How to Manage a Multi-Generational Workforce

“We want to be a ‘cool’ company and attract younger people, at the same time we want to retain our long-serving employees with their wisdom and years of experience.” “We hope our younger generation leaders will push our organisation towards a growth mindset, at the same time we don’t want our more senior employees to feel they are not as valued as before.” These are some of the comments we recently heard from a global communications client we work with. They explained to us that they need to ensure they have the future leaders who will ensure the company stays relevant and competitive. But as their comments show, recruiting younger generations also brings challenges. In this post we will explore in detail the diverse attitudes and expectations that different generations have, and the impact this is having in organisations right now. 

In fact, we hear this story with virtually all our clients that we work with in diversity and inclusion training [link to product pages when up]. If you’re managing a multi-generational team, or trying to bring new talent into an organisation, you might be facing similar challenges. And you will know that managing a multi-generational workforce is a real issue that urgently needs solutions today.

When talking about generations, we never want to over-generalise and automatically put people into boxes. On the other hand, we also don’t want to assume everyone is the same. And when it comes to the workplace, different generations have quite different ideas. So if we want to attract new generations and also retain existing talent, we will need to consider how to design a workplace that works for both. To start, let’s look at what a multi-generational workplace looks like in reality…

In this post we’ll describe the different attitudes and expectations of the three main generations in today’s workplace across four flashpoints, and offers practical tips and advice for managing those differences, based on our experience of what works well in organisations we have worked with.

What are the different generations?

Walk into any large company today and you are likely to see much greater age diversity than you would have seen even at the start of this century. The workforce is getting younger; flexible working and technology has meant that more people (especially women) have access to the workforce today, and this will continue. It’s worth re-iterating this; there are more younger people in the workforce today and that population is more diverse than previous generations.

At the same time, due to pension reforms and health advances, older workers are staying in their jobs longer, especially in Europe. While the generational makeup of the workplace varies in different world regions (and you can see some interesting comparisons here, it’s useful to define and contrast the 3 biggest generations currently in the workforce:

Millennials Generation X Baby Boomers








Age in 2020


Age in 2020


Age in 2020


Large and diverse generation and tomorrow’s leaders Smallest generation, stepping into leadership roles now Large generation, today’s traditional leaders

What are the attitudes of different generations?

Now let’s look now at 4 common flashpoints created by generational differences (a flashpoint is a potential conflict which arises from different attitudes or perspectives). As you read this section, ask yourself whether you can see any concrete examples of these differences in your organisation.

1. Ambitions

Younger generations may expect to progress more quickly in their career and can be impatient with traditional routes to promotion and new opportunities. Personal and professional growth and social recognition are probably more important to them than material rewards or status. They may not find the existing rewards system especially motivating. Older generations may see them as over-ambitious and not as committed to the organisation.

Here is a more segmented description of the different ambitions of specific generations:

Millennials Generation X Baby Boomers


Expect to have several careers (average tenure is 2 years), therefore value CV building Motivation comes from being challenged and receiving constructive feedback Prefer more formal approaches e.g. pension or ‘status’ rewards like titles and office space

Do you see different attitudes to career and progression from different generations of worker?

2. Technology

The most obvious and most talked about difference. But it’s an oversimplification to say that older generations are not comfortable with technology, because we all need to use it for work nowadays. However, there are differences in how different generations use technology; younger generations seem to be constantly connected and technology is their default way to interact with the world. Older generations tend to see technology as a tool to perform a specific task and they are fine with just turning it off. Millennials will expect to be able to ‘plug in’ to technology in your organisation straight away. Older generations may feel overwhelmed by how younger generations use technology and feel that they simply won’t be able to catch up.

Here is a more segmented description of the different ambitions of specific generations:

Millennials Generation X Baby Boomers


Grew up with it in personal and work life, so don’t see a divide. Competent in less tangible technologies e.g. social media Good at adapting to new technologies but still view it as something tangible that does not include personal/social life Need time to be convinced and shown tangible results of using it

Do you see different attitudes to using technology in different generations of worker?

3. Communications

Younger generations may prefer to communicate more often, in person, and more informally. They may not see the need to adjust how they communicate based on who they are talking with. And of course, they will probably prefer to do it with technology. Older generations often prefer more formal ways of communicating e.g. written over spoken. They could feel that lines of communication are not being respected by younger generations and also feel overwhelmed by the constant communication flow.

Here is a more segmented description of the different ambitions of specific generations:

Millennials Generation X Baby Boomers


Prefer informal, personal and face to face communication. Emotions have a place at work. Likes straight-talking, email is preferred communication tool. But can also adapt to generations on either side. Communication at work is formal, e.g. prefer things to be documented. Dress and behaviour is also more formal at work.

Do you see different attitudes to communication from different generations of worker?

4. Work life balance

Should work be ‘fun’? We might all answer yes, but different generations have slightly different ideas for how far work should be a social experience and where to draw a line between personal and professional life. For older generations, the phrase ‘work life balance’ probably means enough time outside work to enjoy life with friends and family or alone. For younger generations this phrase is more likely to mean personal goal-fulfilment and social networks inside the workplace, and the flexibility to work when and where they want. This can be difficult for organisations which are still struggling to introduce and control flexible working arrangements.

Here is a more segmented description of the different ambitions of specific generations:

Millennials Generation X Baby Boomers


No clear boundaries, work should be fun, expect to work anywhere, anytime. Family and work life boundaries are important, need to ‘switch off’, ‘work to live’ Work takes place in the office, long hours means loyalty, ‘live to work’

Do you see different attitudes to work life balance from different generations of worker?

As mentioned already, let’s look at some offers practical tips and advice for managing those differences.

1. Ambitions

Different generations can have different motivations and expectations for job progression and career planning. Tailoring how you reward and recognise performance is a good place to start addressing these differences, and it is not hard to do. We recently worked with a global telecommunications company who told us they had great success when they decided to let managers decide how to reward team members. These managers came up with new types of rewards for younger generations like gym membership and Amazon vouchers, in addition to the standard types of recognition offered.

Getting generations to mentor each other can be more effective than formal performance management at cutting across generational silos. Providing a younger employee with a more experienced mentor or coach provides them with personalised growth opportunities and gain valuable knowledge fast. At the same time, it can help older employees learn practical things form younger ones, e.g. how to use new technologies, how to work from home. The personal nature of mentoring or coaching also helps to build relationships that can bridge different attitudes and approaches that the generations have.

Here is a summary of tips for how to manage the different motivations of specific generations:

Millennials Generation X Baby Boomers


Don’t think about how long they will stay; instead, consider what they bring to the organisation and how to benefit from it Ensure they are challenged to grow in a supported way; growth is a career goal in itself for this generation Show them that they can teach and also learn from other generations, and assure their experience is respected and valued

2. Technology

Marc Prensky coined the terms ‘digital natives’ and ‘digital immigrants’ nearly 20 years ago to describe different generations’ entry points into technology. Today that gap has narrowed, but as you saw in Part 1 of this post, generations still have quite different attitudes to how they use technology. This takes careful managing. Ensure you show older generations a tangible benefit of technology, i.e. something that will help them succeed in their job role and meet business targets. Support them as they get to grips with new tech and new ways of using it and praise them when they make progress.

The challenge for younger generations is to show that technology has a real purpose and is not just for fun or following the latest trend. This is especially true for less tangible forms of technology like social media. Millennials grew up on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and they understand better than any generation how it works. If you don’t, that’s fine, but make sure you hire someone who does to run your social media marketing.

As with career and progression, mentoring can help bridge the different attitudes and experience. Gen X can also act as a bridge generation, especially for technology because they have traits of both generations that came before and after them. After all, they grew up in the first iteration of a digital world and were the first generation to get their hands on personal computers, CD’s, iPods, etc. The adaptation and learning they went through is a valuable lesson for generations either side of them.

Here is a summary of tips for how to manage how different generations use technology:

Millennials Generation X Baby Boomers


Use their competency and experience to benefit the organisation and learn from them Use their experience of adapting and learning new technologies to bridge attitudes and knowledge Be patient, let them learn at their own pace, make sure they can see tangible, business benefits

3. Communications

Much of the above advice also applies to this topic, as nearly all our communications nowadays are via technology. In Part 1 you saw that the generations have different expectations for how to communicate at work, and this could lead to conflict if communication styles get in the way of what is actually being communicated. To prevent this, generations need to come together and talk about their preferences in order to reach agreements and manage each other’s expectations. It’s fine for me to be constantly connected – that lets my manager know I will read her communication quickly. It’s also fine that I expect a delayed response from a colleague who likes to switch off out of working hours.

Technology can also be used to get different generations communicating. Many organisations we know use company-wide platforms like Slack, Yammer or IBM Connect to discuss issues and exchange opinions. These platforms are a great way to bring diverse generations together to work through issues that are common to everyone. These corporate versions of social media will provide natural avenues for younger generations, while for generations which are newer to technology they can provide tangible benefits in the form of information sharing and learning.

Here is a summary of tips for how to manage communication between specific generations:

Millennials Generation X Baby Boomers


Expect a more informal and even emotional style, check in with them regularly and show you’re listening Avoid over-burdening with many different forms of communication, use to bridge communication gaps between generations Expect a more formal style and respect/adjust to it, emphasise the goals of communication over the medium

4. Work life balance

Work to live, or live to work? Different generations have different perspectives and in a multi-generational workplace you will need to cater to both. Go with flexible working but make sure that people who use it understand their accountabilities and are reachable, which will assure those people who are resistant to it. Empower managers to set up agreements with team members that respect their individual preferences for where and how to work, including staying in the office. This may mean a shift in culture away from hours put in and towards performance measured by outputs. In other words, saying “We don’t mind how you work, we just want to see the results”. The benefit of focusing out outputs rather than inputs is that individual preferences can actually become less important and noticeable. Still, as with all culture change, the road getting there could be a bit rocky.

Here is a summary of tips for managing different generational attitudes to work-life balance:

Millennials Generation X Baby Boomers


Acknowledge their need for flexibility and independence, while setting clear boundaries and expectations Respect their need to ‘switch off’ and have a personal life that is separate to work Don’t force them to work flexibly, respect the hours they put in, talk to them about different generation’s attitudes




We hope you enjoyed reading this post. If you would like to know more about our experience of working with clients in different areas of diversity, please contact us.

The power of SCARF and how to make feedback work better, and feel better

The question of how to get employees to improve has generated a good deal of opinion and research over the last hundred years. Most of us agree about the importance and benefits of feedback. Yet research suggests that feedback is still not being given often enough and when it is given it is not really doing what it is supposed to do; which is to help us improve. A 2018 Employers Council blog post reported that 65% of employees want more feedback. In 2019, Gallup found that only 26% of employees strongly agree that the feedback they receive helps them do better work. However, another study found that 71% of respondents overall agreed that they find critical feedback helpful and motivating. Once you delve into the topic of feedback, you’ll even find conflicting evidence that feedback in business truly enables learning and change. Talking to participants in our management training programmes supports some of these statistics. We often hear from managers that they want to give more feedback, but they lack the methods to give them confidence when they do it.

Statistics aside, let’s focus on two of the most obvious factors of the feedback conversation: The person giving the feedback, and the person receiving the feedback. When both have the skills, confidence and ability to have a productive feedback conversation then you will have a high chance of success (i.e. change). And the glaringly obvious… if the feedback is positive (“you’re doing a great job, keep it up”)… easiest conversation ever! Having a negative, or critical feedback conversation, while making it a productive conversation is of course where the skills, confidence and ability are most needed…

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Before you continue reading take a moment and ask yourself 3 questions …

  • 1. When you go to work, how often do you receive feedback from management?
  • 2. Do you feel the feedback you get helps you to improve your performance?
  • 3. When you give feedback to others how often does it make a difference?

Why is feedback sometimes not effective?

Because sometimes, when we are given feedback, we feel threatened (or attacked), instead of supported and helped. The keyword there is ‘feel’. When humans ‘feel’, or perceive threat, it invokes a primal response (fight or flight) and we can no longer hear what the rational brain is saying.


Minimize danger – Maximize reward

David Rock believes that our response has its roots in the way our brains deal with perceived danger and how we always seek to minimise threats and maximise rewards. He developed it into a model of 5 areas that influence our behaviour, the SCARF model (, or scroll to the bottom of this post). As Dr. Rock explains in the video, these five factors have a tremendous impact on our motivation on whether we are in that reward state or that danger state.

  • Status – our relative importance to others
  • Certainty – our ability to predict the future
  • Autonomy – our sense of control over events
  • Relatedness – how safe we feel with others
  • Fairness – how fair we perceive the exchanges between people to be



Managers who want to influence others, their job is to find just the right levers to move people into that ‘maximize reward’ state. Leaders tend to know all about the carrot and stick. They use money and other external rewards to try to motivate people. Turns out there are often far more powerful rewards and threats going on inside people’s heads that are generating their behavior. So if you want to be the best that you can be at influencing others, you need to better understand what makes people tick.

Dr. David Rock


Your perception of your position in relation to other people is what is meant here. Scientific evidence shows that when you experience a drop in status, your brain responds in the same way as when you experience physical pain. Who hasn’t felt intimidated at least once in their life, when we get feedback from others who are (or we perceive as) senior or more competent than us? The opposite is also true; when we receive praise from people more competent than us, we can find it highly motivating. This is the reward side of the status dimension.

If status is a relevant issue in your feedback conversation, remember that who gives the feedback becomes more important than what the feedback is. Naturally, status also plays a part when giving upwards feedback, or feedback to a client or colleague. When you are giving feedback take a moment to reflect on how your relationship with the person may impact your message.

  • Status is not the same as a formal position in a hierarchy, it is the worth we feel for ourselves and the worth we feel others assign to us
  • Status derives from credibility but also from knowledge and competence, so if you lack credibility with a specific audience you can gain it from demonstrating what you know/can do
  • Language makes a difference; using ‘we’, ‘us’, ‘our’ feels and sounds much more inclusive than ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘my’ and can help remove status risks
  • Everybody in an organisation needs to know their role is important and valued


“The brain is a certainty creating machine, always trying to predict what’s going to happen.” So, when the feedback giver can provide a really clear explanation about what is going to happen and what is expected, it provides much more certainty for the feedback receiver from the outset. Consider your reaction if your manager unexpectedly drops by your desk and says, “Can I have a word with you in my office?” Do your feelings move towards danger, or reward? When we know what to expect, we tend to feel safer. Introducing predictability, structure and goals in conversations can establish certainty and help people feel more open to feedback.

  • Humans perceive uncertainty as a threat. Recognizing this will help prepare a strategy to reduce what is threatening
  • Communication is a key tool to creating certainty, even if you have nothing ‘certain’ to tell people, the act of telling them precisely this will help
  • If there is genuine uncertainty about the future we can fall back on ‘why’ we are doing something; this can introduce purpose and a feeling that ‘we are in this together’ that can mitigate uncertainly about how things may actually turn out
  • You can mitigate the threat of uncertainty even in small conversations by telling the other person what will happen in the conversation – very important in giving feedback
  • People can gain a sense of certainty by being clear about what their role is and what is expected of them


Autonomy is a key part of intrinsic motivation. Micro-management undermines our autonomy by reducing the control we have over our work  …  and negatively impacts our motivation. Research shows that people who feel that they have no control or autonomy have higher stress levels. If feedback is supposed to be developmental, managers need to take the risk to let team members find their own paths to development. In other words, to be more coach/mentor than director.

  • Autonomy is closely linked to certainty – we if can’t predict the future we won’t feel we have any control over it
  • We react negatively when we perceive we don’t have control over events, our environment and our own choices
  • Autonomy requires trust and a feeling of safety around others, so that we can express our true feelings/opinion without fear of reprisal or rejection
  • Autonomy can be given to team members by e.g. empowering individuals by setting the ‘what’ and allowing them to decide the ‘how’
  • The idea of having options, i.e. making choices, is important to a sense of control


In short, relatedness refers to “our common ground”. When we feel comfortable with the people around us we are more likely to open up, express true feelings and reflect on our own behaviours. We relate to different people for all kinds of different reasons. Think about the people you turn to at work when you have a problem or challenge. Then think about the people you would definitely not turn to.

  • Relatedness is a feeling of belonging when we sense that people care about us as individuals
  • People often sense relatedness (or lack of it) via non-verbal communication, e.g. a nod or a smile to recognise you relate to what others are saying/thinking
  • Buddying, mentoring and coaching are all ways to build trusted relationships and make people feel valued
  • There is a need to pay attention to functional teams in organisations to prevent some teams feeling they are not as important as others; this can lead to silo working and disunity


Fairness is highly subjective, so we need to work on people’s perceptions of fairness rather than trying to make things ‘equal’ – not everyone is equal, but we can hold people to a common set of standards. Sensing something is unfair immediately triggers a defensive reaction in our minds. The most common perception of unfairness in the workplace is when we see we are being treated differently to others. Managers can reduce this threat by explaining why they want to have conversations with individuals, and by setting common objectives, standards and rules.

  • Team members need to be able to cut each other some slack when individuals are facing special circumstances and perhaps some standards can be flexible – if this happens we need to communicate it is an exception and only temporary
  • Rewards and recognition need to be based on what people have accomplished rather than who they are, in order to avoid accusations of favouritism and bias
  • Transparency in decision making can help mitigate feelings of unfairness by showing that a range of perspectives were considered
  • Helping individuals see things from different perspectives can promote empathy and reduce a sense of discrimination

To wrap up

We hope you’ll consider using the power of SCARF in your next feedback conversation. For more feedback content, these posts might be of interest to you:




What makes a great business English learner?

Ninety percent of the time, when a participant tells me “I am just not good with languages,” it turns out to be false. Much more common is that the person’s previous experience with poor learning materials and inadequate methods led them to have two limiting beliefs: that they were not cut out for learning a language, and that language learning is a difficult, boring process. The following success story of InCorporate training participant Karl from Germany shows what is possible even for a busy manager in his 50’s with an active private life. Find out what attitudes and behaviors drove Karl’s rapid progress, how he enjoyed doing it, and how you can improve your own journey by learning from Karl’s success.

As business English specialists, we often talk about what makes great training. From focusing on and developing the skills and qualities that make fantastic trainers, to highlighting the importance of the behaviors and characteristics required by clients to maximize the impact of training on their organizations, we’ve learned that every stakeholder holds unique responsibilities in ensuring great results.

Of course, great trainers, innovative, pragmatic training concepts, and supportive clients are all essential to excellent training programs. Equally important however—if not even more important— are the behaviors, qualities, and attitudes of the participants themselves. The most qualified and skilled trainers, the highest-quality training materials, and an unlimited training budget cannot go very far without motivated, ambitious, and proactive participants.

So, what does it take to be the kind of participant who gets the most out of training? Most people seem to believe that there are only two options: you are either naturally good with languages, or you must spend every minute of your spare time doing boring grammar exercises and memorizing lists of new vocabulary words. Well, I’m here to tell you, from years of experience as a trainer and from my formal studies of how languages are learned, that this is simply not true, and that improving can and should be enjoyable.

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Meet Karl

Occasionally as an InCorporate Trainer, I meet a participant who exemplifies the qualities and behaviors of an excellent learner, and that’s exactly what happened when I met Karl. Karl, a group leader in an accounting department of a large German company, has attended weekly one-to-one sessions with me for the last year. When he first told me about his incredible results—that he had gone from A1 (beginner) to C1 (proficient) English in just a couple of years—I almost couldn’t believe my ears. After just a few sessions with him, though, it became very clear to me why he had made such remarkable progress. I can summarize the four key characteristics that led to Karl’s success as proactivity, curiosity, consistency, and reflectiveness.

Let’s explore each one in a bit more detail.


When Karl made the decision to improve his English to increase his personal enjoyment and professional success, he took matters into his own hands. He didn’t overthink it. Instead, he started doing whatever he could do get a basic grasp of the language. As soon as he had a basic understanding, he spent as much time as he could immersing himself in the language. Specifically, he began listening to podcasts and news in English on his commute to work and found that his understanding kept getting better and better. He also found that this was a great way to make use of the time, as he had to be in the car anyway.

When he realized that he could understand more than he could speak, he hired some ‘tutors’ online—basically just people to practice conversing with. He found that this dramatically improved his confidence using the language, and it was incredibly interesting to chat with people from all over the world.

Finally, as soon as he realized that an InCorporate Trainer was available to him for private training, he jumped at the opportunity, and began integrating his foundational language skills with his professional life. Then, things really took off.


This one might come as a surprise to hard-working, results-driven people. Why does curiosity matter and how did it help Karl achieve such great results? There are at least two reasons.

Firstly, curiosity—wanting to know and learn more—is a highly motivating trait. Karl soon realized that improving his English connected him with the world and helped him to answer questions that he had. As his understanding improved, he began to forget that he was even listening, reading, and talking in English because he was so focused on the content of what he was listening to, reading, and talking about. We know from research into how people learn languages that this is hugely important: we learn language by understanding and really focusing on the message of what we are listening to. Karl’s curiosity about the world, current events, and the forces impacting his career and company became a highly motivating force for his journey.

Secondly, Karl had an attitude of curiosity about the language itself. Every week, he came to his training session with questions and comments about something he had encountered in English at work. An idiom, a pun, a slogan, an abbreviation—Karl noticed that there is always something to be learned, discussed, and explored. He also brought in presentations, documents, and emails from his working life. This openness means that he is always paying attention to the little details, and attention drives learning. (In contrast, I sometimes ask participants about what the English around them means or if they have ever explored it or thought about it. “GPD? I have no idea…it’s just what we call the talk with our boss each year.” Karl wouldn’t let the abbreviation GPD pass by him without dissecting it, analyzing it, and learning something from it).


This one is easy to understand but particularly important in practice. Not only was he consistent with his self-directed learning, but he also prioritized attending his training sessions very regularly, ensuring near-weekly practice. This gave us plenty of time to review previous material and integrate current work issues and world events into our ongoing conversation.

Under consistency, I would also file Karl’s focus on ‘little wins.’ Instead of needing to be perfect right away, he learned to enjoy the small successes, from delivering a successful presentation at work, to navigating a difficult situation while traveling in the US. He focused on what he could do thanks to training and learning as opposed to what he couldn’t do yet.


We’ve already seen how Karl reflects on the English around him as an active and curious learner. But importantly, he also reflects on the learning process itself. Not only did he come to training with specific language related questions, but he also came with questions and reflections about the process of learning a language and the strategies he used to improve.

It was interesting to hear how many of his experiences matched what I know about learning from a scholarly perspective. For example, Karl would often say things like  “I don’t really know any rules, I just have an intuitive feel for what I’m saying.” Karl’s experience matches research in the field of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) —knowing about language (knowing ‘rules’) is a very different thing than knowing language (being able to use language naturally). In fact, with such a good intuitive understanding, developed through many hours of listening, reading, and conversing in English, when Karl did need to polish up his English with a rule, he was able to grasp it very quickly and easily. In contrast, people who focus too much on the rules of language, without enough exposure to input and practice using language, often struggle for many years to improve their skills. Karl’s experience highlights the importance of learning by doing when it comes to language learning.

Learning from Karl

While having a great trainer, quality training materials, and a supportive client are essential for effective language training, the behaviors, qualities, and attitudes of participants themselves are equally important. Participants like Karl, who are proactive, curious, consistent, and reflective, are the ones who achieve remarkable progress in their language learning journey. Here are some practical takeaways from Karl’s success story:

  • Be proactive: There has never been a better time to be a language learner. Find ways to include more English in your daily routine. Listen and read about things that interest you and take opportunities to practice speaking and writing. Take your learning into your own hands. If you are lucky enough to have an InCorporate Trainer, use them! Your trainer is there to support you with on-the-job training.
  • Be curious: Use your natural interests to drive your learning and develop an attitude of curiosity towards the language itself. Here’s an easy way to start: Go to YouTube. Search for a hobby, an interest of yours, or a professional topic or skill you want to know more about, in English. Find content that truly interests and engages you and get lost in it.
  • Be consistent: Practicing a little but often beats a lot of practice once in a while. Karl listened to podcasts on his commute to and from work, had two conversations per week with his tutors, and showed up every week to his private training session. Think of ways you can take a little-by-little approach. If you have InCorporate Training, attend training as often as you can. Also, focus on the small successes. Can you do or say something in English this month that you couldn’t last month? Congratulations. That’s real progress.
  • Be reflective: If you work for an international company like Karl, chances are, English is all around you. Engage with it daily. InCorporate Trainers are thrilled when participants bring in documents, emails, questions, and ideas to explore in training. You don’t need a coursebook when you are surrounded by a real-world coursebook and have a professional trainer to guide you.

Mastering a language is a lengthy process, but you’d be surprised at how quickly things get moving when you get the basic behaviors and mindset in place. Importantly, you have to find ways to enjoy the journey itself, just like Karl.



How do we start talking about unconscious bias in the workplace?

“We know what unconscious bias is, and why it’s important. But we don’t know how to start having a conversation about unconscious bias in the workplace in our organisation”. This was a statement from leaders from a multi-national pharma company headquartered in Europe. Any organisation which is trying to build diversity and manage unconscious bias will start with this, or a similar statement. We worked with the group to break their words down into 3 sub questions and this post shares how we worked with our client to answer these questions.

Should we start with training?

Training seems an obvious place to start. But if you can’t make it mandatory (and ensure that 100% of your employees attend), the people who attend training will be self-selecting. We see this time and again on our training courses, when we hear the common comment “Person X should really attend this training”. Person X is usually a senior manager or a ‘problem’ colleague who probably really needs the training, except that no one seems willing to tell them!

Running training courses is also not practical for many industries. For example, about 50% of the employees of our pharma client work in labs. Small teams with a constant workflow will find it difficult to leave their workstations to attend training.

We are not saying that training is not part of the solution, just not the solution. In the next section you will see some ideas on how to work with people on this topic outside the training room.

How can we support attitude changes?

A workplace is a collection of people with different backgrounds, experiences and views. Everyone is entitled to their views but at the same time we have a right to ensure that the people who work with us work to our goals and values. ‘Inclusion nudges’ are a very effective way of achieving this. An inclusion nudge is defined as “a relatively soft and non-intrusive mental push that mitigates implicit bias and helps the brain make more objective decisions”[1]. Here are 3 types of nudges with examples:

Feel the need

In one organisation we work with, 24.5% of employees are women. What percentage of executives in the company do you think are women? The answer is 7.1%. What do you think about the gap between the two figures? This is an inclusion nudge based on data that aims to help people ‘feel the need’ for change by creating a kind of ‘ah-ha’ moment.


A Process Nudge means changing a system or organisational process in order to eliminate bias by default. Changing the way you conduct meetings or screen candidates are examples of this kind of nudge. We know companies who use a Gender Decoder [] to ensure the language in job ads is not biased to male candidates.


The way we frame things can also nudge our brains to think differently about bias. Consider the question “Should we hire more women and ethnic minorities?” reframed as “Are we getting our fair share of the talent that is out there?” Which question would steer you to take action?

Inclusion nudges are a simple and cost-effective way to start working on attitudes and behaviours and they can be launched anywhere and anytime; on a poster in the office corridor, on the intranet, in a conversation in the canteen over lunch. In the next section you will read more advice on how to get these kinds of conversations going.

For more ideas on how to create nudges to reveal bias, see the post 9 Questions to Uncover Unconscious Bias:


How do we convince people this is an important topic?

To put the question another way – what will motivate people to get interested and want to do something about it? For some this will simply be a matter of politics or ethics, i.e. it’s just the right thing to do. For others, this may not seem a topic that impacts their jobs. However, something that will appeal to everyone is the success of the business.

Two of the biggest concerns for organisations we work with are talent acquisition and employee engagement. Removing bias is a key component of managing these challenges. You just saw the link between bias and talent acquisition in the framing example above. Consider another common question, “How can we increase our employee engagement scores?”. Now let’s reframe the question as “Which people in our organisation don’t have a voice and how can we involve them more?”

In other words, by addressing diversity and inclusion we can find a way to address some of the biggest challenges that organisations face today. For more examples of the link between bias and common challenges faced by organisations, read this post What Is Unconscious Bias and Why Does It Matter?

Tackling unconscious bias in organisations means starting conversations that will interest and motivate people to do something about it. The key to doing this is to make the link between bias and what is important to everyone in the organisation.

Read more in this post…


We hope you enjoyed reading this post. If you would like to know more about our experience of working with clients in this area, feel free to contact us. Or, take a look at some of our training solutions in this area.

[1] Inclusion Nudges Guidebook: Practical Techniques for Changing Behaviour, Culture & Systems to Mitigate Unconscious Bias and Create Inclusive Organisations

Presentation tips and resources

There are presenters out there who seem to have it all. They speak, the audience listens. They make a joke, the audience laughs. They don’t umm, they don’t stumble on their words, and they speak clearly, sharing their message and reinforcing it just enough throughout. By the end of the presentation, their audience is informed, educated and leaves the room with all their questions answered. How? This blog post is a best of collection of presentation tips and resources.

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Know your whats and whys

Designing your presentation well lays the foundations for your success. This is incredibly obvious, perhaps even to inexperienced presenters – and it’s probably the most overlooked element. When you ask them, experienced presenters tell you that the very first thing they do is crystallize what they want to achieve with the presentation. These questions will help you get started:

  1. What do I want to achieve?
  2. Why should people listen to me?
  3. What do I want the audience to know and/or do after the presentation?

An excellent tip is to write down in a single sentence what your presentation is about and why you are presenting. If you can’t do it in 14 words or less, rewrite it – and one of the 14 words needs to be the powerful “so”. e.g.  “I’m sharing how experienced presenters do it, so you can improve your presentations.” That sentence then gives you a very simple framework and clear criteria for what I want to put in and take out.

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PowerPoint doesn’t make the presentation

Perhaps the comedic writers Steve Lowe and Brendan McArthur[1] best summed it up – “PowerPoint: The Microsoft tool that encourages people to think and talk like ********s.”

You make the presentation. PowerPoint is a supporting tool. We’ve all done it. We find a set of existing slides and copy and paste our way to a new presentation. We think in slides and we build what we say around what’s on the slides. Experienced presenters build the presentation slides after they have planned the presentation, when they know what they are going to say and have a clear structure in mind. They use as few slides as possible because they want the focus on them and their message.  … and it’s not about slides. Doing it this way, the PowerPoint presentation has a better chance of becoming a visual aid, rather than the main feature.

Get comfortable

Have you noticed it? The best presenters are in control and entirely comfortable with what they’re doing. Wow. How do they do it? They practice. Out loud, probably. Practicing is not thinking to yourself what you will say – it’s actually saying it. Recording yourself and practicing in front of a mirror will tell you exactly what your audience will see and hear as you present your content. When you come across as unsure of yourself or uncertain of your content you are creating barriers to success. And don’t focus on “learning it by heart” – focus on the big messages and the important bridges.

TIP: Practice your presentation a day before you hold it -if you start practicing an hour before you run the risk of deciding to change things around which makes things harder

eBook: The definitive checklist for qualifying training providers

Don’t lose yourself, but if you do…

Your mind draws a blank. You’ve forgotten to make an important point. You just realized you’re babbling away. You don’t know the answer to the question. The audience looks at you like they don’t quite understand what you’re trying to say. Now what?

We all make mistakes and “owning your mistakes” helps build credibility. Smile. Don’t wind yourself up. Move forward. Say it later. Focus on the next point. Say that you’ll find out the answer but you don’t have it right now. Ask the audience – what have you understood so far? – and take it from there.

Moments when things go wrong happen – so remember they are only moments. Yes, even the most experienced presenters draw a blank sometimes. If you look carefully, you’ll see that they have developed techniques that work for them (they take a sip of water while gathering their thoughts, they make a joke out of it, etc.). Experience taught them that.


[1] Is It Just Me or Is Everything Shit?: Insanely Annoying Modern Things – By Steve Lowe and Alan McArthur with Brendan Hay (Grand Central Publishing)


For more information:

Take a look at our training solutions for presenting across cultures , presenting in a virtual environment and our challenging Presenting with IMPACT program

What will training look like in 2030? (survey)

Our clients have trusted us to deliver practical training solutions since 1994. One of the lessons we’ve learned over the years is the importance of spotting patterns. Being able to proactively meet our clients’ needs adds value and feels right. With that in mind, towards the end of 2020 we began gathering perspectives from our network. We spoke with 94 of our clients, leads and contacts (43 L&D professionals and 51 team leaders). 31 people were interviewed face to face.  The remaining 63 were initially interviewed through an online survey. Some excerpts and the results of the survey are below. If you are interested to read the full document, you can download it here.

The rise in individualised, self service training clearly shifts the obligation onto the learner

Almost everyone who took part in our survey envisaged training increasingly becoming personalised. This means that, for better or for worse, the responsibility for learning will shift to the learner. Employees will be expected to select, organise and take part in training, rather than have management and L&D mandate it and organize it.


“Training will be like scheduled TV and Netflix. Individuals will expect to find what they want when they want it and how they want it. Central L&D departments will be about making helping and guiding learners and scheduling if required. Learning is learner driven. The L&D departments are less needed” N.L. (CEO)


Technology is enabling and driving learning on demand

Almost all interviewees see technology playing an increasingly pivotal role in learning and feelings are mixed. More and more interviewees expect learners to access learning in a range of formats via smartphones and tablets. Many employers will choose this route as a low cost training solution. Some see technology as the driver behind this change, but interestingly a few pointed out that the very human desire to communicate itself is what pushes the advancements in the technology. Either way, technology in training is key to enabling and driving learning on demand.


“I see this digital training world being about learning on demand. Short, focused learning will be the majority. People have a problem or a need and then they find their own solution.” G.R. (L&D EMEA)


“I anticipate that the trends I’m seeing today will continue flexible learning, bite sized learning, the fragmentation of learning so that people focus on what they need to know or learn at that moment. This will be software based and virtual … and I feel that the solutions we see today with the big platforms is bullshit, but everybody believes in it. We used to have books and now
we have ‘animated summaries’. This isn’t learning” K.K. (L&D Manager)


Managers believe their companies will be investing more in learning but L&D professionals believe the opposite

This finding deserves to be explored more. None of the line managers expected to see L&D investment shrink BUT 41% of L&D professionals did. Equally surprising was that 60% of line managers expected to see more money invested in L&D … compared to just 18% of L&D professionals.


Thoughts are divided on the need to develop English language skills in staff

Both L&D managers and line managers are split down the middle on whether companies will need to be investing in Business English training. Our first assumption was that this was connected to the type of industry, the country or even the company size, but we could not find a pattern with the sample size (of 43 L&D professionals and 51 team leaders, managers and senior


“We will less likely hire staff who don’t have necessary language skills, and if we do we will be looking for a service to bring them up to speed fast so they can perform on the job”. D.F. (Technical Manager)


“I hear a lot from our HR that our new hires can work in English. I don’t think this is accurate. Some of them have spent a year in a foreign country, and many of them have good English listening
skills. But many of them aren’t so called advanced. They don’t have the communication skills we need and the emails they are writing just aren’t professional enough!” C.G. (Senior Manager)



Download the full version

If you are interested to read more about training in 2030, you can download the full version of the survey here.

Building a culture of accountability (whitepaper)

In December 2021 we surveyed our clients and contacts, receiving 192 responses across a wide range of roles, industries, and European nationalities. Respondents commented on 7 simple statements. Some excerpts and the results of the survey are below. If you are interested to read the full whitepaper, you can download it here.

What is accountability?

Merriam-Webster defines accountability as “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions”.  Clearly there is an obligation for accountability in organisations via job descriptions, performance reviews, etc. However, today’s workplace with its demands for individual autonomy, remote working and complex project structures means that the ‘willingness’ to be accountable must be continually developed by leaders. Some effective, concrete ways of doing this are:

  • making clear agreements
  • empowering people to make own decisions
  • providing feedback
  • recognising achievements
  • modelling accountability

Our experience shows us that leaders sometimes lack the full range of skills to do this. However, let’s first turn to the factors responsible for the gap in expectations and practice of accountability, by looking at the research we carried out.




Analysis of results

  • Respondents answered positively to most statements, particularly recognition (Q.7) and empowerment (Q.3)
  • Respondents’ impressions of effective delegation (Q.1), clarity of expectations (Q.2), and feedback giving (Q.4) were also significantly positive
  • HOWEVER … when it came to managing accountability within and across teams (Q.5 and Q.6), respondents were divided, many disagreeing that managers hold team members accountable to the commitments they give each other.

There is salience in the results. There are positive impressions of managers’ abilities and willingness to hold individuals to account. However, Q.5 and Q.6 suggest managers may need to develop their skills at managing accountability between team members and teams.

Conclusions and recommendations

Our research suggests that while some leaders are very capable of demonstrating the elements that build accountability with individuals, they may struggle with building and displaying accountability between individuals and teams.

Leaders need to …

  • develop accountability with and between individuals
  • develop their team member’s skills to have courageous conversations and hold each other accountable
  • hold the team, as a unit, accountable
  • contribute to a culture of accountability within their management team

The process for developing accountability in Fig. 2 (not shown in this post) applies to all 4 of these challenges, but the actions required differ!

Ultimately, accountability is as much about ‘doing’ as ‘being’. It is the small, noticeable actions over time that build it, specifically:

  • Being clear – delivering an unambiguous message about roles and responsibilities
  • Being courageous – challenging individuals and teams to take responsibility… and taking responsibility ourselves
  • Being empathetic – understanding individuals and relationships

Leaders need to invest in the steps, skills and behaviours that build accountability naturally. Our experience is that when we can break down big concepts into smaller, more practical elements, we can help people to take the everyday steps they need to achieve bigger goals.

Download the whitepaper

The answers to “How can accountability be developed in individual leaders and organisations?” and “What are the skills and behaviours driving each element?” are discussed in the full version. You can download it here.

What Is Unconscious Bias and Why Does It Matter?

Over the last 18 months we’ve seen a dramatic increase in requests for training solutions connected to building diversity and managing unconscious bias.  Clients are typically looking for training to grow awareness and understanding. We then challenge them to explore actual biases in their organisation and how to mitigate against them. This blog post tackles the first steps … and rather than talking about them let’s start this blog with one of the ways we often start the training.

How we often start training sessions on unconscious bias – and why…

In our training programmes we typically start with brain teasers to get trainees engaged and interested right away. The value of these brain teasers is the discussions that they lead to, where trainees can link the bias they have experienced in a simple quiz question to a real issue or example from their professional lives. The little ‘jolt’ they get from getting a simple question wrong can be a powerful way of nudging them to think differently about what they see and experience in the workplace, and lead to actions.

Try it for yourself. This post has nine questions that should get you thinking!

If you struggled to find the right answers, you were probably using intuition to solve the two problems. Intuition is a great tool that allows our minds to make quick decisions using only limited data. Our intuitions were vital to our survival in the past; if you were walking through The Black Forest 2500 years ago and you heard a loud roar behind you, RUN! Turning around to analyse the source of the noise would not have been a good idea. We still carry this intuitive decision-making tool today, but our modern world is more complex, less black and white and often requires a different decision-making approach.

Why do we start our training with these kinds of exercises? Simply because the best way of understanding unconscious bias is to experience it for yourself.

But I thought intuition was useful – how does it lead to biases?

In order to make quick decisions, our intuitive system uses filters to remove all but the most obvious information. This is why many people struggle with the 9 questions: the obvious answer is not always the correct one. One of the most common filters is ‘bias’ and this is where unconscious bias comes from; it’s simply our intuitive system filtering out information which is not readily available in favour of a quick, simple answer. Watch the short video below to learn more about this thinking system and its impact.

Why does unconscious bias matter in the workplace?

Over-using our intuitive ‘System 1’ thinking can have negative consequences in our professional lives. To make this much more concrete, consider three common challenges our clients share with us:

  1. We see the same kinds of people always apply for and get jobs in our organisation.
  2. Our organisation is unable to find new solutions that work in a market that is increasingly complex and ambiguous.
  3. Our organisation wants to be more agile, but some of our people are reluctant to change the way we do things.

Each of these challenges reveal different types of biases that can be hard to overcome. Let’s take a closer look into this:

  1. We see the same kinds of people always apply for and get jobs in our organisation.

We quite naturally warm to people who are similar to us. The Similarity Bias can be harmless in everyday life, but in recruitment it can have more serious consequences. I saw this for myself several years ago; I was interviewing with a colleague and when one of the candidates left the room I turned to my colleague and said, “I really like that candidate”. My colleague replied, “Of course you do, she’s just like you!”. I suddenly realised that if my colleague hadn’t been there, I would never have noticed this bias and how it was affecting my decision-making.

  1. Our organisation is unable to find new solutions that work in a market that is increasingly complex and ambiguous.

Information is king, but we tend to focus on information that we have to hand, and this can limit our ability to find new kinds of solutions. The Expedience Bias pushes us to make quick decisions and avoid too much deliberation. Above all it prevents us from spending time on finding out what we don’t know. What was it that prevented Kodak and Nokia from seeing the obvious technological changes happening around them?

  1. Our organisation wants to be more agile, but some of our people are reluctant to change the way we do things.

This is a very familiar challenge we hear from managers on our change management training programmes. The Experience Bias goes to the heart of why some organisations find it so hard to change; we simply over-estimate the relevance of past experience. The danger is that we can focus much more on the risks of change than the rewards.

What steps can we take to manage these biases?

Our unconscious thinking is responsible for 99% of the routine decisions we make. So clearly, engaging our conscious, reflective system is going to be a challenge. The trick is not to fight against bias; it’s a natural product of our brains. Instead, seek to understand what could be biasing our decisions and then makes changes to the way we do things in order to mitigate the biases. During training sessions this is where our clients begin to develop action plans. Here are some ideas our clients have had based on the three challenges above.

  1. Remove personal details from application forms, use standard interview templates and ensure recruitment panels have diverse members.
  2. Bring in diverse views from inside and outside the organisation by setting up employee discussion forums and finding out how customers’ needs are changing.
  3. Focus on the long-term benefits and reasons for change, address people’s fears, and ask – What will happen if we do nothing?

How to make changes that stick

The only way to remove biases is to acknowledge and accept them and then to do things differently. This is how to make the changes stick. But we still need to know whether what we have changed is working. We can measure the impact of changes by answering questions like:

  • What’s changed, or what’s different?
  • What impact has this had on the business?
  • Why did this work?

To summarise an approach that works:

  1. Analyse current challenges for underlying biases
  2. Mitigate biases by making changes to processes and approaches
  3. Measure the impact

Finally, here is a Reading List [] of the books our clients have found valuable in approaching this topic.

We hope you enjoyed reading this post. If you would like to know more about our experience of working with clients in this area, feel free to contact us.

9 Questions to Uncover Unconscious Bias

When we first started doing training for our clients on unconscious bias and diversity we realised the main challenge of this topic was to create an environment where trainees can be open and honest and challenge themselves and others. We also realised that unconscious bias is not something you can ‘teach’ someone about; the only way to understand it is to experience it. So, in our training programmes we typically start with brain teasers to get trainees engaged and interested right away. The value of these brain teasers is the discussions that they lead to, where trainees can link the bias they have experienced in a simple quiz question to a real issue or example from their professional lives. The little ‘jolt’ they get from getting a simple question wrong can be a powerful way of nudging them to think differently about what they see and experience in the workplace, and lead to actions.

Try it for yourself. Here are nine questions that should get you thinking! Answers and commentary are at the end of the post.

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A father and son are in a car accident. The father dies and the son is rushed to hospital for surgery. The surgeon says: “I can’t operate on this boy, he’s my son”. How this is possible?


A bat and a ball cost EUR 1.10. The bat costs one Euro more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?


How did the number of deaths per year from natural disasters change over the last 100 years?

  • More than doubled
  • Decreased by 50%
  • Remained the same


When recruiting a new role which job title attracted more female candidates?

  • Senior Engineer (m/f)
  • Senior Engineer (f/m)
  • Senior Engineer


What proportion of our thought processes are unconscious?

  • 99%
  • 85%
  • 75%


You need to choose between two final candidates in a job interview. Candidate A has 15 years’ experience in a similar role. Candidate B has only 5 years’ experience. Which candidate is more likely to succeed in the role?


Which statement is true?

  • Happy, successful people have fewer biases
  • You can reduce the biases your brain produces
  • We all have biases – it’s what makes us human


If a woman is involved in a car crash, she is 47% more likely to be seriously injured than a man. Why is this?


Which sentence is more factual?

  • Gender diverse executive teams produce better results
  • High performing executive teams have more female executives

Answers and comments

  1. The surgeon is the boy’s mother. English is a ‘gender neutral’ language, which means we do not change words to show if they are male or female (as in French, German, Italian, etc.). However, many people still assume the job of ‘surgeon’ is inherently male and may struggle to get the right answer to this question. If job roles like ‘engineer’, ‘HR, ‘manager’ carry similar assumptions, this could influence how people are hired and promoted in organisations.
  2. 5 cents. If you answered 10 cents you were probably using intuition to answer. However, the obvious answer is not always the correct one. If we take a bit of time and use our reasoning rather than our quick-thinking intuition, the question is simple to answer. Many decisions in business are actually taken on intuition. Why do you think this is, and does it have any risks?
  3. Remained the same. In Hans Rosling’s 2018 book Factfullness [] he describes how many people, even ‘experts’, get this question wrong because we are influenced by what the media shows us. A common bias is to make decisions based on a narrow selection of information (often what we have close to hand) instead of looking for other sources. If you are a decision-maker it is important to gather as many sources of information as possible and especially important to ask yourself, “What don’t I know?”
  4. Option (b). This experiment, recounted in Inclusion Nudges [], suggests that we need to be very explicit if we want to recruit female candidates into roles that are very strongly perceived as male, even when not indicated as in option (c). In Germany it became law in 2019 to add ‘(m/f)’ to all job advertisements. This may look like a step forward. What do you think? In fact, there is no evidence that this leads to any changes in who applies.
  5. Neuroscientists estimate it is 99%. This makes it virtually impossible to prevent bias by just thinking ‘consciously’ because it means going against our nature. A more useful strategy is to make changes to processes and systems to ‘build out’ bias, e.g. changing the way we write job roles.
  6. We simply don’t know because past experience is no guarantee of future performance. Our over-reliance on past experience is a powerful bias. The only way to overcome it is to look for evidence-based data. For example, what is the correlation between previous experience and actual performance for everyone you have hired in the last 5 years?
  7. Bias is a natural part of our brain and is actually useful in many situations. The trick is to recognise when it is useful and when it is not, and develop decision-making habits that use the correct system [link to system 1 and 2 video].
  8. Isn’t this a shocking statistic? In her 2019 book Invisible Women [], Caroline Criado Perez explains how cars are designed by men and therefore they are built for men and men’s bodies. This powerful book uses data to show how women’s absence has lead to a world designed without women in mind. The book will help you to see many examples of this in the workplace that you may simply not have seen before, and perhaps make some changes!
  9. Only sentence (b) could be a fact. Sentence (a) takes two facts and assigns causality to them. The causality bias is very common and we do it all the time because it’s neat and quick. But beware when you see links between disparate facts. Always ask ‘why’ and ‘how’ before accepting cause and effect statements!

How to turn this into action?

Finally, here are 7 ideas for practical steps you can take in the workplace to mitigate bias. These ideas were generated by training groups which discussed some of the questions above.

  1. Try to ensure that interview panels have diverse individuals – think about different ages, genders, nationalities, job roles. Because bias is unconscious, you really need someone with a different perspective to point it out to you.
  2. Establish criteria for making important decisions e.g. at least 3 solutions to every problem, ensure you have counter-evidence for each solution, and seek other people’s input
  3. Replace resumes with a standard application form all candidates must complete. This ensures you get the same information on every candidate and you can limit the amount of personal information that could bias short-listers.
  4. Back up decisions with real data and evidence and challenge others to do the same; this can mitigate bias in decisions made with ‘gut instinct’.
  5. In performance reviews, don’t ask people to rate themselves. This could set up a bias in your mind and prevent you being objective.
  6. Ask different people chair meetings so that you get different perspectives on the table.
  7. Spend regular time getting to know remote team members as individuals, in order to remove the feeling of distance in virtual teams.

We hope you enjoyed reading this post. If you would like to know more about our experience of working with clients in this area, feel free to contact us.

Adapting emails to different communication styles

Business email today takes up a lot of employee time – up 2.6 hours a day according to McKinsey. We are also opening more email than ever before on mobile devices, and out of hours. Therefore, it has become even more important that email messages are clear, precise and understandable.

We recently worked with a global team responsible for managing training inside their organisation. The team were facing challenges in dealing with high amounts of queries about information they had already sent via email. They wanted to know how they could communicate the same information to a wide range of readers in order to reduce follow up emails. We decided to help them explore different communication styles and how to adapt their email communications to them. In this post you will learn what the different styles are, why this matters, and get some tips and strategies for adapting your written communication.

What are the different communication styles?

Did you ever notice that some people are more direct or indirect in how they communicate? This often comes from cultural differences. Two researchers, Edward Hall and Erin Meyer, have categorised these differences as high-context/indirect and low-context/direct. As you read the information below, try to think of colleagues you know who tend to communicate in these different ways.

High-Context/Indirect Low-Context/Direct
Expect to interpret a message

Indirect, nuanced

Higher on background details

Use coded language

Prefer oral communications

State the context before the main point

‘Read between the lines’

Don’t expect the reader to interpret

Direct, to the point. precise

Lower on background details

Less able to read between the lines

Prefer written communications

Get to the main point quickly

‘Say what you mean, mean what you say’

Why does this matter?

Look at this phrase, taken from the final line of a real email.

“Therefore, my role in this is questionable.”

What does the writer mean exactly? Is she saying she doesn’t have a role? Is she saying she doesn’t know what her role is? Is she asking the reader to clarify what her role is? In fact, we don’t know the precise meaning because this is a relatively high-context/indirect message. In fact, this kind of coded language can present problems for all types of readers. Low-context/direct readers will be uncertain what the precise meaning is and how to respond. High-context/indirect readers will read a meaning from the phrase, but it could be the wrong one if they do not share the same assumptions/context as the writer.

As we described at the beginning of this post, the high volume of email communication today means that email needs to be clear, precise and understandable at the first reading. Otherwise we will increase the size of our inboxes with clarifications of old messages.

Understanding these different communication styles can really help to cut down on follow up emails by designing your emails for the type of communicators you are writing to. In the next section you will read tips and strategies for how to adjust to the two communication styles we described above.

How you can adapt your emails to the different styles

Here you will find some practical advise for how to adapt your emails to the different styles. These tips will be especially useful if you are working with people who have a different style to you.

How to work with High-Context/Indirect communicators How to work with Low-Context/Direct communicators
Don’t take words at face value

Ask ‘what do they want to say?’

Ask checking questions to make

sure you understand

Expect questions/clarifications

Find ways to communicate

orally where you can

Keep it short and unambiguous

Don’t search for hidden meanings

Avoid coded language

Don’t take blunt answers


Make sure you include the ‘why’

in communications

Is one style better than the other?

We all have preferences for one style or the other and that’s what makes us who we are. What we are really saying is that a ‘one style fits all’ approach to emailing doesn’t necessarily work. A smarter approach to getting your emails read and cutting down on clarifications is to adapt your style to your reader.

To conclude

The global team we worked with on this topic found it eye-opening to explore their own styles and their assumptions about how to write a good email. They are now experimenting with adapting their styles, with some good results. Of course, this is a work in progress!

For more information

More tips and advice for writing effective emails in these posts:

The CIA model: Control, Influence, Accept

The CIA model, discussed in The Critically Reflective Practitioner (2008) is a framework for navigating difficult times or situations. We use this model often in communications and leadership training. Sometimes used as a stress-management tool, the model helps bring focus and clarity on actions to take, and guides us how to minimise the impact of external events at the same time as maximising the impact of our personal power. In this post, we’ll explain the CIA model in more detail, and we’ll explore each part of the model to identify ways to implement it.

CIA Model

Control InfluenceAccept
identify which elements of the situation you can directly controlidentify the elements that you can’t control, but that you can perhaps influenceidentify the things that you can neither control or influence, and learn to live with them



“It’s not events that upset us but rather our opinions about them.”


When I’m delivering training on change management or influencing skills, I start by asking participants to identify things in the situation or change process that they directly control. At first, they typically produce quite a small list, but with more thought and prompting their lists get bigger. What always strikes me is how many of the things on their lists relate to self-control rather than control of external things. In a nutshell, most external events are outside our control, but we can control how we react or feel about them and the decisions we make. So, the first lesson of the CIA model is that we control more than we think we do – if we know where to look. Here is a list of some of the things that are inside of our control:

  • our emotions
  • expertise/subject knowledge
  • how we react to situations
  • our reputation
  • personal choices/decisions
  • relationships with other people
  • interpersonal skills

Are you making the most of the control you have over these and other things?


“It is not that we have a short life to live, but that we waste a lot of it.”


Once we have a list of what we do and don’t control, we are ready to move on to use what we control to influence the situation. It is not productive to waste time getting frustrated over things we cannot control; rather we need to focus our energy by leveraging the things we do control to exert some influence. For example, building better relationships is a clear way to influence other people.

Who is your role model? Barrack Obama, your line manager, Batman? Role models exert powerful influence over us because we admire something in them. If you find yourself in a difficult situation, ask – what would my role model do? Thinking in this way can help us see the situation in a new way and use the resources we have to find some personal power.

See the links at the end of this post for resources to develop influencing skills.


“Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness.”

Marcus Aurelius

There are some things we cannot control or influence. In this case we just need to accept that bad things happen. But this doesn’t need to throw us off track. In fact, these kinds of things have the potential to help us grow enormously, if we can find learning opportunities in them. “What’s the worst that can happen?” is a good question to ask in order to get some perspective on the situation. Looking back at past failures and difficult situations is another great way to realise that things which seem the end of the world are seldom so.

The CIA model itself is a method of accepting what can be controlled, and what cannot, and carving out some influence in order to move forward. This doesn’t mean it’s easy to do, but it will get easier.


You will notice that we have quoted 3 philosophers in this post. Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius lived in the ancient world and developed a school of philosophy known as Stoicism. The basis of Stoicism is that external events are neither intrinsically good nor bad, so it is only our reaction to them that counts and that’s what we need to work on. If we had started this post describing an ancient school of philosophy, you might not have continued reading. But this 2000-year-old philosophy is the basis for much of today’s thinking and trends on self-help and dealing with adversity, from Mindfulness to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to CIA itself.

We hope you enjoyed reading this post. If you would like to know more about our experience of working with organisations going through change, feel free to contact us.

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Train the Trainer: Dealing with ‘difficult’ participants – Part 2

In Part 1 of this post we shared what trainers can do when dealing with difficult participants, to prevent the training running off track. Even if you take all these steps you may still find that you have some personalities in the training room who are capable of derailing the training for everyone else. In this post you will read some tips and advice for dealing with the most common ‘difficult’ behaviours. In my training career I’ve met all these types (fortunately not all in the same room!) and I’ve observed that they are often unaware of the impact of their behaviour and do not have bad intentions. Nevertheless, it’s useful to have a set of strategies to manage them in order to minimise their impact on the rest of the group.

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The Talker

There are a few variations of this first type. It could be someone who always has an answer and an opinion to share. Or the participant who talks at length and wanders off the subject. In either case, if you don’t deal with this there is a risk that the talker will dominate the session. In my experience other participants will just let this happen (they expect you to deal with it) and start to withdraw and lose interest. Here are some tips for managing ‘the talker’:

  • Use summarising as a strategy to interrupt, e.g. ‘Thanks, this sounds like an interesting point, so can I just summarise what you’re saying so we are all clear?”
  • Avoid open questions to the group; nominate people by name to answer questions or share thoughts and experiences
  • Break eye contact and turn your body slightly away to signal to the participant that it’s time to stop talking now
  • Give this person a role which encourages him or her to listen, e.g. taking notes on a flipchart of the main points in a discussion

The Quiet One

This could be someone who is innately shy or perhaps uncomfortable in a group setting. In my experience they often have something very relevant and interesting to say when they do eventually contribute, so you need to have a few strategies to make that happen. Here are some of the things I do:

  • Be gentle and encouraging, being aware that you are putting them on the spot, e.g. “I know you have some great experience in this area, we would really like to hear what you think.”
  • Make sure that language is not a barrier and moderate it if it is; all my training is in English with multi-national groups and I always find there is at least one participant who does not have equal ability in English to the others
  • Dividing the class into small groups really helps any quiet participants to come out of their shells and contribute something
  • Use the break time to take the participant to one side and have a private chat to find out why they have joined the training and if there are any specific reasons that you can address to help them participate more

The Challenger

This type wants to disagree or argue with everything you say. It may seem like she or he has something they need to prove to the group and maybe you. While we definitely want participants to critically argue and debate, we want them to do it in a constructive way. If you don’t manage the challenger early on you may find yourself becoming drawn into arguments that take you off what you want to focus on. Here are some tips to manage this type:

  • Acknowledge the participant’s right to have a point of view and remind them of why they are here, e.g. “I don’t need you to agree with everything I say. My intent is to share certain models and theories with you all and ask you to decide how they could be useful in your jobs”.
  • Throw the argument to the group by asking what others think; often a bit of peer pressure will calm the challenger down
  • Ask questions to encourage the challenger to self-reflect on what they are saying, e.g. “That’s an interesting perspective, tell me more” or “Can you tell me why you think that?”
  • As with ‘the talker’, give this participant roles which will encourage them to listen to others, e.g. note-taker, observer, summariser.

The Know-It-All

Similar to ‘the challenger’, this type claims to know much more than you do about the topic and gives the impression that he or she should be leading the training! Their constant attention seeking can take up time and energy. Some tips I have used to manage this type:

  • You can flatter their ego to an extent but be careful not to give them the floor for too long; once they have it you will find it difficult to take it back off them
  • Ask them to tell the group what they know about a topic and then follow up with some probing questions to reveal what they don’t know; this takes a bit of thought but if you can do it well you can succeed in humbling their ego a little
  • Get them to ‘teach’ the others in the group and encourage the group to ask difficult questions, which could show up gaps in their knowledge
  • Take them aside and directly ask why they are here; as with ‘the quiet one’ you may discover information that can help you manage them

The Clown

This type loves to tell jokes, make light of serious issues and distract other participants. ‘Clowns’ usually have some insecurity which they want to mask, but remember your job is not to psycho-analyse participants; it’s to get them working together productively. While this type can supply some needed humour and lighten the atmosphere at useful times, you need to contain their behaviour in order to maintain the focus of your training session. Here are some tips for doing this:

  • Use your body language and eye contact to signal to this person that enough is enough
  • You can also leverage the energy this person supplies at good moments, e.g. to energise people after a hard task or returning from a break
  • As with some of the other types, take them aside for a private chat just to check that they are taking things seriously deep down
  • Get them involved in roles that keep them busy and focused and away from disruptive behaviour

The Complainer

This type seems to have a negative opinion about everyone and everything. You will hear frequent comments like “I can’t do that” or “Person X should be here not me”. The problem with constant negativity is that it can be contagious and quickly spread to the whole group, eventually undermining any productive work. Here are my tips to deal with negative types:

  • Counter negative statements by focusing on reasons behind them and options, e.g. “Tell me why you think it can’t be done” or “So if this won’t work, what else could we try?”
  • You can be a little bit playful and make light of the negativity, which could lift the atmosphere, e.g. “Now I’m sure Participant X will have something to say about this!”
  • Take the person aside for a private chat; sometimes participants don’t realise they are being so negative and raising their awareness of this could help put a stop to it
  • Get group agreement on a limit to the number of negative phrases allowed in the training room and an appropriate punishment for infringement (e.g. the infringer buys cake for everyone at the break!)

The Sceptic

“This is fine in theory, but it will never work here”. As with ‘the challenger’ we want participants to use critical thinking in training, after all the whole point is that they use the training to make changes at work. However, like ‘the complainer’ some participants are overly negative and sceptical and this can impact the rest of the group. Try these tips to manage this type:

  • Acknowledge that scepticism in a necessary thing but only if it leads to new ideas and ways of thinking (a similar tactic to deal with ‘the challenger’)
  • Counter scepticism with positive statements, e.g. “So, you don’t think this would work here. What can we think of that would work?”
  • Use case studies from your own experience to demonstrate how other teams and organisations overcame obstacles using some of the methods you are showing during the training

Sometimes a sceptical participant dismisses ideas on a surface level, so you can introduce some methods of inquiry which are designed to get deeper into complex problems, e.g. root cause analysis or the question funnel

Remember that everyone is someone’s ‘difficult person’ and ‘difficult’ behaviour is not a reason to discount someone. It’s part of our job as trainers to manage personalities and in some ways that’s what makes the job interesting. As I said in Part 1, in over 20 years of training I only remember a handful of these types, but I have learned a few tips and tricks to manage them! We hope you enjoyed reading this post. If you would like to know more about our experience of developing trainers, feel free to contact us.

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Building trust in working relationships

Here are some of the questions we were recently asked by a virtual team in a global consulting company.

  • How can I convince someone to trust me?
  • Is trust purely subjective?
  • Can trust be measured?

The client wanted training that would focus on building trust because they realised how crucial it is in virtual relationships. But they had challenges deciding what trust looked like on a daily basis, and how to demonstrate it to others. We decided to help them break down trust into easier-to-understand elements by introducing them to the Trust Equation (TE). In this post you will read how we did that and how the team addressed specific challenges they faced.

What is the Trust Equation?

The Trust Equation (David Maister, Charles Green & Robert Galford, 2004, The Trusted Advisor) breaks down trust (T) into an equation of 4 elements:

  • C = Credibility – to what extent do people believe what we say?
  • R = Reliability – how much to people believe we will do what we say we will do?
  • I = Intimacy – how safe do other people feel sharing personal things with us?
  • S = Self-Orientation – do people believe we care about them, or are we more focused on our own objectives?

You can see from the equation below that trust requires high scores in the first three elements (C, R, I) but a low score in the final one (S). In other words, the TE tells us that high self-orientation undermines the other elements that are essential for trust.

Why use it?

Trusted Advisor offers a free Trust Quotient Assessment which we highly recommend because the results include feedback on which elements are strengths and weaknesses for you. For the team we worked with, being able to break down trust into specific and easy-to-understand elements was a great first step to identifying how to demonstrate behaviours that can build it.

What do behaviours for building trust look like?

The TE is a measure of how other people perceive your trustworthiness. So, what can you do to increase those perceptions? Here are some suggestions for developing the different elements of the TE that we brainstormed with the team we worked with.


  • use stories, metaphors and your body language to help others relate to what you are saying
  • demonstrate the skills and abilities you have rather than just talk about them
  • be comfortable saying ‘no’ or ‘I don’t know’ when necessary


  • be consistent in what you do, and ensure that people get what they expect from you
  • keep your word, so that what you promise is enough for people to trust you
  • if you aren’t able to meet a commitment you are open and honest about it


  • help people to confide in you by being discreet and empathetic
  • do not be afraid to risk opening up about your failings and mistakes
  • be interested in the people you work with and actively build relationships with them


  • achieve your goals through helping others achieve theirs
  • show others that you have their best interests in mind when you make decisions
  • show curiosity for other people’s concerns and priorities

How can we address common trust challenges?

After identifying behaviours that can build trust, we were now ready to address some specific trust challenges the team was facing. Here are 4 of those challenges, with brainstormed suggestions for how to address them.

  1. I am working in a virtual team with people I have never met before. How do I quickly establish my credibility in the team?

“It’s not who you are on the inside, it’s what you do that counts”. Proving your abilities by showing people what you can do is a quick way to establish credibility. Developing intimacy with your new team will also help, especially in a virtual environment. So make an effort to get to know your new team members as individuals.

  1. My colleagues think I am reliable but on occasions I can’t meet deadlines because things come up beyond my control. What can I do about this?

Don’t be afraid to say ‘I can’t do this after all’ if you have a good reason. It may seem counter-intuitive if we are talking about reliability, but reliability is not about being perfect; it’s about showing you care about the accountabilities you have. Being open and honest can also let others see your vulnerability, which is a good foundation for building intimacy too.

  1. I’m a German working with an Asian team. I have tried to build personal relationships by making small talk, but they seem reluctant to share personal things about themselves.

Intimacy is done differently in different cultures. While some cultures prioritise people and relationships in business it doesn’t mean that they feel comfortable talking about personal things. Perhaps a good idea here is for you to lead the way by sharing things about yourself and your life in your home country, encouraging other team members to follow your lead. This could at least get the ball rolling…

  1. In the Trust Quotient Assessment I scored quite high on Self-Orientation. What can I do about this?

Try listening more than talking, ask a lot of questions and summarise what you hear. When someone tells you something, avoid responding with a judgement or advice. Instead use three little magic words; “Tell me more”.

We hope you enjoyed reading this post. If you would like to know more about our experience of developing trust in teams, we trust you’ll contact us.

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Asking for help

Knowing that asking for help is probably a viable solution is not always reason enough to ask for help. Asking for help can save time and allow us to practice being courageous, foster social connections, and become healthier people. It also gives everyone involved the chance to boost their overall well-being. The fact of the matter is we are accompanied on our journey through life by an invaluable army of helpers – nurses and doctors, teachers and schoolmates, coaches and teammates, friends and family… not to mention colleagues, mentors and managers. In reality, nobody makes it on their own and nor should we expect to. Then, why is it so difficult sometimes to walk up to a colleague and say “I need your help with something”?

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The pros and cons of self-reliance

As children, trial and error teaches us we need help, and sometimes we notice that the kids who do really well, are the ones openly asking for help. This is a lesson we sometimes ‘unlearn’ upon reaching adulthood. The quest to become fully-fledged, self-reliant individuals can mean going too far in the opposite direction. We live in an age where user-friendly, DIY solutions are designed to enable and promote our autonomy. And if you don’t know how to do something there are plenty of videos you can watch online without having to actually bother anybody IRL.

We often find that asking people for help is a bit embarrassing, and comes with feelings of vulnerability. Why not just bypass it completely and work things out for yourself? But what’s missing from this picture? In short, the voice of experience, and the immediate feedback you get from trying something out while your helper watches. The timely suggestions, advice on what to avoid and how, the tips and tweaks that save you precious time and effort. Someone maybe even showing you first-hand what you need to do to get the result you want.

Writing this, I’m thinking about the 10 minutes today my colleague spent helping me navigate a new process. It was nothing exciting, but her patient guidance gave me a sense of reassurance that is invaluable. And now I can do something with confidence, that before I was a little nervous about. But still I thought twice before I called her for assistance, worried she might not have time for me.

Research costs time – why not just ask?

The thing is, in the workplace, not asking for help costs time and money, and can hinder us all in learning and in taking action. Being able to move fast may mean the difference between winning or losing a contract. That speed also relates to communication. Second-guessing about getting help slows you down. Typically, as a manager when I frequently set tasks for members of my team. If they have a gap in their knowledge, I expect them to quickly learn what they need to, and get the job done. Why spend valuable time researching when they could just ask a colleague? Knowing all this, why are we collectively still hung up on asking for help?

Here are some theories that I came across while researching this post:

Theory 1: I’m a macho girl in a macho world?

Asking for help means there is a gap in one’s knowledge or competence, a weakness, a flaw, a need, a vulnerability. Feeling vulnerable (and admitting it) feels like a small bird flapping in my rib cage. Who seriously wants to engage with that sensation? If we dig into it though, research shows that not only is it untrue that asking for help makes you appear incompetent, but in some cases asking for help with a difficult task actually results in higher perceived competence. In other words, we are far less likely to be judged negatively for admitting our weaknesses than we think. I know many parents who continually reinforce this to their children, but as adults we perhaps fail to recognise its validity for ourselves. Because feeling vulnerable is difficult, and it’s connected to shame. Shame tells us we are not good enough, and that if others discover this we will simply never recover. Here’s the thing though – for us to connect with other people, we need to be seen (and accepted). And as humans we are hard-wired to connect to others, because on a fundamental level it gives meaning and purpose to our lives.

Brené Brown’s research into vulnerability turned her world upside-down, and in the process she identified a whole cohort of people whom she categorised as ‘wholehearted’. These are people who have a strong sense of love and belonging, and, crucially, who believe they are worthy of love and belonging. In other words, they feel a tremendous connection with others, and are rarely plagued by shame. Maybe you know someone like this, or maybe you are this person. When she delved into what these people all had in common, she discovered 4 attributes they displayed:

  1. Courage (to be imperfect)
  2. Compassion (to be kind to oneself, and thus to others)
  3. Connection (to let go of expectations about who they should be, and to just be who they are)
  4. Vulnerability (asking for help, initiating a relationship, putting yourself out there)

What she discovered is that to become one of these wholehearted people, we have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable at times. In order to reap the benefits that come with belonging and acceptance, we must make space for a little discomfort in our lives. Side note: current research also shows that the impacts of loneliness on one’s health can amount to the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Avoiding connecting with people is really not good for us! So while I might pride myself on being a tough, self-reliant cookie – maybe in truth it’s time to ask myself if I wouldn’t rather be a wholehearted girl, in a wholehearted world?

Theory 2: Rejection hurts – but just ask and you shall receive (in abundance)

The other day I fired off a request for a recommendation for my LinkedIn profile to a colleague I’ve known for about 10 years. As my finger hovered over the ‘send’ button various thoughts passed through my mind: he’s too busy, maybe he doesn’t feel like he knows me well enough, maybe he’ll say no. Guess what – today his recommendation came through. Not only did he have time, and know me well enough to write a few sentences, but what he wrote was amazing, thoughtful, and authentic. This is not the exception; rather this demonstrates the rule.

The fear of rejection is disproportionate to how often rejection actually occurs

Research shows that we regularly underestimate both how willing people are to help us, and how much effort they are prepared to spend. In various studies, participants misjudged both the number of people who would commit to help with a task, and how much help and effort each person would contribute. What this means is that we might not expect it, but people say ‘yes’ far more often than we think. And when they say yes, they really throw themselves into it. Why? There’s a growing amount of science on altruistic benefits, but the long and the short of it seems to show that humans really get a kick out of helping a specific person or people (rather than a general cause), especially when they have a chance to see how their help makes a positive impact. Studies at Harvard found that the emotional benefits of helping are multiplied when they ‘foster social connection’. Universally, doing favours for others boosts our well-being overall. So next time someone helps you out, tell them how it impacted on you and allow them to bask in the warm glow.

In short, asking for help allow us to practice being courageous, foster social connections, become better, healthier, more wholehearted people. It also gives helpers the chance to lift themselves out of a negative mood, boost their overall well-being and enjoy the emotional benefits that come with giving.

Theory 3: You have to say the words. But when you do, be specific, unapologetic, personal, and then share your results

Ever held a crying baby in your arms, overwhelmed by frustration because you can’t figure out what it needs? Of course, the baby can’t articulate the help it needs, but we can… and should. We are often misled by “the illusion of transparency” that others can see right through us, and will know exactly what we need without us having to actually say it. Make it easy for your helper – just tell them. The likelihood is that it’s not immediately obvious to them, and they don’t know what you are thinking and feeling. Research shows that 90 percent of the support that colleagues provide at work is in direct response to specific appeals for help. So get ready to say it out loud: “‘I need your help.”

Tips on asking for help and getting the help you need

  1. Be as clear as possible about the help you need. Half-baked, vague entreaties aren’t very useful. If we don’t really understand what it is that you need, then how can we be sure if we can adequately provide it? Giving useless help is a waste of everybody’s time.
  2. Phrase your request for help in a way that focuses on outcomes, rather than on you or your perceived shortcomings. In business, results really are what count and it’s far easier to provide help towards achieving a concrete goal than to try to support someone who feels crippled by insecurity. It may sound obvious but do share the bigger picture and explain what target this person’s help will support you in reaching.
  3. Don’t apologise or preface your request with a disclaimer about how awkward you feel having to ask for help. The subtext here is ‘I hate asking you for help’ and revealing this makes the whole experience a lot more joyless for everyone than it should be. Helping one another is an inherent part of human relationships, it is the acknowledged currency of caring, and getting hung up about this really doesn’t help!
  4. Having said that, asking for help is more than a transaction. Asking for help via email or text is impersonal and distancing, which, unsurprisingly, means people are less likely to help you than if you ask in person. And though asking by email may feel less uncomfortable, so does saying no! If you really want a yes, ask in person and your request is 30 times more likely to get a positive response.

Finally, and this is the one that came as the biggest revelation to me while researching this: every time you benefit from someone’s support, give them something back by following up with them afterwards. The idea that the act of helping is a reward in itself, is not entirely true. The real reward comes with knowing that your help made a positive difference on a human level. If I have no idea what impact my help had on you, how can I possibly feel good about it?

And on that note, can I ask for a favour? If anything in this article has made an impact on you, let me know in the comments section.


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Align roles and responsibilities in your team with RACI

Team challenge 1: There is a new manager in a team who believes that everyone in the team is clear what the other team members’ responsibilities are and yet they aren’t. What should the team do? Team challenge 2: An email/request comes to a shared mailbox or distribution list, and there is confusion in the team who is responsible/who responds? What should be the best practice if there is no clear process in place for this? Team challenge 3: A multi-cultural team may have people who have low or high context preferences.  It can lead to miscommunication at times. How can we be sure responsibilities are clear to everyone?

These are some of the challenges that training groups have shared with us. Aligning people and tasks becomes even more of a challenge if we add in virtual working, cross functional teams and the increasing pressure to be more agile and handle more diverse projects at the same time. In this post we will share a useful tool that can really help address these challenges.

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The RACI matrix

We have used a tool with teams that helps cut through the complications of these challenges and bring more clarity to complex team setups. The RACI matrix is a simple and frequently used responsibility charting tool to clarify relationships for:

  • Communication or actions required to deliver an acceptable product or service
  • Functional roles or departmental positions (no specific individual staff members’ names)
  • Participation expectations assigned to roles by decisions or actions

The tool assigns roles into 4 categories:

  • Responsible – Those who do the work to achieve the task.
  • Accountable – The one ultimately answerable for the correct completion of the deliverable or task, and the one who delegates the work to those responsible.
  • Consulted – Those whose opinions are sought, typically subject matter experts; and with whom there is two-way communication.
  • Informed – Those who are updated on progress, often only on completion of the task or deliverable; and with whom there is just one-way communication.

A practical example

Let’s look at a simple example to show how RACI works in practice. Imagine a (rather stereotypical) family. The task is to prepare and serve dinner. How does each family member take part in this task? Let’s say mum is responsible (R) and accountable (A) for the meal (A and R is often the same role). Mum can also delegate some of the responsibility, for example asking dad to prepare one element of the meal or the children to lay the table. There can only be one A, but there can be more than one R. Next, the family members need to be informed (I) when the meal will be ready and probably consulted (C) about the ingredients to check they will be able to eat it!

This simple non-business example makes it easy to see how RACI works and can also illustrate how things can go wrong when some of the roles are not defined or followed. For example:

  • Mum and dad share responsibility for preparing the meal but they fail to coordinate when the different elements should be ready.
  • Mum fails to consult the kids on the menu; when she serves the meal she remembers that her son is allergic to one of the ingredients.
  • No one is responsible for laying the table and mum gets angry and stressed that she has to do it in addition to the cooking.
  • The family is not informed when dinner will be ready and is out playing in the park when the meal is served.

How does RACI help us be more agile?

These kinds of misalignments and their results also happen in a business context. Let’s look at some common scenarios which teams often report to us during training, and how to address them using the RACI matrix:

Scenario: Use RACI to:


Work is not getting done because people are not clear about individual responsibilities; some tasks have multiple people working on them, other tasks don’t get touched at all. Decide who is responsible and accountable for different tasks. Breaking up big tasks and delegating responsibilities for them can help. If you are facing this scenario in your team it usually means there are either too many, or not enough ‘R’ roles.
Tasks and projects take a long time to complete because lots of different people give their input and there is a conflict between different views/approaches. Decide who really needs to be consulted in order for the task to be completed. Too many ‘C’ roles can lead to ‘paralysis by analysis’, slowing things down. This often happens in communications, for example when too many people are invited to meetings or copied into emails.
We don’t have visibility on who is doing what and the status of tasks and when they are completed. Sometimes this leads us to duplicate tasks or miss important details. Decide who needs to be informed and consulted for each task. Not enough ‘C’ or ‘I’ roles can lead to poor communication and lack of visibility. If you ask a question and get the answer, “I don’t know, you could try person X” it could be a sign that these roles have not been assigned.

Tips for using the RACI matrix

By now you can probably see how implementing RACI properly can help prevent these problems and address the challenges we described at the start. Remember that RACI defines roles not people; in other words, people can have different roles in different tasks regardless of their job titles. Completing the matrix can also give you a quick overview to check that all roles have been assigned; to the correct people, and that there are not too many/too few roles.

Finally, RACI is flexible and can be easily customised by adding new role types that suit your organisation or projects. Click here [] and scroll down for a pretty comprehensive list of how to adapt RACI.

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How you can turn saying no into a win-win situation with your customer

Saying yes to a customer request often results in an instant meeting of their expectations. “Yes, I’d be happy to do that for you”, is one of the more powerful statements that conveys that your customer has come to the right place. Hearing yes makes them feel how they want to feel, it will make their life easier, it will give them what they want. Naturally, yes is what we want to say when our customers approach us. Customer satisfaction is almost guaranteed after a yes, hopefully without much additional effort. Saying no to a customer is much more difficult, especially when your no was not what they were expecting to hear. No means “a possible problem”, to them at least. Everybody knows that saying no sometimes makes complete sense, it has to be done. “No, we wouldn’t recommend that”, is also a very powerful statement that conveys that your customer has come to the right place, though in this case, they might not appreciate your (expert) service as much.

There’s a lot to be said about saying no to customers. In this post, we’ll explore how you can turn saying no into a win-win situation with your customer.

Why do you need to say no?

Most customers select a service provider based on knowledge and expertise. Money plays a role, but most customers really do care about working with a service provider who has knowledge and expertise. It’s the balance of this perceived expertise in combination with your fees that led them to choose you. This means it’s important to say no to customers when you think that:

  • the request is based on their lack of understanding or knowledge
  • they are asking you to do something which would not be beneficial to them
  • they are asking you to do something that would not be worth the associated costs to the customer
  • you have a better solution to the challenge they are facing

Be prepared for what comes after the no

As a rule of thumb in customer service, not meeting someone’s expectation requires an explanation and the setting of a new expectation. There’s never a need to say “yes, I can do that because it’s a completely normal request within the limits of our contract”, a simple “yes, sure” is enough. When it’s a no, you’ll need to add the why – in a way that your customer can understand it. Spell it out (nicely): The answer is no because of… Depending on your customer, an explanation is much more than a sentence, it can take two or three conversations for someone to understand why no means no.

The last impression that you DON’T want to leave the customer with is ‘they said no because of a bunch of reasons that I don’t understand’, because accumulated impressions of doubt can damage the long-term relationship quite easily. The last impression that you DO want the customer to have is something along the lines of ‘they said no, but I trust them’. To achieve that, you have to adapt every “no” conversation to their level of knowledge, their expectations, their situation, etc.

“It might be uncomfortable for your customer to hear it, but as soon as they get over the initial shock of the no, most customers will appreciate the fact that you’re applying your experience and judgment.”

What happens when people hear no?

Think about how you have reacted when you heard no instead of yes. Depending on the impact, as the recipient of no, we might question the other party’s ability to understand the request (rejection), or verbally express our unhappiness in no uncertain terms (frustration), before we can accept that no means no.

The SARAH model outlines our typical response to bad news in a linear fashion. For example: after expressing shock at hearing no, somebody will experience anger and/or anxiety which can then become resentment and/or rejection. With your support they will then accept the situation and begin to look for solutions which they hope will mitigate the bad news. The SARAH model is more relevant to most business scenarios and provides a simple, linear framework.

S – shock, surprise
  • “I thought this was covered by the contract”
  • “I just don’t understand – this was obviously important to us”
A – anger, anxiety
  • “I’m not happy”
  • “I’m really frustrated”
  • “This isn’t what I would expect from a business partner”
  • “I’m really worried this is going to set us back at least 2 weeks”
R – resentment, rejection
  • “I don’t think you understand the impact this will have on us”
  • “This might not be a big thing for you, but it is for us”
A – acceptance
  • “I suppose we just need to …”
  • “Well if that’s the way it is, that’s the way it is. I guess we need to …”
H – hope
  • “So what can we do then?”
  • “What kinds of workarounds have other customers used?”

You can use this model to help the customer accept what is happening, by moving them forward during your conversation. Use SARAH to steer the conversation with your customer, now that you know how they typically react to hearing no.

What to do when you need to say no?

When you tell your customer what you think, you’re doing what you’re paid to do – sharing knowledge, expertise and experience. Your expert perspective gives you everything you need to give the customer what they need. The question they asked results from a direct need. Indirectly, your no should address this need. If you successfully uncover their need after your no, you are creating a possible future yes. It can be helpful to see saying no as not just one isolated word but as a six-step process. This process is further explained in our eBook…

1 Prepare them

Indicate you have difficult news. Don’t just drop it on them. “We need to talk about something you won’t want to hear.”

2 Say no

Use clear and straightforward language. Avoid over-softening, hiding. Be aware of cultural differences.

3 Explain why

Inform them why something has happened and, if you don’t understand the reason, be honest (and build credibility). Avoid making excuses.

4 Convey understanding and empathy for their situation

Show that you understand the impact on them (both the business dimension and the human dimension).

5 Explore possible futures

Explore possible impacts. Impacts you’d like to avoid, solutions, workarounds, measures etc.

6 Follow up

Make the effort to follow up with the customer both after you’ve said no and once the solutions or measures have been implemented.

How to say no

You don’t say no to a customer request every day, so make it count. Own your “no”…don’t be fluffy about it by saying things like “well, if it was up to me”, and don’t distance yourself with phrases like “I wish I could but a third party is being difficult”. The message of no has to be clear: “No. I’m very sorry, but that’s just not possible” is the strongest message you can give your customer in their time of need.

Express empathy, apologize if needed but don’t overdo it. If you continue making excuses and apologizing you run the risk of looking indecisive, being open to being convinced otherwise and not owning your no.

In his book “The Power of a Positive No”, William Ury introduced the world of customer service to the “positive no”. The process has 3 basics steps:

Express your yes

There’s a reason you’re saying no, and that’s because you’re actually saying yes to something else (your project plan, your experience, your customers budget limitations). Focus on expressing your commitment to your yes e.g. “We are committed to our system being reliable and secure”.

Add your no in the context of your yes

“We are committed to our system being reliable and secure. This is why we need to say no to the idea of integrating remote access via this 3rd party app. It will be costly, and our experience is that it will create problems neither of us can work with.”

Propose a yes

“We are committed to our system being reliable and secure. This is why we need to say no to the idea of integrating remote access via this 3rd party app. It will be costly, and our experience is that it will create problems neither of us can work with. We can evaluate remote access solutions which will give some of the functionality without the risks. Let’s talk more about what is important to you and how we can help you find the budget.”

Don’t focus on the no

I have done many training sessions on customer service and I never leave the room without saying “if there’s an emotion involved, address it” because it’s the easiest road to customer satisfaction. It’s also, in my experience, one of the most difficult things for people to focus on, when in the midst of a no conversation with a customer. Perhaps it’s comfortable to hide in the business dimension, behind “these are our processes and there’s nothing I can do at this point” and it will help the customer understand your no, sure. However, the impact is much greater if you address the situation in the human dimension with an empathic “You’re frustrated, I can tell”, and give the customer a moment to respond to that.

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How to develop internal trainers for virtual training delivery – Part 2

In Part 1 of this post we described the three key skills areas needed to develop internal trainers to train virtually. To support them further, we also developed a session planning template that ensured they planned these principles into their sessions. In this post, we’ll answer the question: What are the elements of planning an effective virtual training session? At the end you will be able to download the template for your own use.

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Designing learning objectives

Just like the physical classroom, learning objectives should focus on the actual needs of the trainees and the outcome of the training, for example: By the end of this session, technicians will be able to communicate the 3 most important features of this new model washing machine to a customer

Unlike the physical classroom, you will have less time in a virtual session to meet this objective, and that includes setting aside time to measure it during the session itself. This means that you should limit yourself to only one or two objectives.

Thinking about your trainees

Thinking about what your trainees know already can save time in your session and help ensure what you plan meets their actual needs. For a virtual session it’s also useful to think about trainees’ previous experience of online learning and their comfort level with technology.

For example, repair technicians who have spend most of their time on the road visiting customers may need more time and practice with getting to grips with online training. You can allow for this with activities where they can have fun and play with the different tools to build their confidence.

Being prepared for problems

Due to technology, there can be more problems in a virtual classroom, and you need to have back-up plans and work-arounds for when people loose connection or can’t hear, etc. At the end of the day there is only so much you can actually do to assist people, but you can plan to address problems that might come up by explaining at the beginning what to do if connection is lost and who trainees should contact for assistance.

If trainees are new to virtual training they will need help and practice in using the tools and for this it is best to set aside time at the start of the session to let them play with the tools in a relaxed way before they use them for more serious activities.

Setting personal goals

Every virtual session is also an opportunity for the trainer to improve. Set yourself personal goals (e.g. speak slower, stick to timing, involve all participants) and then either ask someone to observe the session and give you feedback, or record the session and play it back to yourself.

Creating a detailed session plan

At least when you start virtual training, having a detailed session plan will help you stay on track. A lot is happening during a virtual session, so you don’t need the extra worry of trying to remember what comes next. Your plan will also show you that you are using a range of tools and mixing them up. Your plan will be more micro than normal as in a virtual training session it’s important to very activities in order to keep trainees’ attention; at least a new activity every 5 minutes. One tip we have seen for new trainers is to script what they want to say in the plan; this is a very good way to reduce talking time and be succinct.

You can download the Virtual Training Session Plan here


We hope you enjoyed reading this 2-part post about how to develop internal trainers. You can also find more tips and advice on virtual training in these blog posts:

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How to develop internal trainers for virtual training delivery – Part 1

In 2020, many companies have needed to move their internal trainers from classroom to virtual training delivery. Outside of the circumstances and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the advantages of virtual training delivery are obvious. With virtual training, you reach more people, training can be deployed faster, more regular training events can be set up, and it costs less. We’ve been delivering virtual training solutions for more than ten years, and we know that the transfer to virtual training delivery can be smooth when the trainer understands the differences between classic face-to-face training and virtual delivery, and is able to adapt and develop him/herself. 

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We were recently asked about this topic by an in-house training team for a global company who train the company’s technicians on customer service and product updates for their range of consumer household machines. They asked us:

  • What are the new skills that internal trainers need to master in order to train virtually?
  • How quickly can our existing trainers master these skills and how can we help them to do it?
  • How can we train trainers with no experience of virtual training to be confident with it?

Part 1 of this post is about the key facilitation skills for virtual training delivery, which we identified and worked on with our client’s new virtual trainers. In Part 2 you will learn how we designed a session planning template to support them. Part 2 includes a download of the template for your own use.


Essential facilitation skills for virtual training delivery

1. Using your voice effectively

Why this is important? –  You won’t be able to communicate using body language and eye contact in the virtual classroom. You (and your trainees) will rely entirely on your voice. The challenge with listening to someone’s voice is that it’s just more difficult to pay attention, due to lack of visual stimuli. This adaptation is a challenge for trainers new to the virtual training delivery environment because it takes a lot of practice and self-adjustment.

How to develop it – We worked with trainers on adapting 3 voice elements:

  • Clarity – pronounce words more carefully by stressing each syllable, avoid complicated terms, and repeat repeat repeat. After each segment, check in with trainees by asking, “Was that clear?”
  • Speed – you can reduce the strain on listeners by just slowing down. This takes a lot of conscious effort in practice; a technique we suggest is to imagine you are speaking 50% slower and you will probably speak 25% slower (which is an improvement!)
  • Pace – listening to a continuous stream of speech is a strain, so trainers need to practice pausing regularly. This gives listeners a chance to catch up and process what they heard. Try the 3 second rule – pause after each sentence and count to 3 in your head before continuing

2. Ensuring active participation

Why this is important – In a virtual classroom the trainer won’t have much idea who is paying attention, and trainees can easily become distracted by what’s going on around them and other things that pop up on their computer or phone. The only way to overcome this is to keep them engaged because  (unlike the physical classroom) they are not a captive audience.

How to develop it

  • Make sure everyone participates by calling on trainees by name to answer questions or share their thoughts; we recommend making a note each time someone contributes so that you can call on those who haven’t yet contributed. Of course, this is easier in smaller groups; beyond 20 trainees it becomes a challenge, but you can still use the technique.
  • Make the session active by giving participants something to do; this can be a task (e.g. discuss this problem together for 5 minutes and present your solution) or using the tools in your virtual classroom (polls, icons, annotation, etc.) to ensure active participation.
  • Ask questions regularly (as often as every 90 seconds works well) but avoid closed questions (e.g. yes/no questions) and avoid asking questions to the whole group as you will probably be met with silence; instead use the nomination technique described in the first point above.

3. Managing time and attention spans

Why this is important – Technically it is possible to run an entire day of virtual training but in practice this doesn’t work because it’s much more tiring and harder to keep trainee’s attention compared to the physical classroom. GoToWebinar researched the most popular length of sessions in thousands of training sessions and found it is 60 minutes. So, aim to break up longer training into shorter segments. Within sessions there are tips that trainers can follow to manage both time and attention spans, which you can read below.

How to develop it

  • Plan less than you would for a physical training session; we see that trainers who are new to virtual training find that the time just runs away, partly due to technical issues but also because the tips and techniques you have read about in this post just take more time.
  • Break up your session into shorter segments; if you have a longer training segment you can still break it up into chunks. This gives everyone a ‘cognitive’ break, which addresses the increased strain of concentrating in a virtual classroom.
  • Don’t plan anything for the first 10 minutes; allow this time for participants to log on, test their connection and greet each other. We also recommend wrapping up 15 minutes before the finish, to allow for extra time you might have lost during the session, and also take questions. This will all impact the amount of content you can plan for a virtual session, which is the first point you read above.

Part 1 conclusion

We found that identifying and working on these three key skills areas can help internal trainers make the jump to become virtual trainers. In part 2 of this post, you’ll learn more about the elements of planning an effective virtual training session. If you want to continue reading, here are a few recommended posts on the topic of virtual training delivery.

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How to help virtual teams deal with the real challenges they face

Virtual teams have clear advantages, but they also come with a set of unique challenges; building trust and getting people to work together is just not the same in a virtual environment. If you are leading virtual teams you will already be aware of many of these challenges. If you are not, or if you are new to this, or if your teams are not telling you everything; this post is for you! In over ten years of working with virtual teams in global companies we have collected the challenges that they have shared with us. We can now share with you some of the most common challenges we hear time and again, and some suggestions for how to help with them. This post is even more relevant in our current situation, when teams are going virtual out of necessity rather than design. So, we hope that this post will be a valuable resource to you as you adapt to the new normal of virtual working!

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Challenge 1: Connecting across different time zones

Knowing when to connect with someone halfway across the world is a key challenge that people share with us again and again. Technology allows us to send communications at any time of the day or night. But it does not tell us when we can expect a reply. Delays in response can lead to miscommunication and frustration; not something you want in any team.

How a team leader can help

It really helps to have a whole team discussion about the time zones people are working in. Don’t assume anything; we often find that some virtual teams are completely unaware what time it is for their counterparts! But don’t limit the discussion to just the time of day; in addition, bring in people’s preferred working patterns. We have found that these types of discussions can help people manage their own expectations and tailor their communications more effectively to their remote colleagues.

Challenge 2: Getting to know other team members as individuals

It is much simpler to know our colleagues’ working styles and flex to them in a co-located space because we can see how they work. In a virtual team these things are more hidden. Virtual teams who don’t know each other are more likely to fall into conflict and work to separate agendas.

How a team leader can help

The secret to building intimacy in virtual teams is to do more of it and be explicit about it. Explain why the team needs to make extra efforts to get to know each other and the benefits of doing it. Plan time at the start of meetings for personal check-ins, encourage people to reveal non-work related things about each other. Host a ‘virtual’ breakfast or coffee meeting for people to socialise. One team we worked with devised a set of 20 questions for new teams to break the ice; simple, non-threatening questions like ‘Do you prefer coffee or tea?’ can start things going and encourage people to open up. The time you create for personal bonding will pay rewards later. But the key is to realise it doesn’t happen naturally in virtual teams.

Challenge 3: Holding each other accountable and giving feedback

This is even more critical in a virtual team because we simply can’t see what other people are doing. Distance can too easily undermine the things we do more naturally in co-located teams such as giving feedback and holding each other accountable.

How a team leader can help

Ensure that the same processes and standards are applied for giving honest and timely feedback and holding each other accountable. DEEP and DESC are two approaches that work extremely well. In the office you may stipulate that feedback and performance conversations happen face to face. In a virtual team this means video calls; don’t let email take over just because it’s more convenient.

See the next challenge for a technique that can help drive team accountability.

Challenge 4: Keeping focused and engaged

Individuals will need to work more independently and with less supervision in a virtual environment but will also become more easily distracted and may lose focus due to competing work/life priorities.

How a team leader can help

Borrow a very effective technique from the iterative, agile approach; ‘Stand Up’ meetings are a short daily meeting to check-in and align with each other. In the meeting, team members are asked to share what they will be working on today and what obstacles they may face. For a team leader this provides valuable insights into problems that you will need to work on that day. For team members this is a routine event than can help them focus and energise.

Challenge 5: Making it more personal

Technology has introduced many more personal features today but teams that we work with still say that having a screen between them can make virtual teams feel impersonal.

How a team leader can help

Virtual hugs or pats on the back, telling jokes and playing games can all help to make things more personal. But the number one thing that creates the biggest impact is to turn on the webcam! As humans we connect to faces instantly and, according to the Mehrabian studies, our body language accounts for 55% of how we express emotion and attitude. It still surprises us how many virtual teams do not switch on their cameras. It’s a small step that makes a very big impact.

Challenge 6: Scheduling too many (and too long) meetings

Meetings can be draining in a physical environment. For virtual teams they can feel even longer due to the lack of physical interaction and interruption from technical problems. So, it’s important to manage meetings a bit differently in a virtual environment.

How a team leader can help

Acknowledge that virtual meetings are more of a strain and mitigate this by making them shorter and more frequent. Ensure that meetings are timetabled with people’s time zone and schedule considered; remember that these things are not as visible as they are in a co-located space. Use the tools you have in meeting software to involve everyone and keep people attentive and engaged; for example, hand raising, emoticons, breakout rooms. Check out the links below for specific posts on meetings.

Challenge 7: Knowing how much to communicate

When we are not working physically together it’s difficult to know what is too much, or too little communication. If we get it wrong we risk over-burdening our team mates, or feeling isolated.

How a team leader can help

Finding that ‘Goldilocks moment’ of just the right amount of communication means agreeing together when and what to communicate. It’s also worth thinking about which tools to use for which kinds of communication and the differences between synchronous (real time e.g. video calls) and asynchronous (delayed e.g. email). Successful virtual teams we have worked with use some simple techniques to manage their team communications, e.g. asking before interrupting, having agreed communications ‘black out’ times, and simply sharing their preferences.


More information on this topic

For more advice and tips on virtual teams, see these posts:

If you are interested in our training programmes on managing virtual teams, click on the links to learn more.


Virtual teams work across time, space, and organizational boundaries—and they are becoming increasingly common. As these virtual teams interact through technology and only occasionally meet face-to-face, it is important to rethink and sharpen the way we collaborate and communicate . In this short video Scott Levey, a director at Target Training outlines 3 simple steps you can follow to make sure your virtual team makes an impact.


The power of storytelling in business: 5 lessons learned

Storytelling is a topic of great interest in the business communications world.  Conferences and speakers around the world are praising the power of storytelling and attracting audiences. Why? Humans have told stories since our earliest beginnings. We all tell stories. It was part of our survival and development. Stories are all around us, from campfires to multimillion dollar movies, so why do we have to make a case for it in a business environment? Why do people want training on something that comes naturally? In a business context, perhaps we don’t want reveal too much of ourselves, show too much emotion or not be taken seriously at work. Our storytelling seminar gives participants the skills and determination to tell more stories and better stories in the workplace. This post shares five lessons learned about storytelling in business.

Lesson 1 – What does your listener want?

What attracts audiences to the telling of a story? We identified three things:

  1. emotion

  2. energy

  3. authenticity

Children will demand expressions of the energy of the characters, the emotion of the plot and telling the story “like you mean it”. Telling bedtime stories to children is a practical example of the standards adults have for stories as well, though many may not say it. Adults need the same things to be engaged.

Lesson 2 –  What makes a good story good?

As Aristotle observed, a good story starts with a character in trouble. The character is one the audience can identify with–not too good to be in trouble and not too bad to deserve the trouble to come.  The story progresses with the development and deepening of the trouble to create a sense of fear in the audience so the resolution of the problems leaves the audience with a sense of relief.
Aristotle referred to the stages as pity, fear, and catharsis. Stories from Greek tragedy to Toy Story follow this model in one way or another.

In the workplace we can tell stories about problems, consequences and solutions to reflect Aristotle’s model.



“Storytelling comes naturally to humans, but since we live in an unnatural world, we sometimes need a little help doing what we’d naturally do.”

 Dan Harmon


Lesson 3 – Crafting stories that fit

The STAR Model is a basic and effective format for telling stories in a business environment. The model fits the needs of business audiences as it sets the scene, describes the action in it and talks about what happened to resolve the situation. This model is very effective in behavioral interviewing, answering questions about past performance and offering a status update.

  • Situation – clearly explain the facts and assumptions that make up the context of the action.
  • Task – detail the task to be completed or the goal to be reached.
  • Actions taken – describe all relevant actions taken to complete the task.
  • Results achieved – describe the immediate outputs and eventual outcomes of the actions taken.

Lesson 4 – Courage to connect

If work for you is simply an exchange of power, storytelling and other enhanced communication tools are not important.  Others will translate what you say into orders if you are in a power position just as you may interpret orders from your superiors. If you want your workplace to be a place where people build something together instead of following the orders of the few, storytelling is an active strategy to humanize the workplace for you and your co-workers. It provides opportunities for meaningful connections that inspire trust.

Lesson 5 – From stories to action

A good story can set the stage in a business environment and yet we often need to make the purpose clear once it is complete. We can achieve that Socratically through a debriefing method or by simply telling the listeners what we had in mind directly.

A clear explanation of the purpose of the story provides a natural, logical connection to the observation of what the teller and the listeners need to accomplish in a business environment. When listeners can connect the story to their current situation, they become involved in the process of identifying what to do and why it needs to be done—without having to be told.


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For more information about what we can do to help you succeed globally, here are some of our leadership solutions