How an unexpected message can have the biggest impact

As entrepreneurs and business leaders we can become very focused on our area of expertise. Sometimes the information that’s most helpful to others comes from the lessons we take from our own life experience.

In 2010, I suddenly found myself in the role of carer. My partner, Michael, had a serious motorbike accident which left him with spinal injuries, two broken legs and head trauma. He spent a month in hospital and came home in a wheelchair.

Many doctors and other health professionals told us he would never walk properly again and would have to get used to his new life. Mike had other ideas.

Over a long period of time - and through pure determination – he worked his way onto crutches, then two walking sticks, then one stick, and eventually was able to shuffle around with his body swaying dramatically from side to side. We joked that his new “walk” made him look like a drunken praying mantis.

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Because he wasn’t about to get on a bike again, he took up a new sport - surf ski paddling - which opened up a whole new world. Over the next few years he got better and better at it, until ultimately he set a goal to get on the Australian team in his age group and compete at the world championships in the sport.

Not only did Mike make the team, he brought home a world championship medal for Australia.

So many people have been inspired by our story that we decided to turn it into a keynote presentation and book. That’s been the next part of a very interesting journey. Even though I’m a professional speaker in my own expertise of communication and credibility, developing a dual presentation with my husband has been a different ball game.

We worked with amazing speaker/comedy coaches, Troy and Zara Love, to bring more light into our story. We rehearsed nearly every day for a year until we nailed our message. We’ve now been taking it to audiences around Australia and getting incredible responses, like:

  • “You need to hear this story. It has so much inspiration. It makes you believe in taking hold of your life. Go for it.”

  • “You need to hear this to understand whatever dark hole or dead end you have found yourself in, there is always another path.”

The book is now in its final stages - another interesting venture. This is my fifth book, but it’s so different from the others because we re-lived many of the experiences in the telling of the story.

Our global business world means I worked with an American editor and an Indian designer to bring it to life – and I’m excited to say Disrupt Your Life: Create your own kind of extraordinary through the choices you make every day, will be out in print in just a few short weeks.

Our message is simple: It’s the tiny, seemingly insignificant decisions you make on a daily basis that govern the direction of your life. Those choices can relate to big goals like getting onto an Australian team, or decisions closer to home like getting fitter, changing a habit or trying something new.

Whatever your circumstances, you never have to passively accept what someone else tells you, and you don’t have to wait for a major life disruption to determine your future. You can choose, at any moment, to disrupt your own life.

You can find out more about Disrupt Your Life - the conference presentation and book - here.

Consider your language carefully; words have weight

I did a radio interview this week on the language our political leaders are using in the current campaign and whether that makes a difference to voters.

While we know our words make up a relatively small percentage of our total communication – body language and tone play a bigger role – make no mistake: words have weight.

It’s interesting to look at the language styles of the leaders of the two main parties. One uses a fair degree of government-speak that risks making eyes glaze over because it doesn’t immediately relate to people’s daily lives. The other uses far more “you” language that appeals directly to the listener.

Research tells us that complex language reduces trust, and it has nothing to do with the intelligence or socioeconomic status of the listener. In our time-poor world, even highly qualified intellectuals don’t want to work hard to understand the meaning of sentences.

Of course, clear language isn’t the only factor in winning voters’ hearts and minds – my comments here aren't meant as a political statement.

But we can all take something from our pollies’ performances: to cut through with your message, use simple words your audience will know, cite examples that connect with their emotions and check that your meaning is clear.

Make your audience fall in love with your message the first time they hear it

On a recent international flight home to Sydney, I got chatting with the man sitting next to me. It turned out he was arriving in Australia from India at the start of a major life adventure.

He hoped his IT qualification would help him quickly find a job so he could bring his wife and young daughter out in the next few months. He and his wife had decided a move to Australia would provide more opportunities for their child.

With great pride, he showed me photos of his lovely young family. I admired his courage in flying to a country where he knew no one - away from the people he loved.  

We talked for a while, then lapsed back into our respective in-flight movies.

As the plane came in to land, I could feel the excitement emanating from the man beside me. He was gazing eagerly out the window, watching the lights of Sydney unfold beneath us. I have to say, the city was putting on a stunning show. The air was clear, the city lights seemed to sparkle with particular brilliance, and as we flew over the harbour he was treated to the Bridge and Opera House at their very best.

He pulled out his phone, hit video and began recording the light show as it dazzled below us. It gave me so much enjoyment to see the unfolding vision through his eyes, even though it was a view I‘d seen many times before.

 I could sense the wonder and the mingled emotions he must have been experiencing in that moment. Arriving in a city - albeit a spectacular one - and thinking about his loved ones back home. 

Reflecting on this encounter later, I was reminded of the importance - when speaking to others in conversations, meetings or formal presentations – of approaching the subject matter as if the audience is hearing it for the first time.

No matter how commonplace the content, or how many times we’ve delivered similar information, we cannot know how the recipient is framing our message. We can’t predict the significance certain points might have for them, or the emotions or memories we might trigger.

Often people are experiencing our material as first-timers, like my travelling companion landing in Sydney, yet it’s easy to become complacent, even sloppy, in the way we communicate. It’s so important to keep every delivery fresh – even if it’s a message we’ve conveyed many times before – and be as clear as those brilliant lights on that cloudless Sydney night.

You never know the true impact of your words or the significance your listeners are assigning to them. Make each one count.

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Why ignoring the quietest voice in the room could be costing you, big time

Have you ever overlooked someone’s advice because you didn’t consider they had enough experience to know what they were talking about?

My husband, Mike, and I learned an interesting lesson a few years ago during his recovery from critical injuries after a dirt bike accident. He’d spent time in a wheelchair after destroying both femurs, crushing five vertebrae, sustaining a head injury and doing various other bits of damage. Three years after the accident he was still experiencing severe pain in his legs.

By that stage he’d consulted various specialists and their advice was always along the lines of, “You’ve had a serious accident, Mike, just learn to live with the results of it.”

Mike wasn’t having a bar of that - he kept seeking answers in the hope somebody would offer him an alternative that would enable him to fully recover from his injuries.

On one occasion, he went to see yet another doctor to get a new opinion. This time he was looked over by a young intern before the doctor came into the room.

This young intern was the least experienced medical person we had consulted, but he finally seemed to get it.

He said to the doctor, “I think this patient’s different because he’s had a sport-related accident. I think we should send him to the Institute of Sport so he can get examined by someone familiar with sporting injuries.”

It turned out that the intern had been a personal trainer for ten years  - so, unlike many of the other professionals Mike had consulted, he could see things from another perspective. That piece of advice proved to be critical in Mike’s recovery.

Because of that conversation, we discovered the surgery he’d had on both legs had problems that needed to be corrected. Once Mike had the corrective surgery, the debilitating pain all but disappeared and he could get fully on the road to recovery.

We learned a huge lesson through that experience: Sometimes the best advice or inspiration comes from the most unlikely source. We could easily have discounted the advice of that intern but instead we took it seriously - and so did the doctor - and that led to a great outcome.

Perhaps in your business or life there are people who, like that intern, have great insights but they’re overlooked because they don’t appear to have enough experience or the right qualifications.

This was a good reminder not to overlook those people. The smartest thing we can all do is listen to them - because often they’re the ones with the most valuable ideas.

Is there someone in your circle at the moment that you should be paying more attention to? You might be surprised at the different results you get by listening to the quietest voice in the room. 

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Do you talk to yourself like your best friend would?

Do you talk to yourself? Of course you do – it’s part of being human. It’s what you say to yourself that counts.

Last week I got to work with a great group of professionals on the beautiful north coast of New South Wales. In their roles, these people regularly deal with tricky issues; they’re often in high-stakes meetings where there's conflict and tension. In those moments, many of them find their confidence ebbing away.

We talked about the importance of the communication we have in our own personal realm; the conversations that go on silently in our minds.

What type of conversations are you having with yourself? This can be the most important communication you'll ever have.

Many of us experience a continuous loop of negative thoughts flowing through our mind. As someone commented to me recently, “If my friend talked to me the way I do, they would no longer be my friend!” Sad, but true, for lots of people.

If we tune in to our inner conversation and catch it in the moment, we can make a choice to replace the negative conversation with more positive and helpful words. Simply being aware of it can make a difference.

I encourage you to think about your personal communication realm. What are you saying to yourself every day, and what effect does that have on your interactions with others?  

A small inner intervention can have a profound impact on your confidence and credibility. Remember, what you think about is always up to you.

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A fancy title isn't enough if you want to truly build a great team

This week I spoke to a group of leaders in the consulting industry on Engaging Followers; a fascinating subject given that the world has been turned upside down when it comes to who’s really leading and who is following.

In our reputation-driven economy, research like the Edelman Trust Barometer tells us regular employees and “people like us” have a huge amount of credibility when communicating with the outside world about your business or organisation. That credibility exceeds that of the CEO.

If you’re a leader, it’s always been important to engage your followers. A highly engaged workforce means greater employee buy-in to decisions, lower rates of absenteeism and staff turnover and a huge array of other benefits.

It’s now critical because your staff are your most important reputation ambassadors. What your staff say to their mates at footy training or at the school canteen packs a mighty punch in terms of your business reputation. Their comments can easily undermine slick marketing campaigns and other communication from the corporate level of your organisation, simply because they are highly relatable and believable.

Stand-out leaders know engaging their teams is not a nice-to-have; it’s crucial for business survival.

Engaging your followers starts with trust – and research shows trust in authority is on the decline.

Having a fancy title or your name on an office door does not guarantee trust from your team. Relying on authority or technical expertise isn’t enough to get people on board. There also needs to be a focus on building meaningful relationships where staff feel valued, listened to and safe - even if they make minor mistakes.

You might have experienced a culture where there was a lack of trust. I certainly have and it wasn’t a nice place to be. On the other hand, some organisations are able to create strong and trusting relationships between the various levels of the business. You can feel the difference as soon as you set foot in their door.

Those organisations are likely to have highly engaged teams; employees who can’t help but say positive things about the business when they’re away from work.

Whether the organisation has done it strategically or not, they’ve unleashed the power of their greatest reputation weapon – their staff.

We can all learn from that and do the same.

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In your business or career, which of these would you rather be?

“I can’t see how it’s going to fit,” said the delivery guy, looking dubiously up the staircase in my house, then glancing at the large fridge that needed to be carried up to the kitchen on the first floor.

This conversation was taking a similar turn to one earlier in the day, when another delivery crew shook their heads at both the fridge and the stairs.

We explained patiently that when we moved into the house, we’d managed to get an even bigger fridge up the stairs - but these guys weren’t having any of it. They could see only negatives; pointing out every reason why our fridge was not going to be installed that day.

They became even more adamant when we mentioned that part of delivering the new fridge involved taking the old, bigger one – now defunct – away. 

Finally, they played their trump card; “There’s no way of doing this without damaging your house.” 

They refused to do more than offload the fridge into our downstairs hallway, saying we would have to get it craned to the top floor. At that point I had images of food melting and decaying in my kitchen as we waited weeks for a massive industrial crane to arrive – with a corresponding huge bill that would triple what we paid for the fridge itself. Panic was setting in! 

Fortunately, there was another solution.

Enter Darren, the Crane Magician (not his actual business brand but it should be!). After a quick phone call, Darren turned up in his truck with a crane mounted on the back. He set up out the front of our house, got the crane fired up, and the next thing you know our old fridge was being lifted down and the new one was going up.

It made quite a spectacle in our street, with passers-by stopping to capture the moment.

Darren was the most laid-back of operators, playing the portable crane controls strapped to his hip like a maestro on a beloved musical instrument. As he tweaked and shifted, the new fridge gently touched down on our upstairs balcony with millimetre precision.

Now that I have my new fridge installed, I can’t help comparing the approaches of the different people involved in this episode. I’m not suggesting heaving a large whitegoods item up a winding staircase is easy, but these were professional delivery people and I don’t imagine we’re the only people on the planet with an upstairs kitchen.

Regardless of their delivery expertise, they only saw the negatives and, when pressed, they dug their heels in.

Are there people like that in your organisation – who, rather than looking for possibilities, lead with all reasons why something can’t be done and push back against change?

Thank goodness there are also people like Darren, who are willing to try new ways, who’ve become experts at the process of making things happen and who approach challenges with a calm assurance that everything will work out well.

I think we’d all do well to gravitate towards the Darrens in our business - and aspire to be a Darren ourselves. What do you think?

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Be the one who gets your team to thrive during times of change

Have you experienced major change in your life or business in 2018? Chances are, you have.

Change is one of the constants in our lives and doesn’t it feel like the faster the world changes, the more quickly the years seem to flash by?

Another constant is the need for clear communication at times of change (which, of course, is all the time). Yet, I wonder how often that actually happens.

I’ve been part of some recent major changes where communication wasn’t as clear as it could have been. That meant - right at the eleventh hour - people were only just realising something was changing and were asking why, even though the decision had been made some time back.

This week I was reminded of Jason Clarke’s Four Doors model; a simple framework for the elements of change communication that commonly get forgotten.

  1. Tell them what we can do now and what we’ll still be able to do after the change (in other words, tell them what’s staying the same);

  2. Remind them of what we can’t do now and what we’ll still not be able to do after the change. This helps to highlight that not everything is changing. It gives the change some perspective and can help to reduce resistance;

  3. Tell them what we can do now and what we won’t be able to after the change. This is usually the biggest point of resistance, but if you avoid it and don’t say it up front, you’re only making matters worse. Put everything on the table so any issues can be aired and addressed;

  4. Tell them what we can’t do now and what we will be able to do after the change. This is the exciting part, where opportunity and potential lies.

Often, those communicating about the change focus on the fourth point. The people most affected automatically go to point three. Points one and two get left out.

Including the four steps means you’re covering all bases. I’m not suggesting it will be painless; change is challenging for many people and there’s often grief and other strong emotions attached to it. Making it your intention to keep everyone as informed as possible throughout the process can certainly help.

Whatever changes 2019 holds for you, I trust they are wonderful and positive in every way.

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The one communication principle that transcends all personality types

Have you done your DISC profile - or perhaps you’re more into Myers-Briggs or HBDI?

There’s no shortage of programs and models to categorise people into different “styles”; some relating to leadership, others to learning, decision-making or communication. Most are rigorous, based on solid research, and they are making an impact on businesses across the globe. 

Many of my clients use at least one of these programs. While they each have a slightly different angle, the overarching effect of these models is that people begin to realise the whole world doesn’t think and behave exactly like them.

For some this is old news, however in my experience it’s a brand new concept for many people. When they get it at a deep level, it has a profound impact on their world.

This is a fundamental principle of effective communication and it’s one that never goes out of style.

To cut through with your communication - whether in a conversation, an email, a report, a small or large presentation – it’s essential to focus first on the needs of your audience. That might be an individual, but it could also be a large group.

The more you put yourself into the shoes, hearts and mind of the people consuming your information, the more impact you’ll have as a communicator. 

The various models I’ve referred to can be a great help. Recently I worked with a group of banking analysts, many of them very data-driven. Their biggest communication challenge was building effective connections and rapport with others.

At the other end of the scale, I worked with a passionate team in the human services sector, very skilled at connecting and empathising with their clients. They needed to include more analysis and evidence in their communication to build credibility.

You’re continually interacting with people who have different behavioural styles. It can help to think of the various styles – particularly those set out in one of the quadrant models - as different countries that each have their own language. If you’re firmly placed in one quarter of the model and want to connect and communicate clearly with someone from another style, you’ll need to learn a little of their language or risk being misunderstood.

Whichever model you work with - or maybe you don’t work with any of them at all - the key is always to focus on the audience first and match your approach, tone and language with the style that will resonate most with them.

When you think of the people in your world, how can you flex your style so you take on some of their preferred language and characteristics to get your message through? Those who do this effectively are displaying the qualities of well-rounded communicators.

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How the power at your fingertips can keep you young

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The sunsets are beautiful at Laguna Beach, south of LA, where I’ve spent the last few days in a business mastermind group. Apart from the scenery, the trip has reminded me how important it is to be in a state of continual learning.

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in business or how far advanced you are in your career; being open to new ideas and insights is what keeps you growing.

It’s the difference between a friend of mine - who’s close to my age but already has the mindset of a much older person - and my 87-year-old dad, who still thinks like a 30-year-old and is as sharp as a razor. My dad is always open to new ideas and hasn’t tied the way he thinks to the date on his birth certificate.

Aren’t we incredibly lucky to be living in an era where it’s never been easier to access information? Of course, the key is to wade through the fake news and irrelevant stuff to get to the gems. 

Here are three tools I use to help me absorb insights that keep me going and growing:

1.     Audio books.

While I’ve always been a book lover, I stare at words so much in my business that I’m less inclined to read in my down time or during travel - but audio books are a great solution. Whether it’s Audible or another platform, you can use travel time or the space between meetings to catch up on something to feed your mind and soul.

A couple of my favourite audio books are Crucial Conversations by Patterson, McMillan, Grenny and Switzler- which gives powerhouse communication skills no matter how experienced a communicator you consider yourself to be - and Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Joe Dispenza, a wakeup call about the unconscious behaviours that dictate what keeps showing up in our lives.

2.     Podcasts.

These are a great way to get bursts of information from people who’ve been there and done something you’re interested in, or who are inspired by new ideas. There are so many podcasts you’ll need to be discerning, so find one that particularly appeals to you. 

My current favourites are the Mind Your Business Podcast by James Wedmore - an amazing mix of mindset and business know-how - and The Change Room by Suzi Jacobs, which gives refreshing insights for your career and life.

3.     Google Alerts

It’s amazing what comes up when you create Google Alerts for your topics of interest. You’ll receive a whole array of articles and interesting items to keep your mind ticking over. Yes, you’ll need to sort through the chaff to find the grain - but it’s there.

I enjoy exploring perspectives about credibility, influence and reputation so I set up alerts for those words and every day I get a list of relevant articles. After a quick cull, I usually find one with pearls of wisdom in it.

I hope that’s prompted you to keep the learning process going. As Henry Ford said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” 

What’s your favourite way of getting new insights? I’d love to hear about it.