Been thinking a lot on what a training program around teaching people to listen and not to talk might look like and how it fits into a development program for quality professionals.
People in quality think a lot on how to make a reasoned argument, a good decision, to provide guidance, get their point across in meetings, persuade or coerce people to follow standards. This is understandable, but it has a cost. There is a fair amount of research out there that indicates that all too often when others are talking, we are getting ready to speak instead of listening.
I think we fail to listen because we are anxious about our own performance, concerned about being viewed as an expert, convinced that our ideas are better than others, comfortable in our expertise, or probably all of the above. As a result we get into conflicts that could be avoided, miss opportunities to advance the conversation, alienate people and diminish our teams’ effectiveness.
When we really listen we create the spaces to make quality decisions. Listening can be improved by these practices:
Ask expansive questions. Stay curious, build on other’s ideas are mantras I think most of us are familiar with. Suppress the urge to interrupt or dominate a conversation and concentrate on the implications of other people’s words. It is very easy for a quality professional to instantly leap to solving the problem, and we need to be able to give space. Focus on open-ended “what” and “how” questions, which encourage people to provide more information, reflect on the situation and feel more heard. Avoid yes-and-no questions which can kill dialogue.
Engage in “self-checks”. Be aware of one’s own tendencies and prepare with ways to identify they are happening and head them off. Doing this will surprisingly allow you to focus on the listener and not yourself moving beyond the words that are being said and being able to take in the speaker’s tone, body language, emotions and perspective, and the energy in the conversation.
Become comfortable with silence. This means communicating attentiveness and respect while you are silent.
Listening needs to be part of our core competencies, and unless we work on it, we don’t get better.
Every change (and lets be frank, most everything involves change) requires understanding the individuals and groups that will participate or are affected – directly or indirectly.
Stakeholder analysis involves identifying the stakeholders and analyzing their various characteristics. These characteristics can include:
Level of authority within the organization and the domain of change
Attitudes toward or interest in the change
Attitudes towards the process
Level of decision-making authority
The goal of stakeholder analysis is to choose the best collaboration and communication approaches and to appropriately plan for stakeholder risks.
There are a variety of mechanisms for doing this and then mapping it out.
Start by brainstorming a list of the stakeholders by answering these questions:
Who will be impacted?
Who will be responsible or accountable
Who will have decision authority
Who can support
Who can obstruct
Who has been involved in something similar in the past?
Map these on a stakeholder matrix based on relative power and interest. This should be an iterative process.
High influence/High Impact: these are key players and effort should be focused here to engage this group regularly
High influence/Low impact: these stakeholders have needs that should be met so engage and consult with them while also attempting to increase their level of interest.
Low influence/High impact: these stakeholders are supporters and potential goodwill ambassadors. Engage the group for their input and show interests in their needs.
Low influence/Low impact: the stakeholders can be kept informed using general communications. Additional targeted engagement may move them into the goodwill ambassador quadrant.
Another way to look at stakeholders is though an onion diagram.
A RACI is another popular way to look at stakeholders.
Once stakeholders are identified is is important to define how communication and engagement will achieved. There is usually no one sized fits all approach and it is important to meet the needs of each stakeholder group to ensure their interest and involvement is maintained. Some considerations include:
timing and frequency
delivery methods (in-person or virtual)
preferences of the stakeholders
geographic considerations or impact
Document this in a communication plan, including:
what needs to be communicated
what is the appropriate delivery method
who the appropriate audience is
when communication should occur
frequency of communication
level of detail appropriate for the communication and stakeholder
Many of us have had, or given, a talk about how we can learn from children in how to communicate, whether it is being thoughtful in our relationships or learning to adapt and be resilient, or some other point.
What we are really talking about how communicating empathetically is essential, including to building a quality culture and it is a key part of change management. People need to feel respected and have a sense of self-worth in order to be motivated, confident, innovative, and committed to their work and to appropriately engage in quality culture.
I am not going to pretend to be an expert on empathy. I think it is fair to say that is still (always) one of my key development areas. That said, I think a core skill of any quality leader is that of giving feedback.
need to feel respected and have a sense of self-worth in order to be motivated,
confident, innovative, and committed to their work.
provide good feedback focus on doing the following:
Focus on facts.
Respect and support others. Even when people aren’t performing their best, they need to feel your support and to know that they’re valued.
Clarify motives. Don’t jump to conclusions. Keep others’ self-esteem in mind, and you’ll be more likely to ask, “What can you tell me about this error?” instead of, “Don’t you care about quality?”
someone has done a good job, succeeded at a task, or made a contribution, you
want to enhance that person’s self-esteem. Some ways to do that are to:
Acknowledge good thinking and ideas. Demonstrations of appreciation encourage people to think and contribute, and they support innovation and intellectual risk taking.
Recognize accomplishments. People need to hear specifically what they’ve done to contribute to the team’s or organization’s success. This encourages them to sustain or exceed expectations.
Express and show confidence. Voicing your trust and then calling on people to show what they can do boosts their confidence and their feelings of self-worth.
Be specific and sincere. When you describe in detail what people do well and why it’s effective, they know exactly what you’re recognizing.
can deflate people’s confidence faster than telling them they’re responsible
for something, and then doing it yourself. Conversely, when you provide support
without removing responsibility, you build people’s sense of ownership of the
task or assignment as well as the confidence that they can accomplish it. When
you use this Key Principle, remember to:
Help others think and do. Provide your support in two ways: Help others think of ideas, alternatives, and solutions, then support them so that they can execute the plan.
Be realistic about what you can do and keep your commitments. Remember that you don’t have to do it all, but be sure to do whatever you agree to.
Resist the temptation to take over—keep responsibility where it belongs.
quality individuals tend to be action oriented and task driven, so keeping
responsibility where it belongs can take resolve, even courage. You might have
to overcome the protests of a team member who is reluctant to stretch into new
areas or even brave objections from a key manager about your decision to
support others rather than take over.
Feedback Conversation Structure
In the OPEN
step you ensure that the discussion has a clear purpose and that everyone understands
the importance of accomplishing it.
Always state purpose and importance clearly in the discussion opening.
If you initiate the discussion, explain what you would like to accomplish and why.
If someone else is leading the discussion, ask questions if necessary to pinpoint the purpose and importance.
Cite how accomplishing the purpose would benefit others in the discussion.
Ask if there are any related topics to discuss.
There are two
types of information to seek and share in this step: facts and figures and
issues and concerns. Both are essential to building a complete picture of the
Facts and figures are the basic data and background information that people need to understand the situation and make informed decisions.
Exploring issues and concerns provides insight into potential barriers to achieving your purpose. It also helps reveal people’s feelings about the situation, which is valid, important information to gather.
developing ideas, it’s important to ask questions and include others in the
process. Most likely, you’ll have ideas about what to do, and you should share
them. However, you should put equal emphasis on seeking others’ ideas.
Involving people in thinking about alternative approaches can:
Spark their creative energy.
Result in more and better ideas than you alone could generate.
Build commitment to turning ideas into action.
It’s important that you and the people involved agree on a plan for
following through on the ideas that were developed and for supporting those who
will take action. During this step:
what will be done, who will do it, and by when.
on any follow-up actions needed to track progress in carrying out the plan.
sure to agree on needed resources or support.
This is the final chance to make sure that everyone is clear on
agreements and next steps and committed to following through. Closing
discussions involves a summary of actions and agreements as well as a check on
the person’s or team’s commitment to carrying them out.
The bystander effect occurs when the presence of others discourages an individual from intervening in an emergency situation. When individuals relinquish responsibility for addressing a problem, the potential negative outcomes are wide-ranging. While a great deal of the research focuses on helping victims, the overcoming the bystander effect is very relevant to building a quality culture.
The literature on this often follows after social psychologists John M. Darley and Bibb Latané who identified the concept in the late ’60s. They defined five characteristics bystanders go through:
Notice that something is going on
Interpret the situation as being an emergency
Degree of responsibility felt
Form of assistance
Implement the action choice
This is very similar to the 5 Cs of trouble-shooting: Concern (Notice), Cause (Interpret), Countermeasure (Form of Assistance and Implement), Check results.
What is critical here is that degree of responsibility felt. Without it we see people looking at a problem and shrugging, and then the problem goes on and on. It is also possible for people to just be so busy that the degree of responsibility is felt to the wrong aspect, such as “get the task done” or “do not slow down operations” and it leads to the wrong form of assistance – the wrong troubleshooting.
When building a quality culture, and making sure troubleshooting is an ingrained activity, it is important to work with employees so they understand that their voices are not redundant and that they need to share their opinions even if others have the same information. As the HBR article says: “If you see something, say something (even if others see the same thing).”
Building a quality culture is all about building norms which encourage detection of potential threats or problems and norms which encouraged improvements and innovation.
Good advice from Johanna Rothman on conference proposal writing.
Giving back to the profession, sharing best practices and lessons is an important part of being an ethical practioner, and also a great way to build your career. Preparing and speaking at a conference is also a great way to build connections with the material and to stretch in order to build expertise.