Tag Archive: Listening skills

Workplace Conflict; The Good, The Bad & The Useful

For a good portion of my career, I thrived on being a marketer. From my early days as a market researcher, an account manager, and eventually an agency executive, I loved the strategy and process of creating great concepts with compelling messaging that influenced buyers’ behavior. Managing a creative team, a client team, or corporate team, is sometimes burdened with conflict. Handling conflict was not my favorite part of the job, ever!

I aspired to broaden my career and went back to school for a Masters in Leadership Development about 12 years ago. Through a confluence of introductions, opportunities and also being an adjunct instructor at Drexel University, I joined one of my cohort’s businesses, Merit Career Development. Initially, I began helping them with a new branding initiative, but in an “Ah Ha” moment we realized that I’d likely be a strong trainer for Merit, too.  We were right. I have been running corporate trainings for Merit now for five years and I love it! But here’s the surprise: one of my favorite courses to facilitate, is Conflict Management (followed closely by Critical Thinking & Decision-Making.)

Why do I now enjoy talking about managing conflict? Because it makes sense to me now! And I also realize how much value it provides in driving better ideas and solutions. If we didn’t have conflict, and we all agreed on everything, we would live in a pretty boring, uni-dimensional world. How could we effectively cultivate new ideas or innovation without conflict?! It would be much tougher! The process of resolving conflict is very important, as well. It helps build and strengthen relationships, trust, and influences the development of new solutions to the challenges we face every day.

How do we make conflict good and useful?

Ultimately, it comes down to three important things:

  1. Being respectful towards the person or people who have a different opinion
  2. Opening yourself to hearing another perspective (opinion, solution, recommendation, etc.)
  3. Taking the time to truly understand the other opinion

Learning to listen and take the perspective of the person you are in conflict with, or reframing your perspective, as we discuss in the Critical Thinking course, is extremely helpful. It can be enlightening. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and give their idea a chance to be a winner to best understand the opportunities that may exist.

The results of working through conflict can be similar to a great brainstorming session; not all ideas are good or practical, but they often result in a better idea emerging through conversation and compromise. When this happens, the best part is that there is not one winner and one loser; everyone is a winner and feels ownership in the solution.

Good luck with conflict. Embrace it and become a better person by managing it with respect. You just may like the outcome!

Look for Part 2 of this series next month where we’ll share proven tips for recognizing different conflict styles and how to most effectively respond to them.

To learn more about the author, Gail Cooperman, or the workshops she teaches, click here.  If you would like to bring any of our trainings to your location, please contact Jim Wynne at jwynne@meritcd.com or call 610-225-0449.

Permanent link to this article: http://meritcd.com/blogs/workplace-conflict-the-good-the-bad-the-useful/

Why Success is More Likely with Active Listening

Listening includes a lot more than just hearing words. Frequently, we need to interpret or infer a deeper or underlying message beyond the spoken word. We deploy many of our senses to detect non-verbal cues and assimilate our life experiences with the verbal message when we actively listen.

Usually, the objective of a conversation is to expand the listener’s knowledge, perspective or sensitivity to a topic that impacts behavior or beliefs. In the workplace, managing projects can implode due to poor communications. These can result in missing a critical deadline, budget overages, decreased sales, and in some cases, costly lawsuits.

The most effective communication takes place when both parties are actively listening. So what is “active listening” and how do we do this?

Your active listening is apparent to the other party through your audible or visible signals. This can include something as subtle as raising our eyebrows, leaning towards the speaker, or using certain gestures (like a thumbs up, high five, etc.) Tilting our heads when we listen, on the same angle as the speaker, generally reflects a subconscious agreement  Uttering sounds like “uh huh” or “hmm” also tell the speaker that you’re paying attention. In America, making eye contact is considered a must in showing that you are listening, although this does vary in some cultures.

Of course asking good questions is one of the best ways to demonstrate that you are listening.
If you don’t have any questions (perhaps, because the message is crystal clear to you) then paraphrase the speaker’s message. You can preface your restated summary by saying something like: “Ok, now, if I understand what you’re telling me, you’d like to … (paraphrased summary of speaker’s objective).”

It is important to be authentic, too! In your effort to make it evident that you genuinely hear the speaker’s message, do not diminish your own persona or credibility. Be sure to phrase your introduction to your rephrased statement in a style that is consistent with the way you speak.

Why not find out if you’re as good a listener as you think you are? If you haven’t taken this insightful (and free) listening assessment yet, you can right now – or later when you have about 45 minutes and no distractions. When you’re ready, take the Active Listening Assessment here. Upon completion, you will receive an explanatory report along with tips and techniques that you can use to become a better active listener and communicator.

If you or your staff would benefit from mastering effective communications, improving active listening and learning “meaning-centered communication”, we can help. Please contact Jim Wynne at jwynne@meritcd.com or call him at 610-225-0449.

NOTE: PMPs: This assessment qualifies for one PDU and you will receive a certificate.

Permanent link to this article: http://meritcd.com/blogs/why-success-is-more-likely-with-active-listening/

Emotional Intelligence (EQ): The Essential Secret to Great Performance

The concept of emotional intelligence, EQ, has been studied for over 30 years. Research shows that high EQ predicts success beyond an individual’s knowledge, skills and abilities. Emotionally intelligent leaders have significantly greater annual profit growth, increased customer satisfaction, and higher personnel retention. In management, the more senior the leader, the more the EQ matters. In sales and customer service capacities, the higher EQs correlate directly to success.

RedheadStudies show that lack of EQ may limit a person’s ability to achieve results. Lower EQ scores correlate with lower merit pay increases, lower job satisfaction and more burnout. Managers’ and supervisors’ EQ scores correlate with their performance ratings.

The definition of emotional intelligence has been the subject of ongoing debates; however, researchers all agree that it consists of two principal components. The first component; intrapersonal skills or self-awareness, is the ability to recognize one’s emotions as they occur, helping one gain self-control in potentially emotionally charged situations.

The second component, interpersonal skills or social awareness, is the ability to recognize others’ emotions. The ability to express empathy enables one to have more positive relationships and minimize unproductive conflict. EQ helps put people at ease, build and mend relationships, confront problem employees, and manage change.

It is important to note that emotional intelligence can be learned. Understanding and incorporating specific EQ skills, techniques, and behaviors can help improve both the intrapersonal and interpersonal skill sets. An intra-personal skill, self-monitoring, can help one can limit or minimize emotional hijacking. Let‘s look at this closer…

Emotional IntelligenceWe all have specific words or phrases that are steeped in emotion. During the 1960s and 70s, the term “nuclear power” raised a great deal of emotion—both positive and negative. Similarly today we have emotionally charged words or phrases such as “gun control”, terrorism, and consumer privacy. It is important to recognize one’s own emotionally charged phrases and stop the emotional hijacking that is about to take place.

By recognizing our emotional responses when we hear a cue by self-monitoring, we can prevent emotional hijacking before it takes place. Stopping to recognize the emotional trigger is an important first step. Taking a deep breath, and/or silently counting to 10 can help us regain composure and react in a rational manner.

As for interpersonal skills, empathy helps us develop more positive relationships with others at work. Increasing our display of empathy enables us to connect with another person on an emotional level, thus allowing us to develop a meaningful, trusting relationship.

The question remains, however, how much emotional intelligence do you have—what is your baseline? Do you have an EQ deficiency, or are you well above average? There is only one way to know your EQ baseline and that is to take an assessment. Many exist on the Internet, some free others fee-based, however they may not stand up to statistical reliability and validity standards.

We invite you to take our free online self-assessment http://www.meritcd.com/assessments/eq/ and see how you compare to others; it takes less than 15 minutes. You will receive a report comparing you to the general population and you will know your starting point. With your baseline in hand you can select appropriate techniques and build your self-awareness and social awareness skill sets, and improve your emotional intelligence.

Would you like some guidance to improve your staff’s EQ? Merit offers half-day and full day workshops that help participants understand, identify their baseline, and strengthen their emotional intelligence. With exercises and interactive assessment tools, this workshop is engaging and life changing. For more information, please contact Jim Wynne at jwynne@meritcd.com or call him at 610-225-0449.

Permanent link to this article: http://meritcd.com/blogs/emotional-intelligence-eq-the-essential-secret-to-great-performance/

Crossfit Training; Your Body and Your Mind

The start of a new year brings with it many changes, professionally as well as personally. Many of us choose to start the New Year by making goals and resolutions, whether resolving to stick to a budget, or picking up a new hobby. Mine? I’m in the majority of the population: lose weight. To help me achieve my resolution I’ve started an exercise program called CrossFit training.

What is CrossFit training? The CrossFit training program, as explained by its founder Greg Glassman, is a system of performing functional movements that are constantly varied at high intensity. CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program that optimizes physical competence in each of ten recognized fitness domains: Cardiovascular and Respiratory Endurance, Stamina, Strength, Flexibility, Power, Speed, Coordination, Agility, Balance, and Accuracy.

Glowing_ManThe CrossFit program was developed to enhance an individual’s competency at all physical tasks. Athletes are trained to perform at multiple, diverse, and randomized physical challenges. This type of fitness is demanded of military and police personnel, firefighters, and many sports requiring overall physical prowess.

CrossFit training benefits the body by training your individual muscles over time to work together to provide an overall greater level of personal fitness than can be achieved by only conditioning one set of muscles at a time. This got me thinking: are there other areas in my life where I can use this approach? How can I “crossfit” my skills to become better at my job? How can I crossfit new learning opportunities to become a more valuable employee?

How can CrossFit training the body carry over to crossfit training your mind? If we consider our skills, hobbies, and responsibilities in our careers as muscles, we can make the analogy that those skills are muscles needing exercise. Some muscles are used more than others; some are barely used at all. All too often in our jobs, there is a set way of doing things that is like performing a repetitive workout. However, the brain is a muscle that like all muscles must be exercised to be kept in peak condition.

Modern cognitive psychology has demonstrated that the brain is not a static entity. Rather, the brain is continually and constantly developing and pruning pathways across skillsets, linking new knowledge to existing knowledge, or destroying old pathways which aren’t utilized to make room for new synaptic links. You can take advantage of this process by crossfit training your brain with a new skill or area of knowledge, which is seemingly unrelated to your existing career or job responsibilities.

people teaching each otherHow can crossfit training your mind benefit you in your workplace? Cross-functional training has many benefits for organizations as well as employees. At an organizational level, cross training skillsets help safeguard the organization against widening skills gaps. Organizations that cross-train employees across a range of functions put themselves in a good position to prevent sudden shortfalls and manage surges in specific areas when there is a spike in demand. On an individual level, cross training enables employees to explore and assess alternative interests and abilities. It also enables managers to identify and nurture employees who show exceptional talent in a particular function. Cross-training yourself to learn new skills, can increase your employability and enable you to stay relevant.

A few examples …learning the components of Strategic Leadership as a Project Manager (PM) can help reduce the probability of failure by sharpening leadership skills that enable the PM to better understand, motivate and build consensus with other members of a project team.  Or, learning to identify the role emotions and subconscious biases play in the decision making process can enable an individual to make more effective decisions. Learning Risk Management skills can enable a Human Resources manager to better anticipate potential problems and know how to create effective solutions before a problem arises.

In 2016, give consideration to learning things outside the scope of your role or responsibilities. Even if learning new skills may not seem directly related to your current work position, you will be increasing your value. Soon, you’ll wonder how you ever got along without these new skills.

If you are seeking to reduce your organization’s gaps in skills, improve cooperation and productivity through better communications and decision-making knowledge, or provide some morale-improving, team-building workshops, let’s talk. With a wide variety of courses, delivery techniques and a highly skilled training team, we will help you achieve your training goals for 2016 and beyond.

Contact Jim Wynne at 610-225-0449 or at jwynne@meritcd.com.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://meritcd.com/blogs/crossfit-training-your-body-and-your-mind/

6 Steps to Resolving Personality Conflicts

Personality conflicts on the teamMore often than we’d like, project managers have to manage conflict. Teams are human, after all, and arguments can arise for all sorts of reasons, from disagreements over workflow to competing priorities.

When conflicts arise, it’s the PM’s job to keep everyone moving forward, putting them together to thrash out technical differences or reach a compromise on resources. Even in the case of a heated debate, an effective project manager can lead the team toward a decision that’s workable for everyone.

Sometimes, however, team members seem to talk past each other, arguing about peripheral issues or focusing more on each other’s personalities than anything else. These are signs that, for whatever the reason, the people involved simply don’t get along. Their disagreement, substantive though it might be, is surrounded by a discontent that permeates all of their interactions, to the point where cooperation stops.

It’s a thorny problem to confront, and resolving it involves more than listening to both sides and steering them toward a solution based on merit. How, then, do you forge a truce?

  1. Actively listen. It’s critical that PMs pay close attention to their team’s dynamics at all times. Personality clashes aren’t the kind of thing most people like to talk about, so you can’t depend on others to clue you in when issues start to smolder. Even as you’re putting your team together, pay attention to personalities and consider how well individuals will mesh. While it’s reasonable to expect everyone to act professionally, sometimes people take such opposite approaches that avoiding conflict may be impossible.
  2. Deal with it promptly. If you spot trouble, be ready to act. As uncomfortable as they are to deal with, personnel issues rarely take care of themselves. Indeed, leaving people to work out conflicts on their own may only intensify the problem. When you see arguments becoming personal, inject yourself into the situation.
  3. Listen to both sides. Whatever the issue, it involves multiple people. So before creating a plan of attack, be sure to speak to all parties. Make sure your conversations are more than venting sessions. You need to understand the specifics of the conflict, so don’t allow one person to simply attack the other behind their back. Make them support their complaints with specifics. Be sure to encourage each person for possible solutions.
  4. Remain impartial. Your role here is to be a mediator, not a judge. That means you should understand the issues from both perspectives, with an eye toward finding some sort of middle ground. When talking to one person, try to educate them about the other’s point of view, without taking sides.
  5. Seek a compromise. Seek recommendations from both parties on what kind of approach might ease the tension. Maybe it’s more frequent communication, or some kind of tradeoff in scheduling. Maybe it’s an agreement to exchange notes before documentation is widely distributed. Whatever it is, encourage the parties to find pragmatic, manageable ways to work together.
  6. Document it. Follow up your conversations with emails to make sure everybody’s clear on what was discussed and agreed to. Obviously, you’ll have to approach such correspondence tactfully. Rather than focus on the complaints you’ve heard, detail the agreed-upon plans for moving forward.

Of course, situations vary. While you’ll have to tailor your strategy to the personalities and issues involved, your intent should always be to focus everyone on the work they’re responsible for, and the goals they have to meet. You probably won’t turn your clashing team members into close colleagues, but you can provide them with an avenue to manage their conflict and concentrate on getting their work done so that the project moves forward unimpeded.

For more information about how Merit Career Development can hone your leadership and management skills – including managing conflict on your team – please contact Jim Wynne at jwynne@meritcd.com.


© 2015 Merit Career Development. All rights reserved.

Permanent link to this article: http://meritcd.com/blogs/6-steps-to-resolving-personality-conflicts/

Are You an Effective Listener? (Really?)

Are you listening?We’ve all done it. You’re standing talking with a coworker, and she asks a question. Suddenly, you realize your mind had wandered as she continued to talk. The little voice in your head said it was time for lunch…reminded you to follow up with a client…or maybe you were distracted by a colleague walking by. You weren’t paying attention. You weren’t listening.

Most people think they know how to listen, but although you hear the words, you may not fully understand the meaning behind them. Listening actively takes concentration and practice. It’s important in all interpersonal relationships—in the workplace and in our personal lives.

If you want to improve communication between you and your colleagues or clients, become more efficient in your work, or create more rewarding personal relationships, then listening effectively is critical. The good news is that these skills can be learned just as effective public speaking skills are learned. And here’s how.

Ssshhh. Stop talking and just listen. Many business cultures reward speaking—no matter what. But when we are talking—even inside our heads—we can’t hear and process what is being said to us. Even if it means there is a silence after the speaker finishes—while you prepare your response—let it be.

Body language. According to Forbes, making and keeping eye contact is essential in Western cultures, where good eye contact equals paying attention. Face the speaker and fight the urge to check your cell phone or computer.

Practice. Listen to challenging material that requires concentration, such as a lecture or a sermon. Use these to sharpen and improve your vocabulary and your understanding of nonverbal cues—those you give as well as those you observe. Lean toward the speaker, nod, and give smiles and verbal cues (uh-huh, hmm, yes) of encouragement.

Study up. Read about the topic of a presentation or an important meeting ahead of time. Leave any preconceived perceptions of a speaker, colleague, or topic at the door.

Be attentive. Don’t interrupt or jump to conclusions. And don’t sketch out your response while he is still talking, or think about what you want to say next. You run the risk of giving a reply that will be off the mark, and then your disinterest will be obvious.

Focus. Focus on the big picture as well as on the small details, watching for ways you can personally relate. Also, listen intentionally, consciously steering your mind back to the speaker when it wanders (because it always wants to stray).

Do unto others. According to Dr. John A. Kline, who has written extensively on leadership and communication, using a form of the Golden Rule is effective. Ask yourself, “How would I want someone to listen to me?” And then listen as if you were going to have to repeat the conversation in an hour— this time, as the speaker.

Ask questions. Everyone listens through their past experiences, and reacts accordingly. Take responsibility for understanding what’s been said. If you don’t, always ask, don’t assume. And, according to Sklatch, open-ended questions are the best way to gain clarity, such as, “Can you give me some examples of that?”

We all want to be heard and understood, and taking the steps to ensure we are doing the same for others is the best way to achieve this.


To be an effective manager—or coworker—listening is a key skill. Merit Career Development offers leadership and communication courses that can help you hone your skills. For more information, please contact Jim Wynne at jwynne@meritcd.com

© 2015 Merit Career Development. All rights reserved.

Permanent link to this article: http://meritcd.com/blogs/are-you-an-effective-listener-really/

Customer Conversations

A two-step learning experience to boost listening skills

Customer ConversationsWhat do you do when your own field technicians can’t seem to communicate effectively with your customers? That was the challenge faced by a large global technology company who came to Merit Career Development for a solution.

The answer was a two-step process: measure employees’ listening skills and follow-up with a two-hour webinar reinforcing the key aspects of listening and interacting with customers.

The goal: empower field technical personnel to manage client conversations to ensure accurate communications and to create satisfied customers.

Measuring. We first asked employees to complete a simple assessment to gauge their listening skills. The Listening Skills Assessment (LiSA) measures three related aspects of listening: understanding the overall situation, attention to detail, and inferring personal interpretation.

Students watch realistic technology-related video scenarios and answer questions about the big picture, details about the situation and what they think was really going on in the example. It’s interactive and fun.

Before the webinar, students receive the results of their listening assessment. This establishes the baseline for the training session, the focus of which reinforces the key aspects of listening measured by the assessment.

Learning. The goal of the two-hour interactive webinar is to increase students’ self-awareness of their verbal and written communication styles as they work with customers. But it’s more than that. How can employees show they are really attending to the customer and want to leave both sides of the interaction satisfied?

Students learn how to observe non-verbal communication cues and follow-up on them, strengthening the customer relationship by showing good attention skills. Important listening skills like asking open-ended questions, reflecting back to the speaker, paraphrasing and summarizing help the individual obtain accurate information from the customer and make sure the employee is getting the real message.

And the webinar covers more than just verbal communication skills. It also highlights effective electronic communications. Students learn how to create effective and appropriate electronic messages, write messages that are clear, concise, coherent, and to project a positive voice image. These are all crucial communication skills in today’s business environment.

In the end, participants leave the course being more self-aware and carrying some new tools to use in effective customer communication.

To learn more about how Merit Career Development can solve your business challenges please contact us.

 

© 2014 Merit Career Development. All rights reserved. For more information, please contact Jim Wynne at jwynne@MeritCD.com.

Permanent link to this article: http://meritcd.com/blogs/customer-conversations/