Conversations Open Doors

Conversations Open Doors

By Brian Rowland, Publisher

Over the past nine months, I’ve spent a lot of time in conversations. I’ve been meeting people, talking with them, and just as important, listening to them. It’s been productive, useful and enjoyable. It’s also renewed my perspective on the paramount need to communicate effectively.

My conversations have been about the new regional business magazine we’ve launched, 850. But while my conversations have involved the work side of life, the same principles apply to all relationships – with co-workers, friends, neighbors and loved ones.

As we prepared to launch our new magazine, I traveled throughout Northwest Florida and met with more than 200 business leaders. My mission: To convey my idea about the new magazine venture; to get business leaders’ feedback about the need for the magazine and its viability; and to listen to the critical issues each business leader had in his or her industry and community.

After experiencing good meetings and not-so-good ones, I quickly saw commonalities. The best conversations were even-handed. When the conver-sation partners got up and left the meeting, both had more knowledge than when they sat down – and both had the sense that they were “heard.”

I also discovered that talking and listening – active listening, that is – are very different skills. Many people are better at one skill than the other.  And those who were equally good at both tended to be more successful professionally and in general.

My two most productive meetings were with the chief executive officer of a successful public company and the chairman of the board of a privately held national firm.

Each of these two 50-minute meetings followed a pattern:  After a little light conversation, I outlined the basics of the concept for the magazine and asked for feedback. Each business leader listened attentively and gave very effective listening responses. Each asked a series of probing questions. In both cases, my listeners learned something new. I felt heard and understood. Each then took time to share more about their businesses and the short- and long-term challenges each faced.  Each clearly articulated a vision of the future for their company and Northwest Florida.

Finally, each meeting involved an even-handed exchange of information. Those involved in the conversations spent about as much time listening as talking.

Unfortunately, only about half of my meetings were this successful. In many cases, there was an uneven exchange of information. Sometimes, the person I met with just was not listening – or talking about themselves or their business the entire time.

Recognizing that most people “glaze over” fairly quickly if they’re not very interested in a topic, I quickly learned to outline my vision in five to seven minutes. But if my conversation partner was distracted or inattentive, I often left feeling that neither I, nor my partner, had gotten much benefit from our meeting.

In our Rowland Publishing office, we’re fortunate to have a dynamic, creative staff, with plenty of talented, experienced communicators. In publish-ing, smooth operation is critical.  Many tasks must be accomplished in a certain order, on a tight schedule, and to a high standard of quality if we are to put a quality publication in your hands.  Good communication is key.

Yet even professional communicators can slip up. Sometimes they don’t express themselves clearly, don’t listen effectively or over-process information.  Poor communication disrupts the flow of business, causes errors and rework, hurts feelings and throws rocks in the creative machinery. I deal with effective communication each day as I try to keep things moving smoothly.

Communication is just as key to good family and personal relationships. All of us want others to hear what we’re saying.  But too often, we aren’t listening as much as we talk.

Understanding how others hear what you say – and more important, how you make your conversation partner feel – is critically important. You know you’re doing well when all those involved in a communication leave with the sense that they’ve been heard.

Take it from someone who’s done a lot of listening lately – your work and personal life can be better if you hone your skill at even-handed communication.

Go have a great conversation today!