The Oprah Winfrey TV show started on September 8 1986 and ran continuously for 25 years. In the final show Oprah said that over the 25 years, she had spoken to nearly 30,000 ‘hopefuls’ – in other words, people who wanted to be on her show. Obviously, very few made it through the series of interviews culminating in their being chosen to appear on the show.
She said: "I've talked to nearly 30,000 people on this show, and all 30,000 had one thing in common: They all wanted validation. If I could reach through this television and sit on your sofa or sit on a stool in your kitchen right now, I would tell you that every single person you will ever meet shares that common desire. They want to know: 'Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything to you?'
"Understanding that one principle, that everybody wants to be heard, has allowed me to hold the microphone for you all these years with the least amount of judgment…it's helped me to try to do that with an open mind and to do it with an open heart. It has worked for this platform, and I guarantee you it will work for yours. Try it with your children, your husband, your wife, your boss, your friends. Validate them. 'I see you. I hear you. And what you say matters to me.'"
This is a powerful lesson. Can you imagine how much better the world would be if every man, woman and child felt that they had been seen, heard and that what they said mattered. Isn’t that a huge lesson for each of us? We have a role to play, even if we don’t agree with what the person is saying.
Let me share a specific example: Geoff lives this principle in an effective way. I used to smile when our grandchildren were young and came to him complaining about each other. He would listen intently, and quietly say, ‘I have taken note of what you said’. He gave them the impression that he had seen them, he had heard them and what they said mattered. Usually that was the end of the conversation! They felt validated and were satisfied.
Practice this principle and you will be helping to make the world a better place for everyone.
My questions for you are:
- How powerfully do you feel the presence of others?
- In which ways do you acknowledge a person’s presence, even if you aren’t able to attend to them immediately?
- How open and non-judgemental do you appear?
- What could you do to focus more intently on the person speaking?
- What do you practice in order to minimise barriers to your being more receptive to what the person is saying?
- How can you show the speaker that what they say matters – even if you don’t agree with what they are saying?
For more information on Executive Coaching, either ‘in person’ or via electronic means, please contact Brenda Eckstein, email@example.com or phone +27 82 4993311, www.strategy-leadership.com
Clients often express the need to improve their conversation skills. While this falls more under the realm of the training and mentoring services which I offer, conversation also provides the framework for Executive Coaching.
As humans, conversation affects every aspect of our lives ranging from public dialogue between nations to good-night stories with our children. I even talk to my dogs! Here the tone of voice is as important as the content of our message. That applies when talking to humans, too. In addition, our presence, the way we present ourselves, is also important. How do we come across? - as ‘open’, non-judgmental and friendly? – or as unapproachable?
Effective conversation skills can be learned. And the more we practise, the more confident we become. Thus we more readily accept invitations. Being able to participate or engage enables us to build positive relationships. We get to know people. This opens more opportunities leading to trust. The more we trust people, the more likely we are to view them as ‘the person of choice’ when making decisions. In addition, when we are the ‘person of choice', there is more likelihood of an absence of malice. In other words, when things go wrong we are given the ‘benefit of the doubt’.
I have given more detail on conversation skills in my two books on networking, ‘Networking Tactics: a guide to achieving success through personal networking’ and ‘ABCs of Networking: Fifty-two ways to achieve success' . My invitation is for you also to refer to the following, just a few of the 200 articles under the blog section of my website:
- Use your voice at the boardroom table
- Family conversation starters
- Discover the person sitting next to you
So, as a coach or mentor, how do I help people to improve their conversation skills? Here I am covering just a few aspects.
The ‘listen, comment, question’ technique
The first step is to build new neural pathways through practising my ‘listen, comment, question' technique on an ongoing basis. This approach can be applied to a wide range of communication skills such as coaching, interviewing and also to informal conversations.
As you can see, there are three parts to this technique. We need to listen deeply to what the person is, or isn’t saying. I also put the word, ‘look’ here as often the first step is to comment on something visual. This could be the person’s namebadge, their business card or your perception that they appear familiar.
The next step is to comment on what the person has just said. That shows them that you have been listening and that you are interested.
Next you ask an open question. I am going to expand on this part of the ‘listen, comment, question’ technique. The art of asking powerful questions can also be learned. Open questions encourage the person to talk while you listen. So making non-judgmental comments and asking powerful questions go hand-in-hand.
Let’s look at how we develop those ‘powerful questions’ whether we are coaching, taking part in a board meeting or speaking to friends. Coaching can teach us certain techniques and here I’m going to show you a few of hundreds of possible examples (of questions) of how a few simple models, fully supported by philosophical frameworks can be used:
Habermas – I/we/it
- How is the issue affecting you?
- Who could support you?
- In the broader context of your industry, what will the benefits be of your finding a solution?
Wilber’s Integral Theory – four-quadrant model
- (I – inside me) How does this (what the person has just said) align with your value system?
- (I – outside me) What actions do you intend taking?
- (We – inside group) Who are the other role-players or stake-holders?
- (It – outside – environment) How does this impact on the system?
- What have you tried in the past?
- How are you dealing with the issue at present?
- What will the future look like if you resolve the issue?
- If your head were to write you a letter now, what would it say?
- What is your heart’s message?
- Looking at the possible tension between the two responses above:
o What impasse (lack of action) are you notising?
o Which actions would be favourable?
Above I have given just a few simple example of how really listening to what a person is saying (and what they are not saying), processing that information and fitting it into models, can help frame powerful questions which will lead to quality conversation.
But take care! You can’t just learn these questions parrot fashion and fire them at the person you are talking to. You need to really listen, comment on what they have just said (so they know you really are listening) and then ask a relevant question that will stimulate them to their share more information or insights with you. This will lead to greater understanding and enable you to the ‘the person of choice’. But you need to be genuinely interested in what the other person is saying.
So, practise, practise, practise – and you are welcome to come to me if you need more help. Thank you!
My questions for you are:
- Currently, under which circumstances is it important for you to ask the right questions?
- How can you gain confidence in ‘leaning in’ and actually asking those relevant questions?
- Think of a recent incident where your comment would have been valuable – where you missed an opportunity. In that situation what should you have said?
- How can you improve in this area in the future?
For further information on Executive Coaching, mentoring, training in communication skills or leadership development please contact me, Brenda on +27 82 4993311 or firstname.lastname@example.org Thank you!
Do you feel overwhelmed - as though you are not achieving enough? As a leader you most probably experience the outside world as being volatile, uncertain, complex and as ambiguous (VUCA). Volatility and uncertainly make it more difficult to make decisions as variables are changing so fast that there often isn’t time to collect all the relevant information.
External forces create an environment of complexity and ambiguity. This applies in the world of work, too. New trends and challenges mean that we can no longer automatically continue to use the practices and tactics that worked in the past. The influence of Millennials makes it important to dislodge much of our traditional way of thinking. Disruption is essential in order to take advantage of opportunities for the future. The rapid advances in technology bring about many of the other changes to which leaders and other executives need to adapt. There are a multitude of other changes taking place in the workplace, too. In the real world, the practical application of the empowerment of women remains a challenge as does taking advantage of diversity.
External global and regional influences and emerging trends in the workplace result in increasing stress levels in leaders. This affects their ability to react or respond appropriately. When coaching leaders and other executives, I find that managing the present often consumes their time and energy. They find it difficult to allocate time to strategic issues, leading to the future.
These were some of my findings in my research study on ‘The role of coaching in developing character strengths in leaders’. This was part of my M Phil degree (Management Coaching) through the University of Stellenbosch Business School (2017). As a practicing executive coach I became increasingly interested in a gap in knowledge. Why wasn’t coaching being used more effectively, in general, in developing leaders in global organisations? And what coaching approaches, programmes, models and other techniques would result in outcomes which would help clients to shift their ‘way of being’ and thus cope better? This was with specific reference to coaching leaders in global organisations. I continued testing my coaching model which I streamlined for that purpose, and continue to adjust as I gain new insights. This has helped to refine my topic and model for a potential PhD study.
But how do I, in simple terms, describe the complexity of how the model works? This has been a challenge as I need to be able to address an academic audience and also potential clients. I found that my content was too abstract and I was having a problem connecting my thoughts to something concrete. I battled. But I was very excited to find a solution during Prof Sebastian Kernbach’s outstanding course, ‘The Productive PhD’ presented at the African Doctoral Academy in January 2018. My core question when doing this exercise was, ‘how do I explain what happens to leaders during the coaching programme?’
I’m sharing the process I followed in order to demonstrate how visualising can help to take thoughts and assumptions which are implicit and convert them to explicit visuals. In other words, we can take complex messages and simplify in order to make it easier for us to explain to others and also more interesting for the audience to understand. These principles apply in academic contexts and also help us to become more productive as executives, leaders or in any other areas where we need to organise and express our thoughts. In fact, they apply to any person who wants to get their point across.
For the exercise that I’m outlining, Prof Kernbach stressed that we needed to rapidly prototype and iterate. Our aim should not be perfection or beauty in our drawings but rather on creating meaning. According to Ben Schneiderman:
‘The purpose of visualization is insight, not pictures. It is not about aesthetics.’
In other words, by working speedily and roughly, the focus is on the message rather than on the detail in the drawing.
My first attempts at depicting how my model works when coaching leaders in global organisations appeared sterile. (Please see below.) However, we had been advised to value our failures, accepting them as part of the process, so I kept this series of rapid iterations and am sharing this version with you:
This visualisation did not achieve the desired outcome. It was not inspiring and it was hard to use this visual representation to explain the nuances of the changes that might occur in the leader as a result of being coached using an effective coaching programme. In the figure above I showed the external world (red) and the world of work (green) having an influence on the leader. These remained dominant influences during the coaching process. Moving from left to right, it showed how I visualised how the leader’s inner world (blue) was stifled but grew bigger through coaching.
But I realised that this diagram would not capture the listener’s attention through bringing the story to life. I was stuck!
I asked for help and Prof Kernbach came over to my table. As he listened, he quickly captured my message in visual format. As he proceeded, at each step he did a reality check, confirmed with me that he was understanding and on the right track. In less than five minutes, including a number of rough drawings, he arrived at the representation shown below.
He captured my intention in a fluid, flexible way. His emphasis was how the leader came into the coaching programme as a ‘frigid’ (rectangular) individual. (Seen on the left). His mouth was down and he was surrounded by the tough worlds pressing in around him. As the coaching proceeded, he was no longer a rectangle, but became a smiley resilient person. The leader has removed himself further from those oppressive worlds around him. They are still there, but in the last picture on the right (after 8 coaching sessions!) he is deflecting the demands of the external worlds.
Professor Kernbach’s interpretation inspired me to presevere and below is one of my later rough visualizations. This new series of drawings, is still ‘work in progress’ and will have further refinements, but has helped me to clarify my thoughts.
Remembering that it is neither the quality of the drawing that counts, nor how beautiful it is, but rather the ability of the presenter to clarify and express his thoughts, I quickly developed the visualization below. It needed to make it easier for me to explain my thoughts.
Let me explain my rough drawing above: At the beginning of the programme, shown on the left, the leader is ‘frigid’, almost paralysed through stress. He is inflexible. I have depicted him as a blue rectangle and his mouth is down and he is not looking ahead. The external world (brown) is not separated from him. He cannot distance himself. The same applies to his life in the workplace here drawn with a green pen. In both cases, the lines inward show the pressure or expectations of both worlds and how he is absorbing all the negative energy.
As the 8-stage coaching programme proceeds, moving towards the right, the leader becomes more and more flexible, more fluid and more able to adapt. After the eighth session he has grown, wears a big smile and is looking ahead. The external (VUCA) world remains the same size, but the leader is managing to distance himself from influences that could impact negatively on him. The same happens with the world of work. In both cases, because the leader has become more resilient, he is able to deflect the influences of both worlds and this is shown in the brown and green arrows.
You may ask: ‘Where does coaching show up in the diagram?’ A good coach remains flexible and ‘in the moment’ meets the person ‘where they are at’ at that time. So the red line between the beginning sessions is straight epitomising the need to match the coaching with the needs of the rectangular leader. Towards the end of the programme, as the coaching proceeds, the client benefits, becomes more receptive and the red line becomes more wavy signifying that the coaching has also been adapted to suits the person’s needs and the coach’s approach is thus much more fluid.
As you can see, what began as a difficult task for me mellowed into a fun, thought-provoking exercise. Before the visualization exercise, I battled to explain what the coaching programme seems to achieve and even in my first set of drawings, I did not appear to be gaining positive results. However, in the final series my thoughts are clearer and I’m able to more effectively describe the likely effects of the coaching programme.
I have shared just one example a visualization exercise. Examples are everywhere… in movies, maps, pie-charts, posters etc. I’m extremely grateful to Dr Kernbach and look forward to using different learnings from his course in my own self-development running parallel to my continuous progress as a coach and researcher. In addition, others will benefit either through being coached or when I mentor other coaches.
My message is that you can cope with feelings of overwhelm by becoming more productive. Make your thoughts explicit and easier to communicate to others. For example, as a leader or other executive use visualising in doing presentations. As a researcher one of the benefits will be that you will find it easier to get your message across. Use visual thinking to your benefit when thinking, communicating and writing and there will be benefits to those you influence. By becoming more productive you’ll be helping your organisation and its people to flourish.
Use these principles and you can more easily organise your thoughts, add meaning and make them explicit thus enabling you to share with others through communicating clearly. You can become more productive!
Please contact the following for more information on:
- Leadership development or executive coaching - Brenda Eckstein through www.strategy-leadership.com or email@example.com
- Visualization workshops - Professor Sebastian Kernbach through www.vicola.org
- The University of Stellenbosch Summer or Winter Schools: The African Doctoral Academy (ADA) - http://www0.sun.ac.za/ada/
The following is intended for those who are interested in the theoretical background to the above example of a visual thinking exercise:
There is a need for a new working intelligence (Kernbach, 2018). When we engage in activities like this, Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory of Human Intelligence (reference) is relevant as we are using three types of intelligence which he refers to as ‘analytical intelligence’, ‘creative intelligence’ and ‘practical intelligence’. We are using analytical intelligence for abstract thinking and logical reasoning. Creative intelligence comes into play allowing divergent thinking in novel situations. We are also using his third kind of intelligence, practical intelligence, in order to apply the knowledge to the real world and shape our environment. This requires methods, tools and resources.
During the course we captured our message in ‘one eye-span’, a term coined by Edward Tufte whose work was based on Cognitive Load Theory (Clark, Nguyen Sweller and Baddeley, 2006). Thus, our message needed to fit on one page so that we didn’t have to turn our heads. If you can see everything at once, you are able to make sense of information more easily as, for example, you don’t have to remember what was on the previous page. Visualisation extends the brain’s capacity through Distributed Cognition to help us make our implicit thought explicit and thus available to others. The use of shape colour, space and size are used to create visual representations of our messages.
The process here demonstrates aspects of Dual Coding Theory. Processing information through two channels, here imagery and verbal, and using them together increases engagement, attention and recall. The work of Barbara Tversky is relevant in her work on ‘picture superiority’.
- Black, A. (1992). Envisioning information: Edward Tufte, Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press, 126 pp. ISBN 0 961 3921 1 8.
- Clark, R. C., Nguyen, F., Sweller, J., & Baddeley, M. (2006). Efficiency in learning: Evidence‐based guidelines to manage cognitive load. Performance Improvement, 45(9), 46-47.
- Kernbach, S. (2018). The Productive PhD. African Doctoral Academy
- Paivio, A. (1991). Dual coding theory: Retrospect and current status. Canadian Journal of Psychology/Revue canadienne de psychologie, 45(3), 255.
- Sadoski, M., & Paivio, A. (2013). Imagery and text: A dual coding theory of reading and writing. Routledge.
Shneiderman, B. (2008, June). Extreme visualization: squeezing a billion records into a million pixels. In Proceedings of the 2008 ACM SIGMOD international conference on Management of data (pp. 3-12). ACM.
Sternberg, R. J. (1985). Beyond IQ: A triarchic theory of human intelligence. CUP Archive.
- Tversky, B., Morrison, J. B., & Betrancourt, M. (2002). Animation: can it facilitate?. International journal of human-computer studies, 57(4), 247-262.
The more we work at building a range of meaningful relationships, the more we’ll understand what others really need or how we can add value to their lives. We should be open to recognising and optimising opportunities to help others and we can do this through networking as it involves linking people with people, people with information and people with opportunities.
In addition to the books and articles I have written on the topic of networking, training in networking or in relationship building is an exciting part of the work that I do. A networking module often forms part of longer courses, particularly in leadership development or communication skills.
These are run for a wide range of different professions and businesses. For example, each year for the last sixteen years I have been privileged to be invited back to present a 12-session course in communication skills for engineering trainees. These young men and women, most in their early to mid-twenties include metallurgists, chemical engineers, maintenance engineers and others. And while their technical skills are good, this company, quoted on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, finds that through these communication skills course, participants’ effectiveness has increased considerably through improving their ‘soft skills’. By the end of the course they are able to report more effectively to their supervisors and teams, get better results when instructing the artisans and generally conduct themselves more professionally. They become more valuable to the organisation.
An added advantage is that their lives are more goal-orientated through building their personal strategy plans. These include tactics for consistently developing their networking skills while constructively developing their personal networks. During groupwork exercises, the participants discuss the benefits of networking as applied to themselves, their organisations, their industries and in the leadership roles to which they may aspire.
In capturing and consolidating the input of the groups of this year’s 30 wonderful young people, I was able to reorganise the elements of their input and capture the essence of the benefits of networking in an Integral way:
How can building positive relationships improve our ‘way of being’ ?
Being exposed to people with different points of view, our outlook may change. By taking us outside our comfort zone, we avoid complacency. Thus instead of being ‘stuck’ in our current ‘worldview’ which influences the way we respond or re-act to experiences, we become more ‘open’ to possibilities. This helps us to recognise and then optimise opportunities for ourselves and for others.
Networking can help us to improve our communication skills in general. By holding quality conversations we learn more about others and by reflecting, more about ourselves. This helps in achieving our potential. Being in a better place also enables us to be more aware of our authentic ‘personal brands’ which we can now protect and we will thus more consistently show our true selves. Networking helps us to promote ourselves. We gain visibility and people may think of us when there are opportunities. For example, a new post may become available and we might be looking for that kind of work. People know us and our capabilities and may nominate us for leadership roles. The benefits are endless.
By having role-models and mentors within our networks, we can more easily reach our goals, achieve higher standards of performance and in general, shift our ‘way of being’ which may benefit all areas of our lives in an Integral way.
In which ways may becoming a better networker improve the way we operate?
We learn new approaches through interacting with others. And from reflecting on what we see in others, it may help us to recognise our own strengths and consistently use them more. In addition, awareness of our strengths enables us to consciously use these strengths to leverage our weaknesses. Through building positive relationships and getting to know others, we’ll be more aware of how their strengths may be used to compensate for our weaknesses.
The more we network, the more we are able to practise those skills that enable us to be better networkers. And the more competent we become, the greater our confidence and we are possibly able to venture forth and participate more fully in new networking areas that we wouldn’t have considered before. An example of opening new territory for ourselves would be that we are now more willing and relaxed when attending functions of cultural groups that are different to ours. Getting to know the culture and customs of others and be more comfortable in their company facilitates greater understanding, usually lowering prejudice and enables us to build healthier networks within a more culturally diverse and stronger framework.
Networking can introduce more fun into our lives and this will reduce stress thus enabling us to perform better in all areas of our lives. In addition, we have a safety net when things go wrong! Our feelings of security are enhanced.
What are the benefits when joining groups or working in teams?
A sense of belonging is important to all of us. Here I’m referring not only to groups that we join or to which we are assigned but also to informal groups that evolve through our relationships. Often we may join groups or organisations for one reason, but friendship and support form the glue that binds us together and we may continue as members long after our original need has been met. An example of this is my membership of the New South Wales Chapter of Professional Speakers Australia. My work involves more coaching and training than it used to, and less professional speaking, but I feel like a member of that tribe and when we are together, I really feel that I belong. Thus I continue my membership and enjoy it even although, living in South Africa, I attend very few meetings and the reason for my joining twelve years ago is no longer a big part of my life.
Building positive relationships helps us to feel that we are part of the group and this in turn means that we most likely will enjoy support when we need it. Having a strong support group can help us to achieve so much more not just because they motivate and encourage us, but also when we want to try new things.
An illustration of this was that, recently when preparing a new talk for specialist doctors, I first invited a group of my friends and business associates to a ‘practice run’. I knew they would give me constructive feedback, which they did and this was very much appreciated. I would not have been able to do this with a group of strangers and may not have trusted their feedback.
In general, networking can give us constructive advice from experienced people.
Within our organisational or work teams, stronger bonds facilitate more efficient teamwork. The task gets done better, the team is happier and the needs of individuals are more likely to be met. And this makes it easier for the leader to work from a position of strength, especially in these VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) times like this where collaborative leadership works well. Leaders can discover new talent and use the diverse strengths of individuals within the team more effectively. Networking can help to enhance a leader’s performance in so many ways.
How does networking have a positive influence on systems?
Networking helps to provide access to general and exclusive information through sharing. We know who to approach for the right advice. In addition, if we know the ‘right’ people, we are far more likely to be told about vacancies, given appointments, introduced to previously inaccessible people, and know how the organisation works. There is always a great deal of ‘tacit knowledge’, that which is not articulated. And by speaking to insiders we learn ‘how things work around here’, what really happens and what is important to those who belong. Others can help us to unearth the implicit and make it explicit. Thus networking helps newcomers to be absorbed into systems and be assimilated into cultures.
I was inspired to write this article through the input of the young engineers. I’m grateful to them. The above are just some of the benefits of networking as consolidated from the benefits which they identified and I have added considerably to their contribution.
My questions for you are:
- In which ways can networking help you to shift your ‘way of being’?
- What should you be doing right now to improve your networking skills?
- Who should be included while you build a stronger network?
- How can you harness the power of collective networking?
For more information on networking or communication skills workshops or executive coaching, you are welcome to visit the services section of our website - https://strategy-leadership.com/services/
The purpose of the twelve-week Communication Skills course, as implied, is to help professionals communicate better. Young engineers need these skills when effectively reporting upwards to supervisors or instructing apprentices. It also impacts on their functioning within a team. Discussing codes of professionalism are also important, as is the development of each participant’s personal three-year strategy.
However, there are many intangible benefits, too. Participants learn the importance of support and networking. And unexpected benefits include the way in which individuals’ learn to tap into their strengths. Sometimes, in coaching terms, it is a matter of moving from ‘head’ to ‘heart’. An example was that of Frank Mohlala who when they were all assigned the structuring of a speech on ‘What makes me tick’ wrote a poem. He excitedly told us how this was the first poem he had ever written. Thank you, Frank for sharing your wonderful poem with us. May you continue expressing your thoughts creatively.
Title: Let freedom reign
Author: Frank Mohlala
What makes me tick is my freedom
I am now going to drive back in time, in the days of terror
Where life was lost, the streets were bloody, it was horror
The fight against the system was the bread people ate
Leaders fought, people were shot, it was getting late.
The struggle for freedom was always the order of the day
Mothers and fathers were either killed or jailed
Children were left in broken homes, in tears and despair.
After the conviction and prosecution of our leaders, there was confusion and distraction within the masses; it was time to put the action in motion, for the demolition of the apartheid congregation… all for the future generation.
Revenge and vengeance was seen as the way to light and success
Hope was lost; the great rainbow nation was falling
Until one wise man said.. And I quote
“Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being shrunk of the world”
Let freedom reign.
For more information on our Communication Skills courses, other training or Executive Coaching programmes please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or phone +27 82 4993311.
Each year I run a 12-session programme on ‘Communication Skills and Leadership’ for the Treverton Post-matric group. The participants are young people who have completed their formal schooling and are spending the year developing a whole range of skills. They are privileged to be under the enriching leadership of Athol Davies who has been the Director of Post-matric for the last twelve years and enabled a series of young people to shift closer to reaching their potential.
This week was the 2014 group’s ‘Session 7’ and during the four hours a new exercise was introduced. Each group was asked just one of two questions:
- What promotes effective communication?
- What hinders effective communication?
I was surprised and impressed by the intensity of their discussions and the quality of their input.
In summary, those factors perceived to impact negatively on the effectiveness of communication also opened possibilities for enriching communication. Conversely, those factors which enhanced communication could also close down possibilities.
In order to improve our communication skills, we need to be more conscious of factors that enhance effectiveness of our communication. Under different circumstances the same factors might impede the clarity of our message. We should strive to close the gap between the intention of our message and the perception of the person receiving the message. This also involves being clear on what our message is, presenting it in the most appropriate way for the recipient and checking afterwards that it has been correctly understood.
‘Personal networking as a Business Tool’ is the title of a workshop I presented recently for the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry. This session emphasized the importance of building positive relationships which, in turn, help us to become the person of choice, firm of choice or business of choice.
Positive relationships also generate an ‘absence of malice’. When things go wrong, as they often do in business, within an existing positive relationship, we are more likely to be given the benefit of the doubt. So while acknowledging the importance of social media, the focus of this workshop was on the benefits of building positive relationships.
In summary, the consolidation on some of their ideas on the benefits of personal networking are:
- Personal networking is beneficial within groups and organisations and externally as well. We need to carefully identify where we play roles and who our stakeholders are. In other words, whom do we serve? And which entities or people have power over our organisations or over us? The benefits of fostering those relationships are enormous.
- Business expansion can be gained through personally engaging in a range of different activities. We thus interact with a wide range of people. For example, by playing cricket and getting to know the other cricket players and their supporters, opportunities for new avenues of communication through their networks may be recognised.
- A greater connection between personal passions and building networks which can benefit us in the work situations. For example, where we have an interest or capability, by offering to serve on committees or boards, or taking other leadership roles, we become more ‘visible’, and are also ‘in the know’ regarding developments or other information which could be helpful to us or to others, if appropriate to share.
- ‘If you grow yourself, you grow some-one else.’ Within an organisation, if we improve our product, service or the way we operate, we can more easily complete processes, enhance the over-all performance, thus lifting standards for everyone. Quality conversations play an important part in this.
- By having a ‘finger on the pulse’, we can notice issues and problems as they arise and thus solve them more quickly and easily.
- By keeping track of people, and knowing about their new positions and developments, we can create opportunities for them, for ourselves and for others.
- Willingness to help is reciprocal. If we have an attitude of ‘what can I do for you?’ others will be influenced by this. When we need help, others are more likely to notice and offer to help us.
- When we are searching for new staff, if we have positive relationships with others, we are more confident in accepting referrals from them. Thus, gaining the right people for positions in our organisations can become less onerous and the positions are more likely to be filled with ‘the right person for the job’.
- As networking involves connecting people with people, people with information and people with opportunities, the more we network, the more likely we are to recognise and be able to optimise opportunities on a larger scale for ourselves and for a wider range of people. Our networks become broader and broader.
- People get to know us, our products and our services. And we know more about others and their current and changing business needs. Thus we can more easily match our products and services to their actual needs.
- Although we all know that networking builds trust and positive relationships, the more we network, the more we are reminded of this and able to recognise and optimise opportunities.
- Through networking we are exposed to new ideas which we can transfer to our own situations. In addition, being able to test our ideas within trusted relationships creates opportunities for us to try new things, take prudent risks.
- Networking helps us to set new goals and create focus on what we want to achieve.
- Elements of time management are significant. We get things done a lot faster by knowing who to go to. And this isn’t always the decision-maker at the top. Sometimes, by having a good relationship with say, the CEO’s personal assistant, we are more likely to get the appointment with the CEO.
- By allowing more time for the important or strategic activities, there is more time available for a work/life balance. By having more quality time with family, we are able to concentrate on the important things at work and growth is more likely.
- Life is more enjoyable when we work with people we know and trust. And this applies in our formal work positions, with our families and in our community engagements, too.
- By guiding others, we develop our own leadership abilities and become recognised for those. This opens further opportunities for us and for others.
- By developing our own potential further, through networking, people begin to perceive us as an expert in a field. Thus they come to us for advice and this often makes us ‘lift our game’ and we in fact may become that ‘expert’.
- We develop our field of influence. And this can apply at a micro (internal) or macro (external) level.
For more information on our personal networking training programmes or keynotes please contact Brenda on email@example.com or +27 82 4993311.
Communication is a major issue facing most organisations and businesses – and most couples, too! How do we get our message across? How close is our intention in sending a message to the recipient’s reception of what we meant? The way the message is delivered and the receiver’s ability to listen play a part. But there will always be gaps and we automatically fill those gaps with what we thought the person said or what we thought the message intended.
So, the bigger the gap, the more we add our own interpretation, filling the gap with what we thought the person said. And this further complicates our understanding of the intended message. This applies whether we are speaking to one person, addressing a meeting or mailing our customers.
Recently the delightful song ‘What did the fox say?’ has escalated to great popularity. It is fun trying the dance moves, too! The message fascinates me. (Please scroll down to the end of the article to read the words.) Not only does Ylvis ask: ‘What does the fox say?’, but what do all the animals say? And near the end of the song, the question is ‘What is your sound’? It may seem trivial, but that is a powerful question. And this links to a book which has been a great inspiration in my Executive Coaching work: ‘You are what you say’ by Matthew Budd and Larry Rothstein. The subtitle is: ‘The Proven Program That Uses the Power of Language to Combat Stress, Anger, and Depression.’ I highly recommend this book.
As I left the November business lunch at the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business having heard a range of messages during the talks, I noticed a colleague intently engrossed in a conversation with one of the resident donkeys. Ylvis might ask – ‘what does the donkey say’? and also ‘What does Olivia say’? What are their sounds?
And what is your sound? This is a provocative question and takes a great deal of reflection. When coaching I add even greater depth to this question by asking my clients if they were to choose one piece of music as a metaphor for who they really are, what would that music be?
So, let me ask the question again: ‘What is your sound’?
For more information on Executive Coaching or Keynote Speaking please contact Brenda on firstname.lastname@example.org or +27 82 4993311.
Lyrics: What does the fox say?
Dog goes woof
Cat goes meow
Bird goes tweet
and mouse goes squeek
Cow goes moo
Frog goes croak
and the elephant goes toot
Ducks say quack
and fish go blub
and the seal goes ow ow ow ow ow
But theres one sound
That no one knows
What does the fox say?
What the fox say?
What the fox say?
What the fox say?
What the fox say?
Big blue eyes
and digging holes
Up the hill
Suddenly youre standing still
Your fur is red
Like an angel in disguise
But if you meet
a friendly horse
Will you communicate by
How will you speak to that
What does the fox say?
What the fox say?
What the fox say?
What the fox say?
What does the fox say?
The secret of the fox
Somewhere deep in the woods
I know youre hiding
What is your sound?
Will we ever know?
Will always be a mystery
What do you say?
Youre my guardian angel
Hiding in the woods
What is your sound?
Wa-wa-way-do Wub-wid-bid-dum-way-do Wa-wa-way-do
Will we ever know?
I want to
I want to
I want to know!
Abay-ba-da bum-bum bay-do
Read more: Ylvis - The Fox Lyrics | MetroLyrics
During the twelve-week ‘Communication Skills’ course the participants develop a ‘Code of Professionalism’ which is consolidated and refined over a few sessions. This is a useful exercise as the discussion often shows participants how others perceive their behaviour. This exercise also helps people to understand what professionalism is and how it should be adhered to in their work context. Each group’s code is unique to them.
By limiting the number of items they may have on their list, conversation becomes more intense. Which can we possibly leave out? There are many areas that are working well and the teams and individuals possibly don’t need reminders to continue doing what is good.
At present I’m working with two very different groups in the same company and it was interesting to see the overlap and differences between their final ‘codes’. Here I have consolidated them into one code. The most important items on the list were considered to be:
We will at all times:
- Be punctual.
- Finish meetings on time.
- Not extend our tea or lunch breaks.
- Do our jobs effectively and finish our tasks on time.
- If we know we are going to miss a meeting, apologise in advance, preferably in writing.
- If we have missed a meeting without apologising in advance, write an apology immediately.
- Double check that our work is correct.
- Follow up on all queries on a regular (daily?) basis.
- Use business language.
- Use the correct company stationery and not waste.
- Keep our work environment clean and tidy.
- Eat only at tea or lunch breaks and only in the allocated areas.
- Answer the phone on the agreed number of rings (e.g.3)
- Answer the phone professionally by greeting and introducing ourselves briefly to the caller.
- Greet our colleagues.
- Have manners and treat our colleagues (and all with whom we deal) with respect and dignity.
- Respect everyone’s privacy.
- Respect company confidentiality and be loyal.
- Practise team-work.
- Show a positive attitude towards others and share ideas and knowledge that will be helpful.
- Be honest in all our tasks.
- Not steal from the company through using company stationery, contacts, products, equipment, phones or time for personal reasons.
- Do not behave in a way that will cause a disturbance.
- Not come to work under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Not tolerate absenteeism without a valid reason.
- Never chew gum.
- Wear the appropriate attire for all work and work-related events.
- Walk only in the designated areas.
- Adhere to proper housekeeping.
- (I have purposely left this one ‘open’)
I invite you to go through the above and decide which points your teams need to consciously work towards. Which 30 points should be on your list? For interest you may wish to view another article where I have provided two very different group’s Codes of Professionalism - 'Working together' and ‘Code of Professionalism'.
If you’d like to know more about our ‘Communication Skills’ or any other training programmes that we present, please contact Brenda on email@example.com or +27 82 4993311.
Recently I sent an important document to a lawyer as an e-mail attachment. It appeared in my ‘sent box’ and I didn’t receive any notification showing it had not been delivered. So I automatically presumed it had been received by the intended recipient. I was wrong. Days later I was surprised to discover that it had not been delivered. The reason was simple: I had not checked the size of the attached pdf. It was 20 Megabites and therefore over the size allowed by the law firm’s server. So the message, even stripped of the attachment, had not been delivered and the lawyer had received no notification. He was still waiting for the document!
So the lesson learnt is: don’t forget to check the size of attachments before sending an e-mail. This experience prompted me to re-visit my previous article, ‘E-mail etiquette and effectiveness’.
Here is the new updated list:
- Check the size of attachments before sending your e-mail.
- If a file is attached, make reference to that file in the body of the message, having checked that the file is the correct file and is the final saved version of that file. In some cases, people don’t notice that there is an attachment or they may be suspicious of attachments and not open them.
- Write a specific, descriptive subject line which captures the essence of the topic.
- Check that you are sending the message to the correct person at the correct address. For example, you may have two different Brenda’s that you often send e-mails to. Or a recipient may have two different addresses and prefer one for business e-mails etc.
- Don’t forward information that is confidential, personal or of a sensitive nature.
- Even if you are the originator, send sensitive or confidential information only after checking with recipients. (They may not wish to have this message sent by e-mail, may want the document password protected, or sent to their private addresses.)
- Include all relevant parties where their input or approval is needed. This also applies where they need to be kept informed. But don’t send e-mails to those who are not involved or whom you know would not be interested.
- Where appropriate copy your boss or immediate supervisor. But don’t send unnecessary messages. Our inboxes are too full and please don’t send matters unrelated to work.
- Protect the privacy of other people’s e-mail addresses. Never provide e-mail addresses to others without first gaining the approval of those whose contact details you are sharing.
- If sending a general e-mail to a group of people outside the company, send it to yourself, using the BCC section for all recipients. Where appropriate, in the body draw attention to the fact that multiple recipients have been sent this e-mail.
- When sending an e-mail to one person, it is not considered ethical to include a BCC to his boss, or to anyone else. Let the recipient know who has been copied by putting that person’s address in the CC section.
- In the body of your message stick to the ‘subject’. Cover only one topic making sure that different topics unrelated to the subject heading are not introduced. This makes the ‘trail’ clearer when others try to follow the evolving conversation (including responses).
- Always put your ‘signature at the end of the message. (A person may wish to phone you in response to the e-mail.) In addition, check that your e-mail address appears in the signature. Many people ‘copy and paste’ this information for their ‘Contacts’.
- Consider carefully whether you want logos and other images in the body of your e-mail or in the signature. These may be rejected by recipients’ servers.
- Be aware of your business and personal branding throughout the message.
- Consider lay-out carefully. Make the message easy to read.
- It shouldn’t need to be said, but unfortunately it does – don’t send anything that may be perceived as being disrespectful, offensive, spam or containing viruses.
- Be professional and avoid using SMS shorthand, slang or vulgar language.
- Take care in wording the message. The tone and context can easily be misread or misunderstood. How is the receiver likely to perceive or understand your intention?
- Where making sensitive requests, be polite and assertive rather than giving an aggressive impression.
- Don’t become abusive, show discrimination or infringe on private lives.
- Check grammar and spelling using the appropriate Spellcheck –e.g. English (South Africa). Punctuate correctly.
- Use capital letters only at the start of a sentence or for names, ‘proper nouns’ etc.
- Make your e-mail short and ‘to the point’. Don’t waffle. You don’t want to receive the response, ‘tl:dr’ (too long, didn’t read).
- Use the corporate standard type font (e.g. Arial), size (e.g. 12) and colour (e.g. black). Don’t use different fonts or colours unnecessarily.
- If your message needs a response, indicate by when you’d like to receive their answer. (Please reply by…)
- Don’t e-mail company documents to an outside source without the authority to do so (preferably in writing or covered in the company procedures).
- Don’t leave your e-mail ‘open’ on your computer (company privacy and to prevent others from deleting or forwarding messages from your computer.)
- Provide an ‘out of office’ auto reply message giving details of when you’ll be back, and offering the contact details of the relevant person to attend to urgent or important business matters in your absence.
- Where e-mails are addressed directly to you, respond within the time determined by company policy (e.g. same work day, within 24 hours etc.)
- Manage your in-coming and out-going e-mails, having folders for different topics (e.g. quotations). Delete whatever is unimportant or no longer relevant.
- Do not mark as urgent or set the ‘priority’ for your recipients. It is not polite to presume that your message is important for the person receiving the message.
- Where you are sending a bulk message, consider whether there is more chance of your recipients receiving the message as an attachment, or in the body of the e-mail.
- Statistics show that the day on which bulk e-mails are most likely to be read by recipients is a Tuesday. So where possible, send on that day. On Mondays people are starting a new week and don’t pay much attention to e-mails which they consider unnecessary. Towards the end of the week people are trying to complete their work before the weekend.
For more information on Communication Skills training, please contact Brenda on firstname.lastname@example.org or +27 82 4993311.