Spring Forward. Reset clocks, 2020 goals, then the rest of your life.March 17, 2020
Another 30 Days Or More of StillnessApril 2, 2020
When I signed on for a life of professional communication, awesome responsibility and joy came with it. You get to find a community or type of business you can serve very well because of your skills, experiences and fit with their needs.
Professionals and the industries they run are my community. Normally, their greatest need is to improve communication so that they are visible and valued to the people they call stakeholders. That’s a big word and to my community stakeholder means everyone from members to the customers’ customers.
As I write this, the immediate need is to extend our support to all the wonderful professionals working hard to deal with the ever-changing challenges of communicating with their members, employees, sponsors, industry partners and other stakeholders about COVID-19.
Listening and Better Questions
The good news is in times of disruption and every day ahead for us, the principles of communication and engagement—getting through and making things better, don’t change. It’s the same skill set if your intention is to engage for helpful and charitable reasons or if it’s about you, e.g., you want someone to hire you or buy your stuff.
I’m here to help you communicate. Your moral compass and mental health belongs to a different kind of professional to address.
The most important two skills you need to practice, practice, practice until you get a connection, raised eyebrows, attention to what you might have to say are listening and thinking up a better question. Instead of working on your presentation, work on your curiosity and questions. The question behind the first or second question is the one that gets to truth and meaning.
The reason you have one mouth and two ears is that listening is more important than talking. Here are the basics of listening. Be glad you are good at some of this and keep working on all 8 basics.
- Communication is social and requires two or more humans. You’ll learn nothing if you do all the talking. You have less than 10 seconds to engage and cause anyone to give you attention. Never confuse content with communication.
- Maintain eye contact. In person remains #1 for effective and when that’s not possible, then use tools of telecommunication, such as FaceTime built into most phones, Zoom and other free software that uses your camera and audio. Eye contact means you are not diverting your eyes to anything other than the other person or group of people.
- Be present. Pay attention. Relax your body and lean forward, as though you want to hear better. Focus so that you dial back your own thoughts, feelings or biases.
- Keep an open mind. Listening is about taking in everything and sorting on it later. Resist all temptation to judge, mentally criticize or jump to the conclusion, rolling around in your own head trash.
- Hear the words and ask your mind to create a picture of what the other person is saying. Grab onto key words and phrases when listening for a long time.
- Do not interrupt. It’s okay to nod and say, “Go on” or “I understand.” As difficult as this is, practice stillness. Practice silence. Later comes your time to be brilliant and talk.
- Wait for the other person to pause and prompt you. I promise, this will happen. At some point the other person will say something that signals they cannot go on without further stimulation from another human, such as “What do you think?” or “That’s all I can think of.” This is your golden moment to achieve engagement so don’t blow it. Ask a clarifying question. Ask a better question. Ask the question behind the question.
- Provide proof you are listening. Show empathy and understanding. Take mental or bullet notes and practice summarizing in 10 seconds. Show that you are following their train of thought and not off track indulging in your own fantasies.
The quality of our lives is determined by the quality of our thinking. The quality of thinking is determined by the quality of our questions. Without questions, there is nothing to think about. So what are the essential questions that you can learn and practice in every conversation until you feel you have nothing to say because you’ve achieved the ultimate? The ultimate is you have only asked questions and the other person has totally engaged with you, believes you understand them better than most, and tells others “That was a great conversation.”
You never made a statement and only asked questions.Still, you more than achieved your purpose of being understood and connected to another in a meaningful way.
After spending a lifetime learning how to ask questions, I can tell you I still feel there’s more to learn than I’ve forgotten already. The Internet is a rich source of material on the art and science of better questions. Go there, study up, and know this is key.
Here’s my short list of what seems to always work and a good starting place for building your better question muscles:
- Keep it short. One question at a time. Not a complex question.
- Ask about something you want to know or learn.
- Avoid questions that beg for the answer you want or seem loaded.
- Ask only questions the other person can answer.
- Ask only relevant questions to the situation or person.
- Avoid throw away questions—easy for you to determine from other sources.
- Most of the time, stay away from questions with answers that are yes or no because those are probably not actionable. Only in rare cases are they the better question, such as “Will you marry me?” or “How are you feeling today?”
Why Would Anyone Talk With You?
All of these listening skills and better questions work 100% and are absolutely necessary after people feel safe to talk. If you and the other person already know each other, you have some basis of identity or familiarity. If you are a stranger, then you have to become good at stating who you are and at least one thing you noticed or know about the other person that locks in trust. Do not what you do and no clever value proposition phrase. Just be totally yourself, with all strengths and gifts ready to share with another.
This is why we hate telemarketing calls. It’s a stranger, no trust established and they have done absolutely nothing to show they have one clue about what’s on your mind, right now. It’s not even mass marketing; instead, it’s mass irritation. This is why we leave, mentally or physically, any conversation that does not engage us.
Equally important as a good listener is for you to distinguish what you can identify with and where you can do some good. In some cases you can only emphathize as another human. What makes things more engaging is when you hear a concern or problem that you have solved already or you have secrets and tips they might try.
For example, I become listener with superpowers when I hear someone identify an issue which communication solves. Achieving understanding is a communication issue. It involves getting your story out of your head and across to others, in person, through writing, on your website, wherever you seek to connect.
Here’s another example of an issue I cannot solve. What can we do when we hear feelings of anxiety, distress and concern? I make clear I’m not a psychiatrist or life coach, but I see helpful, science-based information and share links.
You are special and unique but not all things for everyone. That’s why you have to know yourself, better than anyone, and what folks can count on you to do, very well, immediately and for a long time.
My expertise is in the external perception of you and your life’s work, out there, in the world, where your clients and people important to you are waiting to hear from you. Other experts can deal with internal perceptions, which are all of the thoughts crashing around in your brain and feelings that determine how you process every relationship outside your head.
As a professional communicator, I can address facts and skills to create better narrative stories. Psychiatrists can address mental causes and corrections.
In many calls this month, I heard you! Some of you are wanting other experts who deal with internal perceptions. Let’s see if this is useful. Today, I found Beyond Blue and something that may help you and all of your relationships, though mostly at 6 feet or further away now–Looking after your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak
Stay Connected for Deep Listening and Better Question
You don’t have to reply to this blog, but if you want to, I love to listen and help you get to answers you want with better questions.
Here’s some options for staying connected to Georgia Patrick and The Communicators:
- Make sure I am on your white list or safe sender list.
- Send an email to add your two cents worth to this topic or pose a better question.
- Forward this blog to someone like you. And make it personal—send a short note that says you are not a stranger and how you know them.
- Go to my Stay Connected calendar and let me know you want to just talk and hear my better questions for you.
- If you learned nothing, opt out. No pressure to return because opt out burns the bridge.