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Leading a team that is working from home

When workers are suddenly sent home to work they will face plenty of challenges, especially if they’ve never done it before. Team leaders will face an additional challenge: Leading a team that is working from home. In this post we offer a range of tips and advice for how you can do that. To keep it simple and easy to implement we’ve stuck to a 3-step approach:

  1. Start by understanding the challenges
  2. Keep the team working together
  3. Lead your team as they work from home

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What are the challenges?

Technical

An immediate priority for leading a team that is working from home is to ensure that team members have the tools to do their jobs remotely. This includes both productivity and communication tools. As a leader you can approach this with the whole team by checking they have what they need and discussing which kinds of communication technologies work well for them. Not everything will work as it did in the office and as a team you may need to decide to use ad-hoc technologies as a temporary solution.

Emotional

Some team members may feel isolated and this can have a serious impact on motivation. This is best discussed in a one-to-one setting. Individuals will all have different emotional and psychological challenges and you need to know what these are in order to help them. A simple question like, “How are you looking after yourself?” can open up a discussion and go a long way to making team members feel supported individually. Read more on this topic in our post Dealing with Loneliness and Isolation when Working from Home.

Personal

Don’t forget to also look after your own needs and work through your own personal and logistical challenges. If you don’t address these, you won’t be as effective at helping other people with their issues. Get advice on how to do this in our post Three Steps to Adapt to Home Working.

How do I keep the team working together?

In the 1970s, MIT Professor Thomas Allen discovered that team cohesion is strongest when employees are physically closer. His ideas have been taken forward by some of the most successful companies who engineer ‘collisions’ between employees to strengthen bonding and group affiliation; simple things like coffee-machine conversations, team social events, sharing stories, etc. So, how can you do this with a team that works in physical isolation from each other? Here are some ideas we have seen that work:

  • Set up daily check-ins or ‘stand-up meetings’ at the start of each day where the team shares their priorities for the day and any impediments they face. This can give team members a reassuring routine which is both work and socially focused and help to overcome feelings of isolation. It also gives you a helicopter-view of what’s happening each day.
  • In team meetings always add an agenda item with a question like, “How is this arrangement working for us?” This helps to address emotional/psychological issues of individuals and build trust. Avoid closed questions (asking “Is everyone ok?” won’t give you much information) and use “us” and “we” to reinforce team togetherness.
  • Monitor team communication patterns to pick up on problems, side issues and tone that team members are using with each other. This doesn’t mean using spyware! You just need to go over conversations that are happening on Slack, Teams and other conversation channels.
  • Use video in team communications; humans bond much better to faces than to voices and non-verbal communication sends powerful signals of belonging and empathy. Seeing faces also puts more energy into calls, which helps to overcome feelings of isolation.
  • Create and manage social interaction to replicate what normally happens in the office; have a virtual lunch together, share internet memes, play games together, just get people laughing and having fun. Social interaction is the base of creating trust in a team; you just need to do it a bit differently in a virtual work setting.

Which skills do I need for leading a team that is working from home?

 You don’t need new skills to become an effective leader of a home-working team, but you will need to use some of them more. Here is a short list of where to focus your leadership skills:

Be available

You may have an open door policy in the office but that won’t work in a remote team. So, be explicit about when and how team members can contact you. If you haven’t heard from someone in a while, check in with them and ask how they are. At the same time be careful that you also ring-fence the time you need for yourself and your own tasks.

Solve problems

This is probably the biggest thing your team will need from you, at least at the start. You may need to be flexible and change processes if necessary, for example lifting constraints on how and where data is stored and shared. Focusing on outputs rather than processes will help push the team towards purposeful activity and away from missing their old physical environment.

Make rules and hold people accountable to them

It’s important to establish some ground rules with the team, for example on which communication tools to use for different tasks, how and when to contact each other. You then need to monitor that the team is sticking to those rules and jump in when they are not.

Continue to manage performance

Research shows that employees value their performance being managed and they rate managers highly when it’s done well. This is still true in a home-working environment, but it will take more communication and more regular, smaller steps to address the distance and isolation. A practical start is to set some short term performance goals on adjusting to home-working at the beginning.

We hope you enjoyed reading this post and please share what works for you in the comments. If you would like to know more about our experience of helping teams with remote working, feel free to contact us. We also offer training on managing your focus, energy and impact when working from home and leading people when they are working from home.

 

A practical guide to storytelling in business

People have always told stories and they are a vital part of our communication. Today, storytelling has become accepted (and sometimes expected) in a professional context. We’ve seen a rapid demand for our practical storytelling in business training solutions. Whereas 8 years ago there was sometimes a need to convince people that a storytelling approach was valid, we rarely get any pushback today. This change in attitudes can be partly attributed to the power of the TED talk format, partly to our push back against death by PowerPoint and people speaking to us in bullets … and mainly because storytelling never went away. When done well, storytelling connects with people in a way no other communication approach can. This post outlines the essentials so you can get started.

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What is a story? And why should I use them?

Every story has …

  • a plot
  • a beginning, middle and end
  • often involves overcoming a problem, challenge, obstacle, dilemma
  • but above all …. a story connects on a human /emotional level

This last point is the key. A story is not a series of events or a case study. It should connect with people and create an emotional reaction.
This connecting makes stories easy to remember. When done well stories bring meaning to information and have the power to move people. Depending on the story and the skill of the storyteller our brains …

  • produce cortisol during the tense moments in a story, which allows us to focus
  • produce oxytocin, that promotes connection and empathy
  • release dopamine which makes us feel more hopeful and optimistic

If you are interested in the science behind these statements, these two HB articles explore the science behind storytelling and what makes storytelling so effective for learning.

This means you can choose to use a story in a wide range of situations. We often use stories when presenting, influencing, teaching, leading or just in day-to-day discussions. Consider using stories when you want to aid memory, celebrate, challenge assumptions, connect, convince, encourage, energize, entertain, explain, impress, inspire, motivate, persuade, reinforce values or beliefs, scare or shock, sell, support, teach or warn.

How do I build a story?

Learning to build a great story is a skill, and it can require practice. If you want to build a story you need to start with your audience. Your first question has to be “What do I want them to feel?”. Sometimes the emotion you arrive at may surprise you. Secondly ask yourself “What do I want them to understand? think? do?”. Then think back over the situations you’ve been part of, or have observed. It is far easier and far better to tell stories that mean something to you and are your stories. You can share other people’s stories but make sure you have the information and the understanding to bring it to life. Again, a story works because it connects on a human /emotional level.

This post goes behind the scenes with 2 of our staff, discussing the challenges some professionals have when building a story and how they approach this in a training environment.

If you are struggling to build a story, then try using the IDEAS approach:

  • Identify the emotion you are trying to create. Then identify what you want your listener to understand and do.
  • Decide which story would best accomplish this and connect with your listener
  • Expand your story. You have the bones, now put the flesh on them.
  • Anticipate their questions and reactions. Now choose to deal with these within your story or intentionally leave this out to provoke discussion once you’ve finished telling the story.
  • See the story as you tell it.

Finally, don’t assume you can just get up and tell it. You need to practice your story, if you want to make it matter.

How do I actually tell my story?

If the story means something to you, you will already have the content and the structure. Make things personal and tell tough stories. If your story is tough and personally matters to you, you will naturally find the pace, the tone and the body language you need to make your story captivating. When you are developing and practising your story, follow these 3 great pieces of advice:

  • Invest time in building it
  • Practice out loud
  • Make it personal to you

When you are delivering the story …

  • see the story as you tell it
  • use outer and inner language. Outer language is what physically happened, while inner language is how the person was feeling thinking. An advanced tip is to avoid eye contact when you are sharing the inner language.
  • use plenty of LOTS (language of the senses). This includes what you saw, heard, smelt, tasted, tough or felt
  • take your time. If your rush your story, you will rob it of its richness. You wouldn’t want to read a story structured into bullet points, would you?

And if you want to get really good …

  • use memory devices e.g. words, phrases or images repeated in different places
  • use a tangible object or image as a starting or closing point
  • when doing dialogues adopt a different voice/body/position for each person
  • consider your space – roam the room or sit on a chair – BUT actively think about it!

What should I not do when telling a story?

Telling a story is NOT the same as making a presentation. A lot of the techniques you’ve learned on presentation seminars are story-killers and using them will rob your story of its emotional content. For example:

  • Don’t put your key message up front
  • Don’t tell them what you’ll tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them
  • Don’t start with the structure, start with the emotion
  • We would also suggest you avoid the phrase “Let me tell you a story”

Storytelling is a learnable skill! It starts with identifying your goal and understanding your audience. You need to know the emotion you are looking for. From there you start hunting for the right story, which you then craft through practice. Don’t rush it, do not “present” it, and have the courage to just tell a story person to person. You’ll be surprised at the impact you can make.

And if you’d like support, whether it be coaching or training then do get in touch. We’d love to help you be even better at storytelling.

Balancing your emotional bank accounts – practical activities for managers and leaders

In our previous blog we explained what an emotional bank account is and why managers need to care about building them . To quickly recap, an emotional bank account is a metaphor coined by Stephen Covey in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It describes the amount of trust that’s been built up in a relationship, and when trust is high, communication is easy and effective. Every time a manager says something supportive, shows respect, helps somebody with a difficult situation, etc., they make a deposit in that person’s emotional bank account.  Every time they criticize, blame, lie, intimidate, etc., they make a withdrawal.  Over time, the effects of these deposits will help transform that relationship. This post goes deeper into how to build your emotional bank accounts.

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How do you build a healthy emotional bank account with your team?

Every manager and team are different, and culture can play a part, but at the end of the day it comes back to our relationships and how we behave. Covey identified six ways to make deposits (or reduce withdrawals):

1) Understand the individual

You need to know what the individual wants and what constitutes a deposit and withdrawal for them.  Whereas one employee might be exhilarated by presenting their project results to the board another may prefer to be in the background and their contribution acknowledged privately.  Ask yourself what drives them? How do they want recognition? What makes their eyes light up?

2) Keeping commitments

We have all broken a promise and let somebody down, and when we do this, we are making a withdrawal.  Keeping commitments is about doing what we say we’ll do, keeping our promises, delivering what we said we’d deliver, being on time, being where we should be, fulfilling our promises. If you consistently keep your commitments, you build healthy emotional bank accounts with people.

3) Clarifying expectations

Each of us have different backgrounds, experiences and expectations. We see the world differently.  Clarifying understanding and expectations is essential if you’d like to minimize misunderstanding and wrong assumptions. By proactively investing time in clarifying expectations and building a  mutual understanding of what you need, don’t need, want, don’t want etc you can minimize the “ I thought that..”, “I’d assumed ..”, “To me it was obvious that …”.  And keep in mind that if you are leading people and teams virtually, then the risk of false assumptions and misunderstanding does increase, and formalizing things with communication charters does help.

4) Attending to the little things

Relationships aren’t only built by big moments but by the little things too. These are the smiles in the corridor, holding the door open, short thank you emails, remembering their daughter has just started school, not heading straight to your office but spending a moment walking through the open office to be seen. Kind words, smiles, courtesies, warmth. Human interest, and taking time when you don’t have to.

5) Showing personal integrity

Relationships are built on trust and integrity. What does integrity mean? The word “integrity” comes from the Latin integritatem, meaning “soundness” or “wholeness.”  Integrity is not situational –  it is a state of mind.  In Covey’s words…

 

 

“ Integrity is conforming reality to our words … keeping promises and fulfilling expectations.”

 

 

What does this look like in practice? Here are 7 musts to start with…
  1. Do the right thing for the right reasons and because it’s the right thing to do – even if it is going to be unpopular with some people.
  2. Face the truth and talk about it. This is the reality principle of “seeing the world as it really is, and not as you wish it is”.
  3. Be upfront in your communication. People want to know where they stand and what is going on. People won’t always like what they hear but they will value the adult-adult relationship.
  4. Know you are sometimes wrong and that you sometimes make mistakes – and admit this.
  5. Take responsibility for what you do and don’t do.
  6. Put the needs of others before your own.
  7. Be loyal to those not present – confront gossiping, complaining and bad mouthing about people who aren’t in the room.

6) Apologizing when we make a withdrawal

we are all human, and we all make mistakes and get things wrong. Know when you’ve made a mistake, admit it and apologize with sincerity. Admitting you’ve made a mistake doesn’t necessarily mean it is acceptable but it’s a start, and can be healing to a relationship.  Avoid the temptation of wanting to discuss why you made it before you discuss and show understanding of the impact it had on others.  And understand that if you are continually making the same type of withdrawal, trust will erode. It’s the smaller things that kill relationships in the long run. Finally, don’t try and lighten withdrawals with banter, humour or a “shit sandwich”– this is rarely appreciated.

To add to the list above , tolerance and forgiveness are also powerful deposits, as is appreciative inquiry and holding back judgment and sweeping statements.

A 10-minute practical activity for managers

  1. Write down the names of 5 team members that are important to your team’s success.
  2. Now look back at your calendar over the last 2 weeks and use this, plus your memory, to find evidence of deposits and withdrawals.  A meeting went poorly and they left frustrated – that’s a withdrawal. They bent your ear and you listened and gave them your attention – a deposit. Build a simple balance sheet (name at the top, left column is deposits, right column is withdrawals.
  3. Now put the paper down / close the document and go and do something.
  4. A few hours later (or even the next day) come back and for each of the 5 team members write down what you believe motivates and drives them?  What gives them energy and what takes it? How do they like to communicate? And what do they see as recognition?
  5. Almost there … now
    1. Look at your evidence of deposit and withdrawals (step 2) and ask yourself hwo you feel about the balance
    2. Look at the types of deposits and withdrawals and ask yourself does this tie in with what they need? Not everyone will see public recognition as a deposit And not everyone will see direct feedback and getting straight to it as a withdrawal. Deposits and withdrawals are personal.
  6. And now the final step. Ask yourself what can you do in the coming month differently?  If possible, plan them into your calendar by finding tangible moments e.g.. You can’t enter “Tuesday 14:00-14:30 listen” but you can set up a meeting to discuss a project and make a conscious effort to listen first.  https://www.targettraining.eu/listening-skills-10-areas-to-improve/ @brenda – was there an ALF download ??
  7. And if you are keen to make more deposits then why not use a regular catch up meeting or a chat over lunch to learn from them more about what is actually important to them, what would increase their trust in you and your relationship , and what you could do more/less of.

More about our leadership and management training solutions

If you are interested in learning more about how we integrate emotional intelligence into our leadership and management training solutions, please contact us.

Why managers should care about their emotional bank accounts

In our Practical Toolbox for managers training program, we often hear that the time spent on giving feedback is one of the highlights, and implementing DESC frequently makes it onto the manager’s transfer plan. One of the key points they take away is that the success of your feedback/feedforward rests upon your broader relationship with your partner. Put simply, if you have invested in them as a human being then feedback conversations are far more likely to go well.  To look at it from the other side, if you haven’t invested in somebody, if you haven’t built trust, and if you haven’t built a meaningful professional relationship with them … well don’t be surprised when thing go pear-shaped.  If you are managing others, you need your emotional bank account with your staff to be healthy.
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What is an “emotional bank account”?

The term “emotional bank account” appears in Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In Covey’s own words:

An emotional bank account is a metaphor that describes the amount of trust that’s been built up in a relationship.  It’s the feeling of safeness you have with another human being.  When the trust account is high, communication is easy, instant, and effective.”.

Covey made the term popular, but the concept behind the “emotional bank account” is not new.  When we take more than we give from a relationship over the long-term, then we shouldn’t be surprised if the relationship suffers.  This holds true in all our relationships, from those with our partners, kids, friends, colleagues, clients, and suppliers.

The metaphor took off within the business training world because it is immediately understandable. You make deposits, save up money, and when you need that money later, you withdraw it. An emotional bank account is an account of trust instead of money. We all know how a bank account works … plus bank account sounds more business-like which helps a certain time of person accept the idea.

Every time a manager says something supportive, shows respect, invests in somebody as an individual, helps somebody with a difficult situation, makes time for them etc they make a deposit in that person’s emotional bank account.  Over time, the effects of these deposits will help to transform that relationship. And conversely, every time they criticize, blame, defend, ignore, lie, intimidate, threaten, etc they make a withdrawal.

We are all human and there are times when we are making more withdrawals than deposits.  Just like a bank, we can go in the red and then come out of it. The trick is to be in in the healthy green zone over the longer term.

Why should managers care about emotional bank accounts?

It is rare to hear managers dismissing the concept.  Almost all managers we work with in our management and leadership solutions want positive, productive, rewarding, trust-based relationships with their staff and teams. Concepts such as authenticity, credibility and trust are valued by the vast majority of organizations, and books such as “Servant leadership in Action”  and Goffee & Jones’“Why should anyone be led by you?”  and have captured this.

A personal sense of self-worth and respect is important, but meaningful and strong relationships in the workplace also lead directly to tangible results.  As a manager, your success is largely is dependent on your staff. Leaders who build strong and meaningful relationships within and beyond their organization give their business a competitive advantage. Emotional bank accounts are not just about the “soft stuff”. They are about delivering results through performance.

Healthy emotional bank accounts play a role in practically all of a manager’s day-to-day tasks.  When a manager tasks, delegates, motivates, influences, leads meetings, communicates, reviews, resolves conflicts, gives feedback, navigates difficult discussions etc., the relationships impact the success. All of these are moments where a manager can deposit or withdraw, and each of them has a range of potential for success or failure.

To summarize: If a manager cares about their emotional bank accounts they are more likely to succeed in the short, medium and long-term. If a manager doesn’t take care of relationships and withdraws more than they deposit, then they can’t expect to see a highly motivated team delivering outstanding results.

Check your emotional bank accounts – a practical activity for managers

  1. Write down the names of 3+ people that are important to your team’s success. Ideally try and identify a range e.g. team member, manager in another department, customer, supplier etc …
  2. Then ask them if they have time for a meeting to reflect on your working relationship. Make sure they understand that this is truly the reason, that nothing is wrong per se, that there isn’t a second goal to the conversation.
  3. Start the meeting by reiterating that you would like to strengthen the relationship. Ask them to share things that you have done/not done which will/can/would build trust.
  4. Listen and ask exploratory questions to understand. Do not reframe what they say into what you wish they had said. Do not defend. Just listen.
  5. Thank them and let things settle.
  6. Finally, identify specifics and patterns amongst the people you’ve spoken too, and identify next steps.

More about emotional bank accounts

In our next blog post we’ll go deeper into the behaviours related to  “how you build emotional bank accounts” and share another practical exercise.

Training storytelling in business –behind the scenes with two trainers

What challenges do professionals have when they join a training session on storytelling in business?

Gary: Typically its people feeling that they aren’t creative enough and wish they were. They like the idea of using stories in a work context, and are interested in the training, but they feel that either they don’t have a story in them, or they don’t have a story that matters.  They’ve seen others use stories effectively and they’d like to learn how to do that – but they just don’t know where to start.

Scott: I completely agree. Most participants do see the value and in many ways we are working with the converted. Generally, participants are looking to use stories in a presentation or at an upcoming event, but the biggest challenge they face is where to start.  I often hear “I don’t have a story “or “I have a cool story but it’s not really for our regional sales teams”.  So how have you approached that from a training perspective? In the training, how do you get people to find their stories?

Gary: When we train storytelling skills my very first goal is to show them that they are surrounded by stories and that everyone can tell a story. One of the ways I start is by asking the participants to share something that has changed them or others.  This could be a simple business experience that made a difference to them or shaped them. It could also be something from their private life. I’ve found it is easier with participants who have stronger emotional intelligence, but everyone can find something.  The challenge then is getting them to slow down and see it as they tell it.  It’s not unusual to see people rushing through their story and speaking in bullet points.  This has a lot to do with nerves, but is also connected to wrongly believing that the others won’t be interested in listening to them. When we model the activity it always helps.

Stories are at their most powerful when they get inside people and either connect with an emotion or trigger an emotion.  This is the starting point – at the end of the story how will your audience feel? And what will they know and do?

Scott: I do something similar, “tell us about a moment you are proud of” or “tell us about a moment you regretted”. Anything that taps right into a feelings dimension rather than just narrating factual events.

Gary: When I first started training storytelling in business, I was concerned that when people talked about a moment that shaped them that they would be a little bit light emotionally.  I was expecting people would gloss over it or “present” it.  But I find that this isn’t true and that people tend to really dive in and quickly tap into their emotional memory. This then impacts the listeners.   They leave this activity with a few big wins – firstly that they can actually tell a story, secondly that they have stories to tell, thirdly that they can convey emotion without having to explicitly talk about it and finally,  and perhaps this motivates them the most,  that people want to listen and do quickly connect.

Scott: I think if the storyteller tries to obviously connect their story to the listeners experiences it doesn’t always work that well. The audience is often put off if you try to get too personal too soon. Pulling people into your story beats pushing a message.  Every time we train storytelling skills there is always one person who, in the first 30 minutes of the day, will share an experience that unexpectedly hooks the other participants.

Recently we were delivering training a ½ day session on “Storytelling skills for internal trainers”  in a European investment institution. The first warm-up task of the training was to share a story with your table about something that impacted you in a way you had never anticipated.  One French lady shared a story about her family going to lay a “stolperstein” at the weekend in front of the house where her great-grandparents had lived.  Obviously, the context of the story had everyone paying respectful attention, but it was the unexpected joy and warmth in her story, and the way she described her family reconnecting,  that had the room in silence and actually grinning. She pulled people into her story by telling it naturally, not over-structuring it, and tapping into her emotional memory. When we started looking at their organizations greatest learning moments and the managers practiced telling stories aimed at reinforcing their culture, we reinforced 3 key points from her first story – tell it naturally, tell it simply and see it as you tell.

Gary: Once we’ve shown participants that they do actually have stories, the next challenge is finding the right story for the situation.  There’s a simple and effective model we use with 3 concentric circles, and the key is to start with the emotion. The central point of this circle is “By the end of story what do you want them to feel, know or do?” Occasionally we need to help out by sharing a list of emotions to get people thinking. Feel comes first, and then comes what do you want them to know and what you want them to do. We train our clients to build stories from the inside out.

It’s worth highlighting that sometimes that feeling isn’t going to be a positive feeling … and that is okay. There is a place for warning, shocking, etc. as long as the intention is positive.  I remember a CFO wanting to shake his peers up and confront the arrogance he saw within his organization head on. He knew he wanted his listeners to leave with a sense of humility.  Once he had identified this, he quickly found his story. I still remember his presentation years later. He showed an actual cutting from a newspaper with the photo of a farmer saying, “If they’d asked us locals, we would have told them that this area floods heavily every few years. So why did they build a motorway here?”. Once he had got their attention, he could then talk more about how he wanted things to be going forward.

I often use this “farmer” story when training storytelling because it really does reinforce the importance of starting with the emotion, and being honest with yourself about which emotion you want, when you are choosing and building a story.

So what do you do if somebody can’t think of a story?  In every training group there’ll often be a few participants still struggling.

Gary: Yes, this can be tricky because there are some people who feel that they just don’t have it in them. If that’s the case, we have prepared training aids with “classic stories” that managers need in their pockets. For example, you need the story of when you overestimated yourself, when you failed to prepare, what you stand for, what is important to you when working with new hires, a story of vulnerability, a story  of learning from your mistakes etc etc.  There are similar “templates” for sales professionals, service desks, L&D managers etc.  I find that this “cookie-cutter” approach helps people get going, but I also find that very quickly they begin to leave the “template” and they make things real and personal.  The aid just gets them going.  Stories that follow a template are a safe place to start and then we push people to tap into their own experiences …. And everything becomes far more powerful.

Scott: Absolutely, “typical stories that you need in your pocket”  help get people past staring at a blank piece of paper. Even the process of just asking “What about this one? Have you got that one?” gets them thinking.  And then its all about delivery, and here is where we bring in LOTS, which means “language of the senses”. Using plenty of language of the senses such as “heard, saw, sensed, touched, felt” brings your listeners into your story. Speed and pace is important too. Getting them to slow down, speed up, use pauses for effect.  But the key is to live the story and see the story as you tell it. To tap into your emotional memory. We’ll expand on this in another blog post.

For more information: Storytelling in business

 

 

The Four Horsemen: contempt and stonewalling in the workplace

Healthy and respectful working relationships are a must if you want an effective and enjoyable workplace.  In the first post of this series, I introduced John Gottmann’s work on the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse. In the second post, we looked at what you can do to tackle the toxic behaviours of criticizing & blaming and defensiveness. This blog post will dive deeper into the last 2 toxic behaviours – and possibly the most damaging of the 4: stonewalling & contempt. We’ll explore why they happen, their impact and how both parties can change things for the better.  We’ll end with what a manger can do when they see these behaviours within their teams.

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Contempt

Contempt is when somebody makes it clear that they feel somebody has no value and deserves no respect. As it has been built brick-by-brick over time, it is tough to dismantle, and is probably the most destructive behaviour amongst Gottman’s “Four Horsemen”.

Contempt can manifest itself as ongoing sarcasm, cynicism, insults and aggressive, belittling or mocking humour. It can be seen in small gestures (eye-rolling when a colleague starts talking in a meeting, snorting at the mention of a project, a smirk or a single “hah” when a  colleagues name is mentioned) to full on mocking and cruel statements e.g. “Wow, you’ve done better than I ever expected – even by your standards that’s truly great work Susanne. You must be exhausted after having made so many mistakes”.

When somebody shows contempt, they are actually communicating that they see themselves as better and worth more.

Why do we do show contempt?

Feelings of contempt are typically built up over time – negative experiences create their own story and, too often, nobody has tackled the situation effectively. This can leave a person feeling frustrated and angry and looking to establish some sort of “superiority”.  Contempt can also come from a sense of moral superiority based on class, cultural or religious differences. Peers can feed into it or enable it.

What happens when we show contempt?

Contempt destroys teams and relationships. It prevents trust and respect and makes it hard for any real human warmth. It is tangibly damaging, causes stress and can harm people emotionally, mentally and ultimately physically.

So, what can the person showing contempt do differently?

Truth be told, if you are showing contempt for others there is a good chance you no longer care about turning things around. However, if you have a high level of self-awareness and realise that you have become somebody you don’t want to be then this is already a great step. Going forward you can focus on redefining your relationship with your colleague through …

  • seeing the other person as a human being with equal value.
  • seeking a positive trait in them and acknowledge it first to yourself and then to the other.
  • finding something they do that you value – then tell them.
  • communicating your needs with “I” statements and not “you” statements e.g. “I feel…”, “I want…”
  • actively looking to find opportunities to make deposits in their “emotional bank account”.

And what can the person receiving contempt do to limit the toxic impact and turn things around?

  • Look after yourself and work to stay balanced and neutral when interacting with this person. Shut out the unhelpful “whatever I do will be seen as wrong” self- talk. Reward yourself for not feeding into a situation.
  • People don’t always realize that they are being offensive… or how offensive they are being. Raise awareness of behaviours in a neutral / inquiring tone e.g. “What would you like to achieve by saying that?”, “Why are you rolling your eyes?”
  • Ask questions about the other’s intent – especially if they are not communicating in their first language. e.g. “Are you aware that, when I hear you say … I feel …?” “
  • Reflect how the contemptuous behaviour is impacting you e.g. “I feel belittled when you roll your eyes when I talk. Is this intended?”
  • Say how you feel about what is going on and show your desire to make things right, e.g. “Can we take a step back and slow things down?” “Insulting me isn’t helping us to move forward and find a solution”, “ What is the best way to tackle this issue for both of us?”
  • Indicate that you are willing to move beyond the present and press the reset button e.g. “I feel we are struggling. How about we try and start again from the beginning and build a new working relationship?”
  • And when things get too much, don’t be afraid to seek support within your organization. When you do this focus on you and your feelings… and not what they said/did.
  • And finally, know where your limits are and seek support from your manager or HR if you feel these are being crossed.

Stonewalling                     

When somebody feels they are frequently and undeservedly being blamed or treated with contempt, they may choose to withdraw into themselves and give one-word answers or even refuse to participate at all. Discussion, healthy questioning and positive conflict are key elements of any successful team.  Stonewalling stops this from happening, and feeds contempt, defensiveness and blaming.

Why do we do stonewall?

By refusing to cooperate, engage, react or communicate we look to protect ourselves and ride it out. Beneath this we may be seeking to control or establish hierarchy e.g. “I don’t need to listen to you”.

What happens when we do this?

The impact is that communication stops. The other person may become increasingly frustrated, angry and then despondent. Communication collapses and relationships quickly collapse too. Other colleagues get pulled in to the toxic situation as they become impacted, and everything gets slower and tougher … meaning ultimately performance and results suffer.

So, what can the “stonewaller” do differently?

If you recognize this behaviour in yourself and want to change you can…

  • focus on who you choose to be – who am I really? How do I want to behave?  How do I behave when I am at my best?
  • ask for space if you need it, and commit to resume once things have calmed down.
  • find a way to calm your emotions. Is there a third party you can express your feelings to? Alternatively, verbalize them out loud to yourself (or write them down if you prefer).
  • work out why you have reached this point. Why are you so angry and reluctant to contribute? Answering these questions may help you to understand your feelings better and enable you to continue.
  • avoid righteous indignation e.g. “ I don’t have to take this anymore” or seeing yourself as an innocent victim

And what can the “stonewalled” do to limit the toxic impact?

  • Ask yourself why are they stonewalling? What are you doing/have you done that is making the other person not feel safe in expressing themselves?
  • Focus on building safety. Agree a fixed time, neutral and private location, confidentiality and help them come back into the conversation with simple exploratory open questions.
  • Accept that a break might be needed and press the “pause” button while communicating that you are committed to continuing the conversation later.
  • Really listen to what the other person is saying.

What can a manager do when they see contempt and stonewalling within their team?

The hard truth is that as a manager you probably won’t be able to do as much as you might like to.  Whereas a skilled manager can actively help team members get past criticizing, blaming and being defensive, contempt and stonewalling are far more difficult to deal with. In fact, any blog would struggle to explore the variables and options.  Here are some questions to ask yourself…

  • What is the impact of the behaviour on the team and our results?
  • What can I accept? What can’t I accept? Where is my line in the sand?
  • Where is the contempt or stonewalling coming from? e.g. why this person? this situation? this environment?
  • How willing am I to reflect back what I am seeing? The impact it is having? And the impact it may have later?
  • Am I prepared and committed to consistently confront contemptuous or stonewalling behaviors over the long-term?
  • To what extent can I ring-fence a person without impacting the team or passing more work and responsibility on to others?
  • Am I choosing to do nothing? Or am I afraid to do something?
  • Who else can help me in this situation?
  • To what extent has HR been involved so far? What can they do?
  • Under what circumstances am I prepared to let this person go?

Whether you are just moving into a management position, managing a conflict in your virtual team, or just want to get the very best from your staff and the teams you manage, being aware of Gottmann’s work on the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse is incredibly useful and practical. At the end of the day, results are delivered through people and people are complex. None of us are always at our best and we can all struggle in relationships.  Awareness of the 4 Horsemen is a start, followed by self-reflection and support.  An effective manager is neither a counsellor nor a buddy – but they do need to manage people as individuals – and this means managing knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours.

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!

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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.

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.

How great training clients maximize the impact of their training budget

A common question I am asked in client meetings is ‘What makes a “great” training provider?’ and then of course I’m asked to show that we are one. There are a lot of factors involved in being a great training provider, from having the right trainers, to providing relevant training (that is easily transferred to the workplace), and from having the right processes right down to the flexibility and adaptability of the program, based on the changing business needs of the participants. In part, our greatness is achieved because of great clients and we are very lucky to have many of those across Europe ranging in size and spanning numerous industries. Like great training providers share common characteristics, so do great training clients. Below are are three of them.

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1. Great training clients really get the importance of buy-in on multiple levels

Training, whether it be Business English, soft skill or leadership programs, is most successful when there is buy-in across the board. HR and L&D are important, but it is the buy-in from operational and line managers that makes a real difference. Managers at all levels and team leaders all have a role to play. The managers of our “great clients” share the “why?” behind the training. They look to link it to strategy and decisions, and show that they are personally expecting commitment and engagement. This buy-in keeps the participants focused and aware of why they are training on certain topics.  This management buy-in also supports the work of HR and L&D, energizing their efforts and challenging them to challenge us when it comes to questions such as training design, transfer to the workplace, and continual improvements. So, if you have multiple levels of management, HR and participant buy-in, you will definitely see results tied to your company goals and get a lot more out of your training investment.

2. Great training clients give feedback when things are great and when things could be better

When we put our heart and soul into delivering training, we love hearing that we are doing a great job. Even when the training doesn’t fully meet the client’s expectations, we want to hear about it. Our best clients understand that we value what they have to say and tell us openly, on a regular basis. The more consistent clients are with feedback, the easier it is to address any issues that may arise. Being clear about communication needs, proactively collaborating on training goals, content and methods, and sharing the background to decisions work to build robust relationships creates a lot of trust and understanding that leads to productive, long-term and fun partnerships. Win-Win is remarkably easy when both sides genuinely care about the other.

3. Great training clients are open to new ideas and approaches

It is great when a client knows what they want. It can make our job as a training provider that much easier – after all you know your staff, your corporate culture and what works well.  AND, we also value the chance to apply our years and years of experience when the situation presents itself. Our best clients know that they can trust our expertise and, after exploring the whys and hows, are willing to give it a chance.  We understand we have to earn that trust, but need a chance to do so.  So, know what you want as a customer, challenge what your suppliers may suggest at times but also be open to new ideas as you may be pleasantly surprised what your supplier can do.

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Managing high performers – the Miles Davis way

What does Miles Davis have to do with managing high performers in business? Good question. Miles Davis is rightfully acclaimed as an icon of jazz, but he didn’t make music alone.  Throughout his career as a bandleader, Miles worked with other iconic figures of jazz to create music that stands even today as among the highest forms of the genre. John Coltrane, Herbbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, “Philly” Joe Jones, Keith Jarrett, Ron Carter, Tony Williams and many others among the giants of jazz graduated from “Miles University”. Miles Davis, time and time again, brought together some of the most talented musicians in their own right to work with him in his musical exploration. How did he do it? This article will explore the lessons of Miles Davis in the art of leading the best to be their best. eBook: The definitive checklist for qualifying training providers

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Lesson 1: Be excellent, publicly

Miles Davis was able, on many occasions, to put together bands of some of the most talented musicians of their time throughout his career. Miles’ reputation clearly preceded him. Receiving a call from Miles was seen as having achieved a high level of musicianship. But that wasn’t the only reason so many musicians with promising solo careers agreed to support Miles. They believed they would learn something based on Miles’ excellence as a musician and band leader. Miles greatness was easy to see through his performances, compositions and recordings.

How easy is it for high performers to recognize your excellence? There is a tendency among many leaders not to “toot their own horns” about their own performance and accomplishments. While a leader may not need to sing his own praises, it is important that someone does it for him. A leader’s excellence will attract others who want to achieve the same level of competence, while increasing the leader’s  credibility and ability to guide, mentor and teach.

Lesson 2: Don’t hire a trumpet player

Miles’ great combos included players with different styles and tendencies. He hired players who would complement his playing and each other’s. He didn’t need anyone who sounded like him because he had that covered.

In business, it can be difficult to avoid the temptation to hire people who mirror our backgrounds, experiences, styles and tendencies. After all those competencies served us well in our careers. It is important to remember as a leader that our success is a reflection of the past while we are hiring for the future.  The pace of change doesn’t only require different technological skills it also requires new communication and leadership skills from those current leaders needed at earlier stages of their careers. Hiring teams with complementary but different skills and areas of expertise broadens the set of problems they can solve and increases their impact on the organization.

“It’s not about standing still and becoming safe. If anybody wants to keep creating they have to be about change.”
Miles Davis

Lesson 3: Play together and produce excellence

Miles’ bands grew into cohesive units through performances, not rehearsals. Each performance created a wealth of learning opportunities for Miles and his band mates. The urgency of the moment created a focus and intensity that would be very difficult if not impossible to reproduce in a rehearsal. By focusing on playing together and learning from the experience, Miles could correct on the spot, encourage and support his band to take risks, push themselves and reach new heights of excellence.

How often do you perform with your high performers? Finding opportunities to produce excellence together will give you more chances to learn from each other.

Lesson 4: Don’t tell them what to do, tell them what not to do

Related to lesson three, play together and produce excellence, is the style of debriefing and guidance Miles offered to his band mates following their performances.  Miles didn’t put a group together hearing the music he hoped they would produce in his mind, then correcting them to come as close as possible to his vision. Miles believed in an experimental approach to developing new music. When reflecting about what took place in performances, Miles would say what his band mates shouldn’t do but he wouldn’t tell them what to do. He hired them for their expertise on their individual instruments. He wanted them to bring their ideas to the table so they could take ownership of their performances and the product of the group.

The high performers in your organization reached a level of success before becoming members of your team. When managing high performers, take advantage of their creativity and input by channelling, not directing their contributions to the organization.

“If you don’t know what to play, play nothing.”
Miles Davis

Lesson 5: Listen to save the day

Deep listening is the art of hearing not only what is said but also what isn’t said. On stage, Miles had the opportunity to lay out and listen to what his band mates were playing.  There were times when while reaching for new forms of expression, the band lost its way. By listening to what wasn’t there, Miles could enter the fray at the right moment with the phrase that would bring the other players back together again, finding a groove that was satisfying to the musicians and the audience.

Look for your opportunities, especially in conflict, to find what isn’t being said and remind the participants in the argument that they are on the same team. Listen for agreement that the parties may be missing, summarize, and encourage them to listen deeply to each other when emotions run high. “What I am hearing is…” is a great way to interject.

“I’m always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up every morning… Every day I find something creative to do with my life.”
Miles Davis

Lesson 6: Talk about life, not music

With our busy lives it may be tempting to leave work at work and leave life at home.  We can get through our workdays without sharing with others the experiences that shaped us outside of the work environment. Miles believed knowing the personal histories of his band mates was crucial to being able to know them musically. He invested time in learning about the backgrounds of his band mates and he shared his own. This sharing created an environment of trust that helped his musicians to work with each other more closely.

Be willing to be more open when you are managing high performers as it can lead to more effective, trusting relationships. A deeper bond of respect can increase loyalty to you, and commitment to your organization and its goals.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

On leadership: Here are a  few blog posts on the topic.  If you are interested to learn more about our leadership skills seminars, please contact us, or take a look at the very popular seminar “A practical toolbox for managers”.

 

TED talks on motivation and leadership

This week’s post was meant to be about customer service skills. Once I had my initial ideas on virtual paper, I started searching online resources. Very quickly and inevitably I ended up on TED.com and almost an hour later, I was still watching videos, no longer anything to do with customer service. My post was about what customer service professionals can do to stay motivated, with an array of some not so nice customers contacting them. It was inspired by one of my not so very motivated participants. He said: I don’t care if they’re nice or not. I don’t care if they think I’m nice or not. I still get paid for taking the call. Being motivated to do a good job has very little to do with having ‘nice’ customers – ultimately. That was one of the points of my post. Perhaps I will finish the post, it was an interesting training session. This post is instead about everyday leadership, feeling good and staying motivated.
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What makes us feel good about our work

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely starts his TED talk ‘What makes us feel good about our work‘ with a mountain climbing example. “…If you read books of people who climb mountains, difficult mountains, do you think that those books are full of moments of joy and happiness? No, they are full of misery. In fact, it’s all about frostbite and having difficulty walking, and difficulty breathing — cold, challenging circumstances. And if people were just trying to be happy, the moment they would get to the top, they would say, “This was a terrible mistake. I’ll never do it again.”

Everyday leadership

This very personal TED talk from Drew Dudley is easily transferable to a business context. ‘Everyday leadership‘ starts with a clear message. “…I’ve come to realize that we have made leadership into something bigger than us; something beyond us. We’ve made it about changing the world. We’ve taken this title of “leader” and treat it as something that one day we’re going to deserve. But to give it to ourselves right now means a level of arrogance or cockiness that we’re not comfortable with. And I worry sometimes that we spend so much time celebrating amazing things that hardly anybody can do, that we’ve convinced ourselves those are the only things worth celebrating. We start to devalue the things we can do every day. We take moments where we truly are a leader and we don’t let ourselves take credit for it, or feel good about it.”

The happy secret to better work

Shawn Achor’s very funny talk ‘The happy secret to better work‘ is definitely worth watching. “… One of the first things we teach people in economics, statistics, business and psychology courses is how, in a statistically valid way, do we eliminate the weirdos. How do we eliminate the outliers so we can find the line of best fit? Which is fantastic if I’m trying to find out how many Advil the average person should be taking — two. But if I’m interested in your potential, or for happiness or productivity or energy or creativity, we’re creating the cult of the average with science. If I asked a question like, “How fast can a child learn how to read in a classroom?” scientists change the answer to “How fast does the average child learn how to read in that classroom?” and we tailor the class towards the average. If you fall below the average, then psychologists get thrilled, because that means you’re depressed or have a disorder, or hopefully both.”

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Not bored of videos yet? This playlist contains 7 talks on loving what you do. Also recommended, here are a few customer service posts from our blog. Our new and very much improved Boost your Business English blog is online.

Dealing with change

Change management is an integral, complex and necessary part of business. Companies most likely to be successful in making changes are the ones that see change as a constant opportunity to evolve. But the word ‘change’ means and implies a lot of things to the people involved: uncertainty, different, unknown, uncomfortable, etc. The truth is that (most) people don’t like change. We are, after all, creatures of habit. Sure, we have the ability to change and adapt to new situations – we wouldn’t have come so far as a species without change – but our brains naturally resist.

 

“Change has a bad reputation in our society. But it isn’t all bad – not by any means. In fact, change is necessary in life – to keep us moving … to keep us growing … to keep us interested … Imagine life without change. It would be static … boring … dull.”

Dr. Dennis O’Grady

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The Satir Change Model

The Satir Change Model is a five-stage model (see below) that describes the effects each stage of the change has on feelings, thinking, performance, and physiology. It was developed by Virginia Satir. Although the model was initially developed for families, it is equally relevant for organisations.

changemodel2

Stage 1: Late Status Quo

We are at a familiar place. Our performance pattern is consistent. We’re comfortable here because we know know what to expect, how to react, and how to behave.

Stage 2: Resistance

A foreign element threatens the stability of our familiar structures. We’re not sure that this is where we want to be. Most of us resist it by denying its validity, avoiding the issue, or placing blame.

Stage 3: Chaos

We have entered the unknown. Our former actions and knowledge are no longer valid/effective. We don’t want to be here. Losing the Late Status Quo triggers our anxiousness and vulnerability. We have no idea what to expect, how to react, or how to behave.

Stage 4: Integration

Through a transforming idea, we’ve discovered how the foreign element can benefit us. We’re excited. With practice, our performance has improved rapidly. We’ve made new relationships and learned new behaviours.

Stage 5: New Status Quo

Our performance has stabilized at a higher level than in the Late Status Quo. We feel safe and excited. We encourage each other. We don’t feel threatened by foreign elements any more.

“Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.”

James Belasco and Ralph Stayer

Psychologist and author Daniel Kahneman writes in his book “Thinking, fast and slow” that most of us would rather be wrong than uncertain. Just consider, how many individual uncertainties could arise in any of the above stages for each of the people involved? Right, and that’s only for one change.

Communicating change

Communicating change successfully doesn’t automatically mean that you’ll achieve change successfully, because ultimately, the organizational capacity for change relies heavily on the individual’s capacity for change. In other words, some people will reach the New Status Quo much faster than others, others not at all. Some will have few problems, others a lot. But there’s no doubt about it, you need a communication plan/strategy to accompany the change.


A ‘one size fits all’ approach is not recommended because it’s quite possible that not everyone needs to know the same things about the change. Managers need to get buy-in from different stakeholders, engineers need to know this, procurement needs to know that. When communicating change, we have the opportunity to amplify certain messages. On top of that, a well thought through communication plan will enable people to better deal with the emotions of each of the 5 stages – It can invoke positive emotions/reactions and gives you the chance to help employees imagine a post-change future.

“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

Niccolo Machiavelli

Randy Pennington, author of “Make change work” says that there are 5 questions that employees are most interested in getting answers to when faced with change.

From what to what?

Explain the specifics of the change. What will be different in how we must think, act, and perform?

What does this change mean for what I do and how I operate?

A personal extension of the first question. Everyone involved in the change will ask themselves: What’s the impact of the change for me?

Will this make a difference?

How will the change help the business or the team, or is this change for compliance reasons?

How will success be measured?

How will you know that there has been a return on our effort and investment?

What is the support level for this change?

Is this change a mandate or do you truly believe in this change?

Repeat and reinforce

Use multiple message formats and repeat important concepts to drive and reinforce the change. At the beginning of the change process, it’s necessary to communicate to answer initial fears and concerns. As the change advances, people will have new questions, and new understandings of the intermediate and final stages will be developed. Throughout the stages of change, people have to be kept up-to-date with actual and future states, and answers given to their questions.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

“Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.” Dan Gilbert shares recent research on a phenomenon he calls the “end of history illusion,” where we somehow imagine that the person we are right now is the person we’ll be for the rest of time. Hint: that’s not the case.

 

Giving feedback using the DESC model

Everybody understands that performance feedback should be constructive, focused and to the point. Effective feedback can resolve conflicts, overcome problems and improve individual and team morale. It doesn’t really need mentioning that ineffective feedback often accomplishes the opposite. Or that if you are skilled at giving effective feedback, your team will be more motivated, which leads to better performance.




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“While feedback should focus on behaviour, performance feedback is still a personal conversation between people about people. Emotions always play a part in interpersonal communication. Effective feedback is as much about bringing the right message(s) across as it is about how your message is interpreted.”

Scott Levey

Some feedback facts*

  • 98% of employees will fail to be engaged when managers give little or no feedback
  • 69% of employees say they would work harder if they felt their efforts were better recognized
  • 78% of employees said being recognized motivates them in their job

*(source)

Giving positive feedback is easy

No matter how skilled the feedback giver is, if the receiver isn’t interested in hearing or taking the feedback, nothing will get through. The more difficult the feedback, the more the giver needs to consider the the emotional impact of the feedback. Giving positive feedback is easy.

What is and isn’t feedback?

In an interpersonal environment, feedback is communication about a person’s performance and how their efforts contribute to reaching goals. Feedback is not criticism. Criticism is evaluative; feedback is descriptive. Effective feedback is goal-referenced and tangible, actionable, personalized, timely, ongoing and consistent. As a leader, giving feedback is a task you perform again and again, to let people know where they are and where to go next in terms of individual, team, and company goals.

Giving feedback is a touchy thing. Think back over feedback you have received in the past. Chances are you’ve been given feedback that helped you develop. And, unfortunately, chances are somewhere in your career you’ve been given feedback that made you feel defensive, resistant or unmotivated. By putting yourself back in your old shoes, and thinking about how they actually gave you the feedback, you can improve your own feedback skills.

Common mistakes people make when giving feedback

  1. Avoiding giving feedback
  2. Focusing on the person and not the performance
  3. Giving feedback on what is going wrong, and never on what is going right
  4. Coming  across as judgmental
  5. Doing all the talking, and none of the listening
  6. Giving the feedback without any context
  7. Making generalized, vague statements
  8. Avoiding responsibility for what they are saying by referring to others
  9. Getting defensive if they don’t understand you, or you don’t understand them

“We can’t let our own success, education and advancement ride on whether the person giving us feedback happens to be talented or caring. We have to learn to learn from everyone around us, including people who are lousy at giving feedback, or who don’t have the time to do it thoughtfully. Our individual success depends on it, and so does the collective success of the organization.

The DESC model

In our skills-based Leadership training, we use the simple 4-step model DESC for structuring feedback. Participants in our “Practical Toolbox for Managers” seminars often highlight DESC as one of the most valuable tools they take away. This model is designed to help you to get your message clear and it can even take the stress out of the feedback conversation for those of us that weren’t born with effective feedback-giving skills.

DESCRIPTION

Give an objective and concrete description of what you have observed using “I” statements.

EFFECT

Explain the effect or impact it had on your business, the team or its members. If the effect was an emotion, name it. Your body language and tone of voice will already be showing your elation or frustration – putting them out in the open can help you move things forward.

SOLUTION

Build the solution through a directive (“What I would like you to do next time is …”) or a participative approach (“What do you think we can do to avoid this next time?”).

CONCLUSION

Build a “contract of commitment”. Check your understanding of what has been agreed, and get commitment for the future.

Further Leadership resources:

When is praise an insult?

During a recent presentation skills seminar for a French organization, I observed participants as they presented. I offered only feedback on the positive behaviors I saw. As we went through the round, the managing director of the group of participants couldn’t wait any longer and interrupted the feedback session by asking where was the criticism? It was obvious that the presenters were doing things that would get in the way of their presentation goals, (from audible pauses to nervous movement), and I was doing them a disservice by not pointing out the negatives. He did give me the cultural excuse of being a positive, American trainer. Yet his message was clear, the group needed correction more than praise to develop. For the record, I think both praise and correction are appropriate (and it’s true that unspecific praise can feel condescending and counterproductive, as if the recipient is too immature to take correction as a way to improve).

Praise is a complex concept that crosses many cross cultural communication styles and its effectiveness is personal as well. For example: The German culture offers the view of a foundation of trust in the working relationship. You have a job because the company feels you can do it. This general level of trust is positive enough to not require reinforcement through praise. In fact, praising someone for just “doing his job” can be insulting as if the expectations of performance are low.

How praise gets delivered is also of importance to judgements of its sincerity. In some work cultures, being singled out for enthusiastic praise if front of a group would be gratifying to the person receiving it while cultures that use more restrained emotional styles might find expressive, public praise embarrassing and impersonal. Groups using collectivist approaches would recognize team accomplishments over individual ones. Groups using individualist approaches would do the opposite.

Our brand will come from what we are very good at doing, not from correcting mistakes to an acceptable level.

James Culver

How to get it right? Praise helps us know the right way to do things so we can recognize and track behaviors we want to develop. Praise lets others know your priorities, the organization’s focus and their path forward. Done well, praise is an important tool in developing focus and innovation. Observational praise also enhances the credibility of the observer, as praise is specifically tied to authentic, recognizable behaviors the recipient and observer can agree happened.

Observe. How do people in your organization know they are on the right track? Mirror the praise behaviors in your organization and expand that style with your own approach. Note how the recipient is meeting your high standards. Let that stand for a while so it is credible.

 

  1. State why you are complimenting the employee

Sentences:

* We have thoroughly enjoyed our relationship with your company, especially because your customer service representative, John Doe, has been so helpful.
* Your representative, Jane Doe, is to be commended for her outstanding work on your last project.
* We want you to know how impressed we were with the way Jane Doe handled the delinquent accounts.
* During a recent internal audit, John Doe found a rather large discrepancy in our financial records. Had he not found that error, our corporation could have faced heavy legal fees.
* I want to tell you how pleased I am with the landscaping plan your new intern prepared for me.

Phrases:

* a very helpful attitude
* among the finest I’ve seen
* by your co-workers
* commendations and congratulations
* convey my appreciation to
* exceptional work done by
* express my appreciation for
* has been extremely helpful
* have thoroughly enjoyed
* have been deeply impressed
* have come to admire
* how pleased we have been
* how impressed we were
* how highly we think of his efforts
* how much we appreciate
* how pleased I am
* is to be commended for
* please accept
* received exceptional service
* want to let you know
* with the services of

 

  1. Acknowledge the employee’s qualities that made the contribution worthwhile

Sentences:

* His attention to detail helped our work move smoothly, without a single legal snag.
* His broad knowledge of the machinery has helped our trouble shooters keep the assembly line moving during the periods of heaviest demand.
* Her public relations skills helped us collect on most of the accounts that others had given up on. We hope she will be available for future cooperation.
* We commend his attention to detail. He is the most thorough accountant we have had work on our books.
* She has a good sense for balance, with the right mix of colors and textures.

Phrases:

* a pleasure to work with
* an excellent sense of
* attention to detail
* broad knowledge of
* consistently gone out of her way to
* courteous, well-trained staff
* dependable and thoughtful
* diligence and skill
* efficiently and with good humor
* going the extra mile
* has helped us to
* intelligent and cooperative
* made sure everything ran smoothly
* never-failing professionalism
* one of your company’s greatest assets
* particularly astute in
* professional and courteous
* public relations skills
* stays calm under pressure
* the time and thought he put into
* took care of all the details
* took the trouble to
* went out of his way to
* willingness to help

 

  1. Express appreciation and wishes for continued success

Sentences:

* Thanks again for assigning him to work with us. Best wishes for the future.
* We send our warm regards and wish you continued success.
* We wish you similar successes with your other clients.
* Please convey our appreciation to Jane for a job well done. We hope we can work together again.
* May your future endeavors be as successful as this one has been.
* You are fortunate to have Jane as an employee. Best wishes to her and the rest of you at Doe Corporation.

Phrases:

* are looking forward to
* best wishes for
* congratulations on your
* continue your tradition of
* convey my compliments to
* how much we appreciate
* keep up the good work
* one of your greatest assets
* our sincere thanks and appreciation
* our warmest regards
* please let everyone involved know
* please pass my appreciation on to
* please thank him for us
* thank you for
* thanks to the efficiency of
* want you to know
* will assure the continued success of
* wish you continued success
* working together again
* would like to thank her for

 

Don’t sweat it – everybody’s wrong sometimes, even your boss

In this video, Kathryn Schultz tells us that by the time we’re nine years old, we have already learned that the best way to succeed in life is to never be wrong. You should watch the video if you want to know how she came to that conclusion and a few others – when you have ten minutes.

Everybody’s wrong sometimes

Some of Kathryn’s words (if you don’t have time to watch it right now), and main points are:

  • Realizing you’re wrong can make you feel embarrassed or stupid, but being wrong itself doesn’t feel like anything.
  • The first thing we usually do when someone disagrees with us is we just assume they’re ignorant.
  • The second is that they’re idiots.
  • Then we move on to a third assumption: they know the truth, and they are deliberately distorting it for their own malevolent purposes.

There’s nothing wrong with being wrong

Assuming that Kathryn’s assumptions are correct, you can see why telling someone that they’re wrong could prove to be the biggest mistake you’ve ever made – all depending on who is on the receiving end of course. Now, let’s say that person is your boss, your teamleader, or anyone in your company with more authority. Speaking for myself and my conflict avoiding personality – Difficult conversations always have a moment or two where I say completely the wrong thing. To others, determining to even speak to the boss about being wrong is enough to bring on sleepless nights.

Before you do decide to confront the person who was wrong, consider this:

Don’t pick the wrong battles

To speak up or not to speak up about it? I don’t know, is it worth it and/or important?

Don’t talk about the wrong thing at the wrong time

Stick to the topic, make the time to have a proper conversation (in private) and give your boss time to prepare.

Don’t say the wrong things

It’s just not the right time to say things like “I told you so” or “I knew this would happen” and to place blame. It’s already done, who cares? How can we fix it?

The DESC model

Once you’re ready to have the conversation, you can use the DESC model to structure your message – positively. This assertiveness model is perfect for giving negative feedback or criticism. It’s simple and it works. It’s for this reason that participants in our “Practical Toolbox for Managers” seminars often highlight DESC as one of the most valuable tools they take away.

Description – In a private setting, start by describing what you have observed. It’s important to be objective and concrete at this stage. Take responsibility for the feedback by using “I” statements.

Effect / emotion – Once you have described what you observed, move on to the effect or impact this has had. If the effect was an emotion, share this openly. Feedback is always personal in the sense that it is between people about people. Emotions play a part in interpersonal relationships and by naming them and getting them out into the open, you can deal with them in an professional manner.

Solution – Now move on to what you like to see happen. This could be directive e.g. “What I would like you to do next time is …”. Even better, build the solution together using a participative approach e.g. “What do you think we can do to avoid this next time?”.

Conclusion (commitments and contract) – End your feedback conversation by building a “contract of commitment”. Check you have a mutually common understanding of what has been agreed, and get commitment for the future. Then conclude looking forward.

The 6 most horrific bosses of all time

I did some Googling on this topic. With any luck, your boss is nothing like these bosses were...so go ahead and have your conversation – you have nothing to loose. And finally, here are 10 things a good boss would never say. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

Practical questions for analysing and resolving conflict at work

A study in Europe, the US and Brazil revealed that 67% of employees avoided colleagues due to bad feelings lingering from conflicts and that 27% of employees have witnessed workplace conflicts turning into personal attacks.

Over the years working with project managers on resolving conflicts, I’ve developed simple and practical approach to handling conflicts at work. The dictionary defines conflict as ‘a serious disagreement or argument, typically a protracted one’. A conflict at work is more than just a difference of opinion with a colleague. There is an emotional component and you feel a tightness in your guts, a knot in your stomach.

The 4 main causes of conflict

“What triggered the conflict?” is the most important place to start. Here are the 4 largest causes of conflicts in the workplace.

  • Goals The cause of the conflict is mainly about goals. Imagine a strategy discussion where one manager wants to focus on client relationships, the other on improving on the website.
  • Resources Here we are talking about resources, often people and budget. Manager “A” wants people for a project team, Manager “B” does not want to release anyone. Or this budget increases, whilst another is cut.
  • Processes It’s not unusual the managers will often disagree on methods and procedures. One manager wants to run the project on Prince2 principles, the other on the principle of whatever works, works.
  • People This is about people and relationships. If you have a good working relationship with the other party, you probably do not have a conflict. If you disrespect or dislike the other party, you will have conflict. And this problem isn’t necessarily resolved – even when agreement on goals, resources and processes is possible.

Using a practical format for analysing conflicts

Here’s a simple preparation format for analysing a conflict and preparing for the discussion. In other words, you buy time before addressing the issue and “the other party”.

Consider the following questions:

  1. What’s it all about and how did it happen? (History)
  2. Who is involved and affected, apart from you and the other party? (Stakeholders)
  3. How far has the conflict gone? (Escalation)
  4. What triggered the conflict? (Causes)
  5. Has anything been done to settle the issue? (Potential solutions)
  6. What do you (and the other party) want to achieve? (Goals)
  7. Do you have any ideas for approaching the other party? (Strategy)

Solving conflicts starts with reflecting and analysing…

Solving conflicts is tough and draining for everyone. Managing conflicts is a concrete and valuable skill – and one which you can develop. Analysing a conflict may help you see that it is more a difference of opinion and judgement, not necessarily a conflict. But it can also make you see discussing resources and procedures is a smoke screen and a diversion from the root conflict, your relationship to the other party.

…and it finishes with engaging, listening and resolving

Practical issues are more easily addressed; relationship issues are trickier to talk about. The above analysis questions will always clarify where the conflict is coming from and therefore make it easier to generate solutions. It will often indicate that the root cause is personal, i.e. resentment, envy, or even chemistry. So can you put your emotions on the back burner and seek a common solution that benefits your organisation? Are you prepared to talk frankly with the other party and clear the air?

 

5 simple assertiveness strategies (for teddy bears and tortoises)

We all know the feeling. You come out of a meeting, negotiation or a conflict discussion with a difficult team member, and say to yourself, “If I had only said or done this.” Or “Was I too hard on my report?” For whatever reason, you aren’t asserting yourself and addressing the issue.

What do we mean by assertiveness?

listening skills target trainingBefore going any further we ought to agree and be clear what “being assertive” is. We have all experienced managers, experts who have the ability to set people on the right course, give negative feedback without breaking the relationship, or make a tough point without being offensive or hurtful. They handle substance and people equally well …and that is true assertiveness. These people have good communication skills, are blessed with social and emotional intelligence and have reached the fourth level of “conscious competence”.

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Very quickly, here’s the fourth level, explained in more detail:

Level 4 – unconscious competence*

  • the skill becomes so practised that it enters the unconscious parts of the brain – it becomes ‘second nature’
  • common examples are driving, sports activities, typing, manual dexterity tasks, listening and communicating
  • it becomes possible for certain skills to be performed while doing something else, for example, knitting while reading a book
  • the person might now be able to teach others in the skill concerned, although after some time of being unconsciously competent the person might actually have difficulty in explaining exactly how they do it – the skill has become largely instinctual
  • this arguably gives rise to the need for long-standing unconscious competence to be checked periodically against new standards

*Taken from http://www.businessballs.com/consciouscompetencelearningmodel.htm

But this takes time, experience and maybe innate ability. So what about us mere mortals lower down the food chain who struggle with the substance/people balance?

Assertiveness starts with knowing our rights and responsibilities

In the world of learning and development we understand that being assertive is being aware we have rights and responsibilities. In other words, we have the right to assert our position, but (especially as a manager) we have the responsibility to be fair and to respect our reports and colleagues. This easier said than done. Furthermore it is often those who tend to play the teddy bear (accommodate), or the tortoise (avoid conflict) who need most support and coaching. People who tend to be pushy, or even aggressive (the sharks), normally feel quite good about themselves. So here are 5 strategies for teddy bears and tortoises.

5 communication strategies that work

Scripting

If you have a difficult discussion coming up, then write down your key arguments, how you can best convince the other party. Script how you address the issue, how you formulate what you want, how you word criticism and other sensitive issues. Unless you are very experienced, just relying on intuition and ‘seeing where the moment will take you’ can be costly.

SPIN

When you want something out of the ordinary from a team member or colleague, then script using the SPIN formula: Situation – Problem – Impact (of the problem on the business) – Need. In other words involve the report by briefly describing the context. Involve them and treat them as adults.

Saying no

As a manager you have the right to say no. If you want to say “No”, then say it but give a reason and maybe provide an alternative. If you want to say “Yes”, then say that too. We have all come across people who appear to say “No” on principle. This might be useful in a negotiation, but counterproductive when dealing with staff.

Broken Record

Sometimes your opposite number just refuses to take “no” for an answer. Provided you are 100% clear on your position, then it’s time to play broken record. Like the old-fashioned vinyl LPs with a deep scratch, you simply repeat yourself, NO plus reason, always using the same wording: e.g: “As I said I cannot give you a pay rise, as there is a freeze on salaries.”, then “I understand your position but as I said ……” and so on. Using this strategy takes courage and should be used sparingly and only with difficult people. Even the most obstinate will get your point after three rounds.

Buy Time

People are not stupid. If they want a favour or a concession, they will approach you when you are under pressure, with no time. This can mean you are unprepared and certainly unscripted. So if you are at all unsure about your response, then buy time: “Let me get back to you when I have finished this.” You will come to regret shooting from the hip and start kicking yourself, “Why on earth did I say that?”

Most of us cannot be assertive on command

Our behaviour is determined by our fight, flee or freeze instincts. Assertiveness is a conscious way of thinking and acting. These five simple strategies will help you develop your assertiveness. But, as with nearly everything, it takes practice.

Building authentic intercultural business relationships – part 3

The 7 dimensions of culture, and how does intercultural theory actually help you in business?

Why is the contract often seen as the end to a negotiation to Germans yet viewed as part of the negotiation process in China? If you are presenting, where do you put your summary? Sounds obvious – but is it? Why should you put your summary at the front when presenting to Americans (bottom line up front) And why would you start big picture and then summarize at the end if your audience was French?

Few things are as complex as human behaviour, and understanding cultures beyond a superficial level is never easy. This is where a little practical theory comes in.  If you know that specific cultures like to get to the specifics quickly via an “executive summary” (US, Dutch) and that more diffuse cultures want a holistic view, with a big picture (France, Japan) then you can structure your presentation to be successful, regardless of the nationality of your audience.

In this interview, Dr Fons Trompenaars, the best-selling author of Riding the Waves of Culture and one of the world’s leading management thinkers, explains how theory can concretely impact tangible business scenarios such as negotiating, presenting and leading others.

Effective intercultural training needs theoretical models which work hand in hand with practical exercises and activities – and this is where the 7 dimensions of culture adds real value. It can simplify complexity, and is easy to recall and explain. If you’d like to know more about the model check out mindtools.com, for a great explanation and practical advice.

And we’ll leave you with a final few words from Fons on how culture and communication are entwined.

Interview with Dr Trompenaars

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