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Not another pointless meeting!

I know of many teams where, as soon something needs discussing, or information needs sharing, the default position is to hold a meeting. Others are holding meetings because they are an established routine, even when many of the attendees are frustrated that the meetings are not adding any value or members are unclear about the purpose of the meetings. Is that you?

At their worst, to paraphrase Dave Barry,

“Meetings are an addictive, highly self-indulgent activity that corporations and other large organizations habitually engage in only to avoid making a decision or taking action”

Okay that isn’t the real quote but I want to keep it clean.

At their best, meetings are purposeful, powerful and productive forums for collaborative and decisive action.

A good reason to review your attendance

If you’ve ever sat in a pointless meeting trying to work out how much money was being wasted by having highly paid managers sitting (probably texting or dealing with emails) around a conference table, let me help you out. 8 Senior managers even on a modest annual salary of £80,000 attending a meeting that takes 3 hours including travel time, costs around £1,055 in salary costs alone, never mind all the work the managers are not doing whilst in the meeting. Does that help focus the mind?

That’s why you must ensure the meetings you do attend are the best possible use of your valuable time. Here are some questions to ask yourself before going along to the next meeting on autopilot:

  • What is the purpose of the meeting?
  • Why am I attending this meeting?
  • What outcome am I looking for from this meeting?
  • What can I contribute to the meeting?
  • How will it help me achieve the key purposes of my role?
  • How much time will the meeting take? Has a time limit been set?
  • How else can I achieve my aim? Is there a more effective way?
  • What work am I not doing, whilst attending? Can I justify that?
  • Is there someone more appropriate to attend the meeting?
  • Am I needed for the whole meeting?
  • What’s the agenda?  How can I make sure I get the agenda in good time?
  • What will I do after the meeting to ensure the time was well spent?

How many meetings will you attend this week? How many hours will you spend in them or travelling to and from those meetings and how will you measure if it was valuable use of your precious time? I look forward to your comments.

Do you care enough to pay attention?

I always thought I had a bad memory about some things, and then I realised I just hadn’t cared enough to pay attention.

Although we all like to think we are good listeners, dig a bit deeper and we can usually identify beliefs that get in the way.

“I haven’t got time”

“I know what they are going to say ‘cos I’ve heard it all before”

“We never agree”

“They are so boring!”

“I already know what I’m going to do” etc.

How arrogant we are. And what opportunities could we be missing? Attending to people fully can have so many benefits for them, for you, for your customers and for your business. Who’s to say that the person you’ve written off as boring and predictable might, at this very moment, have a great idea they are trying to share? Who’s to say that someone who always comes across as confident and competent might need your acknowledgement right now?

A couple of years ago I decided it would demonstrate my respect to my learners and my audiences if I could learn and remember their names right from the outset. I didn’t have any special technique, I just decided to concentrate and be interested when I first learned their name and a little about them. I now make it my party piece to reel off all their names as soon as we sit down, and use them throughout our time together.

What helps me to really listen and remember is to make sure I am present in the moment. Not thinking about what else I could be doing, not scanning the room for other conversations that are going on, and not half listening whilst doing something else. In other words I just decide to care.

Tony Allessandra describes this eloquently in relation to taking photos. When you point your camera at a person, the background becomes blurred. When you point at the background the person becomes blurred.

  • In a time where there are so many demands on your attention, what do you do to keep the subject of your attention in focus and blur everything else out?

  • How do you remind yourself to care?

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?

Grasping the Nettle of Problem Performance or Behaviour

I have been listening to a number of managers recently who are feeling frustrated by colleagues and staff who aren’t doing what they should be doing or are behaving in ways that the manager finds unacceptable.

What really stands out for me is how much time and energy is being spent on these issues. The “problem” person is being discussed with numerous people, being thought about an inordinate amount of time, and is causing stress and frustration left right and centre.

In most cases, the “problem” person isn’t even aware there’s a problem. The manager is talking to everyone except the person involved.

It’s similar to driving along a road when someone suddenly zooms past and cuts you up. You are furious. “How dare they!” “They shouldn’t be allowed on the road!” etc. You complain to whoever will listen, about the injustice of it all. You might even feel angry long after the event, whenever you think about it. Meanwhile the driver is oblivious to what they’ve done and the impact they’ve had on you.

The difference is, with colleagues at work you have the opportunity to address it. In fact, you have a professional responsibility to do so. If someone is under performing in terms of results, or behaviours, they need to be made aware of it and given the opportunity and support to put it right.

I don’t believe anyone sets out to be a poor performer. If they are falling short, there are numerous possible reasons for it. The most common ones are:

  • They don’t know what to do
  • They don’t know how to do it
  • They don’t know why they should do it
  • They think they are doing it

So, the next time you’re feeling frustrated by the actions or inaction of someone at work, just stop and think about why this might be happening. What could be getting in the way? Then go and have a frank conversation with them to discuss:

  1. Specifically what they are doing or not doing that isn’t working for you
  2. How their actions are impacting you, others or the task
  3. What you need them to do differently
  4. How they are going to achieve that, and what support they need

Just think, if someone at work was talking to everyone except you about an aspect of your work that they found unacceptable, would you rather they talk to you, or to everyone but you?

Is it time to grasp the nettle? You’ll need to make the first move.

Where to Focus Our Attention

Anthony Robbins said “Focus on where you want to go, not on what you fear.” When I was being treated for cancer 10 years ago, this quote really helped me and I totally lived by it.

Many of us who are committed to our continuing personal and professional development are familiar with visualising success. We picture the successful outcome in full Technicolor, turn up the volume on what we are hearing, and increase the intensity of our positive feelings. It is often very effective in motivating us to take action and start to close the gap between where we are and where we want to be.

However, when fear is keeping us stuck and we feel unable to take action it can also be really useful to flip this and focus on what we fear.

Samurai warriors used to visualise their own death in combat before they went into battle. In a meditative state, the warrior would vividly see his own death and accept it. This dissipated the fear and freed him up to go on and fight with abandon.

I believe that at times it is beneficial to consider the worst case scenario and ask ourselves what we would do if it became a reality. It helps to face the fear head on and recognise that we will come through the other side, one way or the other. In other words “this too shall pass.”

My questions to you are:

  • Do you think it is ever beneficial to focus on your fears?
  • What would you do if you were fearless?

What’s your listening sin?

Know how to listen, and you will profit even from those who talk badly
Plutarch (46 AD – 120 AD)

I believe I’m a good listener. Most of us do, don’t we? Effective listening isn’t rocket science and most of us can reel off exactly what we should be doing to show we are listening, but in practice, so much can get in the way can’t it?

When I deliver coaching skills programmes for managers we “confess our listening sins” in a light hearted way and then seriously commit to keeping them front of mind in order to address them.

Here are some of the obstacles to effective listening:

  • Being distracted by something seemingly more exciting going on nearby such as hearing your name mentioned
  • Deciding that you’ve heard this message so many times before
  • Hearing something that clashes with your values, beliefs, or opinions
  • Thinking about something you’d rather be doing or somewhere you’d rather be
  • Preparing your response
  • Telling people what you would do if you were them, or were in their situation even when they haven’t asked you to
  • Finishing off the other person’s sentence for them in your own head or even out loud

In order to develop and maintain effective listening skills we need to constantly check in with ourselves and consciously practice them.

So, it’s time to ‘fess up! What listening sins are you guilty of and what strategies do you use to stay focused on the speaker and what they are saying?