on the receiving end of your communication appreciate you that much more. You might find that you become more productive.

And who knows? It might lead to a bigger tip.

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