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Put Your Ear to the Ground: Engaging More Directly

Put Your Ear to the Ground: Engaging More Directly


    Get your ear to the ground.

    This approach has been called different things but commonly is summarized as getting close as possible to the interface of the product and producer or consumer. Famous practitioners include Bill Hewlett and David Packard of HP who popularized “management by walking around.” The same approach can be used in your personal and professional life to help you gain fresh perspective on old problems, sniff out issues before they become wildfires, and continue to innovate and create while on a schedule.

    Case Study: Lululemon — From the Folding Table to the Chalkboard

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    It is possible for many people to not know about Lululemon. Yet for those who practice yoga, the brand has risen rapidly in popularity and demand. Lululemon has become a rising star in a multibillion dollar market with comfortable, attractive yoga and athletic apparel. Chief Executive Christine Day attributes her success partially to eschewing conventional market research. Rather than relying on focus groups, website tracking, or customer purchase profiles, the company has designed their stores to eavesdrop on their customers. Folding tables are placed not out of sight, but immediately adjacent to fitting rooms. Sleeves too long? Crotch too tight? Chances are employees will be privy to that information. To allow customers to provide more direct feedback, a large chalkboard is propped up against a wall for shoppers to comment on existing products as well as wish for new ones.

    Take advantage of opportunities to talk face-to-face with people

    When people don’t feel threatened, rushed, or dismissed they are more likely to voice their concerns or frustrations. Rather than maintaining a course towards an iceberg, addressing conflict can prevent them from getting bigger. Likewise, allowing people to voice their honest thoughts can help generate consensus and group buy-in of a proposal even if initial reactions are less than supportive. For example, instead of email-soliciting money from your coworkers to pay for the office water cooler, approaching people known to “mooch” may generate enough guilt or raise awareness to modify their behavior. They may even bring up unrelated but important issues to them which you can support to enlist their cooperation. (“Yes, I’d be happy to remind the other people in the office to not leave old coffee grinds and stale coffee in the drip machine. Having bottled water and taking care of the break room makes work that much more bearable.”)

    Actually experience the good or service you provide

    Every job in the world provides either a product or service to others. It’s too easy to get entrenched in your perspective. Take time this week to actually use your product or experience the service you provide. Personally speaking, as a physician it is incredibly eye-opening and humbling to experience the hospital as a patient. Another example is the Lululemon sales representative who loves a particular brand of pants for the slimming and firming effect they provide without creating embarrassing wrinkles and lines.

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    Put yourself in different shoes to solve complex problems

    Likewise, when you can’t wrap your head around a problem try to approach it from the perspective of someone else. What would the janitor suggest to reduce operating expenses? Does the consumer really value the promotional mailings you provide? What has your boss focused on for other business cycles or projects? Even better is to directly approach the different people involved to solicit their input.

    Case Study: Levi’s Jeans — A Hot Idea from Hot Pants

    Walter Haas — one-time CEO of Levi’s Jeans — stumbled upon a problem he didn’t know about while sitting next to a campfire in the 1940’s. At the time copper rivets were placed at stress points like the crotch area to provide extra strength. Unfortunately, they also conducted heat efficiently and caused quite a few unpleasant campfire mishaps. After being burned, Haas promptly removed the copper rivets. Inspired, he went on to also cover exposed rear pocket rivets to minimize scratch damage to saddles and school chairs in response to complaints by cowboys and schoolteachers.

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    Adopt a new role with your family, friends

    Appreciation is like water to a desert plant. In the interpersonal realm, it’s been established that men and women commonly cheat because of emotional disconnection which can spring from being unappreciated. Have you taken the time recently to realize what your friends and family do for you? Take the initiative to wash dishes, walk the dog, take out the trash, drive the carpool, or organize that birthday party. It may be difficult to do the tasks we naturally avoid, but realize that you are gaining new understanding of your relationships. Gratitude makes life infinitely richer.

    Go where the water is fresh

    In marketing, it’s important to keep your finger on the pulse of popular trends and ideas. Just like how you need to stay in front of the wave while surfing, you want to develop your ability to sense energy and direction from other people, events, and activities. One way you can do this is by maintaining your hobbies. Do things that excite you and you’ll find that even on a tight schedule, you can work with more energy, enthusiasm, and creativity. Refrain from “dichotomizing” your life into disparate spheres. Try to bring as much of who you are into what you are doing at the moment.

    As you take a closer step to your work, relationships, and the things which make you tick, I hope that you’re able to accomplish more, improve existing relationships, solve difficult problems, and sustain creativity.

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    (Photo credit: Young Man Hearing Sounds via Shutterstock)

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    Last Updated on April 11, 2019

    How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

    How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

    Possessing strong communication skills will help you in every phase of your life. This is especially true in the workplace.

    I have personally worked with several leaders who were masters of communication. A few were wonderful speakers who could tell a great story and get everyone in the room engaged. Those of us in attendance would walk away feeling inspired and eager to help with what came next. Others were very skilled at sharing a clear direction and job expectations.

    I knew exactly what was expected of me and how to achieve my goals. This was the foundation of an energized and vibrant role I was in. What I have found is strong communication skills are incredibly helpful and sometimes critical in how well we perform at work.

    Here we will take a look at how to improve communication skills for workplace success.

    How Communication Skills Help Your Success

    Strong communication skills pave the way for success in many ways. Let’s look at a few of the big ones.

    Create a Positive Experience

    Here are two examples of how well developed communication skills helps create a positive experience:

    When I first moved to the city I now live in, I began a job search. Prior to my first live interview, I was told an address to go to. Upon arriving at the address provided, I drove around and around attempting to find the location. After 15 minutes of circling and looking for the address, I finally grabbed a parking spot and set out on foot.

    What I discovered was the address was actually down an alley and only had the number over the door. No sign for the actual company. The person that gave me those very unclear directions provided a bad experience for me.

    Had they communicated the directions to get there in a clear manner, my experience would have been much better. Instead the entire experience started off poorly and colored the entire meeting.

    As a recruiter, I frequently provide potential candidates with information about a job I’m speaking to them about. In order to do this, I also provide a picture of the overall company, the group they might be joining, and how their role fits in and impacts the entire company.

    Time and time again I have been told by candidates that I have provided the clearest picture of a company and role they have ever heard. They have a positive experience when I clearly communicate to them. Even when the position does not work out for them, often times they will want to stay in touch with me due to the open communication and beneficial experience they had during the interviewing process.

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    Strong communication skills will provide a positive experience in virtually any interaction you have with someone.

    Help Leadership Skills

    It’s certainly a skill all its own to be able to lead others.

    Being a mentor and guiding others towards success is a major hallmark of great leaders. Another characteristic of effective leaders is the ability to communicate clearly.

    As I referenced above, having a leader who can plainly articulate the company’s mission and direction goes a really long way towards being the Captain of the boat that others want to follow. It’s like saying “here’s our destination and this is how we are going to get there” in a way that everyone can get on board with.

    Another critical component of everyone helping to sail the boat in the right direction is knowing what your portion is all about. How are you helping the boat move towards its destination in the manner than is consistent with the leaders’ vision?

    If you have a boss or a manager that can show you what it takes for not only you to be successful, but also how your performance helps the company’s success then you’ve got a winner. A boss with superior communication skills.

    Build Better Teams

    Most of us work in teams of some sort or another. During the course of my career, I have led teams up to 80 and also been an individual contributor.

    In my individual contributor roles, I have been part of a larger team. Even if you are in business for yourself, you have to interact with others in one manner or another.

    If you have strong communication skills, it helps to build better teams. This is true whether you are in an IT department with 100 other fellow programmers or if you own your own business and have customers or vendors you communicate with.

    When you showcase your robust ability to communicate well with others while interacting with them, you are building a better team.

    Now let’s jump in to how to improve communication skills to help you pave the way for your workplace success.

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    How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

    There are many tips, tricks, and techniques to improve communication skills. I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much information, so let’s focus on the things that will provide the biggest return on your time investment.

    Most of these tips will be fairly easy to become aware of but will take time and effort to implement. So let’s go!

    1. Listen

    Ever heard the saying you have two ears and one mouth for a reason? If you haven’t, then here’s the reason:

    Being a good listener is half the equation to being a good communicator.

    People who have the ability to really listen to someone can then actually answer questions in a meaningful way. If you don’t make the effort to actively listen, then you are really doing yourself and the other person a disservice in the communication department.

    Know that person who is chomping at the bit to open his or her mouth the second you stop talking? Don’t be that person. They haven’t listened to at least 1/2 of what you’ve said. Therefore the words that spill out of their mouth are going to be about 1/2 relevant to what you just said.

    Listen to someone completely and be comfortable with short periods of silence. Work on your listening skills first and foremost.

    2. Know Your Audience

    Knowing your audience is another critical component to having strong communication skills. The way you interact with your manager should be different than how you interact with your kids. This isn’t to say you need to be a different person with everyone you interact with. Far from it.

    Here is a good way to think about it:

    Imagine using your the same choice of words and body language you use with your spouse while interacting with your boss. That puts things in a graphic light!

    You want to ensure you are using the type of communication most relevant to your audience.

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    3. Minimize

    I have lunch with a business associate about 3 times a year. We’ve been talking for several years now about putting a business deal together.

    He is one of those people that simply overwhelms others with a lot of words. Sometimes when I ask him a question, I get buried beneath such an avalanche of words that I’m more confused than when I asked the question. Needless to say this is most likely a large portion of why we never put the deal together.

    Don’t be like my lunch business associate. The goal of talking to or communicating with someone is to share actual information. The goal is not to confuse someone, it’s to provide clarity in many cases.

    State what needs to be stated as succinctly as possible. That doesn’t mean you can’t have some pleasant conversation about the weather too.

    The point is to not create such an onslaught of words and information that the other person walks away more confused than when they started.

    4. Over Communicate

    So this probably sounds completely counter intuitive to what I just wrote about minimizing your communication. It seems like it might be but it’s not.

    What I mean by over communicating is ensuring that the other person understands the important parts of what you are sharing with them. This can be done simply yet effectively. Here’s a good example:

    Most companies have open enrollment for benefits for the employees in the fall. The company I work for has open enrollment from November 1 to 15. The benefits department will send out a communication to all employees around October 1st, letting them know open enrollment is right around the corner and any major changes that year. There’s also a phone number and email for people to contact them with any questions.

    Two weeks later, we all get a follow up email with basically the same information. We get a 3rd communication the week before open enrollment and another one 1 day before it starts.

    Finally we get 2 emails during enrollment reminding us when open enrollment ends.

    There’s minimal information, it’s more of a reminder. This is effective over communication.

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    5. Body Language

    The final critical component to how to improve communication skills for workplace success is body language. This is something most of us have heard about before but, a reminder is probably a good idea.

    When I am in a meeting with someone I am comfortable with, I tend to kind of slouch down in my chair and cross my arms. When I catch myself doing this, I sit up straight and uncross my arms. I remember that crossing arms can many times be interpreted as a sign of disagreement or conflict.

    In general, the best rule of thumb is to work towards having open body language whenever possible at work. This means relaxing your posture, not crossing your arms, and looking people in the eye when speaking with them.

    When you are speaking in front of others, stand up straight and speak in a clear voice. This will convey confidence in your words.

    Conclusion

    Possessing strong communication skills will help you in many facets of your life and most certainly in the workplace.

    Good communication helps create better teams, positive experiences with those we interact with, and are critical for leadership.

    There are numerous tactics and techniques to be used to improve communication skills. Here we’ve reviewed how to improve communication skills for workplace success.

    Now go communicate your way to success.

    More Resources About Effective Communication

    Featured photo credit: HIVAN ARVIZU via unsplash.com

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