Breaking the Ice—A Priceless Communication Initiative

Getting conversations started can sometimes be a challenge. It’s mostly when we don’t: 

  • Know someone well
  • Don’t want to say the wrong thing
  • Feel intimidated or awestruck
  • Are feeling self-conscious 

Being willing and able to talk to people is the centerpiece of a successful career and profitable business. 

We need to develop the ability to talk to all kinds of people under wildly different circumstances in an effective way. 

It can be difficult to start conversations with a boss, coworker, or customer who isn’t particularly willing or interested in talking with you. That’s when you need to break the ice. 

Why bother? 

It would be easy to just blow off folks that don’t want to talk. We might think it’s their loss, when, in fact, it’s more likely ours. 

When we get people to talk to us, we learn things. Often what we learn is unexpected—an inside look, a new perspective, an opportunity, or a tip. 

This week I had errands to run, so I made the rounds. Since I live in the country, I patronize local businesses. At each stop, I made a point to start a casual conversation with whoever was at the counter. 

Here’s what happened:

At the feed mill, I chit-chatted with the clerk about how my horse had a breathing disorder exacerbated by the pollen. She owned horses too and told me about a new dustless bedding product which I then bought. (Learned something new

Then I went to the butcher shop. The butcher’s wife, Susan, who works the counter, is generally cold and standoffish. The customer before me was a native Italian who owned the local pizzeria. He purchased three spleens. (Yep, spleens!) When he left, I asked Susan what anyone would use a spleen for and she answered, “I don’t know and I don’t want to know!” We had a good laugh. (Warmer relationship

The next stop was the bank. While the teller was doing the paperwork, I asked what was new in the neighborhood. She explained how several local teenagers had been apprehended after a series of robberies. She gave me details on the sting that nabbed them, information that wasn’t in the paper. (Insider information

Multiplier effect 

Ice can refreeze, so our initiatives to keep the ice open need to be ongoing. 

Think of the people you work with who try to keep you at arms length or are uncomfortable sharing their knowledge, points of view, or personal side. 

You do yourself and others a huge favor by making it easy for them to talk to you. It’s how you build bonds. 

These conversations help you figure out what’s really going on around you. By being an ice breaker, you discover that you will: 

  • Build a broader base of relationships
  • See things from different sides
  • Get a heads up when you need it
  • Feel gratitude and appreciation for and from your coworkers 

Early in my corporate career, I worked in marketing where I needed to procure a truck and a 32-foot trailer outfitted with interactive displays. Working with the purchasing department required jumping through a lot of procedural hoops held by agents being chomped on by managers across the company.

To purchasing, my project was small potatoes and I was a nobody. Russ was the agent assigned to handle my purchase, and I suspected this wasn’t something he was keen on. I asked to meet with him, so I could better understand what he was up against and what I could do to make it easier for him. That ice-breaker conversation created in an ally I could count on for the rest of my career there.   

Take the time 

The avenue of least resistance can turn into the highway to nowhere. Everyone has something of value to say. We just need to take the time to break the ice that’s in their way and ours. Now flourish your ice picks! 

Photo from elefevre7 via Flickr

Clueless Leadership! Can You Bear It? | The Perils of Non-Communication

Do I have to say it too? “Communication is the backbone of good leadership.” Hasn’t it been said enough already? Aren’t there enough books, training programs, and speeches out there to drive home the point?

Then why are so many people in leadership positions clueless? Why don’t they communicate well, at the right time, and with the right message?

It must be faulty wiring.

There seem to be four extremes. Leaders who:

  • Have nothing to say
  • Don’t know what to say or how to say it
  • Talk but say nothing

It’s so frustrating. As employees we need and want information that positions us to do great work, make sound decisions, and support the company. It’s what builds our morale, loyalty, optimism, and willingness to do more.

Unfortunately, we often work for people who hoard what they know, believing that their value and influence are connected to their “insider” information.

When leaders are disconnected from us, they often have no idea about what information we find useful like:

  • The state of the business
  • The attitudes of customers
  • The competition
  • Our performance
  • Career opportunities
  • New products, equipment, and services
  • Processes and policies 

When these leaders aren’t tuned into us, we’re left out.

The light only comes on if you throw the switch. 

One day I got a call from a veterinarian with a large and small animal practice.  At the time I was doing a good bit of veterinary practice management consulting.

He told me that he thought he had a problem I could help him with.

“What’s your situation?” I asked.

“My associate veterinarian is leaving at the end of his one year contract,” he explained.

“I see. What’s unique about that?”

”He’s the tenth one to leave in ten years,” he replied.

“Do you know why?” I asked.

“No. That’s why I’m calling you.”

So I went and I watched and asked questions. It didn’t take long to see that the owner was a man who wanted no part of management. He just wanted to treat animals, particularly farm animals. He didn’t want to deal with employees, so he never engaged with them.

The silence of the lambs tells the story.

While conducting my practice walk-through, I saw the associate veterinarian and the technician in the operating room where they had delivered twin lambs by C-section. The ewe’s incision was being closed and the tech was on the floor trying to give CPR to the two lambs. She needed help.

I put down my papers and got down on the floor with her, taking one of the lambs and blowing into its nostrils, trying to get its lungs to work.

While the young veterinarian, the tech, and I were giving our all, the owner walked into the OR, looked at the ewe and at us. He then turned and walked out, never saying a word. No encouragement. No suggestions. No solace. Nothing.

In spite of our efforts, both lambs died. The ewe had been in labor too long. We were all distraught, though relieved that the ewe lived.

In my consulting report, I gave a straight-forward description of the factors that likely contributed to the departure of those ten associates. Ultimately, the owner closed his small animal practice to become a crop farmer, providing veterinary services to farm animals on his own. He realized his limitations and refocused on doing what he loved and did best.

It’s a pity when leaders don’t see how their inability to communicate negatively impacts their employees, themselves, and the business. So much time and energy are lost.

Follow the clues. Solve the mysteries.  

Poor communicators are costly to their companies. They waste time, cause errors, drive away good employees, and gum up the works. To be business fit we have to communicate effectively. It’s the backbone of staying connected, attracting a following, and taking the lead. When things aren’t going quite right for you, look at how you’re communicating. You’ll never regret it!

Have you had a clueless boss? Was communication his/her issue or something else? We’re dying to know!