Photo courtesy of Suzi Pomerantz, www.innovativeleader.com
I recently interviewed master executive coach Suzi Pomerantz, CEO of Innovative Leadership International, LLC, and author of 20 publications including her most recent book, Seal the Deal: The Essential Mindsets for Growing Your Professional Services Business (HRD Press, 2006). I recently saw an article she wrote entitled, “Powerful Conversations Generate Powerful Results,” and wanted to talk to her more about this topic. Following is our discussion.
Alice Waagen: In your article, “Powerful Conversations Generate Powerful Results,” you say that extraordinary results occur when executives expand their ability to listen beyond what is being spoken. But the key is to communicate so that people are inspired to take action. What do you mean, exactly?
Suzi Pomerantz: I believe that in the time we spend with our colleagues, and our families and friends, too often we focus on how we feel, how we will be perceived — rather than on the experience the other person is having. As a result, we become self-conscious, self-focused and ultimately ineffective.
The problem is that we don’t want to be perceived as “less than,” so we work to find the right words, sound sincere and knowledgeable, and focus on being interesting instead of interested. But the secret to having an effective, powerful conversation — not to mention a powerful personal relationship — is to be sincerely interested in the other person.
Alice: You are particularly interested in educating people on how to be masters at having effective dialogues, right?
Suzi: Absolutely. Results happen through conversations. Real and important conversations only occur when two or more people engage in a discussion where they share ideas, thoughts and authentic feelings.
It’s the exact opposite of a monologue, which is that little voice in your head that makes you think that whatever fleeting thought you have is wise and insightful. Disregard that, because it doesn’t involve a mutual sharing of ideas. Most likely, it’s your ego speaking, and often it’s a harbor for your own fears.
Alice: So how does a leader who wants to stay effective conduct a successful dialogue?
Suzi: The first step is to ask yourself, “What conversations do I need to have and with whom to get the result I’m looking for?” Communicate any concerns you have with someone you trust. Talk about what you think will happen if you engage in an authentic dialogue, because that creates a healthy context for what you really want to talk about. Ask yourself, “Is there a conversation I need to have before I have the conversation I really want to have?”
Alice: So in order to have an effective dialogue, you want leaders to stay genuinely interested in what the other person has to say.
Suzi: It’s critical. And you will know you are having a powerful conversation when the other person is sharing openly and honestly their concerns, providing feedback, and offering ideas. This is your opportunity to be truly interested in what they have to say.
Alice: Very interesting. That’s actually something that I share with leaders when I do my workshops. And what I really appreciate about what you are saying in this essay is the section at the end where you talk about the things that move leaders away from having an effective dialogue.
Suzi: Yes, that’s important stuff — there are definitely buttons that a person can push to alienate others. These include turning to silence, or to negative assessments cloaked as feedback, when it’s obvious that the other person feels hurt or worried. Sometimes leaders try, and succeed, at turning the conversation their way when they don’t trust the person they are talking to, but when trust is missing the goal is to increase awareness and generate trust in the conversation.
Alice: But there are ways to move the conversation back to having an effective dialogue.
Suzi: Definitely. Leaders should pay particular attention if an employee tells them they feel hurt or worried. And if they tell you they are worried about completing a project, realize that what they are really saying is that they need your support. My colleague and friend, Sandor Kovacs, CEO of Run Rhino, often tells leaders: “Anything that you are unwilling to communicate creates waste in an organization.”
Alice: I love that quote. And what strikes me most about it is the fact that the conversations a leader chooses to avoid never really go away and often show up in unhappy employees and unproductive projects.
Suzi: You got it. A leader’s ability to generate dialogue from a powerful place, and focus on another person’s intelligence and point of view, helps them preemptively avoid conflict and distrust. In today’s competitive environment, especially in this economy, is there anything more important than that?
For more visit Suzi’s website: www.innovativeleader.com
ABOUT Alice Waagen’s Workforce Learning
Workforce Learning LLC is a leadership development company that provides managers and C-level executives with the skills and knowledge they need to build a more productive work environment. Since founding the company in 1997, owner Alice Waagen, PhD, has developed highly effective leadership programs and coaching workshops that teach the people in charge how to motivate and inspire employees. “Research shows that the single reason most organizations fail to thrive is a lack of strong people skills among those at the top,” Alice says. “We work to ensure organizations are healthy from the top down, and ultimately if an organization has happy, energized, effective employees they find it reflected in the bottom line.” For more information, visit www.workforcelearning.com.