"If all my possessions were taken from me with one exception, I would choose to keep the power of communication, for by it I would soon regain all the rest." Daniel Webster
If you've been following these blogs and are like me you have preconceptions about the meaning of certain words, competencies and traits. For me, I've been surprised by the meaning - from a servant leader perspective - of a some competencies and traits...SEE Persuasion...ON Purpose! AND Stewardship...ON Purpose!...now there's a third - SKILLED Communication...ON Purpose!
According to the book Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership: Practicing the Wisdom of Leading by Serving in order to be a SKILLED communicator "The servant leader listens earnestly and speaks effectively. Seeks first to understand, then to be understood. Listens receptively to others, demonstrating genuine interest, warmth, and respect. Listens honestly and deeply to oneself and invites feedback from others. Influences others with assertiveness and persuasion rather than power and position."
The book goes onto describe three competencies required to be a skilled communicator: 1. Empathy; 2. Seeks Feedback; and 3. Communicates Persuasively. We will review each from the book.
Every day we send and receive thousands of verbal and nonverbal messages filled with ideas, emotions, and desires. Communication is how we connect and influence others. Our relationships at work, at home, and in the community are dependent on it. So, why should we spend time on something we seem to already know how to do? Well, here's the rub...in order to be a servant leader, you must be able to change your point of reference about this competency.
Experts say that SKILLFUL communication is the foundation of effective leadership - notice the word here is skillful. The basis of this skill STARTS with active listening - which means to listen to understand and expressing one’s thoughts, feelings, and needs with genuineness, respect, and clarity.
Pause, Reflect, Ask...
Recently I was visiting with a dear Uncle, Robert, referred as "Boba" by my son, daughter, nieces and nephews. At the time, he was approaching his 95th birthday. He was sharing how one of his caregivers "Was not cheap!" My ears perked up...I heard was "My caregiver is ripping me off!"...I paused and asked, "What do you mean Robert?" He said, "She's not shy to spend money on me or others...matter of fact, she bought me two pounds of really good coffee after I mentioned Matthew (my twin brother) liked it." The simple pause, reflection, and the asking for clarification avoided a potentially embarrassing turn in the conversation brought on by misunderstanding...how often can misunderstanding be prevented by simply pausing, reflecting and asking for clarification...?
As leaders we sometimes get so caught up in the day-to-day "To Do's" we sometimes bring on misunderstanding by not pausing, reflecting and asking BEFORE responding or, worse, just TELL what we believe - without listening - needs to be told...
We're not bad people or lousy bosses. Instead, we're sometimes guilty of being distracted or inactive listeners. We occasionally take our bright, well-meaning employees, co-workers, associates too much for granted. As a result, we miss opportunities to strengthen a bond, affirm a job well done, and reinforce initiative and creativity. We fail to notice facial expressions - i.e. the non-verbals. We do not hear the subtly expressed need for something...be it coaching, help, recognition, or simply, quality time.
Or worse, we demonstrate absolutely no curiosity...to learn more about a fill-in-the-blank...
Behaviors / Benefits / Outcomes
Some of the behaviors / benefits / outcomes of being a skillful communicator:
• Communicates respect, warmth, and unconditional positive regard;
• Sees positive results from clear, realistic expectations;
• Effectively delegates responsibility;
• Provides adequate encouragement and support;
• Offers firm, fair reminders of accountability;
• Since servant leaders rationally detach from their own internal emotional turbulence and focus on the energy of others, the workplace will enjoy more "positive" conflict resolution;
• Teams enjoy healthier emotional give and take where they can share a full range of feelings — anger, fear, guilt, joy, and perhaps, sadness;
• Co-workers stay more oriented to their shared mission when skilled communicators make sense of work and life’s experiences by using symbols, metaphors, and stories;
• Inspire others to stretch thinking, clarify values, and take constructive action.
Ultimately, the positive outcomes of a skilled communicator allow her/him to use PERSUASION, the servant leader’s preferred mode of employing influence - SEE Persuasion...ON Purpose!
Gerard Egan, author of The Skilled Helper - one of the most widely used counseling textbooks in the world — refers to the skilled communicator as demonstrating the following: Empathy (deep, accurate understanding); Warmth (kindness, respect); Genuineness (openness, authenticity); Concreteness (specific, direct); Initiative (solution oriented, risk taking); Immediacy (mutual, intimate, “here-and-now” sharing); Self-disclosure (appropriate sharing of self); Confrontation (challenging others to grow); and Self-exploration (self-reflection, inviting feedback).
These communication skills support three core competencies mentioned previously: 1. Empathy; 2. Seeks Feedback; and 3. Communicates Persuasively. So, let's delve deeper into the three!
Simply put, empathy is feeling with other people. People who practice empathy can sense other people's feelings by imagining themselves in others' lives and circumstances. It's a "sixth sense" of how other people feel and it can perceive and understand complex emotions. Empathy is NOT a cerebral understanding of others' emotions, rather a gut level relationship to other's emotions. People with strong empathy can build and form relationships with emotional depth.
No surprise, empathetic people are sought since they induce comfort, stability AND emotional connectedness with others.
Empathy is a natural, higher-order biological process. As long as we dedicate ourselves to understanding and serving others, we will succeed as empathetic listeners. Consider a line from the peace prayer “O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand.”
The best way to connect in empathy is to listen, to listen with full presence and attention. Robert Greenleaf said listening is the premier skill of a servant leader. “Don’t assume, because you are intelligent, able, and well-motivated, that you are open to communication, that you know how to listen,” he said. He went onto say, “Openness to communication is the tendency to view everything heard or seen (or sensed in any way) with unqualified wonder and interest - this is interesting. I wonder what the meaning is — what is being said to me?"
Active listeners not only listen to the speaker’s words, but also watch for and listen to the speaker’s important nonverbal cues—body language, gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice. Their body language demonstrates that they are paying careful attention to the speaker, choosing to be intimately involved with the speaker’s experience at that very moment. (For more SEE: Authentic Listening...ON Purpose!)
• Do I feel empathy for others?
• How do I show it?
• How could empathy improve a specific, difficult situation in my workplace?
• Am I willing to center myself to bring my full presence to a conversation?
• How do I do that?
• How do I feel when no one is speaking?
• How can I improve my comfort with silence?
For more SEE: Empathy...ON Purpose!
2. Seeks Feedback
According to Fred Nickols, he believed there was a way to receive and provide feedback. In his work, "Feedback about Feedback", he provided guideposts and aspirational characteristics:
1. Explicit - make it clear what kind of feedback you seek, why it's important and offer a structure for the feedback.
2. Open - listen without interruption, objections, or defensiveness.
3. Responsive - willing to hear the speaker out without turning the table and asking questions for clarification.
4. Thoughtful - seek to understand the effects and consequences of your behavior.
5. Clarifying - make sure you are clear about what they are seeing, saying, and recommending.
6. Calm - be relaxed, breathe, assume a comfortable body posture and be aware of your own emotional reactions.
7. Quiet - refrain from making or preparing to make a response. In other words do not be distracted by the need to explain, defend, or fix.
8. Accepting - be open to assuming the feedback's good will.
9. Clear - with your commitment and describe how you have benefited from the feedback and what specific steps you will take toward improvement.
• Am I comfortable naming and framing feelings?
• What are my strengths in giving and receiving feedback?
• Am I open to hearing from colleagues about the areas where I can improve?
• Do I have the courage to do an informal 360 degree evaluation of my competency in this area?
• Do I feel comfortable being assertive in communication?
• Can I find a learning partner who will help me track my accountability in improving servant leader communications?
3. Communicates Persuasively
Aristotle’s Rhetoric one of the most widely regarded works on influence and persuasion - detailed three strategies to persuade others to accept the speaker’s point of view: Ethos - ethical appeal; Pathos - emotional appeal; and Logos - logical appeal.
Of the three, Aristotle said that ethos is "the most important factor in persuasion." Anthropologists have a saying: “Whoever tells the stories defines the culture.” In other words, if you want to shape a culture, begin by telling stories that inform, entertain, and, most of all, inspire.
The Power of Story
Last February I Tweeted "Hard to hate when you learn someone's story. What's yours?" EVERYONE has a story. And it's through story we connect!
According to Anthony Tjan, CEO, Managing Partner and Founder of the venture capital firm Cue Ball, "Making your words understandable and inspirational isn’t about dumbing them down. Instead, it requires bringing in elements such as anecdote, mnemonic, metaphor, storytelling, and analogy in ways that connect the essence of a message with both logic and emotion. Almost everyone leading or creating has a vision, but the challenge is often expressing it in ways that relate and connect."
As servant leaders we have a huge opportunity to connect through the power of story! Not only does story humanize you as a person who people can relate, story also has a psychological affect on our brains!
Story Facts For the Brain
• Can I tell stories that demonstrate my personal values?
• Am I able to tell them with openness, humor, and self-deprecation?
• Do I have stories that back up my organization’s professed vision and values?
• Could I begin to accumulate and share stories of serving?
Servant leaders know skilled communication is not something we learn once. It takes conscious effort to improve listening skills, to remove barriers to communication and let our natural empathy do its magic. Learning the techniques of listening, responsible assertiveness, giving and receiving feedback, and telling great stories will improve your life at home, at work, and in the community. It is all part of the package of choosing to lead by serving first.
My best to your quest!
I believe each of us is a gift. I create trusted relationships where individuals, teams and leaders NAME, CLAIM and AIM their gifts to achieve optimum performance.
Interested to Learn About Yourself or Your Team? Mark is a Certified CliftonStrengths Coach, Facet5 and TotalSDI Facilitator and happy to discuss your situation.
SEE Summary List of Other Blogs!
About Mark Myette
I believe each of us is a gift. I create trusted
Based out Roam - Buckhead - 3365 Piedmont Rd NE, Suite 1400 (2nd Floor), Atlanta, GA 30305
Can meet at other Roam locations if appropriate: Alpharetta; Dunwoody; or Galleria