communication skills

Stressed? You’ve got 3 choices

Today I’ve conducted 5 coaching sessions with managers and there is a pattern running through all of them. A feeling of being overwhelmed, stressed and lacking any control over their own destiny. This isn’t surprising given that the managers are from various companies going through redundancies, re-organisations and other major changes.  However, just because it is a normal response to imposed change it doesn’t mean we have to feel helpless. The challenge is to focus on the parts that are within our control rather than waste precious time and energy on things outside it.

Stress happens when there is a mismatch between the demands being placed on us and our perceived resources to meet those demands. When we are not challenged enough we are in danger of rust out (I don’t see as much of that these days) and when the demands are greater than our perceived resources we risk burn out.

According to Ross and Altmaier in “Intervention in Occupational Stress” stress management is a decision making process and there are only 3 choices to make. We can:

Alter it – by changing something in how we approach our work, e.g. problem solving, clearer communication, better planning.

Avoid it – by removing ourselves from the situation or not getting into it in the first place, e.g. walking away, having clear boundaries, saying no, or even leaving the organisation.

Accept it – by building our resilience to it, e.g. self care, support systems, identifying goals and values, and by changing our unhelpful beliefs and perceptions about the situation or ourselves.

Which choices are you making? They may not be ideal, but they are choices, and they are yours.

How Do I Work with Detail Absorbed Perfectionists?

Who do you know who is dependent, neat, perfectionist, careful and compliant? They need a peaceful environment in which to work and live. They are likely to go out of their way to avoid confrontation and will choose compliance over confrontation the majority of the time.

People with this behavioural and communication style want to be appreciated for the quality of their work and will comply out of a strong desire to do whatever is asked of them in an accurate and error free manner.

Because of their need to do things correctly and avoid mistakes they are usually cautious and conservative which can lead to others seeing them as acting too slowly. While attention to detail is a real strength of this style over dependence on detail, policies and procedures can become a weakness.

When under pressure they are likely to be too critical of themselves and others, and pass the buck or act defensively when criticised or proved wrong.

Want they want:

  • Standard policies and procedures for all to follow
  • Protection or removal from aggression or confrontation
  • Re-assurance that they are doing a good job
  • To feel a part of things
  • One-on-one attention
  • Not to be given too much responsibility outside their expert role
  • To have the quality of their work appreciated
  • Information, data and details; factual proof

What helps?

  • Prepare your “case” in advance.
  • Stick to business.
  • Be accurate and realistic.

What doesn’t help?

  • Being giddy, casual, informal or loud.
  • Pushing too hard or being unrealistic with deadlines.
  • Being disorganised or messy.

So if you work with someone that fits this description, appreciate the quality of the work they are contributing and their drive to get it right and consider what you can do to work more effectively with them from now on.

How Often Are You The Lone Voice?

Although it can be tempting, particularly in times of change and turbulence, to keep our heads well below the parapet, outstanding leaders do the opposite.

They demonstrate they can be counted on when times are tough. They aren’t afraid to step up and be counted, to face into conflict, and to nail their colours to the mast of controversial or unpopular decisions. That’s because they know that leadership is about constantly looking for better ways. Continuous improvement can only happen when leaders challenge the process, question whether the way things are being done, and still make sense.

This is one of the reasons why it’s often “lonely at the top” and, for that matter, lonely anywhere else that outstanding leadership is being practiced. In order to take a stand, leaders need a strong sense of self and lots of confidence in order paradoxically to feel comfortable taking risks, being wrong and making mistakes. In fact, research shows that successful leaders and managers have made more mistakes during their careers than the people they were promoted over. They were promoted for showing the courage and the strength of character to take a stand not because they were always right.

So don’t let the chance of being wrong get in the way of taking a stand when you feel it is the right thing to do.

My questions to you are:

  • When have you taken an unpopular stand for something you believed in?
  • When has your courage failed you and you have kept quiet?
  • What made the difference?

Effective Coaching…

If coaching is so effective why don’t managers do more of it?

When I run coaching programmes for managers they often arrive “bought in” to the idea of coaching. These days they don’t need convincing of the benefits, they are increasingly likely to have experienced being coached themselves, having read about it, or having received some training.

However, when it comes to the part in the programme where we consider what is going to get in the way of fully transferring and implementing their coaching skills these are some of the barriers that frequently arise:

  • Lack of time
  • Fear of seeming contrived e.g. “Oh I can tell you’ve just been on a course”
  • Lack of confidence in skills
  • Lack of organisational support  i.e. organisation rewards results over time spent developing staff
  • Feeling expertise/status under threat. Due to asking questions rather than giving answers
  • Fear that team members won’t accept coaching
  • Lack of opportunity to coach, especially in geographically dispersed teams

If you are aware of similar issues slowing you down or standing in the way of coaching your staff more often this may help.

Many of the barriers, e.g. lack of time, lack of opportunity, lack of confidence, stem from a belief that coaching is only really coaching when it is formal, structured, diarised and lasts an hour. That just isn’t the case. Every interaction is a coaching opportunity and a chance to develop your skills and confidence.

This approach also deals with the fears about people rejecting the coaching approach or feeling it is “being done to them” as a result of your attendance on a course.  You can choose to take a quiet, incremental approach to implementing coaching. For example, setting yourself a target to practice active listening in situations you know you find difficult for one week. You might follow this by focusing on asking effective questions where you would normally issue instructions, for a week. These small action steps taken consciously and consistently would effectively develop and sustain your skills and be unlikely to lead to objections from your team members. Who would object to being listened to well and asked for their thoughts, ideas and suggestions?

So, while other blocks to implementation may be more complex, if you consciously choose to look at each conversation as an opportunity for coaching, keep it front of mind, and recognise that 3 minutes of quality listening can be far more effective than a longer period of on/off listening you will overcome these barriers, and develop and sustain the coaching approach that you already know is such an effective part of your management toolkit.

I would love to hear more about what might be getting in the way of coaching your staff and what strategies you have found that work well for you.

The Joy of Journaling

One of the most effective coaching tools “out there” is the personal journal. It’s not new. People have kept diaries and daily journals for centuries, but it is now being used to great effect as a way of supporting coaching or as a self-guided tool to help people think, reflect, explore, grow and develop Perhaps in this busy, and information overloaded world journaling will go from strength to strength as a means of stepping out of the “doing” for a moment and focus on the “being”

What can journaling do for you?

Improve your relationships

Take time to think about the people in your life, and what they mean to you. Explore patterns of interaction and communication in order to understand people at a deeper level. Plan important conversations and chose the right words to demonstrate empathy and express yourself clearly.

Become a better communicator

Get confusing or ill-formed thoughts onto paper to organise them properly. When you have clarified your thoughts you can express them more powerfully and become more influential.

Increase your creativity

Spending even a small amount of time in quiet reflection, allowing your mind to wander can produce great creativity. It’s no accident that most people have their best ideas when they are in the shower or walking in nature as these are often the only times they are not being bombarded by information and noise.

Respond rather than react

Where events might normally trigger an unhelpful knee jerk reaction, taking a few moments to write down your reaction, the implications of various routes open to you, and what you really want as an outcome helps you chose a more considered and helpful response.

Reduce feelings of overwhelm

When you are feeling anxious and thoughts are going round and round in your head causing unnecessary and unproductive stress, getting them out of your head and down on paper helps get them into perspective and more likely to lead to a plan.

Create a legacy

Keeping a detailed record of your own life and the lives of your children as they grow is a wonderful legacy to share with your loved ones.

Increase your emotional intelligence

EQ, which research consistently shows makes the difference between average performance and outstanding performance is based on self-awareness, self-management, awareness of others and managing relationships. Journaling directly supports development in all four areas.

Get clear on your goals

As you reflect on your life, what is really important to you, and where you are focusing your time and energy, you will make decisions about what is working well for you and what you want to change. Meaningful goals will naturally present themselves.  Being able to look back on your journal entries will highlight progress and help you celebrate changes and achievements.

Become sexier, slimmer and more attractive

Okay I lied about the sexier. Although, with better, more understanding relationships, who knows? I was going to say that journaling falls short of making you slimmer but I know that food journals and mood journals are now being used to good effect by many healthy eating programmes, so it really can make you slimmer! One thing is for sure, knowing yourself, feeling confident and being able to express your thoughts and feelings clearly, through journaling, is very attractive.

Next steps

I have put together a journal here, with questions to help guide you through different aspects of your life and you can use it at no charge for as long as you like. Given that it takes 30 days to embed a new habit why not try it, at no cost, for 30 days and see how it impacts your life?

Part 3 of 4 – How Do I Bring out the Best in my “Steady Eddy” Particularly when the Pressure Is On

Who do you know who is patient, steady, loyal and a good team worker? They co-ordinate their work well with others and you know they will complete their tasks in a systematic and methodical way. They develop good work habits and you know you can depend on them to help and to serve others? The down side is that their need for security and predictability may make it difficult to accept and adapt to unexpected and sudden change. They may get flustered when put under pressure to meet tight deadlines or to work at an unrealistic pace.

What they want:

  • As little change as possible, and to know the reasons behind the change
  • Security
  • A harmonious life inside and outside of work
  • People to be sincere and honest with them
  • To be appreciated and recognised for their hard work
  • To work with tried and trusted procedures
  • Time to accept, and adjust to change

What helps:

  • Begin with a bit of social chat to break the ice.
  • Present your case in a gentle, non-threatening way.
  • Ask “how?” questions to draw out their views and opinions.
  • Let them complete what they’ve started.
  • Give an early warning about coming changes
  • Provide tangible rewards

What doesn’t help:

  • Rushing headlong into business.
  • Being domineering or demanding.
  • Forcing them to respond quickly to your objectives.

So if you have someone on your team that fits this description, after recognising their value in terms of reliability and consistency, consider what you can do to work more effectively with them from now on.