Soft skills blog articles

How to avoid your emails going viral

“Worst email ever?”  was the headline that got my attention when I read my newspaper on a Saturday morning. The story was about an Australian manager who had sent an email which he later described himself as a “Gordon Ramsay meets Donald Trump-style email rant”.  His email went viral on Twitter (#bossoftheyear) and the story was an online sensation for a couple of days. 

Although, or maybe because, we send and receive countless emails every day it is sometimes easy to forget some of the golden rules of email etiquette. To give the manager his dues he later apologized to his staff (“It seems I am becoming an online sensation for how NOT to communicate – and in hindsight I agree!!”), but his story is a timely reminder to review some important dos and don’ts for emailing. Starting with the most important one, here are six tips for you to consider…

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Tip 1 – Don’t send emails when you are angry / frustrated/ tired etc

This is, and always will be, the first rule of email communication. In “Writing emails that people read”, our most downloaded ebook with 18,000 downloads to date, we suggest you write the whole email if it will make you feel better and help you to get some-thing out of your system – BUT only add the recipients and send it after you have had space and time to reflect and think about what you are sending and its potential impact. Rule #2 builds on this by emphasizing that email is great for giving information, sharing updates or making simple requests. However, use the phone if something could be a sensitive or emotional topic. When it comes to management communication, in our Practical Toolbox for Managers training we also suggest that emotional communication is done face-to-face, via Webex or over the phone. Email just doesn’t help … although you might feel better for a few minutes.

As the Australian manger himself later said, he sent it “in a moment of seeing red and it most definitely should not have happened”.

Tip 2 – Watch your tone, mind your language

Emails need to be respectful and clear. Body language, facial expressions and tone of voice cannot be communicated by email. How an email sounds and the message it sends are determined only by the words that we use. Read this blog post if you want to learn more about tone in emails. Make sure that your message is respectful and clear. In his viral email the manager knew he’d misjudged this and later wrote “Obviously some of you know me pretty well and know I shoot from the hip, but obviously others don’t”.

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Tip 3 – Get the person’s name right

This is a very personal tip for me. I get a lot of emails from French contacts and probably 20% start with Hi Taylor (my first name is Ian). When you type the recipient’s name in the “To” line or select them from your address book – make sure it’s the right person. (In 2000, a British schoolgirl was on the receiving end of inappropriate business emails after a US naval commander accidentally added her to his confidential mailing list.) Be sure that the name you use at the beginning of the mail is the name of the person in the address line and that you have spelt it correctly.

Tip 4 – KISS: Keep it short and simple

Everybody is busy and everybody gets a lot of emails.  The average number of emails received per day in 2018 is 97!  If each email takes just 2 minutes to read and deal with this is 3 hours of your day done already!

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Organizing management and leadership training programs – the secret L&D manager

This month’s Secret L&D manager is German, based in Germany and works for a global automotive supply company.  He/She has worked in training and development for over 7 years.

New Call-to-actionWhat is important to you when designing and rolling out a leadership program?

For me a successful leadership or senior manager program in our company can never be a “one size fits all” solution.  Leadership and people management is not like a manual. We don’t want a “that’s how you have to do it” approach and we are serious about offering an individualized approach. The programs we build with companies like Target give people a chance to identify whatever they need and benefit from support in applying this in their day-to-day tasks – or in their life as a whole. Individuals take different things from the program.

Who do you target when you set up management and leadership programs?

When I set up a leadership program we are typically involving managers and leaders from a broad range of different functions – from HR to finance, logistics to manufacturing etc.  This means I have to exclude functional topics from the training design because they won’t be relevant to the whole group.

What kind or development areas are you targeting when you set up management and leadership programs?

We’re working in a very fast-paced environment and there are always a lot of changes going on.  A lot of our managers and leaders are firefighting, and really involved in operational work. We want to focus on soft skills like strategic thinking, so that they can step out of the operational and build a broader view of everything.

It is really important for me that our managers have the chance to step back and have a look at the broader picture – this means looking especially at strategy and finance. The leadership program needs to tackle what finance means for our company and to ensure the leaders have a big picture of company decisions that are made based on our financial performance. This extends to them having a broader view on strategy.  Our programs support them in building a strategic view of the company, their area and their immediate objectives.

We also want them to develop a stronger understanding of the consequences their own behaviours have, for example, on an individual, team or another department. If they are stressed out and don’t recognise that somebody in their team is drifting away, that’s not good.  The programs develop them to focus on their people –  their team is what makes their life easier in the end. They need to see not only themselves, their own workload, their own fires that are burning but also to focus more on their people and our overall strategy and values.

Do to summarize, strategy, finance, self-awareness, leading teams, and managing and developing the people they are leading. We want them to just take a step back and have a look at this and to have also the chance to experiment with tools, models and ideas. Not every tool is suitable for every person so they should decide on their own what they want to apply in the day to day what’s useful for them.

What is important to you when designing the training interventions which make up such a program?

I want them to work in groups and have personal time with the trainer. We have a mixture of formats including 1-to-1 intakes, using a tool such as DISC or MBTI, face-to-face seminars, virtual workshops and individual coaching. As the participants in the program are coming from all over Europe we also look to reduce travel costs and time using webinars, e-learning, virtual training sessions. The intakes, accountability calls and transfer coaching are all normally done via phone calls or using Webex. Then there are 3 to 4 onsite events with the groups coming together and meeting each other. These could be at the headquarters, a nice seminar hotel or near a plant (so we can organize a plant visit). Cost- and time- wise it is just not possible that they are travelling every few weeks.

What are you looking for from the trainers?

The trainers, of course are a very important element. When we look for trainers it is important to us that they are flexible. Our audience is usually, during the day, under pressure and there can be last minute things coming up so they are not able to attend a the whole session or training. So we need the trainer to be timewise as flexible as possible so if somebody missed some content they don’t get lost in the program. The trainer needs to help them and give an insight into what has been done. They need to be supportive with the people through the whole process – that is really important. Then of course that they have to be able to handle different personalities, functions, nationalities and cultures.

You mentioned culture – what role does this play in delivering the training?

This is a huge challenge, I can tell you. It depends a little bit on which positions the people are coming from. If they are coming from central positions and travelling a lot, meeting a lot of people etc. then usually they are open to everything and it’s easier to work with them. People coming from the production sites somewhere far away in the middle of nowhere – then it’s sometimes hard for them to connect with the other leaders and the softer stuff. It’s also hard for the trainers to manage them in the right way because they are really stuck in their culture. They are not as open as the people who are already used to being in this international environment – but it’s really important to get them to the stage where they are more open to the other cultures and diverse people.

How do your managers and leader react to the programs you offer? And how do you assess the training ?

The reaction of the operational leaders to this approach is very very positive. There are people who are more willing to open up and to work on themselves than others but I must say that those people who opened up completely are the ones that benefited the most from the program in the end.

About assessment, after the training I usually do a post training assessment where it’s a questionnaire where I ask people different sort of questions.


Who is the Secret L&D manager?

The Secret L&D manager is actually many L&D managers.  They are real people who would prefer not to mention their name or company – but do want to write anonymously so they can openly and directly share their ideas and experience with peers.

When trainers become participants: 17 tips for getting the most from your training

As a training company we invest in internal training with a passion. We can cover many of the soft skill and leadership topics internally, but when we are lacking the insider knowledge we carefully qualify and source external providers. One of the questions we ask a potential provider is their experience in training trainers. Training trainers can be daunting as you know that your participants are evaluating the training and you as the trainer with a insider’s eye (much like a chef cooking for another chef who is watching them work in their own kitchen!). When trainers become participants, they also go through an internal process which can be every bit as uncomfortable. We recently organized a seminar for a small group of our management team. Bringing in an external trainer changed the dynamics, and as experienced trainers we were now in the passenger seat. Over the 2 days we asked ourselves “what could we as participants do to get the very most from our training?”. Here are our tips for getting the very most from your training experience.

Engage with the training and trainer before you start

  1. Make sure you know why the training has been organized. What is the context for the training? And what does your organization / your manager hope you’ll take from the training? Ideally your manager will have shared this with you, but if not then seek it out.  And if for some reason you can’t get an answer before the training stats then get it during or after the training!  If you want to make the most of your training investment, understanding the what’s and why before the training starts is a must [Making most of your TI ebook]
  2. Build clear goals. What would you like to leave with? What questions do you have? What would you like to learn? practice? reflect on? And discuss these with your colleagues too!
  3. Is there anything you as the participants can do before the training to help the trainer/training really go to plan? Is there any information that you’d like to share? Or want them to be aware of?

Choose your attitude

  1. Suspend judgement. You, your manager or your organization has qualified and selected this training (and maybe this particular trainer) so trust that they know what they are doing and let them do it.
  2. Connected to this, the trainer and training is already paid, so adopt a “what can I take from this?” mentality and not a “prove yourself to me” Be curious and be open to learn what you expect and what you may not expect too!
  3. Share your thoughts and feedback with the trainer before it is too late. Don’t wait until the end to tell the trainer you would like them to have done something differently. Don’t adopt a “I don’t want to rock the boat” or “why bother approach”. It could be that the trainer or training can’t give you what you want – but wouldn’t you rather want to know sooner than later rather than sitting there thinking “when will we ..?”
  4. Reinforce the positive – feedback forms have a place, but like anyone trainers like to hear positive feedback as they work. If you find something useful, interesting or enjoyable then openly share this.

Help yourself during the training so you can help yourself later

  1. Organize and write your notes from the outset in a way that will help you make sense of them when you refer back afterwards.
  2. Find and use tools that will help you during the training. If something interests you proactively ask for suggestions for books, websites etc so you can go deeper later
  3. Be honest and open about your problems. Don’t hesitate to ask you trainer to repeat something, explain something again or share more examples.  If you are struggling there’s a good chance one of your colleagues is too!
  4. Look to bring in examples from your day to day life during the training. This helps to make the training more relevant and transferable. It will also help the other participants and the trainer to connect learning to reality.
  5. Ask all your questions. I mean, why wouldn’t you?
  6. Use your breaks to reset and recharge. Don’t try and work for 10 minutes, but instead stretch, get some fresh air, talk to the others.  Network, reflect or recharge.

See the training as the start of something

  1. Review your notes at the end of each day and in a few weeks, to help with transfer and long-term memory. Consider setting up a calendar reminder a month later to revisit the training
  2. Take one concrete action immediately after the training.
  3. Catch up with your colleagues back at the office. Maybe you want t0 schedule lunch with a colleague who was also in the training and review both content and actions since the training.
  4. Commit to one or two transfer steps you will do after the training. Make these concrete and share them with others.

So whether you have an internal or external trainer, you also have a big role to play in getting the very most from your training day.  Let us know if you have any other tips too!

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How experienced presenters do it

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 ahhh, 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 shares 4 simple tips and includes 4 extremely useful presentation eBooks.

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Know your whats and whys

This is incredibly obvious, perhaps even to inexperienced presenters – but it probably the most overlooked element during the design stage. 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 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.

“Designing your presentation well lays the foundations for your success.”

Scott Levey

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. This way, the presentation has a better chance of becoming a visual aid, rather than the main feature.

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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.

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

James Culver

 

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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. 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.

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If you’d like to benefit from practical training then take a look at our training solutions for presenting across cultures, presenting in a virtual environment and our challenging Presenting with IMPACT


[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)

Nobody likes giving negative feedback – but many of us want to hear it

If someone is unhappy with your performance at work, wouldn’t you want to know? At the very least, you’d like an opportunity to clear the air, or address the problem, or explain…or something. Yet when it comes to giving negative or difficult feedback, most of us feel reluctant to give it. We don’t want to hurt the other person or we are afraid of a conflict, so we end up avoiding it. One my colleagues recently used the following analogy during a training session. 

“A stone makes a chip in your windscreen. If you leave it, it will spread and a small crack will become significantly larger, and likely more expensive to repair. Leave it too long and the chances of you having to replace the windscreen are pretty much guaranteed. Being unhappy with someone’s performance can be like that original chip. If you avoid the issue and do nothing, it may spread. Over time the situation will escalate and you are likely to become more judgmental than objective. Dealing with a performance related issue in a timely manner means stopping the problem from increasing and fixing that crack.”

No, giving negative feedback is not one of the enjoyable aspects of managing people. Doing it constructively is a challenge for the best of us, and even when we do it well – who’s to say that your feedback is taken on board and improvements are made?

The big (free) eBook of negotiations language

Here are 7 tips to get you started, and they are explained in more detail below:

  1. Be clear about what you want at the end before you begin
  2. Use language that focuses on the situation, not on the person
  3. Turn up to the conversation, stay there and speak out
  4. Be open, try to be objective, don’t judge
  5. Demonstrate understanding
  6. Give examples and share patterns – and the impact on you/others
  7. Believe in change

Be clear about what you want at the end before you begin

What is obvious to you is not always obvious to others. People cannot look into your head (or heart) and guess how you’d like things. You need to be able to explain, in simple and safe language, what you want from the conversation and why you are starting it. Think about it, picture it. Simply saying that you want something to improve is not enough, it means different things to different people. Be specific and focus on the future. A useful approach is to know if this is an A, B or C discussion.  Are you focusing on a specific Action, an ongoing Behaviour or possible Consequences ? Try not to mix them. Another approach my colleagues use in training is “feed forward not back”.

And finally, think about this: if you’re giving negative feedback because you want to ‘make a point’ – there really is no point.

Use language that focuses on the situation, not on the person

Giving negative feedback is always a very personal thing, for both parties. Keep this is in mind when the other person takes your feedback personal. There are no magic phrases to use when giving negative feedback but avoid language like “you did” and “you shouldn’t have”. Owning your sentence with “I” is a better place than judging or blaming with “you”. Try sentences that start with “I noticed” or “I saw”. Avoid using “I think” or “I heard” as this implies a personal feeling, gossip, and/or judgement. Do keep in mind though that the “I” isn’t magic. If you are blaming somebody, the “I” doesn’t change how they react. And if you are managing people consider sometimes using “our” or “we” as a replacement for “I”.

Given time to absorb and reflect, most of us are grown-up enough to move past the personal impact of what is being said. More often than not, once we look back on the situation, we’re glad that someone gave us the feedback and brought it to our attention so that we can try to change our behaviour, or take appropriate action.

Turn up to the conversation, stay there and speak out

If you are going to give difficult or negative feedback you need to be present in the moment. You are committed to the conversation because you believe both parties will benefit. Shut out unhelpful self-talk like “well it won’t make any difference” or “ I knew he would say that when I said this”.  You both need to focus on this conversation and the outcome. You owe it to both of you to say what you think and feel, taking responsibility for your words and the outcome.

Be open, try to be objective, don’t judge

Don’t be vague, don’t be ambiguous. If the situation is a big deal, don’t call it a minor issue. Be open to receiving feedback on your feedback. Listening is as important as talking. Effective feedback is always a two-way street. And remember, what is obvious to others is not always obvious to you.

It’s almost never a good idea to judge others by your standards. You would do this or that, if you were him or her in this situation? You’re not him or her, you’re you. Or, he or she should do this or that in this situation? Better yet, if you were him or her, you wouldn’t even be in this situation… None of that means anything, beyond that you are different people.

Demonstrate understanding

For feedback to lead to a positive outcome for both sides you need to demonstrate understanding.  You can do this by …

  • Actively looking to find truth and agreement in what they are saying and validating this.  If you disagree with everything they say, how likely is it that they will accept and embrace everything you are saying?
  • Keep calm, centred and actively side-step confrontation and escalation.
  • Summarize your understanding of the other persons feelings (and be open to them correcting you).
  • Summarize your understanding of what they have said (and again, they can correct you)
  •  Asking a straight question to build bridges

Give examples and share patterns – and the impact on you/others

Your vested interest and understanding of the situation are important and this should be clear early in the conversation. Models such as DESC build this in. If you are not clear about something, ask and listen. Stick to what was observed. And as mentioned earlier, know whether you want to focus on an action, a pattern of behaviours  or consequences.

Trainer tip

“When we talk about patterns of behaviour, people will typically ask for an example. You are obliged to give examples- but if somebody is behaving defensively be prepared for them to then pull the example apart (challenge facts, bring in new information that may or may not be relevant, argue it was a unique situation). Your task is to listen, learn AND keep the conversation focussed on the pattern and no single event or action.”

Believe in change, support change

The words you say, your thoughts, your body language – if you don’t believe this change can happen, it probably won’t. You are a part of this change. You are, in fact, one of the initiators. More often than not, you can do more than give negative feedback. For change to work, it can’t come at a cost of something else and it often isn’t the responsibility of only one person to make the change. Look to create a “safe” environment where change is made easier.

And finally, not every moment needs to be a feedback moment

Sometimes people are having a rough time, sometimes problems do correct themselves. Not everything needs to be addressed, not every situation is a feedback or learning moment. Sometimes choosing not to give negative feedback is okay too – unless avoiding it comes at a cost (e.g. your frustration, team spirit, the problem escalates). Not giving difficult or negative feedback doesn’t mean saying nothing and doing nothing. Try a different approach – the feed forward method focuses the discussion on common goals and what you need to see done differently going forward. Use the  CIA model (Control, Influence, Accept) to determine which parts apply to this situation – and finding techniques that will help you move past it, without giving negative feedback.

 

Delivering your first virtual presentation – useful tips for beginners

No matter which system you are using, many people find their first virtual presentation to be an uncomfortable experience. Firstly, remember that the fundamentals behind what makes an effective presentation are generally transferable. Secondly, making changes to the way you plan your virtual presentation is where you set the scene for success. In a previous blog post”Your first virtual presentation – practical planning tips for beginners”, we looked at some key questions, including “How am I going to keep their attention in a virtual presentation environment?”, “What can I do in advance to feel more comfortable?” and the dreaded “What if something goes wrong with the technology?”. This post focuses on tips for actually delivering your first virtual presentation.  Contact us now

Build all-round confidence in the technology when you start

Start by demonstrating to yourself (and others) that the technology is working. This could be as simple as “Before we begin I want to take 30 seconds to check everybody is up and running technology-wise”. Check people can see the same thing, that they can hear you, and you can hear them. If you are expecting people to use other system functions e.g. comments, then this is the stage where you clarify this.

Remember that body language and eye-contact are even more important when presenting virtually

  • Position the camera so that either a) your audience has a good close up of your face, allowing them to see your eyes, smile and other facial movements, or, b) your upper torso so they can see your posture, arms and hands. Avoid the dead zone of  “head and shoulders”. They’ll see your head but can’t see the important facial details, nor the arms and hands.
  • When presenting look directly into your camera and not at the person you are talking to (as this will look as if you are actually looking away from them!). Although you won’t be making eye contact, the “illusion of eye contact” is important when presenting virtually.
  • If possible present standing with your laptop and camera at head-height. Its hard to maintain energy levels sat down.
  • If you are going to use notes, then have your notes at eye-height. Do not put your notes on your desk.  Looking at the top of your head doesn’t help your audience feel connected with you.
  • Always use a headset whenever possible. Mobile phones rob you of your hands and body language. And try to avoid talking over a speaker phone as this always impacts sound quality.

Virtual presentations aren’t natural for many of us at the very beginning.  I recall a purchaser sharing that “she felt like an idiot talking to herself”. But as with any communication skill if you integrate tips and advice and practice, practice, practice then they become less daunting and more effective.  Plan, practice and perfect -your audience will thank you.

Focus on bringing life and intimacy into your voice

  • Make an extra effort to speak with enthusiasm – if you sound nervous/ awkward/disengaged what are you expecting them to feel?
  • Use your hands naturally when you are speaking (even if the camera is focusing just on your face). Again, it will help you sound more natural and human. It will also help you feel more comfortable and confident.
  • Smile when you are presenting – even if the cameras aren’t on! This may sound strange but we can hear smiles, and a smile will always come through in your voice.
  • Consciously vary your pitch, volume and speed. If you are tend to speak fast then slow down for effect. Make your voice interesting to listen to.
  • Actively use pauses and “uhmms”. This remind your audience that this is a “live” presentation and that you aren’t a recording.

Build intimacy through questions and answers

  • Make a presentation – don’t read from your slides. Your audience can read faster than they can listen.
  • Encourage and take questions during the presentation. This is a huge step as it makes the interaction feel more personal, natural and fluid.
  • Use your audience’s names whenever possible. Again, this helps to make the presentation feel more conversational plus will strengthen their attention
  • Look for examples that create personal connections. This will make your presentation sound more like a dialogue vs. monologue.

And the most simple but often forgotten …

  • Keep a glass of water at your side. You’ll need it
  • And you’ll get better with practice!

 

 

The Four Horsemen: criticism, blame and defensiveness in the workplace

Healthy working relationships are a must if you want an effective, efficient and enjoyable workplace. In our last blog post I introduced John Gottmann’s work on the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse ; criticizing & blaming, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling. We explored why tackling these 4 toxic behaviours is essential if you want to drive performance and deliver results. This blog post will dive deeper into the first 2 toxic behaviours. We’ll look at criticising & blame AND the defensiveness it creates. We’ll then explore why they happen, their impact and how both parties can change things for the better. Finally, we’ll look at what you as a manager can do when you run into these behaviours between team members.

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How to detoxify criticism & blaming in the workplace

As every manager knows, when things go seriously wrong it is important to discuss “What happened?” and to ask “How can thing be done differently next time?”. Being able to do this in a transparent, open and constructive manner is hugely powerful.  Jim Collins explores this with the “autopsy without blame” behaviour in his excellent bestseller Good to Great. For “autopsy without blame” to work, you need people to feel safe – you need to detoxify criticism & blaming in the workplace.

First of all, it is important to understand the difference between complaining and criticizing. A complaint addresses a specific failed action. A criticism includes a negative judgement about the other’s personality or character. Blaming is when you are abdicating responsibility and laying all fault and consequences at the other person’s feet. For example …

  • Complaint“Thierry, we are now behind schedule with the FAT.  I’m in a really difficult position with the client.”
  • Criticism“We are behind schedule with the FAT because you forgot again to update Max. You’re so disorganized.  Now I’m in a really difficult position with the client, Thierry.”
  • Blaming“This is all your fault … and now yet again we are behind schedule with the FAT. You didn’t update Max like you should have, and now I have to solve things and deal with the client … what do you think about that? This is all on you Thierry.”

Clearly criticizing and blaming aren’t helpful or productive behaviours – but if we are honest with ourselves we have all displayed them at some point.

Why do we do blame and/or criticize others?

We have made up our mind about what happened and want to either hold somebody responsible or change somebody else’s behaviour. We tell ourselves we are just “giving feedback”, “holding others accountable” or “saying it how it is”.

What happens when we do this?

The typical (and often unintended) impact is that the receiver becomes defensive (the second of the 4 Horsemen) and constructive communication stops. The receiver will probably be less open about what actually happened as they don’t feel safe – and possibly even become dishonest, holding information back or reframing things. Alternatively, the receiver feels threatened and fights back with criticism or blame. None of this is very productive or beneficial for a healthy professional relationship.

So, what can the “blamer” do differently?

To best avoid the above, you as the potential “blamer” need to…

  • take responsibility for your own feelings – and don’t lay them on the “receiver”.
  • be open and curious about what happened. Look to understand first.
  • turn your “complaint” into a request. Concentrate on finding solutions to the problem and how you can avoid it in the future rather than focusing on the past e.g. Instead of saying “You didn’t tell me about the review meeting”, say “I really don’t want to miss another one of those review meetings, could you send me the dates for the rest of the year?”
  • use “I” language and not “you” language e.g. “I have the impression that… / To me this comes across as…”.
  • examine how you can actively contribute to a solution – it is unlikely you are completely powerless, and you will feel better if you are aware of what you can change and control regardless of what the other does.
  • be future-oriented. Again, look to understand so things can be better in the future. Mapping out on a piece of paper what happened and contributing factors can be a powerful and safe tool.
  • apologize when appropriate – did you intend to “attack”? It could be you do not feel you were being critical or had a different intent, but what matters is how the other experienced it.
  • and at all costs avoid trying to hurt the other with sweeping personal attacks such as “What is wrong with you?” or “What exactly is your problem?”

What can the “blamed” do to limit the toxic impact?

And if you find yourself being criticized or blamed try to…

  • assume their intentions are good. They are not intentionally trying to hurt you, nor do they want you to “feel useless”. They just aren’t doing a very good job of communicating.
  • listen and try to find a reasonable request embedded in their “complaint”.
  • focus on your relationship. If they are “blaming”, what are their needs?
  • resist the urge to fight back – don’t get stuck in a “who is doing what to who” spiral.
  • stay calm, assertive and openly empathic.
  • try to refocus the discussion on the future. As above, mapping out what happened and contributing factors helps.
  • help them to refocus on your relationship.

How to detoxify defensiveness in the workplace

The toxic behaviour of “defensiveness” often follows feeling criticized or blamed. It is a natural fight/flight response and, just like criticism & blaming, defending is very much about the past rather than the future.  Defending can look like excuses, denying responsibility, or even blaming the other (“I’m not the problem here – you’re the problem!”). Defensiveness rarely helps move things forward.

Why do we do defend ourselves?

We defend to preserve our own sense of self.  We want to preserve our self-identity, our sense of integrity and of being right/fair/committed/competent etc.  We are protecting our ego from criticism and can swiftly start to behave like the “victim”.

What happens when we do this?

The unintended impact is that conflict either festers or escalates.  Either way, the relationship suffers. Being defensive also prevents the autopsy and understanding of the problem, which in turn prevents finding sustainable and realistic solutions.

So, what can the “defender” do differently?

  • Really listen …. really, really listen. Shut out unhelpful self-talk and use active listening skills.
  • Connected to the above, look to clarify what you think you are hearing.
  • Now look for the “10%” of truth. It is incredibly unlikely that the other person is making everything up. Ignore the criticism and focus on the issue that is being raised. Even if you disagree with what they are saying and how they are saying it, there is probably some truth in there somewhere which connects to you and your part in the situation.
  • And once you have considered your contribution to the problem, accept and embrace your personal responsibility for the problem. Everybody is wrong sometimes.
  • Acknowledge the impact that you contributed to. Apologize when appropriate. And to quote an overused cliché, own your mistake. You’ll be surprised how powerful and effective saying “I’ve listened to what you said and after thinking it over … you are right. This is my mistake.” can be. Sometimes tackling a situation head on can also quickly change the dynamics e.g. “I’ve listened to what you are saying [criticizer braces them self for denial and prepares to continue attack] and I completely agree with you.  I didn’t do this in the right or best way [criticizer surprised and silent]. Let’s talk and see what you and I need me to do differently next time [criticizer pulled into future orientated discussion].”

 And what can the “attacker” do to limit the toxic impact of defensiveness?

  • Explicitly and authentically clarify your intention. Work to help them understand that your intention is not to hurt them. You just want to have a tough conversation because this is important to you.
  • Make them feel safe if you can.
  • Again, really listen … talk less and listen more.
  • Clarify what is being heard by the other person.
  • Use “I” language and not “you” language.
  • Show respect.
  • And reassure them that their image or reputation is not at stake. You are focusing on this situation and not everything in the past, present and future.
  • Reconnect to trust (past and future).

What can a manager do when they see criticism, blame and defensiveness within their team?

To criticize and blame is human. We have all done it.  All of us have also been unhelpfully defensive. Differentiate between a team member who displays this behaviour now an again (which is human) and one who displays a pattern on an ongoing basis

  1. Create a safe environment and build trust by sharing personal experiences of being on both ends – focus on the immediate and longer-term impact of the behaviour on individuals, team and results. Be careful not to lecture, and instead share your perceptions and experiences.
  2. Refocus the team on what happens next time (and reinforce this future-orientation when somebody starts using past tenses).
  3. When you run into a pattern where an individual is regularly criticizing and blaming others, don’t be afraid to assert your power as a manager and deliver feedback on the destructive behaviour you are seeing. Then, keep an eye out for this behaviour continuing under the surface or transforming into contempt.

In the 3rd and final part of this series we’ll look at how you can tackle and overcome the remaining 2 “horsemen” – stonewalling and contempt.

Meet the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” – and why they matter in your workplace

Since 2015 we’ve been heavily involved in a Management Development program for one of the big 4 accounting firms in Luxembourg. One of the many rewarding aspects of being involved in such large flagship projects, is the chance to co-train with other management trainers and learn from each other. In 2017, thanks to Alexandra D, I discovered John Gottman’s work and since then I’ve seen it help people in and out of work with the relationships that most matter to them. If (like me) you haven’t heard of him, John Gottman is a highly respected psychologist and relationship expert, who with his wife, Julie, leads The Gottman Institute [ https://www.gottman.com/]. Gottman studied relationships between spouses and couples for over two decades and discovered patterns of behaviour that he could use to predict which relationships would not survive with over 90% accuracy.  Although his research and calling focuses exclusively on couples, his thoughts and methods easily transfer to our professional lives and our workplace relationships too!

Go to the eBook

Meet the 4 Horsemen (or the 4 team toxins)

Gottman believes that there are 4 negative kinds of behaviour that can destroy relationships. This 2-minute video introduces them nicely.

The four destructive behaviours are:

  • blaming and criticism – attacking your partner’s character, behaviour or personality.
  • defensiveness – seeing yourself as the victim to pre-empt or ward off attacks and blaming others for your failures.
  • contempt – attacking your partner’s sense of self with sarcasm or cynicism to insult or abuse them.
  • stonewalling – withdrawing from the relationship and any meaningful connection.

Gottman calls these 4 destructive behaviours “the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”. I’ve also heard coaches and trainers rename them “The Four Team Toxins” in an effort to make them sound more business-relevant.

Why the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse matter in the workplace

And let us be honest – we have all probably displayed these 4 toxic behaviours and acted in a toxic way at one time or another. We are human. And whether you want to call them “the 4 horsemen” or “the 4 team toxins”, these behaviours matter in the workplace – and in a very tangible way.

These behaviours are toxic to an effective, respectful and rewarding workplace. If interpersonal relationships are breaking down, you can expect to see the quality of communication deteriorating.  Tasks and projects will take longer, work will be incomplete or below expected standards and, as the behaviours impact productivity, you can expect to see poor results.  Motivation, commitment and team spirit will all suffer, and destructive conflicts will increase. And at its worst you’ll see stress, illness and good people leaving because “They’ve just had enough”. If you want to drive performance, you need to tackle them head on.

So, what can managers do about the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

“Ok, some people aren’t as nice as others, that’s life … but as an Audit manager what should I do? I’m a manager not a counsellor.”

 – Marcel, Manager in Audit & Assurance

Every professional who cares about their relationships with others will benefit from exploring the 4 Horsemen by …

  • being able to recognize when you are behaving negatively.
  • learning to consciously shift your mindset when necessary.

Whether toxic behaviour is a common occurrence or a thankfully rare phenomenon, great managers need to …

  • be able to recognize when others are behaving negatively.
  • learn to help others understand their behaviours and the impact it may have.
  • be able to tackle difficult conversations with both individuals and teams.
  • learn to help others stop negative spirals and have a fighting chance of turning toxic relationships around.

In parts 2 and 3 of this blog we will explore how this can be achieved but to close, here are 5 practical tips to get you started…

  1. Take responsibility for your own feelings. This starts with you consistently building self-awareness and reflection into your actions. Focus on who you want to be and how you want to be … regardless of what the other person does or says. This is tough but immensely powerful.
  2. Practice curiosity – ask yourself “What is actually happening here?”, “What am I missing?”, “How have I contributed to this situation?” and “What will help us through this?”
  3. Do not make assumptions and openly check your findings. This will help increase others’ willingness to listen and engage in healthy conflict.
  4. Deposit into other people’s emotional bank accounts and feed positivity into your relationships: regularly have appreciative conversations and look to show recognition.
  5. And when you do see toxic behaviours between team members, tackle them.

When bulls collide – why senior managers need to master using influence instead of power

Over the past year we’ve been working on 3 leadership projects with plant managers across Europe and the US. These projects have involved coaching talented operational managers on the verge of promotion to a more strategic level. For many of these managers this is a surprisingly tough jump. They are now no longer the sole “go-to “decision maker for their teams. Now they need to get the buy-in of their superiors and peers as part of getting their job done. … they need to influence others.
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Moving from a telling to an asking approach when influencing

For managers with a telling or “push” influencing style, this transition creates a particular challenge as they need to move from a “telling” to an “asking” approach when influencing others. Those used to telling others what to do are generally used to quick decisions and immediate actions. Until now they have relied on their “power”… and have been relatively successful so far in their careers!  Their power can come from:

  • organizational authority (“I’m the plant manager” )
  • expert status (“I’ve got 15 years of experience in this area”)
  • information power (“I was involved in this from the very beginning “)
  • or just sheer charisma (“I know you’ll follow me”)

Indeed, quite often the manager is so used to exercising power that they don’t know the difference between power and influencing. Part of our role in the training is to help them see the tangible differences between “I want you to do X and you do it. How you feel about it is secondary.” (power) and  “ I know you’ll do what needs to be done because you want to do it and believe it is the right thing to do.”  (influencing).

When bulls collide and why influencing by power stops being effective

Imagine two bulls colliding and locking horns. When two push-style leaders try to share the same operational space, problems can come up. During training and coaching we’ve heard this expressed as “He doesn’t listen to me”, “She discounts my expertise” and “It’s his way or no way”.  When we’ve dug deeper and asked them how they have tried to influence the others, we often find they are solely relying on a directive or persuasive style of influencing (push styles) – as opposed to a collaborative or visionary style (pull styles).

Why different influencing styles matter

As part of our influencing training we work with clients to help them understand and use different influencing styles. No style is better or worse than another – each has its strengths and weaknesses, and each has its place.  However, as Dale Carnegie so visually described in How to win friends and influence people applying one style to every situation is like “fishing with strawberries” … in other words ineffective and ultimately pointless.  As the managers move to a more strategic role and need to deliver results in cooperation with other senior managers they need to develop different influencing styles. They need to sometimes “ask” and not just “tell” – to “pull” and not just “push”, and to let go of getting things done through their “power” alone. So what to do?

Stop “telling” and start “asking” – 5 practical steps to influence other senior managers

As Marshall Goldsmith coined “What got you here, won’t get you there”. Relying on power alone won’t deliver the commitment needed for individual and organizational success. Senior managers need to master influencing as they climb.

  • Acknowledging that the style and methods you are used to using aren’t working is a first big step. This may feel uncomfortable and sometime this can take far longer than you might expect!
  • Being willing to try something different is the second. A simple tip is to always present more than one good option. If you are trying to influence somebody who is also a directive “push” influencer, keep in mind that (like you) they really dislike being boxed in with only one alternative. One alternative feels like an order. If you hear yourself saying “We have to…” or “Our only real option is…” it means you are probably still relying on your power.
  • Put yourself in their shoes and try to find out what is important to your counterpart and include it in your reasoning. Let the other person know that you are trying to use their frame of reference. If you don’t know their interests and what they value, it is important to find out. Let him know that his success matters to you too. This blog post offers questions to consider as you try to understand your counterpart.
  • Know what you can control, can influence and need to accept [https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/control-influence-accept.htm]. Expand your influencing zone by developing more influencing tools.
  • And then consider what you are going to say and how you will say it. This blog post on Linking and building to successfully influence others is worth your time.

If you would like to know more about how we have successfully provided influencing training in face-to-face and virtual delivery formats across Europe and beyond then don’t hesitate to contact us.

Virtual training v. face-to-face training: How does it compare?

James Culver is a partner at Target Training Gmbh and has 25 years of experience in delivering customized training solutions. His career has encompassed being a HR Training Manager, a Major in the US Army National Guard and a lecturer at the International School of Management. He’s also a talented percussionist and storyteller. In the final part of this series of blog posts on Virtual Training delivery, he answered the following questions…

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You have 25 years’ experience in training delivery. When did you start delivering virtual training?

James Since the 90s. In the United States we started very early with virtual delivery in the community college system. We often had remote sites of small groups of students who still wanted to take advantage of the kinds of courses that we would offer on the main campus, so we started delivering virtual training . When I started working with virtual training it was extremely expensive to do some of this work. Our system was basically a camera set-up and the professor or the trainer was just speaking to the camera. There was very little interaction available with the other sites and it was like TV school.

How would you say that virtual delivery compares with face-to-face delivery?

James There are probably two things to think about. One is the content that one delivers and the other is the context. By context I mean everything that surrounds the content. How things are being done, who is interacting with whom and how they are interacting – the richness of the communication. As far as content is concerned, the topic that’s covered, the information that’s shared, I’d say virtual delivery and face-to-face delivery compare quite favourably. In fact, the virtual platforms that we use at Target Training are tailor made for delivering lots of content in interesting ways. It’s very easy to add videos, recordings, to have whiteboards etc. For example, if we have content that is pre-prepared on a slide and made available to people, they can annotate it, they can put questions there etc. That’s really, really easy on a virtual platform.

What is harder most of the time is everything that we get from being in the same room as someone. Facial expression change, body language changes. We often don’t see or get that in a virtual environment, even with the market-leading systems. The challenge as a trainer is that we risk missing  a large chunk of the information that we would get from participants in a classic face-to-face training session. That is a major challenge. As a trainer in face-to-face training I have a feel for how things are going because I’m in the room. It’s much more difficult to have a feel for how things are going, when you’re in a virtual environment. And you need that “feel” so you can adjust and give the participants the best possible learning experience.

What are your workaround strategies for that?

James There are workaround strategies and through external and internal training and on-the-job experience our  trainers use them. One strategy is that you have to ask a lot of open and closed ‘check questions.’ Questions like “Are you with me?”, “Is that clear?”, “So what are the key points you’re taking from this?”, “What are your questions so far?” Experienced virtual trainers will ask those kinds of questions every 2 to 3 minutes.  Essentially, as a trainer you have a 2 to 3 minute time limit for your input before you ask a check question, and the check questions should be both open to the group and targeted at an individual too.

Which training themes lend themselves best to virtual delivery and which don’t?

James The themes that lend themselves best to virtual delivery are those that are more content focused – for example classic presentation skills training or presentations delivered virtually.  These types of training solutions focus on input, tips, do’s and don’ts, best practice sharing and then practice-feedback -practice – feedback etc.

Another theme that works very well for us when delivered virtually is virtual team training, whether it be working in virtual teams or leading virtual teams. By their very nature, virtual teams are dispersed so the virtual delivery format fits naturally. Plus, you are training them using the tools they need to master themselves. And of course, another benefit is if the training is for a specific virtual team the shared training experience strengthens the team itself.

The types of training solutions that are more challenging when delivered virtually are those where we are trying to change ourselves or others. Topics such as assertiveness or self-efficiency need to be thought through and developed carefully if they are going to be more than an information dump. Here the coaching aspect is far more important.

Finally, and perhaps surprisingly, management and leadership training can work really well when done virtually. Our Driving Performance solution is a good example of this. The secret here is to emphasize the bite-sized learning, provide additional resources outside the session e.g. flipped classrooms with relevant videos and articles, and provide opportunities for one-on-one conversations too.

More on virtual delivery

Please see the posts below, or start here.

 

Resolving conflicts – putting the 3 questions practice

Conflict is an inevitable part of any relationship and in a recent post I shared 3 questions to ask yourself when you find yourself in a conflict situation. I appreciate that life isn’t as linear as a blog post and “3 questions” can come across as overly simplistic.  So, based on a personal example, in this post I’d like to share what the questions look like in the real world.

The big (free) eBook of negotiations language

 

The background and the situation

I work as a conflict mediator for a major EU institution and recently I was asked to travel to an African country. I was asked to mediate between a governmental body on one side and a large group of individuals from a very poor community on the other side. I’d travelled all the way from Luxembourg and when I arrived I called a meeting with all the individuals from this local community. I wanted to find out what was going on, what was the conflict about and learn much more about the history behind this conflict, the peoples’ interests etc. In other words, I wanted to find out Q1. What was actually going on, right in this moment?

It was Tuesday morning, I’d travelled a long way and was quite tired.  I was not exactly used to living or even being in such an area like this – slums would be the word many westerners would use,  police and army check points with machine guns pointing my way, sitting in a hot taxi, being asked for bribes. Together all of these things were making me nervous. I was definitely on unfamiliar ground and slightly tense … and there was NO-ONE at the meeting. Well, there were two people, but I had expected a hundred plus! My thoughts were “Come on, you were the ones who brought this HUGE conflict to me and my organisation’s attention. You said you wished it solved so we came, and now you are not even here! If this lethargy is typical of the community, how can I be that surprised by the destructive behaviours from the local authorities?!”

I started to get irritated, angry, and I could feel it growing. So I consciously took a deep breath, tried to clear my head and ask myself two questions – Q1 What was going on?  and Q2 How did I feel?

Understanding yourself is the basis for resolving conflicts

The first thing that came to my mind was: “If I return to Europe and we have made no progress at all to try to solve this conflict my reputation and possibly my career will be in danger.”  In other words, I was experiencing fear. The second thing that went through my mind is “I am quite angry. I spent time coming down here, and you are not even here! What sort of respect, or lack of, is that?”

I felt I had answered the first and the second question but knew something was missing. How did I really feel about it? Well, in this moment I did fear for my personal career AND I thought I felt angry because I felt the locals were disrespecting me and my efforts. I asked myself the question again and tried to look more closely into myself.  Angry was how I was acting but when I thought things through more I realised the actual emotion for me, in this situation, was more like disappointment. I wanted to help and had expected more.

BUT, did the above reflections and emotions really give me a picture of what that little ‘meeting conflict’ was about? No, It didn’t!

The role of culture in conflicts

I looked again at what was going on… A meeting had been called. People were late, but then again, it’s Africa! They were running on ‘African time’ and I was running on ‘European time’.  So it wasn’t personal nor was it a sign or rejection towards the mediation. We were just from two different cultures, with different expectations when it comes to time and punctuality. As for the risk of my career. Well, that is a systemic risk. It is always there, but it has nothing to do with the punctuality conflict at hand. I had 2 people out of a 100 for a meeting. That was a conflict, because 2 out of a 100 wouldn’t be able to give me a viable and  complete picture of the conflict, nor could they be seen as representative of the local community which was required for the mediation to be effective. This conflict was however not at all related to a systemic risk back at home. As for the potential behaviour of the local authorities, that also wasn’t related to the conflict going on at this very moment. This was the norm.

My brain seemed to be working again …

Managing your 3 brains so they work together

Simply put our brain is split in three parts, the Neocortex (the reflective and analytical  part and also the newest part), the Limbic System  (the emotional part, experienced through our emotions) and the Brainstem (sometimes called the reptilian part which governs flight or flight instincts). By forcing myself to ask and re-ask the 2 questions (What is it actually going on, right in this moment?, and How do you feel in this moment?) I had effectively de-escalated myself. I had helped my struggling brain to work as a whole and not get stuck in the lower brain parts. I could calm myself down so I could engage effectively in the meeting … when it finally started.

By the way people did actually turn up. After one and a half hours!

That just left me with the last question … How was I going to turn the conflict?

For more information

Target Training has been delivering a range of conflict-related training solutions for the last 15 years. This includes “Handling critical conflict situations” and “Managing conflicts in virtual teams” . We also offer individual and team coaching solutions.


About the author

Preben is a professional mediator and conflict manager. He focuses on human interactions, such as management and leadership, intercultural relationships and interpersonal communication. Until recently he was a welcomed part of Target Training and today works for a major European institution. In his private life he enjoys karate, hiking and climbing.

 

3 questions to ask when you find yourself in a conflict situation

It’s 11am Monday morning and you are halfway through your weekly team meeting … and you are caught. Two of your key team leaders just started arguing over the same old issues. Over and over again. You get irritated! Now what do you do? What are your personal conflict escalation or de-escalation patterns? Do you explode? e.g. “For once will you two just shut the !*@$ up!!!!”.  That is one way of dealing with it, though not a very constructive one. Will you play peacemaker e.g. “We are all on the same team and we should support each other, don’t you agree?”  As attractive as it sounds, this approach will actually escalate the conflict by trying to hide it away. Or do you push it away e.g. “Deal with that outside after we are finished, I will not tolerate that in here”. This is also not a “solution”, because it will come back and hit you like a boomerang, and next time probably in your back. You are part of the conflict whether you like it or not and this means you need to be part of the solution. Hera are 3 fundamental questions you need to ask yourself …
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 What is it actually going on, right in this moment?

When you find yourself in a conflict situation it is important to ask yourself what is actually happening? What is the “phenomenon”? The search for the phenomenon is hugely important and it is not always easily found. What exactly is happening, right this moment?

  • Is it related to me, to my actions?
  • Is it related to the budget discussions we are having?
  • Is it related to old vendetta or a power battle between the two?

And this brings us to the second question …

How do you feel in this moment?

This question sounds simple enough but can be unexpectedly difficult to truthfully answer when we are in the conflict itself.  Work to get past the surface emotions and go deeper. How do you REALLY feel about what is happening? Answering these 2 questions alone significantly increase your chances of being part of the solution. They will help you solve the conflict constructively (de-escalate the situation); by forcing you to use the reflective part of your brain (the prefrontal cortex).

As much as my ego would love to say the reflective brain part is always dominant, IT AIN’T. For none of us. It is the newest part of the brain, and the least dominant one. There is normally a “highway” of connections between the three brain parts/layers, but the moment we are in conflict, this “highway” narrows down to a one-way lane, and that seriously impairs our conflict handling skills.

Now to return to our situation, the meeting situation with the team leaders, you are now standing there, and you have reflected and calmed your primitive part of the brain. It is time to ask the 3rd question.

What do you want to do?

Let’s say you realise it is actually about one team leader being frustrated by a lack of resources. He is disappointed with the situation (and not angry, though it might appear so). Bear in mind his perception is REAL to him. He feels the other department has got all the resources and all the recognition. He has constructed a story in his mind and is now caught in emotions that are not necessarily related to the situation.

OK, so what do you want to do about it? This is the third question. The third option. One way of deciding what to do, would be to focus on ‘choices of conflict strategy’ (problem-solving, forcing, avoiding, accommodation). Another could be to ask what ‘negotiation strategy’ will you use?

The 3 questions help you and your brain work to its full potential

By solving the first two questions the choice for the third one will become the more rational one, whatever it is you want to do. Whatever you choose to do, bear in mind that if you wish to reach these two individuals, with any message at all, you need to help the parts of their brain start communicating again (reopen their highways). You need to speak in short sentences and help them see what is actually going on (Q1) and how do they really feel at the moment (Q2). However you approach solving the conflict you can now see more clearly and can decide actively, with the conflict quickly analysed and you in control of your mind.

Perhaps you now see a need for the ongoing discussion. Perhaps it is linked to the company strategy and valuable with this conflict addressed. You might choose to give the man the recognition he longs for (‘I am aware that your department has been a lot under pressure’. ‘I am also aware that this has nothing to do with the other department’. ‘Let’s have a separate meeting and talk about it’).

Done SINCERELY, you have solved the problem for the moment. You do need to go back, as promised, and address it, but at least now the managers can hear you, and engage in the meeting at hand.

For more information

Target Training has been delivering a range of conflict-related training solutions for the last 15 years. This includes “Handling critical conflict situations” and “Managing conflicts in virtual teams” . We also offer individual and team coaching solutions.

 


About the author

Preben is a professional mediator and conflict manager. He focuses on human interactions, such as management and leadership, intercultural relationships and interpersonal communication. Until recently he was a welcomed part of Target Training and today works for a major European institution. In his private life he enjoys karate, hiking and climbing.

5 things you can do to make virtual training a success

E-learning has been around since 1960 and the “virtual meeting room” is not a new idea either. Many companies already have experience with learning via online platforms or mobile learning, and already have some type of tool to meet and collaborate virtually.  The jump from meeting virtually to training virtually seems simple – and it is, if you carefully consider what it will take to make the virtual training successful. Here are a few things we have learned during 7 years of virtual delivery. The posts 5 questions you definitely need to ask when you are setting up a virtual training program and getting started with virtual delivery have more information on this topic.

Work with a trainer who can design, deliver and debrief with confidence in a virtual environment

Clients come to us with the experience they have with face-to-face training. They know what they can achieve in a one-day seminar and they are looking to transfer this experience to a virtual training environment. However, not everything is directly transferable. In a face-to-face session a trainer observes, reacts and adapts on the fly. They constantly monitor what’s working, and what isn’t, what people are getting and what not etc. In a way, the trainer “feels” how the training is going. With virtual delivery, trainers have less opportunity to do that.  A common response for the trainer is to focus a lot more on the content rather than the training dynamics … which can turn the training into a lecture.

Virtual training demands trainers with new skills, qualifications and experience. You need an experienced trainer who can design, deliver and debrief with confidence in a virtual environment.

Create time for interactions

As touched upon above, in a face-to-face seminar it’s easy and natural for interactions to occur – either with the trainer or between participants.  When you deliver training virtually this becomes much harder. Don’t assume that interaction will occur easily. It’s much more challenging for groups to actually get together and get a feel for each other in a virtual environment. An experienced and qualified trainer finds workarounds: Interactions are planned, activities are scripted carefully and more time is allocated for group and pair activities.

Keep the training groups small

The difficulty level of enabling and encouraging interaction means that smaller groups (not larger groups) are a must in a virtual environment. Our experience is if you want to go beyond knowledge transfer to building skills and changing behaviours, a group of 6 is ideal. The more participants you have beyond 6, the harder the interaction becomes, and the more likely it is that somebody tunes out and/or starts multi-tasking – and the more time the trainer needs to spend on monitoring and controlling the technical environment and not focusing on the individuals themselves.

For groups above 8 you should use a skilled and experienced “producer”. A producer supports the trainer in managing the virtual environment, monitoring interactions, setting up breakout rooms and maintaining speed, flow and interaction etc.  An experienced technical producer can easily enable the trainer to work with 12+ participants.

Deliver several sessions of max. 2.5 hours instead of one long session

A full day face-to-face seminar won’t translate into a full-day virtual seminar. People can’t concentrate for that long in a virtual environment. Our experience is that 2 – 2 ½ hours is the maximum length for a single session. This means that you should be thinking about three 2-hour virtual sessions to equal one day of face-to-face training.  You can cover a similar amount of training in the same time BUT if you are delivering the training virtually you have to redesign the approach and split it up and break it down.

Plan carefully, when working with multiple time zones

One benefit of virtual training is that anyone anywhere can join. We encourage you not to get carried away with that. It may save you money but you will lose the full effectiveness of the training. In our experience, it’s a huge challenge for the participants and the trainer when some are joining at six in the morning, some during the post-lunch lull, and some at six in the evening. Respecting people’s concentration spans and environments will pay off in the end.

 


For more information

If you are new to virtual delivery, looking to ramp up your virtual delivery or interested in making your virtual training more interactive and valuable then find an experienced partner or a consultant. We could be the one for you, who knows. If you’re thinking of starting with virtual training put out an RFP, be clear about what you want to achieve and ask for suppliers to tell you what you need in order to make it work.

Getting started with virtual delivery

Although many professionals, managers and training managers know of virtual delivery there is still some confusion as to what it is and how it works.  Here are some common questions we get asked when supporting our clients in integrating virtual training into their learning strategies. For more information on this topic, see also 5 questions you definitely need to ask when you are setting up a virtual training program.

What do we mean when we talk about virtual training or virtual delivery?

Virtual training (also known as virtual delivery or remote delivery) is training where one or more of the participants is not in the same room as the trainer.  Training is delivered using one of the many “unified communication platforms”. This term includes web conferencing tools such as WebEx Training Center, Adobe ConnectGo Meeting or Skype for Business and video conferencing services such as BlueJeans or Polycom.

People often think of virtual training as an international solution. For example, we’ve delivered a virtual session with the trainer based in Frankfurt, Germany and having participants in Hawaii, Boston, Luxembourg and Singapore.  However, if you have a trainer in one location on a site and you have participants on the same site/same country but in different rooms – that’s virtual training too.

How does virtual delivery differ from e-learning or webinars?

These terms are often defined by a training supplier’s marketing department, but typically most L&D professionals will agree that:

  • E-learning is led by the learner and there is no live trainer.  The learning is self-paced through interacting with a computer-aided learning program. A simple example is Duolingo as an app for language learning. SkillSoft is an examples of e-learning aimed at developing your soft skills.
  • A webinar is speaker-led and has probably about 50 people maximum – although some webinars have hundreds in the audience. The webinar is delivered through video or a video conferencing platform online and the presenter is talking most of the time. At the end he or she has the ability to take questions and if they are using a producer they can engineer interactive moments e.g. asking for input via a poll during the webinar.
  • Virtual training is a trainer plus participants. Ideally the training is interactive, engaging and adaptive the needs of the participants.

What does virtual training give you that a webinar doesn’t?

Put simply, virtual training is about learning through interaction, engagement and personalization – it is active learning. This includes learning from the trainer, learning from personal experiences and from each other via e.g. discussions and experience sharing. Webinars are comparable with lectures or online presentations – learning is passive and based solely around the speaker and the content they are sharing.

How many participants can you train virtually at the same time?

Surprisingly, many people assume that virtual means more participants.  This is often based around experiences in webinars with 50 people plus. In a face-to-face training seminar, we would never try and deliver training to 50 participants in the same room.  Typically, we suggest 8-12 participants with 14 being a maximum.  Years of experience have shown us that an ideal number for highly-interactive virtual training is about 6-8 people. With a small group like this you can make sure that people have a chance to interact with each other in a more intimate way, using options like breakout rooms found in the more functional platforms such as WebEx Training Center or Adobe Connect. These breakout rooms offer the same benefits as integrating small group activities in a training room. This interaction is really important because a lot of the value of training, whether it’s virtual or face-to-face, is the interaction that the participants have with each other. They don’t just learn from the trainer but through each other too!

What is a producer and why do we need one?

A producer ensures that the virtual training runs smoothly and supports the virtual trainer in delivering an interactive, personalized and above all smooth training experience. This allows the trainer to manage up to 50% larger training groups too e.g. 8-12 participants. Their role includes:

  • providing technical support to participants before, during and after the training
  • setting up break out rooms, polls etc
  • monitoring engagement and contributions in chats and break out rooms
  • modelling activities
  • time checks with the trainer and participants

For more information

At Target Training we offer all of our solutions in a virtual format too. This includes in-house Business English with our Virtual InCorporate Trainer , Presenting in a virtual environment and Working in and Leading virtual teams. If you would like to know more about our virtual solutions, save time and money and extend your training reach then please contact us. Finally, see here to read more about delivering training virtually.

6 Reasons Why You Should Eliminate Jargon From Your Presentations

Presentations are all about communicating your message efficiently to your audience. You want to be considered as an authority on the subject matter. You might think that using jargon – shorthand words that are used in companies that operate in particular industries – will impress your audience and get them engaged. It’s more likely though, that they are having the opposite effect, especially if your audience’s second language is English. Target Training previously discussed the use of silence in presentations, and the same applies in eliminating jargon. To know more, below are the reasons why…

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1. You Will Be Difficult to Understand

When used in the context of a work environment, technical terms act as shorthand between team members that make them work faster. Forbes notes that it’s a quick way to communicate. But when presenting to other departments or people outside your company, they are just words that typically sound complicated and daunting. . Menlo Coaching emphasised that you need to say exactly what you mean by using words and phrases that your audience will easily comprehend. Try to keep them as concise as possible.

2. Your Presentation Will Have No Recall Value

Even if there are people in the audience who are familiar with the technical terms you use, they will see right through you. They might get the notion that you are using catch phrases to make the topic (and yourself) more impressive. They will walk away from your presentation learning nothing new. If you really need to use jargon, make sure to elaborate on what you are trying to explain or give an example.

3. Jargon Will Lower People’s Opinion Of You

If you are the project leader and you’re teaching your team, the use of jargon might demoralize them. At best, they will see you as someone not considerate enough to deliver a talk that they can clearly and easily understand.

4. Your Audience Will Get Bored

When your presentation becomes incomprehensible due to too much jargon, boredom will soon set in. Their minds will wander to matters that take more priority. It may also lead to audience members chatting, which can generate noise that distracts others. Get their attention by stringing along words in a new way that they haven’t heard before. You have to be creative – and perhaps entertaining – to gain the audience’s attention.

5. You Will Alienate Your Audience

If you are trying to rally the members in the audience to a specific goal, you will lose them from both an emotional and logical standpoint. Even if they understood the message, they won’t have the drive to achieve it and vice versa. Leadership trainer Alan Matthews recommends stating your message in definite terms and allowing your audience to formulate the necessary actions/response. This will make them feel personally involved in the presentation.

6. The Presentation Will Waste People’s Time

Using generic and non-contextual phrases that confound the audience will make it seem like you’re just droning. You need to prioritize re-evaluating your presentation. Filter out all the jargon and try to limit the number of words in each sentence to deliver their basic meaning. Members of the audience may ask you to expound on some parts, but that’s better than leaving them drowning in a flood of corporate speak.

If you still think your use of jargon is effective, at least send a survey to the audience to get a gauge on your presentation style. If there appears to be a mismatch between the messages you are conveying and their perceptions, then maybe it’s time to toss that jargon glossary out the window.

About the author

Jean Browne works as a researcher and fact-checker for a career coaching firm in England. She occasionally engages in public speaking when giving seminars. In her spare time, she does freelance work as an events host and bingo caller, among others.

What should I do with my hands during a presentation?

Whether you are presenting, telling a story or just talking, how you use hands (or don’t use them) is important. An analysis of TED talks found that the most popular TED talkers were using 465 hand gestures over 18 minutes – compared to the least popular using just 272. Other research shows that gestures – more than actions themselves – impact our understanding of meaning. Put simply, you need to unleash the power of gestures when you present.

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Your hands give you away (4 things not to do)

We have all seen somebody standing in front of a large group of people, trying to remain calm and hide their nervousness, and their hands giving them away. We can see they’re nervous and uncomfortable. When presenting, don’t:

  1. Keep them in your pockets. This will usually come across to your audience as too casual and is often perceived by people at as you trying to hide your hands because of nervousness. Like it or not, it is best to keep your hands out in the open for the world to see.
  2. Keep them in behind you. Hiding them behind your back can this makes you look distant and reserved or even uninterested in the people you are talking to.
  3. Place them on your hips. A stance with both hands on the hips will, more than likely, seem aggressive or authoritarian and definitely will not win you any friends in your audience.
  4. Hold them together. You’ll look as if you are defending yourself and come across as unconfident and vulnerable. Crossing them can achieve the same result too.

4 Things to do with your hands when presenting

When you are presenting, the focus should be on you. Therefore, use everything in your arsenal to ensure your audience is interested and informed. By using your body to help emphasize your words, your presentation becomes more dynamic, and your audience is more likely to remember your message. Use your hands and arms; don’t leave them at your sides. Be aware of your body and how it can help you.

Open up

If you maintain a closed stance, the audience may suspect you are hiding something and won’t trust you. Remember not to cross your arms or to keep them too close together. You are not a T-Rex, so don’t keep your elbows glued to your ribs. Claim the space and show your hands.

Use broad gestures

These should fit with what you are saying and not be used randomly. You know what you are going to say, so now decide how you are going to say it. Your body is an extension of your voice, so it is important to use confident gestures while you are practicing your presentation. With practice, the gestures will become more natural and a part of your dynamic speaking style. Use your hands to emphasize, to contrast or even to convey emotions in your story.

Show an open palm

By keeping your hands open and showing the audience your open palms, you are showing you have nothing to hide. The audience are more likely to feel they can trust you, and that you are sincere in your message.

The Palm Sideways

This is like holding your hand as though you were going to shake another person’s hand. This gesture is used to impress upon the audience the point you are making. You are opening up your message and showing them what is inside. You can also use this to point … without using your finger.

Videos

And keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need to be flamboyant and bounce around. You just need to be authentically you! This Target Training video from James Culver on storytelling  is a great example of how smaller and gentle movements can be natural and still reinforce the message.

What to do with your hands when you’re presenting

Two excellent and short video displaying tips and tricks.

 

4 essential tips

From the 2014 Toastmasters International world champion of public speaking Dananjaya Hettiarachchi.  You may feel that Hettiarachchi is a little theatrical for a business scenario, but the 4 tips are directly transferable!

Body language

This video is longer (just under 14 minutes) but comprehensive.  It covers all areas of body language when presenting and is definitely worth watching.

If you’d like more tips on presenting in general…

We have 37 blog posts related to presenting on our blog. Two further eBooks on presentations are available to download in the sidebar: “Presentation Models” and “Presenting with IMPACT.” Or, one of our seminars on this topic might be just what you need:

 

Watch, listen and learn: 3 great TEDx talks on listening

Many of our communication skills seminars involve practical listening activities, and occasionally we get requests solely for listening skills. But it’s arguably wrong to see listening as one of many “communication skills” – listening is so much more fundamental than that. Listening builds trust, strengthens relationships, and resolves conflicts. It’s fundamental in everything we do. In a HBR article “the discipline of listening”, Ram Charan shared what many of us already know: Not every manager is a great listener. Charan’s own “knowledge of corporate leaders’ 360-degree feedback indicates that one out of four leaders has a listening deficit, “the effects of which can paralyze cross-unit collaboration, sink careers, and if it’s the CEO with the deficit, derail the company.” Good managers need to know how to listen – and great managers know how to listen well. And because we know you’re busy we’ve taken the time to find 3 TEDx talks for you listen to.

New Call-to-actionThe power of listening with William Ury

William Ury is the co-author of “Getting to Yes”, the bestselling negotiation book in the world. This is a great video exploring what genuine listening really is, why it’s so important and how to take our first steps to improving our listening.  He explains why he feels that listening is “the golden key to opening doors to human relationships” and why the skill of listening needs to be actively practiced every day. Ury uses stories of conversations with presidents and business leaders to show the simple power of listening: how it helps us understand the other person, how it helps us connect and build rapport and trust, and how it makes it more likely that you’ll be listened to too.

 

The Power of Deliberate Listening with Ronnie Polaneczky

Grabbing our attention with the shocking story of an angry reader, journalist Ronnie Polaneczky expands on why we need to consciously and actively practice our “listening muscle”. By practicing deliberate listening and putting aside our own judgements we can discover things we don’t know that we don’t know.  She moves beyond the obvious “techniques” (e.g. look them in the eye, nod your head and repeat back what you’ve heard) and challenges us to think about letting go of positions (e.g. “I want to be right”) and embracing learning – letting go of our need to judge. She closes with the personal impact listening has – it doesn’t just change the person being listened to – it changes the listener.

A Case for Active Listening with Jason Chare

You may find this talk far removed from a business environment, but active listening skills are essential for those managers wanting to build a coaching approach. Jason Chare, a professional counselor, shares his experiences with an audience of teachers.  The second half (around the ninth minute) begins to look at specific strategies and attitudes – especially the importance of unconditional positive regard and listening with empathy.  Check out this article on “Three ways leaders can listen with more empathy” too!

More listening resources for you …

And if you’d like to know more about how you can further develop your or your team’s listening skills then please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’d love to listen to you.

Making sure managers understand the importance of their role in developing our staff

This month’s Secret L&D manager is Australian, based in Germany and works for an American corporation which produces machine vision systems and software.  He has worked in training and development for over 18 years – as an L&D manager, an in-house trainer and as an external training provider.

New Call-to-actionWhat are your challenges as an L&D manager?

One of the things that’s burning at the moment is helping the managers I work with see the role they play in developing people.  This is not a question of lack of willingness on their side – just a lack of awareness of the role they can and should play. For example, most of the time if they know that Dieter needs to improve his presentation skills, they send him on one of the 2-day presentation courses we run. When Dieter gets back, they expect that they can tick a box and say, “Well, Dieter can present now.” This is a start, but it isn’t good enough. It is not enough for them to assume that the training department or the training provider is going to solve everything alone. I need to help them see their role in developing their staff’s skills.

How do you see the manager’s role in developing their staff?

If we look at the 70-20-10 model, just 10% of the change will come from the training itself. 20% is when Dieter is learning from his colleagues, sharing ideas and giving each other tips and feedback. BUT, the other 70% will come from just getting up there and doing it (best of course, if supplemented with feedback and guidance where required). If the manager wants somebody to get better at a skill, they need to make sure there is plenty of opportunity for that person to actually use that skill, give them support and guidance and let them use what they are learning. This is clearly in the manager’s hands.  I want our managers to be realistic in their expectations and see the role that they play in the developmental process. We work together.

How do you see your role in this?

I have a number of roles. I work to identify current and future training needs. I then organize practical training with training providers who are going to deliver what we need and challenge the participants to really improve.  I also need to help our managers understand their role in developing our staff and encourage them to see training as a collaborative effort between them, the employee, us in L&D, and the training providers.  And of course, the person getting the training needs to take some responsibility and ownership for their own development – and I can offer advice and support here too, both before and after the “formal” training. Our experts need to be present in the training and they need to actively look to use what they have learned and practiced after the training too. And again, this is where their manager plays an important role.

Who is the secret L&D manager?

The “secret L&D manager” is actually a group of L&D managers. They are real people who would prefer not to mention their name or company – but do want to write anonymously so they can openly and directly share their ideas and experience with peers.

You can meet more of our secret L&D managers here …

And if you’d like to share your thoughts and experiences without sharing your name or company then please get in touch.

50 ways to start a conversation in English at work

Socializing and networking doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Whether it be a language issue  or a question of skills and behaviors, many professionals struggle when networking and socializing with new people. How do you start a conversation when you walk into a meeting room and there are a lot of people you don’t know? Introducing yourself is the obvious first step: “Hi, my name’s Renate and I’m a member of the purchasing team.” … Easy… but what comes next?  If you are shy this can be awkward in your own language –  AND doing it in a foreign language can be really challenging!  Our InCorporate Trainers often find that seemingly small challenges such as this can cause an unnecessary amount of pressure. A few trainers have come up with 50 phrases to help you break the ice and start a conversation. Many of the phrases can be used in any context – but some are only used in certain situations. You don’t need to remember them all just pick the ones you feel comfortable with and can say naturally.
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Collecting someone from reception

  1. Did you have any problems finding us?
  2. Did you find the parking area ok?
  3. How are things going?
  4. I like your laptop bag. Where did you get it?
  5. Do you know…?
  6. What are you hoping to get out of today?
  7. How was your weekend?
  8. Did you hear that…?
  9. What have you been up to lately?
  10. Are many of your colleagues coming today?

Waiting for the presentation/meeting to start

  1. Is it OK if I sit here?
  2. I don’t think we’ve met before. My name is…
  3. Where are you from?
  4. I think you were at the XXX meeting last month, weren’t you?
  5. Do you know what the Wi-Fi code is?
  6. When did you arrive?
  7. What brings you here today?
  8. How was your journey?
  9. Nice weather / terrible weather, isn’t it?
  10. I could really use a coffee. Do you know where the machine is?

During the coffee break

  1. Do you mind if I join you?
  2. How’s the coffee?
  3. Can I pour you a coffee?
  4. What do you think of it so far?
  5. I was a bit late this morning; did I miss anything in the first 10 minutes?
  6. Which department are you in?
  7. Don’t you work with…?
  8. I can’t believe how many people are here today.
  9. Do you find it hot in here?
  10. I found it interesting that XX said …?

During lunch

  1. Is this seat taken?
  2. So, what do you think of this morning?
  3. Have you eaten here before?
  4. How’s your steak / fish etc.?
  5. Have you had a good day so far?
  6. Do you know many people here?
  7. Do you know what the program is for this afternoon?
  8. How did you get into this business?
  9. What do you do?
  10. Did you travel in today or come last night?

After a presentation/meeting

  1. What did you think of today?
  2. What’s been the highlight of the day for you?
  3. What have you learned today?
  4. I liked what xxx said about yyy.
  5. How’s today been for you?
  6. What do you think about…?
  7. What are you working on at the moment?
  8. How long have you been working here?
  9. Are you taking a taxi to the hotel/ train station / airport ?
  10. Do you have any plans for the weekend?

Even more resources

You’ve now got 50 practical phrases and of course there are  many, many more. Here are 5 more tips for you.

The power of putting yourself in their shoes when influencing people

 

When we run seminars on influencing skills we typically start off by exploring a couple of fundamental questions – one of them being how do people feel about the idea of influencing others and being influenced?  Over the years we’ve had a surprising range of responses including “If I’m the manager why must I influence -people should just do what I say” to “influencing is manipulating” to “I’m open to new ideas and approaches – but our colleagues in the order management department aren’t!”. As a trainer these are always great places to start – opinions are on the table and we can openly discuss them. When we dig deeper these opinions often link into personal experiences of how people have influenced (or not). So how do people influence each other?

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The two influencing styles – pushing and pulling

Broadly speaking there are two approaches to influencing people – to push and to pull. When we “push” we are directive. We know what we want to see happen, where we want to go, what needs to be different etc. And when we “pull” we are looking for a joint agreement, for collaboration, discussion, commitment.  There are different pushing styles and pulling styles, plus strategies, tactics and skills to learn BUT neither approach is inherently wrong. Influencing and manipulating draw on the same skills but with different intents.  They both have pros and cons– and neither approach work without considering other key factors too.

Factors to consider when seeking to influence somebody

When we try to influence somebody it helps to take a step back and reflect on what we know.  What is the environment, the situation, the relationship and most importantly – what do you know about who you are trying to influence? How successful you’ll be always depends upon what you know about the other person. Examples of practical questions to ask yourself when trying to influence somebody include:

  • how do they see things?
  • what is their context?
  • how they communicate?
  • how do they like to be communicated with?
  • how do they take in information and make decisions?
  • what are their experiences – with me, with change, with the theme I’m talking about
  • what turns then on? What turns them off??
  • what do they want to happen, not want to happen and why?
  • what are their hopes and fears?
  • Who else has an influence upon them? and does this influence help or hinder?
  • What is in it for them? their colleagues? Their organization?

First seek to understand the other person – a transcultural truth

The more you understand the person you are seeking to influence the more effectively you can influence them. As dale Carnegie said in How to win friends and influence people “I love strawberries. But whenever I go fishing I bait my hook with worms. This is because fish like worms – not strawberries.”

In English we have expression like put yourself in their shoes, put yourself in their place, see the world through their eyes and walk a mile in their shoes.  And of course the idea of putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes is transcultural!  Germans say eine Meile in seinen Schuhen gehen, Italians mettersi nei miei panni, French se mettre à la place de quelqu’un … All cultures- whether it be Europe, the Americas, Africa or Asia and the Pacific have similar expressions.

Put simply, if you want to influence somebody then seek to understand where they are and who they are.  Start by understanding their situation, use your emotional and social intelligence and then adapt.

And if, like me, you’ve got the song “Walk a mile in my shoes” going around in your head now .. here it is.