“I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn’t learn something from him.” ~ Galileo
Every management guru and every book will tell you how important communication is, and many times they offer key things to specifically focus on getting from the communication. But one thing that I think many miss, and one of the most important things, is to actually practice communicating. If you want to get better at anything, you need to practice right? I think that since we’ve all been communicating since birth we take it for granted (yes our screams were communicating our dissatisfaction with something). You need to get out of your comfort zone and stretch your abilities as much as you can. If you aren’t working on a skill, just like a muscle, it begins to degrade. A couple of thoughts to guide us:
Questions help you understand – Questions are your best means of gathering feedback. First ask the question…..then listen to the answer. We always have plenty of answers, but we usually don’t ask the best questions. Focus on questions and you gain more knowledge and get more practice listening, which is the quid pro quo of a conversation.
Conversation helps make you accessible – You don’t always have to talk about work. The give and take of conversation can open doors to greater understanding, both of your staff towards you and you towards your staff. This understanding and comfort level opens up whole new avenues of communication
Conversation in general, and questions specifically are the two areas to practice first if we are to put a priority on communication. So in an effort to set a focus and to stretch and make you stranger in this area, try these three things:
Ask one more question – Stretch your capabilities by asking one more question than you usually would. Try to delve one step deeper, or ask about some background on the topic, but practice FINDING questions.
Answer with questions – First of all, let the other person know what you’re doing, or they’re likely to consider you crazy, obtuse, or evasive. Practicing asking questions and not providing answers is one of the keys to listening better and getting more information (and the right information) out of the other person.
Binge talking – If you have a large staff, spend an hour walking around and just talking for an hour. If you have a small staff, talk to everyone for at least 3-5 minutes p/day. This gets you out of your office and makes you physically accessible, but also establishes the rapport that will make you more accessible when more difficult topics come up.
Undoubtedly there are hundreds of other exercises, but these are three that I know will be very practical in the workplace. As I said above, if you want to get better at something you will need to practice, and communication is no different. Make it a priority to practice, set reminders in Outlook, get a peer to hold you accountable, do whatever it takes to get better in this area, it will be an enormous boost to your management abilities.