Pipes and cigars were a staple with small town politicians and leaders. Not just because they enjoyed smoking, but in many forums and public meetings it was not uncommon when asked questions for them to pause, take a draw from their pipe or cigar and then answer the question. Not only would this allow them time to compose an intelligent answer, but also a chance to survey and gauge how the crowd would or wouldn’t react to the statement.
Because of the deliberate, patient and thought out responses, it was often said that you could always trust a man with a pipe.
Fast forward to 2013. We don’t trust anyone. Not because people don’t have our best interests at heart, but because they oftentimes don’t know how to articulate it. Before those we are supposed to listen to and trust can express what they are feeling, they’ve inserted a foot in their mouths and we hear their first thoughts…which may not be what they really mean.
Have you ever said or done something in a professional or personal setting and wished you had a “Do-Over”? If you haven’t, you’re in denial and people probably don’t like talking to you. Because we are emotional creatures, we sometimes abandon logic and tact when confronting issues and stating our cases. Emotion is necessary when dealing with humans, but balancing them with tact, professionalism and logic keep us credible, respected, listened to and ultimately employed.
More often than before, leaders are finding themselves having to clean up more messes that are created by their own words. There are too many impatient and emotional sound bites that’s could have been avoided had a deep breath been taken, or had we counted to five before responding.
Seeking to gain credibility and position, we tend to think that we must be the first to speak up when there’s an issue…the first to impose our will and opinion on those with contrary views…the first to answer before everyone else…the first to recite empty rules and policies verbatim. We must be willing to give up those style points to ensure we’ve uncovered every stone, surveyed the crowd and anticipated possible outcomes…instead of shooting off at the mouth and having to back-peddle later. Slower and right garners more respect than smart, witty and wrong.
Did you hear something? I didn’t.
We mistake authority and a right to speak our minds with respect and effectiveness. Sometimes it’s best not to say anything at all! Our message, even when correct and justified, means nothing if it falls on deaf ears. Deaf ears are not necessarily those that don’t want to hear our truth, but those that have become numb or uninterested in what we’re saying because of past interactions and a lack of consideration in delivery. Becoming better communicators means we realize that it’s not only about what we are saying, but how well we can relate it to the receiver. Knowing the audience is equally, and sometimes more important than knowing the material. Those old politicians weren’t necessarily the smartest people, but they knew who they were talking to and what made them tick.
There are reasons employees avoid bringing issues to leaders these days:
- because they’ve seen or heard us in action… or lack of
- because of the textbook answers we give trying to seem smarter than everyone else
- because of the physical queues we give off before we even get through our first sentence
Our energy and demeanor when communicating are critical in obtaining, and more importantly re-establishing buy-in and trust.
Those old dudes knew what they were doing. They were slow to speak so they could get it right. Audiences walked away with confidence, feeling listened to and with solutions in hand that made sense because they were tailored to their needs. That level of communication, problem-solving and respect are necessary today for leaders to be effective in rallying their teams and maintaining confident and productive workplaces.