Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Conflict Resolution When No One Wants to Budge

Let’s face it, there are people who just rub us up the wrong way. And there are people who we rub up the wrong way. There’s an uneasiness between us, a mistrusting, and unless we are careful, it’s easy to get into seemingly intractable conflict with those who grate on us (and vice versa).

Yet even within the category of conflict triggers there’s one that I think tops the list and that’s when our view of the world is different from someone else’s.

Naturally, everyone and I mean everyone, sees the world differently from everyone else, and yet in many if not most cases our differences aren’t so great that we can’t get along.  Indeed, when the differences aren’t so obvious, we tend to focus on common ground and where we are similar. It’s how we can rub along with someone we may not fully agree with.  We’re more able and willing to resolve differences rather than fight over them.

Yet, when our world views are really different, therein lies the source of a lot of conflict.  Other people’s behaviour can not only seem puzzling, it can seem downright bizarre, confusing, incomprehensible and most importantly... WRONG!

What happens, of course, is that because my view if the world is ‘right’ and someone else’s view is ‘wrong’, and in turn, they think their view of the world is ‘right’ and mine is ‘wrong’, the chances of ever resolving our differences is pretty slim.

Changing the Status Quo

Something has to shift. Dare I use the word compromise?

The problem with a lot of conflict situations such as these is that compromise can feel like giving in, admitting you were wrong, having to eat humble pie, etc. None of these feelings are particularly pleasant and it feels easier sometimes to take an ‘uncompromising’ stance and sticking with it through thick and thin.

What if compromise wasn’t about giving in or admitting you were wrong? What if compromise was about trying to see things from the other person’s point of view even for a brief while?

I can just see some people harrumphing with their arms crossed that they don’t want to see it from another point of view because they KNOW they’re right. 

I really do know how tricky it can be to see the other person as anything but difficult when you are in the middle of a conflict with them. The great skill here is to be able to put your thoughts and feelings to one side, even for the shortest amount of time in order to try to see the world the way they do. 

Resolving Conflict

How do you see the other person as anything but difficult then?

There are two things you can focus on if you want to resolve conflict:

1) You have to want to resolve it
2) You have to dip into your empathy well

There’s no point trying to resolve conflict if you are just giving lip service to wanting to resolve it. If, however, you do want to then it means you are well on your way to finding a way to see the situation from ‘their’ point of view.

Not only that, if you genuinely want resolution then the impetus has to come from you.  Your goal is to help the other person shift from their entrenched position rather than standing your ground and waiting for them to make the first move.

If you couple that with empathy for what might be going on for the other person you are also in a much better position to build a bridge between you.

Using empathy to bridge-build means looking for something – anything – in their argument you can agree with, where you can see they have made a valid point. You don’t have to agree with everything they are saying, just one thing. It doesn’t even have to be the main crux of their argument; it’s surprising how agreeing with even the smallest thing can calm someone down and get them to a place where they can enter into a conversation with you.

Here are your four steps to building a bridge:

1) Find something to agree with
2) Agree with it
3) Zip your lip and give the other person enough space to speak
4) Avoid coming back with a counter-argument (e.g. sentences that begin with ‘but’, ‘however’, etc.) and respond with empathy, even if it’s for the strength of their feelings

If a conversation doesn’t begin to emerge, start the process over again. Agreement is a very powerful tool because it lets the other person know you have heard them. Empathy also lets the other person know you care about resolving the difficulties between you.

There are some conflicts that just don’t get resolved; what I like about this technique is that at least you know you’ll have tried something different in order to get a difference, and hopefully better results.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Conflict at Christmas

There, I said it, the C word. Christmas.

I had hoped to avoid even thinking about it till at least November but it is not to be.

The trigger for this blog was having a friend talk to me about how much she was dreading her company’s Christmas ‘do’ because of one particular person she continually ends up arguing with. She was already anticipating the conflict.

What Happens?

Conflict and Christmas do seem to go hand in hand. Naturally, a lot of the difficulties people have are with their own families but increasingly, the additional stresses and pressures at Christmas seem to tip people over the edge and they can be really grumpy at work, taking out their frustrations and anxieties on their colleagues.

Sound familiar?

Here’s the interesting bit….conflict at Christmas is usually because you haven’t dealt with stuff before the fateful date. Like right now, before it gets too crazy. The same goes for conflict in the workplace; the longer you delay dealing with it, the worse it’s going to be when it does finally come out into the open.

One of the main problems with conflict is what I call the ‘festering phase’. Here’s how it works: something happens that you don’t like or upsets you. You wait for an apology or some acknowledgement that there’s a problem. You don’t say anything.

But you do fester. You replay whatever it is that happened. Over and over and over again.  You think about what you did say and what you might have said. Over and over and over again. You think about what’s wrong with the other person and what they need to do to make it all all right. Over and over and over again.

The ‘festering phase’ can last anywhere from a couple of minutes to the rest of your life.

What I’m interested in is what happens in the lead up to the conflict. If that can change then you don’t have to enter a ‘festering phase’ – you might even be able to head towards a ‘resolution phase’. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Why It Happens.

In our vast experience of running Conflict Management and Assertiveness courses, we know that people fall into the same old patterns of behaviour they’ve always done (on both sides, mind you) so that the conflict becomes inevitable. 

Is there one person with whom you seem to engage in conflict often? Are there types of conflict situations that repeat themselves? Once you have a good beady-eyed look, you ‘should’ be able to detect patterns. It could be anything, couldn’t it? 

For instance, you say something, someone else takes offence, you try to defend yourself, the other person doesn’t want to hear your defences and you’re into conflict. 

It could be someone asks you to do something, you don’t want to, they start putting pressure on you, you push back, they push back harder and you’re into conflict.

Once you can unpick the pattern, you have an opportunity to change it.

This, of course, means that one of you will have to do something different in order to break the pattern, and guess what?  It’s going to have to be you if you want to at least kick-start a new way of communicating.


Obviously, I’d need about 10 blogs to really go into this in any detail, so I’ll give you one suggestion for now.

Mind-sets get us into trouble and they can equally help us get out of trouble, even before it begins. Like the woman I mentioned at the beginning of this blog who’s dreading her company’s Christmas ‘do’, lots of us anticipate conflict – we know it’s most likely inevitable and yet we can’t see a way of avoiding it other than avoiding the situation, which isn’t going to alter anything.

Thus a change of mind-set is needed. Think of that really difficult person or scenario. Think about what rubs you up the wrong way, what do they say or do that ‘gets your goat’? I bet that even doing that might trigger an old ‘festering phase’ as you replay old conflicts. 

Now see if you can identify that one point of conflict, what could be called the point of no return, the point at which you are both playing out the same old patterns of behaviour. Get really specific: what you were thinking, feeling and saying; what was the other person saying and how were they behaving?

Here’s where the shift in mind-set can happen – the bit right before the point of no return.  The new mind-set that says, “Walk away now.” The mind-set that says, “How can I respond differently this time?” The mind-set that says, “I don’t have to engage in any dispute with this person. So what if they rub me up the wrong way? That’s my problem, not theirs.”

Changing a mind-set rarely happens all at once. The trick is to start anticipating potential conflict not as inevitable but as a chance for you to practise new behaviour. Rather than replaying conflict after the fact with what you could have said, start practising right now what you could say differently that will change the dynamic between you.

Have a go and you just might make life at Christmas (or any time really) a lot less fraught and a lot more peaceful.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Performance Management – Who Are You Talking To?

I talked previously about Performance Management and one of the key mistakes managers make which has to do with magical thinking: No one has to actually do anything and the problems will fix themselves and melt away.

Another crucial and equally unhelpful mistake is talking to the wrong people. Just about every manager I know - including me - has been guilty at some time or another of this 'misdemeanour'. 

This is how it works. Someone on your team (let's call them Person A) does something you don't like, or is underperforming, or has rubbed you (or someone else in the team) up the wrong way. Do you then go and have a quiet word with that person to get it sorted out quickly? That would be the most logical and professional thing to do. 

Unfortunately, too often, no you don't.

Instead what happens is that you talk to Persons B, C, D and so on, till everyone in the team is talking about Person A. Everyone knows what he or she has done 'wrong'; everyone has an opinion about A (he doesn't pull his weight, she's never at her desk, he's taking the piss, she never should have been hired in the first place) and then of course the inevitable happens: everyone begins to keep an eagle eye on A in order to rack up the evidence of their 'wrongness' till the case against them is watertight.

People's emotions get all stirred up and the gossip just feeds the situation and adds fuel to the fire.

What else is going on?

1. Assumptions. So far in this scenario everything is based on assumptions. Because A hasn't ever been spoken to and yet everyone else is talking about them, A hasn’t been given a chance to explain what's going on or to hear that their behaviour is troublesome.

When I was on the receiving end of this (in other words, I was Person A) the only thing I could say at first was, "Why didn't anyone say something to me?" I felt really hard done by and felt I was treated very unfairly because I had no idea people were so upset with me. 

I then felt I had this major mountain to climb because everyone had made assumptions about my behaviour and even though I now knew what was going on, they continued to treat me as though all those assumptions were true. It was a very disheartening position to be in.

2. Emotions. In these kinds of situations emotions run high, especially when they feed on themselves instead of heading towards a resolution. However, it is usually, if not always, emotions that stop people having the quiet word with A in the first place.

What are you afraid might happen if you intervened right away? Person A might get angry, get defensive, point out things you've done wrong, cry, storm out. In other words, they might display big, potentially, overwhelming emotions that you think you can't or don't want to handle.

So you duck the issue of confrontation and off-load your frustrations and your own emotions on other people. This gives you a group of allies and because you're all colluding with the belief of how bad A is, you don't have to go inwards to investigate your own fears of having to manage other people's possible unpleasant emotions.

3.  It’s dealt with. Ironically, all that chatting to B, D, C and so on makes you feel as though you’ve dealt with it. It often comes as a shock that Person A’s behaviour continues because of course, Person A usually doesn’t have a clue all this is roiling around the office.

Part of the difficulty is that we are also dealing with human nature here. People like to gossip, they also like to have an odd man (or woman) out because it helps the rest of the tribe to bond - nothing like having a common 'enemy' to bring people together.

The baseline though is that all that babble is not only unprofessional, it is also immature and a form of passive aggressive bullying. 

If A has been spoken to and repeatedly displays behaviour that isn't right, then there is a genuine Performance Management issue that has to be dealt with.

Sadly, A is rarely spoken to and thus the cycle continues on its merry way.

What can you do about it?

I cannot stress enough about nipping things in the bud. The longer you wait to take action, the more the chances are that B, C, D and so on will be drawn into the situation without A being made aware that there's an issue.

This is a simple 'model' you can try:

You to Person A (not in front of other members of the team, it can even be via email): “When you have some time, could we have a quick word please.”

Once you are face to face: "I noticed that you've been spending a lot of time on your phone (or whatever the issue is). My assumption is that you're making a lot of personal calls on company time.  I wonder if that's true or are my assumptions wrong?"

Give the person plenty of space to respond and then tell them what you'd like to see in the future, for instance, "I think it would be best if you used your break-time to make personal calls, rather than work time, or if you need extra time, just let me know so I don't feel you're taking advantage."

Letting someone know the assumptions you have made or even what their behaviour looks like to others is a way of getting stuff on the table so it can be dealt with.

Finally, you do have to clean up after yourself. If you haven’t caught things early and have off-loaded to everyone except the person involved, once you speak to A then you really do have to talk to all those B, C, Ds and so on so they know the situation is now being handled handled. 

By Jo Ellen Grzyb. Director  and Founding Partner of Impact Factory

Monday, 10 July 2017

Performance Management: Are You Guilty of Magical Thinking?

There's a lot of magical thinking that hovers around Performance Management that even seasoned managers succumb to: that, somehow, problems with people's performance will fix themselves without anyone having to say anything to anybody.

I've heard line managers say things like, "They must know what they're doing isn't right so at some point they'll do something about it.”  or “It’s obvious there’s a problem; I’ll wait for them to bring it up.” Or “it’s not so bad; I’m sure it will come good at some point.”

The answer is “No”.  No, they won’t do anything about it; no, they won’t bring it up and no, it won’t come good at any point.

Problems don’t magically fix themselves; problems don’t just go away.  Indeed, unaddressed problems get bigger and bigger till they often escalate to a state far worse than if they had been dealt with early on.

Magical thinking like this is prevalent because it’s hard for a lot of managers to deal with things in the moment (or near enough to the moment).  Often in these situations, the manager will have an emotional reaction to whatever is going on (“Did that just happen?”) and won’t quite know what to do.  And then they delay doing anything.

Many managers fear emotional outbursts (what if the other person cries or gets angry?); they don’t want to rock the boat (things are going so well, why spoil it by bringing up a problem); they’re afraid of disagreement which could turn into conflict.

Even though we all know that ignoring problems won’t make them go away, people still do just that.

I remember working with one manager on a Performance Management course who said he intended asking for a transfer to another department because he had knots in his stomach every time he came to the office (and which he took home with him as well).  There was one member of his team in particular who caused him sleepless nights because he was sure this chap was now deliberately being difficult.

I asked him if he had had any conversations with his team member about the issues and he actually said he thought that because his colleague was clearly doing things on purpose there was no point in discussing it.

By the way, irrational thinking like this definitely falls into the magical thinking category as well.

I pointed out that it was very possible that if he transferred to another department there might be someone equally difficult there and wouldn’t it be better to upskill himself rather than transfer from department to department because he was unable to manage people’s day to day performance if there were difficulties.

Upskilling seems rather obvious but when someone is in the middle of strong emotions, anxiety and even fear, running away actually seems the more viable option.

Equally obviously, running away doesn’t necessarily change anything if the same situations arise in the place you’ve run away to.

So let’s look at what some of those skills are that can dispel magical thinking and give managers the confidence to handle day to day performance and be better able to deal with difficulties as they arise.  If you are one of those that fall into the magical thinking category, these tips are for you:

1. Look for opportunities to acknowledge and praise team members on a day to day basis; don’t just wait for the above and beyond.  By recognising the stuff that people do every day you are building trust so that if difficulties do arise, it will be easier to have the conversations.

2. Have regular feedback sessions.  Again, this creates a climate of trust because you are keeping a dialogue going about day to day things that arise.  Here you can summarise all the positive things you’ve noticed and especially any improvements since the previous feedback session.  This is also the opportunity to review any difficulties that have arisen to see how they are being dealt with.

3. Make it two-way.  Any conversation with a colleague needs to be just that – a conversation, not a lecture.  Ask open questions and listen to your team member.  Also be open to any issues he or she may have with you.

4. Nip it in the bud.  Don’t wait for your feedback sessions if something comes up that’s problematic.  The longer you wait, the more the situation will fester.  Even if you agree to discuss it in more detail during your feedback sessions, letting the other person know that there is an issue means it’s out on the table and you don’t have to carry around that extra anxiety about dealing with it.

5. Set really specific goals and parameters in order to improve performance.  Don’t leave the onus completely up to them; measureable goals do make it clear for both parties to see whether there has or has not been progress.

6. Offer support.  Alongside goals, giving support to achieve them will help both of you as you will be doing what you can to improve the situation and the other person will see that they aren’t being left to fend for themselves.

7. Accept that sometimes not all problems are ‘fixable’.  If you’ve done all the above and things haven’t improved, you may indeed have to escalate things to a formal disciplinary.  The main thing is that you will have done all you can to avoid that and to maintain healthy working relationships with all your team.

Let’s face it, most people (me included) really do wish that everyone would just get on with their jobs, get on with their colleagues, manage their emotions, deal with problems maturely and contribute to making work a lovely place to be.

That’s magical thinking in a nutshell.

Great Performance Management, however, can actually bring a little magic into the workplace.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb

Check out our Performance Management Course

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Influencing When You Have No Authority: Tips to Making an Impact

This is a common question we get asked, “how can I possibly influence someone when I have no authority over them?”.

And our answer: the same way you would if you did have authority over them.

Really, that’s not as glib as it sounds; what we mean is that what you have to adjust is what goes on in your head because what goes on in your head will influence your body language, what you say, how you react and what your expectations are.

If you try to influence someone who is either higher up or completely unrelated to your area, department, etc., you could have the attitude that they really have no obligation to even listen to you, let alone give you what you want. Right from the off you will be expecting a no; you’ll be drenched in anticipated disappointment.

With that attitude you may come across as apologetic, diffident, possibly even slightly defensive. You won’t be able to convey your wants effectively because your approach will get in the way.

If, however, your attitude is that you have something exciting / relevant/ important / interesting / useful to discuss with them then your whole outlook and manner will be completely different.

We did some work with the marketing department of a very large global organisation a few years back and the theme we had to address in our Influencing courses was that the marketeers had virtually no authority over anyone else in the company with whom they had to negotiate to get things done or changed.

What they struggled with was that aside from benefiting the collective whole of the organisation, there wasn’t really anything in it for the people they were trying to influence.  Or so they thought.

Most delegate's aha moment came when they realised just how much their attitude 'influenced' their ability to influence. Once they saw that they could choose their attitude, then the practical tools were a piece of cake.

Once you have an attitude shift, there are so many more options available to influence where you have no direct clout.

Here are some easy, practical tips you can use to influence:

1. Think about what might make you more amenable to hearing someone out when you have no real obligation to do so. Although not applicable to everyone, a fairly reliable approach to take is to acknowledge what the other person has done that makes you want to influence them in the first place.

It isn’t about false flattery (you can try that but I’m not a great fan), it’s about genuinely recognising their talents, expertise, abilities.

2. Empathise with their position, perhaps letting them know that you assume lots of people must come to them for help or advice and you don’t want to overburden them. Personally, I’m far more likely to look favourably on someone who makes an effort to understand how busy I am than someone who just assumes my door is open 24 hours a day.

3. Make an effort to see the situation from their point of view. When we want something it’s very easy to get caught up in trying to convince the other person about what our point of view is and to keep plugging away till they ‘get’ it. A far better tactic is to put aside your perspective for a bit and look at it from their perspective, or what you think might be their perspective. You can even say something along the lines of, “I’m wondering if this might be going on for you…..” or “I’m assuming this might be happening…..I wonder if that’s the case?”

Get them talking about what’s going on for them and you will have a tonne more information than you did and you can use that information to adjust and tweak what you were going to say.

What all of this does is to help shape how others see you so that you are someone other people want to support rather than someone people duck behind desks to avoid.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director of Impact Factory

Check out our Influencing and Influence and Negotiation Courses.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Quicker Better Meetings: Changing unproductive, unhelpful patterns

Does this scenario sound familiar?

You’re at a meeting that’s going along rather well and the agenda items are being ticked off at a satisfying rate and disagreements are ironed out with ease. It even looks as though the meeting might end early and your mind flits ahead to the extra time you’ll have to catch up on all the emails that will have come in during the meeting.

And then……a voice pipes up asking a long, convoluted question that had to do with something three agenda items ago, accompanied by lots of shuffling of papers. 

“Oh no,” you say to yourself, “here we go again.” 

By the time whoever’s chairing the meeting has figured out what the question is and attempted an answer, your dreams of an early finished are dashed and you pretend to be interested in what’s being said, which is usually a repetition of something that was said half an hour ago. You might even be discreetly trying to sneak a peek at your phone so of course your mind isn’t on the meeting at all.

And that’s just one example of what can bog down a meeting. We, all of us, will have lots of examples of what can make a meeting torturous: a chair who can’t keep order, no agenda, lots of rambling and distractions, someone trying to hijack the meeting or browbeat others, drowning in minutiae and on and on and on. 

See if you can identify what gets in the way of you having ‘quicker better meetings’. 

One of the reasons why some meetings tend to be deadly is that they fall into a pattern very quickly.  All you need is to have two meetings in a row with the same people and if no one steps in to change the dynamic, then a pattern will be set. If that pattern includes allowing people to rabbit on, to go off the agenda, to keep dragging in irrelevant issues, to complain when they don’t get their way, then your meetings will be endless with greater conflict and fewer concerns resolved.

So how do you get your meetings to become quicker and better?

Change a Pattern

Look at the patterns that are slowing down your meetings and see what you could do to shift them.

The interesting thing about changing patterns is that this can be done in ways both subtle and not so subtle depending upon how embedded the patterns are.

For instance, we worked with a company that often had contentious meetings between management and union reps. Meetings inevitably ended up as ‘them and us’ scenarios. When we started working with the union reps we asked how the meeting rooms were set up and unsurprisingly the union chaps sat on one side of the table and management on another, and thus it had always been.

We recommended that they get to the meetings ahead of time and to dot themselves around the table which would immediately break the physical representation of ‘them and us’. Once they changed the physical set-up it was almost like magic one of the reps told us, because instead of squaring up across the table, the found they were chatting to whoever was next to them which took the heat out of the situation.

That’s just one pattern that was easy to change and really was done under the radar.

Other patterns require a less subtle approach. I call these the ‘people patterns’ where individuals fall into the same behaviour every single time there’s a meeting, just like the person I mentioned at the beginning of this blog. 

As a matter of fact, that description is based on my personal experience and the frustration and impatience I felt was mirrored around the table. Since this was a group that met often, I would grit my teeth as this person asked yet another question that had already been answered ages ago. I finally came up with my personal strategy since the chair didn’t seem to know how to handle her in any effective way – as a matter of fact, he kind of treated her as though her interruption was normal which only encouraged her even more.

My tactic was first, to wait till she was seated and then to sit next to her. That way I could monitor her body language when it looked as though she was about to speak after shuffling her papers.  Second, was as soon as she asked a question that had already been dealt with I intervened in a really friendly way saying that since the question had already been covered earlier I’d be really happy to stay on after the meeting and go over it all with her. 

Over the course of a few meetings I did this about three times and I knew I had broken the pattern when instead of asking the chair a question she turned to me and whispered if I’d mind going over something after the meeting. Victory!

The reason I have used these two examples (and we have so many more tricks up our sleeves when it comes to making meetings more efficient) is that in each case something really different but not confrontational had to be done to change the dynamic. 

Here’s a couple of quick tips:

1.       Look at what you could physically do to change the layout of your meeting room or where people sit. Be the first to ‘sit on the other side of the table’. 

2.       Identify what behaviour patterns both you and other people do that slow things down. It’s easier to change your behaviour so let’s start there. You can do simple things to do with your body language which will have a subtle impact on everyone else (sitting straighter in your chair, leaning forward, ensuring you give eye contact to everyone when you speak).

In other words, if you want productive meetings you have to start to change the patterns that make them unbearable. 

Don’t wait for someone else to rescue your meetings; put on the life preserver and take the plunge!

Check out our Quicker Better Meetings Open Course.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Negotiation: Does Compromise Get to Win-Win?

I've been thinking a lot recently about compromise when it comes to negotiation. 

In negotiation-speak the phrase 'win-win' is often used as the sought after outcome of a negotiation.  So where does compromise come into it when compromising can often feel like giving in?

Certainly, when I was much younger compromise felt like win-lose, with me on the losing side. I hated compromising because it felt as though I was conceding and the other person would be triumphant that I had ‘caved in’.

What happened to me then (and what happens to a lot of people in many kinds of negotiating arenas) is that I held on to my position because it felt like life or death (even negotiating what to do over the weekend). It’s as if compromising not only meant giving in over this one thing, but it also was an indication that I was a pushover, that everything I believed was up for grabs.

It doesn’t make any rational sense but back then, when negotiating, my rational side often disappeared and in its place, a fight to the death. I look back and cringe at some of the situations where I ‘held my ground’ because it felt as though my very being was being attacked when I differed with someone during a negotiation. I hid it very well, but inside I felt my sense of self was on the line when I compromised.

How wrong could I have been?

It wasn't till I became older (and wiser) that I began looking on compromise not only as a terrific bargaining chip but also as the manifestation of empathy.  The more I empathised with the other 'side', the more I was able to see his or her point of view; the more I was able to see the other point of view, the more I was able to understand what would help them feel heard and acknowledged.

The more the other person felt heard and acknowledged, the more they would be willing to meet half-way. Conceding was no longer about losing but far more about bridge-building. 
I was no longer buffeted by irrational beliefs but liberated because I became a much better negotiator the more I was willing to give stuff away. 

Negotiating isn’t about getting my own way, but is about building relationships so that everyone feels good about the interaction.

This shift in attitude really does make life easier. I go into negotiations with a much lighter heart, no longer feeling threatened or attacked if what I think I want isn’t going to happen. I’ve talked about this before in previous negotiation blogs about changing my want. So instead of hanging onto what I thought was my bottom line and focusing all my attention on getting it, I now am willing to change what I want often to something intangible like both of us just feeling like we had a good conversation and not necessarily arriving at a conclusion.

Compromising means it all doesn’t have to happen right now just the way I pictured it. I can change the picture if it means I don’t have to get into a fight. 

Let me take up the image of bridge-building. Bridge-building is about making an offer rather than demanding a concession from the other person. I’ve used this analogy before but it bears repeating:  if I put a plank down or even two or three planks, then the other person inevitably will put a plank down and this can carry on till you meet in the middle of the bridge and both still feel good about carrying on communicating.

Each time you consciously and deliberately compromise you are laying down a plank and the more planks you put in place, the easier it is for the other person to offer a plank and to make the bridge stronger.

Think of compromise as an art, a skill, a tool, rather than something that takes an emotional toll (as I used to think and feel) – it’s a much easier way to get to win-win.

Check out Impact Factory’s range of One Day Negotiation Skills and Two Day Influencing & Negotiation Skills courses.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Negotiation: Mind Over Matter?

It’s kind of natural that we tend to think of negotiations as BIG stuff like union contracts, tenders for new business, going for a pay rise, renewing a corporate lease – you get the picture. Yet our everyday lives are filled with a series of little negotiations about even the smallest things, and the skills we could use for the BIG stuff are equally relevant for the small stuff.   

First, let’s look at one of my favourite kind of negotiations: negotiating with yourself.

If you are anything like me you might even have ‘treat’ negotiations. They go something like this: “When I finish this article, I’ll treat myself to a cup of tea and a bickie.” “If I clean the house today, I’ll treat myself to a lie-in tomorrow.” “If I go to the gym, I’ll treat myself to an extra piece of chocolate tonight.” “When my inbox is empty I’ll treat myself to a couple of games of Sudoku.”

Now, the reason I call these negotiations instead of statements of intent is what happens when I don’t actually finish the article, clean the house, go to the gym or empty my in-box?  That’s when the negotiations begin. “Well, I nearly finished the article, so I’ll have the tea and biscuit anyway.” “I’ll just give the house a quick dust and it’ll be fine – I’ll still have my lie-in.” “I did walk to work, so I don’t absolutely have to go to the gym and what’s one little chocolate anyway?” “I’ve already done a lot so one game of Sudoku will be OK.”

The fascinating thing about negotiating with yourself is that you don’t really need to. You could just have the lie-in, eat the chocolate, fill in the Sudoku grid without the justification.  Somehow the negotiation allows us to give ourselves permission to do what we wanted to do in the first place.  

The reason I’m even introducing the idea of self-negotiation is the impact our minds have on even the simplest negotiation and how all that chatter can actually get in the way of achieving what we want.

One key sack of coal that fuels that chatter is how much we assume about the other person when we are negotiating even a simple thing like which restaurant we should go to on Saturday night. The mind builds up so many arguments, counter-arguments, uncertainties, over-questioning, what ifs, that it stops us from cutting to the chase of what we actually want.

Here’s an example. What you really want: “I want to try that new Italian restaurant that opened a couple of weeks ago.”

What can happen: the yapping in your head might take over and tell you that the other person probably won’t want to go to the Italian restaurant because it might be too expensive or you just had pasta at home last night or she generally prefers fish and chips on the weekend or she’d probably rather chill out on the sofa with a take-away.

When you decide what the other person is thinking and feeling that definitely clouds your ability to present your negotiations clearly, simply and with an end goal in mind.

It’s really hard to negotiate with all that going on up there.

A far better approach to try to still those voices is to: 1) Determine what you want – the new Italian restaurant that just opened. 2) Find out what the other person wants without deciding ahead of time what you think that will be. 3) Decide what you are willing to give away – does it have to be this weekend for instance? 4) What would win-win look like? Fish and chips this weekend, Italian restaurant the next or even something completely out of the box: “Let’s not go out for three months and save that money for a fabulous weekend away.”

When you get stuck conversing with yourself about possible outcomes, it limits your ability to see what might be possible.

It’s clear that when you translate all of that into negotiating the big stuff the consequences can be significant. In the same way you negotiate with yourself over the biscuit or in your head over where to go on Saturday night, you start the bargaining process in your mind before you've even set the parameters of what you want. By doing that you create uncertainty, which is the last thing you need when you negotiate because the other person will sniff that uncertainty out and consciously or unconsciously exploit it to take advantage of your hesitation.

If you’ve already decided in your mind that the other person is going to say no or that they won't think you’re worth it or they'll think you’re too arrogant (etc., etc., etc.) then of course that will have an impact on the way you negotiate. You’ll give those thoughts away through your body language or your verbal language weaving in extra padding, not getting to the point, not giving a straight answer (Yipes! Sounds like a politician!!).

Cutting out that extraneous noise can be tricky. Most of us have lived with those naysaying voices most of our lives, so trying to shut them up can be very hard work. The first step is of course to pay attention when you do start those internal negotiations. I know that for the longest time I didn’t even notice the cartwheels my mind was doing because the prattling seemed so normal. It felt a real breakthrough when I could hear myself and perceive just what I was doing.

The second step is not to give yourself a hard time when you notice the brain-babble.  Notice it and move on.

If you can do steps one and two, guess what? Then the fun of negotiation can begin and you might actually get what you want – with the little stuff and the big stuff.

Check out Impact Factory’s range of One Day Negotiation Skills and Two Day Influencing & Negotiation Skills courses.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Bring back the art of dialogue. It’s National Conversation Week

Did you know that this week is the first ever National Conversation Week? 

I certainly didn’t and I say – Hooray!  What a great idea to encourage people to have actual conversations with each other at work, with friends, at home.

Well most of us need to raise our awareness of how dependent we’ve become on technology to do our communicating for us and how quickly the habit of making time to converse is diminishing. 

But for me it’s not just technology that gets in the way of conversations; it’s the speed with which we run our lives, run being the operative word – we run from one task to another, from one engagement to another. 

We over-pack our lives with lots of doing, me included, so this week my personal resolution is to slow down and talk to people.  I love that there’s a National Conversation Week because already it’s made me think about times I’ve sent an email instead of picking up the phone, or even worse, all the letters I’ve written in my head whose words were never put to paper. 

There are consequences as well.  How many of us have either sent or been on the receiving end of an email or text that we or they completely misinterpreted?  And then that misinterpretation caused a whole lot of difficulty.  I can raise my hand to that one - I recently sent an email to a friend where she read all sorts into it that I hadn’t intended.  If we’d been face to face or even talking on the phone I would definitely have picked up those signals that tell us all is not well and could have pre-empted all those misunderstandings.

Avoiding conversations we’d rather not have is quite common as well.  Our tummies churn and chests get tight (well mine do at any rate) when we think about saying what’s going on for us.  We also make up in our heads what the other person is going to say (well I often do at any rate) so having had the conversations in our minds, we often don’t have them in real life.

The less we have those difficult conversations, the more they build up; the more they build up, the greater our anxiety about having them. So we don’t and the cycle continues.  Something quite small can grow into something huge that feels often impossible to tackle.  I think back embarrassingly to a friend I cut off decades ago when I was in my twenties because I simply didn’t have the courage or the skills to have that difficult conversation.

During National Conversation Week we could all take some small steps:  if you are writing stuff in your head, send a letter or email instead; if you are about to send an email, pick up the phone, and when you do pick up the phone, make a date to have a face to face conversation.

Conversation used to be considered an art and I agree that it is a skill well worth honing for the sheer pleasure of using words to connect to others. 

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Communication, ConflictManagement, Assertiveness and Business Networking courses.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Customer Service – Has Frustration ever got the better of you?

Ever had a phone call or face to face confrontation with someone who was in a Customer Service Department where you almost burst with frustration?

I have. I was reduced to tears. Me! I don’t get reduced to tears over stuff like when my phone is going to be hooked up or why my express delivery package never arrived.  But I did. 

There was me working incredibly hard to remain calm, reasonable, logical and what I got in return was prevarication, disinterest and someone who absolutely didn’t listen. This, by the way, was my fifth call to get my problem sorted. And we all have heard stories of people who have made far more calls than I did to try to get some form of satisfaction.

Why, oh why, is it so hard for some organisations to offer the fundamentals of good customer service? 

Clearly, I’ve got a real bee in my bonnet and I will confess that when it comes to customer service I’m like a one-woman vigilante, spotting poor service from 100 paces.

The thing is that good customer service isn’t hard to achieve.

Let’s start with some basics to think about for yourself or your people who have to deal with customers. 

Be a real person talking to another real person.

Your customers will listen to what you have to say if they, in turn, feel listened to.

It’s quite off-putting to know that people are reading from a script or are using pat answers.  I know I don’t like it when I’m on the receiving end of over formality which simply distances me from whoever I’m speaking to. 

Equally, I don’t want over-familiarity (I absolutely hate it when someone calls me Jo – not my name) which is nearly as off-putting as the script reader. False cheeriness will not endear me to anyone when I’m looking for resolution of a problem.

No one should need to put on a ‘Customer Service persona’.  Pleasant, friendly and welcoming are all excellent qualities that indicate you’re talking to a real person.

The empathy thing

I’d say that every list of top tips on great customer service talks about empathy.  So why is that? Because it makes my first point about being a real person more possible. It’s hard to genuinely relate to another person if you can’t imagine what they might be going through.  You’re never going to feel exactly as they do, but with empathy you can certainly get a fair insight for what’s going on for them. 

Really listening to what the customer is saying and then reflecting back what you’ve heard and letting them know you understand all add up to authentic empathy.  People respond to empathy are far more likely to calm down and be less stressed when they realise the person they are talking to isn’t just trying to get rid of them but cares about resolving the problem.

Resolving the problem

Once you have established a connection then you can get down to discussing the options that will resolve the issue. Not every problem has a straight-forward resolution – wouldn’t that be great.  However, when you establish empathy and demonstrate that you care about this real person with their real problem you are far more likely to get the customer to help find a solution instead of them berating you for not getting it sorted asap.

An extra bonus is that when someone is treated really well, they are more tolerant of hold-ups and delays and even when you mess up. I’ve said before that a sign that you are providing great customer service is that your customers will forgive you for your mistakes.

Another sure-fire way to connect with your customers is to show flexibility. You can usually tell when someone is ‘taking the piss’ and trying one on; most of the time though, your customers just want to get to the bottom of what the problem is and to get it sorted. The more flexible you can be, the better. Sticking to rigid rules says to the customer that the deck is definitely stacked against them.

It really isn’t rocket science

Offering great customer service isn’t difficult: ditch the script, remember you’re both real people, treat your customers with excellent listening skills and empathy, show flexibility and work with your customers to resolve their issues. If you can create an environment where this is the way customers are treated, you will be a customer service master.

Check out Impact Factory’s Customer Service courses.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Good leaders or a leadership culture: What makes an organisation thrive?

We need leaders. Most people would rather be led than lead and that’s just fine, especially if you have a leader who is inspiring, creates trust, sees the big picture and yet has an awareness of the small stuff too.

People often need guidance and direction and also feedback that they’re on the right track and that the leader has their back.

At the same time, there has been a lot more talk in the corporate and training worlds about developing leadership throughout an entire organisation and how much more effective that is than simply developing individuals.

On our Leadership Development courses professionals come along with a range of levels and requirements: some want a refresh of their skills, some have just been appointed to new roles, some need to take a good hard look at their leadership style and how they communicate their vision, some even feel a bit of a fraud, as though they aren’t really leaders and are going to be found out any day now. 

We believe that people can be developed into better more motivating leaders prepared to make a more effective impact on their organisations. 

As far as we’re concerned, there doesn’t need to be an ‘either or’ but rather, we ask the question, what would most benefit your organisation? And why not do both: develop individuals in leadership roles and spread a leadership culture to everyone in the business.

What do you mean by a leadership culture I hear you ask?

Take a look at your own organisation. Has everyone ‘bought in’ to the ethos of the business and feel that their contribution is appreciated and acknowledged?  Are people trusted at all levels within the company? Are people able to challenge the status quo, make suggestions for change and given responsibility for actualising some of their ideas? Are staff members encouraged to initiate projects and feel they can influence the outcome of decisions?

A leadership culture can exist equally well in a strict hierarchy or a flat structure as long as the environment is supportive and fosters the concept that everyone, whatever their status in the organisation, has a valid voice.  This does mean that people will question how things are done and will offer suggestions that may, at first glance, not exactly fit.

So how do you create a leadership culture? That brings us back to leaders, doesn’t it? If you already have a leadership culture, then the key is to maintain and develop it and ensure it keeps bubbling along with commitment and enthusiasm. 

If it doesn’t already exist, then someone, or more than one someone has to introduce its benefits both to the powers that be (if they aren’t themselves the powers that be) and the organisation as a whole.

And there couldn’t be a better time than right now to take the ball and run with it because of the uncertainty and volatility that exists in the world today. Old ways of doing things may simply not work anymore nor will completely top-down structures necessarily be responsive to the changing business climate we are experiencing.

Organisations may indeed have to ‘turn on a dime’ and the more involved, trusted and creative the workplace is, the better any organisation will be to handle its future in a valuable, productive and considered way.

Check out Impact Factory’s Leadership Development, Personal Impact, Line Management and Five Day Elite courses - Communicate with Impact and Presentation withImpact.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Presentation Skills Top Tips to Overcome Fear

“No, no! Please don’t ask me to make a presentation.  I can’t do it; I get too scared; I’ll faint; I won’t be able to breathe.”

Now, maybe you don’t have this extreme reaction when you’re asked to present, but perhaps your initial reaction is like a rabbit in the headlights and you mentally leap to how to avoid it or why you’re the wrong person or just how awful you’re going to feel.

All common responses; all completely understandable.

Why they’re understandable is that for most people standing in front of a group of people or sitting around a table presenting is unnatural, exposing, awkward and utterly nerve-wracking.  It’s also why things like daises and PowerPoint and iPads are used so extensively – because they’re something to hide behind.

For a lot of people, they think there’s nothing they can do but endure and get through it.

If you’re one of those people, here are some things you can do before you make your next presentation and of course, when you’re actually in front of an audience.


  1. Do your homework.  Too often I’ve seen people who felt they were too busy to prepare.  I cannot emphasise enough just how important it is to be well-prepared.  You don’t have to know every nuance of your material but you have to know enough to be able to reassure people you know what you’re talking about and how to direct people to learn more. 

  1. Someone else’s slide deck.  If you are expected to present someone else’s slide-deck, then make enough notes in your own voice so when you present it sounds like you, rather than presenting something that doesn’t quite fit.

  1. Avoid trying to wing it.  Even if you’re well-prepared, you still need to rehearse and rehearse again.  And again.  If you use PowerPoint, then you absolutely have to learn how to make it work for you.

  1. Visit the space.  There’s nothing like really knowing the arena you’ll be presenting in. Sometimes that may not be possible, but when it is, have a walk around the space, sit at the table, get a feel for the room’s vibes.  Walking into an unknown place can be very unnerving, so getting to know it ahead of time will serve you very well.

  1. Make the space your own.  Not only is it important to get a feel for the space, it’s also good to put your own stamp on it, even if all that means is shifting some chairs, moving a table, leaving brochures for people to take – really anything that shows you are connected to the space.  For your audience, on an unconscious level, the more you ‘own’ the space, the more credibility it gives you.


  1. Breathe.  That seems pretty obvious, but when your nerves are on over-drive, your breathing tends to be shallow which in turn can make you feel as though you aren’t getting enough oxygen.  Before you start it really helps to take three or four deep slow breaths (note: if you take fast breaths you could well become dizzy and light-headed).

  1. Jump around.  Not on stage but before hand you could jump up and down a few times or if that’s not possible, do some stretches.  Even if you are sitting, you can still stretch your arms above your head, or turn your head slowly from side to side, shrug your shoulders; pretty much anything that will get you settled into your body.

  1. Take your time.  When you’re scared, it’s easy to rush.  By slowing things down right at the beginning, you will come across as thoughtful and considered.  If this is indeed the first time in the space, if there’s any furniture or props (a dais, a table, a carafe of water, a computer or tablet, etc.) move them, handle them, place them where you want them.

  1. Eye contact.  Again, when your nerves are strung as taut as they can stretch, it’s easy to stay buried in your notes or keep your eyes focused on your slides.  Making eye contact with at least a few members of your audience is a good way to settle some of those nerves.  Seek out a couple of friendly faces and return to them throughout the presentation.

  1. Sips of water.  Think of taking sips of water as mini-breaks where you can gather your thoughts, look at your audience and move a bit. Moving around is really important if you find yourself becoming rooted to the spot.  Not only will it help you breathe better, it will get your blood moving as well.

  1. Enjoy yourself??  Believe it or not, once your nerves are under manageable control, presenting can be an exciting, energising and engaging way to communicate with others.

Follow even just a few of these tips and you’ll feel a lot more like the king of the jungle than that poor, frightened rabbit.

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Presentation Skills courses:  Presentation Skills One and Two Day, AdvancedPresentation, Public Speaking and our Elite Five Day Presentation with Impact.