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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.

Resolving conflicts – putting the 3 questions practice

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

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The background and the situation

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

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

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

Understanding yourself is the basis for resolving conflicts

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

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

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

The role of culture in conflicts

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

My brain seemed to be working again …

Managing your 3 brains so they work together

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

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

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

For more information

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


About the author

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

 

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

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

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

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

And this brings us to the second question …

How do you feel in this moment?

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

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

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

What do you want to do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information

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

 


About the author

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

10 more sporting idioms you will hear in business meetings

Last year, we put together a list of 10 common American sport idioms that were well-received by our clients and readers.  Since the blog post was so popular, we wanted to share even more more commonly used sport idioms you may hear around the office …

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to take a rain check

From baseball, meaning ‘I can’t now, but let’s do it another time’.  “Thanks for the invite to happy hour, but can I take a rain check?  I need to get home for dinner with my family.”

a Hail Mary pass

From American football, meaning ‘a last minute, desperate attempt at something’. “We offered the client a 15% reduction in price as a Hail Mary to win their business.”

to touch base (with someone)

From baseball, meaning ‘get in contact with someone’. “Can you touch base with Chester next week to see how he is doing with the forecast numbers?”

a front runner

From horse racing, meaning ‘the person who is leading but hasn’t won yet’. “I think we are the front runner for the winning the account, but XYZ’s offer was also very strong.”

the ball is in (someone’s) court

From tennis, meaning ‘it is someone’s turn to take action or make the next move’. “I received an offer for a new job.  The ball is now in my court to ask for more money or decline it.”

the home stretch

From horse racing, meaning ‘to be near the end” or ´to be in the last stage or phase’.  “This has certainly been a challenging project, but we are now in the home stretch so let’s stay focussed and keep on schedule.”

to get the ball rolling

From ball games, meaning ‘to start something’. “OK, now we’re all here for today’s meeting let’s get the ball rolling. Heinz, can you start with an update on ….”

to keep your eye on the ball

From ball games, meaning  ‘to stay alert’. “We have worked with this client before and we know that they can be chaotic. We need to keep our eyes on the ball, especially when it comes to safety on site.”

par for the course

From golf, meaning ‘something that is normal or to be expected’.  ‘Jim was late for the meeting again today.  That is par for the course with him.’

to strike out

From baseball, meaning ‘to fail at something’.  ‘I have tried to get a meeting with the Head of Purchasing 5 times but have struck out each time.’

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.

The importance of asking investigative questions in negotiations – and how to do this in English

There are times in negotiations when we can be too focused on our own position. If we want to get the best outcome then we need to find out why the other side asks what it asks, offers what it offers, and wants what it wants. One of the most effective ways of doing this is by adopting an “investigative mindset” – and then actively listening to what is (or is not) said. Harvard Business School Professors Deepak Malhotra and Max Bazerman set out 5 key principles that underpin this method. This post provides a simple overview of the 5 principles, offers useful phrases for those looking to further improve their business English, and closes with some great suggestions for further reading.

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Find out what your counterparts want – and why they want it

Asking questions to uncover needs and priorities is essential in any negotiation.  The sooner you can find out what your counterparts wants AND WHY they want it, the sooner you can build solutions. Malhotra and Bazerman give the example of an US pharmaceutical company  negotiating exclusive rights for an ingredient from a small European supplier. Despite the pharma company’s best offers, the supplier refused to agree to exclusivity. It was clear the smaller company had no chance of securing such a large order from any other customer – so what was going on?

With the negotiation in deadlock the American negotiator decided to ask a simple question “Why wouldn’t they grant exclusivity?” The reason was equally simple – the supplier was selling a small amount of the ingredient to a family member who needed it to manufacture a product sold locally. A new offer was made and quickly accepted – the European firm would provide exclusivity except for a small annual amount for the supplier’s cousin.

Discover your counterparts’ constraints – and then help them relieve them

Whenever we go into a negotiation we always have limits. In fact having your BATNA clear up front is a must if you don’t want to leave the negotiation with regrets. These limits are influenced and/or restricted by external forces – pricing, strategy, risk, relationships etc. And just as you have limits, so does your counterpart.  When your counterpart’s limits seem to be unreasonable or rigid, ask investigative questions to better understand what is behind the scenes. What is going on? Why is somebody responding like that? How can you help them remove their constraints or concerns?

Understand what is behind a demand – and then look to interpret them as opportunities

When our negotiating partner makes “excessive demands” we feel attacked and can become defensive. We then focus on either avoiding, mitigating, or even combatting this demand. The response of an investigative negotiator is to understand what is behind the demand and what they can actually learn from it. How can they reframe the demand from a threat to an opportunity? Malhotra and Bazerman article illustrates this nicely with the story of a construction company closing a major deal. Just before the deal was closed the property developer introduced a game-changing penalty clause for late completion.  In this case, reframing looked like “why was this penalty clause so important?” which led to “ timely completion was hugely important” which then led to “was the developer interested in completion ahead of schedule?“ . The negotiation concluded with the construction company agreeing to pay higher penalties than proposed and with a sizable bonus for early completion.

Look to create common ground

Despite the pervasive mantras of “partnership” and “win-win”, too often when we are in a negotiation it we end up with “”sides”. My side and your side, you are my competitor etc …This means that we miss out on opportunities to create value. Investigative negotiators focus on genuinely exploring areas of mutual interest to find real common ground.  This can be especially important when negotiating across cultures.

When things don’t work out keep on investigating

Even after rejection, there is nothing to be lost, and actually much to be gained, by asking “What would it have taken for us to reach agreement?” or “Can you explain to me why we lost this business? … as I’d like to learn for next time”.  It is much easier to get unguarded information when there is no deal to be done. If you don’t know what went wrong, how can you improve your approach in similar future negotiations? And of course there is always a chance of actually reopening negotiations based on the new insight.

Useful language and further reading for negotiators

 As Deepak Malhotra wrote “In the end, negotiation is an information game. Those who know how to obtain information perform better than those who stick with what they know.”

Using investigative questions

  • What is important to you?
  • Why is this important?
  • What is it you need?
  • Which part of my suggestion can you accept? Not accept?  And why?
  • Why can/can’t you ?

Building and practising active listening skills

Active listening (as the name suggests) is when you actively and fully concentrate on what is being said, rather than just passively hearing the words. Communication theory breaks what is being said into two elements – the content and the context. Content is the what – the data, the facts, the information etc. Context refers to everything else that is going on when somebody speaks with you – the relationship, the background, the situation, the emotions etc. Active listening involves paying close attention to the content being shared AND the contextual components between the listener (the receiver) and the speaker (the sender). Skilled active listeners can hear the what PLUS interest, emotion, concern, energy and other contextual factors from the speaker’s perspective. And they can hear what isn’t being said.

How good are your listening skills?

Books on negotiations

  • Negotiation Genius: How to Overcome Obstacles and Achieve Brilliant Results at the Bargaining Table and Beyond (Malhotra and Bazerman)
  • Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It (Chris Voss)
  • Getting Past No: Negotiating in Difficult Situations: Negotiating with Difficult People (Ury)
  • and the sequel Getting to Yes: Negotiating an agreement without giving in (Fisher and Ury)

Finally, as a training company, you just know we’re going to suggest organizing negotiation training for yourself or your team.

Making a difference in meetings – 6 approaches for introverts to be heard

You’re too quiet”, “you need to be more involved in our meetings and discussions” and “people who matter are getting the wrong impression of you because you aren’t forward enough “.  This is the feedback Sven, a high-potential from a German automotive company, shared with me during a management training program. Sven was clearly able and bright – but he was a classic “introvert”. The idea of extraversion–introversion is a core dimension in most personality trait models, including the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator. Sven is reflective rather than outgoing, and prefers working alone to working in groups.  Sven wanted to think before he talked, as opposed to talking to think. However, his natural introversion was getting in the way of his career opportunities.  Sven wanted to know “What can I do to be more involved in meetings … without having to be a different person?”
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Always prepare before the meeting

If you don’t have the agenda then get hold of one. If the organizer hasn’t prepared an agenda then ask them what they want to get from the meeting and which questions do they want to discuss Who is going to be there? Why have they been invited? Who will assume which roles? Get your thoughts together ahead of time. Write down questions, concerns and points you want to share. Turn up with a couple of clear points you want to contribute. This preparation means that you can …

Speak up early on

If you know what the meeting is about you can and should get actively involved as quickly as possible. Get your thoughts on the table as quickly as you can. This means that you will feel part of the meeting from the start, others will see you as involved and you’ll notice people connecting, challenging, or building on your contributions. And if your meeting quickly goes into an unexpected direction …

Take control if you aren’t ready to speak

When somebody wants to pull you in to the meeting and you feel you aren’t ready then actively control this. You have the right to take a little more time. Try expressions like:

  • “I’d like to think this through fully first before I answer”
  • “I’m thinking this through and would like a little more time”
  • “I’d like to let this settle and think it over. Can I get back to you this afternoon?”

Be aware that there is a danger of over-thinking too, and you may find the meeting has moved on too fast. With this in mind …

Accept that sometimes you need to just speak

If you aren’t fully ready to speak but feel you can’t ask for time try expressions like …

  • “I’m just thinking out loud now …”
  • “My first thought is …”
  • “This isn’t a fully-formed suggestion but how about …”
  • “Ideally I’d like to think this over some more , but my initial impression is ..”

And you don’t always need to have original ideas. If you’re not at your best try to …

Play to your strengths and leverage your listening skills

Many introverts are considered good listeners. You haven’t been talking that much and you’ve probably heard things that others haven’t (as they’ve been busy talking). This means you can …

  • “If I can just reflect back what I’ve heard so far …”
  • “What I’ve heard is … “
  • “I heard Olaf mention XXX, but then everybody kept moving on. I’d like to go back and ask …”
  • “I think we’ve missed something here ..”
  • “There seems to be a lot of focus on XX, but nobody has thought about YYY”
  • “If I can play devil’s advocate for a moment ..”

Accept and embrace that you can’t be perfect (all the time)

Nobody wants to come across as stupid or incompetent. But if you aren’t visible be aware that people may quickly see you as “the assistant”, or “the doer but not the thinker”.  Everybody has said things that have been wrong, incomplete, or poorly thought through. And vulnerability is  important for building trust. We trust people who are human and fallible. Be open to risking sharing ideas and thoughts and try expressions like …

  • “This idea isn’t fully formed but maybe you can help me …”
  • “I’m concerned I’ve got the wrong end of the stick here so let me just check ..”
  • “I know I’m missing something but here’s where I am so far ..”

And finally…

If the English is an issue then consider getting some targeted training. By doing the above you’ll quickly begin to be seen as playing an active role, and be viewed as a contributor. You can also expect to grow in confidence over time as you see strategies working and people reacting to you differently.

 

Meetings in English are fine but the coffee breaks are terrifying

Martin, an IT Project Manager, was getting ready for a meeting with his European counterparts to review his bank’s IT security. As ever he was very well prepared so I was a little surprised when he confessed to being nervous. However, it was not the meeting itself that was worrying him – it was the coffee and lunch breaks. His nerves were due to having to “small talk”. Small talk is an essential element of building relationships.  Yes, the meeting is all about dealing with business and discussing the items on the agenda but it’s in the breaks in between where the relationships are forged.
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Why do some people find small talk so hard?

When we run seminars on small talk and socializing in English we hear many reasons why people struggle when they have to make small talk. Some people don’t know what to say, some are afraid of saying the wrong thing, some don’t know how to start a conversation, some are scared that people will think they are boring, some people find small talk a waste of time…and the list goes on. All of these objections, and fears are magnified when we know we are going to have to do it in a foreign language.

You prepare for the meeting so prepare for the small talk!

If you are nervous or uncertain about what to say during the breaks – prepare for them. First of all identify topics that are safe and suitable for the event and the people attending.  Depending upon the culture you are speaking with “safe topics” may be different but in general you are on safe ground with the following:

  • The weather – The forecast says it’s going to rain for the next 2 days. What’s the weather like at this time of year in Cape Town?
  • The event itself – I particularly enjoyed this morning’s presentation on big data analytics. What did you think of it?
  • The venue – This is one of the best conference centres I’ve been to. What do you think of it?
  • Jobs – How long have you been working in data security?
  • Current affairs, but NOT politics – I see they’ve just started the latest trials on driverless cars. I’m not sure I’d want to travel in one. How do you feel about them?

Opening a conversations and keeping it flowing

If you are going to ask questions, when possible, ask open questions. An open question begins with a question word – what, why, where, when, how etc. and the person will have to answer with more than a simple yes/no answer. Open question elicits more information and helps the conversation to develop. Similarly if you are asked a question (closed or open), give additional information and finish with a question. This will keep the conversation flowing.

7 phrases for typical small talk situations

  • Hi, I don’t think we’ve met before. I’m Helena Weber from IT support in Ludwigsburg.
  • I’m ready for a cup of coffee. Can I pour you one?
  • I believe the restaurant here is excellent. Have you eaten here before?
  • What did you do before you joined the product management team?
  • Where are you from?
  • Did you see the story on the news about…?
  • It’s a while since I last saw you. What’s new?

Don’t forget

Your counterparts may well be as nervous as you are and will welcome your initiative in starting and joining in conversation with them.  You could be taking the first steps in developing new personal and business relationships

Key tips and English phrases for your next “lessons learned” meeting

Life is about continuously learning. We sometimes learn from our mistakes, and we can also learn from our successes. This was first brought to my attention early on in my career. After the successful completion of a tough project, we had a meeting with our team leader where we were questioned on both what had we done well and how could the project have gone smoother. Today, in the international automotive company where I work as an InCorporate Trainer training business English, Lessons Learned meetings are an integral part of any project.

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What happens in a “lessons learned” meeting?

Like my team leader a long time ago, the project managers I train are convinced that, after any project, it is important to reflect on what could be learned from the experience. Annette, a manager who regularly uses me for on-the-job training explained that “For us the lessons learned meeting is especially important if the project was deemed to be a success. In this way, best practices are identified and flow into subsequent projects. And feelings of complacency can be avoided. At the same time, it is important to understand what stood in the way of a project being even more successful. It doesn’t really matter how successful a project is, there is always room for improvement.”

She then went on to explain how her project team has time to consider their performance as well as that of the team as a whole, And that in new teams, or established teams with new members, this was typically tough the first few times “I do see pushback from new colleagues for various reasons, despite how obviously important these meetings may be. Some people feel there is no reason to speak about the past since we cannot go back and change things. Other times people may feel that it isn’t good to talk too much about the past but to focus on the future. My goal as the team’s leader is to show that being open about one’s mistakes allows others to learn from them! In German this is not easy but when we all do it in English we see that things are harder ”

Use we to be tough on the mistakes, but not on the individuals

Most of us don’t enjoy talking about our mistakes, and when discussing mistakes it is important to be both accurate and respectful. One way to do this is by asking questions using the collective “we” rather than assigning specific blame. After all, you are a team!

For example:

  • If we hadn’t worked overtime, we wouldn’t have finished within the deadline.
  • We should have received that information earlier.
  • If we had known that from the beginning, we would have done things much differently
  • We wouldn’t have had so many problems if we had communicated better.
  • We could have saved a lot of money if we had identified the problem earlier.

Ask the right questions to ensure future improvement

Another way of discussing mistakes is to use hypotheticals. These sentences help to make things less personal and more abstract. With this style of question, a hypothetical cause and effect in the past is identified and applied to future situations; a “What if…” style of identifying areas for potential improvement.

  • What if we made some adjustments in our future labor projections?
  • What if we ensured more timely delivery for our next project? How could we fulfill such a promise?
  • What if we were informed sooner? How would that have affected the delivery date?
  • What if we could improve our internal communication structure? How are some ways we could do this?
  • What would have been the outcome if we had identified the problem sooner?

Use success as a driver for learning

As mentioned above, we can also learn from our successes. So what questions could we and should we be asking ourselves to ensure our successes continue on to future projects? Here are some useful examples for your next “lessons learned” meeting…

  • Was our success unique to this project, or is it something we could replicate for future projects?
  • What surprises did our team handle well, and how could we build off of that to prepare for other unexpected outcomes in the future?
  • How could we re-formulate our achieved goals to really push the team to perform better?
  • What value did our individual team members bring to the project?
  • How can we increase our level of commitment and urgency?

To summarize

Implementing lessons learned meetings into your projects leads to team members growing in confidence, and an increase in performance and outcomes. Being aware of the impact language can have will help, as can facilitation skills , and building trust and a willingness to allow constructive conflicts in your team. Finally, there’s an excellent lessons learned template on Brad Egeland’s blog. Cornell University has a good overview of approaches and questions to use,  and the University of Pennsylvania offers a lessons-learned checklists to help lead discussions.

If you have any recommendations or would like to tell us about your experiences with lessons learned meetings, please feel free to do so below in the comments section.

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Surviving and understanding English corporate buzzwords and business lingo

Recently I was working with a software development manager from a major German multinational. He’d just got off a 2 hour webex meeting and was frustrated. “I thought my English was pretty good – but what exactly does We’ve worked through it soup to nuts mean?!”. I could empathize. It was the first time I’d heard this expression myself and I needed to understand the context before I guessed it meant from beginning to end. Corporate and business buzzwords, jargon and expressions can be a challenge for native speakers – and when English isn’t your first language things get so much harder.


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What do we mean by corporate buzzwords and business lingo?

The business world has always developed and used its own idiomatic phrases and vocabulary to describe all aspects of business and management. These expressions fall into 2 broad categories:

  • Some expressions are used across all business sectors, are very well known, widely used and understood. “We’re moving to an open plan office in the hope that it will improve cross-pollination” (cross-pollination is the generation of ideas by combining people from different backgrounds and with different skill sets).
  • Other expressions are specific to a certain business sector, for example marketing or auditing. This language (jargon) isn’t generally recognized outside the particular sector, e.g.  Shoptimization is the way forward (using apps to optimize in-store shopping experience).

Why do people talk like this?

This is a good question. A part of good communication is about making things easy to understand buzzwords don’t always do this.  Buzzwords are a type of jargon people use so they sound knowledgeable, up-to-date, important  … or just cool or funny. Is it effective? Decide for yourself. The video in this post is an excellent demonstration.  How many of the expressions do you recognize and understand?

Dealing with buzzwords and business lingo

I am a native speaker of English and have almost 40 years experience in the corporate world and I understood less than half of what was said in the video above. So what can non-native English speakers do when confronted by too much corporate speak?

Further online resources

Explanations for most of the expressions used in the video on available on these websites

9 common English jargon and buzzwords used in business

To close, here is is a selection of corporate jargon and buzzwords from the video … together with a simple explanation:

  • Let’s get our ducks in a row. = Let’s get organized
  • Can you put a deck together? = Can you prepare a visual presentation? (sales and marketing)
  • Loop me in on that! = Keep me informed of what’s happening.
  • He’s a disrupter. = He’s a person who changes the way things are done.
  • I’m going to have to marinade on that. = I need time to think about it.
  • Can you unpack that? = Can you give me more detail?
  • That’s not even in our wheelhouse. = That’s not in our minds.
  • That’s the silver bullet approach. = That’s the perfect solution.
  • Can we talk about that offline? = Can we talk about that away from the main group?

To summarize, don’t forget that even native English speakers struggle with business jargon and idiomatic expressions. If you follow the tips and make use of the links I’ve mentioned you will find it a little easier.

 

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Here’s a selection of posts if you want to read more:

 

 

Handling difficult and disruptive people in meetings

 “I am really enjoying my new role as Lean Audit Manager! The only issue is, meetings can sometimes be very challenging as I don’t always get the support and cooperation of everyone attending.” Claudia, a very experienced and highly qualified engineer who had recently been appointed as lean audit manager, said this to me a few weeks ago. Naturally, some team members can feel uncomfortable when their processes and working methods are scrutinized and analyzed. It is not unusual for this discomfort to surface in meetings as difficult and disruptive behaviour.  The end result is that meetings can become unfocussed, unruly and unsatisfactory.  The same is true for any meeting – sometimes some people behave badly.

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Countering disruptive behaviour

First of all remember this is your meeting, you have set the agenda and it is up to you make it work. Having said that, let’s look at some typical types of disruptive behaviour, what we can do to manage it and some useful English phrases.

Someone is monopolizing the discussion

Some people love the sound of their own voice and will talk at length on any and every point and deny other people the opportunity to be heard.

  • Stop them, thank them for their contribution and move on to the next point or next speaker: “That’s really very interesting Thorsten but we really need to hear from Angela / move on to the next item.”
  • Draw their attention to the agenda and agreed timeframes:  “We have already spent more time on this topic than agreed and we need to progress to the next point or we will run out of time.”
  • Set a time limit:  “OK Andrea you have 30 seconds to finish your point.”

Someone is promoting a personal agenda

Some people seem oblivious to the actual agenda and seem intent on pursuing their own. If this behaviour is not quickly checked the meeting is in real danger of completely losing its focus. Keyis to step in early, stop them from talking and get back to the agenda.

  • “Eric, what you’re saying has nothing to do with our current agenda. I want to bring Petra in to give us the update we are waiting for.”
  • “Thank you for that insight – it has been noted in the minutes but now we must return to the matter at hand.”
  • “John, I realize this is something you feel strongly about but it has no relevance in today’s meeting.”

People are having side conversations

 You will often find people who are intent on making comments, or having a conversation with their neighbour. Apart from being bad manners it is also very distracting. There are a number of techniques to handle this situation. For one, you can stop the meeting discussion, be quiet and look at the people talking. Very often they will feel uncomfortable and fall silent very quickly.

  • Invite them to share their conversation with the rest of the group: “I don’t think everybody can hear you. Could you speak up, so we can all get the benefit of what you have to say?”
  • Simply ask them to stop: “Could you please save your discussion for after the meeting and rejoin the group discussion? Thank you.”
  • Focus them on the goal/outcome: “We will make much better progress if we could all focus on the matter at hand.”

Don’t assign blame

If individuals are behaving badly resist the temptation to single them out. This can lead to a hardening of attitudes. Instead highlight the unacceptable behaviour and its negative impact. Think about your own style as well as the needs and preferences of those attending your meeting. This will help you to find the most appropriate and most effective way of handling difficult behaviors in your meetings.

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10 common American sport idioms

Sports are an important part of many cultures, and that is especially true in the United States. Every year, billions of dollars are spent on tickets and merchandise and millions of fans attend events all over country. But, surprisingly, the most commonly seen evidence may be in the way people speak. American sports phrases have made their way into everyday English as sport idioms are often used in daily communication between friends as well as in the business world. As a non-native English speaker, you don’t have to have detailed knowledge of each American sport to use sport idioms. Proactively using them can be tricky at times, but passively understanding them is very important when doing business with Americans if you want to understand and speak their language.’


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ballpark

From baseball, meaning ‘an approximate number’ in business speak.  “Can you get us a ballpark figure on 4th quarter earnings?”

a curveball

Also from baseball, meaning ‘an unexpected action or event that is difficult to deal with’.  “They threw us a curveball during negotiations by doubling their asking price.”

to drop the ball

From American football, meaning ‘to make an error or miss an opportunity’.  “Bob dropped the ball by not preparing for the important meeting.”

a full-court press

From basketball, meaning ‘an all-out effort to apply pressure’.  “We need to do a full-court press on our supplier to ensure delivery by the end of the month.”

to hit a home run

From baseball, meaning ‘to be very successful’.  “Tom hit a home run when he closed the big deal with Microsoft.”

Monday morning quarterback

From American football, meaning ‘a person who criticizes something after it has finished with the benefit of hindsight’.  “I wish Mary would stop playing Monday morning quarterback and give us input before our projects are finished.” 

to play ball (with)

From baseball, meaning ‘to cooperate or act fairly with’.  “Let’s hope headquarters agree to play ball with our new ideas on decentralization.”

to be saved by the bell

From boxing, meaning ‘to be saved from something bad by a timely interruption’.  “We hadn’t finished the presentation in time, but were saved by the bell when the client pushed back our meeting at the last minute to next week.”

to throw in the towel

From boxing, meaning ‘to quit or admit defeat’.  “After spending three hours trying to recover my deleted file, I threw in the towel and started over from the beginning.”

(someone’s) wheelhouse

From baseball, meaning ‘(someone’s) area of expertise, where they are most comfortable’.  “Susan studied to be a lawyer before joining the company, so legal negotiations are in her wheelhouse.”

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After the meeting ends – more practical ideas from great chair persons and facilitators we’ve worked with

In last week’s post What to do before the meeting begins – 4 added-value ideas from great chair persons and facilitators we’ve worked with we shared 4 great techniques we’ve picked up from experienced chairpersons and facilitators during meeting facilitation seminars. This post keeps sharing the sharing. As trainers, we get to listen to and learn from our clients – and then you get to benefit from not only our knowledge and experience, but their’ s too!  So here are 5 easy-to-implement ideas to make you an even better chair or facilitator AND make your meetings that much more effective.

Making the time to debrief the process

Taking the time after the meeting to talk about how the meeting went means you can continually improve not just your skills, but the effectiveness and efficiency of your meetings too. Debriefing is all about identifying behaviours to maintain and things to do differently during the following meetings – and top performing teams take the time to reflect.  You could integrate it into your agenda  or agree upon reflection intervals.  My own experience is that immediacy  is better.  When asked to think about the last e.g. 6 meetings, people too often tend to either focus on the last 1 or 2 events, or speak in broad and vague generalizations that are more difficult to act upon.

Sending out minutes – each time, every time, always, no excuses, better late than never

Whether they be formal or informal, an executive summary or agenda-based, action-oriented minutes or verbatim, it’s a good idea to write them and send them out!  Great chair persons understand and commit to always having minutes.  They don’t approach them with a “we have proof” mentality – but rather with a “building” and “commitment” mentality. And they also give people an opportunity to review and add to the minutes.  But they have them.

Planning in “I should have said” time

People are wonderfully different – and this means that not everyone is going to contribute equally in your meetings.  It could simply be shyness, or perhaps an issue of interpersonal dynamics or politics.  More often than not it could be that an idea or opinion wasn’t fully formed and the person chose to think it through before speaking (especially if they have what the MBTI refers to as an “Introvert” preference). It’s too easy (and destructive) to take a “If you don’t say it in the meeting you lost your chance”. Plan time after the meeting is over so participants who need time to reflect can have a chance to share their insights. This also helps to build trust.

Taking the time for tête-à-têtes

Connected to the above, planning in time after the meeting for a tête-à-tête (literally a head to head discussion) also gives you an opportunity to

  • make apologies (or gives somebody an opportunity to make them)
  • reflect on behaviours
  • ask for a recommitment to ground rules
  • clarify confusion
  • resolve conflicts
  • ask for and receive feedback,
  • check resources
  • gauge true level of commitment to tasks

… plus a hundred other things which are best done on a one-to-one basis.  It’s not politicking – it’s about building authentic relationships.

Planning in check-ins to review commitments and accountability

If people have had the chance to share their opinions and ideas and robustly discuss options in your meting then you can expect real commitment to the agreed action.  And if people have committed then you can hold them accountable. Great chair persons explicitly review the commitments at the end of the meeting AND they follow up later on.  When they follow up they have an “inquisitive” and “supportive” approach. They understand that things may have changed since the meeting, that priorities may have shifted and that resources may have been over-estimated or diverted.  But they follow up.

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Plenty more meetings where that came from… And for even more information on how to make your meetings and your performance during meetings more successful, please contact us. We love to talk!


 

Before the meeting begins – 4 added-value ideas from great chair persons and facilitators we’ve worked with

One of the best things about being a trainer is that you get to meet a lot of people from diverse backgrounds.  As trainers we get to listen to and learn from our clients – and we then get to share ideas, experiences and best practices with other clients. Below are some of the great ideas that top chairpersons and facilitators have identified over the last years during meeting facilitation seminars.

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Do you know who needs to be in the meeting and what they’ll be bringing to the table?

Before the meeting starts make a list of the decision makers, subject matter experts and opinion leaders. Then take a few minutes to isolate and identify their interests in the outcome of the meeting. Why? By doing this you’ll…

  • Know who to address about which topic when. This is especially useful if you have meeting participants who are quieter or introspective.
  • Know who to ask specific technical questions.
  • Be better able to focus the flow of information and discussion on the decision makers’ interests

Do you invest time before the meeting to talk with the participants?

This idea is too often quickly mislabelled as “politics”, but all of the truly impressive chairpersons I’ve been lucky enough to work with have stood by the idea. Great chairpersons and facilitators make the time to talk with individuals who will participate in the meeting about the meeting before the meeting begins. They do this to uncover interests, hear concerns and objections, and win support. They are then better able to connect interests, help others save face and steer discussions down constructive avenues.

I specifically remember a young project manager passionately convincing her fellow IT engineers of the merits of this behaviour and that “talking about the meeting before the meeting makes the meeting work -and that’s why we always finish our meetings earlier than planned!

Do you build your own ground rules – and review them at the start of every meeting?

Many organizations have established “meeting ground rules”. These may be unspoken, hidden away on the Intranet or printed on colourful posters and put in the meeting rooms. The advice is often solid and sensible.

But all the best chairpersons I’ve worked with have consistently supported the idea that ground rules work best when the team itself decides on their own ground rules and define acceptable meeting behaviour (for example phones on silent, poll opinions, always have an agenda, etc…).  This is especially important when working in virtual teams. When challenged by their peers that this was a waste of time answers included …

  • “The team takes the time to focus on the process and not the results. And my experience is that it’s the process that causes the frustrations 9 out of 10 times”
  • “Because everyone and every team  is different and the company rules can’t know this”
  •  “If they are our rules, and we made them, then everybody shares the responsibility for making our meetings work well”
  • “It means I don’t need to be the bad guy – because we all agreed and committed to the process up front”

Top chair persons and facilitators also tend to review them very quickly at the start of every meeting. One extroverted investment fund manager I worked with sang them and, to keep things fresh, changed the tune at least every quarter. You won’t be surprised to hear that his peers had mixed reactions to this idea (“It is not a serious idea Fabio, we are a bank!”) – but apparently his team loved it, and meeting attendance was high.

Are you building trust through building relationships and enabling “rough discussions”?

Great chairpersons and facilitators take the time before the meeting to get to know team members personally – and understand the dynamics between the participants.  This helps the chairperson;

  • understand people’ motivations and priorities (“what do they really care about?”)
  • adapt the dynamics and approach to respect he different personalities (e.g. not everybody wants to brainstorm as a group
  • adapt their own communication style e.g find the best metaphors and stories to illustrate key points,

But more importantly, as one German manager said “Rough discussions are important so we don’t keep having the same discussions again and again”.  This ties in with Patrick Lencioni’s 5 dysfunctions of a team idea that great chairpersons believe the more they know about the participants, the better they can facilitate open discussions. They’ll know when to push and when to stop, when to mine conflict in the meeting (force buried disagreements to light in order to work through them) and when to deal with issues in smaller groups. Building trust is a long-term investment, but as many meetings are chaired by the teams manager anyway it is an investment that pays off.

 

The FACTS and benefits to consider before you organize a meeting

meetings free ebookMost of us have been there at least once in our professional lives: You enter or leave the meeting wondering why you were invited and how you will make up for the precious time you’ve just lost by attending the meeting. And you wish the meeting organizer had stopped to ask “Do we really need this meeting?” before the meeting took place. 

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Consider the FACTS and the benefits before organizing your next meeting

To help you decide whether a meeting is worth holding, we ask you to consider the FACTS:

Format

Is a meeting the right format?

For example, if the goal of your meeting is only to relay news to your team, maybe you can save everyone time and send an email instead? Can, for example, everyone on your team make it to the meeting? If you’re relaying important news, will they feel left out?  Thinking about alternative formats to meetings can reduce the total amount of meetings you need to have with your team. There are pros and cons of meetings, emails, community updates etc., and there is no right or wrong. You need to make the decision as to which is the right format for each situation.

Aims

Is there a clear, definable aim for this meeting?

A meeting without a specific aim is usually a waste of time. However, there are situations where the aim is vague. Perhaps, for example, you haven’t seen each other for a while. You may not have something specific to say, but explaining the situation helps everyone to understand why they are in the room. And meeting to catch up and network is a perfectly valid aim. There are also cultural considerations here – in some cultures meetings are to get work done, in other cultures they are to build relationships. There is no right or wrong, but a happy medium needs to be established in international environments.

Consequences

Are there negative consequences if we cancel?

If you can’t think of any negative consequences of cancelling, then there’s no reason to have your meeting. If you do cancel with people you’ve already invited though, make sure you offer some explanation. And be honest. Don’t try to make up an excuse for cancelling it. Just explain what you are thinking. The chances are that most people will rate you very highly for doing this.

Timing

Is now the right time to meet?

Perhaps new developments in the near future will make your meeting unnecessary? Do you really need to have this meeting at the same time each week? Why are you calling the meeting in the middle of the holiday period? Giving a bit of thought about the situation now can save time later.

Sense

Does it make sense?

If you answer ‘no’ to any of the questions above, then holding the meeting clearly does not make sense. Cancelling this meeting is definitely the best option.

Three benefits of cancelling an unnecessary meeting

You may be reluctant to cancel a meeting, especially if everyone else around you seems to be in meetings regularly. Here’s why you need to lead the way by taking this step:

  1.  You save everyone valuable time – when you cancel a meeting, you and your colleagues can use that time to focus on tasks that add value to your organization.
  2.  You save money – when you calculate the resources needed to hold a meeting, the price can be extremely high.
  3.  You lead your regular meetings more effectively – knowing when to meet is just as important as knowing how to run a meeting. If you do this right, the participants in your meeting will know that their valuable time is always being used in the most effective way possible.

For more tips and language for managing meetings in English, why not look at our ebooks and related blog posts.

Negotiation tactics – Why silence is golden

A few weeks ago I was chatting to a purchaser who worked in the automotive industry. The conversation drifted to the topic of negotiating and we began to compare countries and styles. The purchaser, a Norwegian, said half in jest but seriously enough, “You English cannot handle silence”. As a full-blooded Brit I can only agree. Many cultures, especially Scandinavians, are more comfortable with silence than others. But why is this? The impact of culture on how we communicate is certainly a factor. When I lived in Sweden I had the impression Swedes and Finns took a long time to thaw out and small talk consisted of a “Jaaaah”.  The English, on the other hand, feel uncomfortable with silence and will often fill the air with meaningless chatter.

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“A Finn and a Swede go into a sauna.  After 30 minutes the Swede says “It’s hot in here”.  The Finn replies “You Swedes – you talk too much.”

Why am I sharing this? If, like me, you’re from a culture where communication is direct, silence is a hard skill to master. But whether it’s a cultural norm, a question of personality, or even a trained skill, being comfortable with silence when negotiating is essential if you want to reach your goals.  When used in a subtle and careful manner, silence can reshape negotiations and extract surprising amounts of information while leaving your counterpart feeling they are in charge of the conversation.

Value added question + silence = insight

A good negotiator, no matter what nationality, will probably be assertive but charming, have good questioning skills, and handle pressure well. Questioning skills are a must – and here silence plays a role. Silence can prompt your counterpart to share more than they planned to – verbally or non-verbally.

Poor negotiators will often answer their own question: “What price were you thinking of? I was going to suggest something in the region of € 105 per unit.”. Poor negotiators do not ask enough value added questions – a value added question being one that makes the other party pause and consider, e.g. “How did you arrive at that figure?” “What are the consequences for your clients?” “How can we help you sell this concept inside your organisation?” Answering value added questions needs time. Use the silence to observe your partner.

You have the right to be silent

Let’s assume you have asked a good question and the other party is taking his/her time to answer. A few seconds is not a problem, but after ten it can become tense. Learn to look serene and confident, smile at the other party, look at your notes and scribble something. Stay connected to the other party with body language and eye contact. At some point the other party may buy time and say “I’ll get back to you.” Alternatively you can also suggest moving on to another point. But give silence a chance.

And if the roles are reversed you have the right to be silent. Do not shoot from the hip with a half-baked, badly thought through answer. Learn to be comfortable with silence. “I’m thinking this through”, “I’d like to explore this idea, give me a minute” or “I’ll get back to you.” will buy you time.

Learning to use silence in negotiations – the role of training and practice

Silence has to be practised and refined in training or coaching. Training helps you become aware of your relationship to silence; then develop the skills to use it subtly and effectively through role plays, real plays and critical incidents. Training goves you the opportunity to repeat situations and develop awareness, confidence and mechanisms for handling silence. You can practice asking the right questions, leaving room for the other party to develop a sensible answer, practice NOT shooting from the hip, and practice behavioural strategies that make the silence comfortable for both you and your opposite number.

And remember – when negotiating silence is not a threat; silence is golden.

Powerful Communication – The Power of the Purpose Pyramid

listening skills target trainingThe purpose pyramid is one of the simplest and yet effective communication models for introducing a presentation, opening a meeting or organizing your thoughts that there is. It is so simple, in fact, that no one seems to take credit for it though you will find it in the work of many communications gurus. The four questions in the pyramid aren’t special by themselves, but together they offer a powerful way to connect what you want to do with the goals and needs of your organization, no matter what business you are in or function you perform. Why? + What? + How? + Who? = Alignment. The Purpose Pyramid makes it easy for you to structure your communication – in any situation.

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pyramid

Why?

Why is where you share or remind your team about the deeper meaning and purpose of the organization. This is the reason that energizes you and your colleagues as well as your customers. What’s your why? Your purpose is best when it brings the energy of your team together and they can all see themselves in it. It should also attract internal and external customers to your work.

A band plays music, by definition – but wouldn’t you rather see a band whose purpose is to give you high energy and a memorable musical experience?

At a more nuts and bolts level, you can also apply the why to day-to-day interactions and situations. An example could be to state the purpose (why) of a meeting on the agenda for everyone to see. If there is a question about being on track, the team can refer to the mutually agreed purpose of the team.

What?

What refers to the tasks you and your team need to get done to contribute to making your purpose a reality. At their best these tasks are things you can track and observe easily so all can know when it is accomplished. For example, to have better meetings is not a clear task. Having everyone contribute to the meeting is a clear task. The SMART principle is a great model to use, just remember they should in some way contribute to achieving your purpose.

An example could be to make task identification a two-step process. Instead of automatically identifying who should complete a task at the same time as identifying the task, outline just the tasks first. Going through the how before identifying who will help team members to know what they are committing to.

How?

How is where you turn to your method, approach or process, How will you get your tasks accomplished? For example, sticking with the “better meetings” example, if my task is to have everyone contribute to a meeting, I could tell the team members I expect them to contribute and hope for the best or I could use a polling technique in the meeting to give each attendee the space to speak uninterrupted.

If a task is complex, the “how” could be a process or procedure that helps to complete the task effectively and efficiently. If you have standard operating procedures in place, this is the time to stress their use.

An example could be to identify the resources and process necessary to complete a task before asking who will do it. Leaders get a chance to offer support to the team and may encourage team members to accept a stretch task because they know how they will be supported.

Who?

Who refers to the individual and collective commitments or expectations that match your team to the tasks at hand. In most meetings the who stage tells how well we’ve done the other stages. If team members recognize and connect with their purpose, the necessity of a task and the process and resources to get it done, it’s a lot easier to agree to do them. With the clarity you’ve built earlier, it is easier for you to ask for what you want while committing to do what is necessary to support your team. A great question at the end of a meeting is “what have we agreed to do?” to check agreements without sounding like a task master.

Browse our blog for more tips and tricks

And/or let me know of any other useful communication tools that always work for you. I look forward to hearing from you!

The alternatives to a weekly update meeting

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VT posterIt’s 11:00 on Monday morning and your team, spread across the world, is about to dial in to a virtual meeting. Why? To update each other on what’s been going on over the past week, and what might happen over the next few weeks. In theory this could be really interesting, useful and beneficial, if it weren’t for the tight deadlines you have this week, and the knowledge that you’re going to be putting in a few late nights to meet them. Do you really need to spend time listening to Thierry, Namrata, and Quentin talking you through their week when you’ve got so much to do?

The reasons why weekly update meetings contribute to the success of the team’s performance

  • They keep you all in contact with each other. Emails are useful, but you don’t talk to each other. There is no real chance to build rapport and trust with your colleagues on the team.
  • They give the manager a chance to talk to and relay information to everyone at the same time.
  • Things happen in the week and everyone then knows that they have an opportunity to talk about them on this regular occasion. Unless something has to be dealt with right now, you can save it until then and not interrupt everyone during the week.
  • High performing teams help each other in difficult situations. If you don’t go to that meeting and share the fact that you are under pressure, nobody will be able to help you out. Everyone is, after all, working towards the same goals.

What makes weekly update meetings great?

There are, again, so many factors that could make these meetings great. This starts with recognizing that there are problems, and dealing with them. Here are a few suggestions:

  • If everyone is well-prepared and sticks to the agenda.
  • If everyone takes turns to speak.
  • If everyone shows interest when the others are speaking and reacts to what the speaker is saying.
  • If the language used is clear so that everyone can understand.
  • If the agenda varies from time to time. These meetings do run a risk of becoming routine. If you change the contact from time to time, this can help with the interest level.
  • If everyone commits to agreed rules.
  • If people refrain from doing other tasks at the same time as the meeting.

The alternatives to having a weekly update meeting

Do you simply want to update and be updated or do you want to help improve your team’s performance? If you’re looking for alternatives to the weekly meeting, then these options might be useful.

Email

There is definitely a time and a place for emails, and they serve the purpose of conveying information. But they can be misread, and they can also be not read. There is no interaction and you have no chance to discuss responses with everyone at the same time unless you want an inbox bombardment.

A team portal or community

A lot of organizations now have their own internal social network. You can use communities for a wide range of purposes. You may also have a portal for your team. Why not use this to post updates before the meeting and then ask team members to talk specifically about one or two of the points? Alternatively they could ask questions on the portal/community that they would like help with. If everyone else has seen the issues in advance, then they have time to think, and will have something to contribute.

What is the structure of the update?

Just like with meetings, it is useful to give team members a common structure if you decide you’ll use email or an online platform for your weekly updates. Ask yourself:

  • What do you want them to share?
  • What tasks are they working on?
  • What challenges are they facing?
  • How can the other members of the team help?
  • What are the next steps?

If you’d like to find out more about how we can help improve the way your (virtual) team works, take a look at https://www.targettraining.eu/soft-skills-trainings/?lang=de and our ebook https://hs.targettraining.eu/ebook/virtualteamschecklists

What comes first, the coffee or the meeting?

Dealing with different expectations in meetings

mediumHave you ever needed to discuss terms and conditions with international partners? You come in ready to get down to business as quickly as possible, only to discover that the others first want to have some small talk or a coffee before discussing business? You might think to yourself, “Are we here to have a nice time or to do business?”

How we expect a meeting to run and how the meeting really progresses might be very different. We can all face the question, “When are we ready to get down to business?” So how do we find the correct balance between small talk and business? How should we identify what our partners (or participants) expect in advance?

General tips to consider before beginning the meeting

  • Find out about your audience in advance. What might be most important to them?
  • Consider following the cues of others in the meeting. How and when do they ask questions?
  • Think about potential differences in expectations and possible solutions in advance.
  • Know what you want to achieve during the meeting and how you wish to do so. Be aware that the audience might not have the same goals or process in mind.
  • Know both formal and informal phrases for dealing with different expectations.
  • Know when to use the phrases you’ve identified.
  • Notice possible mistakes (i.e. starting too soon, ignoring the other participants’ needs, etc.) and ask for feedback
  • Be aware of the importance of company culture.

Some questions to ask yourself before the meeting

  • What do the meeting participants expect?
  • When should I begin discussing business?
  • Is a formal or an informal tone better?
  • Does my company have any official information I can refer to?
  • Where can I go to find out more information about potential pitfalls?
  • What do I feel is a good balance which will accommodate everyone?
  • Would it be beneficial to receive extra training in this area?

Dealing with expectations in international meetings

When preparing for international meetings, we can take inspiration from the 7 dimensions of culture, as defined by Dr. Fons Trompenaar. They are:

  1. Universalism versus Particularism (Rules versus Relationships)
  2. Individualism versus Communitarianism (The Individual versus The Group)
  3. Specific versus Diffuse (How Far People Get Involved)
  4. Neutral versus Emotional (How People Express Emotions)
  5. Achievement versus Ascription (How People View Status)
  6. Sequential Time versus Synchronous Time (How People Manage Time)
  7. Internal Direction versus Outer Direction (How People Relate to Their Environment)

The area that best relates to our “getting down to business” scenario is the Specific-Diffuse dilemma. Here’s a quick overview* of this dimension:

Dimension Characteristics Strategies
Specific People keep work and personal lives separate. As a result, they believe that relationships don’t have much of an impact on work objectives, and, although good relationships are important, they believe that people can work together without having a good relationship.
  • Be direct and to the point.
  • Focus on people’s objectives before you focus on strengthening relationships.
  • Provide clear instructions, processes, and procedures.
  • Allow people to keep their work and home lives separate.
Diffuse People see an overlap between their work and personal life. They believe that good relationships are vital to meeting business objectives, and that their relationships with others will be the same, whether they are at work or meeting socially. People spend time outside work hours with colleagues and clients.
  • Focus on building a good relationship before you focus on business objectives.
  • Find out as much as you can about the people that you work with and the organizations that you do business with.
  • Be prepared to discuss business on social occasions, and to have personal discussions at work.
  • Try to avoid turning down invitations to social functions.

*Taken from: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/seven-dimensions.htm

You could ask

Specific

  • Do functions and roles define relationships with others?
  • Is written communication more important than face-to-face or telephone?
  • Are closed questions more often used than open questions?

Diffuse

  • Do relationships with others define functions and roles?
  • Is the background story or information necessary for understanding specifics?
  • Is it valuable to invest time in getting to know each other directly and personally?

As the saying goes, being well prepared is half the battle

Although it might take a bit more time, considering the questions shown above should help you to be better prepared for meeting situations where individuals have different expectations. If you would like to learn more, have a look at our intercultural seminars or some more of our intercultural blog posts.

3 communication problems faced in meetings and 9 facilitation strategies that will solve them

Even if you’re well organized, with a clear agenda and purpose, basic communication problems can arise that can derail your meeting very quickly. If it’s your job to moderate a meeting, you need to be able to get clear decisions without wasting too much time. Below, we present a few common communication problems and basic facilitation skills that can solve them and get your meeting back on track.

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Problem 1: Deadlock

Situation: The group discusses an issue fully, but no agreement can be reached because no one changes their opinion. Here’s an example:

Chris: That brings us back to the question: do we want to host the event in Denmark or Croatia?

Dana: It’s too cold in Denmark. Let’s go to Croatia.

Richard: I still don’t understand why we can’t just do it in Germany.

Mark: Russia! Russia! Russia!

Laura: We’ve been talking about this for an hour. Can’t we just choose one?

Strategies for dealing with deadlock

  • take a break and try again, but with a clear time limit to make a decision
  • make a temporary decision that can be changed later
  • use a problem-solving tool like the FOCUS model

Problem 2: Unimportant points

Situation: The group discusses trivial points and wastes time. For example:

Mike: So should the picture be on page 343 or page 344 of the report?

Strategies for dealing with unimportant points

  • as facilitator, give one person the power to make a final decision
  • scan the agenda and delete unimportant items before the meeting, then discuss those points with the relevant colleague privately
  • if there’s one idea that everyone seems to be happy with, name it as the choice and quickly move to the next point

Problem 3: stubbornness

Situation: One person sticks to their opinion no matter what anyone else says, and refuses to change their opinion. For example:

Tina: I don’t care what you say, I insist that we use Acme as our telephone company.

John: But Acme is the most expensive.

Tina: That’s true. But our telephone company must be Acme.

Strategies for dealing with stubbornness

  • ask questions to find out why your colleague insists on this one option. Maybe there is information the group doesn’t know that can help the discussion move forward. Insist on full answers to your questions.
  • rather than attacking what you see as a stubborn approach, try to put yourself in your colleague’s shoes. The situation might look differently from their perspective.
  • if the colleague still refuses to change, apologize and tell them that while you value their opinion, the group has made another choice