Build support networks

Stress and burnout will manifest themselves in a number of ways that could have a negative impact on those around you. When you are tired, exhausted and feeling critical you are more likely to snap irritably at the most innocent of bystanders. When you are overloaded and there is too much going on in your mind, you are more likely to disengage from meaningful and valuable communication with colleagues and co-workers. You may be quick to blame others when it was really not their fault  and you will certainly not be in listening mode for those who have something important to say to you. The result? People are likely to become disenchanted and they might avoid you altogether. Having no-one to talk to can be very isolating. Having a support network is always helpful but it is particularly important when you are feeling stressed. Sometimes you may just want to voice your thoughts out loud and have the other person listen, other times you may need advice or help from a peer or an expert who understands your work environment and occasionally you may even want to seek out the company of someone who is totally neutral and unbiased. A support network does not create itself overnight – you will need to be proactive and invest your time and energy in nurturing your relationships. Here are three ways you can make sure you have a support network when you need it the most. 1. Create positive work relationships by being there for others You often need the support of others carry out a task or to achieve certain goals. ...

Give feedback effectively

What is feedback? The information given to an individual or a group about its prior behaviour and the consequent impact, so that the individual or group may adjust or reinforce its current and future behaviour to achieve a mutually agreed or desired result. There are many misconceptions about the practice of giving feedback. Some people see it as an opportunity to make a judgement about the other person or what they have done; they use it as a vehicle to tell them how to be something else or to do things in what they consider to be a better way. Very often feedback is only given when something goes wrong. To the contrary, feedback can and should be used as a tool to improve and maintain performance as part of an overall personal development process. The right kind of feedback can actually reinforce positive behaviour and actions, as well as draw attention to anything that is ineffective and that stands in the way of achieving good results. The fear of giving feedback is linked to a number of different issues: The practice of giving feedback is too often restricted to the annual performance review. This makes giving feedback more of an isolated event, separated by distance or time from the events to which it is related, and it is then approached with some trepidation by all parties. Replace this with the habit of offering regular and frequent feedback to those with whom you work.  Praise them for their accomplishments and achievements as well as making suggestions about how things could be done (or could have been done) differently. This...

Ask great questions

As a leader, it may be easy to impress with your knowledge but finding the right words at the right time to ask a great coaching question that focuses the attention of the listener where it most needs to be is a tough call. Why is this? Often, neither the person who is asking the question, nor the person who is being asked, realises consciously that the question prompts the listener in a certain direction and will generally predetermine the answer. In other words, you do really get what you ask for. As a leader who uses coaching questions, your choice of question will determine the direction of the coaching conversation. A great question not only makes the other person think and resonates with them but it also achieves your clear intent and purpose and moves the conversation in a good direction. This means asking yourself, “What do I hope to achieve with this question?” BEFORE you ask it. Being clear about what you want to achieve not only determines the words that you use and the type of question you choose but equally, determines the non–verbal communication that accompanies the question you are asking. Your non–verbal communication, by which we mean your body–language including gestures, facial expression as well as your tone of voice and vocal emphasis, can change the way in which a question is both asked and interpreted.  A simple question like “What do you think?” has different shades of meaning according to how the words are emphasised. For example, “What do you think?” (emphasis on you) is different to “What do you think?”(emphasis on the...

Teleconferencing: making a good impression

Most people understand that non-verbal signals (facial expression, body language) and voice tone have a strong impact on communication and how the communicator is perceived. In a teleconference, these non-verbal signals are missing so voice and tone become even more important. Listeners naturally use their imaginations and fill in the gaps. A presenter in such a virtual environment must compensate for missing signals by adapting his or her style to make a positive impression. Even though no-one can see you, sit in a relaxed way but with a good upright posture. Smile and use facial expressions, gestures as this has a positive impact on the voice and animates tone. It is essential to speak slowly and clearly, projecting your voice forward and using vocal variety. Asking rhetorical questions is one way to do this as they impact voice tone AND keep the audience involved. Finally,  keep slides simple and free of animation and transition effects and link your words closely to the visual support. In this way, you should be able to make a good impression!...

Communicating “with heart”

During a briefing session with a client last week to prepare for a presentation training programme for his team, I asked the question, “What should the participants be able to do (or do better) after the training, that they cannot currently do?” His answer was that they should be better speakers and presenters, able to get their message across and able to do it with heart. I probed a little so that we could set some specific goals – especially about what he meant by “with heart”. It became clear that he knew exactly what he meant but found it difficult to find words that expressed precisely what he had in mind. A few adjectives were used such as “lively” and also the phrase “speak directly to the listeners”.  I think what he really means is “be able to connect”.  The ability to connect can seem somewhat intangible and may often be a matter for personal opinion. This might explain why our client found it hard to find the right words to describe it. In setting this objective for his team though, he has recognised that both the content level and the relationship level are important for success in communication. Our tip to participants is that truly connecting is best achieved by a mix of addressing the needs and interests of the target audience and being authentic. Being authetic means having the courage to open yourself up, “letting go of who you think you should be to be who you are”.  This quote comes from a very inspiring (and funny talk) by Brené Brown, to be found at TED...

Keeping the brain young and fit

Searching for a birthday card recently for a friend, I came across one that read, “Inside every older person, there is a young one wondering what on earth happened.” (Text in italics loosely paraphrased for public consumption, of course!) There are many things we may choose to dispute but there is no getting around the fact that we all get older every day – even if we don’t always feel it.  In fact, there is a lot we can do to stay pro-actively young no matter what age we are. Physical fitness is important but so is keeping the brain young and fit. Working on our reaction time, focus, clarity of thinking sharpens our thought processes and is this is definitely a benefit for our communication skills. By happy coincidence, browsing on the website of Psychology Today, I came across a link to a site called “Lumosity” that claims to improve your brain health and performance and allows you to build a free and personalized on-line training programme to enhance memory and attention and track improvements. I’ve signed up, tried it out and found it great fun as well.  ...