Friday, 31 July 2015

Assumptions & Communication

Once upon a time quite a while ago, Robin and I ran a communication/team building training for a company that wanted its people to work together more cohesively.  We were going along just fine and at one point introduced the idea of assumptions getting in the way of good communication.

We were rather taken aback when one of the staff members stood up and said “I never make assumptions.” 

Well! It wasn’t quite all hell breaking loose, but her colleagues took great issue with her and did our job for us by saying quite vociferously that it’s impossible not to make assumptions.

It really, truly is impossible not to make assumptions. Not only that, many assumptions are good and necessary so we aren’t reinventing the wheel over and over again. I assume my car will start in the morning and it would be really aggravating if it didn’t. I’d go as far as to say that much of our stress is caused when we assume something is going to happen and then it doesn’t.

Take a quick think to imagine the many things you assume are going to happen (hot water coming out of the tap, lights turn on with the flick of a switch, school doors will be open when you arrive with your children, commuter train will leave on time) and then what happens if any of those things go wrong (boiler broken, fuse burnt out, weather closing school for the day, signal failure at Clapham Junction).  Eeek!  Stress. 

Some assumptions are good and when they fail, anxiety and worry descends.

However, those kinds of assumptions are generally based on fact and history.  The hot water comes out of the tap because the boiler gets serviced every year and therefore, we assume it will continue to do so. A friend says she’ll pick me up at 2 to go shopping and I assume that’s what will happen because she’s always been on time or lets me know well in advance why she won’t be there at 2.

Now let’s look at the assumptions that really get in the way of people communicating well. Those assumptions are based on one of a few reasons:  1) it’s what I want to happen rather than what might actually be going on; 2) I’ve made up what I think is someone else’s motivation and then act as though what I made up is true; 3) I let my prejudices and biases get in the way and assume things without any evidence whatsoever; 4) I let my prejudices and biases get in the way and assume things by collecting evidence that in itself might be based on incorrect assumptions.

Sounds complicated, doesn’t it?

It isn’t.

Assumptions sprinkle our communication throughout the day.  Some will be based on fact (I ask a colleague to write a report and he says fine, no problem.  I’m going to assume it will be done on time because he’s always completed his reports on time). Some will be based on hope (I see there’s a back-log of enquiries that came in over night and I assume someone will deal with them.  Now we’re beginning to get into dodgy territory where I’ve made an assumption without checking it out with anyone). Some will be based on annoyance (I see someone doing something I don’t like and assume they’re deliberately doing it.  Dangerous waters ahead).  Some will be based on my prejudices (see, she’s lazy, just as I thought.  Now I’ve broken through the thin ice).

Aside form assumptions that are based on fact, all the rest are ones that can get you into a whole lot of hot water.  Or cold water if you’ve fallen through the thin ice as mentioned above.

As with the earlier exercise, think of just one instance that’s happened over the past week where you made an assumption that backfired about what someone else was thinking or what someone else was supposed to do. It doesn’t have to be major; the little assumptions can accumulate into big problems too!

Now look back and see if you had checked out that assumption would it have made a difference.  In other words, if I had checked with members of my team about who was going to handle the overnight enquiries, first, my mind would be at rest because I’d know what was going on and second, if everyone else had assumed someone else was handling them, the task could then easily be assigned.

Assumptions that aren’t checked out lead us to make conclusions that are often not going to happen as we would wish, which in turn leads to poor communication and eventually can turn to blaming and finger pointing (“I assumed you were on top of that.” “Why would you assume that?  You know how much work I have on my plate.” Etc., etc., etc.).

If there’s one piece of advice to avoid a lot of miscommunication, it’s to check out the assumptions that leap into your head. You’ll know they’re there because you will most likely have a mental tick list and will have ticked a task or two or three off the list without actually checking with the people involved that the stuff is going to get done.

Unlike that delegate from long ago, if you can recognise the assumptions you make and get in the habit of checking them out your communication will improve 10 fold.  Guaranteed.  (Hmmm, is that an assumption, or based on fact??).

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Communication courses and our Elite Five Day Communicate with Impact Training.  Also check out our Appraisals and Performance Management, Influencing, Assertiveness and Negotiation courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Have a chomp of Impact Factory

We love food references. We particularly like offering people a ‘taste’ of our work, so they get a flavour of our style. Choosing from a buffet of early morning tasters, clients and prospective clients get a hands-on experience of the menu of Impact Factory courses.

OK, enough with the food metaphors.

Our next Taster (sorry) will be Train the Trainer on Wednesday 9th September from 8.30-10.

We’re great at delivering Train the Trainer courses because we know that quite a few people fall into training without having set out to do that on their career path. They often have a natural flair and get on with people really well, necessary qualities in a good trainer.

In-house trainers usually have a grounding in the basics of what happens when they stand up in front of a group of people to deliver a training. Taking a Train the Trainer course gives them a lot more which I wrote about in two previous blogs (June 2015 and May 2015):  handling tricky delegates, getting feedback, gaining confidence.

This blog is all about Impact Factory and why we consider ourselves masters at Train the Trainer

Impact Factory doesn’t hire training deliverers, we grow our own. Prospective trainers come to us with a variety of skills and backgrounds and with little or no training experience – just as we like it.  

They have to undergo a rigorous two year internal training process with us before becoming an Accredited Impact Factory Training Consultant.

That’s a lot of hours learning to become a trainer. It’s why we have such a great group of trainers ourselves and why they are so accomplished. They are steeped in our ethos and methodology, learning the enormous range of processes, games, exercises, tools and techniques that go into our programmes.  

As, if not more importantly, they learn to think on their feet, adapt programmes to suit the people in the room which means people able to chuck out the programme in front of them in order to make it relevant to the delegates who show up.

Our Train the Trainer programme has condensed the very essence of our internal training programme into two action-packed days, and our early morning session on 9th September condenses those two days even further into an action-packed 90 minutes.

As a ‘tastee’ you will gain insight into how our trainers get the ‘feel’ of a room, how they create energy, how they put people at their ease and ‘bounce’ them into exercises. You will get an understanding of our principles and how they drive our approach to training.  And you will see how an exercise can be changed and adapted to address different delegate needs.

The following feedback sums up our Train the Trainer programme perfectly:

Southeastern Railway

“I discovered a wonderful source of inspiration;  your incredible gift of ideas allied with wonderful nuggets of wisdom I found Impactful, valuable and insightful. You so adroitly combined practical wisdom, humour, and serious content in a lively yet powerful and professional style! ”

This is a great opportunity for you to meet some of our Accredited (and very lovely) Training Consultants, learn more about our ways of working and have a go at some of our exercises, processes and games.

If you come along to our Breakfast Taster (with real food) you can consider it a feta complis (sorry).

Check out Impact Factory’s Train the Trainer courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Project Management: Everyone’s doing their bit, aren’t they?

I had a coaching client (let’s call him James) a few years ago whose dilemma mirrored that of a lot of people we’ve encountered on our Project Management courses.

He was a manager in a large software company based in the US; he was based in the UK and his ‘team’, which was working on a two-year project, were based in India, South Africa, New Jersey, Texas, Nigeria and two in the same open plan office as he inhabited.

His quandary was how to manage a project team where most of the team members were 1) working remotely; 2) working in a variety of countries all with different time zones; 3) three were non-English speaking natives; 4) the main form of communication was email; 5) a couple of them thought they should be the project manager instead of my client.

The odds were stacked against him and a lot of the work we did one-to-one we also cover on our Project Management courses. What needed to happen was for James to feel more in charge of the projects and not at the mercy of these variables.

First let’s look at what problems were created because this team was scattered across the globe.

It was nearly impossible to get every team member on a conference call all at once. This meant that one or two people at various time were potentially out of the loop, or felt as though they were out of the loop. Little time was spent on bringing the team together and most of the time the calls were spent on technical talk. Emails winged back and forth and often added to the confusion as there were many misinterpretations and misunderstandings.

Assumptions piled upon assumptions. James assumed that everyone was doing their bit in a timely way and was content to accept things at face value when he was told by team members that everything was all right and going according to plan. 

Therefore, he was surprised and disappointed when deadlines were looming to discover that people weren’t ready at all and their ‘bits’ were way behind schedule. This not only put him into a deep funk, he also found he was losing his temper more, his stress levels skyrocketed and he ended up berating his team members for not doing their jobs.

Some of his team members assumed that because James wasn’t pressing for details when he asked how things were going that he was ‘cool’ with increasingly elastic time frames.

And everyone on the team became adept at finger pointing and blaming everyone else (especially James) when things began to unravel.

Let’s unpick a couple of things that can really help ameliorate the problems that arise with this kind of project management.

It’s a Team.  First and foremost, no matter where team members are based, if you don’t make the individuals feel as though they are part of a proper team, then they will do ‘their own thing’ because they have no relationship with and therefore no commitment to anyone else.

Doing this is actually easier than you think. In the first instance, use social media -  get everyone on the team to learn about everyone else on the team by checking them out on LinkedIn and Facebook and making connections that way. See if they have Twitter accounts and get everyone following each other.

Then have a series of conference calls (video conferencing would be better) to establish some bonds; we recommend that in those early calls very little business is discussed and the purpose is for everyone to learn something about everyone else. Topics up for early discussion are: the weather where you are, favourite food, next holiday destination, favourite leisure activities, children, pets, music, movies. You get the picture.

Set up chat rooms, create some competitions and quizzes, suggest a DVD or book group; pretty much anything  along these lines that keeps the avenues of communication open and people connecting with each other.

Detailed Project Plans Don’t Do It. Of course for many organisations, having a detailed plan with time-lines and who’s responsible for what are necessary. Projects need that framework, especially ones that are lengthy with essential milestones and reviews. That’s what Prince II, etc. are for.  

However, without a whole bunch of other ‘stuff’ problems will arise. 

The stuff?  Clarity of expectations: it isn’t enough to give people a time-line and expect they’ll adhere to it or even look at it after a while. Giving someone a task and expecting they will handle it the way you want them to also isn’t going to work either. Clear, specific goals are what people need. 

Hand in hand with that is weekly check-ins, not check-ups (avoid…have you done this, have you done that?) so that every team member feels supported. 

The final suggestion for this blog is honest communication, a much used cliché but one that makes a huge difference. Let your team members know that you’d rather they be honest with you about any issues, delays, problems they have rather than sweeping them under the carpet and hoping no one will notice. It may take months, but those carpet lumps will eventually trip everyone up.

There’s loads more suggestions which I’ll write about in a future blog, but if you start looking at projects as a way to build relationships rather than simply to accomplish a series of tasks, your projects will not only go more smoothly, you will also create a great, well-integrated team who will enjoy working together no matter what the distance is between them.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Tuesday, 28 July 2015


I witnessed an interaction between a little girl who must have been about 4 or 5 and her parents the other day in a restaurant.  I was eavesdropping like mad.

The little girl was curious about everything and asked question after question after question.  Some of those questions had to do with people and things around her – strangers she wanted to know about by asking her parents a whole lot of “Why” questions.

“Why does that lady have a bump on her face?”  “Why does that girl look sad”? “Why don’t they let dogs in here?” “Why is that man eating by himself?” “Why can’t I have an ice-cream?”

All very reasonable questions if you are 4.  Actually, they are reasonable questions if you’re 40, it’s just that by that age we often ask those questions in our head not out loud.

What was key here is that instead if answering her in the simplest way possible, they kept trying to shut her up.  “Shhhh. It’s not nice to ask about other people.”  “Quiet, you need to behave.” 

What happened?  She got stroppier and stroppier. What a surprise.  Her curiosity was being squashed out of her for the sake of her parents not being embarrassed by her questions.  They were clearly uncomfortable that the people being asked about might overhear and on one level that’s understandable.

However, there were a lot better ways to handle the barrage of questions other than shushing her.  

Eventually she will stop being curious or will get the message that her curiosity is wrong.

Why it feels relevant to talk about that experience is that I see how many people have had their curiosity stifled and don’t bring it into the workplace environment. I don’t ever want to stop asking “Why?” and I don’t want other people to stop asking “Why?”

“Why?” leads to knowledge and getting under the skin of stuff; “Why?” leads to trying something out just for the heck of it; “Why?” leads to knowing people better.

“Why?” leads to “I wonder what would happen if I…..?”

When we run Creativity and Innovation courses and Creative Strategic Thinking, curiosity has to be a big part of not only making things happen but in changing patterns in order to create something new.

In other words, curiosity and creativity are divine partners. 

Having said that how many of us were told “Curiosity killed the cat” when we were asking too many questions or probing something that the ‘grown ups’ didn’t want us to know?

It was years before I heard the very reassuring rejoinder, “But satisfaction brought it back”.  Ahhh, it’s OK to be curious after all.

What about your curiosity?  Is it in full bloom at work or have you shut down part of your natural inquisitiveness because it might upset someone else or it might put you in the spotlight or even worse, it might humiliate you?

Here are just a few questions to ask yourself about your level of curiosity:

Do you accept the way things are done because they’ve always been done that way?

Do you ever ask why something is done in a particular way when you’re not convinced it’s the best way?

How well do you know what your colleagues actually do at work?

How well do you know what your colleagues do outside of work?

Do you ever ask people to explain their jobs in more detail so you have a greater understanding?

Do you ever seek to understand how something works because not knowing makes you a little uncomfortable?

Do you let what happens around you wash over you or do you like to join in and put in your two cents worth?

There are loads of people who go to work, put their heads down, eat their lunch, put their heads down again and never ask “why?”, never seek to know more, never take the lid off their curiosity.

Personally, I think we should be asking lots and lots of “Why?” questions and “What if….” questions every day.

At the same time, companies come to us saying they want their people to be more innovative.  The more managers encourage their teams to be curious, the more innovative and creative they will become.

The workplace would be a far more interesting place if people gave full vent to their curiosity.

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Communication courses, Creative Strategic Thinking, Creativity and Innovation and Communicate with Impact Five Day Elite course.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Monday, 27 July 2015

Perfect Communication

Perfect Communication
Communication is a common but vital activity.

If I asked you you'd say you were quite good at it yes?

It’s good to talk isn’t it? That’s the way we all get on and things progress.


Not really.

It’s probably better to think of it as the way we muddle through and somehow manage to get things done without anyone getting killed.

Mis-communication is more the norm.

Remember the old fax, or maybe the photocopier?

The copied image was always a blurry iteration of the original.

Remember Chinese Whispers where the message ends up being quite different from the original?

That’s the way it really works.

Think about the mechanics of communication for a moment.

I have a thought. I frame that thought using my view of the world (different from yours). I then translate that thought into words. Those words are articulated either by sound or writing.
The advantage of the spoken voice is the addition of tone, stress and other things which add to and qualify the meaning and intent. If writing you have to add this additional nuance using only words. 

The message then goes via sound waves or vision across the distance between us and into your brain. (plenty of scope for misunderstanding on the journey). You then interpret the message using your vocabulary and view of the world. You are then supposed to know exactly what I was thinking?

Duh! What was I thinking!

That it happens at all is marvellous. That it happens so well is a miracle.

Want to improve your communication?

Start thinking of ways to finesse your communication, ways to get it to be a little bit better, to remove ambiguity and the possibility of misinterpretation.

The things you can do to double check understanding (both for what you say and what you hear).

Remember – we’re just trying to muddle through and somehow manage to get things done without anyone getting killed.

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

By Robin Chandler, Director, Impact Factory

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Presentation With Impact

What is your Presentation Potential?

Everyone can give a presentation right?

It’s not hard. Decide what you want to tell people. Throw a few slides together. Get some statistics that support your argument and off you go. That’s the way most business presentations are done. We tell people what it is we think they need to know.

But let’s back up a minute.

What is the potential or opportunity of a presentation?

Well for a period of time you have the undivided attention of a number of people who have some reason to be interested in what you have to say. They want to know what’s on your mind.

Ok so let’s put in a bit more effort. Most people can, and generally do, do this using powerpoint or a word programme which they transfer to a powerpoint.

The thinking is logical, the arguments proceed in an appropriate fashion usually using bullet points, lists, information, statistics. In fact the end result will be a pleasing, comforting, well-shaped piece that lets me know exactly what you think and why.

All good, but hang on,

You have the undivided attention of a number of people who have some reason to be interested in what you have to say!

Surely there is a greater opportunity here?

What is your true potential as a presenter?

Well let’s start by extending our definition of a presentation. Let’s think beyond the time you have their precious undivided attention. Let’s think of your presentation as a living thing with a life before and after your 20 minutes in the spotlight. Let’s give it a name, let’s give it a reason for being, let’s give it purpose, let’s give it history and future desire.

Now we’re getting somewhere. Now they’ll listen and remember won’t they?


We’re still missing something here. It’s still ordinary. It’s still passive.

Remember you have the undivided attention of a number of people who have some reason to be interested in what you have to say!

Ok so let’s take that powerpoint and give it it’s true place. That powerpoint is your preparation and speaking notes. That’s all. Your audience should never see it. So what can you show them that’s more powerful? Well once you’ve ditched the words in your well-constructed script you’re left with anything and everything that isn’t words.

Pictures, graphs, photos, props (things you and they can touch and hold), other people, iconography, logos, video, audio clips…

Suddenly there is endless material and your job is now to pare it down to the most powerful and useful.

But we’re still not done.

It’s you we have to work with now. You the deliverer of the good (or bad) news.

What do they want from you?

Not much really, they just want your passion, your belief. They want to be entertained, to be engaged, challenged, excited, rewarded. They want to feel. They want heroes and villains. They want suspense and a glorious ending. They want something to take away that they will remember forever.


Now we see the true potential of your presentation.

If it seems like too much of a challenge, too much hard work, think of it this way. Take up the challenge of achieving your true presentation potential – Fail miserably.

You will still be head and shoulders above the original presentation you were thinking of delivering when we started.

You have the undivided attention of a number of people who have some reason to be interested in what you have to say!

Make good use of that gift.

Check out Impact Factory’s Presentation with Influence, Personal Impact and Communication Skills courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Time Management: Time Robbers

We all have them, people and situations that knock us off course and stop us from focusing on the stuff that is a priority.

Time robbers aren’t the same as the unexpected things that come along that we have to manage and absorb (or not depending upon our stress levels). 

No, time robbers as far as I’m concerned are people who want to sit around and schmooze right when you’re in the middle of trying to finish something; annoying phone calls that take a few minutes to realise you don’t want to speak to them; problems that other people have created that you now have to sort out; colleagues asking you far too many questions when they could get the information elsewhere; endless interruptions by people whose needs appear (only appear mind you, not necessarily true) to be greater than yours.

Time management isn’t simply about knowing how to juggle the many events in your day or being more scrupulous about scheduling and being more organised.

An essential part of good time management is managing the time robbers.

“How do I do that?” I hear you ask. “I can’t control what other people do.”

Actually, you can do more than you think to ‘control’ what other people do.

And this brings us to the heart of really good time management:  the ability to set boundaries and say ‘no’ when it’s necessary. Without good boundaries or the skill in saying ‘no’ then those time robbers will know – even on a subconscious level – that you are easy prey to have your time stolen.

The best way I know to identify your time robbers is if your heart sinks when they sail into view or their names comes up on your phone or you see an email from them. You know for certain that whatever time management plans you had are about to go out the window. You may even like these people a lot- could be a family member or a colleague you normally get along with – but when it comes to your time, they wreak havoc.

What can you do about it?

I said a few sentences ago that good time management means managing those time robbers.  Here are a few things you can begin to practise. I’m always cautious about promising transformation when you may have spent a life-time letting other people steal your time; look on these suggestions as the start of building your robber-proof persona.

Buy Time.  Since there are some people who are adept at time-thieving, you can start to become adept at time-buying.  This is one of my all time favourite things to do and it’s easy. You don’t have to say ‘no’, you don’t have to refuse to help; you just need to give yourself some breathing space.

The next time someone rings and wants you to do something, say, “I’m just in the middle of something, I’ll ring you back in fifteen minutes.”  That’s nice and polite and even if you aren’t in the middle of something and could easily take the call you’re doing two things. You’re setting a very gentle boundary and giving yourself a little breathing space so you can get your thoughts in order.  You’re also sending out a gentle signal that you aren’t always available whenever that other person wants you to be. Be sure to return the call.

Offer a different solution. If you are an easy target, other people get used to you saying yes and being accommodating. The more accommodating you are the more your time management goes down the tubes.  At the same time you don’t want to appear recalcitrant or difficult.  This is where making a few alternative suggestions could really help you: you are still being co-operative, you are still taking an interest in their problem; the difference is you don’t have to take their problem on.

Pre-empt. If you know that there are certain people who will always interrupt or come along to your desk expecting you to give them your time, anticipate them and head them off at the pass. What most people do who get their time stolen is to hunker down and hope that today, the same thing won’t happen. Fat chance.

By pre-empting you take charge by going up to them and ‘outing’ them by saying, “I know at some point today you’re going to want to chat or ask me to help you with something, so I thought I’d let you know up front what my schedule is and when would be a good time for us to get together.  I’m really busy today so it might not be till tomorrow.”

These are all good examples of boundary setting and will not make you look like a grumpy, unhelpful colleague or friend.  What they will help you do is get some defences to manage those time robbers and get your time management back on a smooth and even track…..till the unexpected happens!

Check out Impact Factory’s Time Management, Assertiveness and Personal Impact courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Monday, 20 July 2015

Motivating Others

Hot on the heels of my blogs on Line Management and Procrastination, here’s one on motivation.

They all kind of go hand in hand and there’s definitely some overlap.

Part of line managing others is motivating them and helping them motivate themselves so if they do fall into a ‘trough of listlessness’ there are things you and they can do.

So how do you motivate others?

Money is often the least of it, although everyone wants to earn a good wage for the work they do.  

Paying people a decent wage is important – the idea of zero hour contracts or below a living wage is anathema and undermines people’s self-respect and self-esteem.

Other issues have a great deal of weight though and if companies want to get the most out of their people there are some really really simple things they can do.

Acknowledge what people are doing. This sounds so easy and yet I find it incredibly surprising and sad the number of managers who don’t say anything positive to their staff.  When I’ve mentioned this to them a common answer is, “When someone does something special, then I’ll say something.”  Or even worse, “It’s my job to point out their mistakes.”

You know what?  In my mind, showing up on time and doing the work is special. Sometimes people have really tedious bits to their jobs and it’s important to let them know that you know they have to do the boring stuff as well as the tastier bits. Saying ‘thank you’ isn’t all that hard to do and if you struggle to say it (for goodness sake!) then bring in a box of chocolates or some other treat as a form of acknowledgement.

Speaking of treats… treats don’t have to be big extravaganzas.  They can be as basic as buying in pizza or something else yummy for lunch; going out after work for a pint; doing something silly together so you all have a laugh.

Get to know people. Learn something new about your people; take an interest in what they do in their leisure time or causes that mean a lot to them. Remember stuff they told you about and ask about it. Everyone, every single person has something unique inside them and hearing about their ‘other’ selves is moving, inspiring and indeed motivating.

Get them involved. Ask people their opinions and listen to them. Companies often give lip service to the fact that their people are their greatest asset and then don’t use that resource. Impact Factory absolutely could not grow if it wasn’t for the input of every single member of the team in some form or another. It can be brainstorming to solve a problem; a team member making a suggestion on efficiency or a better coffee machine; discussions about what could make our booking system better. 

You don’t have to accept every idea that’s offered, but my word, our people come up with really good ideas because they’re on the ‘coal face’ and can see what might work better.

Let people know what’s going on.  The rumour mill exists in every organisation, in every community, in every household.  We do seem to be hard wired for gossip to a lesser or greater degree. Rumour mills, however, get fed when people don’t actually know what’s going on; when they don’t know what’s going on, they make it up.  The more what’s been made up makes the rounds, the more it feels like the truth. 

It’s empowering to give staff regular updates on what’s going on, especially stuff that might be causing anxiety, confusion or concern.  Don’t wait till a problem is all sorted; get people up to speed as it’s being sorted. Remember, they might have some good ideas to offer that might help.

Those are just a few of the things that will motivate your people and make a real difference to your organisation.  As well, you will become a much better line manager. Then you can truly say that your people are your greatest asset.

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Personal Impact, Influencing and Leadership courses and our Elite Five Day Communicate with Impact Training.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Wednesday, 15 July 2015


“Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.”

Oh really?

Don’t we all at some point happily (but remorsefully) put off today what we can do tomorrow or the next day or the day after that?

When we have deadlines looming, don’t most of us at some point, clean our kitchens, reorganise our bookshelves  or find other ‘more important’ distractions that keep us on a knife edge of anxiety and at arms length from our projects?

Procrastination is that odd combination of lethargy co-mingled with guilt so that a vicious cycle gets created where the more guilt we feel, the more our lethargy grows. It gets harder and harder to feel any motivation at all for the stuff that really does have to get done.

What sits behind procrastination?

For some people, they actually like to work under the cosh, stay up all night and get things done fuelled by coffee and adrenaline.  I used to be like that but eventually, that just became too wearing and I found I was much happier doing things way ahead of the deadline and then cleaning my kitchen.

For some people, they are afraid of the responsibility and the potential fallout if things don’t go well.  I’ve seen this with people who look as though they are dithering, when really, it’s the fear around the reaction to the result that keeps them stuck.

Alongside this there are some people who are such perfectionists that this fuels their fear of starting something because it won’t live up to their high (and usually) impossible expectations.

For some, they are so used to being in a state of crisis that not completing something keeps them caught up in the drama of it all.  I know people who seem to exist in a perpetual state of catastrophe and spend inordinate amounts of time and energy in a near state of hysteria which of course stops them from completing what needs to be done.

For others, sometimes the projects are boring, tedious, unexciting and it’s easy to let them drift to the bottom of the pile.

Whatever the cause, the vicious cycle doesn’t help.

Maybe because I grew up in a deadline-driven world (my parents were actors) and I worked in the performing arts for years, I’m not too much of a procrastinator.  Work deadlines are always met no matter what it takes.  However, I have been known to put off doing things in my personal life that aren’t crucial but they weigh heavily on my conscience.

Here are a few tricks I’ve used to help me overcome the stupor that descends when faced with an unwanted but necessary task or even a wanted and necessary task.

Call a friend.  I do this a lot.  When I am faced with what eventually becomes an onerous job, I have a friend come over to help me.  This friend has been known to actually physically help me and she’s great at asking probing questions so I have to get my thoughts in order.

Treat yourself first.  Most of the things that people do to distract themselves are other seemingly less arduous tasks but they are often done to salve one’s conscience by being useful (like cleaning the kitchen).  I like the idea of letting myself off the hook by doing something fun.  Doing something fun usually creates energy so I can use some of that energy to get going on the thing I’ve been avoiding.

Do something physical.  Aside from cleaning, do something physical and fun – go for a walk, garden (if you have a garden), play tag with a child, kick a football, do some yoga – just about anything that shifts your physical dynamic so that you stop feeding the lassitude and start getting extra oxygen  to your brain.

Do it in bite-size chunks.  By the time we’ve created some energy to reinvigorate our fatigued minds and face the job at hand, it can then feel like an awfully big chore – bigger than before you started putting off doing it.  Break it down into smaller jobs and set small targets which will give you more of a sense of accomplishment.  When I’m writing my books, I set a daily word count rather than giving myself a chapter goal.  It makes my writing go much smoother and like those fitbits that people wear I end up wanting to exceed each day’s word count…and I do.

The most important thing is not to give yourself a hard time for procrastinating

You have to feed the energy not the guilt.

Check out Impact Factory’s range of courses, all designed to give you energy and motivation. 

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Line Management: Managing Other People

Managing other people can be hugely rewarding; it can also be frustrating, frightening and even intimidating.

I don’t mean to be so negative because bottom line, I enjoy managing people and I have been doing it in one guise or another for decades. 

What I like about it is being part of someone else’s development as they grapple with new skills or grow in confidence to be able to do something they couldn’t before. 

I like building trust and finding new ways to explain things that I take for granted.  I like giving people room to find their own way and I particularly like delegating so I don’t have to do stuff anymore!

Obviously I run a training company so training other people is part of what I do and my line management duties cross the borders between the Home Team and our Training Consultants.  Their jobs are very different but the management skills remain the same.

I talk about this because one of our most popular courses this year is Line Management and that in itself describes a shift in attitude by many companies when they promote people into a line management role.

For a lot of companies there was a ‘throw ‘em in at the deep end’ mind-set, or if not that harsh, then it still was a point of view that if someone was good at one job, they’d be good at managing other people. That still is what happens in a lot of companies.

The positive shift is when more experienced managers recognise that new managers shouldn’t be chucked into the deep end; they need support, encouragement and new skills.  It’s really like entering a new world when you start managing other people for the first time.

This is what we know new managers find difficult:  delegating to people who were once their peers; delegating to people who weren’t once their peers; letting other people do stuff instead of doing stuff themselves; letting other people do stuff ‘their own way’; having  uncomfortable conversations; setting targets and identifying goals.

The list is even longer than that, but those are the issues we see again and again.  If those issues aren’t dealt with then new managers can have a hell of a time and don’t get to the enjoyable bits.  

They work with a level of anxiety that can blight their own satisfaction at work.

How do you get from anxiety to liking your job again? 

That’s where good Line Management training comes in.  It doesn’t take much to give people the confidence they need to manage other people effectively.

Here are a couple of things that might help:

Seeing things from someone else’s point of view.  You could say this skill is useful for everything all the time.  When you are operating from a place of anxiety, there’s often a tendency to see things only from your own POV.  The more you (and everyone else for that matter) are able to have a feel for what other people might be experiencing (even for a brief time), managing them becomes a whole lot easier. 

Understanding what motivates you and your team members.  We’re all motivated by different things so if you can get under the skin of what drives the people you manage you can adapt your expectations and management style so that each individual feels well taken care of.  Trying to manage everyone the same won’t get you the results you need.  Alongside that, if you have a deeper awareness of what motivates you, you can also let your team know that in turn.  It doesn’t all have to be – nor should it be – top down.

Those are just two of the many skills we develop in people on our courses.  There are loads more because becoming a manager ought to be an exhilarating experience and not a nerve-wracking one.

Check out Impact Factory’s Line Management Training.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Meetings that Don’t Go Anywhere

I’ve written about meetings before and I’m sure I will again; that’s because we have meetings all the time, and I’m not just talking about workplace meetings.

We have meetings with family to discuss holiday plans, with neighbours to discuss street parties, with builders to discuss their over-inflated estimates, with friends to discuss the next get-together.

We have so many meetings  in the course of a week, we don’t usually realise that they actually are meetings and that’s because a lot of them go really smoothly with few hiccups.

Let’s look at what makes a meeting go well: everyone knows why they are there; everyone has a vested interested in things getting resolved quickly; people listen to each other and all opinions and points of view are considered and debated; there are no hidden agendas lurking in the undergrowth; disagreements get sorted without acrimony; people are honest about what’s going on for them.

Meetings that go well are often quicker too.

Meetings that don’t go well seem to drag on and on and on.

Here are some tips to speed up your meetings and get to resolutions quicker:

Stick to the agenda.  Whatever the meeting – business or personal - if you are trying to get agreement on something, you need to get people focused so that decisions can be reached. It’s very easy to wander off an agenda with side conversations, distractions, gossip. 

Ignore the game players.  It’s also really easy to get drawn into someone else’s little games.  

Suddenly you find yourself having a heated debate about something that shouldn’t even be on the table. You can avoid such confrontations by saying something along the lines of, “Interesting point.” And then move right along.

Inject Humour.  When things seem to be getting bogged down and it’s all getting rather lethargic and ‘heavy’ a little levity can go along way. I’m not talking about the humour that’s a distraction, more the kind of humour that states the obvious and lightens the atmosphere.

Make concrete suggestions.  Sometimes I’m aware of a ‘politeness thing’ where people feel everyone should have their say or everyone has to agree before things can move on.  There’s something quite satisfying about tying things up, drawing some conclusions and then suggesting how to move things forward. Even if it creates a stir, something will have changed.  Keep returning to the suggestions till someone comes up with other suggestions. 

The point is to keep things active.

We do need meetings in our lives; we don’t need endless meetings that go ‘round and ‘round with no conclusions.

There’s always something you can do to improve a meeting that’s dragging on. 

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Facilitation & Better Meetings, Leadership and Communication Skills Training.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Time Management: I'm late!

Actually, I’m very rarely late – can’t bear it.

What that title reminds me of is the first time I became conscious - actively conscious - of people being late and that was reading Alice in Wonderland.  Not that the White Rabbit was a person, but you know what I mean. 

He appeared and disappeared in a whoosh of anxiety, staring at his pocket watch and saying, “I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date!”

As a child, The White Rabbit used to really annoy me that he didn’t have time for Alice when she clearly needed help.  And you know what?  I still get annoyed when people are so stretched that they can’t give me the time needed for a meeting or a discussion or even just a cup of tea.

Most people who are perpetually late create a lot of stress, both in themselves and the people around them. The constant rushing around (which of course happens because being late for one meeting/event/conference, etc. means they have to rush) creates a whirlwind of activity.

Yet I often get the sense with people who are late that they are rarely fully present wherever they are. 

They’re anxious about what they left behind because they had to rush off and things may have been left incomplete.  They are equally anxious about the event they are attending now because their minds are focused on what happened previously and what’s next on the list.

I have one friend who used to ring me up and then tell me he couldn’t stay on the phone because he was ‘racing around’ and would be late for whatever appointment he had coming up.  “Well, why did you ring me in the first place?  Why don’t you ring me when you’re not racing around?” I’d say. 

All that rushing around not only creates stress, it can give a false illusion of productivity – “Look.  See how busy I am.” 

It can also make the person doing the rushing feel as though they are on the brink of a crisis.  All that adrenalin flowing through the bloodstream, all that anxiety swirling around, the heart pumping, blood-pressure increasing; all of that will have a physical and emotional impact and create a sense that there is impending doom.

Flapping around will give the ‘flapper’ a sense that they aren’t in control which will create more anxiety and an unhealthy cycle goes ‘round and ‘round.

Overscheduling is certainly one thing that causes speediness and lurching from one thing to another.  

However, there are usually deeper issues than overscheduling for most people who are continually late.

Why overschedule in the first place?  This can be because some people find it hard, if not downright impossible, to say ‘no’.  It can be because they don’t want to miss out on anything so cram far too much into a day.  It can be because they think they are irreplaceable and so they have to be at everything or because they don’t think they are irreplaceable and are uncertain of their position so feel they need to be everywhere.

Good time management isn’t about keeping a well-ordered Filofax (or the electronic equivalent); it’s about getting to the bottom of what drives you to overfill your diary which overfills your stress levels.

Once you get a good grasp of why you feel driven to overbook you can begin to address those larger issues.  Even doing one less thing a day will be enormous progress.

Check out Impact Factory’s Time Management and Assertiveness courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Monday, 6 July 2015

Polls Predictions and Bold Communication

I was right.  In May after the General Election, I wrote:

So I’m willing to take bets right now on any election that’s coming up that those pundits and pollsters will be trotted out again as though nothing at all happened. And all that noise will just keep getting louder and louder..

That’s exactly what happened in the lead up to the Greek referendum.  Day after day we were told that according to the polls the vote was ‘neck and neck’. 

Neck and neck??

They couldn’t have been more wrong.  And I don’t get it.  If I was so wrong in my work, and I mean really wrong, why would anyone hire me again to be just as wrong the next rime around?

I said before that as a culture we now seem to be so dependent on polls that we can’t live without them even though, in these two cases certainly, they have been spectacularly wrong.  They will be wrong again and again and again, and they will still be hired to make predictions.

Why not just use soothsayers?

What is this need to know ahead of time the outcome of an election?  Comes back to the need for certainty, anchors, instead of ‘letting nature (or voters) take its course.’

My gripe with it all is how it interferes with real communication.  Many of the interviews and discussions and commentaries were based on the referendum predictions.  By all means have a point of view, take your vox pop, write editorials and op ed pieces.  But for goodness sake, stop the noise of the pollsters.

Because then what happens when they get it wrong is that we have all the commentary then based on what went wrong.

Nothing went wrong.  People voted as they wanted. In this case a resounding No!  Do we really care how the pollsters got it wrong?  It’s distracting and unnecessary.

This brings me back to other blogs I’ve written about the status quo and patterns particularly to do with communication. Our lives are filled with patterns and there’s nothing wrong with that – I don’t want to have to reinvent the wheel each time I do something.  However, patterns in communication can get in the way of resolving conflict. 

Two people or even two nations get into a pattern in the way they communicate and they get stuck.  Being stuck in a pattern usually means going ‘round and ‘round saying the same old things, trotting out the same old arguments, pointing the same fingers of blame and ending up in the same place they started.

Patterns in communication also lead to a kind of mindlessness.  We’re so used to how things are that we communicate by rote rather than taking stock and deciding to do something differently.

Changing or even challenging the status quo takes courage. 

Certainly, Alexis Tsipras has shown courage in challenging the status quo that he inherited.  

Whether he will be successful or not remains to be seen.  But he has definitely upset a lot of people by not sticking to the pattern.

Here’s my challenge to you:

Look at one communication you have with another person that isn’t working well.

Identify the patterns that are part of that communication (or lack thereof).

Having looked at the patterns identify one – just one – you could change.  Decide what you could do to change it….without predicting the outcome.  You might make it worse, you might make it better; the trick is to try something different in order to achieve a different outcome.

You don’t have to be a leader to demonstrate bold leadership. Making one small change to a pattern that’s keeping you stuck is bold enough. 

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Communication courses and our Elite Five Day Communicate with Impact Training.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory