Listening between the lines

Listening is the missing half of communication.  It is absolutely necessary but often ignored.  We live in an age that we call the ‘age of communication’ and there is certainly a lot of talking going on.  But how much listening can there be, with so much distraction around us?

It’s easy to view the art of communicating as one way.  That the skill of influencing is about being able to present a persuasive case – or that consultancy is about recommending customised, client-focused proposals.  But the reality is that it’s listening that’s the golden key for the door to human relationships. 

Genuine listening costs us nothing yet it brings huge benefits.  First, it helps us understand the other side.  How can we hope to change another person’s mind, if we don’t know where their mind is?   Secondly, listening helps us Connect – to build rapport, trust and show we care (after all no-one cares how much we know, until they know how much we care!).  And thirdly, it makes it more likely that the other person will listen to us – and therefore help us get to yes. 

The problem is that we take listening for granted.  And that when we listen, we hear the words but are often simultaneously thinking about our own values, concerns, interests… and how to respond.  In other words, the focus is on us.  But in genuine listening, we put ourselves in their shoes; we tune into their wavelength, and listen within their frame of reference… not our own.   In genuine listening, we don’t just listen to the words, we listen to what’s not being said – the nuances, the emotion, the needs and wants.   

You’ve heard of reading between the lines – this is listening between the lines.


(Taken from an excellent Ted Talk by William Ury – ‘The Power of Listening’)

A word to the wise - communication tips from Lionheart Consulting

Santa Claus - the Master of Consultative Selling

Over Christmas I was researching Santa Claus. And in doing so, I realised that he's mastered the art of the consultative sell. He doesn't force his products on you. He sits you on his knee (if allowed these days!), gets to know you and asks you questions. What would you like for Christmas? Have you been a good boy/girl this year?

His curiosity about what others want is unprecedented in the world of childhood icons. The Tooth Fairy brings you money whether you want it or not. The Easter Bunny leaves chocolate eggs, even if you wanted some other type of gift.

But Santa Claus - like all good consultants and sales people - asks questions, probes, listens and develops relationships, before deciding on the best solution.

Merry Christmas!

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A Word to the Wise - Effective Communication Tips from Lionheart Consulting

'Infobesity' - The Enemy of Persuasion

An epidemic is plaguing the corporate world and there is a good word to describe it - ‘infobesity’. Businesses have overindulged in information. People are finding it harder than ever to decipher, decide and deliver.  

Lee Iacocca (Chairman of Chrysler in the 80’s and a leadership guru to this day) once said “You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere”.  But the reality is that the never-ending stream of emails, meetings dominated by PowerPoint, endless reports and documents… not to mention social media… means that information now is more like bad cholesterol, clogging business arteries and slowing decisions. It’s overwhelming and the result is that people only remember and act upon a small fraction of what they read or hear.

The key to influencing and persuading is therefore quite simple – keep it brief. Deliver an ‘executive summary’ only.  Get to your point quickly, clearly articulate the benefits and back up your argument with succinct supporting evidence. Leave the detail out. If you say something of interest but don’t say enough, the other person will simply ask a question – which will lead to a productive discussion. But don’t bombard people with too much, too soon.

I said it’s simple... but of course being concise is often harder than being prolix.  As Mark Twain famously said “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead”. But the time you take to keep your persuasive argument brief will massively improve its impact and effectiveness.  

James Carville (communications advisor to Bill Clinton) said “The communications business is the only one where you multiply by subtracting – the less you say, the more you’re heard”.  

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A Word to the Wise - Effective Communication Tips from Lionheart Consulting

Pilots use check lists and so should you

You're getting on a plane and you see the pilot and co-pilot running through checklists. It doesn't mean they don't know how to fly the plane. They're just leaving nothing to chance.  And neither should you when you want to communicate a clear and compelling message.  

That’s why having a good set of notes is the key to success in any situation, whether a formal presentation, conference call, meeting… even a wedding speech. 

The fact is that notes take all the pressure off. Because no longer have you got to worry about what to say; all you have to think about is how to say it. Notes free you up and enable your natural personality to come out.  Notes also show that you’re prepared. They show the audience you take the topic - and them - seriously.

And remember that the more you know, the more you need notes.  Don’t think that because you’re an expert on your topic you can just wing it! The problem with being in your comfort zone is the tendency to say way too much, to ramble and appear unfocused, even unsure of yourself. Notes keep you focused, concise and articulate, and make you appear more confident and authoritative.

So what do a good set of notes look like? It's a personal choice but my advice is not to use a script, unless you've been trained in how to deliver it naturally and conversationally. Plus it’ll probably be written in the written language, not the conversational language. One-word notes (‘conclude’, ‘introduction’) are also unhelpful as they're not telling you want to say and the order in which to say it.  

My advice is to use abbreviated bullets; key phrases written in your own short-hand - that you can read in a split-second and know instantly the message you want to convey. Written in big font and printed one sided (turning pages can be distracting).  Then when you present, all you need to do is add just enough words to make them into sentences. The words you use at the moment of speaking will be spontaneous, conversational, and entirely natural.

The key is to be disciplined and stick to your notes. If it's not in your notes, don't say it.  Any pilot will tell you it’s not a good idea to fly off course.

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A Word to the Wise - Effective Communication Tips from Lionheart Consulting

Drunks, lamp-posts and PowerPoint

Why do we still experience ‘death by PowerPoint’?   If anything, it's got worse. People manage to express themselves perfectly well in conversation without needing an accompanying slide.  So why is it that people feel the need to have a zillion wordy slides behind them when presenting?  The only effect they're having is to distract the audience away from the presenter… which is surely the last thing they should want.

There are several reasons. First, people genuinely believe it’s ‘best practice’ (if only). They’ve seen it done by their bosses and peers, so they copy it, without giving one thought to the ‘greats’ like Steve Jobs who never had a bullet slide in sight. 

Second, some prefer the security of hiding behind their slides (“don’t look at me, look at the screen”) . Yes, presenting can be nerve-wracking without the right tools and techniques – but using your slides like a drunk uses a lamp-post (for support and not illumination) isn’t the best option if you want the audience to buy you as a person, and your message. 

Third, it’s just so easy - you have a presentation to give, so you start with your slides. You write your content, colours and animation, then use them as your notes as you present, and probably hand them out too.

The end result? You've blown your opportunity to display your personality and win them over with your charisma and passion for your subject. Because you've succeeded in completely distracting them away from where the personality and real message is.

Slides (and any visual aid) should be used to reinforce what you’ve already said.  And they should be visual - graphs, charts, diagrams.... So next time you're presenting, decide on your key message and supporting topics first. Then structure it well.  And then - and only then - ask yourself “Now what visuals can usefully reinforce this message?”.  How often do the slides come first when they should come last?   

You manage to describe your latest holiday to your colleagues perfectly well without a set of bullet-laden slides. But I bet you’d show your holiday snaps – now they really do reinforce what you've said.

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A Word to the Wise - Effective Communication Tips from Lionheart Consulting