Monday, December 16, 2019

Small talk. Hard to initiate? Hard to listen to? Try better questions (59 of them for starters)

Anybody feeling stressed out about upcoming holiday events where networking and starting conversations with strangers makes you feel uncomfortable?
Photo credit:  Colleen Donaldson

What's your favorite go-to starter question to ask when you meet someone new????

 Here's an article that caught my attention - if you see me at any upcoming parties, let's play along.

 I bet we'll get to know each other better through higher quality questions and more interesting conversations!

Here are a few of my favorites:

“If you weren’t here tonight, what would you be doing on a normal Tuesday evening?”
 “What’s your favorite part of your work?”
 “What advice would you give yourself if you could rewind the clock to when you were just starting out?”
“What’s the best advice you were ever given?”
“What do you like to do on the weekends?”
“If you could start a business today, what would it be?”

 From Medium article written by Michael Thompson with 59 suggestions for initiating higher quality small-talk.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

How to listen when you violently disagree

I recently had a spontaneous and deep conversation with my Lyft driver, Jose, about strategies for spending time with family and friends  who have beliefs and values that differ from our own.  (Politics, religion, lifestyle are three biggies that come to mind.)   He expressed sadness that his family gets together but isn't close like they used to be. His own religious practice and sobriety are handled with silence.  "We just don't go there;" these topics are "off limits."

The sacrifice and trade-off of peace-keeping harmony is less authentic connection.

Here are a few challenges to consider as you gather over the next few weeks. Invite people to try "going there" on topics that are usually kept off limits with a few agreements that might create more of an open climate.

Consider adapting something like Don Miguel Ruiz’s 4 Agreements (I've added my own comments):
 Be impeccable with your word.   (watch your language, tone, and body for expressions of judgement!)
♡ Don't take anything personally.  (Give yourself credit for initiating something very challenging)
♡ Don't make assumptions.  (you KNOW they happen in our minds, but consider putting them aside and asking versus assuming or name-calling/labelling)
♡ Always do your best.  (Start by holding yourself accountable to this disciplined behavior, hopefully you will inspire others to do the same, but if not be willing to walk away knowing that you made an effort to connect)

If you engage in a topic where your perspectives and beliefs differ, notice and suspend your own judgement in service of understanding the other person not their position. Listen with true curiosity rather than a goal of being right or changing someone else's mind.  Consider saying something like, " I would like to discuss our different opinions openly and with curiosity if you are willing to care-fully give it a try.  Let's work to understand each other better and resist the urge to try to change each other's perspectives, or fight to be right"  and "While I disagree, I admire your passion and you know I love you"

One last note of caution - this might work best if done early in your time together and avoid trying this if alcohol has been consumed, it just makes emotional self-control much more challenging for all parties!  Sometimes though, it seems easier to do the things on this humorous list (thank you Graham) than to actually engage, listen, suspend judgement, exhibit curiosity when we just want to shut the other person down or disengage......

The goal of listening to understand is not being right, it's  true connection.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

This year I've been LISTENING to my body

Personal share - water-falling & ankle-rolling: 
On January 12th I took a beautiful hike with my dear friend and our dogs along a trail filled with waterfalls.
On the way back down,  I stumbled and rolled my left ankle laterally 90% with the ankle-
bone rolling and crushing down onto hard granite.  I managed to hike the mile-and-a-half back to the car.

(sprained ankle tip: keep on moving if not broken, natural pain relievers and inflammation reducers will keep you at bay until you can get to your destination or help)

For the next 3 months I pushed a hard pause on my trail-marathon training, and went through some rough endorphin withdrawals.  I knew that this was going to be an opportunity to dig deep into my toolbox of skills to listen to my body and emotions with curiosity, self-compassion, and patience as it slowly recovered...................

Here is a peek into my journal where I reflected on lessons from my ankle.

In the past, I have been frustrated by injuries and angry at my own body.  This time I chose to intentionally observe, listen, love and learn. 

I applied skills and tools that I offer to others - here's the list that kept me sane and healing:

  1. Daily meditation
  2. Thinking and communicating words of self-compassion
  3. Researching and consistently doing rehabilitation and strengthening exercises
  4. Celebrating small wins during my recovery
  5. Patience with re-building my running endurance, then speed

I'm happy to say that this past Sunday,  I completed the North Face Endurance Challenge Half-Marathon, and beat my estimated finish time significantly. 

This year has been hard work both physically and emotionally, and as I crossed that finish line, I had a joyous feeling of, "that was well worth the effort!"

Thanks to all who support me through this journey of life!

Monday, November 11, 2019

How do I listen to someone who RAMBLES?

Thanks to my amazing mom, Judy, for suggesting this topic.  This is especially on-point given the holiday season coming up.  Think of those various parties and family gatherings.

Sometimes we have great "conversational chemistry" with someone where the topics flow easily and turn-taking is natural because you are truly curious and interested in each other, and probably share similar values and views.

BUT....what about when our values and views and level of depth to our interest on a topic differ?

Here are some suggestions to consider when you have that "trapped" feeling of trying to listen to someone who can't seem to pause for a breath, or give any space for a question, or turn-taking:
Really listen with curiosity and interest if you can, it can be such a gift to listen attentively to someone who is passionate about their topic, and perhaps they rarely get the chance to share this with someone who cares  (even if you can't relate or don't agree with their perspective - politics, religion, values make this much harder!)  Notice your attention, if you find that you are pretending to listen this is defeating the experience for both of you.  If you are truly tuning out, feeling frustrated, or just needing a change of scenery from this discussion, you may want to try need to consider some of these next suggestions.
Ask a closed-ended question when you have the opportunity to jump in (this will result in yes, no, or a factual answer) "Which sport will your daughter play, soccer or lacrosse?"  or, "Have you made a decision what to do about this?" This can often bring the topic to a close.
Make a physical gesture to interrupt politely - I often raise a hand (or two) if I really need to say something (pardon me but I need to use the rest-room, I need to check-in with my partner etc)
Be clear with your time-limits
Let them know that this might be more detail than you can absorb
Engage the speaker with compassionate feedback, especially if the rambler has trouble with turn-taking and listening to you when you are sharing

Any and all of these are better than rejecting, avoiding, or fake-listening to a person.
Please share your ideas, stories and challenges.  I admit this one is so hard for me!

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

5 Habits of Exceptionally Good Listeners from Nick Wignall

Great advice from Nick Wignall from PSILOVEYOU website on the 5 Habits of Exceptionally Good Listeners:

Here is his list, but please visit the link above to read the full article, it's worthwhile!

1. Focus on the person, not the problem  - Most of us are problem-solvers at heart
2. Ask open-ended questions - conversations are more than information exchange. They’re about connection.
3. Reflect back what you’re hearing - shows them that we care and that we’re listening carefully
4. Validate their emotions - acknowledge whatever it is they feel without shame or fear
5. Validate your own emotions - Nothing sabotages your ability to listen faster than defensiveness

I am as encouraged by the comments on this thread as I am the outstanding writing of Nick Wignall.
He also offers several sample open-ended questions and useful pro-tips.

Which habit is the one you are willing to work on this week and how?

Monday, November 4, 2019

Listening and Empathy - Why "I understand" is NOT an empathic response

Sometimes, when someone else is telling me about their situation, I cut in with a seemingly empathetic, "I totally understand"
9 times out of 10, what I really feel is that I've got that person completely figured out, or I've lived through a similar experience enough that the story-telling triggers the memory of MY experience. 
Here's the problem:
The person was sharing their story and experience with me and instead of listening and asking questions  that would invite the person to expand and go deeper into their story, my mind wandered to my own..
Even worse is seizing a pause in the conversation to, "tell you about my similar experience" or jumping too quickly to advise, "have you tried...." The first is where I take over the conversation with my own story (NOT listening) then, a "have you tried" which is telling someone what to do (advice disguised as a question)
Taking turns can be a great way to be in conversation; notice who is doing more of the talking?   What more can you learn by asking one of my toolbox favorites, "what else?" and "tell me more (about)"
I've been making an effort to speak less and listen more wherever I am; social, work, even conflict.  I admit that it feels STRANGE not to talk as much, and benefit is that I am learning more about the people in my life.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Put it on the bike rack

This is about LISTENING for your distractions.

bikes are hard to draw.  Lots and lots of practice...
Often times, one of the best practices in meetings is to have a bike rack (aka parking lot) to park anything that side-tracks you from your focus.  This not only helps the conversation/project/your thoughts or work stay in the forefront of your attention, AND it enables you (and the group) to honor the side-track as a potentially meaningful topic that you can spend time thinking/discussing when it is YOUR intention rather than allowing constantly distracted thoughts or conversation topics.

During my innovation training, I learned that it's important to honor these connections that happen in the brain, it's called "in and out thinking" and part of your natural creative thinking process, don't try to shut down distractions or connections, but rather write them down because there is often great genius in these connections.

If you are one of those "constant interrupter" listeners, this will be especially helpful for you to stay focused when you are listening to others, park the random thought with a simple word or doodle, it lets you come back "in" to listening, and honors your brain's

Use your bike rack, it's there for you!

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Listen to yourself: Explore 3 paths to building your Masterpiece

The most rewarding and creative masterpiece you can work on is YOURSELF.
creative projects bring me joy

Keep sculpting, weaving, adding colors, kneading as you fine-tune the best possible version of yourself you can create.  This is like exercise for your spirit and soul.

Here are 3 P's as paths to explore and cultivate your best possible gift to the world.

1. PASSION: Listen to yourself when you describe your very best day, what were you doing?  How did you feel?  Why did you feel the passion on that day?  This question can help you identify the activities and environment in which you can thrive and grow, also known as being in the FLOW  (as I learned from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)  How can you invite more of this passion into your life where you can tap into that magical feeling of flow?

2. POWER: Listen to your strengths to borrow from the talented and inspirational Marcus Buckingham, "do you have the chance to use your strengths every day?"  First of all, can you acknowledge and list your strengths?  Which strengths are the ones that people come to you for support, guidance, and mentorship?  Which strengths are ones that you enjoy using the most?  There is such power in focusing, amplifying and using your strengths vs obsessively focusing your energy on your gaps or weaknesses.  Find opportunities to share your strengths in your profile, headlines, online information, and when you are networking.  The more you get to use these, the stronger and more motivated you can fuel your masterpiece.

3. Listening to PURPOSE - Most of us these days are seeking opportunities to find greater purpose in our lives, work, and actions.

  •  Seth Godin, "instead of looking for your purpose, live your purpose"
  • Julia Butterfly Hill, “We call it ‘finding your own true north’– like on a compass. In production-driven societies, we’re tricked into believing that true north is outside of us. So we’re constantly looking outside ourselves to figure out if this is the right job, the right house, the right relationship, the right subject to be studying. But our true north is invariably inside us …if we do what we love to do, what we’re inspired to do, what we believe in, it creates an entirely different response.”
  • "What unique gift in this universe wants to manifest itself in or through me?"  15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership

Above all else, be open to listening to, learning from, and noticing about yourself.   
Use this compassionate self-awareness to fuel the ongoing growth of your perfectly unique masterpiece.
  • Susan Sontag, “I must change my life, so that I can live it, not wait for it.”

Friday, October 18, 2019

Responsive Listening is letting go of CONTROL says M.Nichols

I just finished the book The Lost Art of Listening by Michael P. Nichols and while I was not crazy about his rambly writing or therapy-patient-heavy anecdotes, I did find it to be full of truths about the challenges we have in being good listeners.

The core concepts in this book are solid and his activities to try at the end of each chapter are worth looking at to find practical ideas to try to shift your behavior.

The title of this blog post is one of M.Nichols' comments about listening during conflict/debate/disagreement.  He talks about how we tend to go back and forth to defend our position, often cutting the other person off.  When we are in debate, do you try to win?  Do you try to convince the other person to change their mind because of your brilliant forceful reasoning?

M.Nichols suggests that we can first listen and fully hear the person out, even when we don't agree or can't relate.  This is more about conveying curiosity, genuine interest in where the other person is coming from, and it is NOT EASY!  He describes this as Responsive Listening which requires relinquishing control over the outcome/conversation and staying open and curious.  This requires taking a GENUINE INTEREST in the person.

The next time you are in a debate/disagreement, consider trying to ask more open-ended questions to increase your understanding and compassion for the other person's perspective, opinion, and position.  The author suggests we even wait until another day to convey OUR position....I'm not sure I would be capable of this, but I have been working on debating from a place of personal passion and conviction, without having the goal of "winning" or convincing the other person to change their mind and the result has been less elevated emotions and more personal connection, even when we vehemently disagree.

Who will you try this with?  (Warning: partners, offspring and parents are extra-credit challenging for most of us!  I find that casual friends or work colleagues have been where I've had better initial success)

Thursday, October 17, 2019

L.I.S.T.E.N...why is Listening for Everything???

Listening for Everything

Who comes to mind when you think about a really good listener in your life?

This blog is dedicated to those of us who want to work to become this person, and we know that we are far from it.

I thought about calling this "listening for narcissists" but then I didn't want to:

a. admit to being a narcissist

b. discourage thoughtful and compassionate and empathetic people that might think that this was written for them.

c. Miss the opportunity to reach as many humans as possible

I realized that listening skills were going to help EVERYONE with EVERYTHING!

Try this out:   
Think for a moment about something ANYTHING (death, love, parenthood, leadership, traffic, taxes, exercise, siblings.....seriously think of something.....)  now, think for a moment about how an improvement in listening could improve the outcome of this thing......if you are arguing or struggling to make this connection, perhaps you are not listening.

Early in my career as a buyer, I was presenting at a product approval meeting in front of 100 of my colleagues and leaders.  My CEO challenged my ideas and strategies, and each time, I was quick with an answer.  After a couple of back-and-forth challenge/solve volleys, this CEO interrupted me with, "Tres, L.I.S.T.E.N.,  I just want you to listen"   I finally got it.  

I hope that you don't need to experience this kind of demoralizingly impactful feedback, but I hope that you find your way here (and back here) if you are willing to embark on this journey with me.

I am eager to bring this topic via interactive public speaking to a group near you.  I haven't yet met a group, team, community, or partnership that hasn't benefitted from improved listening skills, and I am ready to do this work with you.

With a promise to bring energy, enthusiasm, research, and my own stories as a living witness to this work and the beautifully rewarding benefits of improving,

Tres Jiménez
Facilitator, Coach, Public Speaker

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Questions are tools that enable you to LISTEN

One of the best tools for listening can be a collection of great open-ended questions.

The guy on the right is a great listener (when he is not lost in jacksplaining)
Consider having a go-to question to use when you first meet someone that is a break from the typical, "how are you doing?" or "what do you do?" 
Designer colleague Patrick Robinson asked me, "how's your world?" and it was just enough to shift away from cliche.

Share your go-to in the comments!

Here is a sampling of questions to spark your creativity:
  • What brought you here?
  • What excites you right now?
  • When you're not working, how do you like to spend your time?
  • What are you reading currently?
  • What’s the first concert you attended?
  • Where do you most hope to visit?
  • Where did you grow up?
  • What's your favorite word or number (or animal) and why?
  • What was your first job?
  • What's one thing you're excited about that's coming up next year?
  • What was the worst job you've ever had?
  • What was your favorite subject in school?
  • What’s your little-known talent?
  • What’s the most important thing I should know about you?
Below the Surface:
  • If you could spend a day in someone else’s shoes, whose would they be? Why?
  • What's one thing your family taught you that completely changed your life?
  • What’s been on your mind lately?
  • What’s the first career you dreamed of having as a kid?
  • What's one of your favorite memories?
  • What's one thing about you that surprises people?
  • Who, or what, was your biggest teacher?
  • What was something you've done that made you feel extreme happiness?
  • What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
  • If you could instantly become an expert in something, what would it be?
  • What does success mean to you?
  • What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
  • Where is your happy place?
  • What energizes you and brings you excitement?
  • What qualities do you value in the people with whom you spend time?
  • For what would you be famous?
  • What does your dream day look like?
  • If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?
  • What’s your guilty pleasure?
  • At what job would you be terrible?
  • If you had to choose only 3 adjectives to describe yourself, which would you choose?
Going Deep -
  • What is a dream you have that you’ve yet to achieve?
  • What's something you say you'll do, but never will?
  • Has anything ever happened to you that you could not, and cannot, explain?
  • What is one thing about you that people misunderstand?
  • For what are you most grateful today?
  • If you could have one 'do over' in your life, what would you do differently?
  • Of what are you most afraid?

Saturday, September 21, 2019

The most important thing you can do during a tough conversation?

Yep.  You guessed it,  it's LISTENING.
The power and benefit of listening during a tough conversation.  
What questions do you ask that keep you focused on listening (vs being right)? 
One I've been using is, "what was your experience?"  and "what else...?"
(to train myself more than anything) 

Friday, September 20, 2019

How are you "listening"?