Communicate or Fail ~ Part 2

Personal CommunicationCommunicate or Fail is a two-part post focussing on communications at an organisational level and on a personal level. Part 2 will focus on personal communication. Click here if you missed part 1.

Effective communication remains at the heart of business. It is a crucial skill that must be mastered in order to be successful, even in today’s twitter-based world. While literacy levels continue to fall and good expression seems irrelevant to many, the ability to convey your message effectively will help you and your organisation stand out from the crowd.

From short emails, to mission statements, to large business proposals, effective communication is a skill you cannot afford to be without. If you can make your point or present a case clearly, you have a better chance of influencing people, gaining their support and motivating them. If you can give people clear instructions and information, they are better equipped for the tasks asked of them.  It could be the thing that helps you win that big client or a promotion!

Each person has a unique communication style. By getting to know your style, you can achieve greater self-awareness and learn how to develop more effective interpersonal relations with colleagues, customers and even at home.  Accurate self-knowledge is truly the starting point for effectiveness at work. Understanding other people’s communication styles improves working relationships by increasing our acceptance of other people and their way of doing things.

I personally find the DISC model and Myers Briggs the most useful tools to help you understand communication styles. Once you have established your natural communication style you can start to think about how you can adapt your style to drive the right outcomes with others. Adapting your communication style is not about changing who you are nor is it about changing your intended message. Adapting your communication style choice is only about conveying your intended message in the manner that the other person is going to be best able to receive and understand it.

The diagram below, based upon the DISC model, shows the four basic communicator styles: They tend to be called different names depending on the methodology used, but they’re all pretty similar.

Communication Styles

How to interact with each style:

Relators

Relators like to work with groups and build relationships. Security is important to them and they like consistency and focusing on areas of specialisation. You should:

  • Be sincere and personable
  • Take an interest in him or her as a person
  • Be patient in drawing them out
  • Use open-ended questions
  • Present new ideas in a non-threatening manner
  • Give plenty of time to adjust
  • Clearly define individual goals and roles
  • Offer and provide personal support
  • Focus on the benefit of his or her contribution to the group

Socialisers

Socialisers like recognition and pride themselves on being popular. They like freedom of speech and freedom from control and detail. They work best in an open environment. You should:

  • Create a positive, friendly environment
  • Give them plenty of opportunities to speak about ideas, people, and their intuition
  • Engage them with stimulating and fun activities
  • Reinforce conversations with written documentation
  • Foster a democratic relationship
  • Incorporate incentives for taking risks
  • Encourage him or her in thinking outside of the box

Thinkers

Thinkers know there’s a place for everything and everything should be in its place. Correctness and exactness are highly valued. You should:

  • Take time to prepare your case in advance
  • Make an appointment
  • Provide both the pros and cons of your plan
  • Support your ideas with volumes of data
  • Assure that you’ve eliminated all surprises
  • Provide a detailed plan with a precise explanation of how it fits in the big picture
  • Stay focused on the issue when disagreeing
  • Be prepared to provide many explanations with patience and persistence

Directors

Directors must be in charge. They pride themselves on achievement and focus on results. The bigger the challenge, the better they feel. You should:

  • Provide direct answers
  • Get to the point
  • Be brief
  • Stick to business
  • Show how your plan will get results, solve problems, and allow this individual to be in charge
  • Identify ways in which your idea will benefit the Director
  • Ask questions that focus on “what,” not “how”
  • Avoid direct disagreement

Communication Basics

There are 3 skills you need to hone to be an effective communicator, namely listening, speaking and writing. You won’t be astonished to read that, I hope! However, you would be surprised at how little effort people invest in them.

Listening

Listening is really where all good communication begins. Misunderstanding what another person is saying is one of the biggest obstacles to communication. Each of us sees the world in a unique way, and we usually assume that everyone sees it the same way we do.

Below are some barriers to effective listening. You’ll probably recognise that most of them apply to you at one time or another.

  • We can think faster than a speaker can talk, and jump to conclusions
  • We are distracted and allow our minds to wander
  • We lose patience, and decide we are not interested
  • We overreact to what’s said and react emotionally
  • We interrupt

So how do you become a generous listener?

1. Don’t talk. Listen. People want a chance to get their own ideas and opinions across. A good listener lets them do it. If you interrupt the speaker or put limitations on your listening time, the speaker will get the impression that you’re not interested in what he is saying — even if you are. So be courteous and give the speaker your full attention.

2. Don’t jump to conclusions. Many people tune out a speaker when they think they have the gist of their conversation or know what they’re going to say next. Assumptions can be dangerous. Maybe the speaker is not following the same train of thought that you are, or is not planning to make the point you think they are. If you don’t listen, you may miss the real point the speaker is trying to get across.

3. Listen for the ‘unsaid’. Concentrate on what is not being said as well as what is being said. Remember, a lot of clues to meaning come from the speaker’s tone of voice, facial expressions, and gestures. People don’t always say what they mean, but their body language is usually an accurate indication of their attitude and emotional state.

4. Ask questions.  If you are not sure of what the speaker is saying, ask. It’s perfectly acceptable to say, “Do you mean . . . ?”or “Did I understand you to say . . . ?” It’s also a good idea to repeat what the speaker has said in your own words to confirm that you have understood him correctly.

5. Don’t get distracted. Don’t let yourself be distracted by the environment or by the speaker’s appearance, accent, mannerisms, or word use. Paying too much attention to these districations can break your concentration and make you miss the point of the conversation.

6. Be open-minded. Don’t just listen for statements that back up your own opinions and support your beliefs, or for certain parts that interest you. The point of listening, after all, is to gain new information. Be willing to listen to someone else’s point of view and ideas. A subject that may seem boring or trivial at first can turn out to be fascinating, if you listen with an open mind.

7. Provide feedback. Make eye contact with the speaker. Show him you understand his talk by nodding your head, maintaining an upright posture, and, if appropriate, interjecting an occasional comment such as ”I see” or “that’s interesting” or “really.” The speaker will appreciate your interest and feel that you are really listening.

Hearing is natural. Generous listening is a skill that we learn.

Speaking

We’re not all born with a natural talent for public speaking or getting our message across effectively. Many people lack confidence in their ability to express themselves verbally – not necessarily all the time, but perhaps in certain situations or circumstances. However, talking to one another does tend to make things happen! It is not always what is said, but how it is said that can make the difference between good and poor speaking skills.

A good speaker:

  • Relates to the listener
  • Is respectful of others
  • Encourages trust
  • Shows empathy
  • Is purposeful and clear
  • Uses appropriate vocabulary
  • Speaks with fluency
  • Is confident and credible
  • Is approachable and responsive
  • Uses body language well
  • Involves listeners
  • Enables participation
  • Knows what to leave out
  • Generates interest
  • Uses silence well
  • Varies pitch/pace/tone according to the situation
  • Is passionate about their topic

By far the best way to improve your verbal communication skills is to practice, particularly in areas where you are least confident. Put yourself in situations that require you to communicate effectively, be that one to one, or to a group. Speak at work. Speak at your child’s school. Speak at a town hall meeting. Speak in your car. Speak in front of the mirror.

You won’t ever achieve perfection. But you will improve. Little by little, your practice will result in improvement. Feedback is crucial to improving your speaking skills, so take the good and the not so good on board and work on those areas for improvement

Writing

The first step to writing clearly is choosing the appropriate format. Do you need to send an informal email? Write a detailed report? Create an advert? Or write a formal letter?

The format, as well as your audience, will define your “writing voice” – that is, how formal or relaxed the tone should be. For instance, if you write an email to a prospective client it should have a different tone to that of an email to a friend.

Start by identifying who will read your message. Is it targeted at senior managers, your team, or to customers? With everything you write, your readers, or recipients, should define your tone as well as aspects of the content.

Composition and Style

Once you know what you’re writing, and for whom you’re writing, you actually have to start writing.

Start with your audience – Remember, your readers may know nothing about what you’re telling them. What do they need to know first?

Create an outline – This is especially helpful if you’re writing a longer document such as a report, presentation, or speech. Outlines help you identify which steps to take in which order, and they help you break the task up into manageable pieces of information.

• What’s in it for the audience? – For instance, if you’re writing a sales letter for prospective clients, why should they care about your product or sales pitch? What’s the benefit for them? Remember your audience’s needs at all times.

Identify your main theme – If you’re having trouble defining the main theme of your message, pretend that you have 15 seconds to explain your position. What do you say? This is likely to be your main theme.

Use simple language – Unless you’re writing a technical guide,  it’s usually best to use simple, direct language. Don’t use long words just to impress people.

Structure

Your document should be as “reader friendly” as possible. Use headings, subheadings, bullet points, and numbering whenever possible to break up the text.

After all, what’s easier to read – a page full of long paragraphs, or a page that’s broken up into short paragraphs, with section headings and bullet points? A document that’s easy to scan will get read more often than a document with long, dense paragraphs of text.

Headers should grab the reader’s attention. Using questions is often a good idea, especially in advertising copy or reports, because questions help keep the reader engaged and curious.

In emails and proposals, use short, factual headings and subheadings, like the ones in this article.

Adding pictures is also a smart way to break up your text. These visual aids not only keep the reader’s eye engaged, but they can communicate important information much more quickly than text.

Good luck with improving your Personal Communication!

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The Coach ~ Leadership Styles – Part 2

Coaching TeamWelcome to Part 2 of Leadership Styles – The Coach

Author, educator, and motivational speaker, Dr. William Arthur Ward wrote a phrase that I try to remember. It gives me personal strength to do the right thing, rather than the easy thing – ‘The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.’ The effective Coach uses a combination of these, but at the right moment with the right individual.

There are key differences between the Terminator (see Part 1) way of managing people and that of the Coach. Whereas the Terminator tends to get things done by lecturing, directing and telling, the Coach asks thought-provoking questions, makes effective requests, listens well – especially for the unsaid, and offers constructive effective feedback to help someone learn and develop.

The Coach is excellent at helping others to advance their skills, building strength and providing career guidance. The best coaches are patient, perceptive, self aware, reflective, open, supportive and keen observers.  They are adept at giving valuable feedback that doesn’t generate defensiveness and are great communicators. They help their employees by uncovering their blind spots and challenging self-limiting beliefs. Most effective coaching takes place through observation, assessment, dialogue, inquiry and conversations.

A coaching leader balances meeting short-term targets with long-term goals towards achieving the vision of an organisation. The Coach pro-actively links development to organisational goals, holding conversations that reach beyond work, helping people find strengths and weaknesses and linking these to career progression and personal development plans. They are good at delegating challenging projects, demonstrating trust and which often leads to high levels of loyalty and personal development.

The Coach does not ‘wrap you in cotton wool’. They give insight from their own experience, they set high standards, they delegate, and they give tough projects to their team and they’ll give you feedback….a great deal. The Coach is an individual that is genuinely interested in helping others succeed.

The coaching leadership style is most effective when the employees working under the coach are receptive to this help. People that do not want development, that are happy to be in the office at 1 minute to 9 in the morning  and leave at 1 minute past 5 in the afternoon, whilst not always, but quite often, are threatened by this kind of management style.

The Coach often portrays the following characteristics:

  • Has high standards and continually raises the bar for their own learning and performance
  • Shares personal experience and learning, freely with others
  • Questions people around their thoughts and feelings  to inspire personal growth
  • Uses 360 degree feedback to help them continually grow
  • Is approachable and intuitive
  • Has a large network to pool information from and seek advice
  • Sees unrealised potential in others and helps them to see it for themselves
  • Can challenge others without making them feel criticised
  • Is passionate about the success of others
  • Is able to coach for both today (results) and tomorrow (progression)
Who wouldn’t want a Coach as their boss or even to be a coach themselves? Well, there are some downsides to this leadership style:

Coaching takes time

Not all businesses / teams have time for the Coach to do a great job. And it DOES take time to develop people. Every business / organisation has targets to meet of one sort or another. Even the best Coach has to weigh up the effort and time involved to develop someone into a role, versus the cost-benefit of  recruiting the right person into the right role, at the right time, at the right cost. Not everyone can be coached quickly enough to the level required, if at all, and sometimes tough commercial decisions will have to be made as to whether the person needs to find a better role that better suits their skills. A good Leader needs to make the choice at the right time, so as not to let the rest of the team down by carrying people who can’t develop their potential quickly enough.

Coaching takes energy

The Coach uses personal energy developing their people – physical, mental, emotional and sometime spiritual energy. The Coach needs to keep in touch with their energy levels, to ensure they stay fit and keep themselves well whilst doing the best for their people.

To summarise, the Coach leadership style can be a very powerful force in any organisation as long as they have a team of passionate people who are keen to progress their careers, the time to coach and the energy to make it happen!
Would love to hear your feedback!

Be sure to read part 3 of Leadership Styles – The Oracle

Stop listening …. and give up!

Listen to your People

For a while now I’ve worked with developing my direct team into being more…

More focused, more passionate, delivering more and being more commercially and customer focused. And to a large degree we’ve succeeded. I’m really proud of them and what we’ve achieved so far. But to really succeed and make a step change in our performance we need to take everyone in the business with us. That’s not an overnight task.

We’ve recently set up a couple of teams, to make a start:

1. A team of managers – to focus on how teams interact together, how we work together better and to ensure that we are consistent in how we performance manage our people and get the most from them and the most for them.

2. A team of passionate, bright, brand champions – to focus on some ‘key’ projects that can make a difference and improve not only our customer experience, but the way we work, hopefully making our people’s working lives a bit easier.

We (myself and my direct reports) recently had a feedback session from the second team who had been tasked to come back with a prioritised list of key areas that we needed to improve. The presentation was relatively short, about 20 minutes, but had a huge impact on me. It was very professionally delivered, had been well thought through and did not pull any punches to us as a management team. The reaction was mixed to say the least. I had anticipated some of the feedback and had coached myself to keep quiet, to only ask questions of clarification, rather than defend, and tried to focus on the future potential rather than pick holes in the feedback. This feedback was gold dust and not necessarily criticism….even though it felt that way to some of us.

It’s easy to dismiss feedback with responses such as:-

  • We’ve heard all this before
  • You don’t understand the reality
  • That’s the way it’s always been
  • Well you don’t actually mean that, it’s actually like this

…I’m sure you could add to the list!

By listening to feedback freely, pushing your background conversations out of your mind, you can start to unlock a future potential. You also motivate the people giving you feedback to be more open in the future, and if you act on the feedback, you’ll motivate them even more to change.

Listening to feedback:

For people to be willing to invest time and effort in any change, they need to feel that the leadership understands not only the situation, but them as people. You need to develop relationships. This is possible only by sitting down with people and having conversations in which you listen a lot more than you talk.

Listen to what they do

Listen to what they think is going well

Listen to their dreams and hopes

Listen to their frustrations

Listening to what is bothering them about changes in your organisation

Listen to what they they don’t want to change and why

Listen to what they are thinking

Listen to their feelings

Finally, to listen rightfully to your team, you need to use your ears (to hear them), your mind (to understand them), your heart (to feel them) and most importantly, your hands (to act on them). Remember that your employees will not feel like they were heard by their bosses unless their bosses act upon their concerns.

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