4 Essential Steps to a Clear Compelling Message

During difficult times it’s even more important that everyone in the company knows exactly where the company is headed and the reasons behind strategic decisions, in order to feel energised and motivated to contribute their best and make sure the business goals are achieved. Communication is the only vehicle that allows all employees to understand this vision and direction, which may be why my newsletter subscribers consistently place effective communication at the top of their list of priorities.

As a manager your role is to act as a conduit for information; ensuring that your team has a clear understanding of the company’s way forward and all the information that they need to be effective in their job.

When you think about any communication you need to be structured and consider:

  • What are the key messages that need to be delivered?
  • What are the best ways to deliver the messages to the individual or team?
  • How will this be achieved?
  • How will you measure the effectiveness of the communication?

Think of someone you know who is outstanding at delivering clear and compelling messages.

  • What makes their communications so effective?
  • How do they choose the medium through which to communicate?
  • What is it about their personal style that works for you?

I look forward to hearing your comments.

3 Ways to Keep Calm when you’re being bullied

  • Do you interact regularly with someone who constantly puts you down and belittles what you say?
  • What about someone who generally throws their weight around and leaves you feeling intimidated?
  • Do you get nasty personal remarks from your boss rather than constructive feedback?

Everyone makes mistakes, lashes out in the moment, and can be rude or insensitive, but when behaviour like this happens repeatedly, no matter how “grown up” you are, you can be left feeling belittled, marginalised or insignificant and you need to do something about it. There are many different approaches to dealing with bullies and this short article focuses on just one – how to keep calm using imagery. The tools are particularly useful for “in the moment” relaxation when you can’t avoid the person or the situation.

a)      Protective screen. In your mind’s eye create a screen or wall that protects you from what the other person says or does. It can be impenetrable to keep you safe or it can block the insults while letting through the useful information. It can even come with volume and brightness controls that you adjust at will. Whatever suits you best. My son, uses the same special power as the daughter in the film “The Incredibles” and, in a flash, imagines a clear, protective dome around him and sees words bouncing off it. He even makes a “boing” noise in his head to make it even more effective.

b)      Catch it, bin it, kill it. Remember the Swine Flu Advert we had here in the UK which told us to catch it, bin it, kill it? Imagine catching the comment in your outstretched hand. Holding it there and examining it. Be curious and look to see if there’s anything in what the other person is saying. Keep what might be useful learning and toss the rest in an imaginary bin.

c)      Thought switching. It’s hard to hold two conflicting thoughts in your mind at the same time.

Thought-switching is another way to bring instant calm using imagery. Keep a mental list of relaxing places, events or people in your mind that you can call on whenever you need to feel calmer. It might be a favourite or peaceful place, a fun event, a special achievement or a calming or supportive friend. Switch your unhelpful or stressful thoughts and replace them with these images. If you struggle to remember your list, then keep a photo or some other physical reminder to help your recall.

The more you practice these three tools, the easier, quicker and more effective they’ll become.

What works for you in stressful situations that you can’t avoid?

Quality Feedback without a Survey

If, as Ken Blanchard states, feedback is the breakfast of champions, why is it muesli rather than champagne?

Good for us, but still pretty hard to swallow!

Good quality ongoing feedback is one of the cornerstones of continuous improvement in organisations. It surely follows then, that the skill of giving and receiving feedback is one of the most important that leaders and managers can develop. And yet, ironically, it is probably the most frequently lacking. I very often come across managers who are both hesitant to give it and scared about receiving it. And when I ask groups what springs to mind when they hear the word “feedback” they say things like “criticism”, “blame”, or “a right ****ocking”. Obviously something to be avoided at all costs! And if that is their view of the reality of feedback, how will it affect them in giving it as well as receiving it?

I am currently working with Sue. She is the only woman on a senior management team and feels she is not receiving the respect she deserves or enjoying the same credibility as the male members of the team. It is important that initially she gathers accurate feedback from her colleagues in order to check the evidence for these perceptions. Once this is to hand, she can put together a strategy for dealing with the issues, real or perceived.

Sue is reluctant to use any kind of 360 degree survey as she doesn’t want her colleagues to know that she is working with a coach. There are, however, other ways of getting quality feedback and this is what we have agreed:

1. Watch people around you . Sue is going to get to the next meeting early and observe how people respond to her as they enter the room. Do they smile and come over to her? Do they barely acknowledge her presence? Do they ask her a question? During the meeting she will observe them as she contributes. Do they listen attentively or look bored or frustrated?

2. Listen to them. Every time anyone around Sue makes a casual remark about her, whether positive or negative, at home or at work, she is going to write it down – things like “you always do that”, “that was really good” or “late again”. Over a number of days she will begin to build up a picture of how people view her. There is a saying that if one person calls you a stubborn mule you should ignore it but when you have been described as a stubborn mule a number of times it could be time to go and buy yourself a saddle!

3. Ask effective questions . The quality of feedback we receive in response to our request for it rests on the quality of the questions we ask. Sue doesn’t want to involve her peers in a 360 degree survey but is going to approach trusted colleagues and ask them effective questions to help her out.

If she asks general questions such as “How did I perform in that meeting?” she will get general answers like, “You were fine!” If she asks specific questions like, “When I deliver my proposal will you observe my body language and give me specific feedback on how it is supporting or undermining me as a confident presenter?”, she will get specific, behavioural feedback that she can do something valuable with.

Once Sue has carried out these actions she will have a fuller picture of the actual situation, but not a complete one. To amplify it further, I’m going to suggest that she tunes into her self talk to see how she, like most of us, is twisting her thinking in order to support the beliefs she already holds about herself and others. I will let you know how we get on.

Meanwhile, let me ask you:

How aware are you of your impact on those around you?

How can you search out high quality feedback that will lead to your continuing development?

7 Simple Steps to Getting Heard in Meetings

The Apprentice in the UK has come to an end for another year. While I don’t take the programme too seriously in relation to real business, I am fascinated to observe the dynamics between the candidates and between the candidates and Lord Sugar and his panel. Having heard how Susan felt undermined due to her age, and seen Tom’s strategy of politely raising his hand in an effort to be heard, I have been giving more thought to how to get heard in meetings.

  • Are you ever in meetings where everyone is talking over you?
  • Do you feel frustrated that you aren’t getting credit for your ideas and suggestions?
  • Do you hang back like someone waiting to jump in at skipping?

Here are my quick tips for becoming a key contributor whose input is seen as invaluable:

  1. Listen – This probably isn’t what you want to hear (see what I did there? :-)) This doesn’t mean staying silent and passive. It means listening effectively so you can find ways to link your point to others. Rather than focussing on what you want to say, just make a few bullet points as notes and then turn your attention to listening to others. When you acknowledge and build on what others have contributed they are more likely to return the favour.
  2. Try holding up your hand – I know Tom from the Apprentice tried this with apparently little affect. This could have been because he did it in an eager school boy way. It doesn’t do to be reaching as high as possible, whilst still sitting on your seat and saying “me, me, me!” Okay a slight exaggeration. Try holding up your hand more like a stop signal and saying “I would like to say something”
  3. Interrupt – If the person doing the talking is long winded and moving off topic, everyone will be very grateful if you interrupt and say something like “can I stop you there and just summarise where we are up to?” Or “Can I make sure we are all clear about the point you’re making.”
  4. If they interrupt – and you aren’t the person being long winded and moving off topic, say firmly “Please let me finish.”
  5. Speak with clarity and confidence. – You will come across as having more gravitas and credibility if you slow down, think before you speak and ensure you don’t sound tentative. Others tend to dismiss people who appear to lack confidence.
  6. Ditch the language that undermines your message – If I had a pound for every time I hear someone, usually women, start their point with “This might sound silly but….” Or “This might be just me but…” Aargh! You might as well just say, don’t bother listening to what I’m about to tell you because even I don’t value it.
  7. Learn from experience – Think about the times when your communication has had the desired effect, when you have been listened to, when you have commanded attention and been acknowledged for your input. What did you do? What did you say? What was happening around you? What helped? Now just rinse and repeat! 🙂

Let me know how you get on and if there’s anything I can help you with.

Is Gender on the Agenda?

Having worked for a long time in the area of behaviour and communication at work I know there are a whole host of diverse influences on how we behave and communicate including religion, race, geographical location, class, role position, company culture, personality and… gender. If you are a man reading this, are you now about to hit the delete button? Perhaps the men didn’t get past the title. I really hope not because the point of this post is to explore whether this is on your radar or not.

When I talk to women about how it impacts them, particularly when working with male dominated work teams they quickly relate to the subject. They’re usually very aware of how it affects their working relationships, and open to understanding how they may undermine their own credibility and apparent confidence and are keen to learn how they can change it.

I recently tweeted about a talk I had given to a large group of women entitled “How to Talk So Men Listen” One man responded by asking how I help men talk so women listen. Fair point, and the question it raised for me is do men care?

Women are interested because they are usually in a minority on senior teams, can site numerous examples of when they’ve felt frustrated that they’ve not been listened to or acknowledged and can frequently see the potential implications for their personal and business success.

Do men have the same incentive to address this? If the senior team of your business has always been  male and has well established conversational norms, what’s in it for you as a man, to consider anyone joining the team, whose style of communication doesn’t fit those norms, whether that is due to gender or any of the other influences, for that matter.

I’d really value your input on this because I don’t want to approach it as purely a women’s issue. I want to learn more about your experiences and thinking.

Whilst acknowledging that none of these are absolute measures and more on a spectrum of styles, what do you think about men and women having different ways of behaving and communicating?

  • What has been your personal experience?
  • What have you noticed when men and women work together in teams?
  • What impact can these differences have?
  • What, if anything, is in it for men to acknowledge or address any differences?

How to Talk So People Listen

If a manager’s job is to motivate people toward achieving a common goal then succeeding at this, requires a whole range of communication skills, ranging from delivering prepared talks to engaging teams in change initiatives, to supporting individuals to overcome obstacles.

A survey of recruiters by the University of Pittsburg’s Katz Business School identified that communication skills were the most decisive factor in recruiting new managers. The survey went on to assert that communication skills, along with relationship skills were the main contributors to job success.

So what is effective communication? It’s all about sending and receiving messages as clearly, unambiguously and with as little distortion as possible. Communication is successful when both the sender and the receiver share the same understanding of the message.

Here are some suggestions to help you achieve that:

  • Identify the key messages to be delivered
  • Factor in the diverse needs of different audiences
  • Choose the most appropriate media to get your message across
  • Consider how to measure the effectiveness of your communication

What do you do to make sure you get your message across clearly and effectively?