Posts Tagged 'Relationships'

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?


Who would admit to having no integrity?

How many of you have come across organisations where one of the company values or leadership values is integrity?

And even if you haven’t explicitly seen this as a value, would you agree that it is often an unstated principle that people will act with integrity?

So how can it be that criticism often comes when the organisation or the leaders within it appear to lack integrity. Do people go out of their way to act without integrity or does conflict occur when one persons version of integrity is different to another?

A couple of definitions of integrity may help to answer this question…………

Integrity is regarded as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one’s actions
The adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.

With these definitions it seems that the interpretation of integrity is therefore dependent on each persons map of the world, their own values and their own moral compass. Therefore, when someone is seen to act without integrity, have they really or is it that our version of integrity doesn’t match theirs?

Let’s take as an example the recent actions of Greg Smith, the guy who distributed his view of the Goldman Sachs culture and leadership. Did he or did he not act with integrity? I suspect that some people would say that he absolutely did, that he was honest, truthful and accurate (see definition) whilst others may question his reasons for doing it and question his moral character.

When integrity is so often a characteristic that is highlighted as essential for leaders I question if this is realistic. Surely it means that we must all operate with the same version of what is right and wrong, the same version of what is morally acceptable, the same version of what honesty is.

I wonder therefore, when integrity is put up as a value or principle and when it is seen as an essential part of leadership what is actually meant? Obviously organisations want people to act within a moral framework that is appropriate for that particular organisation, does this need to be defined more clearly so people understand what integrity means in that particular environment? Is acting with integrity the same in every organisation or might it vary if say you work in the tobacco industry, the armed forces, social services, financial services or retail?

It seems that organisations need to dig deeper to interpret integrity more clearly. What thoughts do you have on whether or not integrity can vary and how it can be defined more clearly in different organisations?

Saying what’s on your mind

As an advocate for clear and authentic communication I would tend to endorse the idea that we should say what’s on our mind. I do this though with a big HOWEVER……

Some people would view the idea of saying what’s on their mind as being absolutely the right thing to do. The HOWEVER with this is that it often goes with the idea of engaging mouth before brain and the repercussions can be widespread and on occasion damaging.

For others the idea of saying what’s on their mind would fill them with dread, bring out the cold sweats and cause lock-jaw. These people are at the other end of the scale and engage brain before mouth, letting their brain convince them that they can’t speak up.

So where’s the happy medium and how do any of us reach this point in every conversation that we have? Whilst an important part of being authentic is to say what’s on your mind I think there are some caveats around it. For instance:
– Be conscious of what you want to achieve by saying what ever it is you want to say
– Check out what response you may get
– Be ready for a potentially emotional response

Let me give you an example – last week I met a man who I hadn’t seen for 3 to 4 years. I know him as being a jolly and friendly man so when he greeted me with a smile on his face and said ” You’re obviously enjoying the good life as you look chubbier” I hesitated. In this instance:
– I’m not sure he was conscious of what he wanted to achieve by saying this. I suspect he thought he was being funny
– He certainly didn’t think about the response he would get.
– I don’t think he was ready for an emotional response. I wonder what would have happened if I’d burst in to tear or started commenting on his own appearance?

This really does highlight for me that we do influence relationships one conversation at a time and that every conversation has consequences. So finding the right balance takes thought and most importantly awareness. I know there are times when I could do with thinking more before starting a conversation and saying what’s on my mind? What about you – any experiences of getting it very right or very wrong?

The myth of engineers as communicators

Earlier this week I had an unusual experience that has left its mark on me. I spent the day at a client’s office and was in a series of meetings that kept me on my toes as a communicator. That in itself is fairly normal, what struck me as unusual was the number of times I was told through the day that I needed to understand that I was communicating with “Engineers”. The way it was said and the number of times it was said had me wondering if I should be approaching the way I was communicating with them as though I was talking to someone from a different planet or a particularly special species of being.

I have worked with engineers, accountants, lawyers and many other professions yet it seems that it is engineers who often hold on to their role/ background as a badge of honour or an excuse, to explain why they communicate the way they do. What comes across is the message – “You’ll have to excuse us, we can’t help it as we are engineers and we can only communicate in this particular way” This sentence usually follows an engineer communicating in a way that is either incredibly direct or not being able to communicate at all.

Admittedly engineers are more likely to be left brain than right brain thinkers; with more emphasis on facts, logic , structure and reasoning. But is it really true that all engineers have no capacity to use the right side of their brain? That they have no emotional awareness of self and others that would bring about a different style of communication? That they can’t see that the way they communicate impacts their relationships?

Personally, I think the “Engineer” thing is a cop-out. Having worked with engineers who are open to looking at different styles of communicating, who are willing to build their awareness of their own style and how it helps or hinders their communication, I am convinced that engineers, just like people in other roles, can and want to communicate effectively.

So to all the engineers out there who use the “I’m an engineer” thing as a label and excuse, I ask you to be open to the opportunities you can create for yourself to strengthen working relationships through your communication. And to the many engineers who I know are great communicators I apologies for including you with your comrades who continue to believe that they can only communicate the way they currently do it.

Reasons to avoid difficult conversations

Ever find yourself coming up with reasons to justify why you avoid having conversations that are difficult or confrontational?

As I talk with people in business about the challenges they are facing, it often becomes clear that they are avoiding the difficult conversations or using them as an opportunity to attack others. Which ever path is taken, it tends to mean that you have no chance of achieving the results you want. This has a corrosive effect on the business and for the people involved. Some of the unproductive knocks on effects of these behaviours are:

» Time wasted on conversations that don’t achieve anything
» Break down in relationships that are needed to get things done
» Loss of innovative thinking
» Negative impact on productivity due to time wasted on the wrong actions, the wrong conversations and remedial activities

A Mercer study (2005) showed that only 39% of employees believe mangers do a good job confronting issues before they turn in to major problems. If 60% managers aren’t dealing with the big issues why is it and what can be done about it? What does it mean about the behaviours of these managers, what stops them from confronting issues and having difficult conversations?

There seem to be two main reasons that people don’t have conversations that are difficult or potentially confrontational. Our ability and willingness to have these conversations is dependent on:

» Each person’s previous experience of dealing with difficult conversations – both in the workplace and in other aspects of life. For instance, someone who has been embarrassed, belittled or ignored may find it difficult to say what is on their mind
» The culture of the organisation – does it encourage debate at all levels, is conflict managed so it’s productive, is power/ hierarchy seen as a given when decisions and discussions take place?

Given that we all have different experiences that shape our ability to have difficult conversations and you may be working in an environment that doesn’t encourage these discussions to take place, what can you do and what are the likely results?

Fear tends to prevent people from having the difficult conversations. A starting point when coaching people facing this situation is to be clear on:
» What’s the result that you want to achieve by having the conversation?
» What are the consequences of not having the conversation?

Being clear on the outcome you want makes it easier to articulate it clearly and to hold your ground. And thinking about the consequences of not having the conversation often makes it clear that you have to do something differently. For instance, you may realise that not having the conversation is damaging the ability of you and others to get work done; it may be blocking the development of new ideas and could even lead to inappropriate actions being taken. On a personal level it may increase your stress levels, effect relationships and lead to disengagement.

The consequences of not doing anything usually outweigh the risk of doing something. To help you prepare and be ready for the difficult conversations that will arise at some point in your work, take a look at the Kandula tips on Having Difficult Conversations