“Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing.” – Tom Peters
If you have read my book The People Project, read my blog for any length of time, or sat in the audience where I have spoken may be know my communication mantra: Ask More, Tell Less, Teach When You Can.
Communication, the Human Connection
Paul Meyer correctly identifies communication skill as “the human connection”. If you believe, as I do that the business of business is people, making the human connection is a key to personal and business success.
With the help of the Quill Pig (the lovable porcupine) we can recognize the negative emotional affect of telling in communication. Telling usually shuts down dialog, discovery, and personal contribution. Effective leaders avoid “telling” as a communication style because telling pushes people away.
The secret to leading people is to ask more and tell less. It is to use open-ended questions because asking …
- Encourages the exchange of ideas, discussion, dialogue
- Sends a message of value, respect, and honor
- Signals trust and appreciation
- Flows from a place of freedom
- Indicates a released need to control
What’s your communication goal?
Whereas telling pushes people away asking invites people to stay. To encourage others to stay engaged in a conversation, solution-seeking, problem solving, or decision making is the desired outcome.
Of course there will be a time to provide direction or advocate how something must be done. Go for it…be a great teacher, but tap into the resource of the other person(s), first.
Why don’t we ask more?
When communication is about exchanging information in order to achieve something, why this tendency to tell and push others away?
If telling is less productive, why do we tell so much?
Here are five reasons we tend to tell. What do you think?
- Excessive Control – this need to limit or restrict what happens: who does what on a project. Whether driven by perfectionism or an unwillingness to delegate, trying to control by telling limits the opportunity for others to contribute, to grow, to develop their skills
- Fear – anxiety regarding how it might turn out if we open the conversation to others can drive a telling style in order to“minimize the risk”
- Defensiveness – telling as a means of preventing communication. As Abraham Maslow points out, “Behavior in the human being is sometimes a defense, a way of concealing motives and thoughts, as language (telling?) can be a way of hiding your thoughts and preventing communication.” (Emphasis added)
- Pace – the deceptive thought is it takes “too much time” to engage people in dialogue; just tell them what to do
- Habit – whether you think “telling” is a bad communication habit or not, if it is a regularly repeated behavior pattern it is a habit
Do you want the power?
Chief Justice of the United States, John Marshall writes, “To listen well is as powerful a means of communication and influence as to talk well.”
To summarize …
- People appreciate the respect and honor associated with being asked for their thoughts and input
- People – especially talented people – resist being told what to do
- To ask open-ended quesitons invites people to stay and engage; telling pushes them away
One secret to leading people is to develop the habit of using this leadership skill: asking well-crafted, open-ended questions. This alone will enlarge your influnece and take your communication to the next level.