Friday, 18 December 2015

Conflict Communication and the Holidays: Part II

In my last Blog I wrote about the Stages of Conflict and that Blog was meant to highlight a certain type of conflict that arises when feelings connected to earlier difficult situations are unexpressed and fester and grow.

There are obviously other kinds of conflict.  Have you seen the latest issue of Vanity Fair?  Wow!  There’s a story about two neighbouring billionaires who have been entangled in myriad lawsuits over a number of years that kicked off with a relatively easily fixable conflict.

But, oh no, they each dug their heels in and now it looks like a modern day version of Jarndyce vs Jarndyce!  

But I digress; the reason I want to pinpoint the type of conflict that’s generally a repeat pattern of old conflicts is of course the fact that we are rapidly approaching that time of year when families get together and old tensions spring to life.

However, I’m not just talking about what happens when these families get together; I’m also talking about the knock-on effects in the rest of people’s lives.  Often there’s a bit of cat-kicking that happens where people take out their anxiety over the upcoming family gathering in the work-place as well as other arenas.

So let’s see how you might be able to manage some of your conflict situations and improve your communication in the build-up to and over the impending holidays. 

Here are my TOP TIPS for managing conflict at Christmas:

Set really clear boundaries about when you are going to arrive and when you’re going to leave any family gathering.

If people are coming to you, get clear about when they are arriving and when they intend to leave.

If people are coming to you, give everyone a task so the burden doesn’t fall on the same people (you!) for yet another year.

If you are going to someone else’s then ask for a task or observe what might be needed and quietly get on with doing it.

Avoid getting drawn into other people’s dramas.  Avoid taking sides and creating sides for other people to take.

If you are celebrating the holidays with a particular family member because it might ‘be their last’ then do it with an open heart and good grace.  Sulking and pouting because you resent being where you are serves no one and only contributes to everyone’s unhappiness.

If things get really tough, go into the toilet for a silent scream – they work wonders!

Speaking of an open heart, see if you can look at other people and their aggravating behaviour with more compassion and less annoyance. 

Let ‘them’ be right.  There’s no need to try to fight your corner about the best way to make dressing.  If one of your relatives comments that it would be better another way, say something along the lines of, “You’re probably right; I’ll remember that for the next time.” And then zip your lip.  Letting someone be right can be a great relief because you avoid a circular argument that no one can win.

And if it’s all too much, then plan a trip next year and leave the country.

Check out Impact Factory’s Conflict Management, Assertiveness and Communication courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Friday, 4 December 2015

Conflict Communication and the Holidays: Part I

Have you noticed that some people get crankier as the holidays approach?

Some people are jolly, but because of the pressure that they put on themselves in the run-up to... however they celebrate or don’t celebrate the holidays... the stress builds and the grumpiness comes out.

This leads to conflict in many cases as the stress bubbles over and crankiness and grumpiness turn more aggressive.

 I was in the supermarket a short while ago and the couple in front of us were involved in a kerfuffle with the check out clerk. Well, the husband was involved in the altercation, which was over whether he had the right coupon for a discount on some Christmassy item he had in his trolley. He was far more belligerent than he needed to be; demanded to see the manager and was downright rude to the check out chap.

Now maybe this guy is always that hard-line, though actually, his wife did come up to apologise to us and the manner of her apology did make me think this was not his usual way of communicating. Who knows?

It did put me in mind that I seem to see more of these kind of public displays of angst at this time of year than at other times.

Not only that, within the space of two days I heard of two couples I know who have just decided to split – an extreme form of the inability to resolve whatever conflict is going on in their lives. I put a lot of this down to the pressure people take on around the holidays. When I had my psychotherapy practise, round about the end of November/beginning of December was when clients began to display ever-increasing signs of stress and an inability to handle even minor conflicts. 

Stages of Conflict 

Conflict is hard for most people at the best of times. Chuck in a couple of extra stressors like money worries at Christmas or dread at the upcoming festivities, it's no wonder anger bubbles up at the drop of a hat or a perceived incompetent check out clerk. Rational communication is often nowhere to be found either.

I'd like to unpick some of the stages of conflict because so often the issue that the conflict is about isn't the first stage at all; the first stage may have happened days, weeks or even years ago.

Stage One: The first stage is usually a situation, issue, upset or difficulty during which you don't say anything, you swallow your hurt or distress and hide how you are feeling. This may actually be a wise and pragmatic thing to do. There have been numerous times when I've bitten my tongue when it wouldn't have served any purpose to have opened my yap and might even have made the situation worse.

Stage Two is the crucial one. Did you let those feelings go or did you tuck them away in a little storehouse in your brain or heart? If you let them go, all well and good. Holding your tongue served a purpose and you didn't lug any residual feelings around with you.

However, if you did package up those resentments and shove them in your memory bank, then they will have had plenty of opportunity to grow and fester.

Stage Three: Then along comes another scenario and Stage Three is born where, again, if you hang on to your contained and unexpressed emotions the packages begin to mount up. You now need trunks to store your aggrieved feelings in.

Stage Four involves the triggers. As I said earlier, the triggers aren’t usually the actual root cause of the conflict – they are often the obvious justifications for getting drawn into conflict and one of the main reasons why some conflict is so difficult to resolve.

Take a minute to think of a recent conflict you were involved in and see if you can identify the trigger or triggers. Can you identify whether the argument was genuinely about the trigger or could it have been something deeper? If it was something deeper and perhaps more complex did it ever come up during the conflict or were you both sticking to the trigger?

I believe that the more we understand how conflict happens, the better able we will be to resolve it. 

I’ll be writing Part II shortly, with a range of hints and tips to help resolve conflict and get some reasonable communication going.

Check out Impact Factory's Conflict Management, Assertiveness and Communication courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Communication and Christmas 2015

In just under a month it will be Christmas, a time of celebration, joy, families coming together and in many cases, downright misery.

I’ve written about the way families communicate when they get together in last year’s blog, and in Family Heaven, Family Hell, How to survive the Family Get Together.

According to Google Books: “A recent survey found that 40% of people choose to have Christmas dinner with friends rather than their relatives.”

It’s no wonder! Family dynamics often erode any good communication skills people may have.

This got me thinking about awareness and communication.  Here I am sitting in our Impact Factory premises:  there are eight of us in an open-plan office and you could say that we are ‘like’ a family in a way.  The biggest communication difference, I think, is that we are more careful with each other, more concerned about finding common ground, more conscious of our impact on each other than generally happens in families.

I’ve noticed that if one of us is cross, for instance, we ‘own’ it and sometimes even announce ahead of time that we’re cross or down or out of sorts.  We also try to be aware of other’s moods and adjust our own behaviour accordingly.

Often at work, if there’s a breakdown in communication or conflict of some kind, then people tend to be more alert to take extra care when a similar situation arises again.  Whereas in families people fall into old patterns of behaviour and communication, and awareness doesn’t get a look in. 

The desire people have that it will be better next time everyone gets together far outweighs the reality that unless someone actually does something different nothing is going to change.

My experience is that differences at work are far easier to sort out than differences in families.  

People seem more willing to let go of resentments, and grudges aren’t carried from one generation to the next!  Obviously, this isn’t always true and there can be some very deep-seated antipathies that never get resolved. 

I’m speaking in generalities here, in the same way that loads and loads of families really do have a great time when they get together and thoroughly enjoy each other’s company and look forward to Christmas and other family ‘dos’.  I even know families like that.

However, loads and loads of families really don’t have a great time when they get together.  I know a lot more families that fall into this category.  Resentments and grudges are fed and hung on to and forgiveness is thin on the ground.  People look for reasons to stay angry, aggrieved, offended, and dare I say, even create the environment where the same old poor behaviour is replicated again.

If you are a member of one of these families what might it be like if you used the same care and attention talking to family members as you do with colleagues at work?

It might be worth taking some time to think about situations where you have deliberately, consciously chosen an appropriate communication and behaviour at work and unpick what you did and why you did it.

It may be that you wanted to tell someone to stop being so childish but you refrained and instead showed compassion and said something along the lines of, “Seems like you’re having a bad day today.  Anything I can do to help?”  I’m using that example as one I’ve used on many an occasions:  my insides were frustrated but I converted those grumbly feelings in order to show empathy. 

Just a couple of those kind of responses sprinkled into a testy family get together when you know your goat can be got can make a huge difference.

Good communication skills can do wonders at work; just think of the miracles they could create if you used them at your family Christmas!

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Communication One Day, Two Day and Elite Five Day Communicate with Impact courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Wednesday, 18 November 2015


Image result for procrastinating
Interesting little quiz in the Guardian Small Business Network this week.

I had what could be described as up and down results in the quiz.  According to them I’m doing some things right to avoid procrastination and others quite wrong. The premise does seem to be that there are obvious times throughout the day when procrastination is like a siren song, drawing you into its velvet clutches.

Of course, it’s a relatively superficial quiz but it did get me thinking about the whys and wherefores of procrastination.

Is it really such a bad thing?

I think there are different levels of procrastination

There’s the extreme procrastination where inertia sets in and nothing gets done. This is the under the duvet kind of lethargy that results in paralysis both mental and physical.

There’s the slightly less extreme procrastination where you emerge from under the duvet but your time is generally spent watching day-time or middle of the night TV.

There’s the displacement procrastination where you swap one activity that really does need to be tackled with another, less vital one, say swapping doing your tax return with cleaning the kitchen.

There’s busy-time procrastination where you look really busy and seem to be running around a lot, but truly, nothing is actually getting done.

There’s distraction procrastination where you make phone calls, check emails, play a few computer games, take a walk, all the while fully aware that there are things lurking quite near that need to be handled.

I call this last one ‘conscious procrastination’ and I think it’s the best kind, if you are going to postpone doing the ‘hard’ or must-do’ stuff.  Why I like this kind of stalling tactic is that I find when I consciously choose to do something other than the stuff that needs to be done, I don’t feel guilty. 

My justification is that my unconscious is actually working away whether I’m doing anything productive or not and when I do finally sit down to the pile of stuff I’d been putting off, I don’t feel resentment and I actually feel refreshed. Often, new ideas or ways of handling things will also bubble up.

I do believe that sometimes procrastination comes from having too much to do and putting unrealistic pressure on ourselves to get it all done. If we all practised conscious procrastination, life would be so much less stressful.  We’d be listening to ourselves more and acknowledging that we are indeed only human with only so much capacity.

We should definitely be taking more walks and playing more computer games and I guarantee we’ll all procrastinate less.

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Time Management, Communication, Personal Impact and Influencing courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

PowerPoint: It’s You They’ve Come To See

Walking by one of the showrooms in the Business Design Centre where Impact Factory has its training rooms, I glanced in and saw a group of people in their mid to late 20s sat round a table facing a wall transformed into a screen for a PowerPoint presentation.

It was morning and the audience seemed attentive, sitting upright on their chairs, pencils poised. 

About 30 minutes later I walked by again, and everyone was slumped in their chairs; they were barely looking at the screen and the presenter seemed completely oblivious to the impact his presentation was having on his audience because his face was buried in his notes.

I looked at the slide that was up on the screen and it was all words, lots and lots and lots of words; no graphs or illustrations, and I made an assumption that the presenter was reading exactly what was on the slide.

This ubiquitous presentation tool has become an automatic choice for most presenters and unfortunately, most presenters really don’t know how to get the most from PowerPoint, thus creating audience turn-off.

A lot of people rely on PowerPoint and that’s where many of the problems lay – the dependence on PP to ‘do’ the presentation instead of the presenter doing the presentation. 

A few years ago I went to a lecture where there was a technical glitch and the speaker had to present without her PowerPoint.  She was really beside herself and got into an almighty flap which of course ruined her presentation.

She forgot one of the key rules about presenting – it’s you making the presentation not the technology. Technology is there to support, entice, enhance – it isn’t there (or shouldn’t be there) as the main event. The main event should always be the presenter so that if something goes wrong with the technology it’s no big deal.

It’s you they’ve come to see.

And that’s often the problem with how PowerPoint is used.

Most people don’t like to present; they’re scared of it.  Understandable as it always tops the list of what people fear most.

Along comes PowerPoint and either consciously or unconsciously people leapt at it as a salvation – they didn’t have to feel exposed or vulnerable; they could hide behind the PowerPoint, so over time the technology became dominant and people didn’t necessarily have to face their fears about presenting.

Additionally, because PowerPoint makes it easy to produce slides crammed with data another pattern emerged:  presenters indeed pack their slides with facts and figures and then read the exact words that are on the slides.  They don’t really present; they verbally replicate what the audience is staring at. Because people read faster than they can hear, a mismatch occurs with audiences finishing reading the slides before the presenter finishes talking and then they get bored waiting for the presenter to catch up.

Thus situations like the one I passed where an eager audience morphs into anaesthetised-looking zombies.

The sad thing is that PowerPoint can do a terrific job if presenters slashed the number of slides they produce and got more creative in how they use them.

PowerPoint would do an even better job if presenters stopped hiding behind it, came out from behind the slides, took centre stage and consigned the technology to its rightful place.

Check out Impact Factory’s PowerPoint with Impact, Elite Five Day Presentation with Impact and range of Presentation courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Friday, 6 November 2015

Why I’m Not Watching The Apprentice Anymore

I’m letting myself off the hook!

Last week’s episode when Ruth was booted off did it for me.

All the criticisms I’ve had about the programme were highlighted in last week’s and this week’s episodes and I’m doing my eyes and brain a favour my turning off the telly or watching something else (even Midsummer Murders re-runs are better than The Apprentice).

I’ve said it before – The Apprentice clearly has a formula that works for the BBC so why get rid of a programme that draws in the viewers?  It’s just that I don’t want or need to be one of those viewers.


I dislike the whole premise of the programme which is based on, to me, outmoded business tactics and outdated Leadership styles.

I dislike that the winning team is always based on who made the most profit without any weighting of team working, leadership, project management, communication and creativity.  Those are only addressed in depth with the losing team, yet sometimes those on the winning team win by the skin of their teeth.  They might be at daggers drawn, barely speaking to each other, let alone listening to each other, but if they make a penny more than the other team they are lauded and rewarded.

This puts all the value on the bottom line and devalues how people achieve their goals. 

I dislike that the programme forces the candidates to blame each other in the Boardroom. They usually spend a lot of time blaming each other throughout their tasks already so it just gets worse in front of Lord Sugar.

Leadership that relies on hectoring, shutting people down, barking at them, humiliating them and probing all their faults is not the kind of leadership I want to witness in my free time. 

I leave that to those who love the format of the show and enjoy seeing others squirm.

I want to see kindness and humanity; I want to see people’s unique qualities encouraged and developed; I want to see people succeed not by how much profit they make but for how they approach their projects, how they engage their colleagues and how they use their and other people’s creativity.

Now if you want to watch a programme that demonstrates all of that, catch Michel Roux Jr’s Kitchen Impossible, where he works with trainees with a vast range of disabilities and learning difficulties to become employable in the restaurant trade.  Tough but fair; reassuring not molly-coddling.

This is a programme filled with heart and humour, compassion and celebration.

To each his own and there are those who love The Apprentice and won’t miss an episode every Wednesday night.  Not me, I’ll have my feet up reading a good book!

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Personal Impact, Communication Skills, Leadership Skills and Line Management.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Presentation with Impact

Image result for presentation with impact
Our one and two day Presentation courses have been our most popular from the very beginning of Impact Factory, and the reason is very clear:  if you can’t present well, it’s unlikely you’ll progress to your full potential.

We’ve seen this time and time again – delegates come to our courses because their career advancement has stalled and they find themselves overlooked and shunted to the side-lines.  This inability to move forward is often caused by a fear of presenting which in turn means they miss out on opportunities to express themselves, demonstrate their skills and talents and make the impact they want.

One or two days with Impact Factory has proven immensely helpful, so much so, that we were asked if we could create an even longer version to really dig deep into the subject.

That’s when Presentation with Impact was born.

One of our shorter Presentation courses builds people’s confidence, their understanding of what happens in front of an audience, their skills in presenting with flair and style, their ability to cope under pressure.

Our Five Day Elite Presentation with Impact takes presenting to a whole new level: it is all about becoming a master of the craft of presenting.  One delegate described it as getting an injection of charisma he didn’t even know he had.  Five days of immersion will do that!

We say that this course needs courage; presenting is already a challenge to many people and to spend five days mining deeply into the subject and stretching each delegate’s capacity and creativity can be daunting – it can also be transforming.

There’s also time to learn more ‘tricks of the trade’ – bringing PowerPoint to life and being in charge of it instead of the other way around, learning the craft of storytelling to bring a freshness and inventiveness to each presentation, learning how to truly inspire and motivate an audience.

Presentation with Impact isn’t just about becoming a brilliant presenter; it is about gaining insight into yourself, how you work best and how to use your authentic, original self in everything you do.

Check out Impact Factory’s Elite Five Day Presentation with Impact courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Thursday, 15 October 2015

The Apprentice Episode 1

The Apprentice is sort of becoming a caricature of itself.  What was once an intriguing, kind of exciting programme has stayed stuck in a weird time-warp where these aspiring apprentices have the oddest perspective on what being a business person is all about.

Here are some of the inevitable Opening Night quotes– is this really the best of what’s out there?

“I want the cars, I want the girls but most of all I want the power.”

“I’m disgustingly ambitious.”

“I want to be a billionaire; I want to be richer than Lord Sugar.”

Yup, television at its best I guess.  Clearly the show must get good ratings for it to continue year after year.  To me the formula seems stale, unexciting and a poor representation of what a lot of the business world really is.

Obviously, there are still businesses out there that operate with that ‘old school’ approach of intimidation, character destruction and making people feel small.  The idea being that we’ll put you through a crucible of fire (fish fingers??) and if you survive you’ll be a better man/woman for it and you’ll surely succeed.

And people do.

Yah, yah, it’s all about television, but really, would it hurt to show other aspects of leadership, team working, feedback that aren’t about putting people down, lack of nurturing, lack of compassion?

For me I suppose I shall have to park the realist in me that would love to see a programme devoted to emotionally intelligent leadership, compassionate role modelling and a different kind of template to show younger people an alternative aspiration.

Of course businesses have to make a profit to survive. But as I question the premise every year, should profit be the only criteria for winning?

Often the winning team on a given week, to me should actually be the losing team because even weighed against the profits made, the way they were made is distasteful, unprofessional , even cruel.

That wasn't true last night, as Versatile, the team that made the most profit did indeed do a better job.  

Yet, Dan, the person 'fired' had other qualities that I would prefer to work with than April, the Project Manager for Conexus.

Of course I've made hiring mistakes and will probably continue to do so; that's part of the joys and despairs of running a business - we don't always get it right.  But I just feel that other useful qualities are overlooked. 

But I'm not the show's producers and if you have a winning formula, you stick with it.

I guess I'm looking for more humanity and fairness and I guess that I'd be laughed out of the Boardroom if I said that there was a kinder way to do business and a kinder way to lead other people than the examples displayed on The Apprentice.

So I will continue watching and commenting and perhaps the smart thing would be to view it not as a true representation of how people should progress in the business world, but as purely a soap opera-like entertainment with a complete suspension of disbelief.

After all, look across the pond at who's running for President, so clearly, the joke's on us!

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Personal Impact, Communication Skills, Leadership Skills and Line Management.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Bake Off Confidence

I may as well add my adulation of The Great British Bake Off’s winner Nadiya Hussain by quoting her moving and inspiring words as so many others are doing since she won last week:

"I'm never going to put boundaries on myself ever again. I'm never going to say 'I can't do it'. I'm never going to say 'maybe'. I'm never going to say 'I don't think I can'. I can and I will."

Nadiya didn’t just speak to Bake Off fans who have been following her up and down and up journey over the past 12 weeks; her words will resonate with anyone who has ever struggled with confidence, felt a failure, given up before they’ve begun, let their limiting beliefs stop them from trying.

Now, of course, Nadiya spent 12 weeks in the crucible of fire known as the Bake Off Tent, with cameras poised to capture her facial expressions, emotions, her disasters (not all that many) and her triumphs (quite a few). 

Clearly, most of us don’t have to challenge our confidence levels in quite such a public way, yet Nadiya summed up what so many people feel who struggle with self-confidence:  she had to battle her lack of belief in herself which at times got in the way of her talents and gifts.

With millions watching, she battled her demons and won.

Let’s look at a few things you can do when you find yourself saying, “I don’t think I can.”

Identify those demons and limiting beliefs.  For many people their behaviour is often of the knee-jerk variety where they react first and often don’t ask questions of themselves at all.  “I don’t think I can” comes out of their mouths because they’ve already convinced themselves they can’t.

It really does help to take time to list what those beliefs actually are and how true they are.  When I was a child I was told that I couldn’t draw and it really stopped me picking up a pencil or even some crayons for all my childhood, teen years and early 20s.  My fingers would itch to draw but my head would remind me that I couldn’t do it.

Finally, I discovered stick figures and that I could draw stick figures that had real character.  I somehow found a way around my limiting belief that fulfilled my drawing need. 

So much of what limits us are messages we got when we were young and those messages get internalised so they feel real.

They aren’t.

You already do some things really well and you’ll have some lovely qualities; it’s always a confidence booster to remind yourself what those are.  They don’t have to be big, major things; they can be loads of small things you do well:  offering to make colleagues tea, remembering to put the bins out, being on time, being cheerful when you get into work.  Often we think something has to be earth-shattering to qualify as worthy. 

One thing you can do is to look back on the past three to six months and think about anything you’ve done that you feel proud of achieving.  For instance, I’m proud that I filed my taxes ahead of time.  Now I pretty much file my taxes ahead of time very year, but just because it’s part of my normal routine it doesn’t mean I can’t be proud of it as an achievement.

We sometimes set the bar of what’s ‘acknowledgeable’ way too high.

Next, identify your passions – you’ll have loads of those.  Things that make your heart sing and you senses stir.  Again, they don’t have to be grand passions; you can be passionate about salted caramel flavoured ice cream or Marvel comic books or Downton Abbey.  What’s important is that you acknowledge the passions you have and that they say something about who you are.

Accepting all of that – your qualities, accomplishments, things you’re proud of and your passions – can help build your confidence.  Most of us spend way too much time telling ourselves, ‘maybe’ and ‘I can’t do it’ and ‘I don’t think I can’ when, actually, like Nadiya, we can and we ‘should’.

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Personal Impact, Assertiveness and ConflictManagement courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Communication and Self-Blame

I do seem to be obsessed with blame these days. It's predictably reassuring to hear Jose Mourino blame everyone else but himself for Chelsea's poor form, and listening to the (also) predictable
reaction of Volkswagen top bods "It wasn't me, Gov, I didn't know anything about it" once Martin  Winterkorn fell on his sword (he also didn't know anything about it, but resigned anyway).

Humility is definitely not the order of the day.

This week, though, I want to look at self-blame and the negative impact it can have if unchecked. I was reminded of this aspect of blame when I screwed up my timings the other day and made my husband and I late for an important appointment; I who am rarely late. I was so not a happy bunny, and despite no censure from anyone else, I continued to give myself a hard time for quite a while.

What I realised once I climbed out of my pit of self-chastisement, was that blaming myself for my own misdemeanour served no purpose whatsoever.

It wasn't like taking responsibility for a mistake and then moving on; no, I dragged out my own unpleasant feelings which didn't change a thing and only made me feel worse. Far better if I had taken my own advice about accepting I had goofed and at the same time avoided guilt. What I realised is that by wallowing in self-blame I was really looking for exoneration from my husband and from the person whose appointment we were late for.

In an odd way, I was taking too much responsibility, and acting like a disapproving parent to myself, when what would have been a more appropriate and proportionate response would have been to apologise for the lateness and been done with it.

I did carry on unpicking the situation:  what would have helped me in my moment of self-reprimand? What could I have done to let go sooner?  Looking outside myself for reassurance that I wasn’t a bad person worked a little bit, but I still continued to tick myself off and ultimately seeking that from others isn’t ideal. To be looking outside for approval leads to an undermining of self-confidence and gives too much not necessarily wanted power to others.

So here’s a few things I could have done:

Assessed the situation with objectivity:  just how bad was my crime (notice the dramatic language I’m still using)?  Did the punishment I gave myself fit the crime?

Given myself a two-minute time limit to wallow and moan and then called a halt to it all.

Phoned a friend from the car to distract myself from slipping back into scolding myself.

Raised my awareness that my inner critical parent was giving me a harder time than any outside person would.

Joked to my husband that there were quite a few people who could use a little more self-blame and a lot less finger-pointing.

Used the time more constructively by catching up with stuff with my husband that we hadn’t had time to discuss.

Given myself a break!  Put my disapproving parent in a box, told it to shut up and got on with getting to my appointment.

The point is, I’d never communicate to anyone the way I communicated to myself.  It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t nice and as I said at the beginning all it served to do was make me feel worse.

In a way I’m glad it happened because it reminded me that in extemis unhelpful behaviour creeps in and if I hadn’t been so down on myself I could have found a way through much quicker.

Now if I can just find a way to make Mr Mourino behave with a little more humility, that would really be something (but not nearly as entertaining).

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Communication, Conflict Management, LineManagement and Customer Service courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Leadership and Blame

"The Buck Stops Here" - Harry S Truman
Last week I wrote a blog on conflict, blame and finger pointing which seems to have touched a nerve amongst readers and I can understand why.

Blame seems to be such a deeply entrenched part of the way we communicate. Most people want to avoid humiliation and accepting the blame when something goes wrong does open the door for humiliation. Humiliation equals shame and shame is one of those primitive emotions that can feel overwhelming.

Even a small mistake can trigger shame and feeling disgraced; pointing the finger of blame can be an unconscious reaction to avoiding humiliation and a first line of defence. 

The impact of this within the workplace, of course, is that a ‘blame culture’ becomes the norm and the finger pointing becomes so prevalent that it can create a climate where people don’t take responsibility for much at all. Blame cultures can leach the motivation out of the people who work within them and that in turn inhibits inspiration, creativity and healthy team working.

So what happens when the issue of Leadership comes into the equation? 

From where I sit, blame and leadership are completely incompatible.  A true leader doesn’t blame other people, even when it really is someone else’s fault!  Good leadership means unpicking what went wrong without apportioning blame. Good leadership means helping others take responsibility for mistakes without humiliating them or treating them in an infantile way.

But because so many leaders do function within a blame culture, it’s really hard for them to lead with integrity and avoid making others culpable. 

Have you noticed when CEOs, public officials or others of a similar ilk are forced to make public apologies how difficult it is and how uncomfortable and inauthentic they look and sound?  To me those are the kind of leaders who find it extremely difficult not to try to wriggle out of being held accountable.

President Truman famously had a plaque on his desk that said “The buck stops here” which was all about him taking responsibility for any decisions he made. Quite the opposite of those people who want to ‘pass the buck’ as quickly as possible.

I’d be suspicious of any leader who accused others rather than shouldering the blame. Good leaders should never, ever put someone in the position of feeling shame or humiliation. The other person may actually feel really bad but it is the leader’s role to ameliorate that and reassure his or her colleague/s that though they may have made a mistake, it’s not the end of the world.

I still have a vivid memory of making a whopper of a mistake over 35 years ago early in my career. I worked for an organisation with the opposite of a blame culture – it was a nurturing culture and a lot of people were more concerned about my being OK than about the mistake I had made. That attitude made it possible for me to get back on my feet, re-enter the fray and rectify the problem I had created. At no time did I feel criticised, belittled or reproached.

The people who looked after me (I was a guilty wreck for a while) represented the kind of leader I aspired to be; one who is more interested in the welfare of the people they work with than in making people feel small because they screwed up.

To summarise:

Good leader don’t:

            make people feel guilty
            humiliate colleagues, especially in front of others

Good leaders do:

take responsibility.
nurture the people they work with.
help rectify mistakes.
admit when they’ve got it wrong.
accept that the buck stops with them.

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Leadership and Conflict Management courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Monday, 21 September 2015

Communication: Gossip and The Rumour Mill

The current volatility in the Chinese markets has put me in mind of the rumour mill that can impact on people at work. 

It feels, listening to the telly and following the economic situation in the press, on news sites and Twitter that the world could talk itself into another recession.  The Dow Jones drops like a stone and panic ensues.  Oh, I know there are all kinds of justifiable reasons for concern (the Chinese economy is slowing down, blah, blah, blah) but it also seems that as a species we are primed for the worst and therefore the worst happens.

I’m simply pointing out that we do seem to be drawn to disaster and are willing to believe the worst often without question. 

This is particularly true on a less global scale: in our offices, in families, among friends, our ears gravitate to the bad news rumours.

Rumours really are a form of gossip and humans do derive a great deal of pleasure from gossip, whether it’s about colleagues, pop stars, royalty or the neighbour across the road.  Of course, most gossip isn’t good news gossip; it’s usually something not very nice that puts the person being gossiped about in a not very good light.

I bet that most people who are reading this will have turned up at least once on the first day of a new job and been told something about someone you’d barely met or hadn’t even met at that point.  It certainly happened to me:  I was warned about this one woman who, I was told on my first day, was unfriendly, difficult and didn’t take part in any company events.

I had to pass her office on the way to mine and I found for the first few days that I barely muttered an hello and she barely muttered one back.

Towards the end of the week I finally woke up from my gossip-induced trance and thought, “I don’t even know this woman and I’m acting as though she has done something mean to me.”  The next day I bought a box of cookies and instead of scurrying by her office, I stopped, introduced myself properly and gave her the bikkies.  We chatted away for 15 minutes and I learned more about her in that time than most people had who’d been working alongside her for years, including some serious health problems that occasionally made her grouchy.

It was a great and very important lesson for me to learn about how easy it was for me to be swayed by what other people said before I could form my own judgement, come to my own opinions.

The rumour mill and gossip, though they are inevitable, also have the power to be deeply harmful and hurtful.  People can talk themselves into believing anything, from a new global financial crisis to the unfriendliness of a co-worker.

It would be great if every time we heard a rumour or some gossip about someone, we were able to challenge the gossiper.  It would be great if we could stopper our ears or simply ignore what was being said.

However, that’s unrealistic given what I said at the beginning about human nature.

There are, however, other steps you can take to mitigate the out of control wild-fire impact the rumour mill can have.

If you find yourself swept up in the energy that’s often created when people fan the flames of hearsay and tittle-tattle, take a moment to ask yourself if there’s any evidence that you’ve personally experienced that might mean the gossip is true. Conversely, is there any evidence that the opposite is true?

Like me, once I snapped out of it, you could be pro-active and seek out the person others are talking about, share a cuppa, go to lunch or an after-work drink. Make an effort to connect with them so you can genuinely form your own opinion.

Finally, if you do find that the rumour is just that, a rumour, you could lead a counter-gossip movement, pointing out positive things about your talked-about colleague, questioning the gossiper when they start sniping and becoming an advocate.

You could encourage other colleagues to form their own judgements and when new people start reinforce the positive traits of all your co-workers.

Gossip will never completely go away; you can be a kinder, more empathetic colleague by avoiding the rumour mill and modelling fairness and acceptance.  

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Communication One Day, Two Day and Five Day Elite Communication courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory