Are your communication patterns working against you?

Are your communication patterns working against you?

We are primarily creatures of habit.  We follow similar patterns of behaviour day to day whether it be the way we get ourselves ready for work, the way we travel to and from destinations, the way we plan and arrange our lives.  From a brain perspective they conserve energy, and prevent us becoming overwhelmed as we don’t have to constantly be making decisions on what to do and how to do it. Most of the time these patterns and habits serve us well; in fact 95% of our day is undertaken through our subconscious habits and patterns of behaviour.   This includes the habits we have for communication and the conversations we hold.  Many of our conversations are scripted from our subconscious mind and thus can be detrimental to us and those around us we love and care for.

Through my work with clients I help them see the impact their patterns of communication have on others.  Recently, one of my clients was frustrated because, even though he was a senior engineer, he felt no one listened to him or wanted to agree with him . Feedback showed that he was perceived as arrogant and he didn’t listen to what others had to say.  My client had no awareness of any of this and this insight hurt him.  He had always believed the breakdown in communication was the fault of others.

My client is very loyal to the company and passionate about helping it thrive.  He works very hard and, given his intelligence, he often did have the right answer.  None of this mattered because his communication patterns didn’t align his impact with his intention.

He would into the meeting with a clear intention albeit an inwardly focused one, to have everyone agree with his opinion.  When he didn’t get what he expected, he said he felt his professionalism was being threatened.  He then responded with more of the same unhealthy patterns of behaviour and it spirals down from there.

When we are inwardly focused, we don’t see the impact our communication patterns have on others.

Judith E Glaser, founder of Conversational Intelligence® and the Creating WE Institute® has identified seven habits / patterns that disrupt relationships and can have a profound impact on others

Seven I-Centric Habit Patterns

As you read the following seven I-centric habit patterns, identify ones that do not serve your organization and see them as opportunities to develop WE-centric patterns. Monitor your impact. Notice how, by shifting to WE-centric patterns, you increase positive energy, focus your colleagues on creating the future, and enable greater leadership behaviours in everyone.

  1. So, I’m the boss:Fear of giving up power and control; the belief that you need to tell people what to do.

       Impact: You do it all; limit the accountability of others; fail to access organizational genius.

  1. I’ve got a case on you:Blame others for making mistakes; build cases and play off weaknesses; be judgmental.

      Impact: Holding grudges; resting on your laurels, limiting growth; negative workplace culture.

  1. Giving up, giving in.Fear of the future; resigned to less than what you want; bailing out; hopelessness; loss of will.

      Impact: Stagnation, loss of will, dissatisfaction, and frustration.

  1. Hanging on for dear life:Fear of sharing; holding on to knowledge and past successes; carrying baggage.

      Impact: Destroys relationships; limits potential; limits personal power.

  1. Know it all:Has all the answers; doesn’t listen to others.

      Impact: Assumptions and inferences; closed-down space.

  1. I lost my voice!Accept authority; follow Groupthink and maintains the status quo; unwilling to rock the boat; unsure of own voice. 

      Impact: Mediocrity; loss of insight and inspiration.

  1. Taking it to heart:Taking others’ points of view to heart; loss of trust in instincts; negative self-talk.

      Impact: Loss of spirit and self-esteem; stops engaging.

The good news is that we can overcome our patterns and learn new and better ways to interact and communicate with others.  It is all about understanding how words and actions impact on our brains and knowing how to change the impact through better use of words and conversations.

Conversational Intelligence® is a learnable skill that will radically transform your relationships, your business, and your teams.  It is simple, practical and transformational.

When you find yourself frustrated or angry during a meeting, take a step back and take note of what is happening.

  • Who is doing all the talking?
  • Who is listening?
  • What are they trying to say?
  • Are the questions engaging or leading?
  • Are the questions opening up the conversational space or closing it down?

Once you learn what communication patterns are working against you, you can then work to improve them using these 4 tactics.

  1. Talk less and listen more
  2. Ask questions from a point of curiosity and wanting to know more
  3. Keep an open mind
  4. Ask permission to have your say

And remember………“Everything happens from conversation”

Career development with purpose

Career development with purpose

When we think about a career may consider the skills, knowledge and functional experience in what we do.  We may consider how we do what we do.  We might deliver and share for others, research, or create.  We may consider industries like health or education, or companies in the public, private or not for profit.  We have a lot of options in how we do what we do.

However there is one thing that is foundational and critical regardless of what you do and how you do it.  It will create unparalleled momentum in achieving your aspirations.

Why do you do what you do.

Whether your role is a coordinator, designer or manager, you can gain immense clarity and direction by understanding what your purpose is as an L&D practitioner.  Ask yourself

  • What do I want to achieve?
  • Why is this important to me?
  • What is my intention?
  • What do I want others to achieve?
  • Why is this important to me?

Many people work hard in roles yet remain unfulfilled internally. They may see their jobs as a means to an end.  They may have bigger plans.  You know the “one day I am going to……”   It might be that the values or purpose of others have been imposed on them causing them to do things at are dissatisfying or uninspiring.

There is a saying that if you find your passion you never have to work another day in your life.  Finding your purpose is a means to finding your passion.

How would that look for you?

Studies have found that L&D professionals are intrinsically motivated by what they do.  They love teaching, designing, researching, and coordinating.  They are also highly motivated to learn. Keeping abreast of what you do and how you do it are part of being an L&D professional.

But this can be limiting

Over my career I have worked with many L&D teams.  I have seen them design and deliver many programs, some fantastic, some not so.

I understood that this is what L&D people did.  They designed and delivered programs.  However they also received a lot of flak.  I believe that this happens when L&D professionals are so passionate about what they do: training, teaching, &/or designing.  They did what they do best however others would struggle to grasp the meaning or the value.

Credibility and respect comes from the value others perceive in you.  I can deliver a fantastic program but if you don’t understand why I did so, the value dwindles.  This is the importance of knowing your purpose

For example, just say I am asked by the senior leadership team to design a program to improve collaboration across the teams.  I would ask some questions and gather information to scope out the project and put together a proposal for approval.  I get approval to roll out a 3 hour program across all teams using an external provider on “Tools to improve collaboration.”  My job is done.

Now let’s look at this same scenario with me having a clearly defined purpose.  Let’s say that my purpose as an L&D professional is to unlock the potential in people.

All of a sudden I have a navigation point to move towards.  Now the focus is not to improve collaboration across teams but how does collaboration lock/unlock peoples’ potential and what is missing/broken/not working here?    This encourages me to look at the request in a very different light.  It also encourages me to look at other programs I have put together because they already link to my purpose and I want to make sure this one does too.

Now I have something inspiring, challenging and exciting to work towards.  In helping the business solve a problem I nourish my purpose.

Regardless of the requests, when you know your purpose you immediately have a reference point.  Customer Service training, high risk safety training, how to do performance appraisals, each program is now opportunity for you to deliver on your purpose.

How does knowing my purpose impact my career?

When you know why you are doing what you do, you provide clarity for others.  People can see a pattern or a link with everything your do.  Your programs and methods of delivery consistently align.  The value you add therefore will be easier to measure and deliver.  This is because your purpose sets the scene:  people get it, see it, and then believe in it.

This is where your value will be realised.

And that is good for your promotion prospects.

When people perceive value in what you do, they ask for more.  Because you are grounded in why you do what you do, you consistently deliver with the right programs in the right context.  You change from being an L&D practitioner to a true business partner.

Your purpose will remain with you along your career path.  It may evolve and become better defined but the essence won’t change.  Every promotion and new job simply gives you new scope to work towards your purpose.  If in your career you move from the role of coordinator, to business partner, to the Manager of the L&D team, or whether you move from a large corporation into a small practice, your purpose still rings true.

How do you find your purpose?

This is simple in concept but challenging in practice.  Look back over your life and find patterns that link with what you do today.  Your purpose has been there for a long time, you just haven’t discovered it yet.  When you find these patterns put some words around it to make it a statement and then ask yourself why.  Here’s an example

Patterns: I played the teacher as a child.  I coached my local soccer team.  I volunteered as a tutor at uni.

Discovery: I like teaching people – Why?

I love it when it when they get that “aha” moment – why?

I love helping them become a better person.

My purpose: to help others become a better person.

The beauty about knowing your purpose is that it will guide you through your career.  You will know when it is time to move to the next stage of your career.

Have I done all I can in achieving my purpose in this role?

Yes – time for a change,

No – what should I do differently/ focus on now?

So instead of focusing just on what you do and how you do it, which is very important and shouldn’t be under estimated, now is the time to also focus on why.  It really is the icing on the cake.

Now you can have your cake and eat it to.

I was inspired to write this blog having read Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why”.  If you find yourself unfulfilled in your career in anyway I highly recommend this book.  You can also view is TedTalks on youtube.


Forming new habits- how to support in 5 steps

Forming new habits- how to support in 5 steps

I recently received a flyer promoting a 2 day training program on Consulting Skills.  Now I have nothing against training programs and I believe that when done well they do deliver some value.

This program seemed jam packed with tools and techniques for example if you signed up for this 2 day program you received:-

  • The 34 essentials you need to begin a successful initiative
  • The 9 important steps to ensure you add value
  • The knowledge of when to use Expert and Collaborative modes
  • The 24 ways to run better initial meetings
  • The 4 powerful ways to boost your active listening
  • The 20 ways to increase your information gathering
  • The keys for building rapport and overcoming resistance
  • Over 150 action steps and 10 important ways to boost your effectiveness
  • A 7-step process to help you say no
  • The 23 ways to prepare persuasive presentations
  • The 6 ways to handle difficult people during presentations
  • The next steps to lock in client commitments
  • The 30 practical ways to reposition your team as business partners
  • The list goes on

As I read through the substantial list I could feel myself becoming a bit overwhelmed.  This program seems to provide you with a tool or technique to deal with every situation a Consultant may face.

I don’t believe that this training program developer had an expectation that you would be an expert in everything they cover in the two days.  They probably would like you to know that there is a tool or technique to use and where to find it.  But how many would develop the habits to start using them?

If the statistics are anything to go by, we tend to remember less than 10% of what we learn in a training program.  Why? Because our old habits rule.  What support can leaders give to support developing new habits?

I remember working with a senior manager at a previous company who was honoured to have been sent on a leadership program costing over $10,000 + flights/accommodation.  However 12 months later, he hadn’t worked on any of the actions he wanted to as a result of the training.  Worse still his manager had never had a conversation with him about the training program.

The opportunity for this manager to unlock and realise their potential was lost.

I believe that the majority of participants who attend training programs do so with the best of intentions of developing new skills and knowledge to make them better in their jobs.

I also believe that the majority of training providers develop their programs with the intention of providing new skills and knowledge so that participants improve and are better in their jobs.

Both parties come together with great intention but what is the real impact?

Usually very little.

Unfortunately there is a big gap between what the participant learns at the training course and what they actually do with it.  Our habits are so strong that we need to make the changes.  I see this being a great opportunity for a leader make a real impact and receive good return on their investment at the same time.

Here is why.

When we attend good quality training programs, we activate our prefrontal cortex which opens us up to discovering new perspectives, exploring new concepts and seeing new possibilities of what we can do with the new knowledge.

Next, our Neo Cortex is activated so we process the new information by analysing it and putting it into practice through various program activities such as role plays, group discussions, case studies etc.  These two parts of our brain are generally what we use when we attend training programs.

Our brains are filled with oxytocin which makes us feel happy, engaged, and trusting of others.  We enjoy this feeling.

But in order for the new skills and knowledge to really stick, we also need to engage our limbic brain.  We need to form new habits.

The limbic brain is where we store memories and habits.  It is also where our emotions are centred.  The limbic brain is one of our oldest brain regions and operates without consciousness.

The limbic brain works side by side with the primitive brain and together they remain vigilant for potential threat and harm.  It is our default system and has been very successful in keeping the human race surviving.

Going back to our scenario, the employee returns to work and the high levels of oxytocin experienced during the training have now disappeared.  The employee faces the reality of the work place and starts to feel uncertain or even anxious about whether the changes they want to make should actually happen.  This is our primitive brain in action.  It is checking for potential threats and risks.  Our preference for stability and certainty overwhelm our desire for something different and we so feel uncertain.  Most of us lose our motivation at this stage as it all looks too hard.

We may survive, we just won’t thrive.

Think about how you operate every day.  From your routine of getting out of bed and getting to work on time; where you sit in a meeting; and how you go about attending to your workload.  For most of us, these are things we do without thinking.  They are habits; safe predictable sets of behaviours which our primitive brain loves. We are surviving.

Around 95% of what we do in a day we do without really thinking about it.  We live our lives primarily by our habits and beliefs.

Our brain’s wiring supports these habits through strong networks of neuron activations.  The more we use the networks the stronger the connections become.  This is why habits are so difficult to change.

You cannot break habits you can only replace them.

Think about this

When you were a child you would have learnt the words to a song and you would have sung it a lot.  Many years later you are able to sing that song even though you haven’t done for so long.  By learning the words to the song and singing it repeatedly you create a strong network of neural activity in your brain – just like a habit.  All of us know the words of hundreds of songs, each replacing the former.  We never think about the song unless we are prompted to reactivate the network by hearing the tune or reliving a past memory in our mind.  Studies have found patients with Dementia can even remember songs yet cannot recognise family.

Just like you cannot forget a song, you cannot break a habit; they somehow remain intact in the electro-chemical systems of the brain.

Instead of breaking old/ineffective habits replace them.

This is easier said than done given our brain’s preference for stability and consistency.

People say it takes 21 days to develop a new habit or 3 months for people to really change.  What they are essentially saying is that it takes time and repetition to build a new neural network in your brain.

Leaders can have a significant role to play here in helping employees close the gap between intention and new habit formation through supporting their development of new brain networks.  The best asset a leader can possess is the ability to ask questions that prompt deep thinking and insight to make these connections.

Here are some guidelines that leaders can follow to increase the opportunity of forming new brain networks

Create the attachment

We commonly talk about what we want to do and how we will do it.  However not a lot of people know why they do what they do.  You will come to recognise this by their answers such as “because it’s easier or, “because it saves money”.  These answers have no connection to the emotions located in the limbic brain.

Unless we understand why we want to do it we will fail to connect with the limbic brain and therefore we will struggle to create a new habit.  The old habit has an emotional connection, even though you may not know what it is.  It will always the default habit if an emotional connection is not found for the new network.

Creating the attachment to our emotions is the first stage of developing lasting change.

Going back now to the employee who has just returned from the training course let’s just say that they want to implement the “7 step process to say “no””.

To help them discover why they want to do this, a good place to start would be to explore the employee’s reasons and why it is important for them to focus on this technique.

Use questions like

  • Why did this technique stand out most for you?
  • If you did this process, how do you see yourself in the future?
  • What do you believe stands in your way of achieving the change?
  • What will success look like?

Tiny steps

Often times when we set ourselves goals, we inadvertently set ourselves up for failure.  Remember that our brains prefer stability not change.  If the goal creates too much uncertainty our limbic brain it will trigger a threat/fear response causing us to resist.

The key is to use tiny challenges.

Instead of expecting our employee to implement a whole process, encourage the employee to break down their goal into tiny challenges and to tackle these one at a time.

For example in 2016 the Manager of the British Olympic cycling association created enormous success for his athletes by breaking each section of their cycling strategies into very small activities.  He then asked the coaches to look for a 1% improvement in each of the activities.  The result of that was the British cycling team won their first Olympic gold medals in many years at the London Olympics.

The key – do small activities and small improvements

Experiment and test

The real success of coaching is allowing the employee to experiment, improve, and repeat.  It is the classic sports coaching technique.  An athlete for example completes the task, and then sits down with the coach to discuss the results in detail and decide what would be an appropriate adjustment.  The athlete goes out and experiments again and repeats the process.   Tiny challenges tested and then improved.

Reflect  and repeat

This is the often neglected phase of helping employees create new neural networks for improvements to their behaviour/performance.  It is further compounded by the fact that we have become so busy in our lives that we feel we have little time to spend reflecting.

From a brain network strengthening perspective, reflection is a key part.  When we reflect we visualise in our minds ie we create a movie, of what happened.  We can visualise scenarios and analyse our efforts and impact.

Did you know that around 65% of our brain is used for visual processing?

Well before our ancestors had language they drew pictures and created dances to tell stories and communicate.  The strength of reflection comes from this very ability.  It helps us connect new learning with existing knowledge and to predict an outcome.

Leaders can encourage this brain activity by encouraging the employee to reflect on their experience each time they practice/experiment by answering three questions

  • What happened?
  • What worked?
  • What could be done differently next time?

Deliver on commitments

I haven’t met a person who hasn’t been disappointed by a promise being broken by someone.

Promises and commitments connect deeply with our need to trust and belong.  When promises are made, as recipients of the promise, we put in place an agreement that has no guarantee.  We have no control over the outcome and so we are left feeling vulnerable.  This is a very risky state for our brains as we are pretty much putting ourselves at risk for potential harm.  However our need to trust and to belong are very strong and so we are prepared to accept a promise/commitment because we believe that the rewards for doing so are worthwhile.

This is why we feel so disappointed when a promise is broken.  Our ability to trust impacts us at our core.

When coaching an employee remember that is already a risky exercise for them.  It is essential therefore to build trust by agreeing to and delivering on your commitments.  Again just a couple of simple questions is all that is needed

  • What will you commit to doing?
  • What I commit to do?

Send a quick email to confirm and then act.

The training program I used in this blog has so many tools and techniques an employee would struggle to implement them all.  When there are a number of actions or tools, an employee is better served by focussing on one at a time.  This may sound time consuming but if you repeated the process explained above over the course of a year your employee may have implemented up to twelve new skills / behaviours, and that is usually 12 more than they will have achieved on their own.

A goal broken into tiny challenges is far more palatable for the brain’s mechanisms leading to greater achievement.

Finally, you may read this and think this is all well and good but you don’t have time put all this effort in one employee.  I invite you to consider this

By having the right conversation and asking good questions, these conversations can be achieved in 15 minutes.

That’s just long enough to enjoy a cup of coffee with them.

Creative Thinking – it’s child’s play

Creative Thinking – it’s child’s play

It’s a sign of the times really.  We have become increasingly busy in our work and private lives.  Talk to anyone and they will lament about how they have no time.  They say they are so busy that they don’t have the chance to be bored.

One of my clients believes whole heartedly that kids should be allowed to be bored during school holidays.  She believes it’s the best way for them to spark their creative thinking and imagination.  She believes her boys will benefit from having the chance to think creatively and make up games to play.

I remember when our stepdaughters were young and spent school holidays with us.  I too believed that kids should be allowed to be bored and that they didn’t need to be entertained every day.  Unfortunately on their “bored” days they literally sat around and did little of their own entertaining.  It was as though they were unable to be creative.

But during summer holidays something wonderful happened.  They couldn’t wait to go in the swimming pool where they’d spend hours playing delightfully girly games of mermaids and living on tropical islands.  For some reason they weren’t able to tap into their imagination when they were in the house, but could readily do so when in the pool.

It was an early lesson for me about the importance of environment on creative thinking.

We are all capable of being creative regardless of what we think.  I have often said that I don’t possess a creative bone in my body.  But my understanding of what being creative meant was limited.  I perceived creativity to be about art and music both of which I don’t do well at.  However I recently discovered that I have a creativeness when it comes to problem solving.  This is when I feel I am at my most creative.

What stops our ability to be creative?

Brain scans show high levels of activity in prefrontal cortex when we are thinking creatively.  This means that many of the networks associated with creative thinking are centred in the prefrontal cortex.

Research has also shown that when we feel distrust, insecurity and/or threat this triggers the release of cortisol which prepares the body for a fight or flight response.  Cortisol shuts down the activity in the prefrontal cortex to conserve energy rendering it ineffective.

When our prefrontal cortex functionality is impacted by cortisol, our ability to innovate and create is reduced.

So it’s not that we able to think creatively, we need to feel safe and trusted in order to be so.  We need to have our prefrontal cortex open and operating.

How does creative thinking or a lack thereof, impact a business?

We often hear the need for employees to be creative, adaptable and flexible in order for the company to thrive in today’s challenging environment.   They are certainly key ingredients for business success.

However this can imply that the responsibility for being innovative and creative lies with the individual: that employee contribution and the working environment are not linked.

In reality it is the Leaders who need to create an environment that encourages employees to engage their prefrontal cortex.  They are the ones who must model and develop the relationships, the conversations and the engagement of the workforce.  Great leaders have great followers. They know that trust and healthy relationships bring the best out of people.  Neuroscience shows the impact of good leadership and how it triggers activity in the prefrontal cortex rather than the threat response regions of the brain.  Great leaders may not understand neuroscience; they just know that what they do works.

A “prefrontal cortex” friendly culture is one where all employees feel that they belong.  Their position descriptions are clear and they understand the contribution their role makes towards the vision of the company.  They feel that they can talk openly and frankly about their aspirations and their concerns without fear of judgment or retribution.  They feel challenged, trusted, and respected and have the resources needed to succeed.  Creative thinking is possible in all employees when the environment is right.

When a workplace has such a culture you will find high levels of collaboration, continuous improvement and achievement.  Systems and processes will run smoother, relationships with customers and suppliers will be stronger and the company may well be far more successful than they thought possible.   This all contributes to a healthy bottom line.

Of course this isn’t a warm and fuzzy scenario.  Success and achievement only happens with effort.

When leaders have the trust of their team, and vice versa, they can challenge the team more and place greater levels of responsibility on them.  They can push them out of their comfort zones and through difficult situations.  When conflict arises, and it will, they can resolve them in a manner that maintains the relationships.

This is what Apple did between 2003 and 2006.

Steve Jobs wanted to create the Apple “smart phone” (not called that at the time).  He wanted to take the functionality of a laptop/ tablet and put it into a mobile phone.  Whilst tablets were coming more popular, significantly increasing the functionality of mobile phones was something new.   Apple brought some of their engineers together and they were given the brief to design and create a mobile phone capable of the same functionality as you had in a laptop or tablet.

Steve Jobs’ vision was clear and so was their need to be highly innovative.  They had to operate using their prefrontal cortex simply because whilst there was a vision, there were no instructions.  The engineers had to work together to develop something completely new.   They had to take existing functionality and fit it inside a mobile phone.  They needed to collaborate, innovate, design, and experiment in order to make it possible.

Yes there were high expectations for them to deliver, Steve Jobs is well known to be highly driven, but there was also the trust, resources, and the space given for the engineers to thrive.

In 2007 the I-phone was released.  Steve Jobs’ vision that mobile phones were the future for portable information has certainly come to fruition, however it was his engineers’ creativeness that made it happen.  This would not have been possible if they were unable to access their prefrontal cortex.  It would not have happened if they felt threatened and judged.

How different would it be if we were all able to work with the imagination of 5-7 year olds, working together in thinking up different scenarios, developing new ideas for using the resources available to us, sharing what the future could be like?

The truth is our childhood brain still exists; it is called our Prefrontal Cortex.  Over the years we have put the brakes on it.  We really can change the future by changing how we use our brain.  If we focus on the environment in which we and our employees work in, we can significantly enhance the creative thinking which will lead to improvements in all areas of the business.