Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Assertive Skills: The Art of Saying No

Assertiveness training continues to be one of our most popular Open Courses and it’s really no wonder.  Feeling unassertive and behaving accordingly blights people’s lives.

Last year I wrote a blog about being too nice for your own good.

This blog is going to concentrate on The Art of Saying ‘No’.  Or as I said in the Independent article a few years ago, I had to learn to be a little bit nasty in order to be a nicer person.

Oh, oh, I can hear some of you saying, I don’t want to become nasty!

Of course not in the usual way we think of being nasty; the problem is that people who are too nice attract other people and situations that take advantage of their good nature.

What often happens is that resentments get stored up and build over time so that there is an inevitable explosion – either internally, turning your anger against yourself; or externally, spewing your accumulated rage all over an innocent bystander or directed at the right person for the wrong reason.

Now that’s really being nasty.

The ‘little bit nasty’ I’m talking about is a way of toughening yourself up so you aren’t so much of a sitting duck.

That’s why I want to talk about The Art of Saying ‘No’ because there is an art to telling someone that you either can’t or won’t do something they want you to.

People make decisions in a nano-second about who might or might not be cooperative.  You do it too – we all do it.  We need something doing and we go through the list in our heads and chuck out the ones who will be more trouble than it’s worth and make a short-list of those who we figure might be more willing.

The ‘nicer’ and more unassertive you are, the more you end up at the top of other people’s short-lists:  they know you’ll find it hard to refuse or they choose to ignore any protest you may offer.

So how to toughen up without losing your essential niceness?  Here are a couple of very simple things to try.

Be well prepared.  One problem that unassertiveness people have is that they think of what to say after the fact – that’s when they have long conversations in their heads about what they could have said.

My advice:  have a few excuses up your sleeve:

“I’m so sorry, I’d love to help but I’ve already committed that time to_______.”

“Oh dear, I can’t talk now as I have a deadline that was just given to me.”

“What a shame you didn’t contact me earlier but I’ve already promised my time to ____.”

“Good heavens, is that the time?  I have to run; let’s talk tomorrow.”

These are all designed to accomplish three things:  1) you aren’t ever really nasty as you are using ‘nice’ language as a way of saying ‘no’; if you notice, I never once suggest you even use the word ‘no’; 2) you buy time and get yourself off the hook, while still appearing cooperative; 3) you begin to look like a person who isn’t always available at the drop of a hat just because someone wants you to be.

Wipe that smile off your face!  That sounds a bit harsh doesn’t it?  Yet smiling on the outside when feeling unhappy on the inside gives out mixed messages.  Unassertive people smile a lot, especially when they are saying something they think the other person won’t want to hear.

Practise this one in front of the mirror.  First say, “I’m sorry, I won’t be able to help you with that,” with a smile one your face.  This is where you should be able to see the mixed message a smile and saying ‘no’ gives out.  Next say the same thing without a smile.

You don’t have to look grumpy!  Just turn down the volume on your smile and see what happens when you look at yourself in the mirror.

If someone really wants to rope you into doing something they can happily take your smile as a signal to keep pushing – that you really, deep down want to help.

These and many other simple techniques that we use on our Assertiveness Skills courses are designed to be easy and doable so that you really don’t have to put yourself through the ringer to become less nice.

The Art of Saying ‘No’ can have a very positive impact on your life.

Come along to our Breakfast Taster on 18 March 2015 which is all about The Art of Saying ‘No’ – contact rose@impactfactory.com for an invitation

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Assertiveness Skills Training.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Friday, 13 February 2015

Facilitation and Better Meetings

I went to a meeting recently not facilitated by someone at Impact Factory.

This was me:  smile plastered on my face so I looked attentive, doing everything I could to keep my eyes open, and writing in my notebook ‘struggling to keep awake’ in an attempt to keep awake.  I took numerous sips of water, pinched my fingers.  All those tactics worked to some extent, but having to resort to them reminded me why good facilitation can make a huge difference to the outcome of any meeting.

Because the energy wasn’t being managed and the facilitator wasn’t paying attention to what was happening around the table, he lost my attention and thus my input.  And I could see that others were struggling as well.

Here’s a few things that can make meetings so dire:

No clear agenda
No clear leadership
Hidden agendas
Old resentments
Unruly competitiveness
Game playing
People using their phones or tablets
Unrealistic expectations

You’ll have some extra ones to add, I’m sure, when you think of the last few poor meetings you’ve been to.

What astonishes us is that there are still more bad meetings than there are good ones – client after client of ours (even if that’s not what they hired us for) mention that their meetings are usually too long and unproductive.

It’s one of those things that people seem to accept as par for the course and yet meetings – any kind of meeting – could/should be creative, useful, valuable, dynamic, even exciting.

The first thing I know could make a huge difference is to change the patterns which run your meetings.  Notice I said that patterns run the meetings – they do because people follow patterns unconsciously:  they sit in the same place, they play the same games, they have the same expectations.

If you want to change what happens in those meetings that you dread, do something, anything, to change the same old same old happening again.  Sit in a different place, hold the meeting standing up, put ‘AOB’ at the top of the Agenda, ask people to turn their phones and tablets off. 

It really doesn’t matter what you do – you can create a different dynamic if you change any one pattern that you know happens at your meetings.

By the way, anyone can change a pattern – you don’t have to be the Chair, the one holding/running the meeting.  You can even be the most junior person in the room; you can still change one thing or suggest one thing to make a difference.

Now, if you really want to shake things up and you’re feeling brave, the best way to shock a meeting into changing its dynamics is to ‘level’ – in other words, call the behaviour that you think is consciously or unconsciously sabotaging the meeting. 

It’s the Emperor’s New Clothes, isn’t it, when people accept other people’s unacceptable behaviour?

If you’re the one to say, “The King is naked,” that would certainly put the cat among the pigeons (exactly how many metaphors have I used in the last few sentences!!), wouldn’t it?  You don’t have to make a big fuss about it, or accuse anyone, or finger point, or be aggrieved. 

Calling someone’s behaviour can be as simple as, “We seem to have strayed from the agenda”, “There seem to be too many voices all at once”, “We do seem to be stuck on this one issue”.  If you want, you can make a suggestion of how to move forward, but you don’t have to – the key is that you are an objective voice saying what you see going on.

When I said at the beginning that good facilitation can make a huge difference, my experience shows that it can be transformative.

Why put up with meetings that don’t go anywhere or reinforce the same old patterns, when you could have lively, motivating, fruitful meetings that you look forward to?

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Monday, 2 February 2015

Moving House Customer Service and Communication

So here we are in our new house surrounded by packing boxes – towers of packing boxes.  We feel somewhat like the Collyer Brothers where if we make a false move, we’ll be crushed by all the stuff we have.

We had some work done on the house before we moved in and after the movers had pulled away and we were sitting slumped on the two chairs we were able to unearth, I got to thinking about the whole moving house thing in terms of Customer Service and Communication.

To get our house ready we used a project manager, two electricians, two plumbers, a team of painters, a carpet layer, a wood floor specialist, two floor tillers, two chaps to clear the garden and a master carpenter/joiner to design and build the kitchen.  We had four men moving us in two vans.

Here at Impact Factory we talk about Customer Service as often being about The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.  Well, we didn’t exactly get to The Ugly but we certainly had The Good and The Bad.

Now, I probably won’t be saying anything new here and many of you will have had similar experiences but I need to get some stuff off my chest, so here goes.

First I have to say that The Good was very good indeed.  There were certain people who offered everything you’d want in excellent Customer Service, which is most emphatically tied up with great Communication Skills.  They told us what to expect and when and then delivered exactly that. 

They seemed to have a global view so they didn’t just do their bit of the job but they saw how their bit fit in with everyone else’s bit.  They went above and beyond – they got the measure of us really quickly and offered loads of suggestions to make our lives easier.  They complimented us on our choices and when we weren’t sure, gave us their expertise.

They followed up – checked we were happy with the work. 

Key to them accomplishing all of the above was that they communicated with us regularly.  We never felt part of a tick-the-box-exercise, but real people, under stress who benefited from their care and consideration.

Now for The Bad.  Why is it that somehow it’s accepted and even expected that people in the building trades don’t show up and it’s OK? If Impact Factory just didn’t show up for a training how long do you suppose we’d be in business?  I don’t get why we put up with it overall. 

We certainly won’t be hiring those people again, but I would if they had used a simple communication tool known as a telephone and told us what was going on. 

In some instances we were assured the work would be finished by a certain date and then it wasn’t and then we’d be assured it would be finished by another date and it wasn’t. 

And everyone thinks this is par for the course.  Everyone has their own builder story, many much worse than ours, and yet, ”Oh you know, that’s builders for you.”

These were the people who didn’t have anything near a global view and were just getting through their bit of the project as quickly as possible.  This means they didn’t communicate with other people working on the house, nor did they communicate with us.  This in turn meant that because we weren’t consulted decisions were made that we didn’t approve of and didn’t want and work had to be redone.

Actually, there were a number of things that had to be redone or undone because of the lack of communication.

There was even one man who said he hated his job – great- that left us feeling reassured!

In an odd way, with this lot, we got the measure of them pretty quickly and it was easier in a perverse kind of way to deal with them.

What we found hardest of all were the people who thought they were doing a good job and weren’t and simply didn’t listen to us.  They’d nod and it appeared as though they ‘got’ what we were asking, but then they went right ahead and did what they wanted to do rather than what we wanted, which, as above, meant work had to be redone.

Lack of listening skills combined with a desire to please made communication with this lot really difficult.  It felt slippery and unfocused and we often felt churlish being critical and asking for what we wanted.

The sum of all this is that we know who we’ll hire in the future if we ever need additional work; we know who we’ll recommend (with pleasure) if anyone asks.

Sadly, we know who we won’t hire again and who we won’t recommend.

I’m not someone who would use Social Media to cast aspersions on specific people – it’s not my style – voting with my feet is. 

Yet so much aggravation (for them and for us) could have been avoided if basic Communication Skills and Customer Service skills had been used.  The thing is that good skills like these are really easy to learn and to practise.   I suggest everyone in the building trades have a go at learning some new and useful tools to make everyone’s lives easier!

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory