In this episode:
Are your emails not getting read? Do you want to improve your relationships and conversations with others? This episode deals with both of these issues.
- Write emails that actually get read.
- Learn about the different levels of listening and how to become better at it!
- Learn what a BLUF is and why it’s great for emails.
Original podcast – https://hbr.org/ideacast/2015/08/become-a-better-listener.html
Original article – https://hbr.org/2013/03/for-real-influence-use-level-f
[00:00:00] Becoming A Geek Leader. Season One, Episode Two.
Sponsored by Geek to Great 101
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[00:01:04] Welcome to the Becoming a Geek Leader podcast. My name is Tom Cooper. As a geek, I’m on a mission to figure out better ways to lead others at work and at home. Through the Becoming a Geek Leader podcast, I’m sharing what I’m learning so I can help make you more effective at leading people, too. Ready?
[00:01:25] Today’s topic is focusing on others to improve your influence. And we’re going to be digging into specifically some things you can do when it comes to emailing other people, and things you can do when it comes to listening to other people. I’m excited about the topic today, and I hope it helps you as you connect with others.
Thought Leaders Segment
[00:02:04] In today’s Thought Leaders Segment, I want to share an idea that I think is fantastic. It came from a podcast I heard just yesterday from the Harvard Business Review Idea Cast. I love that podcast. It’s a great one, and I would strongly encourage you to check it out. It’s worth listening to.
[00:02:20] In this particular episode, the conversation was about listening. And over the years, I have worked on my listening and sometimes, I’m an okay listener. Sometimes, I do a pretty good job of listening to other people. In fact, when I heard the topic for that particular podcast, I candidly thought, I’ve already got this, but I’ll just take a listen, in case I might pick something up. Let me tell you, I was blown away. Simple and very, very powerful.
[00:02:52] Now as I’m sharing some ideas about listening, this particular Thought Leaders Segment has got a lot of details in it. And I know that there’s a decent chance that I’m catching you while you’re commuting, or while you’re working out, or something like that. There are some great ideas here, and I want you to relax about it. I know that when I was listening to it, I was thinking, Oh, man. I hope I can capture all of this.”
[00:03:12] So a couple of things I want to share with you. One, registered members can get a copy of the transcript of this episode, and so you can copy and paste directly from the transcript. You can get exactly the information that I am sharing. The second idea is, I’ll be sharing in the show notes, the links to the original article and to the original podcast. So there was a Harvard Business Review article, which is available for free on the HBR website, as well as the Idea Cast, which is also available for free.
[00:03:40] So for now I just want you to sit back and get ready to learn about listening at an entirely new level, because it was a shock for me. The podcast in question was the Harvard Business Review Idea Cast. They were interviewing Mark Goulston, who is the author of a book called, “Just Listen”. One of the key points that he made is that people are craving to be understood. We’re so busy, nobody has time to think. And we’re just dying to have a safe place where we can be heard.
[00:04:09] The key point that he brought up is the idea about being a “first class noticer”. Now, a noticer goes beyond just listening to the facts. It’s not looking, or watching, or seeing what’s happening. Those things are kind of passive. What he is thinking about, and encouraging us to think about is, as you are talking, look at the engagement level of the other person. And that our job is to be present, and to be attentive, and to be intensely curious about the other person. And that’s hard. It takes a lot of energy.
[00:04:51] The key thing about being intensely curious about the other person, it starts with noticing their body language. Are they making eye contact with you? What’s their hand movement? Is it really subdued or is it really intense? Are they moving closer to you or farther away from you? Do they seem kind of open with their arms and their legs, you know, open? Or are the kind of closed off, folded arms and crossed legs, and that sort of thing? What you want to be doing is being intentional about noticing what’s going on.
[00:05:25] Now he talked in the article about four levels of listening. I thought that it was neat, because the first one is the classic, classic…and I remember my dad used to do this with my mom. He would be reading the newspaper or looking at something, not paying attention to my mom. And she would say, “Tom, you’re not listening,” and my dad would look up and say, “Sure, I was listening,” “No, Tom. You weren’t listening,” and he would say, “Yes, I was listening. You screamed,” and he would rattle back off the last 10 seconds of whatever my Mom had screamed.
[00:06:00] Now that used to really infuriate my mom, because she knew he wasn’t actually paying attention. But it was upsetting that he could pretend that he had processed that information, and give her kind of a, “uh-huh, uh-huh.” Goulston calls that level, “Level One, Listening Over Someone.” You’re really not even in the room. You’re there, but you’re not there. You’re not paying attention, you’re not fully engaged. You’re not present in the conversation. You can give lip service to being there.
[00:06:29] Let me tell you what this looks like. This looks like, I’ve got my phone in my hand, and my eyes are glued to my phone while you’re talking. You’re standing in my office, and I’m staring at the screen responding to an email. Yeah, go ahead. I can do this while I’m…because you’re great at multitasking, right? No, you aren’t.
[00:06:45] Anyway, the idea of listening over somebody. And we see this and…think about how you feel when somebody is listening over. When they’re just not even paying attention, they’re kind of nodding their head, “uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh.” It’s awful. All right, so that’s “Level One, Listening Over Someone.”
[00:07:05] Now let’s talk about “Level Two, You Are Listening At Someone.” Now this is candidly where most of us live. This place is where most of us spend our time when it comes to listening to other people. And when we’re listening at someone, we are preparing what we are going to say while they’re still talking. We’ve heard something, we’ve got a brilliant response, we’re going to jump right on that as soon as we can get in. As soon as we find a break in the conversation, man, we are on it.
[00:07:35] And really, you’re not listening at that point, because, you’ve listened enough to hear what you wanted to say, to jump back in. I’ll tell you, this is most of our interactions, personally. And frankly, it’s where most of the social media conversations happen. You make a comment, and I’m going to pick up on one little, tiny thing on that, and I’m going to jam on my comment, and prove how right I am. Not necessarily very helpful.
[00:07:56] So Level One is Listening Over, “uh-huh, uh-huh.” Level Two is Listening at Someone, so you’re preparing what you are going to say while they’re still talking. Now Level Three, is a good level. Level Three is a good level. It’s problem-solving. So now you’re listening to someone. So we aren’t listening over or at someone, we are listening to someone.
[00:08:15] Now when you’re listening to, you’re hearing about their problem. You’re hearing about what’s going, and you are thinking about how you can connect with them by solving the problem. So you’re ready to offer a fix. Now, the challenge with this is sometimes they don’t want a fix. And frankly, this is one of those things that, I’m a problem-solver. Don’t talk to me unless you’ve got a problem you want solved. And when you tell me about your problem, I have a solution because that is the way I operate.
[00:08:42] That gets me into trouble with my wife, sometimes. Because sometimes she doesn’t want me to fix it, she just wants me to listen. In fact, sometimes with Holly, what I’ll say is, “Hey, what do you need from me? What do you need from me? Can I make sure that we’re on the same page? If you want me to try and jump in and help, I’m on it. If you want me to just listen, I can do that, too.” So really, problem-solving is Level Three. We are trying to jump in and fix a problem, but make sure they want you to fix that problem.
[00:09:10] Now Level Four Goulston calls, “Listening Into Someone.” Now this is really about having them feel heard, having them feel heard. This is not the same as my dad with my mom, where he was parroting back whatever words she screamed. Goulston talks about really getting emotionally connected with the emotions the person was feeling. Now this requires us to move beyond being defensive, right? I can’t be defensive when you’re saying something. I want to hear what you’re saying, I want to hear your emotion, and I want to connect with that.
[00:09:42] I have to go beyond explaining my point of view. “Yeah, but let me help you understand why I did that.” That’s not helpful either. It’s going beyond offering help to them. Your goal is to really understand the other person. This is about making a safe place, helping the person to feel safe, to feel like they can really share what’s going on. Now this requires a tremendous amount of self-control because, “I have so many things to say, if you could just stop talking.”
[00:10:11] And that’s my big problem. I need to recognize that I don’t have that much to say, and I need to be listening to you. And Goulston offers some great questions. I encourage you to pick these up from the show notes. As you’re talking to people, you want to get them to feel comfortable and relax.
[00:10:25] Here are some questions that you can ask them. “What does that mean for you,” or, “How do you feel about that,” “Can you tell me some more about that,” “What’s your take on…” and “What’s the best thing about that?” And this one I like, too. He says, “What else comes to mind?” These types of questions are really powerful in helping you to go to a higher level of listening. Now the higher you go in the levels of listening, the more powerful your influence is with the other person. I’m telling you, this absolutely works.
[00:10:57] If you want to influence somebody, listening to them is far more powerful than talking to them, or over them, or at them, or solving their problem. I found this fascinating, and I just wanted to share it with you. The podcast, that Harvard Business Review podcast, goes into more detail and it talks more, there’s a whole section on how sales people can apply these ideas for incredible results, so…but I wanted to get these ideas out to you, and I wanted to share them with you.
[00:11:24] So you want to go beyond listening over someone, beyond listening at someone, even beyond listening to someone to solve their problem, you want to listen into them. I hope this helps you think better about listening better. And that’s today’s Thought Leaders Segment.
Want Tom to answer your question? Just send an email to Coach@BrightHillGroup.com.
Today’s message is from Cecilia. She’s a Project Manager at a large non-profit and Cecilia asks, “How can I influence the senior leaders in my company? Sometimes I feel like they are not listening. I have had some feedback that my emails are too long, but I want to make sure that they have all the information they need. So sometimes my messages get a little bit long. How can I get them to listen?”
[00:12:36] First, focus on the needs of the other person. Think about if you’re that person, if you’re the one receiving that message. Let’s say you’re the CEO, and you’re reporting out on projects and the status of projects. What does the CEO really, really need to know? What are the key points that would be relevant from the CEO’s perspective?
[00:12:59] So for example, the CEO’s job is to figure how to increase revenues or decrease costs. Those are the two major factors, and it doesn’t matter if it’s for profit, or non-profit. Those factors are irrelevant, either way. So Cecilia, if you’re focusing on the needs of the CEO, how can you translate the key elements of your message to match up with the needs of the other person?
[00:13:27] So in this case, what is it about the project status you’re reporting, that’s relevant to either increasing revenues or decreasing costs? If you can tailor your message to meet the specific needs of the other person, it’s going to help you dramatically. So thinking about whomever you need to communicate with, figure out what it is that they need to know, or need to do, in order to be successful. And then, you want to communicate those things that really matter.
[00:13:58] Now I told you I was going to tell you how to BLUF. This is an acronym, B-L-U-F, and I got it from the military. It stands for, “Bottom Line Up Front,” BLUF. If you want to communicate really effectively, if you want to influence people to help you do the things that you need done, you need to figure out how to BLUF. And what you want to do is take your message, read through the entire message. Figure out, what are the key elements that are relevant to the other person that you want to highlight?
[00:14:31] Then you are going to write an executive summary that is two sentences, maybe three sentences. Maybe it’s three bullet points, but it’s going to go right to the very top of the message. And that’s going to be your Bottom Line Up Front. As you are focused on the needs of the other person and you’re thinking about how you can put your bottom line up front, it makes it so much easier.
[00:14:56] In fact, a way that you can combine techniques to get even more value is, not only put your bottom line up front in your email, but also in the subject line. If you can note exactly what it is that you need from the other person, that’s going to be powerful, too. So for example, if you’re sending something to the CEO. What do you need from the CEO? Do you need the CEO to make a decision? You could put in your subject line, “Decision Needed on X”. Or if you want to support, you’re talking about increased sales, you could say, “Update On Increased Sales,” or, “Update On Decreased Operational Costs.” Put that in the subject line, then when you put your bottom line up front, that executive summary at the top of the message, it’s really going to make a big difference.
[00:15:51] One more thing. Many times, folks who are detail-oriented feel like it’s very important to include all of the details when sending a message. Now what this means is, if you’re sending a message to a senior leader, realistically they are not going to read a long message. If your message is more than about seven or eight sentences total, they’re just not going to get around to reading it. You send them a 15-page attachment, I guarantee you that’s not going to get read. That may be frustrating, but the fact of the matter is that the most precious resource that’s available to anybody in a leadership position is their time and attention. They’re not going to invest the time. What they’re counting on you to do is to roll that data up, do some analysis, and give them information that is recommending a course of action. Help them understand exactly what it is that the data shows, not every little piece of data.
[00:16:53] Years ago, I worked with a woman who was very detail-oriented, very smart. She would send these very detailed emails that went on and on and on. Eventually, we went through a process to talk about communication styles and communication needs. I’m a big picture person, and she’s a detail person. And what she told me is, “Tom, for the longest time, I thought you were broken. I thought, I couldn’t understand how you could possibly make a decision without all of the information.”
[00:17:22] Now people are different. And because we are different, I didn’t need as much data as she needed. On the other hand, she was really good at keeping me honest, making sure that I wasn’t going to make a big mistake when I was going through and making a decision with limited information. What you are going to want to do is try to understand who are you communicating with, and what’s their preferred communication style? Do they like lots and lots of details?
[00:17:50] If so, and you’re a big picture person like me, you’re going to need to figure out, how do you put more details into the mix? If they’re a big picture person, they’re not good at the details, then you probably need to put fewer details into your message. Again, we’re focusing on the needs of the other person. We’re doing the difficult work of making it simple for the other person. We’re sweating those details to figure out how we can communicate clearly and concisely.
[00:18:20] In fact, I was working with a client not that long ago. And we spent about an hour together, working on putting together an email. The original email that she started working with was about, I don’t know, it was about a page and a half. By the time we were done, we had gotten it down to seven sentences. She screamed, “We spent an hour to write seven sentences?”
[00:18:41] I’ll tell you what, far better results came from that hour and those seven sentences, than from a message that will never get read. So you’re going to focus on the needs of the other person, and you’re going to figure out how and when to BLUF. Put your Bottom Line Up Front.
For the episode hack, I really want to help you become a do-er. I want you to take some of these ideas and do something with it.
[00:19:24] So for a quick review from today’s episode. We talked about the Coach’s Mailbox, and Cecilia, and her challenge with getting other people to listen to what she has to say. And we talked about focusing on the needs of the other person, and we talked about putting your Bottom Line Up Front in that type of communication. Then we turned our attention, in the Thought Leaders Segment, to the art of listening and how we can listen more effectively.
[00:19:51] Specifically, what I want to encourage you, as a key takeaway from our topic today, is the idea of being a “first class noticer.” I want you to begin to notice the things that are going on around you. Begin to notice the other person’s engagement. Begin to notice how they talk. Do they have a lot of energy? Are they really passionate? Are they loud? What is it that’s happening with them? And how can you engage with them on an emotional level about the things that are going on?
[00:20:23] So as an exercise, as a first step, what I want you to do is, the next conversation you have that’s a meaningful conversation, I want you to be intentional about noticing how emotional they are about the topic they are talking about. And when you see that they’re passionate about it, or they’re excited about it, they’re louder about it, they’re talking faster. Whenever you see something like that, I want to encourage you to say, “Tell me more about that. Help me understand what you’re thinking there. What does that mean?” Dig in a little bit. So become a first class noticer. And that’s today’s Episode Hack.
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