Make 2019 the year you build reputation capital

I did a lot of media interviews over the Christmas holiday break on the PR disasters of 2018 and what we can learn from them for 2019.

While it's fine to learn from the organisations that got in wrong (and there were plenty to choose from, like the Australian cricket team's ball-tampering episode!) it's so much better to focus on building what I call "reputation capital" in our businesses and ourselves.

I get SOS calls from businesses that are in the media for all the wrong reasons - and the truth is, many of those "crises" could have been avoided if people had taken action sooner. Even better, they could have done so much more to build a really strong reputation in the first place.

Here are three ways you and your organisation can build reputation capital right now:

1. Know what's going on
People who are great at building reputation capital regularly scan their environment for any sign of issues that could affect their reputation. They have a good handle on what others are saying about their brand - both from outside the walls of their business and also from the inside. They're aware of any reputation threats and they do something about them - as opposed to burying their head in the sand and wondering what happened when a crisis suddenly erupts.

2. Develop great relationships with those who matter most
Individuals and business leaders who want to build an outstanding reputation have strong, positive relationships with the people who can impact and be impacted by what they do. Do you have excellent relationships with those who matter most to you; for your business or career? What can you do to foster those relationships and build that network of support?

3. Nip issues in the bud
Good reputation builders know that an unmet expectation equals a potential issue that could snowball. As soon as you perceive any dissatisfaction in your circle of significant people, get onto it straight away. People and businesses that avoid costly reputation mistakes are adept at resolving issues before they have a chance to grow. They don't take a "wait and see" approach, they act immediately. 

If you practice those three, there's a good chance you'll avoid the reputation disasters we saw in the media in 2018.  Even better, you'll be on the front foot and building reputation capital.

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.

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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