Audience Member Took Action After I Spoke

Lifelong Friend Dr. Jim Woods Hosted Me

Recently I spoke to the Rotary Club in Clemson, SC, at the invitation of a lifelong friend from my hometown of Columbia, Mississippi, Dr. Jim Woods.

As a retired orthodontist, Jim enjoys using his newly created free time to serve as a volunteer for worthwhile organizations in his community. He told me that he learned something valuable about communication during my Rotary speech, which he applied with highly satisfactory results a few days later at another group’s planning session.

My Rotary speech focused on three essential steps for becoming a highly effective communicator: using clear language, making the most of that unique instrument known as your voice, and listening intently and non-judgmentally.

Later in the week, Jim participated in a second group session, geared to explain a fund raising campaign to Board members of a charity seeking $20 million in gifts. To expose the members to various viewpoints small groups circulated around the room until they heard presentations from six discussion leaders. Jim was one of those leaders.

To keep the group moving, the Board chairperson announced, “These will be twelve-minute breakouts. Each time, I will announce the ten-minute mark, so you can start winding up your interaction.”

When the first group came to Jim’s table, he launched into his outline of the capital campaign’s plan, detailing where the gifts would come from and how the Board would allocate them. During his fast-paced delivery, the Board chair announced: “Ten minutes gone, wrap it up in two minutes.” Jim decided he’d better talk even faster to cover all he wanted to say.

Yet before he resumed speaking, an attorney friend sitting beside him tapped him on the arm and asked: “Jim, I’ve got a question: Don’t you want our input? We’ve got some questions and probably some good ideas we want to share with you.”

Instantly, Jim realized that his monologue had dominated the allotted time. A bit red-faced, he answered: “Why of course, you’re right. I’ll be quiet for the next two minutes. Please pardon my misstep as a leader, and tell us your thoughts.”

When the seven people starting contributing their ideas, a fresh stream of energy began to flow around the table. Jim felt the change, and so did the others.

At the twelve-minute mark, Jim’s first group left and the second arrived. This time, Jim announced at the outset why he was altering his initial format: “I’ll begin by telling you what happened at my Rotary club meeting on Monday. Sometimes I don’t remember what our weekly guest speaker said, but this time his message stuck with me, especially when he talked about listening as one of our most powerful communication skills, yet also one of our most neglected skills. Using several brief stories, he illustrated that keen listeners learn far more—and even contribute far more—than great speakers. He challenged us to reduce our talking time and increase our listening time, both in conversations and in meetings.”

Jim admitted further, “With my first group today, I forgot that advice. I talked the entire ten minutes before we got the ten-minute signal. Then one of my friends asked me, quite politely, if I would welcome comments and questions. That jarred me. I acknowledged that I had prevented input by everyone else because I had failed to listen. So in this session and the following ones, I am going to revise my approach. I will give my overview of the campaign quickly in the first two minutes. Then the next ten minutes are yours. This will give us a chance to hear questions, objections, suggestions, and campaign endorsements that we’d miss if I did all the talking. So get set to jump in two minutes from now with what you’re thinking about this multimillion dollar campaign.”

That session, and the ones following, fostered lively, frank, and creative analysis of the campaign. Jim sensed what the change from monologue to dialogue had accomplished in the group’s mood, too. He reported, “I could feel that they felt valued and appreciated.”

A couple of days later, Jim called me tell me how my tips about listening had revolutionized his style as a moderator—and how rewarding the results were. Jim said, “Maybe you wonder if audience members ever follow the advice you give when you speak. Well, I can assure you that at least one person—me—tried what you recommended on Monday. And I guarantee, the change in the group’s response was so magical that I have overcome my tendency to do all the talking when I give a presentation. I’m going to remember, and act on, that advice you gave from Stephen Covey: ‘Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.’”

Clearly, the lesson Jim learned about listening brought a permanent improvement in his communication. So put the power of listening to the test, as he did. The results will amaze you, and all those you lead.

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Meredith Bell’s 4 Steps of Encouragement

GUEST COLUMNIST
At my request, Meredith Bell of ProStar Coach shared her thoughts about encouragement, which she accurately called “a very important communication topic that people don’t write about very much.” I’m very grateful for her splendid article, and you will be, too.

When you see that someone is discouraged, you may be tempted to give advice or offer a solution. But neither of these responses is helpful or welcome at a time like this. Instead, if you really want to be an encourager, cover these four steps.

Start with LISTENING. Invite the person to open up by saying something like, “You don’t seem like yourself today. Want to talk about it?” As he expresses his feelings about the situation, don’t criticize or evaluate. Just give your full, undivided attention and check to be sure you understand what he’s trying to say.

In step two, you AFFIRM the person. When things go wrong, people often blame themselves and lose self-confidence. They temporarily lose sight of what they’re capable of. This is your opportunity to remind the person of his personal strengths, the ones that will get him through this challenge. Remind him of obstacles he’s faced before in equally tough situations – and what he did to succeed.

After that, OFFER PERSPECTIVE, the third step. When people are discouraged, they focus on the negatives. To restore a balanced, realistic perspective, acknowledge the negatives, but remind the person that the situation also has advantages, opportunities, and other upsides. Pointing these out is helpful, because the positives are real.

The final step is SUPPORT. You remind the person that he doesn’t have to go it alone. Let him know that you will be there for him, and ask what he needs from you now. This keeps you from making assumptions about the type of support that would be most helpful to this particular individual.

One of my two business partners, Paula Schlauch, was once out on extended medical leave. I absorbed most of her responsibilities during those two months. At times I found myself getting anxious and discouraged from the additional pressures. My other partner, Denny Coates, works in another state and couldn’t help with most of these day-to-day tasks. But he was my encourager.

One day, when I was feeling really overwhelmed, I told Denny how hard it was to juggle everything. He asked me to talk about what was bothering me. After listening without interruption, he acknowledged that what I was doing was hard. He reminded me of a time when I excelled despite some tough obstacles.

Denny affirmed my personal strengths and reassured me that in the end I’d be able to get everything done. And he made a suggestion: “It’s true that the last eight weeks have been just as hard as you say. But instead of focusing on the past, try shifting your perspective to the future. You know Paula will be back in a week or so. Think about that, and how great that will be.”

And then he reminded me that he was there to support me in any way he could.

That simple conversation helped change my outlook. I felt like a new person when I went home that day. I had my confidence back. And I thought how great it is to have a partner who knows how to encourage.

You can have that same impact on someone you care about if you implement these four steps when you sense the person is discouraged.

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