Your Talk Listen Ratio

August 31, 2013

Talk and listenThe Talk Listen Ratio is one interesting measure of the skill of a leader. It is a pretty easy concept to understand, and If we look at the extremes, neither of them is a good place to be. If the ratio is over 80%, then the leader is monopolizing the conversations. Unfortunately many leaders operate in this range for much of the time. They may be able to get compliance out of people, but they are leaving the power of people off the table. On the other extreme, if a leader’s ratio is below 20%, there is going to be a detachment. This leader is too reticent with his or her thoughts. People will begin to wonder if the person is truly engaged in the mission of the group.

Since it is easy to see the extremes do not work well, it is axiomatic that a balance, like perhaps between 40% and 60% might work better. This means the leader is open with his or her thoughts, but also interested in the ideas of others. I recommend every leader ought to have some way to keep track, because most leaders are blind to the actual ratio they achieve on a daily basis.

You could make a recording of a few conversations to get some data, but I would not do that unless everyone involved agrees to being recorded. By getting everyone’s permission to record a conversation, it would alter the phenomenon being measured, so you would have a Heisenberg Uncertainty situation, where you destroy accuracy by trying to measure a phenomenon.

The optimal ratio is situational, of course. For example, if the leader was trying to outline her vision of the future for the organization, a higher ratio would be expected. The purpose of that conversation is to share her views. Ten minutes later, when that same leader is trying to console a worker who has just lost a loved one, the better ratio would be much lower, because the main objective is to let the person grieve.

My observation is that most leaders would be better off if they would take their natural tendency and lower the ratio by about 20%. If I naturally take up 80% of the air time, I might get a much better result by operating at 60%. This rule does not hold for leaders who naturally operate at 40% or lower. They should seek to maintain their current level or increase it.

I have found it to be possible to monitor your own ratio in certain circumstances. It is distracting to keep track, so the quality of communication is compromised. It is especially difficult to keep track yourself when you are emotionally upset or excited. In these cases, it is helpful to ask another person to make a mental note of your ratio and tell you later. The precision will not be to the second decimal place, but that precision is not required. If you can determine your typical ratio doing several kinds of discussions to within 20% accuracy, that is enough to allow you to change your habits through a feedback process.

There is nothing special in this technique, but I believe it is an extremely rare leader who actually cares about his or her ratio or makes any effort to measure or control it. If you are keeping track and working your way down the scale, you are likely one of the elite leaders of our time.


Trust Seeds

April 22, 2012

We are all aware that interpersonal trust is precious. Trust is fragile; it is difficult to build, and easy to destroy. Most people believe it takes a very long time to build up trust with another person. There is an alternate view; if certain conditions are present when people first meet, a “seed” of trust is created upon which further trust will grow if both people continue to nurture it.

In his book “Blink,” Malcolm Gladwell describes the “Thin Slices” we humans use to size up other people within seconds of meeting them. We absorb an enormous amount of data instantly in the body language and the first words uttered by a new acquaintance.

I can recall meeting two influential men last year within seconds of each other. The first one gave me a solid handshake and a smile. He made great eye contact and asked me a question about my family. The second individual gave me a half-limp handshake while his eyes were scanning the room to see who else was there. He did smile, but it was forced and phony. Since that time, I have effortlessly developed a relationship of high trust with the first individual, and I have felt uncomfortable to be in the same room as the second one. The relationship with the first man took several months to develop, but the seed was planted in the first 5 seconds. With the second man, there was nothing for trust to grow on, so a relationship never kindled.

There are numerous things people instantly assess about us. Here are five conditions that allow you to plant a seed on which trust can grow.

Competence – People must be convinced that you know what you are doing to view you as being trustworthy. If they sense that you have the ability from a knowledge and skill set to deliver on your statements, then you pass the competence test. If they have doubts that you can deliver, then they will remain skeptical until there is enough time to test you.

Integrity – Do you have the character to do what is right? People need to feel that you are not duplicitous and that you will stand up for what you believe is right. It does not mean that you always need to agree with others on every point, but people need to see you as a person of high moral and ethical fiber before they are going to trust you.

Reliability – People need to be convinced that you will do what you say. This characteristic normally takes people a long time to test, but it actually can happen quickly. People can discern your reliability through the way you phrase intentions and even the body language you use to chat with them. The ability to follow through with intended actions or at least get back to the other person if conditions change is easy to spot, just as it is easy to observe a blowhard who says nice things but has no intention to actually do them.

Attitude – To gain trust, you need to project a positive attitude when another person is meeting you and ensure that it comes from the heart. Depending on the contextual background of the meeting, a smile is the usual way to show a positive attitude toward another person. Caveat: putting on a false smile is the kiss of death, because it pegs you as someone who cannot be trusted at all. In a different context, a look of concern or sympathy might be a more appropriate way to show a positive attitude toward the other person. Your attitude and demeanor must be heartfelt and congruent with the situation.

Care – It is vital to project that you really do care about the other person. People might say it takes years to know if someone else really does care about you. In reality, care can be displayed in hundreds of small gestures, just as selfishness can be easily spotted. Giving deference to the feelings of others is an important component of Emotional Intelligence. The interesting observation about this is that the people who have low Emotional Intelligence have the biggest blindspots, according to Daniel Goleman. Translated, if you come across as a phony in terms of really caring about other people, you will not have the ability to detect this in yourself, but others will see it instantly.

On the back of my business card, I have a picture of a pile of various seeds. The words say:

Seeds for Growing Leaders
Plant in an environment of trust,
Sprinkle daily with humility,
Weed out negativity,
Place in the light of truth,
Be patient,
Enjoy the fruits of great leadership.

It does take a long time of consistent performance for a very strong bond of trust to build, but the first seeds of trust can be established quickly upon meeting someone. Make sure when you meet a new person that you genuinely project the five conditions above, and you will be well on your way to a trusting relationship.


Drive Out Fear

April 15, 2012

Several decades ago, the now-deceased quality guru, W. Edwards Deming came up with a list of 14 key points for leaders to take that would accomplish what he called “profound knowledge.” Point number 8 on his list was “drive out fear.” I believe this was one of the most powerful concepts on his famous list. The reason is that the absence of fear is a prerequisite for higher trust, and trust is the most important ingredient to higher organizational productivity. In this article, I will share seven tips to help drive out fear.

Fear is one on the most basic of human instincts. It is fear that allowed humanoids to survive during primitive times, and it is still the basis of survival today. Without fear, you would not take the time to look both ways before crossing the street. Too much constraining fear in the organizational context can produce a gridlock of activities among the people that prevent the establishment of trust. Let’s look at some tips that leaders can use to reduce the fear in the workplace, and thus help to increase trust.

Be more transparent

When people are kept in the dark about what things are happening that can affect them, it is only natural to become afraid. When leaders contemplate draconian actions in sealed conference rooms, the word spreads like fire in a tinderbox. Some future actions must not be shared for legal reasons, but in many cases leaders attempt to shelter people from possible actions because they do not want to cause panic. That attitude is false logic. More panic ensues from speculation than would be present if full disclosure was given.

Reinforce Candor

Praise rather than punish people for sharing their observations about inconsistencies. In most organizations, people do not believe it is safe to tell leaders the truth about their observations. Their livelihood might be at stake. When leaders invite open dialog on sensitive issues and reinforce people who verbalize their fears, it tends to extinguish the rumor mill and build a foundation of higher trust.

Be Kind

Treating people with dignity and respect is nothing more than following the Golden Rule. If leaders consistently treated people the way they would like to be treated if the roles were reversed, there would be much less fear in the workplace. When people feel intimidated or bullied, they naturally cower in fear for what might happen to them.

Develop more Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence is your ability to understand emotions and your skill at being able to use that knowledge to manage yourself and your relationships with others. This skill allows leaders to act in ways that foster open dialog and lower fear. A very good book to help people gain higher EQ is Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Bradberry and Greaves.

Level with people

Be honest with people and let them know of any improvement opportunities in a supportive way. When people know you are sincerely trying to help them improve, they will be less fearful. Each person has some insecurity regardless of his or her history. Helping people grow is a great way to lower fear.

Care about others

Fear has a hard time growing in an environment where people truly care about each other. The expressions of empathy and sympathy when people are struggling mean they will feel supported in their darkest hours. They forster courage and faith that most problems are only temporary setbacks, and that life itself is an amazing journey.

Trust other people

When trust is present, fear has a hard time surviving. When leaders show that they have faith in the ability of people to do the right things, then they do not project a kind of “gotcha” environment that is evident in many organizations. The result is that people are not on edge wondering when the next outburst will occur.

The absence of unnecessary fear is a huge benefit for any organization. Some fear is good for the self preservation of individuals and organizations, but keeping it at the lowest possible level is liberating and will bring out the best in people.


9 Steps to Rebuild Trust

April 1, 2012

I believe trust between people is like a bank account. The balance is what determines the level of trust at any point in time, and it is directional. I might trust you today more than you trust me. We make deposits and withdrawals in the trust account nearly every day with the things we say and do. Usually the deposits are made in small steps that add up to a large balance over time. Unfortunately, withdrawals can be massive due to what I call “The Ratchet Effect.” All prior trust may be wiped out quickly. Nobody is happy when trust is lost.

I believe trust withdrawals can lead to a long term higher level of trust if they are handled well. Just as in a marriage when there is a major falling out, if the situation is handled well by both parties in a cooperative spirit, the problem can lead to an even stronger relationship in the long term. Let’s investigate some steps that can allow the speedy rebuilding of trust.

Act Swiftly

Major trust withdrawals can be devastating, and the trauma needs to be treated as quickly as possible. Just as a severe bodily injury requires immediate emergency care, so does the bleeding of emotional capital need to be stopped after a major letdown. The situation is not going to heal by itself, so both parties need to set aside normal routines in order to focus significant energy on regaining equilibrium.

Verify care

Both people should spend some time remembering what the relationship felt like before the problem. In most cases there is a true caring for the other person, even if it is eclipsed by the hurt and anger of the moment. It may be a stretch for some people to mentally set aside the issue, but it would be helpful to do that, if just as an exercise. If the problem had never happened, would these people care about each other? If one person cannot recognize at least the potential for future care, then the remedial process is blocked until that happens.

Establish a desire to do something about it

If reparations are to be made, both people must cooperate. If there was high value in the relationship before the breach, then it should be possible to visualize a return to the same level or higher level of trust. It may seem out of reach if the problem was a major let down, but it is critical that both parties really want the hurt to be resolved.

Admit fault and accept blame

The person who made the breach needs to admit what happened to the other person. If there is total denial of what occurred, then no progress can be made. Try to do this without trying to justify the action. Focus on what happened, even if it was an innocent gaffe. Often there is an element of fault on the part of both parties, but even if one person is the only one who did anything wrong, an understanding of fault is needed in this step. Sometimes neither party did anything particularly wrong, but the circumstances led to trust being lost.

Ask for forgiveness

It sounds so simple, but many people find it impossible to verbalize the request for forgiveness, yet a pardon is exactly what has to happen to enable the healing process. The problem is that saying “I forgive you” is easy to say but might be hard to do when emotions are raw. True and full forgiveness is not likely to happen until the final healing process has occurred.

Determine the cause

This is a kind of investigative phase where it is important to know what happened in order to make progress. It is a challenge to remain calm and be as objective with the facts as possible. Normally the main emotion is one of pain, but anger can accompany the pain. Both people need to describe what happened, because the view from one side will be significantly different from the opposite view. Go beyond describing what happened, and discuss how you felt about what happened. Do not cut this discussion off until both parties have exhausted their descriptions of what occurred and how they felt about it. Sometimes it helps in this stage to do some reverse role playing where each person tries to verbalize the situation from the perspective of the other.

Develop a positive path forward

The next step is the mutual problem solving process. Often two individuals try to do this without the preparatory work done above, which is more difficult. The thing to ask in this phase is “what would have to happen to restore your trust in me to at least the level where it was before.” Here, some creativity can really help. You are looking for a win-win solution where each party feels some real improvement has been made. Do not stop looking for solutions just because it is difficult to find them. If you have gotten this far, there is going to be some set of things that can begin the healing process. Develop a path forward together. What new behaviors are you both going to exhibit with each other to start fresh.

Agree to take action

There needs to be a formal agreement to take corrective action. Usually this agreement requires modified behaviors on the part of both people. Be as specific as possible about what you and the other person are going to do differently. The only way to hold each other accountable for progress is to have a clear understanding of what will be different.

Check back on progress

Keep verifying that the new behaviors are working and modify them, if needed, to make positive steps every day. As the progress continues, it will start getting easier, and the momentum will increase. Make sure to smell the roses along the way. It is important to celebrate progress as it occurs, because that reinforcement will encourage continued progress. If there is a another set-back, it is time to cycle back on the steps above and not give up on the relationship just because the healing process is a long one.

In many cases, it is possible to restore trust to a higher level than existed before the breach. This method is highly dependent on the sincerity with which each person really does want the benefits of a high trust relationship with the other person. That outcome is really good news because it allows a significant trust withdrawal to become an opportunity instead of a disaster.


What’s Under Your Tree

December 24, 2011

I would like to explore the spirit of giving in this article. The Christmas Tree is a great symbol and tradition because it provides a locus of opportunity for us to place large and small gifts for the people in our life.

Let’s focus on the equivalent of a Christmas Tree in your work environment. Do you have a way to figuratively place “gifts” for the people who you interface with on a daily basis? I am not thinking of the tangible gifts, but rather gifts of a different kind. Here are a few of the gifts you might consider giving more often to people at work, or at home.

Time

The most precious thing for all people is really time. Reason: scarcity and value are what make something precious. Time is scarce because it is fixed (24/7), and it is valuable because we are all habitually short of adequate time. You can give time to people by thinking through how you can be more considerate of theirs. For example, you can have shorter meetings, cut out some Mickey Mouse work, reduce conflict, lower the e-mail load, prioritize better, eliminate redundancy, communicate more clearly, and so forth. There is a never ending supply of ideas to save people time at work.

The other way we give time to people is to make ourselves more available to them. We are all pulled too many ways and find it difficult to balance our own needs with those of others. People do recognize and appreciate when you take time for them if they need it. Placing the gift of time under the tree is demonstrating with your calendar that you are accessible.

Trust

When you give people the gift of your trust, it multiplies and then comes back to you with more trust. Real trust is essential for people to function as they were designed to do. So many people dwell in an environment of extremely low trust at work every day. In most environments, the extension of more trust is the most effective way to uplift the culture and improve the work experience.

Attention

In the rush of daily activity, it is easy to take people for granted. We get wrapped up in the stresses that consume our day and forget to acknowledge other individuals who are striving to do their best. See them work, and recognize their effort and dedication.

Care

Empathy for what others are experiencing is the best way to have people realize you care about them. If you show an interest in their challenges and triumphs in life, they will see that love and reflect it back to you. The visceral feeling of being cared for is part of the human condition that is essential: like the air we breathe or the food we eat.

Support

Strongly linked to care is the notion of support. We all need help from time to time, and the gift of our physical or emotional support can make a huge difference in the quality of another person’s day. Be proactive with your support. Be more like Santa and less like Scrooge.

Recognition

Reinforcing people in an appropriate and thoughtful way when they do good work helps improve their self esteem, and is always a welcome gift under the tree. Recognition triggers their intrinsic motivation to do more good things. It enables empowerment and is kind of a liberating force that encourages people. Thus, recognition is a force multiplier.

This list could get very long if I let it, but I will keep it short to give readers the gift of brevity. My present to you this Christmas is the idea that with very little effort, you can have the wonderful spirit of placing gifts under the tree every day in your work and home life.


Initial Trust is Based on a Handful of C’s

October 24, 2010

It has been said that trust takes years to kindle. You cannot trust another individual until he or she has had the opportunity to interface with you in a number of circumstances over an extended period of time. I disagree with this analysis. I think trust can kindle very quickly between two individuals. There is even a name for this, “swift trust,” coined by Debra Meyerson. Beyond the initial flame of trust, the fire grows or shrinks based on the interactions (I call them transactions) that occur between the individuals over time.

Trust can be kindled in only a few minutes time, if the proper conditions are present. Trust rests on the relationship between two individuals. If I am going to trust you, I need to be personally convinced that you fulfill 5 conditions that all begin with the letter C. These items form the basis for trust to start, and they can be conveyed from one person to another in short order. The first two conditions I borrowed from Stephen M.R. Covey’s bestselling book, The Speed of Trust. The rest of the list is from my personal experience and background. Here are the 5 C’s on which initial trust is built:

Competence – I must be convinced that you know what you are doing to view you as credible. If I sense that you have the ability from a knowledge and skill set to deliver on your statements, then you pass the competence test. If I have doubts that you can deliver, then I will remain skeptical until I have an extended time period to test you.

Character – Do you have the integrity to do what is right? I need to feel that you are not duplicitous and that you will stand up for what you believe is right. It does not mean that we always need to agree on every point, but I need to see you as a person of high moral and ethical fiber before I am going to give you my trust.

Consistency – I need to be convinced that you will do what you say. This characteristic normally takes people a long time to test, but it doesn’t need to take months for someone to convince me that he or she is consistent. I can discern the value of consistency through the way a person phrases intentions and even the body language he or she uses to chat with me. The ability to follow through with intended actions or at least get back to the other person if conditions change is easy to spot, just as it is easy to observe a blowhard who says nice things but has little fortitude to actually do them.

Congeniality – I am not going to trust someone who comes across as morose or stern. To gain my trust, I need to see a smile and know that it comes from the heart. One bit of body language to build trust when shaking hands is to show your teeth in a smile. According to Bill Acheson in his program on “Advanced Body Language,” showing teeth at one time meant giving the other person the ability to quickly judge a person’s social status. That is not usually the case today, but a genuine cordial facial expression when meeting a person for the first time is a prerequisite for trust to kindle. Putting on a false smile is the kiss of death, because it pegs you as someone who cannot be trusted at all.

Care – The final “C” in this handful is to project that you really do care about me. Again, people might say it takes years to know if someone else really does care about me. I disagree. Care can be displayed in hundreds of subconscious ways, just as selfishness can be worn like a suit of armor. Giving deference to the feelings of others is an important component of Emotional Intelligence. The interesting observation about this is that the people who have low Emotional Intelligence have the biggest blindspots, according to Daniel Goleman. Translated, if I come across as a phony in terms of really caring about other people, I will have little ability to detect this in myself, but others will see it instantly.

You cannot fake the 5 C’s, but if your words, actions, tone, and body language are all consistent to demonstrate the 5 C’s with respect to someone you have just met, trust (at least at a starting level) can be kindled in a matter of a few minutes. It is then up to you to remain consistent and keep building on that base.