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MASTERING COMMUNICATION AT WORKHOW TO LEAD, MANAGE, AND INFLUENCE
By Ethan F. Becker Jon Wortmann
McGraw-HillCopyright © 2009 Ethan F. Becker and Jon Wortmann
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMATCH YOUR LISTENER'S TENDENCY
Have you ever felt frustrated when someone won't get to the point? Or felt like the person you're talking to just isn't hearing you? Master communicators navigate this challenge of understanding using an ancient technique from Aristotle that you can learn quickly. This chapter will teach you how to connect with your listeners.
You'll Know Your Tendency by the End of the First Paragraph Inductive Thinkers
To figure out whether someone is an inductive or a deductive thinker, listen for the point. For instance, suppose a coworker says to you that last Sunday he was at a family dinner and his mother-in-law was there, and she said that he should lose some weight. He goes on to say that he found that rude, but that based on her comment he decided to take up jogging (stay with us now—this is all on purpose). So he tells you that he went to the mall to get some sneakers. But when he got there, he couldn't find a parking place, so he had to park on the other side of the mall from the shoe store, and when he had walked through the whole mall to get to the store, it didn't have sneakers.
Are you still with him, or do you want him to get to the point? Your answer determines your tendency in the moment.
So he keeps going, and he says that he went to another store, where he found these great white sneakers. He knows his mother-in-law is just going to love them. He's planning to go for a jog this afternoon, and he wants to know if you think it's going to rain.
Because he is an inductive thinker, he can't just ask if it's going to rain. He is not trying to annoy you or cause you teeth-grinding, fingers-screeching-down- the-blackboard pain, but he can't ask you this question if he doesn't tell you the important details about his mother-in-law and the process of buying his shoes. He is trying to be helpful because he feels you need to know all the details first.
It may sound like babble, but these are not just random thoughts. This is an example of someone who is extremely inductive. He is still inductive if he says, "I just got a new pair of sneakers and I don't want to get them dirty; do you know if it's going to rain?" The question about rain is the point, and being able to notice whether it comes first or last is the core competency of mastering the technique. If you are a leader or a manager and you are working with an inductive thinker, you need to communicate the details before you make your point if you want him to get the message.
If you are working with a deductive thinker, she needs the point first. She still cares about the details of what you have to say, but she will become incredibly impatient if you tell a story or try to ask a question without first clarifying what you want.
Take the same example of today's weather. An extremely deductive thinker who does not want to get her new white running shoes dirty and who had the exact same experience with a meddling mother-in-law might simply ask you, "Is it going to rain today?" The most extreme deductive thinkers might not even use a full sentence: They might just say, "Rain?" They want to know about rain, and that is all they'll mention. If your colleague says, "Do you know if it's going to rain today? I just got new sneakers, and I don't want to get them dirty," she is also deductive.
It is easy to feel that deductive thinkers are cold and don't care about the details; however, they are not trying to be curt or brush off the intricacies of what you are trying to say. They care about the nuances of an idea or story just as much as someone who is inductive, so if you are working with a deductive teammate, if she is to be able to process the reasons behind what you are saying, she needs the point first so that she can understand how to process the details.
The First Technique: Match Your Listener's Tendency
How much would you pay to work with the man who studied with Plato for 20 years, expanded every field of human knowledge, and in his spare time coached Alexander the Great (before he conquered the world)? Our understanding of how the best leaders communicate begins with Aristotle. Unfortunately, all we have are his lecture notes. They read like gibberish until you translate his ideas into ways in which you can communicate differently today. He was the first to recognize that people need information presented in patterns, and that those patterns are distinct. The most important pattern that applies to your work is details.
Listeners are either inductive or deductive, and they respond to the kind of communication that matches their natural tendency. Deductive thinkers want the point first and then the details that support it. Inductive thinkers need to hear the details first before they can consider the point.
Deductive = point first, details second
Inductive = details first, point second
Neither way of thinking is better than the other, but being able to match what your listener needs is most important if you want him to understand you. The first technique is to
1. Figure out your tendency (whether you are deductive or inductive) in different environments.
2. To determine the tendency of the person with whom you are speaking observe where they put the details.
3. Adjust your communication to match that person's tendency.
Aristotle did not suggest that one tendency is better than the other: Instead, he realized that different tendencies are more or less effective in different circumstances, and if you want to persuade someone with your argument or help him to understand your ideas, you need to figure out his pattern of thinking and match it. When you are in the role of leader or manager, if you are to direct your team effectively, the members of your team have to trust you. Matching their tendencies is one way to show that you value them. When people know that you value them, they will follow you anywhere and do extraordinary things.
Why They Drive You Crazy
Here's the challenge and why it is so hard for us. People who are deductive swear that this is the right way to be. The same goes for inductive thinkers. However, the truth is:
Master communicators are able to change the way they communicate so that they meet the needs of the person with whom they are speaking, and, most importantly, they are comfortable changing the way they communicate.
Think about that friend or colleague of yours who never stops talking—the one you think is not logical because her points don't seem to connect. If she is inductive, her points do connect for her, and everything she is saying is important to her. Also think about that teammate who barely talks, and while you value how concise he can be, you also feel that he doesn't give you enough information. He needs you to start with the point you're trying to make and then follow up with the details.
If you're the manager and the person who is inductive is the subordinate, and you don't listen to her, you hurt the relationship. If you're frustrated, you probably send nonverbal signals that imply that you don't care about what she has to say. The skill for a master communicator is to stop and give the inductive person your attention. If you're leading a meeting and the people you're working with are deductive, and you give a long introduction to the initiative you want them to lead, they will stop listening and miss what you need from them. The skill is to open with the point—stated concisely.
It's common for people to feel, "I am who I am, and I don't want to change." This is not about changing who you are as a person; it's about being a stronger communicator. If you are a leader or a manager, your people will learn from you. If you practice communicating, they will too. If you build trust with them, they will build trust with their colleagues and clients, and the exponential impact on the effectiveness of their work and your organization will be measured not in soft accolades, but in trusted relationships that make success possible. A leader, regardless of his natural tendency, is fluent in both deductive and inductive communication.
It Happens Every Day
The Colleague Who Pops By
You are the manager. You're sitting in your office, writing an important e-mail to a client or your boss. In comes your chatty subordinate Jerry, who says, "Hi, Bill; did you see that game last night?"
You reply, "Nope."
He says, "Boy, it was amazing," then goes on to talk about it for five minutes, while you barely turn your head toward him and try to hurry the conversation along with a quick "Aha" or "Oh, wow."
Who is inductive and who is deductive? How does Jerry feel at the end of the conversation, given your short responses? If you had given him five minutes of your attention, how much more comfortable would he feel around you? Would that help or hurt trust?
Jerry, your subordinate, is inductive, while you are deductive. You don't have to give him half an hour. It is normal to worry that he will keep coming by every hour, but after five minutes of real conversation, you can say, "Hey, Jerry, I need to get back to work, but I look forward to our three o' clock meeting," and Jerry will appreciate your listening and be more likely to refocus on his own work. Even more important, because you have a strong relationship and he trusts you, when you need him to be deductive, he will be.
Innovation Gets Lost
Your teammate Jeff walks into your office and says, "Sarah, we should spend $50,000 on a trade show."
He read an article about a company that researches trade shows, and there was a recommendation for an event in Las Vegas that he feels will make a big impact on your bottom line for next quarter.
Now, keep in mind that you, as the manager, were in the middle of finishing your presentation for the board of directors. All you heard was "$50,000," and so without looking up you say, "Jeff, that's insane."
He walks away from your office, and never mentions the idea again.
Is Jeff inductive or deductive? He immediately got to the point, and because he is so deductive and you were distracted, you got stuck on the "$50,000." What if he had a great idea? Whether you are inductive or deductive, because you were busy you've sent out a message that you don't value the work he did to come up with the idea, and depending on the severity of your tone, he may think that you don't trust him.
As a manager, when Jeff comes to your office, invest thirty seconds and you will save months of damage control needed to repair the relationship. If your relationship is strong enough, he'll bring up his idea again another time, but you have to build that kind of trust. Stop what you're doing, turn your body to him, and then ask for some background information. Think of it as an investment. You know you have to get back to your presentation, so after a minute or two say, "This is the kind of thinking that I love to hear. I'm going to need more details and I'm not free right now." And then set up a time to talk again, or ask him to get on the agenda of a meeting where there's time to explore his proposal further.
The Meeting Is Over before It Starts
Your executive team has to make an essential recommendation to the board of directors. You have two choices: cut staff or raise capital. You're the CEO. You've asked your chief financial officer to make the presentation and to hold a meeting to get feedback from the executive team first. The CFO is talking casually with the other execs as you show up late.
The CFO opens up with a title slide with her name, then begins by giving a history of the problem for 15 minutes. Then she spends half an hour on the analytics and the breakout and 20 minutes talking about the possible directions you could go. Finally, she closes without any action statements and turns it over for questions.
These meetings usually go in one of two ways. The group members may make a few comments about adding a slide or putting a little more text on one of the charts, but generally they will all say, "Sounds good; see you at the meeting." This is dangerous because the executives weren't listening.
If your CFO gave an inductive presentation like the one we described here, the executives were checking their e-mail and thinking about what they were going to do after work. There are inductive executive teams and boards, and you need to figure out the tendency of your exec team and board so that your presentations can match its needs, but the trend is for them to be deductive. A deductive board would shut this presentation down in less than 60 seconds, and your executives didn't because the CFO didn't match their tendency, and they stopped paying attention.
If you're the CEO and you recognize that the presentation was inductive, the danger is not over because you need to help your CFO come to the conclusion that she should be more deductive. What normally happens is bad tact: you cut her off in less than a minute, saying, "What do you need from me? Don't you realize we're presenting to the board tomorrow?" Imagine what this does to your relationship with your CFO and her relationship with the other subordinates in the room.
The words to say are, "The thing we need to do in the first 60 seconds is show the board members what we need from them. I know this board; I know they happen to be deductive," and then take the next half hour crafting the message. If your CFO is inductive, she will have a difficult time saying, "We need $500 million." Instead, she'll say, "We need to explore growing operations and perhaps moving our headquarters to Europe"—which is still inductive. Because she is an inductive thinker, your CFO has to talk through the details to get to the point. You need to say, "Try your presentation again, starting with the last slide." It will feel awkward only to the CFO. When she can say, "Over the next hour, I'm going to share with you why we need $500 million to go to the next level of the business plan," she's ready.
Big Jon Platt
Big Jon Platt is one of the most important music publishers in the world. He began his career as a DJ and moved into the business side of music by managing producers, and when the professional who was buying songs from his clients left EMI, he got the call. As head of its Urban division nationally, he had a history of signing musicians like Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Beyoncé, and then in 2007, he became president of Publishing West Coast.
His challenge is communicating effectively with artists, managers, executives, boards, and a staff of 30: people from all over the globe and from completely different worlds. EMI is a British company, but Big Jon lives and works in Los Angeles. He has been a giant on the urban scene for years, but now he is responsible for all musical genres. To be effective, he flows between inductive and deductive communication as easily as he switches from creative development to the executive functions of managing his business.
"I knew the urban field so well that when someone came to me with a question or a comment, within two seconds, I knew how the rest of the conversation was going to go," says Big Jon. But that changed when he took over the West Coast catalog, he recalls:
With all genres reporting to me, I had to learn to become a good listener again. Even though it's all music, different genres are run differently. I really had to listen to the whole conversation, or the whole question, or the whole problem, and then try to help the person analyze the best way to get past it; or if he's giving me some good news, to make sure I hear it.
My style becomes the style of the person I'm meeting with, but I want people to get straight to the point. That's why I had to become a good listener again. If you don't listen, there's always the risk that you think you understand what someone's saying, but you could be on a totally different planet. I can assume you're coming to me with a problem I've handled ten times before, but if I'm deductive, I could be totally wrong. I could totally miss what you need.
Big Jon changes his tendency based on his listener: "I had to motivate one of my guys, and we had an inductive conversation. I had to go step by step with him: what the job really is, how he was veering off track, and how he could be doing better. Then we had a conversation where we confirmed what we discussed. He never got defensive, and from our conversation, he said, 'I've taken myself out of my shoes and looked at me from a different light, and I look crazy right now.' At that point he wanted to know how he could turn things around. That kept it positive and focused. He was mature and someone who wants to take control of the situation for the better."
Excerpted from MASTERING COMMUNICATION AT WORK by Ethan F. Becker Jon Wortmann Copyright © 2009 by Ethan F. Becker and Jon Wortmann. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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