Tips and bytes
Information saturates every moment of our working lives – but as more and more becomes available it can be harder to make sense of it. What matters more than ever now is the ability to ‘join the dots’ – to put facts and information into context with credibility and emotional impact.
These are the skills communications practitioners, line managers and leaders need to have in abundance and at their fingertips.
What does this look like and what does it mean for those working in professional communications roles?
When I was at a business meeting recently, I noticed the energy in the room shift and change in response to two speakers in particular. One of them shared the journey of how he came to be there and a senior executive told us about the start of her day – how the demands of family breakfast echoed the antics of the workplace, giving her great ideas for talking to her team.
These two had us captivated. They were recounting genuine events and were doing so in a way that caused us to see them as caring human beings and to make key connections with the topic under discussion. They gave us their insights through a well told story and they gained, not just the attention of everyone in the room, but our belief in them – they gained us as followers.
This is what we need more of – communicators and communication that we engage with and believe in. People with the skills to present new insights by combining differing perspectives – joining up the dots in a different way and giving us a view of the future that then becomes positive, possible and even compelling.
And perhaps organisations are waking up to this – to the richness and depth involved in genuine workplace communication. Certainly, some are beginning to realise that it is no longer just about what the communications function is putting out there, but that it’s about everyone. Daron Aldridge, a senior US corporate communicator speaking in a recent issue of ICology says,” In all actuality, we have an entire employee base who could serve as positive communicators, if only they themselves were properly communicated with, engaged and trained.”
However, we are not there yet. Recent research* shows , 70% of all strategic change initiatives fail – not because of a lack of resources or know-how, but because of an inability to evolve the mind sets of those involved. Employees need to understand where the organisation is headed – and why – in a way that makes sense to them.
And a new study of 1,500 managers issued this year by the Chartered Management Institute and communications agency, Top Banana, shows a clear issue with the communications styles of senior business leaders – some 52% don’t make communication a priority.
This is unfortunate because when employees do hear about a strategy or change initiative from a respected manager, they are, on average, nine times** more likely to support it, than when they hear about it via any other channel.
This means we need to support managers to become skilled, empathic communicators able to input and shape communication from above and to build a bridge between the organisation’s needs as a whole and the needs and vision of the local team.
Communications functions must therefore evolve too – to see themselves as enablers of great communication across the organisation as well as continuing to be strategic advisers and creative content managers.
It’s a gear change that calls for new skills and a shift of emphasis and priority. Communications departments must role-model top notch skills and be actively involved in developing, coaching and spreading them organisation-wide. They must teach senior and line managers to connect themselves and employees to the business strategy and narrative.
In practice, this is likely to mean:
- Introducing a simplicity and immediacy to communication – not over-professionalising
- Shifting from sending messages to having real conversations – listening and responding and being open ‘in the moment’.
- Encouraging authenticity, personality and storytelling to come through at all levels of the organisation in the way managers and leaders talk and listen.
- Acting as organisational connectors – developing ways of facilitating conversations, large and small and creating an environment in which it is safe to speak up
- Commissioning communications coaching and training
This changing role of communications functions is an exciting one that will bring communications professionals greater influence and impact than ever before.
*Harvard Business Review, Cracking the Code of Change (2000) and IBM, Making Change Work
** Dr TJ Larkin, Larkin Communication Consulting
Learn how to tell stories for yourself and your organisation.
Stories are how we make sense of the world and when we understand how narrative works, we can deploy stories as a type of perceptual switch.
All of us tell personal and organisational stories to other people all the time. Although what is often missing is the purposeful use of story to inspire other meanings, to see things in a new light and help people move forward easily.
We also tell ourselves stories – but sometimes barely notice that is what we are doing. We join bits of information together to make sense of them and so construct an interpretation of events – a story – that may not always be the most helpful one. Good leaders and storytellers often build and extend on this. They draw parallels or use new stories that challenge our assumptions and shift and develop our understanding.
Narrative and illustrative thinking are increasingly being recognised in the business world as powerful and essential approaches in leadership, communications and branding. And are also fast becoming the focus of effective internal and external communications strategies.
This is because stories:
- CONNECT. They help us pass on ideas and messages in a way that connects and attunes. Through stories we can connect with people, we can connect people to ideas and we can connect our teams to a higher sense of purpose and business understanding.
- MOVE PEOPLE TO ACTION. Stories talk to the unconscious as well as the conscious mind. They can trigger the emotive responses that truly drive our behaviour and so are more powerful than other linguistic forms of information. Your ideas become more compelling.
- ARE REMEMBERED in a way that other information is not. Stories activate the more experiential areas of our brains – triggering superior recall and more meaning than when similar information is delivered as words, lists or Power Point!
The structure of stories more closely reflects our natural thinking states – and when storytelling becomes an intuitive and authentic part of our skill set, it is a powerful persuader, helping shift beliefs and change views. If you would like to learn more and to practise these skills for yourself, join us on our open storytelling workshop below or contact us about story coaching or in-house team support.
Read more or book a place on our next open workshop – Storytelling at Work – central London.
If you can’t make this date or would prefer to hold an in-house session or programme of change, please email us from here.
Take a single water molecule; learn all you want about its structure and properties and you will still have no inkling of how it will behave when it meets other water molecules at 1C.
At this temperature, a collection of water molecules will be both liquid water and solid ice - the change in state is due to a transformation in the network of their interactions.
And with people too, no amount of information at the individual level can hope to reveal the patterns that make a group of people function as it does - the larger the group, the more complex the patterns. [January 2014] » Read more
Teams and groups hold tremendous potential because of this network of interactions – and when we can tap into it and manage it well, we can achieve results that go far beyond what could have been achieved with the same numbers working separately. The best meetings happen when not just the interactions between people, but the relationships they have with each other, with the data, the task and the process of reaching an outcome are all noticed and catered for as a whole.
For smaller, day-to-day meetings this may not be an issue but for larger groups this is often harder to handle and people can develop a sense of overwhelm or frustration at the lack of progress.
When neutrality is key or when the future of anything important – a strategic decision, a project-team kick-off, a stakeholder consultation – is on the line, you may want to draw on the services of an external facilitator to ensure that all aspects of the human dynamic and of information management are managed in the best possible way.
An experienced facilitator not only frees everyone up to focus on the topic in hand but also helps create an environment – a temperature and chemistry – where everyone can do their best thinking.A trained facilitator will advise you on developing a workable agenda and will:
- Help a group relate so that people are comfortable saying what needs saying
- Develop a clear pathway through the conversation and hold them to it – provide structure and processes
- Simplify things for the group, seeking to make shifts in attention appropriate for the stage and nature of the conversation
- Respond to the ‘voice’ of the group – ensure everyone is heard, feels heard and is working on or talking about what they want to be talking about
- Manage the group’s emotive responses – mood and energy.
With the right skills, tools and approaches, you can reconcile difference, make lasting decisions, achieve consensus, make progress and lift spirits. You can access the collective wisdom of a group or team and see it develop a functionality and a dynamic above and beyond its technical expertise. We offer facilitation for external meetings or for leaders and their teams. If you would like our insight paper on some of the skills of facilitation (first see our article on the speech slope above) or to have a meeting facilitated along these lines. Click here
We are not referring to your ability to speak or string words together but to something rather deeper and more difficult to do – your ability to reach higher levels of shared meaning when it matters.
Do you know which form of speech to use and when? Are you and others in the team prepared to let go of a ‘win-lose’ way of thinking, to be curious about other perspectives and to shift towards genuinely thinking together, rather than thinking individually and only talking together?
If you only talk, debate, discuss or argue with colleagues and clients, then you are unlikely to achieve the high levels of mutual understanding required for genuine commitment and collaborative working. For this you need to be able to hold ‘true dialogue.’
[January, 2014] » Read more
Dialogue is a conversation in which people ‘think together’ in relationship. Its purpose is to go beyond any one person’s understanding. When you hold a dialogue, you are not seeking to win, but to achieve a better outcome for all concerned – dovetailing individual outcomes as you proceed.
To enter into dialogue, you must be willing to park your ego and believe that you don’t necessarily have the best or right answer. You relax your grip on certainty and listen to the possibilities that result simply from being in a relationship with others. From this receptivity come questions that lead to a more fulsome understanding. You suspend your own position, your own world view and welcome the conversation as a collective exploration – a voyage of joint discovery not a competition to win or do battle.
Learning to dialogue means you leverage the enormous benefits of different perspectives and develop a broader, richer end result. Dialogue is respectful and is a skill essential to achieving consensus decisions where there are complex issues with no easy answers.
There is also risk in entering dialogue and surfacing true differences. You must be willing to take some personal risk, to increase the trust you place in those you deal with and to share more in order to reach decisions that are richer, more creative and truly owned by all involved. It is challenging work and the temptation will be to stay in discussion and defend your point of view.
When you want to have true dialogue and increase the level of shared meaning between you all, you will need to slow down, park your doubting mind and become curious. You can then ask yourself, how might that be true? If you need to shift somebody else from a debate or discussion to finding dialogue, then first listen so they are truly heard (empathic listening) and then shift to questions that have a solution-focus.
These questions can help you shift:
- What is it that you see that I don’t?
- How do you see this differently and why?
- I am realising as we talk that I don’t fully understand how you see this problem. Perhaps you can help me understand from your perspective?
Dialogue is also one of the most powerful and precious gifts leaders can give to their teams. If you are a leader, you can do this by devoting the time to grow dialogue skills and personally modelling them in your daily communications.
We offer workshops, coaching and facilitation to guide leaders and their teams on this approach. If you would like our insight paper on this topic, to have a meeting facilitated along these lines or to develop these skills in your team. click here.
In this first Fruitful Conversation, Helen Toogood, Vice President - New Ways of Working at Unilever IT has kindly agreed to reveal her innermost thoughts on how she uses engaging leadership to create new ways of working at Unilever IT.
When I heard Helen Toogood speak at a conference, I sat up and took notice. She was talking about embedding change in business teams at Unilever and yet here she was showing me a picture of the Queen... [March 2010] » Read more
This may sound like astute attention grabbing for a dry subject but in fact it is more than that – the Queen was included because Helen thinks carefully about her audience. With the picture of the Queen, she was giving us a visually appealing and easy way into the fundamentals of her own leadership style. Through the picture her message was – ensure people know you as a brand, flag change up, keep some things comfortable and, of course, retain what’s good – hang on to the organisation’s crown jewels.
- Take a moment to re-live a time when you were successfully influenced by a friend or colleague
- Step back into your experience and notice what was happening for you and what you felt about that person.
- What do you learn that changes how you might now influence others?
Typically when we ask groups how they ‘influence’ and how they ‘are influenced’ – the answers are very different.
More than 100 corporate leaders receiving our coaching in leadership and communication have rated it as one of the most valuable elements in their recent personal development. Nearly 90% of this group also reported that:
‘It had challenged them to think about effective communication in a very different way and this would definitely improve their approach.' [May 2011] » Read more
This is a timely intervention for these leaders as – according to Critical Eye, the network site for leaders, too little is usually done in developing leaders for the communications excellence demanded of them in the radical transparency of the modern world. Interviews (by Kevin Murray, Chairman of the Bell Pottinger Group) with 60 CEOs and Chairmen of high profile, global organisations revealed their collective belief that communication is now a Top 3 Skill of Leadership and more needs to be done in developing future leaders in this area.