Listen Up – Listening Creates Understanding

As a professional speaker  my job requires a lot of listening. I have to listen to the needs of the client before I can create the presentation. Because I spend most of my stage time talking I have had to work on and improve my listening skills.. I get paid to talk but  I am a much better speaker when I open my ears and my mind, receive and listen.  The ability to read your audience depends on your ability to listen with both your eyes and ears. Many times I must shift my content to fit the needs of the audience in front of me.

“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”–Peter Drucker

Listening creates understanding—it helps get things done correctly; it’s part of learning, and it shows others that we value them. Listening deepens relationships and grows trust and appreciation. So we get that listening is important, but how much time do we actually put into improving our listening skills? We spend 60% of our time listening but we only retain 25%.  Most workplace and life mistakes happen because someone isn’t listening.

Many of us don’t consciously realize that listening is a critical component in the communications loop. We think listening just happens, and that we don’t need to make an effort to effectively hear what people are saying because we have ears for that. Active listening takes a little practice! If we are to learn from others, we need to optimize our communication skills by effectively closing the conversation loop, and to do that we need to improve our listening skills.

Here are some tips to elevate your listening experience:

  1. Stop talking. You can’t multitask speaking and listening. It’s impossible. When you are talking, you are not listening. And this also applies to that little voice talking inside your head. (I know for a fact that we women have more than one voice inside our head—we have an entire committee chatting it up!) Consequently, Rule #1 is to “Stop the Talking!”
  2. Look at the person who is talking, pay attention and receive their message. Take time to notice their facial expressions and their body language. We gather more information from non-verbal signs and tone of voice than we do from a person’s actual words. Active listening requires an understanding of what someone is saying with their gestures, eye contact, and tone of voice as well as their words.
  3. Focus and eliminate distractions. Turn off the phone  or  TV, and put down that iPad. When you interrupt someone to check your messages, you are sending a signal that you are not interested in what they have to say. Try to create an environment in which you can listen without distractions and think clearly about the input and ideas of others.
  4. Don’t make assumptions. Don’t jump to conclusions, or react before the speaker has had a chance to express himself/herself. Don’t try to solve the problem before they have completed presenting their issue.
  5. Be polite. Don’t finish the other person’s sentences. Wait until the speaker is finished talking before deciding if you agree or disagree. Don’t try to solve the problem or come up with the answer while the speaker is still talking.
  6. Ask good questions. Learn how to create thought-provoking conversations. Ask meaningful questions that get to the heart of the matter. A good question gets the speaker to think more deeply and perhaps expand the conversation.
  7. Ask for feedback on your ideas. The opportunity to give and receive feedback allows us to give guidance and make adjustments. Feedback helps make sure that all parties are hearing the same message, and it lessens miscommunication.
  8. Repeat what people say and summarize. Offering a comment like, “Let me be sure I understand what you’re saying. You’re saying that …?” or you may say,  “So you are thinking” – This helps to prevent misunderstandings and shows that you are really listening
  9. Avoid contradicting, offering suggestions, and offering your personal affirmations while the speaker is speaking. Let them talk without your interruptions or side remarks.
  10. Practice all of the above!

Practicing active listening skills will transform your interaction with others. Listening helps generate solutions, stimulates creativity, encourages collaboration, and enriches your business and social connections. By honoring others with your time and attention, you’ll energize conversations and come up with ideas and solutions that you’d never find on your own.

Grow Your Executive Presence

In 2000 I  left the fashion industry behind and I began my new career as a  professional speaker.  Coming from a Ralph Lauren  inspired  fashion industry my first presentations were focused around professionalism  and dress. I soon found those subject very limiting and changed my area of expertise to  Change, Workplace Trends and Generations in the Workplace, and I put the professional presence presentations on the shelf.

Well…guess what?

Presence is back and it is stronger than ever under the name of Executive Presence.

Executive presence has a lot to do with the way you carry and convey yourself, including confidence, gravitas,  decisiveness, authenticity and the ability to communicate in a clear and  articulate manner. I realize this may seem  a bit shallow or “old school” – thinking that people might judge you as not being “executive material” just because you look, act or sound a certain way, but people do make judgments on an unconscious level all the time. If you look and act the part, people will give you the benefit of the doubt. On the other hand, not having executive presence can be a deal breaker.

In today’s competitive business environment, executive presence can make or break your ability to lead and influence others. Executive presence encourages people to seek you out and opens doors.Yet, with the acceptance of a more casual and laid-back workplace many people mistakenly underestimate its importance.

Leadership potential isn’t enough to launch men and women into the executive suite. Leadership roles are given to those who also look and act the part.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett

Executive presence is a combination of certain qualities that successful leaders exhibit. The truth is that you may have all the experience and qualifications of a leader, but without executive presence, advancement/success is not guaranteed.

I recent read a great book  EP by Sylvia Ann Hewlett. In it she states  that today as in the past, professionals are still judged on their presence (how they act, speak, and look) as well as their performance.

The good news is you don’t have to born with executive presence . If you have a bit of self-confidence and a willingness to be open to feedback and change the executive presence skills are learnable.  If you practice you can transform your ability to connect, engage, and inspire others.

Here are several tips on expanding your own executive presence.

1. Appearance and dress do matter.   Looking the part is the first step in getting your foot into the leadership door.   Executive Presence Guru, Sylvia Ann Hewlett says this about appearance,  “We found that leadership roles are given to those who look and act the part.“ Notice the “uniform” of your organization and make sure you are dressing to fit the look the part of one who leads rather that one who follows.  Focus on being well groomed, hair and nails count – Simple stylish clothes and accessories trump bold and flashy. Don’t wear wrinkled, soiled, or seams coming open clothing. Take time and invest in a career wardrobe that fits your body, your style, and your business environment.

2. Focus on building your character. The one word that continues to show up on every definition of executive presence is GRAVITAS-, which is the ability to project gravitas–confidence, poise under pressure, decisiveness, integrity, build your reputation, and show compassion.

3. Communication matters. Notice your communication style. Do you have empathy? Can you walk in another’s shoes and see their point of view?  Are you open and a good listener?  Are you clear in what you say? Do you communicate in a concise, compelling manor? Is your voice strong? And what about the non-verbal communication?  How are people reading your body language and do you have the ability to read other?

4. Are you inclusive?The other day I was waiting for a client in the lobby and I noticed a diverse group of people standing in a circle headed by an attractive man who appeared to be the group’s leader.  He was commanding,   energetic, and had many of the qualities mentioned above. I felt his executive presence, but I noticed that he was talking to only one other man in the group, ignoring the other six. Several were trying to listen and a few even tried to add something to the conversation, but the leader ignored their efforts.  He needed a lesson on inclusion. People who have executive presence are approachable and engaging, whether they’re talking with a new hire, receptionist, or the CEO. They are inclusive, they exude warmth and they show a genuine interest in those around them..

5. Here’s my favorite – Become a master of presentation skills – face to face, teleconferences, virtual meetings, and webinars – Never underestimate the value of a great theater! Practice, get a coach, and practice some more- Learn how to connect with your audience, tell stories (I teach my students make them “Right and Tight”) and let your authenticity and personality shine through – Yes, you need to video yourself  (If you need help in this area email me.)

6. Lastly you have to be open to receive feedback. Those who are oversensitive to feedback will not make the grade-We are talking “product development” here and YOU are the product.  There will be moments where improvement is necessary.

There is a very thin line between authenticity and conformity.  As you explore your executive presence and your ability to connect and lead, more of who you are will shine through. The first step is getting you in the leadership line.

The rest will follow

5 Ways to Grow Your Self Awareness – Leaders Must Read!

One of the perks of being a professional speaker is that I get to hang out with really smart people, which means I often I get to pick their brains.

Take for instance last Sunday night when I had dinner with one of the top executive coaches in Houston, Cecilia Rose. Cecilia works Houston’s top tier leaders helping them successfully navigate through career transitions.

I asked her what was the #1 top quality of successful leaders, and before I could finish the question, she responded with “keen self-awareness.” Expecting to hear words more like vision, charisma, and strategic thinking, I was thrilled to hear that answer because self-awareness is one of the key qualities I emphasize in all my presentations (Unwritten Rules of Success)

“Your IQ will get you the job but your EQ (Emotional Intelligence – Self Awareness) will get you the promotion”  Cecilia Rose

To define the term, self-awareness is the conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires. It is the essential building block in effective leadership. Having an “awareness” of yourself and the people around you will help you effectively lead and inspire all you come in contact with.

 So, the underlying question is: How do you develop self-awareness? Here are some steps to follow to bring you to this level of moving more assuredly in the world.

1.  Take and Take-in your Personality Assessment – If you digest what it says about yourself, your Self-Awareness will grow. I was in my 20s when I took the Myers Briggs personality test—and I scored an ENFP, which means that I am a passion-driven “idea” person. ENFPs gain energy from interacting with others, and become quickly excited over new possibilities and ideas … and don’t always finish what they have started. ENFPs dislike routine work and want a variety of tasks and challenges. They prefer to set their own schedule and chafe when saddled with excessive regulations or mundane details,

Throughout the years I have taken a lot of personality tests, such as DISC, the Birkman, The Enneagram, True Colors, and just last month I took the Insights Discovery Assessment. It took me an hour to complete because every question came down to a split decision, and I really tried to be honest in my answers. The eagerly anticipated report arrived from it: “Karen may generate more ideas, possibilities, and plans in one day than others might manage in a month! Her life will tend to be a series of initiated, but unfinished projects. She should take care to include the practical details in her projects and continually try to look at situations from an objective viewpoint rather than just her own perception. Her energy comes from a variety of new projects and interests.”

“If one person calls you a horse’s ass, be curious. If two call you one, be reflective… if three call you a horse’s ass buy a saddle.” Anonymous

If you are interested in developing your self-awareness, you may want to revisit the assessments you have taken and “take-in” what has been written about you.

2.  Participate in a 360 assessment. There can be a world of difference between what you think you project and what others think of you. I worked with a coach several years ago, and she had me ask my clients the four questions below as we developed my personal brand. In finding people to help you get answers, branch out and include bosses, peers, and subordinates. You can even include neighbors, friends, and if you are brave—family members. But they can be the most brutal, so give them the questions in writing and let them have time to think about their answers.

Please give a one-word or one-phrase answer to the following questions

  1. 1. What one word describes my personality?
  1. 2. What value or principle do you most closely associate with me?
  1. 3. What skill, ability, or talent comes to mind when you think of me?
  1. 4. How would you describe me to others who have never met me?

 3. Take the StrenghtsFinder: To help people uncover their talents, Gallup introduced the first version of its online assessment in 2001, StrengthsFinder ignited a global conversation and helped millions to discover their top five talents. In its latest national bestseller, StrengthsFinder 2.0, Gallup unveils the new and improved version of its popular assessment. Take time and discover your top five strengths.

 Stressed Out Manager4. Listen … to yourself. Start listening to your own voice and observe how others react to your tone and your words. Begin to set aside time in the morning before work and replay some of the scenarios of the previous day. How did your voice and maybe even your body language affect others.

5.  Cultivate your ability to focus. “Focus is the hidden driver of excellence,” according to Daniel Goleman. If you can block out the noise and silence your inner distracters, you will begin to see situations more clearly and how you fit into the picture. Because I am an ENFP, focus has always been a challenge for me. Three years ago, I started a yoga class, and I noticed that I spent more time watching others, comparing myself to them. I decided that if I was going to grow and enjoy the classes, I had to close my eyes and focus on my own practice. The outcome was that yoga has helped me attain focus.What are you doing to grow your focus?

Please share your thoughts on self- awareness and add to the list any thoughts or strategies you have tried or are thinking about trying.