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.

The best policy to ensure your communication hits the mark

Here’s a funny experience I had last week at a resort hotel on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

Night had fallen and my husband, Mike, and I were trying to turn on the light in the bedroom. The only problem was…there wasn’t one. Not a single light fitting in the room.

I realise it’s not uncommon for hotels to have dim lighting, but this took things to a whole new level - not even a bedside lamp! So here we were, blundering around in the dark using the light from our phones in the vain hope of finding a concealed light switch.

Confused, we reported our lack of illumination to Reception the next morning. The person behind the counter calmly explained that this was due to the hotel’s new “green policy” and if we wanted a bedside lamp we’d have to ask for one.

We duly lodged our request, and a short time later a staff member arrived at our room with two mismatched bedside lamps. Light was restored!

We had a good chuckle about this event - and it also struck me as a great reminder that any time there’s a risk of confusing your audience, be the first to communicate.

Hotel staff could have explained the green policy at check-in to avoid guests like us becoming perplexed and fumbling in the darkness. When we asked about it, we learned other visitors had also been caught out and had gone through the same bizarre lamp-request process.

Often, we avoid up-front communication because we’re afraid of a negative reaction. It seems safer to say nothing, than wait and see if there’s any fall-out. 

In global research conducted over more than 25 years on the qualities most often looked for and admired in a leader, honesty consistently comes out on top.

We need leaders and communicators who are visionary, inspiring and skilled at what they do, but at the end of the day we mostly want the facts and we want them straight - even if they’re not what we want to hear.

Even if you don’t have all the facts about an issue, don’t wait to communicate. Share what you know or what you can reveal, and acknowledge what you don’t know or the areas you can’t expand on.

In my experience working with organisations embroiled in negative public issues, the problem was never improved by holding back information. Those organisations prepared to be honest and transparent had a much better chance of rebuilding reputation.

The same can be said of us as individuals. If you want to be a powerful communicator, take the initiative. If an issue is likely to arise between you and a team member, customer or friend, don’t stand by in uncomfortable silence.

Be the one who takes the communication initiative and steps in to strengthen that relationship. Provide the light that addresses the issue, rather than letting the darkness take hold.

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Don't let corporate-speak get in the way of your communication

I’ve been working with some government clients this week and when I sat down to write an email, the strangest thing happened!

I suddenly began writing in “government-speak” - using bureaucratic words and jargon that I wouldn’t normally put in an email.

It reminded me how easy it is to fall into bad writing habits.

You might work in a large organisation where formal, in-house language dominates everyone’s written communication - or perhaps you’ve come from a similar background and find it hard to shake that writing style.

If you want your emails and other written communication to cut through - so your reader clearly gets your message - it’s best to ditch the formality and write in plain language.

Pick a shorter word if it has the same meaning as a longer one.

The English language has many shades of meaning - often there are lots of words that mean the same thing. Some of these will be long and formal, others will be short and to the point.

Whenever you can, choose a shorter one. This isn’t about “dumbing down” your writing; it’s making your meaning clear and ensuring your reader doesn’t have to work hard to get your message. That has to be a good thing; do you know anyone who want to spend extra time deciphering complex emails? I didn’t think so!

Write it how you’d say it.

When you’re writing an email, imagine your recipient sitting in front of you. How would you convey the information if you were talking to them? Use that as the basis of your email, rather than lapsing into corporate-speak.

Be more personal.

For report writing, you might be able to justify a more detached style - but if it’s a direct email to a person or people, use personal language including “you”, “I”, and “we”.

While we’re on that, make sure you have the balance right. Use too many “I”s and you’ll come across as focused only on your own needs. Lead with your reader’s need and use “you”-focused language as much as possible.

Writing in plain language is a habit and discipline, and without continual reminders it’s easy to fall back into old practices.

How will you use plain language in the next email you write?

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Why staring at your screen is costing your career and business, big time

It was a Saturday morning when it hit me.

I stopped to buy petrol and got back in my car - then realised I’d gone through the whole process of walking into the service station to pay, tapping my credit card and walking out, without even acknowledging there was a person standing behind the counter.

I was shocked at my own behaviour. It made me consider how many other times I might have sailed straight past someone working at a supermarket or hotel reception without looking at them.

Making good eye contact whenever we interact sounds so obvious it’s easy to forget. Researchers tell us that to make a solid connection with someone, we need to lock eyes with them for seven to ten seconds.

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I don’t have scientific data on this, but I’m beginning to think eye contact is a dying thing in our society. Would you agree? We’ve become so focused on our phones and other devices that it’s now socially acceptable to walk down the street with your head buried in a screen, expecting people to get out of the way so you don’t crash into them.

We chuckle to ourselves when we see couples in restaurants sitting across from each other, heads bowed to their individual phones - but there’s a good chance we do exactly the same with our friends.

We perform financial transactions by interacting with yet more screens, excluding any human element from the experience.

In our highly connected world, we’ve become even more disconnected.

Failing to make healthy eye contact when you communicate means you’re missing opportunities to build real connections. You might also come across as hesitant, evasive or downright untrustworthy. 

Those connections are what drive our relationships - which in turn can make all the difference to our career prospects, business growth and personal wellbeing.

I’ve set myself a challenge to deliberately make strong (as opposed to creepy) eye contact with anyone in a service role - and everyone else, for that matter - and I’ve seen very specific results.

Without intending to I’ve received upgrades, free Wi-Fi and other unexpected bonuses. At the very least, I’ve bathed in the most amazingly warm smiles and greetings in return. And the great thing is, none of this has cost me a cent or taken up any extra time.

If looking people in the eye is becoming old fashioned, I urge you to join me in making it a recycled trend. Look into someone’s pupils today and smile at them as you communicate.  

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the difference it makes for you.

Is your communication suffering because you let a story get in the way of the facts?

A friend of mine - a successful medical professional and business coach - was shocked a few weeks ago, when a client suddenly cancelled all her scheduled coaching sessions for the rest of the year.

As the emailed cancellations popped through one by one, my friend went into a tailspin. What could have happened to make this long-standing client suddenly decide to axe every remaining appointment?

Perplexed, she tried to contact the client with no response. You can probably imagine the thoughts racing through her mind. Have I done something to upset this client? What did we talk about in our last session? Why won’t she respond to me? It reached the stage where my friend was losing sleep over these questions.

Finally, she heard back from the client. The true situation was very different from the one my friend was imagining.

The client had a computer glitch which had automatically cancelled the appointments - without her even realising it. She was oblivious to all the cancellation messages, and to my friend’s mental torment. There was no problem in the coaching arrangement and the appointments were quickly reinstated.

My friend was able to laugh afterwards, but I imagine at the time it wasn’t very funny.

It reminded me of the trap many of us fall into with our communication. Something happens and we tell ourselves a story about it, which leads us to have strong feelings about the situation. That, in turn, has an effect on our physiology which leads to us speaking and acting in a certain way.

In many cases, if we took the time to stop and rewind back to the fact that started it all, we’d discover our interpretation was far from accurate, - and the issue could be quickly resolved.

Remembering to stop and check the facts before reacting is an invaluable tool in your business and personal relationships, and it’s a habit well worth cultivating.

People who are exceptional communicators know better than to react quickly and emotionally to a situation. Instead, they calmly re-asses and make sure their interpretation reflects what really happened.

Don’t let your communication go off track - or even out of control - because you’re telling yourself an inaccurate story about the facts.

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Why making it about them is the key to outstanding communication

Have you been to the September 11 Memorial in New York? It’s a powerful and moving experience and you can’t fail to be struck by the enormous blue art installation that sits at the museum's core.

Trying to remember the colour of the sky on that September morning is made up of nearly 3000 individual pieces of artwork, each a different shade of blue. Every piece represents a life lost on September 11 and in associated tragedies.

Looking at the mass of blue, your eyes trick you into assuming some of the panels are the same shade. In fact, artist Spencer Finch went to scientific lengths to ensure each one has its own specific tint.

It's impossible not to feel the poignancy of the message. Each piece of blue symbolises a precious individual, with characteristics specific to them. It reminded me how easy it is to mistakenly assume everyone around us thinks, feels, communicates and acts the same way we do.

When you're working to a deadline, snowed under with emails or rushing to a meeting, it’s important to remember not everyone receives and processes information in exactly the same way. Exceptional communicators recognise every piece of communication - whether it’s a simple text or a complex report - is being consumed by someone who’s a different shade to them.

There are plenty of profiling models, like DISC and HBDI, that help to sharpen awareness about people's different styles. The September 11 artwork is a simple reminder that, while we share many things in common, every person is unique. Outstanding communication is about people; making your message about them - right where they are - and not about you. 

As social commentator Hugh Mackay put it; “It is the message people take away, not the message we send, that determines our success as a communicator."

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The message on a piece of paper that can change your world

We hear a lot about the power of gratitude and appreciation in the personal development space, but it's less common to find it raised in a business environment.

A few days ago I had the opportunity to share some insights about communication with a team in a small business, as part of their weekly staff meeting.

As the meeting kicked off, I saw a large jar being passed around the room and each person removing two or three small pieces of paper. It turns out this was an appreciation jar.

During the week, team members write short thank-you messages or acknowledge their colleagues for any type of achievement, however small. Every team meeting starts with a random distribution and reading of the jar's contents.

It was a lovely experience to watch this unfold. One by one, staff thanked each other for little actions from cleaning up the kitchen to being able to laugh under pressure - or they congratulated someone for reaching a milestone or finishing a difficult piece of work. There were also messages of gratitude about their clients.

This process only took a few minutes, and the impact on the tone of the meeting was profound. 

It's easy to over-complicate things in our incredibly busy digital world. This experience was a great reminder that simple ideas applied well can have big results. Perhaps you could introduce a similar process to your team meetings or business - or maybe you're already doing this well.  

Even if you’re a solo operator, imagine how powerful it would be to write messages of gratitude to yourself and the people around you who help keep your business going.

Outstanding communication is always built on the strength of relationships. Reinforcing your relationships through sincere expressions of gratitude and appreciation can drive deep and positive change.

If you’re in an organisation struggling to communicate effectively with the outside world, start by building up relationships within your business walls, and between the individuals that make up your team.

What’s the first piece of gratitude you’ll write on your piece of paper? Start with one and you might be surprised where it leads.

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Want to be an exceptional communicator? It's all about the facts.

Imagine; you're in a meeting or having a conversation, and things go off the rails. Someone  has an emotional reaction to an issue that’s raised - maybe they get angry and fly off the handle, or their feelings overwhelm them and they clam up. Been there?

That can be destructive in a business environment, causing long-term damage to professional relationships. The result can be mistrust, resentment and the loss of good people.

Part of being an exceptional communicator involves taking charge of how you respond in emotionally heightened situations.

We're wired for self-preservation; it’s not unusual for people to react based on the emotional response they're having to a situation, because they're instinctively trying to keep themselves safe. But often those emotions are not based on the pure facts of the matter; instead, they're a product of someone's interpretation of those facts.

To move quickly through those tricky situations and still get great results, outstanding communicators base their responses on the facts and only the facts.

Some authors refer to this as the path to action; rather than doing or saying something based on emotional response as a result of interpretation, it involves deliberately going back to the facts at hand. 

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I’ve also heard this referred to as a ladder - with the facts at the base, your interpretation of the facts further up the ladder's rungs, your emotional response higher still on the ladder and your actions - what you choose to say and do in response - way up the top. If you’ve ever done any work, health and safety training, you’ll know the safest place on a ladder is lower down!

So, in a situation where emotions are running high, take a moment and remind yourself to climb down the ladder where the facts are. Try to avoid responding based on your emotional triggers or the story you're telling yourself about what's happened. Revisit the facts and if you’re not clear about them, be professionally curious and ask questions. By doing that, you'll be helping to avoid misunderstandings that risk sending organisations into a state of dysfunction. 

When it comes to great communication, often only the facts will do. By being the person who takes the emotional charge out of negative discussions, you’ll stand out and  build a reputation for your expertise.