8 April 2020
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Dealing with Trump-troubled people who talk too much!

Donald Trump’s leadership style is troubling as he seems to be unable to control his talk. And even when he’s not talking, he’s tweeting. In the fullness of time we will see what he achieves. It has become apparent that you write this guy off at your peril but I’m still disturbed about his talk-too-much style of leadership.

It’s been my experience that great leaders are great listeners and people managers and the jury is well and truly out on Donald in these two departments.

During the week I went to dinner with Nabi Saleh and his wife Angela. They were the founders (along with Peter Irvine) of Gloria Jeans Coffees. Before it was sold to the Food Retail Group (which has had a disastrous period on the stock market of late) Gloria Jeans was one of Australia’s best small to big business stories.

Starting with only two franchises, Nabi and his team built the brand into an international food retail operation, in 46 markets and well over 1000 franchises worldwide. They even bought out the US company that started Gloria Jeans to run the whole show!

Talking about growing a business, Nabi said it’s always about the management of your people. In his case, these people were his franchisees, his staff and his company. The tales of woe for Retail Food Group (RFG), which has seen its share price tumble from $7.56 in February 2015 to 76 cents today, has been a classic case of leadership failure, and in particular franchisee management, because customers still flock to the businesses that RFG rolled into a huge operation. These include Gloria Jeans, Donut King, Michel’s Patisserie, Brumby’s, Crust and more.

Now let me say Nabi didn’t try to tell me why RFG is under pressure. He simply agreed with me that in leadership it’s up to the leader to manage people and bad results generally are linked to this failure.

I recently had to deal with someone who was like Donald Trump and didn’t know when it was wise to shut up. To better deal with this business problem, I went searching for expert help.

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting piece by Rob Lazebnik, one of the writers of the TV smash hit series The Simpsons. He sets the following task, which you might have to complete by using your smartphone to record your next chat with someone.

“After your next long conversation with someone, estimate what percentage of it you spent talking,” he suggested.

“Be honest. No, you're already underestimating. How do I know? Because it's more fun to talk than to listen. Talking is like drinking a great cabernet. Listening is like doing squats.

“Add another 20% to your total. If you talked more than 70% of the time, you jabber too much.”

Rob has a son with Asperger's syndrome. As a consequence, he has learnt a lot about conversational dynamics.

Psychologists say many of us have grown up with the bad habit of talking rather than listening. Too many of us are “over-talkers”, as social psychologist Gemma Cribb calls it in a  www.news.com.au article.

In his 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell argues that great leaders are great listeners.

“One of the most powerful communication skills you'll learn is good listening,” Clinical psychologist Bob Montgomery said in the article. “Communication is meant to promote understanding. You can't wind up understanding each other if you're not actively listening.”

But wait, there’s more to reinforce Maxwell’s views on listening and leadership.

“Listening actually strengthens your influence. Showing you're willing to hear the other person means you've then bought the right to offer your opinion or make your request,” Dr Montgomery said.

One bad habit I’ve tried to beat is butting in. Apparently people like me do this when you can see something scary up ahead when someone is outlining their fears, problems or frustrations.

“People often butt in if they're frightened something's going to be said that they don't like or don't agree with,” Dr Montgomery said.

Montgomery gives good advice. “Show them 'I can see that's how you feel'. It doesn't mean you agree but it's how you show respect. Then you've bought the right to be heard because you've shown you understand where they are coming from.”

This great expose on over-talkers introduced me to communication and leadership coach Margot Halbert, who tells us that people often butt in when other people are trying to explain their problems.

“As soon as we share a challenge, people immediately want to go in to give advice,” Ms Halbert (from Positive Persuasion) said.

“But rather than just giving someone advice, ask three questions about their challenge.”

She says this makes people feel as though you really understand their problem, and all you have done is ask questions.

Psychologists who understand the premise of that best-selling book Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus counsel us that we men love to say to our female partners “what you ought to do is this”, when they say they’re having a problem with someone or something. Apparently this is the worst thing we can say.

Asking questions, showing empathy and asking what they want to do is far better. Questions such as “Do you want help from me to help with your problem?” is a much smarter way to give assistance, rather than blurting out “What you ought to do is…”
In her leadership book, Multipliers, Liz Wiseman talks about how great leaders identify a problem for a business, then ask their teams to come up with solutions, which they then can test out. This way they collectively make progress by beating obstacles together. It helps creates leaders within the business, as it breeds empowerment.

The mixture of asking questions and listening, followed up by more questions and then more listening, is the hallmark of a great leader.

By the way, this isn’t new as the Greek philosopher, Socrates, used the same process. It became known as the Socratic method. Wikipedia informs us that “the Socratic debate is a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presumptions.”

It sounds so much more productive than the never-ending story of someone just rabbiting on and on.

Psychologytoday.com’s F. Diane Barth looked at the problem of over-talkers. She cited Daniel P. Ellis of Columbia University who says “Listening requires complex auditory processing.”

Barth believes that “in the best of communication, there is a kind of give and take between talking and listening, a sharing of who is the speaker and who is the listener based on mutual respect and caring about each other’s feelings.

“Some people who talk a lot are not able to engage in this interactive rhythm, not because they do not care, but because they cannot tolerate the emotions that might emerge as they listen to another person,” he says. “In fact, in the course of my work as a therapist, I have found that many non-stop talkers actually use their words to stop themselves from knowing what they are feeling.”

Barth thinks these five steps will help you deal with over-talkers:

  1. First, listen—but not for too long. As you are listening, try to formulate for yourself what this person is trying to communicate: Is it a wish to be admired? A thought that they cannot get out of their head? A feeling that they cannot manage?
  2. After listening for a little while and formulating what they are trying to communicate, ask them if they would mind terribly if you interrupt them. They might say, “No, no, I’m talking too much, you go ahead.” (Don’t get caught up in denying this truth out of politeness; it will just distract you both.) If they say, “Let me just finish this thought,” respond gently with something like, “Oh, I thought you had finished. Can I tell you what I heard you say?” (Of course, some people still have to say it their own way. Let them finish, since you won’t have a choice; but then interrupt them as soon as they start to move to something else.)
  3. When you interrupt, be ready to say something about what you hear them saying. Don’t go for a deep psychological explanation. Something simple and to the point, but if possible, something that reflects something positive about them. Don’t be surprised if they start to talk over you—many people talk over everyone else because they are afraid of criticism. Again, say, “Wait, I’d like to finish my thought now,” and then say what you were going to say about them.
  4. Don’t stop with a comment about them. Add some experience of your own that will confirm that you understand what they’re experiencing. A memory of a similar event, a similar feeling, a funny story—anything that gives you a chance to share your own experience but that you can tie to theirs.
  5. Stop the conversation when it goes on too long. It’s really not damaging to tell someone who you’ve been listening to for more time than you have to spare (and more than you want to give away) that you’re really sorry, but you have work you have to do and you’ll have to continue this conversation later. And if they are the kind of person who comes back later to continue the conversation, just say, “No, sorry, I’m busy right now"—because, finally, you have the right to protect your own boundaries.

These are good coping strategies for you but if you want to lead and be an agent for change for people who are supposed to be your followers/employees/children, then maybe you should take up the leadership challenge to become an outstanding listener.

The irony about me is that I think I’m a great listener when I’m interviewing someone. In real life, however, I need to lift my game, so I’ll stop writing about it now and start the process of listening!

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