Aligning visions can sound like the title of some new age seminar. And, in all likelihood, there is one of those seminars out there somewhere. When I think about “visions”, I’m usually thinking in terms of larger, strategic goals. But they also can come into play in many capacities – every day.
For instance, have you ever walked away from a conversation thinking that you’re on the same page – only to find out later that you really weren’t? It happens a lot.
Sometimes the consequences are minor – like bringing home the “wrong” kind of milk. Other times it might be bigger – like having a product built the “wrong” way.
That “wrong” outcome can have many ripple effects. It can have tangible impacts such as wasted time, effort and rework (i.e. money). The intangibles can be big too – sometimes bigger than the monetary costs – and may take much longer to overcome. Relationships – and even reputations – can be damaged or even ruined.
When we’re talking about those larger visions – those strategic goals – it really is critical that we are on the same page with everyone involved. We need to make sure that our visions are in alignment.
That sounds like it should be an easy thing to do – but so should picking up milk on the way home.
In most cases, a key factor in alignment surrounds our communication skills. The funny thing is that many people will tell you that they are great communicators. However, I find that all of us – myself included – can usually stand for some improvement in our skillset.
Hone Your Skills
When people talk about “communication skills”, many people think solely in terms of their speaking or writing skills. How we convey our thoughts is important – but it is only one part of communication. There are other skills that I think are critical to communicating such as Listening, Considering Perspective and Confirming Input.
Listening, in my opinion, is the most important step in aligning visions. You can’t be sure you are in agreement if you don’t listen to what others are saying.
How are your listening skills? When someone is talking to you, are you really focused and actively listening?
The next time you’re in a conversation, listening to a podcast, whatever – take note of how often you get distracted from the speaker. Maybe your phone/iWatch/Fitbit pings or rings or buzzes with a new notification. Maybe you’re thinking about something else or how you’re going to respond – and not necessarily what the speaker is saying.
In each of these instances, you are distracted away from the speaker. When you realize this, you may try to refocus – but you’ll likely have missed some of what they were trying to convey.
Challenge yourself to improve your listening. Taking notes and/or writing summaries have been helpful to me. Get rid of those distractions and practice actively focusing on the speaker. I guarantee this will have a huge impact on your communications.
When you are collaborating on something or trying to communicate your thoughts, have you taken the time to truly consider the listener’s perspective? Have you put yourself in their shoes?
I think we’ve all had those conversations that you walk away feeling like the person you were talking to didn’t have a clue as to what you needed/what you were saying/whatever. You may have felt like you’d wasted your time and probably had a negative view of the experience.
Something as simple as taking a little time to consider where your listener is coming from before you talk with them can make a big difference in the outcome of the conversation. Before your next conversation, ask yourself:
- What are the listener’s needs?
- What is the problem that they are trying to solve?
- What are their challenges?
- What are their priorities?
- What are some of their past experiences that may come into play here?
The more you consider their view, the better you’ll be able to shape what you’re saying in a way that they are more likely to truly hear it.
Do you confirm what you are hearing after you hear it? Do you confirm what others have heard in a conversation? This step can do wonders for saving time and energy. It is also one that frequently gets glossed over or skipped altogether.
Confirmation can be as easy as summing up key points/decisions/open tasks at the end of a conversation or meeting – and then asking for input and agreement.
We often put these summaries in meeting notes or emails –but are you sure that they are getting read, digested and producing agreement? This is one of my big challenges as a project manager – but it is critical to the success of the project.
Take the time to mirror back what you heard and what you understand from the communication. Ask questions if you need to in order to get a confirmation that you and anyone else involved are on the same page.
Maintaining Alignment – Review & Reset
The world is a constantly changing place – and so are our visions and goals. Whether changes occur in environments, technologies, issues, people – they are all in motion. All of these changes will influence our goals – either how we achieve them or how we continue to define them.
Just because you agreed once – does not guarantee that you agree now.
A critical part of aligning visions is to ensure that you are regularly reviewing them – and resetting them when needed. I’ve seen too many projects that have failed because there wasn’t a clear and active review of the goals throughout the process.
Successful initiatives have aligned visions. Ensuring that alignment – and maintaining it – is possible with a little effort. Just be sure to really listen, understand, clarify, reset and repeat. Taking the time to do this will be worth it. I guarantee it.