Archive for October, 2008

Multi-tasking vs. Communication

October 29, 2008

Often we hear how people in the business world are proud of being able to “multi-task”. They do it at meetings, during teleconferences, and even in classes and seminars. They say it gives them time and the opportunity to accomplish more. They say their productivity is increased by doing many things at the same time.
They use their laptop computers, cell phones, and PDA’s while conversations are under way or while directions and lectures are being given. While others are talking, the multi-taskers are reading, typing, and searching; and perhaps, even once in a while, they listen.
In other words, they aren’t paying attention!

That’s another word for multi-tasking. Inattention. Here are a few more. Rude, Insulting, Disrespectful, Arrogant. Feel free to add others of your choice.
The simple fact is the multi-taskers are telling others they don’t need to give their full attention to the material at hand or to the people presenting it in order to understand it. The material isn’t important enough or serious enough or difficult enough to warrant their full attention. They think they can follow everything by using only a part of their mental ability.
They feel full participation doesn’t require their full attention.

By their actions they are saying, “I don’t have to give you my full attention to understand what you are saying.” What a message to send to anyone! It’s rude; it’s disrespectful’ it’s insulting; and it’s arrogant.
In some seminars.

I’ve conducted, many participants have told me and others they actually prefer to attend meetings via teleconference calls. That way they don’t have to pay attention, and they can use their time to do other things they feel are more important while the teleconference is under way. If they don’t need to participate fully, why should such people be invited to attend in the first place? They are a distraction to other participants.
Here’s another element related to this meeting situation. If the multi-taskers are accurate, and they really don’t have to give complete attention to the discussion at hand, maybe the meeting shouldn’t be held at all. Sometimes meetings are held because it’s “Monday” – or some other day – rather than because it’s necessary. Often, that’s just a waste of time.
But back to the multi-taskers. I’ve seen many of them during teleconferences and during face-to-face meetings “check-in” to the discussion from time to time when they feel like it. When they do, they often ask a question that has already been asked – and answered. Sometimes they offer comments which are totally irrelevant because they missed the content when they were mentally elsewhere.
Their already-answered questions and their irrelevant comments waste the time of all the others who were staying on task. Multi-taskers don’t seem to be bothered, however, by wasting the time of others as long as they feel they are using their time well. That’s insulting. It says, “My time is more valuable than yours.” And that’s just not true.
When laptops are opened during a face-to-face meeting, they become barriers between the multi-tasker and everyone else. No one else in the room has any idea what the multi-tasker is doing; checking e-mail, writing a report, or carrying on a dialogue with someone else in the room.
More and more, people who run meetings, teach classes, or conduct seminars are directing all participants to turn off the electronic equipment. Politely, but firmly, they let everyone know there will be plenty of time during scheduled breaks to check e-mail, review phone messages, etc.; but their full attention and participation are needed and expected in order to make the session productive for everyone.
Whenever you run a meeting or conduct a class, you are entitled to the full attention and participation of everyone else in the room or on the teleconference. So, set the rules clearly and politely. It’s your meeting.
When you do that, you’ll help the multi-taskers learn to be polite and attentive.

It’s hard, and it’s often uncomfortable to learn new lessons, but that’s what growth is.

Setting the rules will present multi-taskers with a good lesson, and you’ll teach them how to behave as true business professionals.

They may not like it, but you’ll be doing them a favor.


Never Kick A Kangaroo

October 28, 2008

A few years ago I wrote a book with the working title “Never Kick a Kangaroo”. The publisher said the title didn’t describe what the book was about and changed the title (unfortunately, I think) to “How To Get People To Do Things Your Way”.

Whatever the title, the concept was the same. Be sure your techniques and skills are better than those of your counterpart. If they aren’t, you won’t do well in any interaction or contest. Thus, the working title. If you ever get into any kind of contest with a kangaroo (very unlikely, of course) don’t pick kicking. You’ll lose!

In business we are constantly describing and defending ideas and territories. Clearly, the products and services we offer contribute greatly to our success, but there is another significant element to consider. That’s communicating. We’ll deal with a variety of communication elements in later pieces, but here I want to look at a specific aspect of good communication. That’s listening.

Because most of us focus more on talking than we do on listening, here are a few ideas to consider and practice in both business and pesonal situations.

When you listen – really listen. If you do that, you’ll get more information than the words alone convey. You’ll become aware of the tone of voice, the posture, the geatures, the facial expressions, etc. Every one of those sends a strong message if we pay attention. All of those factors contribute to understanding a message.

Here is an interesting example of that complete message. An orchestra conductor was looking to hire a pianist. Friends of the conductor told him of a talented young man they thought would be an excellent candidate. When he auditioned, he played flawlessly. But he wasn’t hired.

The candidate’s friends asked the conductor why he hadn’t selected the young man who had played the audition composition perfectly. The conductor responded this way. “Yes, he played the composition exactly as written, but we need someone who doesn’t just play the notes. We need someone who can play the music.”

Effective listening is like that. Don’t listen only to the words. Listen to the entire message. Here’s how.

Listen for Key Words. What is the speaker saying about his boundaries? Are there important dollar costs, time frames, percentages, deals, payment conditions and options? What is really important and necessary?

Listen for Key Ideas. What does the speaker really want. Must he win, or is a compromise acceptable?

Listen for Pressure Points. These are the emotional factors that make a person act or react. What is most important to the speaker? Is it success, avoiding failure, a promotion, or just holding on to a job?

If you demonstrate you are truly interested in the person behind the words and not the words alone, you’ll develop a strong personal relationship. That’s what makes business last.

Find those Pressure Points by asking questions and by giving gentle direction. The best questions, of course, are the open questions What?’ Why?’ and How?. The gentle directions include these lines: “Tell me more”, “For example”, and “What else should I know?”

You’ll collect additional information simply by keeping the other person talking. While you’re listening, be sure to send your own positive signals. Look ’em in the eye! Sit up straight. Lean forward when appropriate. Nod your head. Take notes.

When you use those signals to demonstrate you’re giving full attention, you’ll encourage a continuing flow of information. The more information you collect, the better able you’ll be to present your ideas in a way that will be seen as a contribution to the other person.

A final thought here. When the other person is talking, be sure you are actively listening. Don’t start thinking of what you’ll say as soon as you have a chance to talk. If you don’t pay close attention all the time, you’ll likely miss important information.

Use these skills and techniques, and you’ll be better prepared to continue the dialogue, make a sale, or provide a service. When you know more about a subject or situation than your counterpart does, you’ll be able to use that strength and information to make your own case.

Use your strengths against your opponent’s weaknesses, and you’ll “Never Kick a Kangaroo”.