The Power of Your Name

See my facial expression in this photo? It’s expressing how I feel when someone calls me “Mike” right after I’ve introduced myself as “Michael.”

If you call me Mike and you aren’t family or a super-close friend, I know you don’t know me well.

What else does it mean?

That’s right, the person didn’t listen.

Listen. That’s leadership lesson 1 from this brief rant. Lesson 2 is this…

People appreciate hearing their own names. In fact, the use of personal names in communication has been shown to enhance attention and recall, and makes people feel recognized and important.

In short, people light up when they hear the music of their own name.

So, use people’s names when you communicate. And when you meet someone new, listen carefully when they introduce themselves to you, and say their name back to them. (Nice to meet you, Anthony.)

It’s not just a word; it’s a powerful connection. Plus, you’re more likely to remember it if you say it out loud.

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Trust Your Gut

Your gut isn’t some mystical place that provides insights that appear out of thin air. The feelings you get when your gut is talking to you are the product of your intuition. And intuition is a skill honed through experience and self-awareness.

Think about it. Heaps of data and copious analyses don’t always give us the answer. The best course of action isn’t always black and white — it often lies in that uncomfortable gray area that leaders and teams sometimes try to avoid. That discomfort often makes people suppress their gut instincts too much.

That’s a shame, because the top leaders I know often state their intuitive prowess as a key to success. After years of facing diverse challenges and learning from both successes and failures, they’ve let each experience become a building block — enhancing their ability to read situations, anticipate outcomes, and trust their judgment.

Is your gut always right? No. Can it help in decision making? You bet. The key is learning how to use its power wisely.

Want to dive deeper into instincts and intuition? Check out this article on Psychology Today for some more details on what’s really going on in that gut of yours.

My gut is telling me it’s time to stop letting my introverted side create content and force myself to get out there are talk to people that I can help! I think I need to listen.

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The Value of Attention

In today’s fast-paced world, it can be difficult to give our full attention to anything. We are constantly bombarded with stimuli, from our phones to our email to our social media feeds. It’s often challenging to focus on the task at hand, let alone on the people around us.

However, as leaders, it is essential that we are intentional about paying attention. When we give our full attention to others, we show them that we value them and their contributions. We also create a space where they feel safe to share their ideas and concerns.

A few more benefits of giving others our full attention…

  • Builds trust and rapport. When people feel like they are being heard and understood, they are more likely to trust and respect us.
  • Boosts morale. When people feel like their work is important and that they are making a difference, they are more likely to be motivated and engaged. 
  • Improves our own decision-making. When we take the time to listen to others’ perspectives, we are more likely to make decisions that are in the best interests of the entire team and organization.

Here are a few tips for paying better attention:

  1. Be present. When you are interacting with someone, give them your full attention. Put away your phone, turn off your computer, and make eye contact.
  2. Listen actively. Really listen to what the other person is saying, and ask clarifying questions.
  3. Show empathy. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Understand their perspective and why they might be feeling the way they are.

Paying attention is a skill that takes time and practice. The benefits are well worth the effort. 

Try to pay more attention to how well you pay attention today. If you’re finding that you’re distracted instead of fully committed to a conversation, identify one thing you can do to avoid that in the future.

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Compassion Is Key

There are many skills and traits that make a good leader, and I believe that compassion is one that many leaders don’t talk about or leverage enough. 

The ability and willingness to work to understand and empathize with the struggles of others, and to respond with kindness and support, is what we’re talking about here. And research has shown that compassionate leadership can have a range of benefits for teams and organizations. For example, when leaders show compassion towards their team members, they’re more likely to feel valued and supported — feelings that almost surely will increase productivity and engagement (and lower turnover rates).

Compassionate leaders are also willing to be vulnerable with their team members. This means sharing their own struggles and weaknesses, and being open about their own challenges. By doing so, leaders build stronger relationships with their team members, and create a culture of trust and understanding.

If you’re looking to develop a more compassionate approach to leadership, here are some tips:

  • Listen (actively): Take the time to really listen to your team members, and show that you understand their concerns and challenges.
  • Empathize: Try to put yourself in your team members’ shoes, and imagine what it’s like to be in their position.
  • Appreciate: Take the time to recognize and appreciate your team members’ hard work and contributions.
  • Support: When team members are struggling, offer support and guidance to help them overcome their challenges.
  • Be kind to yourself: Remember to practice self-compassion as well, and be kind to yourself as you navigate the challenges of leadership.

Compassion can help build stronger relationships, increase engagement and productivity, and create a more positive workplace culture. 

That’s a win-win for everyone. 

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Investing In Others

I received a nice compliment yesterday. A client said, “You really invest yourself in other people. You’re always fully there; truly wanting to know about me and also hearing what I have to say. Thanks for that.”

What a kind thing to say. I’ll admit that I am a guy who really wants to help others unleash the power of their strengths. I see the good in people, almost to a fault. And I know the power of good communication — especially listening.

The truth is that the investment I make in my clients is done with the goal of helping them invest more in themselves. Often the work I do as a coach is about reflecting back what I see (and hear) in my clients. 

But his compliment got me thinking about how little we really invest in each other when it comes to doing the hard work of making others feel seen and heard in the workplace. Even at home, for that matter. My work is about giving people a safe space to express themselves and explore their strengths, blind spots, and challenges so they can improve their own performance as leaders and professionals, as well as their relationships both personally and professionally. Yet there are times that I fail to do so when I’m “off the clock” and spending time with my family. I’m going to change that.

I encourage you to invest in yourself. Always. Let’s also make sure to invest in those around us who matter most by giving them the attention and support they need to reach their potential. Everyone wants to be seen. Everyone wants to be heard. We simply need to take the time to make that happen.

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Tips for Being Heard at Work

Be Heard

When we feel we aren’t being heard, a common reaction is to talk louder. Or interrupt. And if you’re an introvert, you might lean the other way and keep your comments to yourself instead of trying to share them with those who need to hear them. 

Your voice counts. Considering how you personally operate in certain situations as well as how the specific people you communicate with listen to and process information will help you be heard, and more importantly, understood. 

Here are some tips:

  1. Let kindness lead the way. You can never go wrong by being kind, and doing so diffuses tension and helps others avoid feeling defensive. Even in the most difficult conversations, when you show the other person that you care, you make your communications more tailored to their needs—and more effective. 
  2. Read the room. If you have experience with the people in the room, you likely know how they operate. Some may just want the facts quickly while some may like to dive in deep and understand the background. Whenever possible, try to tailor your communications to the needs of the people in the room and give them what they need to be able to connect with, and understand, you.
  3. Listen now and speak later. If you can’t formulate the right response on the fly, give yourself the time you need to process everything and craft a response that you can feel good about. You can always have a second conversation later when you’ve gathered your thoughts, or send a follow-up message with your response after the heat of the moment has passed.
  4. Don’t hide or procrastinate. It’s easy to hide behind emails or text communication because you can lob your thoughts over the fence to get it off your shoulders and plop it into their court. Consider when you need a call, videoconference, or meeting to discuss a topic, move something forward right away, or put an issue to bed. 
  5. A good visual can make all the difference. Some people need a visual aid to help them grasp a concept. Consider when a topic might benefit from something people can see to help them connect the dots. This can be something you prepare beforehand, or a quick sketch you create on a whiteboard to help people grasp the idea.
  6. Sometimes you just can’t beat a blowhard. There are people who need to hear themselves talk and refuse to listen. Don’t try to win. Instead, figure out how you can slowly persuade them over the longer term. Share your perspective but don’t expect to convince them to agree with you today.
  7. Let others be heard. Listening is probably the most powerful tool you have in your communications toolbox. Everyone wants to feel that their voice matters. 

And don’t forget, most people never get thanked for the good work they do—and it means a lot when they do. Thank people for contributing and validate them when you hear something that adds to the conversation.

This post was originally published on October 27, 2019 and updated on November 18, 2020.

Photo by Headway on Unsplash

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Listening Beyond the Words

What’s Below the Surface?

The words we say don’t usually carry the full weight of what we mean. Think about a recent text or Slack message you’ve received that required more than one message back and forth to make clear. Would it have been easier to decipher if it was said to you face to face? Or even on a voice call? You’ll probably answer, “Yes.”

But that’s only scratching the surface on what can go wrong in our everyday communications. From distractions to rushing to choosing the wrong medium for the message, the opportunity for misunderstanding is everywhere. 

When we work hard to be present and in the moment, and thoughtful about how we communicate with each other, we set each other up for success — in the form of better understanding the meaning behind our words and in being able to take appropriate action.

The Below the Surface Challenge

When you listen to others this week, whether through hearing or through digital messaging, remind yourself to listen for what’s lying below the surface

  • Listen and read for ideas, not just facts. 
  • Understand that there is emotion behind every piece of communication, even when it’s text-based.
  • Listen for the real message behind the words. Use the speaker’s tone of voice and nonverbal communications to give clues to what’s going on in the speaker’s mind. 
  • Re-read and revise your digital messages to consider the needs of the receiver. Try to keep the gap of potential misunderstanding as small as possible.

Let’s Do More to Set Each Other Up for Success

When you try to see and hear what’s behind the words, you’re more likely to respond in an appropriate way — one that usually avoids unnecessary back and forth. 

And when you’re the sender of the communication, stop to think about what context you need to provide to help the person understand what you mean, and to take the next step with confidence.

Photo by Alexander Hafemann on Unsplash

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Listening is a Powerful Tool

You, Me, and No-one Else

I’ve got some terrific mentors. I’m lucky. I think of two of them often, especially when I’m trying to be sure I listen well and avoid rushing others. As a creative person, it’s sometimes hard to stay in the moment and listen when the thing that someone else is saying is sparking a great idea in my head.

But, there’s a place for brainstorming and collaborating, and there’s a place for listening quietly — and absorbing. Truly listening means hearing the person out, reserving judgement, and doing the hard work of interpreting, evaluating, and understanding what the other person is saying.

Try it.

Focus on your coworker, client, partner, child, or parent today. Listen to what is said, and zoom in on the feelings or ideas behind the words. Don’t let yourself begin to compose a response in your head. Make them feel like in that very moment and for as long as is needed for them to finish, there’s nothing else in the world that matters.

Your full attention is a wonderful gift, and a powerful communications tool.

This post was originally published on September 10, 2019 and updated on October 6, 2020.

Photo by Luke Ellis-Craven on Unsplash

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Listening Skills

Are you really a good listener?

How many people do you know who say they are good listeners, but really aren’t? I’m sure you know more than a few. 

I find that a lot of people who are good problem solvers think that also makes them good listeners. Yes, in many cases good listeners are good problem solvers. But being a good problem solver doesn’t automatically make you a good listener.

True listening (which is very different from hearing) requires work — and there are a lot of barriers. Distractions, your attitude toward the speaker or topic, and even your physical state (e.g., being hungry or tired) can all interfere. But the most common barrier is our tendency to begin formulating our response to what someone is saying rather than waiting for them to finish.

Observe your own behavior for the next week. How often do you find yourself thinking about your response before a speaker is finished? If it’s often, try to remind yourself to stay in the moment. Be quiet, let the speaker talk, and don’t think ahead to how you want to respond. Withhold judgement until you’ve had time to fully understand and comprehend what is being said. And eliminate those distractions you personally have control over (like your phone or smartwatch). 

Did you know that we typically comprehend and retain only 25% of what we hear? Add to that the distracted digital world we live in, and it makes us all poor listeners at times. But there are things you can do to improve your listening skills. The first step is reminding yourself to truly listen so you can stay in the moment and allow yourself to really comprehend what the speaker is communicating to you.

For more listening tips, check out my interactive workshop 10 Tips for Becoming a Better Listener or my quick class Be a Better Listener.

Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

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Communication Tip: Yes, and…

Yes, and…

I wanted to be an actor when I grew up. While my adult life didn’t go according to that plan, I was fortunate to do a lot of acting when I was younger. I also have a degree in Speech and Theatre Arts and began my career teaching theatre classes to high school students. 

One of my favorite lessons from the theatre is in improvisation, which involves carrying out a scene spontaneously, with no script. My fellow actors and I would make it up as we went along, based only on a theme or topic. Practicing and preforming improv (which is what we called it for short) often led to funny scenes that got the audience laughing, but it wasn’t always comedic. In fact, it was often more difficult when the scenes were serious.

When you are performing without a script, each actor relies on the other to set them up for success. That’s where the phrase “Yes, and…” comes into play. When you use language like this, it confirms agreement with where the story is going, and allows you to build on it. When improvising a scene, you might not literally say “Yes, and…” but that’s the spirit. For example:

ROBERT: “There’s a purple giraffe coming down the street! It must have escaped from that new circus that’s in town!”

DENISE: “I see it, too. I feel like I’m hallucinating. Oh my, now I see a turquoise elephant about 20 feet behind the giraffe. What’s going on?”

By confirming that she sees it too, and then adding to the ridiculous story, Denise supports Robert’s direction for the scene and adds to it so it can move forward. Imagine if she had said, “What? A purple giraffe? I don’t see it.” What’s Robert supposed to do with that response? Momentum shattered. Boom, end of scene.

Try to use this improvisational technique in your business life. If you can confirm what someone else has said to give it validity, and then add to it or expand on it, I’ll bet you’ll have more effective collaborations with your colleagues. And remember, “Yes, and…” is very different from “Yes, but….” The latter conveys disagreement, while the former communicates acceptance.

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