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March 2017
Communication at Work

Voices with ImpactPatti Lind

I think most people want to be taken seriously. We want people to listen to our ideas and we would like our ideas to have an impact. I sit in a lot of meetings and socialize quite a bit in groups. I find it interesting to observe whose voices carry more weight than others and why that is. It is also interesting to watch people who try exceptionally hard to get heard but the harder they try the more people tire of listening to them. What are the secrets for getting heard and being taken seriously by others?
  1. If you want to be a better contributor, concentrate on being a better listener. Some of the most thoughtful people I know in meetings are the best listeners. They are not distracted by their cell phones, give their full attention to everyone who speaks and ask questions to learn more about what is being said. If the topic is complex, I will see them taking down notes and preparing their thinking about where the conversation is progressing.
  2. Balance your contributions in length and frequency. Effective communicators pay attention to how often they are speaking in comparison to others and strive to be relatively efficient in coming to their point. Just because you dominate the amount of talk time, doesn’t mean that your ideas are being taken seriously. Years ago, I watched a leader take five minutes before she announced “okay, now I know what I want to say….” She seemed oblivious to the fact that listening to the inner workings of her brain were not as interesting to her colleagues as it was to her. The same goes for those who delight in storytelling. As interesting as your stories might be, in work situations lengthy storytelling consumes a great deal of precious meeting time.
  3. Track the conversational flow. A good communicator is able to keep track of the flow of conversation even though there might be a sprinkling of random thoughts from time to time. By listening closely, they are able to discern where the conversation is going and willing to nudged it back into focus when necessary. This ability is very important because groups can jump topics on average about every 3 minutes. That means that every three minutes someone will bring up another issue that is only tangential at best, irrelevant at worst. I know several highly intelligent people whose contributions are ignored because of their tendency to go off topic each time they speak.
  4. They are clear. When I teach people to present in meetings I encourage them to organize their thoughts so clearly that the listener doesn’t have to strain to understand them. The image that comes to mind is laying your ideas out on a silver tray and all the listeners need to do is pick them up. A very long time ago I used to struggle with my ability to be clear in meetings so I developed the practice of writing down my ideas on a pad of paper in preparation for when it would be my turn to speak. Thirty years later, I still come to meetings with a pen and paper as a tool to track conversational flow and capture my thoughts in the oft chance I will be asked to speak. I am a ready speaker but I am clearer when I sketch out my main points ahead of time.
  5. Keeping the connections safe. Skillful communicators are aware that more can be accomplished when the dialogue is both mutual and respectful. They intentionally keep the importance of maintaining connection as their highest priority. They can self-manage their emotions and convey their thoughts in a way that keeps people talking rather than shutting people down emotionally. Overt impatience, frustration and judgment compromise the safety in the room and automatically works against being viewed credibly.

The next time you go into a meeting set a goal for yourself at the top of your note pad. Balance your contributions. Strive to keep everyone feeling safe in your presence. Commit to asking questions about others contributions instead of focusing on your own thinking. Challenge yourself to come to your point in under 30 seconds. All of these goals would be worthy of your effort and appreciated by those who around you.
At your next meeting, give each person a slip of paper and ask him or her to write down one reason why they find it difficult to share their ideas in meetings. Collect all the slips of paper and organize them into common themes (e.g. interrupting, not enough time on the agenda for input). Ask the group for suggestions on how the meetings can be improved so that more people have the chance to be heard.

This is a great ted talk by Margaret Heffernan, a business leader from the UK. She reinforces my personal view that team success starts with strong connections...it is the mortar in the bricks.
Her talk is 15 minutes and worth watching if you agree that the best teams are the ones with strong connections and every voice counts – not just the superstars. — Why It's Time to Forget the Pecking Order at Work

My book, Communication At Work, is available in paperback, Kindle, Nook, and eBook formats, and may be purchased at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powell Bookstore and Inkwater Press.
Communication at Work

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