Listen Linda!

“OK. Listen, listen, listen, Linda, just listen,” pleads then 3-year-old Mateo when debating with his mom over whether or not he should get a cupcake. If you haven’t seen this video, watch it here. Mom replies, “You’re not listening to me.” To which Mateo immediately retorts, “Because your not listening to me!” Wow! What a perfect representation of what’s wrong with so much communication. Ellen DeGeneres lunched the video to viral status when she had the Mom and son team on her show. The video is cute and Mateo is very articulate. But, I wonder if at least one reason it became so popular (no shade to Ellen) is that people everywhere (not just parents and kids) could relate to the issue it unveiled, No one is listening!

Last month I wrote about Organizational Communication. But a message sent is not communication unless it is received and understood. That requires listening. In fact, I would argue that listening is the most important element in effective communication (we have two ears, after all, and only one mouth). Well-known broadcaster, Celeste Headlee, in her famous TED Talk “How to Have a Good Conversation,” (over 5,000,000 views) says listening is the most important skill you can develop. She supports this claim with a quote from Buddha, “If your mouth is open, you’re not learning.”

Even though we spend a around a quarter of our time speaking and just over half our time listening (a 2:1 ratio), the following are true:

  • 87% of Married couples identify poor communication as their major problem … why? Because, “My Spouse Doesn’t Listen to me”
  • Surveys of workers rate “Good Listening” as a manager’s most important attribute, and, In a study of half the Fortune 500 companies, 2/3 of employees said “Good Listening” was a skill their managers most often lacked.
  • Management surveys have identified the most vital and neglected skill for college graduates entering the workforce as “the ability to listen and follow directions.”
  • One study estimated that 60% of corporate communication problems can be blamed on poor listening.

So, why don’t we listen?

Celeste Headlee suggests two reasons. First, she says, “we’d rather be talking.” When we’re talking, we’re in control. We don’t have to hear things we’re not interested in, we’re the center of attention, so we can bolster our own identity. The other reason Headlee offers is that we’re distracted. She mentions the fact that we can speak at about 125 words per minute but we can listen at between 500 and 800 words per minute. Our minds fill in the extra words. I call this “Bonus Brain Time” in my Listening course.

Because of Bonus Brain Time, it takes a lot of work and discipline to listen. That’s another reason we’re not so good at it. We either have not learned how to discipline ourselves or we’re not willing to put in the work.

I’ll offer one final reason we don’t listen well. We’re selfish. Let me put it in the words of Stephen Covey, who said it much more eloquently.

“Most of us don’t listen with the intent to understand, we listen with the intent to reply.”

I guess Celeste made the same point when she said, “We’d rather be talking.” We’re more interested in making our point than in understanding the point of another.

So, why should we listen?

For one reason, it’s the Loving thing to do. Love in any context is caring more about the other person’s well being than about your own. It’s what makes a great boss, a great lover, a great friend. If love is caring about the other person, what better way to show you care than to listen? Sometimes, that’s all the other person wants anyway.

Another reason to listen, it makes you more interesting. It’s true. If people, in general, like to talk about themselves, which we do, then we tend to find those who are more interested in us to be more interesting to us. Become that one-in-a-million listener and you’ll be the most interesting person many people know. Granted, it’s a little more selfish reason to listen, but it’s a reason.

I’ll offer one more reason to listen. You are far more likely to be amazed. Though we may like to talk about ourselves, the truth is, we know our story. Other people are often far more interesting to us. Celeste Headlee made this point in her video as well. She said she grew up believing everyone had some hidden amazing thing about them. She believes she is a better radio host because she keeps her mouth shut as much as possible, she keeps her mind open, and she is constantly prepared to be amazed. “And,” she said, “I’m never disappointed.”

This month we’re still talking about communication. But, more broadly than just organizational communication, and with a focus on the most critical part of communication, listening.

Grapevine Communication

Do you remember these guys? The California Raisins. I’m dating myself a bit. They first appeared on the scene in June of 1986. Look them up. It was an advertising coup for the California Raisin Advisory Board (I wonder if you even knew there was such a thing!) This claymation, pretend R&B group actually released 4 albums. But, when I see this picture, it’s their signature song and number one hit that comes to my mind, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.” (Is it playing in your head right now?)

What does that phrase “Through the Grapevine” mean? You know me, I looked it up. Here’s what I found. The expression through the grapevine (or sometimes on the grapevine) is commonly used to mean ‘unofficially’ rather than through an official announcement, for example ‘I heard it on the grapevine that they’re planning to make some people redundant’. Rumors and gossip are spread on the grapevine but why ‘the grapevine’?

The term originated in the USA and comes from the telegraph system invented in the 19th century by Samuel Morse. The system required thousands of miles of telegraph wire to be installed, held in place several feet above the ground by telegraph poles placed at regular intervals along the telegraph route. People thought the wires and poles looked like the strings used to train vines so the telegraph lines became known as ‘the grapevine’. During the American Civil War rumors were often spread via the telegraph lines. When people were asked whether a particular story was true, they would often reply ‘I heard it through the grapevine’.

The Organizational Grapevine

We’ve been talking about Organizational Communication, it’s “W’s“, its Direction, and its Purposes. In each case the assumption was probably that we were talking about formal Organizational Communication. The “Grapevine” is the informal communication within an organization. It’s the “water cooler” conversation. It’s what people talk about over lunch and at break. It’s what people have to say when they’re outside of work or on social media.

Grapevine conversations often begin with phrases like, “Have you heard …?” or “Did you know … ?” or “Can you believe … ?” In those forms, they can sound a lot like gossip. Some of that will happen because people will be people and often people have an unhealthy interest in the affairs of other people. People will talk about their boss or about the last company event, or about their fears and uncertainty about job security, unless there’s something positive and exciting to talk about. You see, the organizational grapevine is not only a negative thing. It can also be positive. So, let’s look at some advantages and disadvantages to Grapevine Communication.

Advantages of the Grapevine

  1. The Grapevine spreads like wildfire. In that sense it is much more efficient than more formal communication. If you can manage the message, this is a great advantage.
  2. The Grapevine, in its rapid spread, also provides feedback more directly than more formal methods like employee surveys.
  3. The Grapevine can build unity among people as they share ideas and opinions
  4. The Grapevine is an opportunity for people to vent and is often a relief valve for people
  5. The Grapevine can be a handy supplement to formal communication as a way to get word out quickly and powerfully.

Disadvantages of the Grapevine

  1. The Grapevine often carries incomplete information and rumor as readily as it does solid information
  2. The Grapevine is not managed communication so it can be as unreliable as the telephone game with regard to the accuracy of the message.
  3. The Grapevine can consume enough of people’s time to make them less productive in their work.
  4. The Grapevine can foment hostility against leaders.
  5. The Grapevine can hamper the goodwill of an organization if the information is false or distorted negatively.

There is a Grapevine within any organization. A good leader will take care to avoid the disadvantages of it while understanding how to benefit from it’s advantages.

Nature abhors a vacuum. In the same way, organizations abhor silence from their leaders. Understand the “5 W’s,” the “4 Directions,” the “5 Purposes,” make sure your message is true and good, and communicate, communicate, communicate. That will give you the best chance to benefit from the Grapevine.

The 5 Purposes of Organizational Communication

So far in this 4 part series on Organizational Communication, we’ve talked about “The 5 W’s of Organizational Communication” and “The 4 Directions of Organizational Communication.” Each of those has given us insight from a different perspective on how communication works in organizations. This week we’ll look at the subject from the perspective of the intended purpose of organizational communication. What function is it intended to serve? As Steve Martin’s character said in the movie “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,”

“And by the way, you know, when you’re telling these little stories? Here’s a good idea – have a point.”

What’s the point of your communication? Here are 5 possibilities.

Leading

If your point is to lead, then your content and tone might include giving direction, inspiriting, motivating, encouraging, challenging, influencing, mentoring. The function of leading is often considered to be downward in direction. But, everyone influences someone. And, as John Maxwell says, “Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.” How might that look in lateral communication? What about upward communication?

Rationalizing (knowing the “Why”)

Comedian Michael Jr. has a video in which he illustrates the truth behind the statement, “When you know your why, your what becomes more clear and has more impact.”

The point of this communication is explaining the reasons for things (not about making up excuses after an action has been taken). In one context, it is downward communication; however, rationalizing is also important for enabling workers to bring issues to the attention of management, using upward communication to do so. If a worker identifies a motivation problem, for example, s/he may communicate this to management and use rationalization to highlight the potential impact of the problem on operations and profit.

Problem Solving

The point here is self-evident. Most organizations hold regular meetings to discuss issues such as production cycles, delivery times, price models and other areas where unusual situations could arise that may affect the performance of an organization. In these meetings, organizational communication plays an important role in addressing problems, brainstorming potential responses and finalizing solutions. In this way, a company obtains maximum benefit from the abilities of those involved in the communication, which can flow in all directions.

Conflict Management

Conflict in the workplace can lead to the loss of talented employees, the lodging of grievances and possibly lawsuits. Managing conflict by bringing all parties together to discuss their differences in a safe, moderated environment is an important function of organizational communication. This type of communication usually involves all three directions of communication, and, although discussions may be informal, the final decisions are usually communicated formally.

Gaining Compliance

Gaining the compliance of employees is necessary for them to adhere fully to instructions. I think of compliance in two ways. One is compliance of the hands. This can be won by decree, order, and/or disciplinary action (or the threat of it). This type of compliance is appropriate in command and control situations where orders must be followed for life-and-death reasons. However, in most organizations, this type of compliance can lead to the attitude of the proverbial child who is, “Sitting down on the outside, but standing up on the inside.”

The other kind of compliance is that of the heart. To do this, management needs to listen to feedback from the staff and to take account of their ideas and comments. Feedback or two-way communication can be upward and downward or horizontal and may be formal or informal, but open communication channels are important for an organization to motivate and achieve the best performance from employees. This goes back to knowing the “why” as well.

So What?

Steve Martin’s character was irritated with his traveling companion when he said, “Have a point.” Granted, their whole situation in that movie was frustrating and irritating. But the truth remains that nobody cares for communication when the only motivation seems to be that the other person likes to hear themselves talk.

This is especially true in organizational communication. When you choose to communicate, have a point. You can start by deciding which of these 5 purposes you intend to accomplish with your communication. Everyone will be glad you did.

The 5 T’s

Hi Friends. This is a bit of a different post for me. It occurred to me awhile ago that five members of the Thomason family are actively either posting online or have an online presence for a business. Those 5 guys are my Dad, Jim Thomason, my brother Dr. Dan Thomason, my other brother Dr. Steve Thomason, my son Justin Thomason, and me. I thought I’d take a few minutes to highlight the other four.

The first is my Dad. Jim Thomason is a retired pastor who is also an artist. He regularly posts a blog where he features a piece of his art every week. He writes briefly about the art, it’s medium and inspiration, and follows that up with a “Thought” which is always a wise devotional. Here’s a sample.

Next is my younger brother, Dr. Dan Thomason. Dan is a Psychologist with an emphasis on Marriage and Relationship coaching and counseling. In addition to his practice, Dan does speaking, training and coaching. Check out his website where you can start the “Relationship Makeover Blueprint,” book his to speak, or begin receiving the benefit of his coaching.

This is my youngest brother, Dr. Steve Thomason. Steve is a pastor and an artist. While he does fine art like our Dad, you’re more likely to see his cartoon work. Steve put himself through college doing caricatures at theme parks in the summer and did that as his business for awhile before entering the ministry. His latest website, “Visual Preacher.com,” highlights how he combines both.

Finally, my son, Justin Thomason. Affectionately known as “Mr. T” by his high school students, Justin is a social studies teacher. He has also been a volunteer youth group leader at his church for many years. Justin is a song writer, musician with one album so far. You can find “Where You Find Meaning” by Southbound 5 on Apple Music. Justin also regularly publishes a podcast, “Chicken Scratch” I had the privilege of being a guest on Justin’s podcast on leadership.

I’m proud of all of you!

The 4 Directions of Organizational Communication

Have you ever played the telephone game? It’s that game where a group of people form a line and the first person whispers a message to the person next to them. Then that person whispers the same message to the person next to them and so on until, finally, the last person in the line repeats the message out loud. The final version of the message is never exactly the same as the original. In fact, it is often very different, even the opposite because someone left out a single word for example. The telephone game illustrates the challenges of communication between multiple people. Most organizations have more than two people who are supposed to be moving in the same direction. What if organizational communication happened like the telephone game?

This month we’re talking about organizational communication. Last week I wrote about “The 5 W’s of Organizations Communication” (they’re not the same 5 W’s you may be thinking of). That post was about the different components of a communication from the originator to the message itself and about the importance of feedback.

Another helpful consideration when trying to understand organizational communication is the direction in which the communication is flowing. By direction I mean along the organizational chart. Certain types of communication with different purposes flow in different directions. Understanding the various types of communication associated with each direction can be helpful in both forming and interpreting messages.

We usually think of 4 possible directions along the organizational chart for communication to flow, down, up, lateral, and diagonal.

Down

This communication is coming from the “boss” (someone above in the org chart) down to everyone else. Its purpose is usually informative or directive. It can come in any of the modes (written, verbal, memo, speech, etc). Often downward communication includes policies, rules and regulations, organizational announcements, instructions and the like.

Up

Upward flow is communication that is coming from someone below in the org chart. Its purpose is usually informative or suggestive. This communication can also come in any of the modes though speeches are not usually recommended. Upward communication often includes feedback on how things are going on the front lines, requests, or complaints.

Lateral

Lateral flow is communication among peers in the organization. Its purpose is usually collaborative. This communication can come in any of the modes. One popular mode is an interdisciplinary team meeting. Lateral communication often includes discussion of issues, resolving problems, and sharing information.

Diagonal

Diagonal communication is a bit less intuitive than the others. We expect upward and downward and even lateral communication. Diagonal flow is communication from the top of one discipline to a lower part of another and vice versa. Its purpose is usually educational. For example, let’s say the training department is developing a training video on a certain part of the operational process. A leader from training will probably reach out to a front line worker to learn about the key tasks of the job.

So What?

Imagine there is a certain task that should be done by Friday. How you formulate a message about that will depend on which direction the communication will flow. If you’re communicating up to your boss or even laterally to peers, the message will most likely take the form of a reminder, a “follow up,” or a suggestion. On the other hand, if you’re communicating down the organization, you might structure it as a directive.

In the same way, when you receive a message, the direction its flowing to you will help you interpret its intent. Is your boss directing you to complete the task by Friday? Is a colleague reminding you that your part of the project is due Friday? Or, is your employee following up on the commitment you made to respond by Friday?

In one sense, the directional flow of communication is a more detailed look at the Who and the to Whom from last week. In any case, the better you understand how organizational communication works, the more likely you’ll be an influence toward improving communication in your organization.

The 5 “W’s” of Organizational Communication

During the first two weeks of starting my last job, I made it a point to sit down with every member of the leadership team and office staff for a one-on-one meeting. The purpose of these meetings was to learn. I wanted to learn about each person, how they viewed the operation, their personality and style, and something about their plans and dreams. I conducted 30 interviews and asked each one of them them same set of questions. One of the questions was, “What’s one thing could we improve right now that would make the most difference? 60% of the people said, “communication.” It was the number one answer. I wonder what the results would be of a similar question in other organizations. How important and how effective is communication in your organization?

It was important enough for this group that I put together some material in the form of a short course I called “Organizational Communication” (clever, right?). During this month I plan to share four bits from that course. This week: “The 5 W’s of Organizational Communication.” Spoiler alert, It’s not the same 5 W’s you may be thinking.

WHO?

Any communication, organizational or personal, begins with “who,” the source of the communication. There is a person or a group who is wanting to initiate communication.

WHAT?

Next is the message. What is it the person or group wants to convey?

WHICH WAY?

I know, I could have said, “How,” but then it wouldn’t be 5 W’s. Here we’re talking about the channel or medium of communication. Is it verbal? If so, is it a meeting, an individual conversation, a small group? Is it written? In that case, is it a memo? Is it an email or an article or a hand-written note? Is it physical or mechanical?

to WHOM?

Who is the intended recipient of this message? Is it a single person or a group? Are they inside the organization or outside? Are they friendly or adversarial?

with WHAT effect?

How will we know if communication has taken place or been effective? By the feedback it generates. Like an electrical circuit, the amount of electricity at the source doesn’t matter. There is no effect (the light doesn’t come on or the motor doesn’t run) unless the circuit is closed. Feedback closes the communication circuit demonstrating the effect of the source’s message.

SO WHAT?

That’s a sixth “W,” but it’s not part of the list of components of communication. It’s the question I’m asking about those 5 “W’s.” Why bother thinking about those? Think about how altering only one element will change the dynamic of the communication completely. For example, let’s say all the front line workers in your organization (the to Whom), received a letter attached to their paycheck envelope (the Which Way) that said, “You should all take next Friday off.” (the What). What would be the effect of that communication (the with What effect)?

The effect of that communication would depend on the “Who.” What was the source of the message? If it was the boss, the feedback might be gratitude for the long weekend. What if the source of the message was a union organizer? How does that change the dynamic of the communication?

My example highlights two things. First, an additional factor to consider is context. If the boss was giving Friday off as a bonus because the organization is doing well, that’s one thing. If, however, the organization is struggling financially and that day off is without pay to save money, that’s a whole different dynamic. The second thing my example highlights is the necessity of the “with What effect” “W.” Feedback lets the originator know whether or not the message had the intended effect or outcome. How would the boss or the union organizer know what effect the note had? The concrete evidence would be how many people showed up to work next Friday.

The point is that you can improve organizational communication by paying attention to each component of the communication process. Good decisions about who should deliver the message, clarifying the content of the message, how it should be delivered, who should the recipients be, and how to assure you receive feedback will help to eliminate the many problems that arise from poor communication.

The Power of Connection – Part 4

I received a phone call, several weeks ago, from a friend and former colleague who lives in Ohio. He’s a successful salesman for a growing service company and he honored me by asking my opinion on how they might pitch a new service offering. I asked him, “Why?” My question wasn’t “Why are you asking me?” It was “Why are you doing this new service?” But it wasn’t a question of doubt about whether or not they should offer the service. It was more reminiscent of Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why?” People will want to do business with you more because they believe what you believe than because they want what you sell.

Maybe you’ve heard the story of the three stone cutters. Back in the days when stone was cut by hand, a builder went out to the quarry to observe the work being done. He approached one stone cutter and asked him, “What are you doing?” The worker looked at him like he had three eyes and said, “I’m cutting rocks.” The builder approached a second worker and asked the same question. This stone cutter smiled and said, “I’m earning a living for my family.” When the builder approached a third stone cutter and asked him, “What are you doing,” he was met with a beaming smile and the enthusiastic reply, “I’m building a cathedral!”

Practices of Connection

The two stories above relate to the next practice of connection. Connectors inspire people. The word “inspire” comes from two Latin words, in meaning “into” and spirare meaning “to breathe.” The literal meaning is “to breathe into.” It was originally used of a divine or supernatural being in the sense, “to impart a truth or idea to someone.” The online dictionary defines it as “to fill (someone) with the urge or ability to feel or do something.”

Connection happens at the emotional level. When you fill someone with the urge to feel or do, that’s emotional. Steve Jobs said, “Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.” You can feel the difference.

Another way of looking at it is to contrast Inspiration with Motivation. Motivation has to do with “Motives” or reasons. It’s rational. “If you do this (good or bad thing), you will get that (carrot or stick).” You decide based on reason. Emotions may be involved, like a desire for the carrot or fear of the stick. But motivation is logical at it’s core. On the other hand, if you can fill someone with the urge to feel or to do, you’ve got them by the heart. You’ve connected. At the end of the day, people won’t remember what you said or did. They will remember how you made them feel.” –Maya Angelou

How Do You Inspire People?

Whether you’re like my friend, trying to help customers with a new product or service, or your a business owner or manager who wants to engage your employees, Inspiration is powerful. So, how do you inspire people?

  1. Let them know that you understand them and are focused on them.
  2. Let them know your sights are set high for them
  3. Let them see your conviction – Lyndon B Johnson said “What convinces is conviction. Believe in the argument you’re advancing. If you don’t, you’re as good as dead.”
  4. Let them see your example
  5. Let them feel your gratitude for them
  6. Let them feel your belief in them

In his seminal work that launched the Servant Leadership movement, entitled “The Servant as Leader,” Robert K. Greenleaf wrote, “The forces for good and evil in the world are propelled by the thoughts, attitudes, and actions of individual beings. What happens to our values, and therefore to the quality of our civilization in the future, will be shaped by the conceptions of individuals that are born of inspiration.”

Whom will you inspire today?

The Power of Connection – Part 3

Several years ago, while living in southwest China, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of local Chinese people. It was a mixed group. There were families with children present, and men and women from different backgrounds. Another important part of the mix was that only about a third of the people spoke English and I didn’t speak Mandarin, so I had to speak through an interpreter. I had never done that before.

The whole process was fun and interesting. When you’re speaking, you look for clues to let you know whether you’re connecting with the audience. A couple of times I said something funny. That’s when I knew for sure which members of the audience spoke English. They laughed immediately. The others didn’t laugh until the interpreter finished translating what I’d said. A good reaction, but the delay took some getting used to.

After the event was over, the interpreter came to me and confessed she had been nervous a first. She hadn’t been interpreting for very long and wasn’t sure how it was going to go. She said, “I’m so glad you have experience speaking through an interpreter. It made is so much easier for me.” It was my turn to confess. When I told her that was my first time, she expresses surprise. I asked her what made it easier for her. She said, “You kept your words and sentences simple and you paused appropriately to give me time to translate.”

Practices of Connection

In my last two posts, I mentioned Principles of Connection. Namely, to connect you must value people, and to connect goes beyond words. This week and next week, I want to talk about two practices of connection, how it works. this week – Connection happens when we keep it simple. That’s not as simple as it sounds. Steve Jobs said, “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Here are some tips for keeping things simple:

  1. Talk to people, not above them – I once had a colleague who loved words. I get it, I love words, too. He loved to expand his vocabulary and was very intelligent. There’s nothing wrong with that. The problem for this person was that when he talked to his employees, he used his vocabulary and came across as condescending. Whether you use big words or industry jargon or just love the acronyms of your industry, your communication won’t be connection unless it’s aimed at your listeners heart not just their head.
  2. Get to the point – Connectors don’t fly around and around the airport before landing the plane. It’s a good idea to beat the listener to the question, “What’s the point?” If they are asking “What’s the point” before you get to the point, you’re not connecting.
  3. Say it clearly – make sure you understand what you’re trying to say before you try to say it. The old saying, “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, then baffle them with … (you know the rest)” doesn’t apply when you’re trying to connect with people. Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, pointed out, “Insecure managers create complexity. Frightened, nervous managers use thick, convoluted planning books and busy slides filled with everything they’ve known since childhood.” Clarity wins the day for connecting.
  4. Say less – enough said!

Landing the Plane

A good rule of thumb for keeping it simple is to ask the question,”Can people repeat to someone else what i just said to them?”

The Power of Connection – Part 2

Happy 2nd Birthday to Engager Dynamics! Last year I called it an Anniversary and summarized what the blog is all about. My first post, Star Performance, went up on April 15, 2018. So this is celebration week. So much has happened since that post. I was working for a different company at the time. I’ve joined the John Maxwell Team since then. You can check out my Team page here. What’s been happening in your life over the last two years? I’d love to hear in the comments below.

Last week I started a series for this month called The Power of Connection. We’re talking about connection because connecting with people increases your influence with them, and, thereby, it increases your ability to help them. Any leader worth their salt has helping their people as a primary goal. So, last week we focused on the principle that connection is all about others.

Principles of Connection

Another principle of connection is that connection goes beyond words. That makes sense when you remember that connection is more emotional and. while some words can carry an emotional charge, words are largely informational and content focused. The connection comes from the other parts of communication.

For example, one study showed that only 7% of what is believed comes from what we say. Another 38% of what people believe comes from the way we say what we say, things like tone of voice and facial expression make a huge impact, for example. The remaining 55% of what people believe derives from what they see. What does your body language say and how consistently do your actions align with your message?

Add up the percentages and you will see that 93% of our connection/communication is unrelated to our actual words. So, our tone and actions can far outweigh whatever it is we’re trying to say. When that happens we actually disconnect with people.

People may hear your words but they feel your attitude. People will not always remember what you said. They will not always remember what you did. But, they will always remember how you made them feel.

Putting It Into Practice

The current health crisis is a prefect opportunity to see the power of connection. Think about the communication you’ve experienced over the last several weeks. What has been the content? The CDC recommends washing hands frequently, social distancing, and now suggests wearing a mask in public is a good idea. There is also the constant counting of confirmed cases and deaths worldwide, in the US, and locally by county.

That’s all information. How are those who are communicating the information behaving? Now, think about people’s attitudes. Do people believe what they’re hearing? How can you tell? What has been the most effective example of connection you’ve seen during this crisis? What has been the least? What’s the difference?

I just finished reading a chapter in Rudi Giulilani’s book, Leadership, called “Study, Read, Learn Independently.” Near the end of the chapter he writes about the impact Winston Churchill had on his leadership. Even though he suffered from depression, Churchill was able to inspire the people of England while Nazi bombs fell on London during WW II. Giuliani writes,

Luckily, most leaders, from executives to mayors, aren’t forced to worry about military action or the wartime safety of their citizens. However, when my hometown was attacked from the air–a few blocks from my office, a few miles from my home–and thousands of New Yorkers were killed, including hundreds who rushed to save others, I felt grateful to have studied the life of such a leader. The inspiration and encouragement I derived from reading about Winston Churchill was there when I needed it.

Who is making us feel inspired and hopeful. How are we doing that for others?

The Power of Connection – Part 1

During this COVID-19 “stay at home” directive our oldest daughter has been doing jigsaw puzzles. She’s done 3 or 4 1,000 piece puzzles. She gets the hard ones and dives right in. Pieces spread out over the dining room table she starts by hunting down the edge pieces and connects the border. Then she color coordinates piles of pieces and compares them to the picture on the box to find out where they belong. If you’ve ever done a puzzle like that, you know the thrill of finding where that piece belongs and connecting it.

The thrill of making connections is in more than just puzzles. It’s also there in relationships. You’ve heard someone say, “I think we made a real connection,” when talking about someone they’ve met, right? That comment is usually made with some positive emotion, isn’t it? Connection is an emotional level bond. The word “Connect” comes from Latin con – “with” and nectere – “to bind” leading to many definitions. One of those `is “to form a relationship or feel an affinity”

During this month I’d like to discuss connecting with people as an important part of our ability to lead. Communication is very important. Getting the right information to the right people at the right time is critical to getting things done. Bu there’s more to it.

I was at a senior leader meeting in Jackson Hole Wyoming several years ago. It was an annual event set up by the CEO of that company designed for strategic planning. At one of the sessions during this particular event, the CEO let the team know some people had been talking to him about buying the company. He shared from his heart about what the company meant to him personally (he had founded it) and why he wasn’t interested in selling.

That level of communication was a little out of character for him but he really connected with us in that moment. After that session I told the CEO that when he connected with us like that, we would walk through walls for him. There was a very different atmosphere on the team from that session on. We found more synergy and purpose and accomplished far more than had been expected for that retreat.

Principles of Connection

We are emotional beings at the core so sharing a common mind (which is what happens in communication) is more likely when we make a heart connection with people. You’ve heard the quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt,

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

That’s true. And that leads to the first principle of connection. Connection begins with others. It begins with having the maturity to see and act on behalf of others. Immaturity is seeing and acting on behalf of myself alone. But, in the words of John Holmes, “It is well to remember that the entire universe, with one trifling exception, is composed of others.” It’s foolish then, isn’t it, to think that the universe should revolve around me.

When people meet with you they have the same questions of you that you have of them, namely:

  1. Do you care for me? (or, What do you think of me?)
  2. Can you help me?
  3. Can I trust you?

That first one may seem a bit odd. But question #5 on the Gallup Organization’s Employee Engagement survey asks, “Does your supervisor, or someone at work seem to care about you as a person?” The very presence of that question on a 12 question survey signals how important this is. When people feel valued, they connect. When they don’t feel valued they remain disengaged.

So, the first principle of connection is to value others and to let them know you value them. What can you do today to let someone know you value them?