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Take conversations to the lowest level

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Roger Hendrix, now a management consultant in Salt Lake City, served as mission president of a Mormon enclave in Chile in the early 1990s. He oversaw several hundred missionaries, mostly young men.

Hendrix discovered that one-on-one contact is vital when people are under stress, which in Chile means everything from natural disasters to kidnapping. Under those conditions, people clam up. Their insecurities take over.

Here are some communication lessons Hendrix learned:
  • Just drop by. Shocked beyond words to see their leader in some far-flung village, Hendrix’s missionaries would ask if they’d done something wrong. Even if they did, Hendrix would say “No,” he was there just to visit.

    Then, he’d ask to go for a walk. The missionary always would ask what Hendrix wanted to talk about, and Hendrix would always turn the question around. Then, the missionary would spill whatever was on his mind.

  • Fight the urge to watch the clock. The first few times he visited, Hendrix couldn’t resist looking at his watch. Big mistake. The missionary would say, “Oh, you’ve probably got to go,” and that was it. So, Hendrix started leaving his watch in the car.

  • Counteract busyness. Americans like staying busy, but being busy all the time doesn’t mean you’re accomplishing anything important. If you want to exert an impact on one of your people, interrupt him.

    “It’s huge to challenge an American about his busyness,” Hendrix says. But you have to. Slow him down. Cash in on the relationship you’ve begun by persuading him to discuss what matters. That’s when you can start to teach and coach.

  • Let silence work to your advantage. After two or three encounters, you may run out of things to say. That’s OK.

    When the person says “So, where do we go from here?” or “That’s it for me,” reply, “We’ve just started.” Then wait. The next thing said might be the most important thing of all.
— Adapted from “Private, Private Conversation,” Roger Hendrix, Across the Board.

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