+Scott Watson

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)