What the &*@% Were You Thinking?
By Peter Barron Stark | April 23rd, 2012 | Leadership
Just when you think you’ve seen it all, someone comes along and reminds you that you haven’t.
I recently heard a woman mumble in front of a TSA agent, “What should I expect from someone who makes $10.00 an hour?” As I watched the TSA agent take all her bags to secondary inspection, I felt like saying to the woman, “When you open your mouth and say something really stupid, secondary inspection is exactly what you should expect.”
Unless of course you are a leader. Leaders who speak to others in that way face a different set of challenges.
A good portion of our practice is coaching executives and managers to be successful leaders. To be successful as a leader, you need to be able to build relationships where people are highly motivated to follow your passion, vision and direction. Some people are masters at saying the right thing to build relationships, teamwork, and motivate people to accomplish great things. On the other side of the fence, we have all seen leaders whose ways of communicating drive people away. Almost immediately, the recipient of the communication loses their motivation and increases their instant dislike for the person sending the message.
After hearing people say things that undermine their ability to achieve their own goals, most of us ask ourselves, “What were they thinking?!” I am reminded of the NFL football player who told the referee that he “stunk” after being called off sides. The referee called a second penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct on the player, then marched off the 10 yard bonus penalty, turned around and asked the player with the big mouth, “How do I smell from here?”
Like this NFL player, some people seem to have come into this world with the innate ability to stick their foot right in their mouth. Then there are other people who make a conscious effort to filter their words and say the right thing at the right time. The key difference here is that the second group of people usually consider the person they are talking to and how their words will affect that person, themselves and the relationship between the two people.
Here are 6 tips to help you build even stronger relationships when you speak.
Remember, words are permanent. It is easy to say something, especially something mean and hurtful, under the umbrella of honesty. “Hey, sorry this hurts, I was just being honest,” is a phrase we have all said or heard. The great reality is there are a lot of things in life that don’t need to be said. Better yet, there are a lot of things in life that do not need to be said by you. What is important to acknowledge is that your words are permanent. Once you say something, it can’t be retracted. Your words have a lasting impact on people, either in a negative, or in a positive way.
Think before you speak. As you start to speak, think about what you want to accomplish. Do you want to build someone up, or tear them down? Great leaders work hard at saying the right things that will motivate people to move in the right direction, especially when they need to give people really tough feedback. They work harder than the average person at saying it in a way that will successfully accomplish their goal.
Shut up and listen. A great rule of successfully leading others is getting other people to talk first. When you understand where others are coming from, it makes it a lot easier to do two important things. First, you can respond choosing the appropriate words. Second, you can respond with empathy, a better understanding of where your counterpart is coming from. Listening is especially important when there is disagreement. When you are not in agreement, instead of talking, stop, think, and choose your words carefully to ensure you reach your goals.
Ask questions. A good rule of thumb is to not give others advice unless they ask for it. If someone doesn’t agree with you, there’s actually a good chance that talking more and listening less is going to help you be more persuasive. My 92-year-old dad says it best, “People like you so much better when they do the talking.” If you still feel the need to give people your advice, ask if they would like to hear your opinion. If they say yes, they’ll be more likely to listen and value it then if you had just outright stated it.
Be confident. People who lack confidence feel a need to tell others what they know, whereas people who have a deep level of confidence feel much more comfortable being silent and thinking about what others are really saying before they respond. For confident communicators, silence can be golden.
Be grateful. When you are grateful for the people and places in your life, it makes it a lot easier to say something that will motivate others to want to be closer to you and help you accomplish mutual goals.
Because they think first, and speak second, when great leaders speak, their words help them get closer to their goals. Recognize the power that your words can have on others, both positively and negatively, and choose your words carefully, understanding that you can’t take back what you’ve said to others.
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