+Scott Watson

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Can't Sell - Won't Sell

This morning I visited electrical retail store Currys to view their range of HD televisions. I had done my research on the quality of different TV's on the internet, reviewing the customer reviews as well as independent professional reviews. I had settles on a 42 inch screen Toshiba. And I was ready to buy!

Consider this. Three males 'sales professionals' are stood in a group within 15 feet of me. I am attempting to find the specific TV I am interested in. If they pay attention, they will be able to see that I am actually looking at the labels on each 42 inch Toshiba - to find the one I want. But no, a full 5 minutes in to my search, instead of a 'sales professional' approaching me to see how (not if) he could help me spend my money, I have to approach them. I decided to speak with the one person who separated himself from the other 2....as last nights match must have been so good that it was far more valuable continuing to discuss it rather than generating a sale.

I advised the sales professional (sorry, it sounds a little sarcastic - BECAUSE they just weren't professional) of the model I wanted and he took me to it. Now, here is where it goes from bad (sales presentation to even worse. I had with me details of prices of the TV set from Amazon and another internet based company. They were retailing at £529 including delivery. Currys were retailing the same TV at £569. Upon being advised of the price difference, the sales bloke (not very professional now, at least in my eyes), said 'Oh, well, they're nearly always cheaper', shrugged his shoulders and then continued 'Sorry I can't help you'. How ridiculous is that? What is a sales professional paid for? To generate sales by helping people want to buy. To help the company create a profit so it can trade. But isn't the time to really hone your skill and competence when there is a recession going on and the opportunities to sell are far fewer?

If the bloke had helped me understand some of the risks of buying off the internet such as returns policy and inconvenience of dealing with a faceless company I may have been open to paying the price difference. But this either wasn't his way of thinking or operating - or the football match really was amazing and he wanted to continue that dialogue with his pals.

The lesson to consider:

When the economy is healthy and strong, virtually anyone can 'take a customer order'. When the economy is struggling and people are taking better care of their budgets - that's when you need to be able to sell. Many sales people get great bonuses for exceeding their targets, but many of them are simply taking an order, not selling.

Beware of complacency, it could destroy your business. And look at Amazon.co.uk - their prices are really good and their returns policy is really easy!

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Vendor & Client Relationships

It's vital in any client/customer relationship that integrity, aside from competence, rules the day. I've experienced it many times during the past 11 years with Summit where a potential client focuses more on undervaluing our offering, going purely for lowest price, while being dead against losing any potential value and ultimately, stealing our intellectual property rights and copyrighted material. Understandably, these aren't the people we enter client relationships with. The toxic waste these people project serve to destroy trust and make the supposed relationship more of a 'transaction'.

So, it's a light hearted, but very valid video clip which should serve as a reminder that win-win is always best.


Friday, 14 August 2009

No Consequences? Why Should I Care?

Why is it that nearly 7 MILLION people chose not to keep the appointments they made with their medical doctor during 2007 and 2008? The decision to not turn up was at great cost to you and me, the taxpayer - £600 million per year. That's enough to run two mid-size hospitals.

But the patients who chose not to keep their appointments won't think about or even care about the statistics. Why should they? When we make an appointment with our GP or hospital, it's about us - not anybody else isn't it?

Why might you not show up for an appointment?

There are many reasons which may include:

-I forgot about it
-I felt better so didn't need the appointment anymore
-I was stuck in traffic
-My pals invited me to the pub/the match (and I forgot to be ill because I was having fun)
My young child/elderly mother needed me more than I needed the appointment

But whatever the excuse or reason for not showing up, why could it be that you don't take a few minutes to call and cancel or postpone your appointment? Well, it might slip your mind, but really isn't it more a case of placing so little value on the appointment itself, that it's not worth calling? After all, it won't be inconvenient for anyone so why bother?

How can the problem be effectively tackled?

We human beings generally need to understand the consequences of us either doing, or not doing something if any emotional response is to be generated. It's rather like your doctor saying 'Please give up smoking for the good of your health' versus 'If you continue smoking cigarettes, you are likely to suffer lung cancer and you won't be around to walk your daughter down the aisle when she gets married.' Both statements have an impact, both have consequences, but which do you feel would be more likely to get the patient to stop, think and then take some intelligent action? Possibly the second.


Some practical, but potentially non-pc ways of helping people to keep appointments.

When the patient calls to ask for an appointment, the receptionist agrees the date and time and asks a simple question. 'Will you please store this appointment in your mobile phone and/or calendar at home, just so you remember it?'

When the patient calls to ask for an appointment and the date and time are confirmed, the receptionist asks 'Are you ABSOLUTELY SURE that you will be able to keep this appointment? And then awaits a positive response and asks the patient to store it as above. This is about a gentle reminder and double checking the value they place on the appointment.

When a patient calls to ask for an appointment, the receptionist politely states 'Just to let you know, if you are unable to keep, or don't need to keep this appointment, we do require you to call us and let us know by (date/time) so that we can offer it to someone in need. Will you please do that for us?' This is about a gentle reminder and reciprocity.

When a patient calls to ask for an appointment, the receptionist politely states 'Just to make you aware, if you fail to keep this appointment without providing prior notice by telephone by (date/time), the next time you request an appointment with the doctor, other patients will be given priority over you.' This is about developing responsibility and a potentially sever consequence for not keeping their commitment.

Remember that people need to understand the consequences, both positive and negative of their action/inaction or compliance or failure with a standard/instruction or guideline.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Always Search for the Positive Intent - Don't Panic

How to take the first step to change unproductive habits

Have you ever wondered why some people demonstrate patterns of behaviour or habits that make absolutely no sense to us as observers? Behaviours and habits such as being stubborn, panicking, being terrified of flying or even smoking tobacco five, ten maybe even twenty times each day for year after year?

What is it that drives these habits that often times, don’t really support us in leading a healthy, fulfilling life but we continue to do them anyway? Before we get in to understanding why finding the ‘positive intent’ is so valuable to us as human beings, take a moment to consider this much-publicised example that took place on an internal American Airlines flight in February 2004.

With all 180 passengers on board, the air traffic controller cleared the pilot for take-off. But this flight was about to become interesting, if not terrifying for many, if not all of the passengers. Surprise soon turned to fear when over the communication system, the pilot said (quote from CNN News), ‘I’d like every Christian to put their hands in the air for just a moment’. Panic! Remember that the passengers were locked in the plane and couldn’t get off, and since the events of September 11 2001, unauthorised access to the flight deck was virtually impossible due to reinforced doors. Long story short, the plane landed safely, without incident after a 90-minute flight.

So, what caused panic in the passengers? Some passengers said they thought they were being hijacked by extremists and identified as the first to be killed by their hijackers because of their religious faith. Others had fears of a repeat of September 11th and tried to phone their loved ones. After all, an American Airlines internal flight was involved in the events of that fateful day. But, the pilot, who was suspended from duty pending an enquiry, says he didn’t mean to frighten anyone. A statement issued by his employer states that he ‘intended’ to compliment the Christian passengers for having a strong faith. That, in basic terms, is ‘positive intent’.

One key point that could be so worthwhile to consider, as it can really improve the quality of your life is ‘positive intent’. Without the psychobabble, please take on this belief for the next couple of hours and start to notice your thinking patterns becoming more flexible and maybe, even more open to new habitual possibilities. Here it is, it’s really simple and also really powerful if we apply it in our daily lives.


Well, does this belief make sense to you? If so, wonderful, you can now start to make even better choices in your thinking, relationships and ultimately, behaviour from this moment forward. If it doesn’t yet strike a chord with you,try another real-life example from just a few weeks ago about what is commonly labelled a ‘panic attack’.

Picture the scene, 7.00am on a freezing, dark, wet Saturday morning. I had just arrived at the radio station for a ‘live’ telephone interview with a well-known breakfast show host based in London. The studio technician who was charged with taking care of me, let’s call him Rob, was very polite, helpful and somehow we managed to have a bit of a giggle, even at this early hour!

The interview was scheduled for 7.50am precisely. I like to arrive early to give people plenty of time to arrange whatever they need to plan so we can relax before I do my piece. Anyway, Rob had to telephone the London studio technician to set up a digital phone connection that apparently enhances sound quality ten-fold. He was finding it quite a challenge to get through as the line was constantly engaged. At 7.25am he was still unable to get through. And he didn’t appear happy about it.

As I sat there, in the tiny, cold studio watching him become more and more frustrated I noticed that every twenty or so seconds he would glance at the clock on the studio wall. Being the nosey bloke that I am, I wondered how Rob was processing this event internally. I said little and let him focus on his task. As time continued to pass by, 7.50am precisely was getting pretty close. It’s now 7.40am and we are just ten minutes away from the interview time slot, but still had little success (or lots of failure) in getting through to his colleague in London to put the right phone line in place.

And then, it happened! Rob’s breathing became shallow, faster and his eyes moved around so rapidly it was like he had walked straight on to a right hook from Muhammed Ali. His face quickly changed from a pale white to beetroot red and he couldn’t stand still for even a second. Although we had only known each other for less than an hour, virtually every rapidly spoken sentence included at least one swear word. And with the room temperature still pretty cold, Rob, still swearing, angrily took off his jacket, then his jumper, threw them to the floor and started to sweat profusely. Yuk! Looking at the clock yet again and still without a connection with just minutes to go, this situation was about to get much worse.

In between repeatedly punching in the London number on the phone, staring at the clock, sweating and swearing (now that’s multi-skilling), Rob apologised to me for ‘****ing up’. He shouted, ‘I don’t know what’s ****ing wrong with this phone line’. At this point it seemed appropriate for me to join in and get a bit crazy. After all, there’s no point in being shy at a time like this is there? So, without warning I jumped up out of my seat, started to shout about how ‘punctuality is vital to me in order to operate properly’ (whatever that means) and repeatedly pointed to the clock in between swearing, using the same shocking words as he did and flitting around the room. Standing less than three feet away from Rob and staring at him with a very angry look on my usually friendly face I shouted to him, ‘You’ve got me bloody panicking now mate, you should be a therapist…I can’t believe it YOU’VE GIVEN ME YOUR BLOODY PANIC ATTACK….I ONLY CAME TO HAVE A CHAT WITH THIS WOMAN IN LONDON AND NOW THIS (pointing at myself in a panic state) IS HAPPENING TO ME…OOOHHHH….WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME?….THANK YOU VERY BLOODY MUCH’

This brief but dramatic tirade stopped Rob dead in his tracks. In less than ten seconds, he was deeply confused, very surprised, maybe even shocked. But there was no panic. He forgot about the clock, the constantly engaged telephone line and everything else he had been focusing on. Well, I suppose he had to. If you had a guy you’d never met before going crazy in front of you (in a very confined space and blocking your exit from the room) what would you be thinking?

Now, at this very moment, the best choice available to Rob at the deepest unconscious level was to pay attention to me. Still standing, I held my head in my hands, took a deep breath, rolled my head as if to release tension and took a step backwards (still blocking the exit).

Now, with both of us in a state of calm, I smiled at Rob and said, ‘now then mister, please tell me about what just happened to you when you had that panic thingy a few minutes ago’. In a quiet voice he replied, ‘this always happens…all my life I’ve had panic attacks, I’ve even had two years of therapy but that didn’t help at all’ He continued, ‘It ruined my last birthday when I was trying to organise a coach trip to the races for my mates, at job interviews, I just crumble and now, It’s happening all over again and I couldn’t stop it.’

In a calming voice I asked Rob if he wanted to get rid of this automatic response before we left the studio and learn to become consciously aware of ‘how’ these panic thingy’s are created and be able to deal with the situation we were in far more effectively and confidently. His response was a definite ‘YES’.

I joked that it wasn’t really him I wanted to help, I just wanted to get on the radio because I’m an interesting guy, Rob laughed loudly. I said, ‘Oh, and by the way mate, you’ve spent two years talking about your panic attacks and how bad you feel, but did you ever invest time in finding how you’d fill the panic time when you get rid of it?' Big confusion on Rob’s face. I continued ‘after all, if you’re stopping panicking, you’ve got to start doing something else with the time haven’t you?’

Anyway Rob tell me, what’s the positive intent that your ‘panic thingamiwhotsit’ is trying to communicate to you? He responded, ‘There’s nothing positive about this happening to me, it just happens’.

Well, if it wasn’t ‘HELPING YOU’ in some way, your brain wouldn’t keep making you do it to yourself…would it now’? Confused even more, Rob’s eyes rolled about for a few moments and then, the penny dropped.

Rob replied, ‘I just want to get things right for people, I don’t want to let anybody down or mess up, there’s a lot of people relying on me’.

Brilliant, a breakthrough that took him just a couple of minutes. We did a couple of really quick emotional intelligence and NLP patterns to remove the negative, panic feelings and replace them with absolute confidence and certainty that he could do his best for me, take control of his thinking and, even if the phone line was still busy the next time we attempted to get through, he would respond far more positively and in complete control of himself.

The changes in Rob’s breathing, body language and thinking was instant. ‘Now, me being the helpful chap that I am Rob, will you do me a favour as I’ve done you a favour’? ‘Yeh, no problem’. ‘Thank you Rob, what I’d like you to do is remember that ‘thingywhotsit’ experience you had a few minutes ago and start to re-live it in your own mind and body right now as if it was happening again right now’.

His response? A very polite, light – hearted, ‘get stuffed I’m sticking with what I’ve got now’. My response? ‘Yeh but we’re now a full FIVE MINUTES LATE for MY interview and I had all this really good stuff to talk about, insult a few therapists, consultants, coaches and be generally quite an interesting guy.’

Both laughing loudly, an unexpected knock at the studio door and a colleague of Rob’s wanting to pass on a message from the London studio technician. ‘There’s a problem with their telephone systems, they’re sorry for the delay and they’ll call your studio as soon as they can…but don’t panic’. Rob thanked his colleague for the information then turned to me and said confidently, and rather cheekily, ‘Me…Panic’?…not a chance’.

The interview took place and it was a really enjoyable experience for me. Rob listened in and when I was being politely, and rightly challenged by the broadcaster on ‘this stuff you do is so unbelievable, I don’t believe it’.
My response? ‘Well, perhaps you’ve never had such a powerful learning experience that has worked for you or maybe your consultant, doctor, therapist or coach is so shockingly poor at their job that they just keep taking your money each week so don’t want you to overcome your own challenges too quickly’.

So, there is a real-life example for you, now think about the examples below and make some sense of what is happening and how you can support yourself or a colleagues to make some positive changes that, first of all, they want to do and secondly, the support you give them is without ego or judgement but with lots of love, and maybe even some acknowledgment of their efforts thrown in to the bargain too.


1. People generally don’t smoke cigarettes to inhale poisonous carcinogens, reduce their lung capability, actively shorten their life span and emotionally hurt their family. They generally live the habit to maybe relax, relieve stress, unwind with friends and much more. There lays the ‘positive intent’.

2. People aren’t generally scared of flying, as our culture would have you believe. They are generally terrified of crashing, being out of control, feeling unsafe and much more. There lays the ‘positive intent’.

3. Alcoholics don’t generally stay drunk because they want to feel physically sick, out of control and sad. But they often do this behaviour as to them; it changes their perception of their reality and provides an escape, at least for a few hours. And then, the more they repeat their drinking behaviour, the more they ‘escape’.

So, there you have it. Always search for the positive intent. I do hope this article has started to paint a picture that can open up your mind to developing some new, more empowering approaches to searching for the underlying root of some of the habits we have. Maybe you could find it rewarding to make a note of a habit you have that you really want to change and then take a few moments to relax and allow your mind to generate three or four positive alternatives that would support you better in living a happy, fulfilling career and life?

Something to Think About

I've been asked by a number of people to post some of the principles and nuggets that I share with audiences. Apparently, the simple principles are thought-provoking, so here are a few to be going along with.

When we label another human being, we don't define them. We define ourselves. (Blame & Ownership)

It's not the snakes bite that kills you, it's the venom. (Relationships)

You learn to swim by getting wet, not by just talking about swimming. (Apply your learning)

A bad relationship cannot exist without your permission and your input. (Responsibility/Stop moaning/sort things out)

If you have a problem, one that appears so difficult it can't be overcome, ask yourself this question 'What am I doing or believing about this problem which allows it to be maintained?' (Ownership for problem solving/Stop blaming others)

Every time you point a finger at someone, three fingers point right back to you. (Stop blaming/Take responsibility for your problems)

You teach people HOW to treat you. (Stop being a victim/Find your voice/Stop being submissive based on your personal history)

Getting Past the Negative Talk of Problems

How demoralizing can it be when you are in a meeting with colleagues, full of brilliant ideas with your 'blue sky' and 'out of the box' thinking and someone puts a sharp stop to your creative genius? You know who I mean, you've met them at some point. I'll write separately about optimists and pessimists, but for now, here are a few approaches you can apply to help a perceived negative colleague/thinker to move beyond being so apparently negative.

So, here's how it goes for some. 'That won't work because...', 'That's a good idea, but the problem with it is....(reasons).

Some people seem to be so focused on anticipating and spotting potential and real problems, that they don't take the opportunity to consider any solutions before they speak. This can be quite frustrating when done one to one or especially as part of a meeting packed with 'solutions people'. So how can you tackle this situation effectively AND keep rapport, focus while appreciating the contribution the supposed negative person is making to the dialogue - and they really are aiming to contribute, just not in the way you'd like them to.


Please remember to set a clear context for your dialogue, whether one to one or as part of a meeting with many participants. Context creates meaning for human beings and the bonus is, when we have some parameters to work within, we know what is and isn't acceptable. Send a properly titled email or agenda for your meeting at least 48 hours in advance of meeting...and try this approach, designed to your own needs:

'The purpose of our discussion/meeting is to develop a structured way forward to ensure the smooth implementation of the new computer system to be launched on 1st October 2009. It is important that concerns re potential pitfalls are raised, and also, that each of us takes responsibility for developing practical solutions in/at this forum.'

The main message here is, if you anticipate a problem, share it BUT share YOUR SOLUTION too. Other ways to overcome negatives on why something can't happen or won't work are:

Objection -'This won't work because of.....'
Response - 'Good, now we know what won't work, please share with us 3 of your ideas on HOW IT COULD WORK'

Objection - 'It's impossible to do this by the timescale stated'
Response - 'What's impossible? To deliver any of the project successfully, all of it successfully or something else?'

Objection - 'Each time I've been involved in a project like this, they've failed. This will be no different.'
Response - 'It's good that you've had such experience in similar projects. Help me understand, what steps did YOU repeat in each project that contributed to the failure to deliver the outcome/s required?'

When we invite someone to share 3 ideas on how something COULD work, this can feel alien to them because it's the exact opposite to how they were thinking just moments ago. I always ask for a minimum of 3, firstly to interrupt the thinking pattern, secondly, because they may say 'I can only come up with two', which is brilliant anyway as it's 2 more than they had a moment ago, and thirdly, they may just want someone to shut up and listen to them......WHILE THEY THINK FOR THEMSELVES.

Put our own mark on questions such as these, use them ethically and see for yourself how thinking can change in a few minutes.

Softening the Influencing Journey

It's all too easy when attempting to influence another human being or a situation to just jump straight in and race after our own most important outcome. Remember that our education system, both at school and higher education, even MBA programmes, rarely if ever demonstrate the need for and value of influencing. Sure, they may cover 'why to' influence and review some case studies but the 'how to' seems to have been lost somewhere along the line.

A few key points to bear in mind when preparing for, or while involved in a situation you wish to influence are these: ALWAYS be honest - it develops trust, reflects authenticity...and is far easier to remember than a pack of lies. Take time to understand and appreciate what might be most important to the other party rather than just considering your own needs and wants. And finally, close your mouth and open your ears....and keep them open BECAUSE YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT YOU MIGHT HEAR AND LEARN.

Not all influencing situations are to help already good things get even better. Some are the exact opposite - a tough talk or crucial conversation as I call them. And these conversations need to happen more often in organisations. All too often inadequate performance is tolerated, partly because it's not that bad it's impacting the rest of the team that much and also because bosses either daren't or don't know how to facilitate a conversation that will not only address the issue/s effectively, but also restore trust and faith in the relationship. That's for another time, but for now, let me share some starting points (or softeners as I like to call them) which you can use to introduce an idea/point of view/facts/data and to help the other party want to listen and be involved in the dialogue. Remember, you're speaking with them NOT AT THEM!

I'll let you generate your own sentences on where use these phrases. They must make sense though and have the intention behind them to help, you can't just say the words and hope for the best. The other party is likely to see straight through you and not engage with your dialogue. All of these approaches are collaborative, not directive.

Please could you help me understand.....?

May I just check a point with you to ensure that I've really understood your point/what you've said/recommended?

I just want to check my understanding...Please do feel free to correct me if I've misunderstood any point. Would you do that for me?

May I just check with you that my understanding is accurate or inaccurate?

I'm sure that you understand the importance of (a) being achieved/undertaken. I'd really appreciate getting your thoughts on how it could work and what needs to be in place to ensure a successful delivery.

I'm sure that you recall YOU AND I (we) agreed that (b) would help us to deliver (c) and that any challenges or obstacles were to be shared in person immediately. To be used when commitments haven't been kept and responsibility for not sharing information needs to be addressed.

I'm interested to know....

I'm curious about what/how...

Please will you share with me your thoughts/ideas concerns on...?

What are your thoughts on how (a) should commence/be delivered/potential obstacles we should anticipate?

May I just check with you, is there information that you possess that I don't know which could/will impact the direction of my focus/attention/the project?

Shall we both commit to resolving the issue/making a considered decision on (a) within the next 60 minutes? This doesn't allow decision-making to drag along for what can seem like forever. It focuses attention and has a time based deadline.

Prior to agreeing to take on this project/achieve the deadline you mentioned, I want to really ensure that I understand the resources you are to make available. It's dangerous agreeing to virtually anything simply because an authority figure says you must. Dialogue and understanding is key.

Use these phrases as part of a worthwhile dialogue and you are likely to get fare more value from conversations, and accelerate the pace at which intelligent action is taken and decisions made.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Just This Once? - Asking With Purpose

Language is a funny subject. So many things can be misinterpreted or misunderstood because the language used isn't particularly clear or precise. My thoughts revolve around the greater the clarity, the clearer the understanding. Here's a quick tip on how to ask someone for something and enhance your possibility of your request being successful. As always, this technique needs to be used with a genuine win-win outcome in mind.

The example - Last Saturday evening I visited Manchester on a 'Stag Do' with 11 friends in the group. I had anticipated that some of bouncers (or security associates as they call themselves these days...in court) at the nicer, less rough bars may not be keen to let a dozen blokes in to their establishment. Why not? Potentially, they may view a group of males as high risk of causing trouble, perhaps they feel that, if trouble did break out in the bar, it could be difficult to influence or control a group of men - whether or not they had consumed alcohol or some other reason altogether. With this in mind, I took the opportunity of phoning several bars on the afternoon prior to our visit. The reason for my call was to establish whether we would be welcome to visit their bar. Long story short, I advised the staff member at each bar of the purpose of our visit and asked if we could visit. The answer from the 3 bars I called was a very positive 'YES'. At this point I asked for the name of the Manager who had authorised our visit and was promptly advised of each name. Advance planning is always a good thing in any influencing situation.

Bouncer at the first bar - 'You can't come in, there's too many lads.' My response, 'Oh, I understand what you're saying. The Manager, Christine has approved our visit earlier today. Please feel free to check with her.'The use of referring to a higher authority is a good step when aiming to influence. This principle was also successfully applied at the second bar we visited.

But, it called for a different approach entirely when we were advised by a fellow reveller,to visit a nice bar not on our list. So, no prior invitation or approval, where do we go from here if we get the same initial response from the 'security associates' at this bar? Well, here's an approach that worked, and can also work wonderfully well in any one-off situation.

The phrase is 'JUST THIS ONCE'. You can't though just say the words. It has to be congruent, genuine and supported by a positive and friendly personal impact. The bouncers had a host with them at the entrance, a lady who may add a softer side to 'negotiations'. So here goes!

Host - 'Good evening lads, how many of you is there?'. SW - 'Well, even though we're walking in 3's to help us all get in, there's actually 12 of us.' Host smiling responds 'There's too many of you, I'm sorry but you won't be able to come in tonight...There's 2 private parties going on at the moment.' Think about it, the justification for us not being allowed entry (at present) is the number of males in our party and the 'fact' there are 2 private parties enjoying themselves.

SW -'Oh, that's a shame, we're only in Manchester for this evening and as this place was highly recommended as a bar which rarely has trouble (looking at the bouncers) we just wanted to enjoy a quick drink here.' Notice the safety and time bound comments which pre-suppose we want to avoid trouble, not cause it and 'quick' implies we don't intend to stay for long. Host is now off script as her normal pattern of thinking has been heavily interrupted. SW - 'Oh come on, just this once'. Host looks to 2 bouncers for approval and then replies 'OK, go on then - JUST THIS ONCE.'

We proceeded in to the bar, each thanking the host and her colleagues for their kindness - which is really what it was. We enjoyed our visit and noticed that the alleged 'private parties' were so private that nobody knew about them. It appeared to be a technique the host used to justify her decision to refuse entry. So, 'Just This Once' can be used to help the other party understand that you are not going to repeatedly return to them badgering them for something. It implies that it is a one-time-only request and this can help the other party be more open to accepting your invitation or offer. 'Just This Once' sounds manageable, doable and not too much effort. You can apply this approach with sales reps attempting to sell you something, with a boss when negotiating resources, with someone performing poorly who needs to change their approach. Try it and let me know your results.

Scott Watson on BBC Radio

Here is a very interesting and inspiring BBC interview with Scott Watson about how to turn challenges into opportunities during times of uncertainty:

Clarify, Clarify, Clarify - Stop Communication Getting Fuzzy

We probably all agree that we could all communicate more effectively, don't we? Yes, I thought so...Great minds think alike (and fools seldom differ - as my mother used to say). But seriously, many of the projects that my company are invited to contribute to are little to do with corporate stratedy, vision, mission and such like. They are more to do with enhancing trust, collaboration, joined up thinking and that old chestnut - communication.

Get it wrong and problems galore are likely to occur. Get it right, and problems still appear, but far fewer than could be expected and they are often far easier to overcome. An absence of clarity in any dialogue can cause problems and misunderstanding. Think about this one. If I say to you 'Speaking to you as an intelligent person.....' who is the supposed 'intelligent person'? Oh, sorry, you thought I meant you! No, no no, I meant me all along. OK, this is a light hearted example, but do you see how the words we use either help us or hinder us?

Just yesterday I was at the golf range disappointing myself yet again with a few poor shots one after the other, when a well-meaning golf instructor from the club stopped and said 'What you need to do is stop snapping at the ball. He continued 'The angle of your right arm is out of kilter with where it should be, so try to get it aligned.'

Righty, me being an information detective (but only because I wish to learn, not to be a pain in the neck, or other body part), politely thanked him for his 'help' and asked the following questions in quick succession.

Could you help me understand what you mean by 'snapping at the ball'? He replied that my angle of approach from the top of my swing made it likely that 'the club would have to recover too much ground' for it to hit the ball 'sweetly'. What the heck is 'sweetly'? I can guess, but in the workplace, guessing can get us in to lots of trouble - as you may know already.

He went on to describe in fine detail (having taken my club from me) what HE MEANT. Not that I was understanding much of it. My own instructor gives me a few pieces of information, asks me to clarify my understanding of his instruction and then invites me to have a go at applying the learning. It works for me, it's how I like to learn. And this well meaning instructor was clouding my understanding rather than helping me. I guessed that what he meant by 'out of kilter' was that my arms or body or club position weren't where they really should be to hit a good shot...what is a 'good shot'? Anyway, we never got on to define 'sweetly' and I doubt we'll keep in touch. But can you see how language gets lost all too easily in any situation?

Here are a few questions you can ask to clarify your understanding. I call it the precision model, and it's extremely effective when applied with the right personal impact and the questions are asked as part of a discussion - rather than as part of an interrogation. The purpose of the questions is to help the other party really think more deeply about their communication, beliefs and generalisations. In communication, close isn't always close enough. We need to be right on the button, not somewhere nearby.


How do you know that? (to be true/accurate/the right way to go)

This questions asks for FACTS and removes the possibility of making a decision based on a belief. For example, 'Children have no respect for their parents these days'. 'Oh, how do you know that to be true? Do you mean ALL children, or just some?' They may respond with something like 'Of course I didn't mean ALL children. It's just the kid next door.' See how this has changed from a global belief to an individual?

According to whom? This question asks for names to support a statement, comparison or judgement. For example 'This is the right/besy way to go on this project.' 'According to whom? Who has made the decision that THIS is the BEST/RIGHT way to go on this project?' This can then then develop understanding from which you can continue the dialogue with more clarity.

Compared to what? This question helps when dealing with comparisons. This is best/worst. I'll let you think about where you can use this question and what information you can gather with it.

What precisely do you mean when you say (This is a disaster/is unacceptable)?
The other party will be compelled and possibly obliged to start sharing specific information with you about specific points of contention, upset and annoyance. And when they've provided the specifics, you are then able to respond to them one at a time with clarity, rather than guessing and not addressing the key points they value most.

May I just clarify my understanding of what you just stated/said? This question is self-explanatory and provides you with the opportunity to demonstrate you have not only listened, but also understood the other person. It can't end there though by simply repeating words and understanding back to them - it needs to evolve in to what actions will be taken to fix the problem/move the project on in a worthwhile manner.

Use these questions for 10 days in the workplace and let me know your results.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Questions to help someone make a decision

If you haven't already encountered this, you will do at some point in your management career. Indeed, you might be doing this already - not making a decision on important matters. We all procrastinate on some occasions, but it is important not to confuse procrastination with thinking time.

Whereas thinking time is the gap we create for ourselves to reflect quietly, consider options, benefits and drawbacks prior to making a decision (and the best decisions are usually made following a period of quiet contemplation), procrastination is more related to our personal fear of something either happening or not happening. It's the 'Oh, it's only a small job so I'll do it later' and 'Oh my god, If I screw up this decision, I'll be in for an ear bashing' syndrome.

At work, there is likely to be an occasion or two when we want to get a decision from someone, it could be a commitment from a person who is performing below par and needs to raise their game or your boss who has a hundred different decisions to make and bosses to please, so the decision you require keeps getting delayed. So here are a few questions you can ask to help someone make a good decision.

What information do you require (from me or from elsewhere) to make a decision now/today? - This helps the person think about what they need, not what you are offering and helps them be more response-able for their thinking.

If you had already made the most appropriate decision on this (subject) what information, data and other factors would you have considered to reach your decision? - This puts them in the position of having already made the decision and takes a different thinking position. Acting 'AS IF' is a very effective thinking technique.

Could you please help me understand what stops you from making a decision/approving my decision? - This helps to unblock thinking and may draw out sensitive information or even a blind spot.

If your boss was advising you of what decision to make that was good for all stakeholders, what would s/he recommend to you? - This gets the person to consider what their boss would appreciate and disapprove of. Bear in mind, people often comply with authority, so it's essential the decision is not made purely on position in a structure chart.

An unwillingness to make a decision is a decision in itself. If we are to help people make better quality decisions, we must provide them with the time and space to think for themselves.

Why won't the bosses change their decision?

You must know how frustrating it can be when you know that a decision has been made, a path to follow decided and all steam ahead for you and your colleagues to meet a very challenging deadline.

When a top team within an organisation make a decision on a new strategy, for some, it can create a level of excitement, eager anticipation - and for others, fear, apathy and disengagement. The problems begin to appear when managers and front-line employees don't have a clear understanding or appreciation of the decision to choose a new path, to market, to serve customers or to enhance profitability while reducing costs. This absence of understanding can cause rumours to abound and B.S. (belief systems) about what is right and what is wrong to become embedded within a culture.

I have seen numerous examples of well considered, well defined strategic plans fall apart, partly because the communication around them lacks context and didn't consider communicating from the recipients perspective - this is 'telling them what we think they need to know' versus 'What information would be valuable for employees to know and how can we share it'?

Why is it so difficult for a top team to change their mind?

There are many reasons, far too many to mention in this forum. But the reasons include:

We have made and communicated and we are paid and trusted to make such decisions - so we reserve the right not to change it.

We have made a decision and must stick with it so we are not perceived to lack competence and lacking in decision-making capability.

The decision/s we have made are fit for purpose, accurate bearing in mind the information we have so there is no need to change it.

If I (individual) state my disagreement with the rest of the top team, I may be viewed as a trouble-maker or negative member of the team, so I'll keep quiet.

One thing that is often not appreciated by managers and front-line employees is that it is terribly difficult for a top team to change or do a U-Turn on a major strategy or policy decision. It can be viewed as incompetent leadership - and in some cases it might be just that. In other instances it could be that the decision made is the best decision when all things are considered, it's just that employees don't fully understand why things are or aren't happening as they would like or see fit. Managers should always bear in mind - The bosses are likely to possess information which you are not privy to. Thoughts of poor leadership or decision-making are often just that - thoughts! But it is essential to separate FACTS from FICTION in these situations. And this is best done through the sharing timely, factual information from the top down, and back up again.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Powercuts change people

My part of town suffered a massive powercut the other night and all the traffic lights were off. Instead of driving more carefully, many drivers went berserk and sped through town like maniacs, because they knew that the speed cameras were also off. This led to several accidents over a short period of time.

Why is it that people don’t know what to do or how to behave when there are no obvious rules to follow? If you look at the current banking crisis and other deregulated industries, it seems that many people will turn into crazed egomaniacs that would make Adam Smith recant.

What happened to decency and accountability?

I always liked Stephen Covey’s ideas, especially his insistence that we should first establish and live according to our principles, then go for the “sexy” stuff like techniques, tools, methods.

As trainers, we sometimes need to stand up up to clients who ask for quick fixes and give them an honest assessment that they won’t obtain any long-term benefits if they are not willing to address issues of character, values and principles.

I am very proud to say that Summit has done this in the past and continues to value principles over fixes.

“Rules are not necessarily sacred - principles are.” (Franklin D. Roosevelt)

Thursday, 25 June 2009

What's the Point of Feedback Like This?

Why do well-meaning bosses initiate 360 degree and other feedback processes? Well, there are many reasons from protecting their territory and standing in a company - when the person or people on the receiving end of feedback are enemies, or at the very least, not trusted or respected, right through to genuinely wanting to help individuals and groups of people work together as effectively as they possibly can. Succession Planning programmes often have a full circle feedback mechanism in place so that the assessor/s can take a quick snapshot about how the subject of the feedback is doing in their day to day work.

But there are several key problems with well-intended feedback processes.

Firstly, even in this, the 21st century, some company bosses wish to impose the point that all feedback elicited from employees should remain anonymous, supposedly to protect the individual providing the feedback. What's the use of this? Well, apart from scaring the heck out of the subject of the process, there is little if any use to it - but it still happens this way. Let me share a true story which I do have permission to mention.

A middle manager in public service had been invited to participate in an assessment centre to identify their readiness (or unreadiness) to be promoted in to a higher ranking and higher salary role. A 360 degree feedback mechanism formed part of the assessment process. Ten immediate colleagues of higher, same and more junior ranks were invited to provide specific feedback via a computer system. They did. And while 80% of the feedback provided was deemed by the subject to be valuable in terms of learning and enhanced self-awareness - and this includes the non complimentary comments (harsh but perhaps accurate comments), the remaining 20% was felt to be wholly inaccurate and without foundation. One comment provided reflected that the subject was 'An autocratic, self-centred dictator'. Perhaps true for the person writing the feedback? The trouble started when, after listening to and understanding the whole feedback, he asked if he could find out more about the comment mentioned above, plus another comment from another colleague which is too sensitive to mention. The facilitator quickly stated that as the feedback was anonymous, he would have to accept the comments for what they were - OPINIONS!

The Problem?
The key problems were these. The subject was advised that he should not approach any of his colleagues to find out who made the rather severe comments. Indeed, wishing to undertake such an activity did not reflect 'leadership'. Catch 22 situation is now in place.

Neither was he able to learn more about what the intent was of the two individuals who felt it appropriate and relevant to write such damning comments. And despite his initial shock and a little upset, he really wanted to know what was behind such comments. In short, he was not allowed the opportunity to resolve any perceived problem or restore any trust that had been damaged. Clearly the other parties were in a low or no trust relationship with the subject, at least from their perspective.

Toxic Waste

During the days and weeks following completion of the feedback process, unwittingly, and perhaps not aware of the toxic comments, the other 8 colleagues who provided feedback formally started joking with the subject as to whether they had made him look great and when he got promoted he would owe them a beer or two. See what's happening? The 2 individuals who wrote the toxic comments are being identified without any effort? And no, the subject didn't start asking questions of them. What did happen though was that the relationships became strained, frustrating and then toxic. Defending their territory, watching their backs came very much in to play. And why? Largely because the feedback was anonymous and the subject was not given an opportunity to understand why such comments had been made or what he could learn from them. Ridiculous for an organisation to endorse such an approach? I think so.

Are these people working at or near their best together? Not a chance? Will they trust each other in the future? Probably not - because mud sticks even more when things aren't discussed. While tough talks can be very tough, even when what we want to say comes out wrong, if our intention is honourable rather than toxic, they often, not always, but often get worked out in the end for everyone's benefit.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

It's Only Words - So Be Very Careful

Have you ever considered the impact that our language has on ourselves and also on other people? OK, you have probably had one or two occasions when you have said something in the heat of the moment that you've later regretted. Ouch! But what about everyday language, phrases that don't sound like they are harmful, but really can be.

Think about these little nuggets:

'I've spoken to him til I'm blue in the face'
...No you haven't. A blue face usually means you're either choking or your body is freezing. Nothing more. Have you ever seen someone's face go blue just because they're a little peeved at someone?

'He's too long in the tooth to learn anything new'
. What have long teeth got to do with someone's ability and/or willingness to learn?

'You can't teach an old dog new tricks'. Well, unless you work in a zoo or for the RSPCA, there's unlikely to be any dogs or tricks. Yet again, a few carefully selected words can cause problems.

During my very early years in executive and management development, some one to one coaching sessions could become rather heated. The key reason was the client had something on his or her mind and this forum was the only or safest place to be really open and genuine - which is always a nice experience. One such instance which I do have permission to share with you is when a very demanding boss who felt he was CONSTANTLY being LET DOWN by his 4 direct reports had reached THE END OF THE LINE (what line?) and was intent on taking these individuals OFF LINE (nice way of saying a real rollocking) and a PIECE OF MY MIND. He had been KICKED IN THE TEETH and STABBED IN THE BACK so many times that enough was enough.

This client was usually very assertive in his approach but not aggressive. Thankfully, our brief relationship had developed in to a high level trust relationship and we had permission to question, challenge and disagree with each other, but only on the condition that such behaviour would help him develop and grow. So here's what happened. After listening to a full 7 minutes of profanities mixed in with a table leg being kicked, profuse perspiring and my ears losing their feeling, I politely asked 'May I see your teeth?'. 'What?' he replied, somewhat shocked by my unusual request. 'May I see your teeth, just for a moment. I'd really like to see your gnashers', posturing with a big smile and clattering my teeth for full effect. His anger turned to shock, his shock turned to confusion, all in a matter of seconds. I continued, 'OK, you won't show me your teeth, I understand....so please take off your shirt.' This was a risky step. What reaction would I receive? Well, if you've been watching the tv series 'Ashes to Ashes' and picture the chief cop, Gene Hunt, the response wouldn't have looked out of place coming from his mouth. 'PROFANITY, no way pal', was followed a second or two later with a smile and a laugh when he pointed to me and said 'I know what you're up to Scott. You want to see all of the knife scars on my back don't you?'. 'Absolutely, and I'm sure there are many, aren't there?' I replied.

From this moment on, the coaching session returned to a calm, thinking environment where the things that mattered most to him and his company were thought through, talked through and solutions to each of the problems generated. And all in less than 2 hours. During the following 3 months, 3 of his managers began to perform better than they had ever done, while 1 other left the organisation by mutual agreement.

Just think what the possible outcome could have been if this really decent, hard-working and caring man had handled the situation in the manner he initially had intended. Managers could have been the walking wounded (oh, there I go, I'm doing it now), and their brains would have counted this latest verbal assault as the norm.

So remember, be very careful about the language you use and also, check understanding of what other people actually mean when they use old cliches to express how they are feeling at any given moment. It could save you many headaches and a few heartaches too.

Hear My Voice- Time To Take A Stand and Be Heard?

Many people I meet want to say something to their boss but daren't. The main reason why they choose not to speak up? Self Preservation! They don't want to 'rock the boat - not that there is a boat usually. The possibility of appearing to be awkward or perceived as a trouble-maker also score highly on the reasons for keeping quiet.

And there are times of course that we should keep quiet and say little if anything at all. It would be simply inappropriate to say something to intentionally inflict emotional harm on another person, even though some people take this as their norm rather than the exception. I guess that we have all encountered these people who prefer to attack, attack and attack again to impose their will on those around them.

The Superiority Complex

But there is a far more positive and human side to this too. Are you aware of Rosa Parks? Rosa, who died recently was the quiet lady who some may say actually started the human rights and equal rights movement in the USA. During the days when whites were perceived (by themselves of course) to be a superior race, Ms Parks was sat on a bus in her home town of Birmingham, Alabama. When instructed to vacate her seat so that a white person could use it, Ms Parks quietly declined to follow the instruction. She was promptly arrested, some reports stated that she was physically assaulted and she then became a 'criminal'. In short, Ms Parks didn't so much 'stand up' for her human rights, she actually 'sat down' for them. And a good thing she did too.

The Boss Doesn't Hold The Power

Many people believe that their boss, and then their bosses boss, hold the power within their organisation. The kind of organisation is not important, but people tend to comply with those in authority, whether they agree with them or not. But let's take a moment to reflect the real source of some major changes in the UK and globally. They weren't changes that were introduced by people in what is often called 'positions of power'. Or perhaps they were, as the people chose to use their personal power, their right to have a voice, their right to be heard to create something pretty special. Have a look at these.

Airlines globally introduce a NO SMOKING policy on flights following repeated requests from some passengers.

Gurkha soldiers
who retired to the UK win the right to remain in the UK following many years of battling with the British Government. How did this happen? An actress named Joanna Lumley, whose father was an officer in the Gurkha regiment spoke up for them. And they won!

MP's Expenses - A four year challenge to the Freedom of Information Act results in UK residents finding out that their elected member of parliament had been claiming expenses on everything from new, expensive furniture (not needed to help them undertake their role in Government) to a duck island in a moat. The lady's name escapes me for the moment.

Iranian Election - Nearly 2 million people take to the streets of Tehran to protest that they believe the supposedly democratic election has been rigged to keep the present, anti-West President in power. The last time 2 million people took to the streets of Tehran, the Shah was overthrown.

Iran National Football Team - 8 members of the national football team chose to wear green wristbands, and their team captain, a green armband to show support for the pro-democracy movement during their match with South Korea. Why didn't the other players wear the same? Well, democracy and the freedom to choose is a good thing isn't it? Remember that these guys will have to return home at some point and could face severe punishment for their actions. But, they took their message to the masses - to the world!

Remember that in your organisation, whatever kind it is. You do reserve the right to have a voice. You would benefit from considering deeply, how you could help people want to listen to what you want to say. This will potentially strengthen greatly the impact of your message and also authenticity. Always speak up with a positive intention of either eradicating a problem, enhancing something or helping someone. NEVER speak up just for the sake of being heard or to impose your authority or will on another human being. After all, if the law of reciprocity turns up - the same thing will come back to haunt you at some point.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Government help for jobless executives ?

I came across this article in the Independent:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/jobless-executives-to-get-special-help-1640147.html .

The gist of it is that the UK Government has earmarked £40 m to be used for recently released executives to receive training to brush up their job-hunting skills and obtain advice on changing careers.
The Government will also pay specialist recruitment agencies to help people seeking executive posts.

It was interesting to see that several dozen people had commented on the article and after reading the first 20 or so, I  noticed that all the responses were negative. Some of them violently so.

A quick poll among friends and family members revealed the same result: nobody thinks that those unemployed managers and executives deserve to receive support from the Government.

The whole debate about whether the Government should invest in such an endeavour or whether these managers should pay for it themselves might be a topic for another day, but do these executives actually NEED training in interview and CV skills?

Shouldn't they have spent the last few years communicating effectively, whether orally or in writing?

Granted, a good course in interview and CV skills will give you an edge. Even though it should not matter, your chances of being considered for a position will improve if you spell "leadership" correctly.

Still, unless I massively underestimate the UK Government's intention with this scheme, the most useful part will not be the interview or CV skills that the executives will learn, but something more important: they will have to learn humility.

And that will benefit us all.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Inside the Dragon's Den

In case you have not heard about “Dragons’ Den”, it is a British TV series showcasing the efforts of several entrepreneurs to convince investors (the Dragons) to fund their ideas. Think “American Idol” with business ideas rather than songs. Same amount of abuse, too.

Last month I was invited to participate in a jury at a French Business School that evaluated “mock” investement funds that were based on financial, but also environmental, social, societal and sustainability aspects. Twenty-three teams of students presented their ideas about which companies they thought had the greatest potential to do well, while adhering to stringent non-financial criteria.

It was an eye-opener!

Even while taking the current financial crisis into account, funds that focused on companies with high ethical standards of internal and external behaviour did and are expected to do better than those only focused on financial criteria. It really warmed my heart to hear that and I thought that if students learn such lessons before starting their careers, they might focus on those important ethical issues that are often overlooked when you are in the thick of the daily business grind. This might lead to a gentler invisible hand guiding the markets in future.

And the nicest bit of information was that those companies that are expected to do well and do so on a higher ethical level than other companies, also had the highest training budget! :-)

Counterintuitive? Maybe, but very much in line with the findings of Boston Consulting Group, as publishes in People Management magazine in April 2009 (page 9).

In that report, executives were asked which cost-cutting measures worked during the last recession. Cutting back on training did not! On the contrary, it led to a decline in employee engagement.

We have to keep in mind that training is not just a way to enhance employees' skills, but also their motivation levels. If we don't invest in their development, what kind of message that does that send about how much we value them?

Why The Long Face? Feedback - It's Bound To Be Negative!

So many consultants, trainers and facilitators espouse the value of giving people open, honest feedback in the workplace. They sing from the hymn sheet 'Just do it, it'll be ok' or 'Don't worry, you're not doing a firewalk'. As if these kinds of statements, however well-intended, are really of any help or value!

What stops us from giving feedback?

In the workplace, if you want to give some candid feedback to your boss, how likely are you to actually do it? Well, if the relationship is one based on high-trust (there's that trust thing again) and the level of rapport is high and there's a track record of speaking openly with everyone's best interests at heart, chances are you will speak up and say what you feel needs to be said. On the other side of the coin, in such an authentic relationship, the recipient of your feedback, even if it is your immediate boss, is far more likely to be open enough and feel safe enough to listen to what you feel you want or have to say? By feeling safe enough, what I mean is, your communication will be private, specific, help them learn or become aware of something and....help your relationship to blossom rather than destroy it.

But what if the recipient of your intended feedback is your boss and you are not enjoying very much the low-trust relationship? You know, you're just tolerating each other because after all, you have to work together. Is it likely that you would speak up in the manner or spirit I mentioned above? Unlikely. Why?

Toxic Relationships and Self-Preservation

In a low-trust, low tolerance relationship, who wants to be the one to tell their boss that their approach to motivation matches that of David Brent of 'The Office' fame and that they are about as trustworthy as a pyromaniac with a box of matches? By the way, this comment was made by an employee to a manager in a heated argument in the workplace.

All too often in the workplace, the feedback that needs to be heard, and needs to be given, never materialises because the person wanting to provide feedback is subordinate, either in the organisation structure or informal hierarchy to the recipient. They fear being viewed as a trouble-maker or obstruction to the effective running and performance of the team. The 'It's better to keep quiet' approach rarely serves to improve matters so important as effective communication...but so many people continue to subscribe to this draining and toxic approach.

Can I have a word with you in my office?

Ouch, this sound pretty painful and the boss has only asked a question. But the impact of such a question can be quite frightening when it lacks any context - or our relationship with the person is not in a good place. I remember being asked this very question by a boss of mine nearly 20 years ago. We weren't getting on at all, we rarely agreed on anything (well, my ego wouldn't let me agree with her because we were scoring points against each other - a subject for another time). As I walked to her office which was only 30 yards away, I quickly started to recount all of the petty squabbling, arguments and 'spirited discussions' we had enjoyed during the previous 12 months. Oh, and there were many hum dingers! I was ready for a verbal slanging match, after all, I had reached the level of conscious competence at least as I had practiced so often with her. Sorry, conscious competence is my current justification for being 'rather stupid' at that point and it's not something I was proud of.

The rather unexpected surprise was that my boss had recommended me for a promotion and the Managing Director had approved her recommendation. I was to start my new role, with a new pay rise (and even my own parking space - result!) in 4 weeks time.

The ego had landed
What happened to my 'fighting my corner'?, well, it fell away. Apparently, when done properly, my boss actually appreciated my candid feedback. While my intention was to help, she stated that my impact was sometimes poor at best...and that was something I should work on improving in the future. What happened? I accepted her feedback BECAUSE she was in her own way, trying to help me - not beat or punish me. One major problem with giving and receiving feedback in the workplace is getting the ego out of the way. Switching off for a few minutes from the 'I'm right and you're wrong' and 'I'm the boss and you'll do as you're told' toxic rubbish that kills authentic, candid, well-intentioned dialogue. As Thomas Moore wrote 'We need people in our lives with whom we can be as open as possible. To have real conversations with people may seem like a simple, obvious suggestion but it involves courage and risk.'

May I speak with your manager for a moment please?

During a recent trip to the Kingdom of Bahrain I decided to visit a shopping mall which hosted an abundance of eateries for lunch. Each outlet had a female 'greeter' standing just inside and in view of passing shoppers. One person I notice immediately was a lady named Elisabeth. Her smile appeared genuine, her welcome was warm and she invited me to choose where I would like to 'enjoy lunch'. She subtly invited her colleague Mary to come to my table and take a drinks order. Again, smiling, both ladies just started guessing with each other which country I was from. This is right in front of me, within hearing distance. 'Oh no, he's not American, he's too skinny'. 'He can't be French, his skin is sooo pale'. All very strange but also very entertaining for me as a customer. They eventually guessed correctly and from this moment on, when they returned to my table, it was like a chat with friends rather than lunch with waiting staff. While 'enjoying' my lunch I noticed that a rather stern faced and official looking gentleman, who appeared to be their boss circled like a vulture around the restaurant, picking and picking at tiny bits of detail that his very low-paid and rather wonderful waiting staff needed to fix. When he appeared, there was a very quick and very noticeable shift in the emotional temperature of the waiting staff. So, me being me - I took this as a learning opportunity to share some feedback with the manager. Rather worryingly, when I asked Elisabeth if she would be so kind as to ask her manager to visit me she responded sharply 'Have I done something wrong sir?''No, just come back with him and Mary and we can have a chat.' I responded.

A few minutes later, the manager, straightening his already straight tie and smoothing down his already smooth suit approached my table. I was about to introduce myself and launch into my feedback but he beat me to it. 'Sir, I am sorry that you are not satisfied with your visit today. It is not acceptable that..(I interject) May I interrupt you, as Elisabeth and Mary are looking really worried behind you and I'd like you personally as manager to hear my feedback. Is this ok with you? Fear now began to grow in his face too. Is this the law of reciprocity returning to bite him on the behind?? 'Look, I want you to know that Elisabeth and Mary have done a wonderful job of first of all, getting me to visit your outlet and secondly, they have looked after me so well I wanted to let you, the manager know. (Now, his fear is disappearing but he's still a little/or a lot, confused). These two ladies are a real credit to you and your company. Please bring me two customer feedback forms and I will send them to your head office.' By this point he has offered me a complimentary drink, and given me his business card so that maybe I can mention him to his head office (not a chance).

So, when you wish to give someone feedback, get your intention right, focus on what is the outcome you wish to achieve - hopefully win-win to strengthen your relationship, and don't think automatically it will go badly wrong. Just as the manager of the restaurant seemed to expect a verbal slap from a customer, he wasn't open to achieving a very positive outcome. Make sure that you are!

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

If You Want To Learn More - Fail More

It is all too easy to forget just how easy, enjoyable and fulfilling learning can be. When we commit to learning something new, or even refreshing an old skill, it can be a fun and thought-provoking experience. When we enter in to the learning with an open mind and a willingness to take the little failures that are very likely to appear occasionally, overcoming them can be really quite straightforward. At least if we choose to think this way.

OK, now it may not be very motivational for you to read that, if you try something new, or even not so new, you should expect that you won't get everything right, first time or every time. Sometimes you might not realise 'why' you are failing, but you just are. It can seem like however hard you try, progress is minimal or non-existent. But that thought itself, is part of the problem. When we think that we aren't making any progress, or the progress we are making is really insignificant, it doesn't motivate us to focus on persisting. It can focus us more on generating justifications for giving up. You may have heard some of the following:

-It's not worth it anyway, I've got other things I need to do.

-Well, I've tried everything to make it work but still can't do it.

-S/he (someone who can do it successfully) must have some special ability that I don't possess. That's why they can do it.

-I was never serious about learning it anyway.

-It isn't worth the hassle or effort.

Any of these sound familiar? Not that I'm suggesting for one moment that you would use any of these justifications.

Who struggles most with failing?

The people that tend to struggle most with failure are those people who succeed so frequently that 'failure' appears foreign to them. Why don't they tend to handle failure well? Because they are so damned brilliant that they haven't learned how to manage themselves, their thinking and emotions through the turmoil that failure to achieve a goal can bring. You see, even the most brilliant amongst us has challenges to face and obstacles to overcome.

Failure as a learning opportunity

Let me put some context around this. If you are a trainee pilot attempting to land a passenger jet with 300 passengers on board, it wouldn't be wise to simply think positively to yourself 'I can do this, I can do this' when the technical competence hasn't reached the level required to confidently make an attempt. My preferred approach is small, regular and manageable steps on a daily basis. This way we exercise our self-confidence, self-awareness, motivation and resilience muscles. This way, any 'failure' is small and usually, more quickly overcome so you can get back on track.

If you want to learn more, fail more. But don't keep repeating the same thinking, communication and behavioural patterns over and over again. Persistence is a good thing when used wisely. But if you keep persisting at repeating the failure pattern, all you'll get really successful at failing miserably.

We continue to see how failure, either on a small or massive scale can bring about new learning. An airline crash can bring about a new or enhanced awareness of the need for specific pre-flight checks just as in business, failing to hit an agreed deadline for your boss can help you to realise that you shouldn't simply comply with a boss's demand or request when you truly know that you can't hit the deadline or achieve the required quality standard. The trick is to learn BEFORE the significant learning failure can occur - and this requires clarity of thought as well as a willingness to trust yourself to take appropriate and intelligent action.

Help me to learn to walk

Think of it this way. If you are the parent of a new born child, when it reaches 18 months old would you expect him or her to be learning to walk on their own? If so, when would you stop helping your child to learn to walk? Would you really have a tough talk with him or her stating that 'I've tried everything I know to get you to walk and you're not. So, either it's you can't be bothered or you're just not designed to walk or you're just being silly.' You'd never have such a conversation would you? Firstly, the kid wouldn't understand a word you are saying, never mind the significance of your communication. But more importantly, you place such a high value on your relationship with your child, and it with you, that you are going to persist and persist UNTIL your child learns to walk by itself, unaided. What an experience that would be eh? How proud would you be when those first unaided steps were walked?

So, why use the metaphor of learning to walk as a guide for yourself? What do you want to learn that you're not finding time or energy for? What do you need to learn if you are to achieve the goals you set yourself, or those set by your organisation?

You've already learned to walk, possibly drive a motor vehicle, speak at least one, if not more languages, program a computer, use the internet and so much more. Why not make your next learning something so important and exciting that you actually stick with it, even during the tough times?

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Top Ten Tips for Honest Influencing and Negotiating

When I ask groups, 'How often do you negotiate?', they generally respond with answers like 'occasionally' or 'not very often'. But the accurate answer is we are always negotiating. We can't not negotiate. Whether it is asking for additional resources, revised deadlines or even whose turn it is to make the team coffees - life is one big negotiation.

But if we are to become effective negotiators, it really helps if we are already good at influencing other people. I'm sure you know of someone who is a 'good' influencer but leaves a trail of destruction and broken relationships in their wake. That isn't what this post or my approach is about. My approach is strictly honest and absolutely win-win or no deal.

So, here are some tips for you to consider and apply in your workplace. Remember that it wouldn't be a great strategy to simply take the words I write and use them as such. These are just my words and my preferred approaches. I invite you to think of some of your own. And remember, high trust relationships have a massive influence on whether another human being is both open and willing to be influenced by you.

1. If/Then can be effectively used to agree a reciprocal trade-off. In plain English this means that when someone is seeking to impose (not agree-impose) an instruction or deadline on you, your immediate attention should be to obtain something back in return, and quickly. For example 'I understand that you want this report completing by Monday 12pm and you realise how packed my schedule is with other high priority commitments. So, IF I were to agree to complete the report and achieve this very challenging deadline THEN would you be prepared to (x,y or z) for me in return?'

2. Help your boss realise the implications of their/your action or inaction. For example, your boss demands that yet another report or project needs to be got underway, and it's you who will be doing it. It is dangerous and perhaps a little foolish for someone to take on yet another commitment they really deep down know just can't be hit without sacrificing quality or other project outputs. For example to your manager, 'I am committed to doing my best to achieve all of the outputs you have set me and require of me. As you are aware, there are many tight timescales on many projects to achieve. Just so I can understand which takes top priority, please will you share with me which of the other projects you wish to set aside until this new project is completed?' Bear in mind that bosses are perhaps not open to setting something aside - they just want it doing! This is rarely because they are not very nice people, they just have pressures at a higher level to deal with, so this is where your integrity and assertiveness need to shine through. 'If I do spend the time required on completing this new project, THE IMPLICATIONS for (a) project is....THE KNOCK ON EFFECT for (b) project will be ......and THE IMPLICATIONS FOR (c) project will likely be......

3. Help them understand what it means - All too often the willingness to comply with a request or demand kicks in. In some situations it is a very good thing to comply, while in others, all it does is cause stress, anxiety and frustration. And we can't perform anywhere near our best when we are experiencing these kinds of emotions. Help the other party/parties truly understand the impact and potential consequences of their decision/s, actions/inactions so that the dialogue can progress positively. When people genuinely understand, they are far more likely to be open to your honest and professional dialogue. Think of the medical doctor example to his heavy smoking patient. 'You need to stop smoking' versus 'You need to stop smoking because if you choose to continue this means you will not be around to walk your beautiful daughter down the aisle when she marries.' Notice the very different understanding.

4. Use softeners to help higher value dialogue - In a spirited discussion, or even a stand-off, the question 'AND WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT?' has a very different impact to 'Please will you help me understand exactly what is meant by that?' The very tone associated with the first question can put your colleague/client on the back foot in a heartbeat. It can also make influencing and negotiating so much harder as they can feel bullied or stone-walled. Good softeners include 'Just so I can be clear....May I just ask you a question about...If you could help me understand (a,b or c) in more detail, I would be grateful/I'd really appreciate it...Bearing in mind/remembering our agreement about (a), what are your thoughts on how it can be achieved?...Do we all agree that.....? Softeners are like a medical doctor having a wonderful bedside manner. Consider your bedside manner carefully - or there could be severe implications!

5. Keep your commitments - If you say you will do something, just do it. If you say you won't do something, don't do it. Simple as a standard and it has the added benefit of building trust. People trust people who make good things happen. And as well as keeping commitments to other people, remember that self-trust is where it all starts from. Trust your self to speak up when you need to. Trust your self to allow other people the space to think and the right to have their own ideas and opinions.

6. The power of WE - Often, but not always, two or more heads are better than one. If you have a colleague who is refusing to change their idea, first of all work on understanding how and why they have reached their decision. Then you can smoothly move on to understanding why they are not open to changing their decision. Often it is either because they don't particularly care for the person/people inviting them to change their mind (as it can be perceived as one-up manship), they have a very personal, personal value on a subject that has driven their decision, they may not have access to the data that you have access to - and that's why sharing is a good thing, or it may be that they have advised their boss of their decision and the boss agreed with them, or their boss has told them what decision to make. Now, remember that people generally comply with an authority figure, whether or not they agree with them. If you have a colleague or two who have challenged your thinking and they genuinely agree with your research and facts, you can return to your manager and state something like 'Name, name and name have reviewed my data independently and they all believe that the decision/recommendation is the most appropriate for this matter. Remember to stay away from 'They all agreed with me so I'm right and you're clearly wrong'. This isn't helpful to anyone. Honestly applying the power of WE may help your colleague to be a little more open to a different way of thinking or at the very least, positioned with integrity, your polite persistance may reflect that you are a committed and helpful worker.

I can't believe we're only on number 7. I've been writing for ages!

7. Separate Facts from Opinions - Dialogue can become fraught with anger, frustration and disappointment when we have what seems to be a great idea only for it to be rejected by a boss or a peer group. Be aware that opinions are just that. They are simply beliefs that an individual or a group believe about something. A fact though has indisputable evidence to support it. Always, always, always ask a question to clarify whether a statement is a fact or opinion.

8. Use effective tag questions - A tag question is a bundle of words at the end of a sentence that is leading the other party to respond. Tag questions can be highly effective when used sparingly in a negotiation or meeting. Examples of tag questions are...Do we both agree? I have understood correctly, haven't I? We agree, do we not? I'm correct in remember we did agree the deadline, aren't I? That is your understanding too, is it not? This is my understanding of the problem, is this correct? Don't use too many in quick succession as the other party may feel like they are being interrogated. Remember that tag questions along with every other technique I share with you must be applied with a genuine win-win outcome in mind.

9. Say NO and stick to it - This may at first sound like a tough position to stick with, especially when you are negotiating or having a dialogue with your boss or a high income value client. But, my position here is to stick to your NO position UNTIL both parties agree to collaborate openly and honestly to explore and hopefully reach an agreement that works for both parties, plus, as a bonus, for any third party too. Saying NO is not digging your heels in, being obstructive or childish. It is a starting point on which to start negotiating. After all, would you like me to make a commitment to you and then not keep my commitment? What about if I knew all along I either couldn't or wouldn't keep it and I never told you? With this approach you can move forward to 'Because of the negative implications (for both you and I) we spoke about earlier, I do need to say NO to your request as a whole. BUT, perhaps what we can agree to work on is a,b and c as they are most important to you and your stakeholder. Perhaps we can get these pieces completed fully and to the required standard before starting on d,e,f,....z. Do we agree this is a good step forward?'

10. Clarify, Clarify, Clarify - When our schedule is packed full with meetings and telephone calls it is easy to forget things. Our brain is the most powerful computer known to mankind - but sometimes the programming gets a little messed up. Our memory is not the most accurate tool to rely on to remember important facts, figures and commitments. Always clarify your understanding, always clarify your perceived agreements on the spot when any misunderstandings can be resolved, not later when your head is elsewhere. When you have clarified all that is required, only then should you move forward. Only when you have complete agreement on understanding should you then move on to the next steps.

11. More tips will follow next week. In the meantime, please honestly and ethically apply these tips and let me know how you get along.

Best wishes