Which professional skill is most in demand right now according to LinkedIn CEO, Jeff Weiner?
As CEO of the worlds largest professional networking site, Jeff Weiner probably has more access than anyone to data about the skills of today’s top talent. He knows what jobs people post, what jobs they have and what jobs people want. According to him, the biggest gap in the US at the moment is soft skills.
Companies are looking for a high level of interpersonal skills and are struggling to find candidates with these as a strength. Included in interpersonal skills, they highlight communication as the number one skills gap, followed by collaboration and leadership skills.
I want to focus on collaboration here because leaders and managers often say to me ‘I know it’s crucial to have people working well together, but how do you actually make that happen?’
They regularly ask me:
- ‘What can I do to encourage the quiet people to contribute? The ones I know have a lot of expertise but who are reluctant to speak in a team meeting.’
- ‘How do I enable people with excellent complementary skills but very different personalities to work well together?’
- ‘What am I supposed to do when I ask a question and no-one answers? They just look back at me and wait, so I have to respond or we’d get nowhere.’
The Ratio Should Be 3:1
Central to being considered a great collaborator is your ability to ask open questions. Questions that elicit a sentence response and not simply the yes/no response associated with closed questions.
The concept of open questions is a simple one, yet its practice is difficult for most people because in our society we tend to use closed questions more than 80% of the time. The habit of asking closed questions has been reinforced over our entire lifetime and is a difficult one to break.
In our workshops, we encourage people to ask two open questions.
The first one is ‘What ….?’ because it enables you to ask ‘anything’ and takes away the decision about which open question to use, thus building the open question habit much quicker and easier.
The second open question is a ‘pseudo-question’ which is highly engaging and effective in all situations. ‘Tell me a bit more about ….’ lets you explore the rationale behind a person’s thinking.
To become a better collaborator, aim to ask questions, open questions, 3 times as often as you make a comment or statement.
Listen as a Researcher and Not as a Judge
Asking open questions is critical to successful collaboration, and so is genuinely listening to the responses.
If you are decisive, experienced or have a strongly-held view it is very easy to evaluate as you are listening and then to respond with your ideas or feedback. While your comments may be valid they will tend to close the conversation quickly, especially if the person is one of those quieter or less confident people or one who is very respectful of other people.
Instead, listen to learn, be a researcher rather than a judge, and ask the two open questions several times. This enables you to peel back the layers and get to the core of the person’s thinking, which in turn enables your response to be better formed and more influential. In addition, your listening as a researcher makes the person feel valued and as a result, they are much more likely to contribute again and to be more open to your views.
Keep a Forward Focus
You can focus on the differences between your views and the other people’s views or you can focus on the common ground and move forward with that. Find things you can agree on, think and look forward to what you can do from here, rather than looking back at what has happened and why.
The questions that help with this forward focus are ‘What do you think we could do to change or improve this?’ ‘What are some options to move this forward?’
In business, it is much easier to collaborate about the future than to agree about the past. Looking back at what has happened and why it didn’t work seems very logical (especially for those of us with science and finance backgrounds). In reality, it tends to result in more angst, more excuses and blame, and less collaboration both in this situation and in future ones.
This skill to look forward leads to better decisions, better relationships, more productivity and more positive results.
One of the difficulties with leadership and collaboration is that we rate decision-making as a real leadership strength. A person with definite, well-articulated views is seen to have leadership potential.
And yet to collaborate that same leader needs to be listening, and listening more than putting forward his/her views. The leader’s contribution is often best focused on looking for common ground and walking with their people, rather than always leading from the front with the team willingly or dutifully following.
For many decisive leaders, while they believe it is good to collaborate, they actually find it quite challenging to do. Collaboration requires you to move from the ‘driver’s seat’ to the ‘passenger seat’ for periods of time.
How good at you at collaborating? How would you rate your listening skills, as a researcher rather than a judge? Do you tend to be a selective listener? In other words, do you listen to those people you think are intelligent or have real expertise, and discount or dismiss those who are less experienced or who you just don’t like as much?
How well do you listen to your new staff and to people from outside your industry, to people who might have a ‘left field’ view? Often these people are worth listening to because they will challenge your ideas and challenge the paradigm. They tend to lead you to disruption, rather than following the status quo and that is often what makes you and your business competitive in your industry.