Category

Communication

Stop talking! 4 ways to reduce your communication intensity

By | Communication, Leadership

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We are all aware that openness and transparency is on the desirable list for a leader and that employees generally demand even greater communication and honesty in today’s leader.

However………..Are you an over-sharer? Do you talk as you think? Have you got so many thoughts running through your head, that you assume your team must know everything that is going on?

Sometimes there is such a thing as too much when it comes to communication and this of course can be confusing when leaders are constantly told to communicate more often, with greater transparency and in a variety of ways.  Use of social media, targeted emails, company wide communications, tele-conferences, sending a group text, use of company newsletter etc. Aren’t we communicating enough?

I recently conducted some coaching with a leader on the back of some feedback he had received relating to his communication effectiveness.  It turned out he was an over-communicator. Examples included sending emails and demanding action during meetings – where his directive would continue to change through-out the meeting as the emails were ‘pinging’ into inboxes all around the office.  His behaviour would also involve significant verbal communication in the hallway and informal designated ‘catch up’s’ rather than sticking to official one on one meetings.

So what? He likes to communicate – better than no information and a closed-door right?

Here’s the problem. When you over-communicate and overload people with your verbal diarrohea and a barrage of emails, what happens? Your team can feel distracted, micro-managed, overwhelmed, unsure of the direction you want them to take, confused and that you are being authoritarian in your approach. Ultimately, your message is lost – no matter how good your intent.

Here are 4 ways you can positively reduce your communication intensity:

  1. Stop and reflect before you speak – what is it that you want to communicate? Start with your intent or what you want to happen/achieve.  Never leave this to the end of your communication. People will be actively listening when they know what is expected of them upfront and the context of your message.
  1. Delivery – what is the best mode of delivery for this message? Is it verbal? Email? Face to face? Group? If you are giving someone feedback or any piece of communication that could be construed negatively or where the meaning could be misinterpreted, face to face is best. Email is good for instructions or re-confirming deadlines or verbal agreements.
  1. Impact – before you blurt out what is on your mind, consider the other person.  What impact is your message going to have? Consider your delivery – how you are going to say it? You can communicate the same message and meaning without being so direct and blunt that you catch the other person off guard and put them on the defensive.
  1. Pause power – actually pausing, allowing you to take a breath, before you open your mouth, is a real opportunity to get clarity. Maria Shriver said “Sometimes when you pause, you will realise you’re going to have to hold yourself back from acting out on your ego and first impulse”.

I agree that we need honesty in communication – the more transparent we can be, the more we keep things simple and we can learn a lot from ourselves and each other by having these honest conversations.  It’s when our communication is rushed, too frequent and full of loaded emotion that it can become distracting and overwhelming for those around us, especially those who look to us for leadership and direction.

So for the over-communicators out there, I will leave you with this: Consider your message, pause, use delivery with good intent and consider a shorter version in our time-poor lives, as succinctness is the key to more effective communication.

Fear, Lies & Leadership….How to have honest conversations

By | Communication, Leadership

UntitledWouldn’t leadership be easy if you could just have a frank conversation? Just say what you think and not worry too much about the delivery or consequences? Here it is – this is what I think – take it or leave it.

I met with a new business owner this week who reflected on a culture he had created in the early 90’s where candid conversations were the norm – none of this skirting around the issues and constant worry about upsetting people or legal consequences.  He reflected on the types of conversations that he’d had, “James, it’s just not working out. Not for you. Not for me. We can go through performance plans and recording these conversations or we can just agree it isn’t a fit for either of us”. He saw this as refreshing, effortless and talking straight.

This frankness and boldness is not the norm in what I observe in most organisations today.  I see many leaders through our coaching programs avoiding difficult conversations, making them harder than they need to be or avoiding the real issues, so  team members walk away feeling more confused and unsure about what they need to do to keep the boss happy.  The answer? Leaders need to let go of the lies and embrace the fear of having an honest and direct conversation.

I did this today, as I had to tell a candidate they were unsuccessful for a Chief Executive role. I could have said the other candidate had more experience, that you performed well, but you were just pipped at the post. I could have softened the blow to make them feel better and avoid upsetting their feelings. But in this case, it wouldn’t have been honest or direct. And it certainly wouldn’t have helped that person move forward and achieve their career goals. Instead, I told the candidate where they performed well and was straight in explaining it was his limited examples demonstrating strategic thinking and developing teams, which let him down in the process. Yes he was disappointed, but he was thankful for the feedback to improve his interview performance for next time.

In my experience, when leaders think they are being clear, often the team member hears a completely different message. Why? Because the manager is trying to ‘soften’ the blow, rather than being straight. I’m sure you have seen it, tried it or been on the receiving end of it.

If you really care about your people and want them to perform, succeed and grow, you owe it to them to deliver feedback (no matter how difficult) in a straight manner. Most people can handle constructive criticism as long as it is honest, delivered straight and comes from a place of good intent.

Tackling tough conversations is one of the most feared things to deal with by many leaders. At a recent CEO panel interview, we asked a candidate to discuss one of the most difficult negotiations he had been involved in. We didn’t hear about a contract negotiation, a legal dispute or a financial matter – it was the ‘people stuff’ that he admitted to still getting ‘butterflies’ in his stomach when addressing difficult situations. It’s not easy, but these conversations are critical to ensure that you are on the same page and communication is clear and direct.

Quick reminders to deliver honest conversations effectively:

  1. Good intent – you are doing the right thing by an individual to share constructive feedback that will assist them to improve, grow and perform.
  2. Direct communication – be straight and don’t ‘soften’ or confuse your message with more words and dialogue than is necessary. Deliver your message and then stop. Don’t be afraid of the pause.
  3. Avoid personalisation and emotion – this is not about someone’s personality or traits, this is about behaviours.
  4. Be specific – use real and immediate observations, not what you’ve heard second-hand on the grapevine.
  5. Action – what is the behaviour you want to see, or a system put in place, to ensure the desired behaviour is implemented going forward?

One of the greatest things I have learnt as a leader and as a coach is to have open, straight, frank and often difficult conversations face to face. It is never easy when dealing with people and their emotions – but you can really change someone’s experience and perspective in a positive way when you deliver your message succinctly and with good intent.

Be tough on performance, never on the person and don’t hang on to things – openness and honesty is the basis for long-term leadership success.

 

nicoleunderwood pty ltd is an executive search and consulting firm with a holistic approach to talent management. We deliver executive coaching programs where we work one on one with leaders and leadership teams to further improve leadership and communication skills. You can find out more here.

 

Are you ignoring staff issues? 4 ways to get your head out of the sand

By | Communication, Leadership, Performance

ignoreThis week a friend of mine told me he quit his job after being head hunted for a new opportunity (closer to home, more money, leading a bigger team and better long-term career prospects). I was pleased for him and wondered why he didn’t seem that excited.  “What’s wrong?” I asked. “My current boss hasn’t spoken to me for over a week since I resigned”. Sorry? Your boss is ignoring you? Yep. Pretty much since the meeting where he resigned, his boss has been so ‘disappointed’ that he has decided to give him the “silent treatment”.  Not exactly your classic successful leadership technique!

It appears this “bury your head in the sand” technique is not isolated to just this leader either.

In another example, a client was telling me about a problem employee who despite ongoing feedback, remained unreceptive to improving his performance. Interestingly, he had not yet responded to a meeting request from this employee from a week ago, telling me he couldn’t be bothered and that he was over investing any more time and energy in the situation.

Now, I get it. I do. As a leader you can often spend hours coaching, supporting and providing advice to help develop your team members and there are days it can feel like a thankless job.  However, I challenge you to look at your own behaviour. Are you setting the tone? Are you leading by example? Are you perpetuating the undesired behaviour inadvertently?

4 ways to turn it around:

1.    Don’t bury your head in the stand

Like my client, there are many days where as a leader you probably feel like mimicking my 4-year-old by putting your fingers in your ears saying “I can’t hear you …. La la la”. But ignoring something or pretending that a situation with your staff member is going to improve, disappear or fix itself is just plain stupid.

Ignoring what’s happening will never make a situation better. A real leader will address the situation head on, openly discuss the problem (without blame or emotion) and together encourage a solution.

2.    Make a decision – imagine the perfect scenario

When I was frustrated with employee issues it always became worse or the problem was enhanced when I thought about it, talked about it with others, analysed it, worried about it – but things only ever changed or improved when I actually made a decision.

A great way to obtain clarity is to imagine in 3 months time that the person has improved and the performance problem is solved – how does it make you feel? Positive? Then you can commit to moving things in the right direction. Can’t image that situation or it still feels ‘off’? Chances are you have a cultural mis-alignment and even if the performance improves, this person is not the right match for you and your team.

3.    Manage the performance up or out  

Once you have committed to addressing the problem head on, it’s time for the conversation where you discuss where the employee’s current level of performance is and where you would like it to be.  This discussion should highlight several areas as to where the employee needs to improve and the action steps they are going to take to develop. Ultimately, this should result in someone stepping up or off – either way; it’s a better result than the current situation of non-performance.

4.    Communicate with good intent

To give the employee (and you) the best chance of success, you need to operate and speak with good intent. You can’t fake this. Be authentic. Demonstrate  that you want to see this person succeed in their role and that you are here to support them in reaching the desired behaviours/objectives.  This means showing strong belief and using positive language in your conversations.

Don’t forget as the leader, you are always on show and every interaction – positive, negative or otherwise is being observed and often recreated somewhere else in the business. If you are not feeling “in the zone” or you can’t project the vibe you want to create – best to take some time out, close the door or reschedule that team meeting – people can spot a fake a mile away! Whether you like it or not – the leader sets the tone.

 

 

 

 

“Let’s connect” – the new way to network

By | Communication, Confidence

Last week I spoke at the UNSW (The University of New South Wales) AGSM (Australian Graduate School of Management) MBA networking evening “Let’s Connect” on the importance of networking.  I don’t know about you… but surely this topic has been done to death? We all know how to work a room and meet new people don’t we? Hmmm….apparently not and it’s clear that professionals still want to know how to do it effectively.

Networking is becoming a redundant term in this modern era of social media where “connecting” is the buzzword.  Every time I open my email there is a new invitation to connect with someone on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google + etc. Never before have we had so many channels and forums to meet new people, discover new opportunities, join groups and discuss and debate with other like-minded individuals.

This connecting is really at the heart of what life is all about. Regardless of whether we are in business, sport, families, friends or community groups, our experiences are enhanced when meeting new people and forming new relationships.  This in essence is what connecting is all about.

These relationships, the connections, the networks you have created and built over your lifetime give you access to information and knowledge that we need to generate business deals, job opportunities, new relationships and long-term success.  It is also these connections in your direct network that have a direct influence and impact on your life.  In fact, master wealth creator Jim Rohn discovered that your “income is generally the average of the 7 people you spend most time with”. Time to change friends perhaps!?!

Let me give you an example, at my daughter’s school I met two parents who have immigrated from the UK and they have been on the verge of being deported as they have been unable to gain employment and therefore the right visas. They have strong knowledge, skills and experience in their relevant fields, both present well, have great communication skills…yet going through the normal channels of finding a job, they couldn’t even snag an interview.  But they’re determined and have been great at connecting! Through the school network, they have been to the school ballet concert, art show, every child’s birthday party, school assembly, drop off and pick up – and instead of standing in the corner, they have taken every opportunity to meet other parents, ask questions and show an interest in getting to know new people.  It’s paid off – they both have new jobs and here’s the thing – it wasn’t through a Recruiter (sadly for me) or a job ad, or via the Internets thousand of vacancies – no it was through good old fashion networking.

Quick tips for effective ‘connecting’: 

1)    Be interested and curious in people – don’t be like the Adelaide businesswoman I met years ago that was looking straight past me when I was talking to her to see who else was more important in the room.

2)    Don’t focus on what somebody’s position, title or label is – people’s influence goes way beyond what’s on their business card.

3)    Describe what you do, don’t just hand over a business card – it opens up the conversation and gets the dialogue moving 

4)    Have something interesting to say – not the weather please! 

5)    Don’t expect an instant return every time real connecting is about building long term relationships, not about an immediate sale or what can this person help me achieve right now?

6)    Follow up on social mediaafter the AGSM event, nearly everyone I met that night has been followed up on LinkedIn or Twitter to stay connected

I think overall the best advice is to think about networking strategically. That is, not what’s in it for me today, but having an open mind of whom can I meet and what can I learn?

Being open to the results is essential, after all this could be a new client, a new job, a new friend or perhaps a new relationship! Connecting is at the heart of what we do – it’s a life skill. Approach networking as an opportunity to learn and meet new people without expectations – you will be pleasantly surprised by the results.

 The most valuable asset of any business is your relationships. Without them, you have nothing. See people you meet today as relationships you can build on as these are the most valuable things you have”

John McGrath

 

 

5 tips to pitch to clients fearlessly

By | Communication, Performance

This is a guest post written by Dr Gemma Munro, an Adelaide-based life coach and facilitator and the Director of Inkling Coaching. Gemma has a PhD in performance psychology and extensive experience working with senior-level leaders to maximise their performance and enjoyment at work.

I know a number of women recruiters and, to a tee, I would describe them as capable, charming and confident. I also know that this confidence can crumble rather quickly in the face of the dreaded client pitch. I have experienced this firsthand, having spent a number of years in executive recruitment. The palms start sweating, the heart starts beating faster, and suddenly all our usual confidence and charm seems to sink into our stockings.

Over the years, I developed a number of techniques to start enjoying client pitches – and what do you know, my success rate improved phenomenally. I’m now a coach and facilitator, but client pitches are one of my favourite parts of the job. Here are my top five tips to shine in front of clients and make the most of every pitch opportunity:

1. Create a pitch that captures your clients’ attention

Most clients have one question going through their minds when listening to a pitch. That question is ‘what’s in it for me?’; in other words, how will this recruiter make my job easier?’. To pitch well you need to put yourself in your clients’ shoes – what problems are keeping them awake? Shape your pitch around what is going to make your clients sit up in their chairs and listen. Address their needs, never yours.

2. Engage in some armchair rehearsal

Did you know that the great Laurence Olivier used to walk on stage before almost every performance and announce to the empty auditorium, “You are about to see the best show you have seen in your entire lives. And I will be delivering it. You lucky people”. Being not quite as famous as Laurence Olivier, most of us will need to say something similar to ourselves quietly before we step into a pitch. An equally useful technique is to spend a few minutes each day before a meeting visualizing ourselves in the pitch meeting looking, sounding and feeling confident. Works a charm.

3. Do the wall stand

Just before you meet your client, stand up against a wall so your body is flat against it, then walk into the room maintaining this posture. It’s amazing how it calms your nerves and centres your body (and, as a bonus, standing this way makes anyone look assured and at ease).

4. Fall in love with your client

A quick disclaimer – this tip is metaphorical, not literal! But it’s amazing how well it works. Think back to how you communicated when you were falling in love. You maintained intense eye contact for long periods of time. You looked at your lover as if she or he was the most fascinating thing in the world. Do the same with your client – look them in the eyes, be genuinely interested in them. Most people are seeking one of two things; to feel valued or to feel important. Your client is exactly the same.

5. Reframe your pitch as a chance to help your client

One of the most useful things to remember is that your clients won’t be thinking about you much at all. Like most people, clients are wrapped up in their own world and are just looking for some help or hope – this is something you can give them. Take the emphasis off yourself, and place it on making a difference to your client.

As a motivated, accomplished recruiter, what you have to offer is of exceptional value. The trick is to know it, but then to remove the focus entirely off yourself and onto your client. And the other trick? Over time, give yourself permission to have fun in pitch meeting. Pitches always represent an opportunity to help your clients tremendously. What a privilege.

To the smart, savvy women out there

If you’re interested in building your confidence and skills as speakers, I am running my Speakeasy program on June 18-19 in Adelaide. Speakeasy is a two-day workshop for a small group of women who want to communicate and pitch more confidently, effectively and authentically. Designed and facilitated by Dr Gemma Munro, the program is specifically for women who are smart, self-motivated and positive in outlook, but who believe that they do not communicate their full potential when speaking to a group.

 

About Gemma Munro

Gemma is an accomplished public speaker herself. She is known as a highly skilled facilitator with an engaging, energetic and compassionate approach. She has presented her research nationally and internationally, and has won several prizes for her speaking. Gemma is also a long-time performer, having toured Europe, the United States and Asia as a classical and folk singer. She understands performance nerves, having experienced them first-hand, and she is deeply interested in helping others to get the fear out of the way and experience joy and success at work.

Visit www.inklingcoaching.com for testimonials from clients and participants who have worked with Gemma.

“We need to talk”……ensure you are heard as a leader

By | Communication, Leadership

This week I got a bill from my Accountant – who I’ve had a long term relationship with (nearly 15 years) that got me rather annoyed and frustrated. I had been charged extra for “email advice” on a “range of issues”.  Did that make my blood boil!  Not because I had been charged – I understand they make money from their knowledge and expertise – but history had told me that this advice from time to time was part of building our relationship.   Now since merging with one of the larger firms, I feel the rules have changed. Again, I don’t necessarily have a problem with this, but where is the communication? At no point has anyone communicated that this ‘casual’ dialogue was in fact being ‘billed’.  If the rules are going to change in any relationship, I am a big believer in setting the expectations upfront about how it is going to be going forward to ensure both parties are clear and there aren’t any grey areas.  Communication is key.

It got reinforced to me when a client said his staff surveys revealed that they still want more communication from the top.  He says this issue comes up every year, yet he feels he communicates all the time!

Communication is a constant issue for all leaders. I clearly remember one of my mentors telling me early in my leadership career – communicate everything or risk others communicating on your behalf. That is, in the absence of information, staff will just assume and make it up.  That’s how gossip starts and ‘poison’ can infect a culture.

As a leader, I learnt to communicate often and share information.  I believe this was one of the key factors in building a high performance culture and trust in my last organisation.  In some recruitment companies, no financial results are shared – team or individual.  This ‘confidential’ information is kept under lock and key and protects those who are potentially having a ‘bad month’ or in non-performance.  I take the opposite approach – share the budget, the goals, the business top line results, individual results including sales leader boards, industry benchmarks – the more information and data the better.  It builds trust, gets buy-in, will explain why some decisions are made and increases performance and accountability.  I felt I could never communicate too much.

Communication starts from the top and the leader sets the tone.  Decide what is and isn’t acceptable, what methods and forums are suitable for what messages and then be consistent.  For example, I’ll never forget the day I received a text message giving me a salary increase! Good news? Sure. Appropriate device?  Probably not given the importance and sensitivity of the message.

Regardless of situation – whether it is in business, our personal lives, or buying a product or service, the key to having a favourable experience is one where the communication is clear, your expectations are met and when you feel you have been heard and responded to.  Perhaps we never master communication perfectly and perhaps we can always improve and get better.  The solution is having awareness and then checking in with our audience to ensure that we are on the right rack and are being perceived correctly. Ask your staff – “are you clear in what we are trying to achieve?” Ask in an interview “does that answer your question, is that what you were looking for?” Ask your support staff “what’s your understanding of my request?” This technique allows you to gain feedback on your delivery and to see if your message has been interpreted correctly.

Communicate often, communicate verbally, communicate expectations and regularly check-in to ensure you are being effective in your delivery.  Communication is rarely perfect – but I can guarantee you can’t be criticised for telling too much, too often or for asking for too much feedback.

“Skill in the art of communication is crucial to a leader’s success. You can accomplish nothing unless you can communicate effectively.”