Perhaps the most important skill a leader can have is to engage in timely, appropriate, and ultimately successful conversations with others.
So often things get in the way. It might be that we are uncomfortable with the other person or the subject is something that we have been avoiding. Sometimes it is just our own reluctance or what we project to be the resistance of the other individual. And it could well be that we have spent so much time coming up with our own script and arguments prior to engaging in conversation that we forget the goal of any interaction is connecting with another.
Whether it’s a coaching moment, a periodic review, or a status check on a project, the best approach for a leader is to create a container of communication and trust with another. We achieve that by focusing our effort on understanding the person and working to appreciate their viewpoint. We can do that by forfeiting our innate desire to respond to the other person with our own perspective or argument.
In other words, the best approach is to have the planned outcome to be that of merely learning about the other. That intent helps us join with someone. Initially, the vehicle to achieve that is completely one-sided, with a commitment on our part of not using that time to present our own thoughts or opinions. It may seem counterintuitive, perhaps because it is not commonly used in today’s conversations.
In coaching, I often suggest a short acronym to clients called “CLIP.” It’s a simple memory-aid that goes like this:
C – Curiosity – Enter into a conversation with a genuine curiosity about another. What is on the other person’s mind? What might be weighing on their heart? What do I want to learn about the person with whom I am talking? The possibilities are endless.
L – Listening – Your role during the conversation is to listen – to use Active Listening to absorb the thoughts and feelings of another. And work very hard to watch the other person, to really hear their words and experience their eyes and body language. Periodically remind yourself that the conversation begins to fail when you spend your time coming up with your own responses to the points you are hearing rather than really devoting yourself to listening.
I – Inquiry – Appreciative Inquiry is one of the best ways to stay focused on joining with the other person. “What I just heard you say, is ____,” can be a useful approach, or “I’m gaining some real perspective on your viewpoints – please go on,” are ideas that you can use. We all seek validation. Whether you totally agree or even slightly disagree with another, by merely clarifying what you just heard from the person in front of you and restating it succinctly, you join with that individual in a powerful way. And don’t be afraid to use a metaphor to summarize what you just heard. An example would be: “What I’m hearing is that you feel as if you are running in a race and the finish line keeps moving. Is that accurate?”
P – Pause – The Power in Pause is perhaps the most useful tool we have in our conversational toolbox. Ask a question and then give the person space. If the other individual stops talking, remind yourself not to feel compelled to fill “dead air.” Let silence do the heavy lifting. Your eyes and your body language can give permission to another to collect their thoughts.
The CLIP acronym can help you overcome your own resistance to engaging with another. It allows you to hear a person’s viewpoints and it does something else that is equally powerful: It models a behavior for those around you.
When you use CLIP routinely, it can naturally follow in future conversations with “Would you be interested in my viewpoints? I’d be glad to explain them if you’re curious.”
This article originally appeared on bostonexecutivecoaches.com.