Thursday, 27 August 2015

Communication: Active vs Passive Choosing

Here’s something you can try at home!

Remember a time you made what we here at Impact Factory call an active choice.  That is, you were involved in the whole process, made your feelings and thoughts know and perhaps even drove the decision. 

This can be any decision at all – whether to cook, go out for dinner or get a take-away; whether you should hire that marketing company or manage things in-house; what holiday to go on; what school to send your kids to; whether to replace the printer.

What matters is that you were an active participant in the decision.

Once you’ve identified the decision, unpick how you felt:  relieved, satisfied, doubtful, unsure, energised?

Now remember a time when you made what we call a passive choice. This is where you knew a decision had to be made but you let it happen without your input.

Again, unpick how you felt once the decision had been made:  aggrieved, relieved, put out, disappointed?

When we actively choose something, even if in the end it was a mistake or could have been done differently, we usually feel more energised, we feel our views have relevance; we feel more engaged with the decision and feel a certain amount of ownership (yes, even with the take-away!).

On the other hand, if we are passive and decisions happen anyway, we are much more likely to feel angry (“Why the hell did she get Thai?”), hard done by (“I didn’t want Thai, I wanted a pizza.”), victimised (“She should have known I wanted pizza.”) and generally dissatisfied with how things turn out.

The interesting thing for me when I think of this in terms of communication is that for some people there seems to be a reticence and reluctance to get involved in the decision-making process and yet will be incredibly vocal if the decision made isn’t what they really want.

This is true across the board, whether the decision is work-related or family and friends related. 

Now sometimes it can be quite comforting to let someone else make the decision especially if you are overloaded. That’s fine either if you are in agreement with the decision, or, if you aren’t, you are able to be pragmatic enough to accept the consequences and not blame anyone else for ordering the wrong takeaway, printer or marketing company.

Where the difficulty lies is when you aren’t in agreement with the decision and you haven’t an ounce of pragmatism to accept what happens.

Passive choosing tends to produce negative emotions in people and they fall into destructive thinking, fault-finding, floundering, discontent; additionally, they will often stir things up amongst colleague, friends or family members looking for allies and dissing those they think have caused all the problems, or what they perceive as problems.

Active choosing, on the other hand, helps improve peoples’ problem-solving abilities, they will look for opportunities and options; it helps energise their can-do attitude and they feel more connected and responsible.

People do tend to fall into one camp or another. Not always, but more often than not, people who are passive choosers will tend to be passive choosers in a lot of aspects of their lives and conversely, people who are active choosers will tend to be active in most aspects of their lives.

Which are you?

If you’re an active chooser, well my advice is to keep on being active as it will continue to be beneficial.

If you are a passive chooser, the process of changing to become more active may be a bit trickier than you’d like, so I recommend starting small. I know someone who would say he didn’t know what he wanted so whatever everyone else wanted was OK by him.

Except it wasn’t. He really did know what he wanted but he was afraid of being shouted down, ridiculed and humiliated so it was easier for him to remain passive and suffer the consequences.

So even if you can’t initially verbalise what you want, make a decision in your head (“I really want pizza.”).  Then see if you can take the next small step by asking a question, “I’m fine with Thai but is anyone else is interested in pizza?” 

You can begin see the problem, can’t you?  As soon as you become active, doors open (pizza may become a reality) but also cans of worms can be opened as well (“We all want Thai, so if you want pizza you’ll have to get it yourself.”  Or  “Oh another country heard from just when we’ve all decided.” Etc. etc. etc.).

Personally I like the challenge of doors opening and even the occasional can of worms.

You choose.

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

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Monday, 24 August 2015

Customer Service: Is the Customer Always Right?

The perceived wisdom is that the customer is always right. 

But what do you do when you can’t give the customer what he/she wants? 

What do you do when the person in front of you or at the other end of the phone or behind the email that’s come into your inbox is angry, abusive, frustrated, accusing?

Is the customer always right in those circumstances?

In all the years of running Customer Service training programmes both tailored and as public courses we know that one of the great frustrations that customers experience is feeling that they are being stonewalled. In turn, one of the great frustrations of sales people or customer service agents is feeling under assault especially when they can tell they’re not getting through to their customers.

What’s going on is that both ‘sides’ are experiencing the situation solely from their point of view and find it really difficult, if not impossible, to see things any other way.

As anyone who reads my blog regularly knows, I do bang on about one of the best skills you can have is the ability to see what’s going on from the other person’s perspective. It will always look different and can be the pathway to quick resolution of difficulties. 

However, it’s not the easiest thing to do because both sides are awash in emotions and emotions generally get in the way of being able to see what action to take or words to use to take the tension and conflict out of the situation.

There’s something else that doesn’t help and that’s this weird transformation that happens to customer service people whether they be face-to-face or on the phone – they turn into stilted, formulaic script-speakers. 

What I mean is that interesting, lovely people who can connect easily with others turn into slightly robotic people who stick to what they think they are supposed to say.  They use language that stiff and over-formal and the warmth leaves their voices and they become slightly school-marmish.  I know because I’ve listened in on people’s calls and witnessed first-hand this ‘transformation’.

It’s as though all the natural charm and pleasantness in their personalities gets squashed out of them and they just sound unnatural. I think it’s because they are often trained either to stick to a certain script or that over-formality keeps them safe.  I’m not exactly sure, but whatever the reasons, they really do lose their ability to engage with others.

So here are a couple of tips if you are (or know of anyone who is) one of those who falls into an artificial way of speaking when dealing with a difficult customer.

Show empathy and speak like a normal human being.  Use phrases such as, “It sounds like this has really upset you.” “I really can hear how disappointed you are.” “If I were in your shoes, I’d be just as unhappy.” “How aggravating! Sounds like that’s all you need to add to your frustration.”

You’re not bad-mouthing your organisation; you’re letting the other person know that you get just how upset they are. You are also building trust.

The idea is to get the person to the point where they feel heard and understood. If you try to find a solution before they are calm enough to take it in, you won’t get very far. If you tell them to calm down, that won’t work either; the other person will just feel like he/she’s being treated like a five year old. Even if that’s how they are behaving, it’s far better to reflect back that you have heard what they are saying.

Once calm, you can then tell them what you can do for them, rather than the more common response which is to tell them what you can’t do.

Here you can use phrases such as, “What I can do for you is….” “Let me tell you the options we have and let’s see if any of them will work.” “What I can do right away is….” “I think something that might help would be….”

And then do it.

You may not be able to give them everything they demand but you will be able to offer something even if initially it is empathy and understanding and a willingness to sort it out.

By taking the time to create a connection with your angry or distressed customer you are building a more genuine relationship rather than trying to get them off the phone or away from your counter as quickly as possible.

Check out Impact Factory’s Customer Service courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Storytelling: Bringing Your Stories to Life

We’ve been running more Storytelling tailored work in the pat two months than we have in the past two years. The idea of using stories to make a good business case is catching on and we couldn’t be happier.

Cartoonists have had a ball illustrating what happens to people when they sit through dull, unimaginative and purely factual presentations. Recently, I actually fell asleep during one such presentation despite using every technique I know to force my eyes open.  Dull doesn’t begin to describe what and how the chap was presenting.

If you think about some of the elements that good stories share there aren’t all that many of them that are needed to draw you in and keep you listening or reading: characters you want to know more about and a plot to keep you interested.  There are many many ways to embellish plot and character (and we have a lot of models to do that), but if you don’t have those two key ones then dullness is the most likely order of the day.

So what’s this got to do with business?  How can stories make a difference?  And how can a bunch of facts and figures have characters and plots?

I think people who are used to dealing with end results sometimes forget what it takes to get to that end result.  The drive to be precise and concise and distil things into what they believe is manageable data usually leaches out the drama, the hard work, the myriad decisions, mistakes, corrections and most of all the people who made it all happen.

We know the reason our Storytelling courses are so popular is that we guide our delegates through the whole process of bringing their stories to life: we start with the personal because that’s what connects people to each other.  The journey ends with the business side of things but by the end of one or two days of training with us, those business stories sound and look very different indeed.

Here are a couple of tips on how to breathe life into factual data focusing on character and plot.

Identify the people involved. This is where you build your cast of characters.  Who are they?  What are their roles in the organisation and what makes them special.  Any little titbit helps titivate or intrigue your audience. Look for something quirky to toss in, even if it has no relevance to the data you are presenting. 

Version One:  “These figures have been verified and are an accurate summation of the first two quarter sales this fiscal year.”  
Version Two:  “Andrew Williams, our Sales Director, who’s about to take 8 fifteen year-olds on a camping trip, verified these first two quarter figures.  I’m glad he checked them before the trip.”

The Journey to the End Result (plot).  This is where you build your plot.  Think about key milestones, anything that created tension or was a problem that had to be overcome.  Linking plot to characters, is there something ‘Andrew’ did that you can add to the mix?

Version One: “As you can see from this graph, our sales increased significantly in the second quarter in comparison to the first.”
Version Two:  “Andrew, our intrepid camper, pulled out all the stops this quarter and turned into a Rottweiler chasing after the Sales Team to exceed their targets.  He got some friendly rivalries going and his strategy clearly worked because as you can see from this graph, sales really did take a jump and are significantly up on the first quarter figures.”

As soon as you focus on character and plot your language also has to change; it has to be more descriptive and less dry.

These are just two elements that will help pump life into your stories so your audience is engaged.

Come along to one of our Storytelling Open courses and learn a shed-load more techniques that will pump even more life into your stories!

Check out Impact Factory’s Storytelling courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Business Networking: Beam Me Up Scotty

A lot of the courses we run at Impact Factory came from our own experiences – either issues we were right in the middle of dealing with (like Assertiveness and Negotiation) and designed material we thought would help us; or ones where we had addressed a lot of the issues earlier in our lives and were drawing on what we had done personally (like Influencing and today’s topic, Business Networking).

When I was a lot younger (a lot) I was the type of person who would prefer to hide behind a pillar (if there was one handy) or skulk in a corner (there are always corners available) rather than step into any networking situation whatsoever.

Words seemed to freeze in my mouth and I literally counted the minutes till it felt all right to leave.  

I generally only spoke to people I knew, and the relief when I could finally say my goodbyes was enormous.

Then when I got married, it was even easier to avoid putting myself ‘out there’ as I married someone who, as he himself puts it, can chat up doorknobs.  One of the best networkers I’ve ever known. He was the front man to my shrinking violet.

Then I put myself in the line of fire – deliberately. I took a job where part of my brief was running events, lots of events. I realised that the only way I was ever going to come out from the shadows of those comforting corners was to have no choice. I couldn’t hide behind pillars or skulk because I was the ‘go-to’ person at these events; I was the one who organised them from start to finish so my visibility was necessary and meeting new people was essential.

Talk about being thrown in the deep end – except it was me who did the throwing!

And it worked. Painful at first, but eventually I even began to look forward to every event on the calendar.

How was this transformation achieved? I wouldn’t exactly call it a transformation; more a progression.

The first thing I realised was that I was not the centre of the universe and therefore what I was feeling and thinking were of little consequence – it was what other people were thinking and feeling that was of paramount importance. I stopped worrying that I’d have nothing to say because the simplest solution was to get the other person talking.

I could go an entire evening barely talking by just asking open questions and tossing in the occasional comment. I didn’t have to think about how awful I felt.

The second thing I realised is that a lot (a lot) of other people felt exactly the same way and that I could help myself by helping them feel more at ease, so I developed my hosting skills of not only going up and introducing myself to total strangers, but also then introducing them to others as well.

The third thing I realised was that people really do like to be helpful. They don’t just go to networking events or events where networking might happen to get more contacts and potential business. They also go because their expertise might be called upon. There is something incredibly satisfying about hooking two people up who could benefit from each other’s know-how.

The fourth thing I realised is that even if I didn’t become bosom buddies with most of the people I met, it was fun to rootle around to find something we had in common which made chatting so much easier.

Of course, these realisations didn’t happen all in one go, but added together make up the heart of why business networking is no longer something to be endured, but something to relish. 

Come along to one of our Business Networking courses and learn more about the above four-point plan and loads and loads more.  You, too, could become one of those people who can chat up doorknobs.

Check out Impact Factory’s Business Networking courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Communication – Is Anyone Listening?

I could probably write a blog a day on Communication and never ever run dry of things to write about. It’s such a complex part of our lives that can enhance or devastate in the blink of an eye.

One of those aphorisms making the internet rounds is something along the lines of “Most people don’t listen in order to understand. They listen in order to reply.”  Even if I’ve got the wording slightly wrong, it’s still a powerful statement and one, alas, that’s all too true.

Most of us aren’t very good with what is known as active listening. 

Leaping in as soon as the other person has stopped speaking, or even interrupting in order to put your oar in doesn’t necessarily create empathy or rapport. It can be experienced as either rude or that you are someone who thinks that what you have to say is more important than what they have to say.

Oh I know, I know, when you’re with your mates or family it’s common for conversations to overlap, for people to talk over one another, to interrupt and turn up the volume. I’m not necessarily talking about those situations.

I’m talking about times when it really is important to slow everything down by actively listening to what the other person has to say and then considering it before you break all records to get yourself heard.

That’s the first step of active listening – letting the other person finish what he or she has to say.  

Actually, there’s a step before that which is to let them speak in the first place.

The second step is to then take time to reflect on what they’ve said before you respond at the same time as letting them know you genuinely are interested.

We think of doing this in three ways:  non-verbal, which is simple listening behaviour of nods and smiles of encouragement and good eye-contact; semi-verbal, which is saying things like uh huh and mmm; verbal, which is using phrases such as “That sounds interesting, tell me more” or asking open questions to elicit more information.

Another aspect of active listening is to avoid interpreting what the other person has said and one way to achieve that is to reflect back what you’ve just heard rather than tell them what you think they mean and adding your opinion on top of what you think they mean.

Active listening is a key cornerstone of communication and as well as encouraging the other person to open up; it shows that you care about what they have to say. This in turn can lead to a proper dialogue even when the conversation might be tricky or difficult.

We think this is particularly useful when you are having a conversation with someone you don’t get on with particularly well or for whom you don’t feel too much empathy.

As a matter of fact, I’ll give you a little challenge:  the very next time you have to talk to someone you don’t like all that much or who rubs you up the wrong way or who you find problematic, turn on that switch inside your head that says Active Listening and see if anything different happens.  Make it a conscious choice rather than getting into the same communication patterns you’ve always followed.

Practising  Active Listening really can make a big impact on communication.  You might even want to try it with your mates and family during one of those communication free-for-alls.

Check out Impact Factory’s Communication Skills One and Two Day courses and our Elite Five Day Communicate with Impact courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Monday, 17 August 2015

Project Management - Why Training Can Help

I’ve been writing a lot about Project Management recently and I realise it’s because I’ve been involved in a lot of projects this year, from moving house (eeeek) to managing our Early Morning Breakfast Tasters to helping on events for one of the charities I’m involved with.

It seems as though I’ve had a lot more projects on the go this year and I’ve been doing a lot of juggling and plate spinning and at times life has felt a lot like a circus.

Many, many years ago I was Special Events Director at the New York City Ballet and it felt then as though each major event was like climbing a mountain and once I got to the top, it would feel as though I was on a runaway train I had no control over.  Certain tools and techniques I learned back then through trial and error have stood me in good stead, but it’s the trial and error part that stands out.

Like most things, the longer I managed projects, the better I got at it and when we created our Project Management courses a lot of what I knew worked went into the workshops so others didn’t have to go through a lot of the trial and error agony that I did. 

The biggest issue to me about project management is communication. That’s the bit I wish I’d been taught over 40 years ago. When I look back now, I remember just how stressed I got over the projects I was involved in and as I unpick that stress, it was overwhelmingly to do with communication – how I communicated and how I was communicated to.

There are loads of programmes that teach Prince II and loads of software you can download to help you manage the organisational side. 

What Project Management training will do for you that those kinds of training can’t is to focus on getting buy-in, delivering difficult messages, motivating people when things get bogged down, managing your own mistakes, managing other people’s mistakes, anticipating the train-wreck and then pre-empting it if at all possible.

Of course all of those skills are tied up with the organisational side of any project, but it’s the volatile mix of people and emotions that can make communication tricky and leads to the most stress. When things would go wrong in the past I found myself bouncing off the walls with stress and beating myself up and spending a lot of time trying to figure out what went wrong and who was to blame.

Now, when something goes wrong my only focus is on how to fix it, how to progress.  I only care about what went wrong if it helps me pre-empt the same thing happening again, and I don’t care two hoots about who’s to blame.

What changed for me over the years was learning better project management communication skills:  being really clear and checking and double checking that people know what is expected of them; getting everyone involved in discussing options and problems; getting support and delegating.

I won’t fib and say that I’m never stressed when it comes to projects, but I can say that the level of stress is minor compared to that which I put my younger self through.

Critical paths are crucial, risk assessments essential, contingencies vital; all elements that contribute to the success of a project.

However, the bottom line as far as I’m concerned and is as important as all those fundamentals is getting the communication right. I can only say that though I don’t like to dwell on regrets I do wish I had done the kind of Project Management training Impact Factory runs today!

Check out Impact Factory’s Project Management courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Friday, 14 August 2015

Assertiveness: Why’s Everybody Always Pickin’ on Me?

When you suffer from lack of assertiveness it can feel as though you are being picked on deliberately. In some cases that may actually be true and if that’s the situation you could rightfully call it bullying.

However, in our experience of running Assertiveness courses for nearly 25 years, it very often isn’t the case that people are deliberately targeting you. What they are doing is taking the path of least resistance.

All of us know about the path of least resistance because we will have followed it ourselves every once in a while: at some point all of us will have sought the easiest option for a task, a journey, getting our kids to clean their rooms, etc.

We have also done it with people when we look around at who we might entice into doing something for us, “Sally’s always helpful and so easy to work with; I’ll ask her if she’ll stay late to help out with the reception we’re running next month.” “Ed’s so jolly to be around and has so much energy; it would be great to involve him in the village fete.”

Often, these aren’t even conscious thoughts – they streak through our brains so quickly we simply end up deciding to ask Sally or Ed to help us out.

The same thing might be happening to you if you find yourself on the receiving end of lots of requests or even demands.  Your own accommodating behaviour may make you an unconscious ‘sitting duck’ for others who are looking around for someone to help them out.  They aren’t necessarily out to get you, but in their either conscious or unconscious minds you are the path of least resistance.

It makes sense doesn’t it?  In a busy workplace or hectic personal life, people want the least amount of hassle and problem-free solutions.  If you are that solution they aren’t going to look elsewhere unless you let them know.

And there’s the rub.

Unassertive people look as though they are willing, co-operative, accepting; the longer they continue that compliant behaviour, the more other people accept it without question. Oh, the other person may know deep down that maybe they’ve overstepped the mark and asked one particular person to help a few too many times, but all the while there’s no protest, that deep down place stays very quiet indeed.

Good Assertiveness Training isn’t designed to turn you into someone you’re not, where you suddenly become unaccommodating, uncooperative, difficult and disobliging.  Impact Factory’s Assertiveness courses are all about helping you become less of a path of least resistance rather than a concrete road-block.

There are things you can begin to do now even if you don’t come along to one of our or another company’s Assertiveness courses.

Saying “No, I can’t help” is going to be really really hard if you are used to saying ‘yes’ all or most of the time. At some point with a lot of practise you might get there, but in the first instance that might be a bridge too far.

So the next time someone asks you to do something you do not want to do you need to dig into Impact Factory’s assertiveness tool box to pull out a different response.  This could be along the lines of:  “I had a feeling you were going to ask me to get involved. I’ll probably be able to help but let me check a few things first.”

You may still end up helping but with the answer above you’ve done three things:

You’ve not said ‘yes’ immediately.

You’ve given a subtle message that you know what’s going on.

You’ve forestalled the other person trying to persuade you and bought yourself some time.

What this does is begin to build up your confidence without having to change who you are or say something that’s not in character. Gradually, you can begin to add stronger messages such as, “This sounds like a terrific project; I’m so sorry I won’t be able to get involved this time.”  Eventually, you might even be able to say, “I’m going to pass on this one.” The short and sweet version.

In the meantime, stick with the simpler version so that even if you give in you will have done something different.  It’s the first step that can often be the hardest when becoming more assertive.

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Assertiveness courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Monday, 10 August 2015

Overt and Covert Influencing

We’ve been running Influencing courses as long as we’ve been running Impact Factory.  I’m sure I’ve said that somewhere before!

Influencing is one of the best skills you can have for all sorts of situations and I’ve written a couple of blogs already this year on Influencing ( June 2015,  March 2015 ). In this one I’d like to focus on the difference between overt and covert influencing.

With overt influencing, everyone knows what’s going on. It’s as though everyone can put their cards on the table and be honest about what they need and what they are able to do.

For instance, if I invite a friend to lunch with the additional purpose of getting him involved in a charity event and I let him know ahead of time my charity’s goals, we both know that discussing the event will be part of our lunch chat. I still need to influence him by listing all the pluses, but I can do it openly and invite his thoughts openly as well.

Similarly, in the workplace, overt influencing means that everyone involved knows what the agendas are, what the goals are and what’s expected. I still have to let people know the pluses of their involvement in whatever I’d like them to do and because it’s all out in the open, there’s a free exchange of ideas. 

Humour plays a big part in overt influencing as does overt bribery; the two go very well together. 

Recently one of our trainers tried to get another colleague involved in something the colleague was reluctant to do and was promised early morning bacon-butties for a week.

Covert influencing, on the other hand, is just that – covert. Cards are not on the table and strategies have to be clearly thought through ahead of time. Covert influencing works particularly well with people over whom you have no direct authority or with whom you don’t necessarily work with all that closely.

The first piece of advice is to lead by example. This sounds obvious but it’s worth reiterating that when people see excellent leadership skills in action, they generally want to be around those that display them. 

Since their agenda and your agenda may be different (you may want to involve a particular person in a project and that person may already be wrapped up in a couple of projects  that have no connection to yours) you have to figure out common ground before you try to influence them. 

Part of being able to identify common ground is being able to see the world from their point of view, which will inevitably be different from yours. Talking to someone using their ‘terms of reference’ and letting them know you have an idea of what’s going on in their work lives demonstrates empathy and understanding, two essential qualities for influencing, whether covert or overt.

Another way of influencing people is to seek their advice.  Firstly, most people like to give their guidance when asked; it’s flattering and can be quite gratifying to help others. Secondly, by seeking and getting advice the people you want to influence are now involved even if on an unconscious level.

If someone asks for my advice I will inevitably go back to them at some point to find out how it’s all going – I’ve been influenced to take more interest simply by being asked my opinion.

The more you can distinguish between overt and covert influencing, the more you will be in charge of the possible outcomes.

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

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory 

Friday, 7 August 2015

Project Management: Motivation

You know those times when the energy around projects (especially lengthy ones) drops like a stone and everyone involved feels sluggish and unenthusiastic?  This is common. 

At the beginning of a project people generally have a lot of enthusiasm.  Perhaps something that’s been in the pipeline for a while is finally coming to fruition so those involved are excited that it’s going to happen. 

Vision is becoming reality.

That momentum can last a goodly amount of time as long as people see progress and feel connected to the project . However, when the project slows (as inevitably it will) or things begin to wrong (not quite as inevitable but it’s to be expected) or it all becomes a bit tedious (definitely will happen) then momentum and motivation can vanish as well.

What often happens is that the whole reason for starting the project in the first place can get blurred or lost in the minutiae of the day today. The ‘To Do’ lists get longer and longer so getting caught up in the endless details saps enthusiasm as well.

All you need is one significant problem, one important deadline missed, one team member leaving and it begins to feel like all the effort isn’t worth it. Not only that, most people are doing lots of other stuff as well as projects so it’s sometimes easy to let that focus get transferred to tasks that don’t require so much struggle, or are accomplished in a shorter amount of time, or simply make you feel more satisfied.

The question, of course, is how do you motivate yourself and others when this slump happens?

Here are a few things you can do to get the momentum back:

Schedule an Acknowledgement Meeting where you only talk about positive things – what everyone has done well already. This is where you remind people what the original vision was and how valuable their contributions have been to date.

If you have a remote team (see last month’s blog) make sure everyone is included even if it has to be by email. It’s really important to remind everyone on the project team that they are valued and their work is essential.

Give everyone a surprise treat. This does not have to be major and it goes hand in hand with acknowledgement.  Bringing in a box of chocolates (and having them sent to remote team members) is easily done and will be a little jolly gesture.

Have a moan. Although at Impact Factory we focus on the positive and know that negativity can wipe out motivation and excitement, sometimes a good moan is useful to get things off your chest.  Have a good old ‘airing’ session where team members let off some steam on how it all feels stuck and uninspiring. 

Get people brainstorming. When things look as though they are grinding to a halt or even going backwards, get people together to bat around some ideas. Big word of advice here – encourage people to come up with some really whacky ideas – the whackier the better. Try to avoid coming up with solutions to fix the problems right away.

When things aren’t going well it’s easy to fall into negativity and lose both a sense of perspective and a sense of humour. At Impact Factory we even encourage people to brainstorm on how to make things worse and ensure complete failure of the project. Sounds counter-intuitive, but first, it creates laughter; second, it allows people to vent some of their stronger feelings about where the log jams are and third, believe it or not, good stuff can come out of imagining making an even greater mess of things.

I’d suggest avoiding completely trying to find a reasonable solution for a few days to let the silliness percolate and see what drips out.

Bring in fresh eyes. Another thing you can do ask input from one or two people who aren’t directly involved in the project. They could very well bring a new perspective to the project and inject some energy into tired minds.

Finally, remember, you are a team. Even though you may be a remote team and therefore don’t see each other often (if at all), it’s key to keep reminding yourself that the whole is stronger than the sum of the parts. Ensure you keep communication flowing, checking in with each other and making those personal connections.

When things don’t seem to be flowing it really is easy to let the personal links slide just at the point they are most needed.

Think of all or even one or two of the above tips as ways to beat the motivation slump so your project gets re-energised and you feel re-engaged.

Check out Impact Factory’s Project Management courses and Creative Strategic Thinking courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Qualities of Great Leadership

Let’s put our cards on the table right at the top of this blog: I’m not interested in leaders who bully, who lead through terror or tyranny, who belittle, intimidate and humiliate.

There are tons of those around and not just on the world stage where their dictatorship-style leading is on view for all to see, but in offices all over the world as well.  Old fashioned leadership driven by patriarchal, critical and threatening behaviour.

I remember a company where I ran a series of courses and inevitably on each course someone would mention this one senior manager who sounded appalling; we were even told he whacked people on the back of the head if he was displeased or angry.

Eventually, I worked with the senior team and although this man did have a charming streak, he was exactly as described and I was astonished that a company as supposedly forward-thinking as they purported to be, kept someone like that in a leadership position. 

To the relief of just about everyone in the company, two months after we had worked with nearly everyone in the firm, he was put out to pasture.  His behaviour, attitude and beliefs were so well-entrenched that unless he had had some form of mystical intervention, he simply wasn’t going to change and the very things the company was telling its employees about respect and honouring colleagues would have been pure lip-service.

This was a good example of a company needing to align its leadership behaviours with its values.

Our take on what makes a good leader is about qualities which develop both the leader and the people around him or her.

Make sure you lead with humility. This is  the ability to admit mistakes, the ability to ask for support, the willingness to show vulnerability and acknowledge that even though you may be in a position of leadership, you are on a ‘journey’ as well.

Have a vision.  Any vision will do.  It doesn’t have to be ‘high falutin’ or grand or designed to change the world. It does have to be something that other people will be willing to support and get behind.

Be clear.  Be clear in what is possible; be clear in what you expect of others.

See it from the other person’s point of view. Our personal favourite quality and one that we include on a huge variety of our courses.  I’ve written about it many times and will continue to because if you can see where other people are coming from your leadership can literally be transformed.

Forgive other people’s mistakes. You make mistakes, other people make mistakes. There really is absolutely no point crying over spilt milk. Get to the bottom of why stuff has gone wrong and at the same time help your people get over their upset and distress.

Move things along.  We all get stuck every once in a while.  Getting unstuck is another key to great leadership; finding ways to get things going again.

Which leads us to ask for support (which I mentioned before).  You don’t have to find ways to get things going again all on your own.  Ask those you lead for their ideas and input; ask other colleagues, talk to friends and family.  When people ‘go it alone’ they generally appear aloof, unapproachable and distant.

Being a great leader means you are approachable, open-minded and accessible.

Everyone can develop great leadership qualities - qualities reflect behaviour and your people will respond if you lead from a place of openness rather than having a ‘keep away’ sign around your neck.

Check out Impact Factory’s Leadership courses and Communicate with Impact Elite courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Communication Blog: We connect more, but do we communicate more?

Back in June I wrote a blog based on the sign “Sorry, we don’t have Wi-Fi, talk to each other instead”.

I touched on the fact that our heads are often buried in our phones instead of being engaged with the people around us.

There’s more to it than that:  our need to be 'connected' pretty much all the time can get in the way of our really communicating.  A study two years ago concluded that people check their phones 150 times a day – bet it’s more now.  What are we checking for? 

What about our behaviour on the phone?

There seems to be a blurring of communication boundaries when we are on our phones - almost as though it's our right to speak where and when we want to:  when we're driving, when we're ordering food or paying at a check-out, when we're walking with a partner, when we're on the loo, when we're playing with the kids.

It seems that what's on the other end of the phone is more important than what's in front of us. 

This form of communication seems to reflect our busy lives (or our desire to appear to have busy lives).  I’m aware that I can chat back and forth to someone via one of my devices and never get into anything particularly meaningful. It’s all very pleasant but it’s a bit like eating a meal of crisps.

There was a time in my life when I wrote letters; lots of letters. Letters to family and friends, letters to the editors of papers, to the Secretary General of the UN, to the various politicians I had or hadn’t vote for, to people I admired – writers, musicians and artists. 

Paper, pen, envelopes and stamps.  I loved writing letters and I allowed myself to express my thoughts and feelings in ways that I don’t anymore other than certain emails to very close friends.

There is something about the ritual of preparing and sitting down and writing which opened up my creativity and I found I was really articulate and clear when I wrote letters.

I hardly do that anymore. I send the occasional letter but now it's email and Twitter. And in turn I rarely receive any letters; aside from Birthday and Christmas cards, the post these days is magazines, brochures, junk mail, and the occasional bill if I'm not paying by Direct Debit.

I remember how I used to anticipate the post wondering what goodie or surprise might be included.  And the days when there were two deliveries a day!  My goodness, twice the opportunity for anticipation.

I'm not knocking email or Twitter or any of the other forms of social media we use.  I’m not knocking the fact that we rely on our devices in ways unimaginable just a few years ago.  As a matter of fact, immensely important events have happened because of our reliance on instant communication through calls to arms, campaigns to right wrongs, petitions, etc. 

On a more day to day level, our lives are often  less stressful because we can let a loved one know we’ll be late home or we can ring the AA to say the car’s broken down or we can make sure the right person is picking up the right child at the right time and place.

What we need to be more cautious about is that now there’s far more opportunity for our communication to go pear-shaped than ever before.  

I suppose the question comes down to what we mean by communication. What seems to be happening is that often we communicate at a surface level or if not at a surface level, at such a pace we don’t often consider the impact of our words. With texting and tweeting, we operate with short-hand that can be misunderstood or misinterpreted quite easily.

Because we receive tsunami-like waves of information 24/7 we are also quick to respond as though our lives depended upon it.  Emails are shot off with little thought to content or grammar or heaven-forefend, spelling.  The number of situations we have heard on our training courses of the trouble people have gotten into because they fired off emails in the heat of the moment or tweeted a response to something without having the whole picture is increasing a lot.

Given that we’re only going to be inventing more channels for faster communication (sic), then it isn’t about undoing what’s already here (with all their wonderful benefits) but changing our relationship with it all.

We are the ones who have to slow down, be more considerate, respond with care, email with thoughtfulness, jump to conclusions less and be more attentive.  In a word, be more mindful of the impact our connectedness is having on our communication.

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