One small miscommunication can change an entire concept. In business and companies, being able to connect with your team is a vital aspect of the business’s success. Meredith Bell joins our hosts Tersh Blissett & Josh Crouch to share some tips on how to better communicate and connect with your employees, partners, and colleagues in the business. Meredith tackles the exponential effects of miscommunication on one’s personal and professional life. Learn more as Meredith unravels the communication mistakes most of us are making that prevent us from growing healthy relationships.
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The Heart-Centered Connector: Meredith Bell On Connecting With Your Team
We have Ms. Meredith Bell on the show with us. We’re going to talk a little bit about communication. Communication as a male is one of my strong points. Everyone knows if you’ve talked to me very much, I can talk but I have challenges in other areas when it comes to communication. I’m excited to have Ms. Meredith on the show. Before we get started, I want to ask a question to you, Ms. Meredith. Think deep and hard here. I’ll try not to make it too much of a doozy for you. Think about something that’s orange and sounds like a parrot. What would you say that is?
I give up.
It’s a carrot. Welcome to the show, Ms. Meredith.
Tersh, where did you get that from?
I would not have come up with carrot. I have to admit.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and what makes you an expert.
My company is called Performance Support Systems. My two business partners and I worked together for many years. That ought to be encouraging to your readers right there. It’s unusual to find people that enjoy working together for that long. Originally, we were doing training in companies around leadership and team building. Communication skills have always been a passion of ours. The reason is that it’s fundamental to everything. We, unfortunately, don’t have it taught in schools.When you fail to listen, you fail to respect the other person because you don’t allow them the opportunity to really say what they want to say. Click To Tweet
A lot of parents do the best they can but they didn’t grow up learning how to be effective listeners and give feedback in a way that was constructive and helpful to someone. We all do the best we can but the result is there’s a lot of pain and suffering at home and in the workplace around people not connecting well with each other because there are so many things that get in the way of communicating. We have been on this drive for years to help improve that in the workplace.
We have written software programs and articles and published this book, Connect with Your Team: Mastering the Top 10 Communication Skills, to help people understand there are some simple steps you can follow. It doesn’t have to be complicated and it takes practice over time to get good at them. When people understand there are some basic steps, it becomes less intimidating. My expertise comes from practicing and applying these skills myself over the years and I’m not perfect at it either. That’s why our subtitle is Mastering the Top 10 Communications Skills because it’s a lifetime of work.
I love the fact that you incorporated the mastering portion of it because we launch, grow, accelerate and then eventually become a master in something. It’s something that you constantly have to work towards to master. It’s one of those things where you have to work at it every single day. Do you feel like it’s a skill that can be lost if you don’t work at it every day? Once you have attained a certain level, are you pretty much there?
Think about riding a bike or playing tennis, golf or whatever sports you might enjoy. If it has been a while since you have played it, you’re rusty and yet you’ve got this wiring that happens in the brain when you have connected the dots and formed this skill over time. It’s still there but you have to brush up on it. You don’t totally lose it but it’s like any other skill like practicing or playing a musical instrument. It’s the same way. You have learned some things and they can come back to you but it stays fresher and you stay honed in on your skill. I would imagine it’s that way with any of the technical aspects of your work. Someone that has learned how to repair a particular piece of equipment knows how to do that but they may need a refresher if it has been a while since they have done it.
You mentioned riding a bicycle and playing sports. I played soccer my whole life. My kids got into soccer and I quit playing. I would play with them in the field and it’s like, “I could do some of this stuff before and now I’m struggling to do it.” I’m right there with you. During the entire 2020 of being so pulled away from people, working remote has been great. We have always been remote but we still had a lot of interaction with people. 2020 pulled us away from having that interaction with people. The communication style changed a lot.
We went back into physically seeing each other, being in the same location again and having to communicate with people. I got accustomed to having this conversation over Zoom and I have ADD real bad. It’s great for me to sit here because I have little fidget things that I can mess with and still interact and have a conversation with. When I do those same things in person now, it’s like, “Are you paying attention to me?” I’m like, “I’ve taken in every single thing that you said.” They’re like, “I don’t think you have.” Our whole world has changed. Since writing the book and having all of that come out, did 2020 change anything in the perspective of the way you think about communicating?
It depends on what transpired for people before 2020 happened. For example, my two business partners and I each work remotely from our homes for many years. I have been used to Zoom calls and phone calls. That has been my way of operating. For me, it wasn’t a big adjustment. I have been used to paying attention to the tone of voice and other cues with not being in the room with an individual. It was a bigger adjustment for folks that were used to that in-person contact, especially those that thrive on those interpersonal interactions. It was like a withdrawal and that has been much more painful for folks like that.
I remember one fellow because I have a podcast myself. One of the things he did when the pandemic hit is he made a commitment every month to reach out and call a bunch of people that were in his network to say, “I’m thinking of you. How are you doing in the midst of all this?” Connecting with them by voice was an important aspect of keeping the relationship going. The creative question everybody can ask is, “Given the circumstances, what can I do to strengthen my relationship with someone?” That’s what it comes down to. It’s all about relationships.
For the business owners who are your readers whether that’s their employees, clients, potential clients or vendors they work with. All of those individuals need to have a good relationship with them. The question is, “How can I build and maintain a strong relationship? For employees, they want to keep working with us and working for my company and for those others, how can I help them feel so appreciated that they can’t wait to tell others about us?” That’s the question that should drive everything that we do whether it’s in-person or virtual.
I’m in digital marketing so everything has shifted. It was already shifting. The paradigm was going towards digital but it completely accelerated. Some people even suggested that it accelerated 4 or 5 years faster than it would have normally because everyone had nothing to do instead of sitting in front of our computers, phones and moving things digitally. The world events are changing and things are ramping back up but there are still in-person events and stuff like that. I’m sitting here and I have a bouncy leg when I talk to people.
My kids always ask me, “Why are you always moving?” It’s those social cues. Every time I’m doing something, I don’t know if my mind is racing or something. I’m always moving some part of my body. I don’t know if you have. I’m sure there are other people like me out there that have social cues, especially in person. I try to keep them under the table. I don’t know if you have any exercises or anything that would help calm someone like me down that can’t stop moving and fidgeting with stuff like Tersh.
One of the things is raising your awareness. You realize that’s something you’re doing. If you’re concerned that it’s going to be distracting for the other person then think about, “What’s the impact or impression I want to create here?” If something that you’re doing whether it’s fidgeting with your hands or kicking your leg out, if that’s going to cause someone to stop talking to you and interfere with their ability to either talk or listen with you then it’s worth practicing keeping it still.
When you’re by yourself, you want to set a timer so that every so often, you ask yourself, “Am I moving my leg now? What am I doing that might cause a distraction for this person?” It’s all under the umbrella of, “What things can I say or do that help this person feel valued by me? What is it I may be doing that’s getting in the way of that.” It may be that moving your leg is not a big issue at all or having something in your hand, especially if you let people know, “I’ve got this unusual mannerism. Ignore it.” You can bring it out and talk about it if you are concerned that that’s going to be an issue for communication.
If there’s an elephant in the room, be like, “There’s an elephant in the room here.”Most people fail to listen because they think they already know what somebody’s going to say. Click To Tweet
Tersh, in your case, if there’s something that you like to hold, they still do have these worry beads and things that people have and say, “My hands get fidgety so I need in my hand. Overlook the fact that I’ve got my hands. I’m tuned in to you but using this allows me to tune in better.”
We have at our house one of those little black boxes that have all the little stuff on it. I’m like, “That’s a business idea. How didn’t I come up with that?” That’s such a brilliant business idea and I’m sure that person is super rich now. Meredith, you mentioned listening and relationships. You have a top ten list in your book that people can read. Do you want to go over the top 1 or 2 things that you find are the biggest problems for people when it comes to their communication and improving their communication skills?
A key thing that I would like to talk a little bit about is this whole aspect of listening because we don’t learn to do this well. If you ask most people, “Are you a good listener?” They will say yes and yet, when you watch them in practice, most of us are guilty of waiting and letting the other person talk long enough until we can feel like we can jump in and get our turn or worse, we interrupt. We think we know what somebody is going to say, we’re in a hurry and we don’t want to let them finish because we want to move on with it. The problem is for the other person, they feel disrespected because they’re not being allowed the opportunity to say what they want to say.
Often, if we monitor our thoughts, we are busy preparing a rebuttal or a response to what somebody is saying, especially if we disagree with it. It’s like we have to make our case. When we’re in a sales situation with a potential client, that works against us. One of the things somebody is silently evaluating whether they ever tell you or not, when you are trying to do business with someone, if they don’t feel you’re working to understand their problem and issue whether it’s subconscious or conscious on their part, they’re not going to choose you because they don’t feel comfortable with you being willing to listen and understand them.
What about the awkward or potentially awkward pause while you’re thinking after they say something? For me, if I don’t think about what I’m going to say next sometimes, I’m just absorbing everything that they’re saying and then I have this moment after the fact. There’s that awkward like, “What’s your answer? I’ve been listening to you the whole time.” Fifteen seconds will feel like fifteen minutes. What do you say in that scenario?
It’s a real one. A key element of that is if we do take a moment to pause, we have to be comfortable with that. We can acknowledge to the person, “You have brought up some important points. I want to take a second to think about the best way to respond to them.” Be open and honest with them and say, “I need a minute to process what you said. I don’t have a ready answer for that.” The other piece of that is the opposite where you ask someone a question and you are uncomfortable with their silence. When that happens, we often jump in too soon.
We have to be comfortable on both sides because when we are asking someone a question that does require them to think about it then we have to respect the fact that they need fifteen seconds or longer to process it. We’re much better off getting comfortable with the silence and saying to ourselves, “I’m patient and willing to wait for their answer.” When you do that, you’re much more likely to get an honest response from them because you haven’t made assumptions.
That’s where we get into trouble. We have these stories in our heads that we tell ourselves about somebody and what they’re going to expect. We anticipate this and that. We got this whole scenario worked out in our brains without checking it out with them to see if we’re even accurate. It’s important to be willing to ask questions as a part of listening. I want to clarify something. Listening doesn’t mean sitting there silently and passively. It’s an interactive process and that’s why it’s so hard.
You’ve got to be present with that person and work to understand and get what they’re telling you. That means paying attention to their body language if you’ve got the visual component to go by and you’re not on the phone. If you’re with them or you’re on a Zoom call, pay attention to those little things because they may say certain words but the tone of voice and how they look when they say it is conveying something different.
It’s appropriate to recognize and bring up the disconnect that you’re seeing, “I noticed that you said that everything is okay but the way you said it indicates it’s not okay. Could you talk a little bit about that?” Throw out a question instead of making assumptions and automatically jumping in with an answer that may or may not be where they were coming from at all. Asking questions to learn is an important part of the listening process.
One scenario comes to mind. Whenever my wife says, “That’s fine,” she might not mean that.
It’s dangerous to take at face value. When you practice these communication skills at work with these various important people in your business, it carries over at home too and makes a huge difference in the relationships at home to acknowledge where somebody is a way of showing empathy. It’s so easy to brush off if a spouse or a child says, “I wish somebody would help me with this. I feel like I’m the only one doing this.” Our initial input might be, “Quit complaining. Why do you complain?” It sounds like you’re disappointed that nobody is chipping in and helping you.
To let them know we’re getting that emotion or negative feeling that they’re expressing at that moment, instead of judging it, reflecting it back and acknowledging it often dissipates it so that it’s no longer an issue. As long as somebody feels like they’re not being acknowledged, seen or heard, that’s when you start seeing this misbehavior in your kids. They’re acting out because they’re wanting that attention. What can I do to recognize where they are at this without putting them down? That’s true of an employee too. Think about a situation where an employee has made a mistake and it’s not the first time they made a mistake. Often the response is, “How could you do that again?” Something else that is critical and judgmental.
Here’s an important communication tip. I’ll give you some questions that you can ask that help a person process that mistake themselves. One of the things we are tempted to get into as leaders and parents are telling the person what they did wrong so that we save time, “I want you to learn this. This is how you should have done it,” instead of guiding them to discover the answers. The more time they spend figuring it out, it may seem like it takes longer but in the long run, it saves you time because they get it imprinted in their brain better when they come up with the answers themselves.
Let’s say that you have somebody that made a mistake. What you can start with is getting the facts, “What happened? How did you feel about it?” You get at the left and the right brain. You get their perception of the sequence of events and then ask, “Why did it happen that way? What thoughts were going through your mind as you took these particular actions? What was your motivation?” Sometimes somebody can be nervous because of who else is there with them or somebody may have said something that triggered a negative emotion and they lost track or lost control of their emotions.You're much more likely to get an honest response from people if you don’t make assumptions. Click To Tweet
We don’t know until we get them to think about the why and look at the consequences, “What was the outcome? How did it turn out? Did it turn out the way you wanted? Where was the shortfall between what you hoped for and what you got?” You’re getting them to think about, “I didn’t get the result that I wanted. Where did I go wrong? Was there some shortfall in the training I got? Was there something that I simply forgot to do?” This can be useful for you in helping them and others learn about that particular situation going forward.
Get them to think about, “What would you do differently in the next situation? What happened? What was the outcome? What will you do in the future differently?” If you encounter this situation again where you’re not sure, “What are your options?” You get them to think through. They’re doing this proactive thinking in advance so that when they’re in that situation, they’ve got this memory to pull from because you have helped them think about it. It’s so much more effective when you are guiding them to learn rather than telling and directing because it feels to them like correction. Think how you feel when someone is talking to you in a way that is making you wrong. It never feels good.
You get on the defensive almost immediately.
If you can acquire this skill of simply asking questions to help someone learn from their mistakes, experiences and even successes so that they do the right thing in the future again, that has a lasting impact on them and their attitude about their job, performance and desire to do well because they feel appreciated and respected. That’s a huge element of helping employees feel motivated, engaged in their work, valued, involved and committed to doing their best.
There are other things too that I would like to visit. You even have on there resolving conflict creatively. That’s something that in a male-dominated industry becomes a challenge sometimes. I would love to hear more about that. Maybe you could touch on that.
I would be glad to because there are some simple things that I can share that will be useful and it’s this. When somebody states strongly, “This is what I want,” then you also have something that you want. They’re two different things and these are typically things that you want to do as opposed to opinions that you have. Conflicts come around from wanting to do different things. If you can understand and replace the word want with need, “What is it behind this person’s statement that they want this? What’s driving that?”
Ask questions not in a way that feels threatening to them. You say, “Why on Earth would you want that?” That’s going to put them on the defensive. Be genuinely curious. Curious is one of the keywords to think about when you sense a conflict. If you can switch from one C-word of conflict to curious, it has a different feel to it because what you want to do when you’re curious is to learn more about something. You want to learn more about what is it that’s driving this person to want this. When you can identify what they need and then be willing to look yourself at, “What is it that has caused me to feel so strongly about this? What is my need?”
I’ll give you a real quick example. When our daughter was in high school, she wanted to go to France with this French club that she was in and wanted us to pay for it. Her father and I said no. We had her wanting us to pay and us saying no. We discussed it and this is where it’s getting creative. That’s another C-word, curious and creative. Be willing to explore different possibilities that don’t necessarily mean I’m giving in but collaborating, “How can we come up with a solution that feels good to you and me?”
What we ended up with was we were willing to pay for half if she would earn money to pay for the other half. We looked at creative ways that she could earn that money at home. One of which was cooking meals for us. That was a real win for us because we could get home and she would have dinner ready. That was worth something and had real monetary value for us. That’s an example of once you identify, “We want two different things. Is there a possibility to come up with something that works for both of us?” That’s the key and where we get into trouble is our egos.
We feel like we are losing if we go anywhere but where we stated initially that we want to go. You can call it emotional intelligence or being mature. This willingness to consider someone else’s perspective and look at ways to meet their needs and ours is huge. When you’re thinking about a customer whose business you want, ask them, “What would make this a real win for you?” Sometimes they will come up with something outrageous. You have to be honest and say, “We can’t go that far. Here’s what we could do.” It’s keeping an open mind and not feeling threatened, “They’re trying to get the best for themselves. How can we get the best for both of us?” Does that make sense?
That makes sense. What would you say if whenever you’re asking these questions, you can’t get to their why? You’re peeling an onion back and you’re in seven layers deep in that type of thought process. What happens if they’re like, “I don’t know.”
That’s where the being willing to be silent and say, “I’ll wait a minute because I know it’s in there. It’s okay.”
They don’t want to say it.
That’s part of the time. They may not feel safe and be willing to see what your reaction might be. To give them permission is important. Acknowledge that elephant in the room, “It sounds like you’re not wanting to be honest with me about this. Is there something I’ve said that has caused you to hold back?” Ask in a non-threatening way. It’s being curious and getting them to think because it may be something subconscious that they’re not even aware of and you’re helping them.Asking questions is a really important part of the listening process. Click To Tweet
The thing that I struggle with here is the non-threatening way. It’s not that I intend to threaten anyone. It’s that I hold everyone, especially within our business, to a very high standard. Whenever we start talking about conflict, most of the time, it’s like, “You let us down.” I feel like we lay all the cards out there the entire time. Everybody knows their KPIs and where they’re at throughout the day. It’s easy for them to look up their personal KPIs. Whenever I ask the why question, it’s like, “We all know that it’s not because you don’t have resources. If you haven’t reached this KPI, it’s because there has been a challenge on your end. If there is something that I can do to help, let me know.”
Everybody on our team knows that I’m willing to like, “You need this tool to accomplish this task. I’ve got this tool. Here you go. If you don’t accomplish the task next time, I’m going to ask you why.” It becomes this awkward, “It’s my fault,” but we don’t want to say, “It’s my fault,” or pass the book. We have had a rash of people saying, “It was so-and-so’s fault because they didn’t set up this properly or tell me about this in time.” It becomes a pass-the-book-type scenario and they all know that I don’t tolerate that blame game-type stuff.
That becomes a challenge whenever we have those tough conversations. We don’t have them often but whenever they do come up, it seems like, “This is a tough challenge.” I don’t like having those conversations. I enjoyed what you said here about resolving this creatively. I’ll use those in the future because I’m conflict-averse. I don’t want to have that super crazy wild conversation. I would much rather come at it and find out what are their driving needs, “Why are you not able to complete this task?” I like that thought process.
Especially when someone has been a good performer most of the time, we don’t know until we ask. Maybe they had a real tragedy at home that has interfered with them being able to focus that particular day. We don’t know and by asking questions, you can get the answer. One of the other chapters in the book is called Getting Buy-In For Expectations. It’s all about setting agreements upfront about what the person will do. When you have a situation that is recurring where you thought you had gotten it addressed and resolved and yet here it is popping up again, doing that analysis with that person to find out what caused the shortfall this time and what they need.
You’re handling it well, Tersh, as far as asking questions, “What resources do you need from me? We agree that you’ve got everything you need now and this shouldn’t happen again. What are you going to do if you find yourself facing a situation where this could happen?” Get them to look at what they think the realistic consequence should be if they don’t meet that expectation so that they’re buying into it in advance and hopefully then preventing it from happening again.
I’m using it within our business for sure. Josh, do you have anything?
Besides a page and a half of notes that I’m going to start using to implement in my life, I tagged my wife in the live feed because she will be the 1st, 2nd and 3rd person to tell you that I am sometimes lacking in the listening department, which is getting outside of my own way and realizing like, “I got notifications going off. Turn it off, listen, engage in the conversation and realize that stuff will be there at the end of the day when I have more time to do that.” Those relationships are what build our business, life at home and stuff like that.
That’s a good note to wrap up around. If we can consider the person in front of us as the most important person in our world at that moment and give them our full attention, that means turning off all those other distractions and notifications. What message are we sending to the person? This is a question each one of us needs to ask ourselves, “How can I make this person feel valued at this moment?”
Giving them our full attention and demonstrating we are listening to get what it is they’re trying to tell us is huge in terms of strengthening a relationship. If you have a spouse who’s saying, “You never listened to me,” that’s a little flag going off. It could be yellow or red depending on how many times they have said it. We take for granted sometimes the people who are closest to us. They’re the ones that need us to show how much we value them because they’re the ones that are there for us.
Most of the time, she’s right anyway. If I had listened in the first place, I wouldn’t have had that problem.
Thank you, Meredith Bell, for coming to the show and sharing so much with us and our audience. Go to GrowStrongLeaders.com/SBM for Service Business Mastery. Also, pick up your copy of Ms. Meredith’s book called Connect with Your Team: Mastering the Top 10 Communication Skills. I have my copy of it here. There’s a lot of data and information in here. You don’t have just ten topics to talk about. There’s more than that in the book. I appreciate you coming to the show and sharing all your information with us, Ms. Meredith.
Thank you for having me, Tersh. It was great talking with you and Josh.
Thank you, Meredith.
If anybody has any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to us or our team and visit us on the website ServiceBusinessMastery.com. We have our past episodes there. Don’t forget, Service Emperor and Relentless Digital are both chipping in huge by allowing us, me and Josh, to step away for the day and work on podcasting. If you have any questions about digital marketing and that aspect of it, reach out to Josh and his team.
If you’re in the Savannah area and you want to know more about air conditioning, plumbing, electrical or any of the services they have, reach out to us. With that being said, I hope you have a wonderful and safe day. Until we talk again next time on the show, it is a show that focuses on service business owners, managers and technicians who are considering becoming business owners themselves. Until we talk again, be safe.
- Performance Support Systems
- Connect with Your Team: Mastering the Top 10 Communication Skills
- Service Emperor
- Relentless Digital
About Meredith Bell
Meredith Bell is co-founder and President of Performance Support Systems, a global software company providing assessment and development tools for the workplace. Their award-winning tools and books guide leaders and team members to make the shift from KNOWING to DOING. The result is permanent improvements in the way people interact with each other.
Meredith is an expert in leader and team communications, the author of two books, and the host of the Strong for Performance podcast. She‘s worked with thousands of business leaders, Human Resources professionals, and Learning & Development executives to successfully implement their tools. Meredith co-authored her latest book, Connect with Your Team: Mastering the Top 10 Communication Skills, with her business partner, Dr. Dennis Coates. In it, Meredith and Dennis provide an unprecedented, practical step-by-step how-to guide for improving communication.