Okay, this is somewhat of a metaphorical post. Still, I expect that you can apply the concepts of this story to your own “mountains” that you need to climb and summit.

A few weeks ago, I backpacked with my friend Bill. What’s great about going into the wilderness for a few days with Bill (in this case, four days) is that we communicate so well, respect each others needs, and consider them throughout the trip. This kind of deep communication becomes especially pointed living in the woods when your kitchen and bedroom are in the pack on your back.

adk-mountainThis trip, our goal was to summit four of the forty-six 4,000-foot peaks in New York’s Adirondack park. (Actually, there are only 43 such peaks. Apparently, past climbers couldn’t measure very well, but history dictates compliance with their inaccurate measurements.) Four days, 32 miles, 12,000 feet of elevation gain, fifty-pound packs, all planned with a guide book last published seven years ago—an eon for the Adirondacks where landscape-altering storms are the norm.

While we had a general idea of the summiting trails, we also knew that routes and conditions would be different—in two cases, markedly different as it turned out—from descriptions written at least seven years ago, and probably eight. We knew this going in, and we knew that we would be trying to get the latest conditions, from whoever we crossed paths with, always an eye-opening and trusting endeavor.

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From lost relationships to steep financial penalties, the price of poor communication is high

Poor communication costs business millions of dollars every single day. Most executives and managers understand this, yet they don’t realize how big a part they play in this miscommunication.

cemetary-stonesFinancial statements do not carry a line item for poor communication, although they should since, with a little effort, it can quickly be quantified.

Communication is vital to the success of your organization. To be most effective, communication must circulate and reach all levels, not just the core.

Different forms of poor communication. Here are but a few:

  • Long, unproductive, numbing meetings without a clear purpose or agenda, often reaching no conclusions, result in lost productivity as well as the collective time of everyone attending.
  • Poor documentation neglects to mention the purpose of the software or hardware and only explains how it works. Users, however, don’t care how it works; they want to know how to use it!
  • Uninspired selling skills and anemic sales presentations showing no interest or understanding of a prospect’s needs, result in missed opportunities and lost sales.

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True listening engages not only your ears and mind, but also your eyes and heart

An update: Solari is currently working with two clients, helping them with audience analysis, interviewing, writing, and presentation skills. It struck me — again — how much listening plays a critical part in communication. So, even though we published this position paper of listening a while ago, it bears reiterating. Enjoy.

True listening encompasses all there is about effective listening, and augments professional discourse with a human touch. Effective listening hears the words; true listening hears the person. Effective listening employs your ears and mind; true listening engages your eyes and heart. Effective listening understands the message; true listening transcends the message and gains profound insight.

still-more-floraTaken together, effective listening and true listening deeply enhance your relationships.

True listening means seeing beyond the words, engendering trust, and establishing an emotional personal connection.

See beyond the words. The nonverbal part of communication often expresses more than the actual words themselves. To truly listen, engage all your senses.

As you hear someone talk and begin to understand the concept, look for the emotion, passion, and feeling of the words to truly understand the depth of the message. Instead of just asking questions to better comprehend, recognize and articulate these emotions and feelings. Many times the person talking doesn’t even realize how emotionally involved they are.

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United Airlines broke the guitar of Dave Carroll of the band Sons of Maxwell, and he wasn’t happy. For a couple of reasons. First, while changing planes in Chicago, he and his band mates watched United’s baggage handlers throwing his guitar. And second, this was a $3,500 Taylor guitar, quite an expensive musical instrument.

And, as suspected, when Dave arrived in Nebraska, he found the guitar’s neck broken. So Dave complained and asked for compensation. Enter the airline albatross of denial, as any of you know if you’ve ever had to file a claim for damaged or lost baggage. You probably can conclude the results: claim denied. And that was the beginning of United’s nightmare…  justifiably.

A number of events occurred after that, the most caustic and influential being a song written by Dave in United’s “honor” and performed by the band.

This video already has had almost 5 million (!) viewings. Subsequently, articles about Dave’s plight appeared in many publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Independent (British). That’s viral social media at work. The power is tremendous!

So what has come of all this. Well, United donated $3,000 to the Thelonius Institute, a charity that supports jazz. Then, Bob Taylor, the guitar’s maker, gave Dave two free Taylor guitars.The video and resulting publicity has put the Sons of Maxwell on the musical map. So Dave came away fairly well.

How did United fare? Apparently, not so well. Within days of this video being published together with a flurry of related articles, United”s stock dropped 10%, costing shareholders about $180 million.

Social Media: a force for the rest of us.

–Rich Maggiani

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Effective listening means you get the message clear and complete, without bias

Effective listening is one of the most challenging activities you can engage in, and yet one of the most rewarding and beneficial – both to the person talking and especially to you, the listener. You have effectively listened when you can clearly articulate what the other person has said and understand it from their point of view. How do you get there? By concentrating, putting their message first (and yours second), and considering their background, perspective, and situation.

tantalus-rocky-streamConcentrate. What you might suspect is true. Concentrating while listening is far more difficult than during any other form of communication. Why? Simply put, we think much faster than we talk.

People say, on average, about 125 words a minute. But words can speed through our mind at the rate of 1,200 a minute and often much faster. Thus, speech happens at about 10% of your mind’s capacity. When listening, it’s virtually impossible to slow your thoughts to that pace – you continue to think at high speed. What you do with that other 90% of processing power is the essence of effective listening.

Concentration increases when you engage in a few mental activities focused on what you hear. First, think ahead: where is this going; what conclusions could you draw? Second, evaluate the talker’s points: are they complete, clear, sensible, overly emotional? And third, review all that has been said and think about it in its entirety.

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The question is not whether you should engage in social media, but rather how to do it intelligently, effectively, and profitably by implementing our four-step plan

Engaging social media to promote your company is similar to taking a long trip in your car. You must take these four steps:

road-to-kansas1. The vehicle you are taking: one you know how to drive.

2. Where you are going: your destination or goal.

3. How you are going to get to your destination; what are the means or objectives, for attaining your goals: the roads to take.

4. Checkpoints along the way: to assess your trip and possibly to make adjustments.

One thing is certain: a long trip does not happen overnight. It simply takes time.

All of these factors about taking a long trip are true about engaging social media, except there are multiple vehicles, goals, objectives, and checkpoints. Let’s look at them individually.

1. Vehicles. When taking a long trip, it’s best to choose a reliable vehicle. In social media, there are many reliable vehicles. Chief among these are blogs (posted from your web site), microblogs (through Twitter), social networks (Facebook being the most popular), and professional networks (LinkedIn by far the largest). There are others, of course, but these vehicles represent a firm foundation for your social media efforts.

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Your character has much to do with your ability to listen and people’s willingness to talk to you

Would you like to know more about what is going on in your company; about your staff; about your prospects and clients? Then all you have to do is listen.

statue-of-libertyAh, but listening is not easy. If it were, more people would do it with verve. But it is just that difficulty that sets those who truly listen apart, and elevates them in the mind of others. People will seek you out because they know you will take the time to truly listen to them. Given that place of honor in their circle of colleagues means that you discover more information faster, are more of a confidant, and gain a deeper association with those around you.

Listening is good for business. How? People feel free to tell you what is really going on in the company, and do not feel they have to gloss over it. And it’s just this kind of in-depth truth that helps you solve problems when they are still small.

There are a number of characteristics to becoming an exceptional listener that are easily within your reach: humility, patience, respect, sincerity, and empathy. You have varying levels of these traits in your character; it just takes a bit of focus to bring them out.

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Listening well is a profitable and worthwhile activity

People who truly listen understand that effective listening provides solid, reliable benefits. Listening expands your knowledge, helps best solve problems, aids in negotiations, reduces mistakes and misunderstandings, and enables that nirvana of all business situations: enhanced relationships with prospects and clients. And where do all these benefits ultimately lead? More recognition, greater income, increased market share, and higher profitability.

solari-kidsExpand your knowledge. No one knows everything. You can certainly learn from reading, but when you listen to someone, you get consolidated information that goes to the heart of the matter. The talker has already discarded the useless and minimized the peripheral. You get the true nuggets of what’s most important. As you react, this talker can tailor what they are saying, explain something in greater detail. You can ask questions to gain more insight and depth. You can also learn things that have not yet been written down.

Everyone has something to say… if you just listen long enough. My teenage daughter, Alita, once had a piano teacher, Mrs Regis (not her real name, of course). While brilliant on a piano, what Mrs Regis said during a conversation could be quite incomprehensible. Picking up Alita after practice often meant enduring more of Mrs Regis’s flighty thoughts. Alita and I tried listening, but we always seemed to come away wide-eyed and baffled. I often questioned the value of listening to her, until one enlightening moment that completely changed my perspective.

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Effective communication depends mainly on listening

A national panic ensued during the 1938 radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds. People didn’t listen to the many announcements made throughout the broadcast that the story was fictitious. Halfway through the program, Orson Welles looked up from his microphone to discover that the studio was filled with police. Radio stations, newspapers, hospitals, and police were flooded with phone calls regarding the “invasion”. People don’t listen any better today, to a great cost for them and everyone else involved.

listening-pointListening is at the forefront of communication. Just think about how often during the day you spend time listening: the radio during your commute, television in the evening, at the movie theatre, through ear buds attached to a portable music player, audio seminars and podcasts over the Web, office conversations, airport announcements. The listening ability of airplane pilots and control tower personnel is critical to a successful and safe flight. And those company meetings you attend: one person talking, everyone else listening. The written word, and its incumbent paperwork, is much slower than the spoken word — when business needs to move fast, the keyboard and pen are eschewed in favor of oral communication: talking and listening.

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