Recently I was sitting with a group of leaders who were discussing how difficult it can be to talk about what matters most, particularly when others don’t share your view. One woman who had been quiet for quite some time, broke her silence and proffered, “Perhaps we don’t share what is really important or meaningful to us because we engage in behavior that gets in our way.” The conversation quickly turned to people sharing examples of how their behavior had negatively impacted the very results they were trying to create.
As the conversation progressed, I took note of the behavioral challenges that seemed to be most common. Consider the questions below to help you reflect on the effectiveness of your behavior as you interact with others.
1. Are you so entrenched in your perspective that you don’t hear what others are saying? Sometimes the most difficult thing to do is to set your ideas aside and consider the ideas of others. Taking the time to consider other points of view not only creates an opportunity for you to share your views, but also helps you understand whether or not your ideas are sound.
2. Do you really listen when others are speaking? There are any number of reasons that people don’t listen. Sometimes we listen to assess whether others agree with us or not. Sometimes we are just more interested in our own thoughts or preoccupations than we are with what others have to say. Sometimes we are too busy thinking about what we should say next or how we might disagree. Whatever the reason, people can sense when you are not present in a conversation. Your lack of attention will likely be interpreted as a lack of respect or interest in what others have to offer. This usually leads to people shutting down or disengaging from the conversation.
3. Do you push too hard to get the thing that you want? Sometimes when our proposals or ideas appear to fall on deaf ears, rather than stop and explore a disagreement or other perspectives, we push harder to make our viewpoint known. Ironically the passion and exuberance with which we express our point of view creates more resistance than contribution and collaboration from others. Our push creates pushback from others which may turn into a competition to determine who is right and who is wrong. Emotions will then likely take over, leading to a downward spiral that will not end well.
4. Do you assume that you know better or that you are always right? Having this particular mindset is disastrous for a leader, and yet it is one of the most common complaints that I hear from teams about their manager. When the leader always has to be right, people tend to quit speaking up and sharing their ideas, or worse, they just wait to be told what to do rather than taking an active and collaborative role in working with the members of their team. It’s easier to give up than to be told their ideas are stupid, impractical, ill-informed, or simply won’t work.
5. Do you allow your negative emotions to determine what you say, do, or think in the moment? We frequently become emotionally reactive when our expectations are violated. When we don’t get what we want, our “hot” emotions replace our rationality and negatively influence our behavior. If you allow your emotions to rule your behavior, they may be contributing to results you don’t wish to create.
6. Does your desire to play it safe or to be comfortably secure hinder your ability to be vulnerable and connect with others? Sometimes our fear of the unknown or perceived negative consequences keeps us from speaking up and sharing what needs to be said. If you find yourself frustrated with the direction that your leader or team seems to be headed, recognize that your feelings can serve as a wonderful cue that it is time to speak up. Our inability or unwillingness to engage contributes to our results.
7. Do you avoid heart-felt expressions of appreciation or gratitude? Acknowledging others for their contributions is one of the easiest ways to build relationships and reinforce their positive efforts. Nevertheless, many are reluctant to share what they define to be “too personal.” Expressing sincere and specific appreciation says to others, “I noticed what you did and I value your contribution.”
8. Do you take the time to reflect and focus on what matters most? Sometimes we become so busy and pressed to finish the current project or the next item on our to-do list that we lose sight of what is most important. Taking some quiet time to reflect on your thoughts and examine your behavior will allow you to assess if you are getting the results that you say you really want.
9. Are you empathetic and understanding of others? Often we become so set on what we want and need that we don’t stop to consider what is going on with others. Do people have what they need to achieve the desired results? Do they have input or feedback about how the results could best be achieved? If things aren’t going well, do we stop to find out why? It is important to realize that everyone is rational from their point of view. Rather than assuming that people don’t know what they are doing or are deliberately making mistakes, we ought to slow down and ask more questions and really listen to their answers.
10. Are you blind to your own behavior? Because we do not see ourselves the way we are seen, we don’t usually realize how our behavior impacts others. We communicate in many ways that have an impact on others: tone of voice, word choice, intensity, inflection, body language, emotions, and communication style. Pay close attention to how others are responding to you: whether they engage or seem intimidated, share their thoughts and feelings freely, or only speak when absolutely necessary. Do they move toward or away from you, seek you out or avoid you? These reactions can tell you how you are being perceived.
As you ponder and truthfully answer the previous questions, you will increase awareness of your behavior and allow yourself to make needed course corrections so you can avoid getting in your own way.
Many of these tips have their roots in emotional intelligence. Improving your emotional intelligence can increase your ability to communicate and impact your productivity.
Do you struggle with communicating effectively? Do you need to improve your emotional intelligence?
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