When you listen to others, do you know what the intended purpose of the discussion is?
This question is for both you and the person you’re chatting with. This seems like a simple question, but you can miss a lot if you don’t identify the type of dialogue the situation calls for.
I’ve been working with the Center for Creative Leadership for several years. They are known worldwide for their executive leadership programs and their scholarly but practical writings and research on leadership. They have a great model for Expansive Conversations (2007 by Ted Grubb, PhD.) that spells out two key options for conversational mindsets.
The first is for solving problems. This is a bread and butter skill that you have displayed over the years. One of the key skills that has distinguished you over the years is the ability to get things done – reliably and dependably. When you’ve developed strong relationships with others, you can operate in this mode seamlessly within the organizational orbit you inhabit.
Here are the 4 steps to problem-solving Grubb uses in his model:
- FOCUS on the task;
- LISTEN thoroughly to understand the nature of the problem;
- TELL: Give advice and suggestions;
- UTILIZE what you know to help address the problem.
All 4 steps require that you listen intently and ensure that there is a good meeting of minds about what is discussed in each step. Given the pace of work and availability – or lack thereof – of information about the problem at hand, use your experience and communications skills to ensure that you can provide an answer with the right amount of detail needed for the situation. Less is frequently more here; don’t overthink things. So, listening to clarify the breadth of the issue is a key part of step 2.
I had a member of my team, Sam, ask me about how a specific organizational design is supposed to work. I saw this as a “teachable moment” and began a “tutorial” on the topic. I thought this is what she needed.
After several sentences she said, “STOP. I don’t want a lecture, just to be pointed in the right direction.” I paused and asked her to clarify what she needed. My response seemed to satisfy her, and I clarified that. “Does that help?” I said. She said “Yes” and was out the door.
Given the 4 steps we reviewed, it’s clear I failed to execute them well. Here’s how I should have approached this:
- Task – I did not have a clear understanding of what Sam really needed. I failed to ask. I ASSUMED I knew.
- Listen – I launched into the “teachable moment” because I wanted to share my knowledge – which is another way of saying I wanted to show how smart I was. I had no context about WHAT she needed, much less WHY.
- Tell – I felt I was well intended in my response, but without clarity in step 2, you can give great answers to the wrong question.
- Utilize – What I know is only beneficial to Sam if it’s what she needs and wants.
A wise man once said that a problem well stated is a problem half solved. That is a very good standard to use when you are problem-solving.
I play Trivia a couple of nights a week with a competitive team. The acoustics are not always great where we play, but we have learned that it’s critical we listen carefully to what the question really is. We have turned in what we thought were great answers only to find we answered the wrong question.
Now if we are ever unsure, we go to the evening’s host to be sure we’re on target. The organization that hosts these events is very professional. They don’t ask “trick” questions, but we never hesitate to clarify.
- Have I been patient enough to clarify what is being asked and the scope and context of what’s being asked?
- Do I listen for all the visual, verbal and vocal clues to be sure you are really connecting with the person with the question / concern?
- Do I efficiently seek clarity on the productiveness of any of these interactions?
In the next post, we’ll explore the second option of the Expansive Conversations Mindset model; developing insights.