Archive for the 'Communication skills' Category

Eye to Eye on the dance floor

At some stage in our working lives I suspect everyone has been told about the importance of creating rapport with another person and has an awareness of at least some things that create or destroy rapport. The one thing that is commonly referred to is the need to have eye contact. The question is – what’s an appropriate level of eye contact?

Last week I found myself in a situation that was rather disconcerting. I was in a meeting with a man who stared. I think he’d been on a course where he was told to always maintain eye contact. The unfortunate thing was that his stare became more intense as his words and manner became more aggressive and personal. As the person on the receiving end of these behaviours it was totally unsettling to be in the same room as this man who obviously thought that eye contact and a smile meant he could say whatever he wanted and it would be OK. I found myself looking away from him, becoming agitated – I really wanted to escape.

Yes it’s important to have eye contact with someone if you want to establish a relationship. However, there is a balance between having eye contact and also moving your eyes away. Staring is not away of creating rapport – more often than not it creates discomfort for the person you are staring at.

Creating rapport is about connecting with another person, it’s about creating your very own dance together. This can be achieved by your body language, the expressions on your face, the tone of your voice, the language you use and your responsiveness to the person’s state.

Sometimes I find myself consciously thinking about the way my actions, my words, my level of eye contact are helping or hindering me build relationships; and at other times I forget to think about it. I hope that at these times it’s because I’m dancing the same dance on the same dance floor with the other person – step by step. For all of us I think the art of rapport comes when you know that the dance is happening. Part of the art is to also be aware and do something about it when you are attempting ballet and the other person is dancing the salsa.

Are you dancing?

Advertisements

Making an Ass of U and Me

Do you ever have those AHA moments? Those moments when something becomes so obvious to you and you want to kick yourself for not realising it before hand. Do these moments come when you realise that you have made assumptions and may be the assumption is wrong – or does this just happen to me?

Over the last few weeks or so I’ve been registering some of the assumptions that I and those around me have made.

There was the occasion when I assumed that the person I was talking with would remember a conversation we’d had 3 years ago – it took me a while to realise they didn’t.

The time when I was pitching for some work and the potential client had assumed that I would do the work for an almost non-existent budget and I’d assumed they knew what the market rate would be.

And there have been numerous times at home where I’ve made decision based on assumptions about what would be OK for my partner only to realise later that a conversation would have been useful.

At some point after assumptions have been made, it’s dawned on me that assuming really is making an Ass of U and Me. The implications of this can be pretty intense with relationships suffering and time being wasted. When we make assumptions it tends to be due to laziness – laziness in our thinking and laziness in our communication.

It seems to me that a few simple techniques, once remembered will make a big difference and reduce the amount of time spent going up dark alleyways.

The techniques to embed are:

Ask yourself what assumptions you are making and whether or not they are reasonable – for instance, I assumed that the potential client would be paying market rates and should have checked this with them much earlier in our conversations than I did as we both invested considerable time in our discussions before we reached this point. It turned out that our assumptions didn’t match.

Ask questions to clarify, check and inform – I so easily could have asked the ex colleague whether or not they remembered us talking about on-boarding several years ago, before diving in to the conversation. This would have brought us to the same place at the start of the conversation.

Be clear about the assumptions you are making – it’s sometimes worth stating up front what assumptions you are making. If we go back to my communication mishap I made a number of assumptions and it would have been more productive to state some of these upfront to check if the group were OK with them.

What assumptions have you made that have got in the way, led to conversations stumbling or led to you and others going in different directions. I’m assuming we all do this or is it just me?

Self awareness of your communication

I recently attended an industry forum where a panel of speakers were giving their views on different subjects. Within minutes of the event starting I was intrigued by the influence one person had on the tone and success of the event. This person was the MC – let me describe briefly what happened.

It was early morning and a lot of people had made their way to the event in anticipation of hearing some insights from industry leaders. All started well with the MC introducing each of the speakers – this was as far as it got before he made blunder number one.

Having introduced each of the male panelists in a professional way, his intro to the one female on the panel was to describe her as beautiful. Whatever you’re personal views on this type of comment, what I noticed was that the MC had immediately put most of the women in the audience off side. Given that it was probably 75% women this was a big chunk of the audience who were now wondering why they’d got out of bed.

From here there were several further blunders by the MC, including a few rather weak jokes that attacked people in the room and one joke that could potentially be considered as racist. This was followed by a lack of understanding of the role of the MC. As the event went on he seemed to think that it was necessary for him to also give his opinion on each question put to the panel, by this time he had lost the respect of parts of the audience.

So why am I telling you this story? There were several learning’s for me as I observed what was happening:

1. Having a self-awareness about the words you use, the response you are receiving and the particular communication role you have are fundamental to good communication

2. If you are standing in front of an audience it makes sense to think about the audience, what their hot buttons will be and how to involve them

3. Creating rapport is fundamental for effective communication

4. There are times when less is more or to put it differently speaking is not always the same as communicating

As you will know from my previous blog on communication mishaps, I totally understand that there are times when we don’t read the audience right, come out with the wrong words etc. The question that I’m left with though is whether or not the communicator had any self-awareness about the impact he had and will use this self-awareness to do things differently in the future. It’s through this self-awareness that our communication style can grow and become more versatile.

Owning up to a communication mishap

Week after week I share my views on ways to communicate effectively, build relationships and work through change situations. On occasions what I say seems to resonate with the people who I talk to, who come along to a training program and read my blogs. Yet last week I had a sobering experience – under pressure, in a room full of people I froze and went in to a free fall half hour of hell.

To give a bit of context, without having to relive the whole embarrassing situation again; I was in a situation where I was under extreme pressure to perform, with people in the room making judgments about my every move and every word. I started the session feeling well prepared with a certain level of nervousness; I told myself this was a good thing and was ready to go. Things changed just a few minutes before my session started when the lead in the group told me what they were hoping to get from the session. For a minute this threw me as it was different to the things I’d prepared, but I drew on some of the things I tell others and thought I would manage the changes OK.

How wrong I was.

Free fall began……..

I realised within a few minutes of starting the session that I wasn’t connecting with the group and from there it went downhill. With my facilitator/ presenter voices babbling away to me in my head I became tongue-tied, I panicked and I lost my focus.

It’s been a long time since this has happened to me so,as you’d expect, I took time out afterwards to think about what happened and what I would do differently. The first thing I realised was that this particular situation triggered a memory for me from an experience I’d had 20 years ago – it was almost as though I reverted back to the way I handled the original situation and I lost everything I’ve learnt since.

The second thing I realised was that I needed to listen to the voices in my head and my instincts. My facilitator/ presenter voices were telling me to:

– Slow down and breath

– Make it very clear upfront about the purpose for the session and why we are covering the topic

– Make it very clear upfront how the session will work

– Bring out concerns and questions and involve the group early

– And when things seem to be going astray, stop and involve the group in what now needs to change

On this occasion I didn’t have the courage to stop when I knew things weren’t going well. My learning from this experience is that stopping couldn’t have resulted in a worse outcome than the one I had, so I should have done it.

The good news from this experience is that I now have a refreshed and more acute awareness of some of the barriers that come up for people when it comes to talking in groups, presenting or facilitating. I’m also confident that the points above really would have made a difference so practicing this myself and helping others to get these pieces right will provide a great starting point for future coaching and training sessions.

Newsletters make the world go round

In my meanderings through organisations of all shapes and sizes that are going through change, I hear many an Executive and consultant quote the stats about the importance of communication during change and how it’s one of the main factors that creates successful transformation. I’m encouraged by what seems to be an enthusiasm to focus on getting the communication right and then so often something happens and the focus shifts on to something else and there is a sense that communication is done. This often happens when the newsletter is up and running. It is this point when I want to cry, pull my hair out or hit my head against a brick wall.

Surely there is more to effective communication than the newsletter? Yet it often becomes the thing that takes a huge amount of time and energy and is used as the gauge for whether or not communication is happening. Think of the number of change projects that have a regular deliverable to tick off the list when the newsletter is done.

It seems to me that so often something significant is being missed. Whilst I totally endorse the use of newsletters/ emails/ intranet updates etc as a way to get information out about the change, this is only one layer of the communication required when an organisation is going through complex change.

I want to see more emphasis on:
– Interpersonal communication – give the manager the skills to communicate
– Using mechanisms to engage staff in the present and the future
– Stakeholder relationships

I know that there will be nods across the world to my statements here, from Executives, Project Managers and Communication professionals. We know what will really work so how come I’m left pulling my hair out when budgets are cut, the focus shifts and the effort required for fantastic dialogue dissipates?

Any thoughts on answers to this question, disagreements with my thinking or sharing of similar frustrations are welcome.