Posts Tagged 'Conversation'

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?


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?

Creating a vision – the role of a leader

In the first few chapters of Animal Farm, the reader is drawn in to the vision that Old Major sets for the animals before he dies. A vision where the evils of the animal’s life can change through the removal of man, a vision that has the animals thinking about being rich and free, a vision that stirs the emotions of the animals, a vision that the animals buy in to and act on.

Taking a corporate perspective of Old Major’s vision there are elements of his final speech that would make many a CEO proud;
– It’s a clear message that creates a vision of a better farm/ workplace
– It makes it clear who the enemy/competition is – who needs to be beaten
– It outlines what need to be done to achieve the rewards they want
– It is communicated by a respected pig/ leader
– It uses language that the various animals/ staff can relate to and understand
– It uses imagery that the animals can visualise, smell and taste
– It is backed up by an anthem that stirs the emotions

For those of you that know the story, Old Major died soon after setting this vision and it was picked up by the self-appointed new leader Napoleon. As the story unfolds and Napoleon puts his only particular angle on the vision and how it should be implemented, it becomes apparent that there were elements of Old Major’s original vision that were missing.

The original vision left a lot of questions unanswered. It appealed to the animals on the basis that they were unhappy with their present situation and wanted it to change. The vision presented to them sounded like an idyll yet it lacked substance and a sense of realism (ok, I know I am questioning the vision created by talking and reading animals). Whilst the animals hung on to the vision for some time and sang the animal/ company anthem there was great scope for interpretation and it became obvious that some of the animals were less committed than others.

In organisations it seems that so often the same thing happens. The CEO and leadership team create a vision, they may then invest in a process to communicate this to all staff and then it goes off the rails.

As we see in Animal Farm a vision is only of use if it can engage staff on an ongoing basis in the things that need to be done to achieve the future state. It also has to have a level of substance and reality that makes it achievable and real to all who need to play a part in making it happen. Creating and committing to the vision should be a long and focused activity that goes beyond the vision launch communication activities and is built-in to aspects of all communication and leadership.

Communicating involves so much more than words

Walking through the streets of Sydney CBD I started to look at what and how people were communicating as they were going about their business. Given my comments in my recent blog about “What do leaders look like” I settled my eyes on people to see what they were communicating. I did this without eavesdropping on any conversations.

Often we think that we communicate only when we open our mouths to speak. In fact there are so many other ways we say things.

An obvious one is what we wear. There are certain uniforms that we put on to fit the situation we’re in: a common sight in the CBD is the suit, an immediate statement that communicates I’m a business person. If you see someone wearing a suit who has added in something different – a bright tie, crazy socks or a yellow jacket, then these additions also communicate something and from this we make a judgement. Your judgement about the wacky socks may be different to mine, it doesn’t really matter, what matters is that the style, the colour and the materials communicate information to us.

Think how different your thinking is when you observe someone wearing a sports shirt in the colour of a particular team. Again those clothes communicate something to you and this will vary depending on your views about the particular team.

Beyond clothes there are other things that communicate. I remember a boss I had who use to comment on the way people walk along the street. He would assess whether or not he would employ people by the way they walked. Ok this wasn’t the cleanest of recruitment policies, it did however give some useful indicators about the individuals attitude, energy level and drive.

The handshake is another aspect of body language that communicates. Personally, the limp handed shake creates an immediate negative response for me. This could be different for you.

There are other aspects of appearance that also communicate:the accessories you carry and the way you carry them, the shoes you wear, your hair style, colour, cleanliness, demeanor and attitude.

Adding in to the communication mix are the expressions on your face. Walking through the CBD the expression I noticed most was one of concentration or possibly distraction. A few had smiles on their face and others appeared sad or angry – was this really what they were feeling or my interpretation?

There are two main points from this: firstly, it is worth considering what you are communicating by the way you look and act. Secondly, question yourself about the judgements and assumptions you make about others based on what you think they are communicating. Only by having a conversation and asking questions can we really find out about people and gather useful and real information about them.

Ponderings on the future of presentations

I was at a conference recently and I ended up pondering that we’re at a really interesting stage in terms of what we expect from presenters or speakers and what presentations have to offer.

Over the 3 days at this conference there were some large group sessions with over 300 people in the room and some smaller sessions with 30 – 40 people gathered together. There were big name International and Australian speakers as well as a few relatively unknown industry specific speakers. Seeing these different presenters had me thinking that the world of presentations is definitely changing; the question for me is what next?

Over the last few years the impact of storytelling has been an area of focus for leaders and presenters. There are some people who do it superbly, with humour, emotion and a great tale to tell.

My pondering – will this become too formulaic as more people cotton on to the fact that storytelling is both powerful and topical?

Use of technology
In the last 15 or so years the technology that accompanies presenting has changed enormously. A few of you will remember the days of overhead projectors and scribbled on acetates. Can you imagine sitting through a presentation using that now? Instead there are so many options open to us – with such things as Prezi, you tube and animated media bringing presentations to life

My pondering – will the use of imaginative and gimmicky technology take over from the message?

Added extra – Swiss politician Matthias Poehm has set up The Anti-PowerPoint party. He asserts that PowerPoint presentations are actually costing the Swiss economy billions of dollars

The presenter
More demands are being put on the style of the presenter. Once they needed to stand behind a podium, use their overhead projector and say what they need to say. With storytelling and technology this has changed and it seems that the presenter needs to be comedian, actor and expert all wrapped in to one package.

My pondering – will style take over from substance?

Without doubt the future for presentations and presenters is changing. Any ideas on what it will take to present a clear message well in the next 10 years are welcome