Friday, January 24, 2014

LISTENING: The part of communication that is IGNORED!

“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said” 
–Peter Drucker, Management Theorist

While expressing your thoughts in a coercive, powerful manner is crucial to being a good communicator and manager, this is, in fact, only half of the battle won. The other, equally important aspect of good communication involves developing your listening skills.

As a manager, good listening skills are especially important to you in order to help you develop a better rapport with your team members, understand and hence resolve any problems with customers and colleagues more effectively, and to ‘read between the lines’ more adeptly to gain a clearer understanding of how well or otherwise your audience is responding to you.

The first step towards developing good listening skills is to want and consciously intend to do so. The second step is to acquire and master certain behaviors that will help you to be a better listener.

1. Know your objective

Determine the purpose for, or objective of, your listening. For instance, you could be trying to empathize with someone, or analyze or solve problems when communicating with someone else.

Being clear about your objective will help you to be more receptive to cues in the conversation, and hence sift through all the clutter to retain only those bits that are most pertinent to you. Knowing your objective will prove invaluable in situations where the person you are conversing with either rambles, or talks about multiple topics as the same time.

2. Actively interact

While being a patient, quiet listener has traditionally been confused with being a ‘good listener’, it is important that you learn to distinguish between the two. A quiet listener may not gain complete understanding of what is being communicated to him/her, and will also fail to inspire confidence in the speaker since he/she is unsure about whether or not he/she has succeeded in capturing your attention.

Communicate your interest by asking questions, seek clarifications where required, and even feel free to disagree in case of differences in opinion. Further, when asking questions, prefer ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions that require a certain amount of elaboration, as opposed to those that can be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

3. Stay focussed

Simple as it may seem, but focus is probably both the most important and most difficult of all listening skills. Listening well requires self-control and to not allow your mind to drift into random thoughts. Consider the case of a college lecture: most students accurately comprehend and retain only about half of what they hear in a 10-minute period. Therefore, students who can stay mentally engaged and focused on listening to their instructors during class stand a much better chance of learning the material presented, and accurately applying it in assignments and examinations.

One way to increase your focus is to first be clear about your objective, and subsequently the value you will gain from the interaction. In the case of a lecture, for example, tell yourself that you are going to find some nugget of valuable information or thought stimulator in what you are about to hear. Think of it as a treasure hunt, a game or a challenge, and you will automatically find it much easier to stay interested and hence, focused, on the interaction.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Working from 'The Center for Agile Thinking' HQ!

The new year started with a big bang at both the Last-Bench! office in Mumbai and The Center for Agile Thinking office in US. The boys in Mumbai have been on a roll and continuously producing learning content. I'd like to share my experience working out of The Center for Agile Thinking HQ in Princeton, New Jersey.

Work as usual started from the 1st day of January. That I'd like to call #LifeOfAnEntrepreneur. Prof. Anne, Charlie and I started work with getting an agenda down first of what we wanted to accomplish over the next 4 days. We came up with a list of 9 items and we achieved 8 out of them, which was very exciting!

The day started out with coffee, went into discussions, ideations and brainstorming. We also got down to some real work which included content and technology. I got to meet a very interesting management consultant while I was there with whom we validated our product, idea and value proposition.

Charlie and I got our hands wet with some server issues, discussed wireframes, design and user-interface. Prof. Anne and I reviewed content for some of our offerings. We had our first virtual team meeting with Sajid and Venkat in India and I was here in the US. It felt a bit different but the feeling was good.

Our days started at around 8am and went on until 8-10pm but it never felt tiring or stressful. Intermittently, our conversations ranged from culture to experiences, which maintained the balance and equilibrium in our minds!:-) I learned Charlie is an awesome musician who also learnt from Pt. Ravi Shankar back during his college days. He played the Piano on one of the evenings as we all were relaxing and it was perfect! The music was relaxing and it got us energized. He played Jazz to Classic Rock. I didn't know a whole lot of Jazz but he played Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Billy Joel. What an experience to see him play the Piano!

Even on the last day, usually one would feel relaxed but we were on a roll and got a lot of work done on the final day too. With al the work, I was balancing calls and work back in India and tried in whatever little way I could to support the team in every possible manner which included communicating all our discussions here with Sajid and Venkat too.

Prof. Anne and Charlie were great hosts. For me, it felt like home and working from the office was the best start to the New Year!

Here are some pics: