Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Be more productive by being a better listener


Are you fully present when you’re talking with colleagues, family, or friends? If you said, “no,” I’m not at all surprised. There are many distractions clamoring for your attention. If your day is something like mine you’re doing your best to manage work life with family priorities. The lines between our personal and professional lives constantly blur and intersect. And thanks to smartphones we’re only one swipe away from the next distraction. 

Additionally, it also doesn’t help that the average person remembers between 25% and 50% of what he or she hears according to various studies. Before you have time to focus and then process what you’ve heard you’re already onto your next task. But, if you want to be more productive or a better leader, research suggests actively listening to others and being fully present in conversations will make you more effective. 

Listening is hard work

There are a many reasons we check out. Some popular examples are:
  • You’re not interested in the topic
  • You’re avoiding a difficult conversation
  • You’re being critical 
  • You disagree with the other person’s approach or idea

Don’t fret! You have the ability to be a better listener. Here are five tips to help you:

Stop talking – Remember, you can’t listen and speak at the same time. Take a pause to listen more and talk less.

Remove distractions – Pay attention to the things distracting you and take it out of the equation.
  • If it’s your cell phone, turn it off.
  • If you’re at a conference and/or meeting, give the speaker you full attention.  Make eye contact or ask a question.
Pay attention to your emotions – If what others say creates an emotional response in you, take the time to listen carefully and process what you’re hearing.

Be patient – Some individuals take longer to make a point, give the person time. Don’t cut another person off or try to finish their sentence. If you have time constraints let the person know up front.

Empathize with others – Take a moment and put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Look at the situation from their perspective. Did you know empathy is highly correlated to effective leadership?

G.I. Joe says, “Knowing is half the battle.” Now you know but knowing isn’t enough. Make time to put these tips into action. Remember, we all get better with practice.

I would love to hear tips or advice on this topic. I look forward to your comments.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Undoing racial bias won’t happen with one training, it’s a lifetime of work


I was either four or five when I was first called a nigger. I was outside playing in my front yard when a car drove by and a male passenger yelled the word from the car window quickly followed by a glass bottle that smashed on the concrete. Lucky for me I wasn’t hurt. Confused but not hurt.


When I was in kindergarten I quickly learned our head teacher preferred the white kids to the black and brown ones in her class. To her I was a problem student. She even recommended to my mom I should be transferred to a class for kids who have learning disabilities. Lucky for me I had a mom who challenged the recommendation and had me tested. I didn’t have a learning disability, I was hyperactive.


When I was 13, my mom bought her first home in the east end section of a neighborhood in Waterbury. I think we may have been one of the first black families to move into this area. This was in the early 90s. I remember being followed by a police car as I walked all the way to a friend’s house. He didn’t leave until I was inside of my friend’s house.


I also remember going into a small plaza with a gift shop with my best friend and being told we weren’t allowed to be in the store because we weren’t 18. The woman didn’t want us in the story because we were black.


Back in 2007 I was returning from a foster parent conference and dropping off some of some of the young advocates when I was cut-off by a young white male and called a nigger.


Last year, it was night time and I was in BJ’s parking lot in my hometown of Waterbury, Connecticut putting my groceries away when an older white male in a pickup truck drove up to me and said, “Thanks for being a real nigger” and then drove off. There weren’t many people around to witness this. I guess I was lucky that’s all that happened.


These are just a few of the many events in my life where I’ve been impacted by bigoted views and/or racial bias. The sad truth is this is part of a black person’s experience in the United States. So when I see videos of police brutality against black men and women, or the recent Starbuck’s video that’s sparked a national outcry I’m not surprised. Angry, sad, but not at all surprised. This is how we live. You can be rich, or a black celebrity and it won’t matter. Just ask BeyoncĂ©, Lebron,Tiger, Rihanna, Oprah, and the many others. It’s an unfortunate reality of the black experience in this country.


Due to the warranted public backlash, Kevin Johnson, Starbuck’s CEO, has been on the defensive. He’s apologized to the two black men who were arrested and has taken a further step and is closing all 8,000 of their U.S. stores to have racial-bias training for employees. Make no mistake, this is a PR move, and while I think the training is a good step for the company to take, this is bigger than Starbucks. 


Racial bias stems from institutionalized racism that’s created a system of white privilege in our country. And despite the viral videos and the media attention they garner, as a nation we still can’t manage to have real, authentic conversations about race, racism or bigotry. When we do it’s reactive not proactive. If we want to effectively resolve this problem our thinking and actions must change.


It’s what civil rights leaders like Marcus Garvey, Harriet Tubman, W.E.B Du Bois, Dorothy Height, Jo Ann Robinson, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and countless others spent their lives fighting for. I won’t deny that we’ve made progress on many fronts. However, when I look back at my own life experiences as a black person in this country I know more can and should be done. It starts with the individual; you and me.


Frederick Douglas famously said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” To get to the progress I hope to see means as a society we’ll continue to struggle with race and racism.


I am slightly encouraged by the fact that white people in the store and across social media acknowledged the racial bias and actively questioned why these men were being arrested. It’s a small step in the right direction, but it’s just a step.