Did I really say that?

The top tip in this story is to beware of the English language because it can trip you up so easily.

I was talking to a group of managers about Learning Styles. You don’t need to understand what Learning Styles are to understand the trouble I got myself into. Suffice to say that there are 4 and they are called Activist, Reflector, Theorist and Pragmatist. The way I facilitate this subject is to ask delegates to complete a simple questionnaire and identify which of A, R, T and P they score highest. I then group the delegates by their common letter and set them the task of trying to work out what the letter stands for. So far so good.

The A group went first and I asked them what they thought the A stood for. They did well and said the word Active which was close enough. Next went the R group and I asked them what word they thought represented R. They also did well and said Reflecting (again close enough). Next was the turn of the T group and I asked them what they though their word was. They said Thinkers and then with a bit of prompting Theorists. So far so good.

8244301_xl (1)

Now it came to the P group. Aware that the word Pragmatist is not in everybody’s vocabulary I must have been thinking of this when I asked the question ….. “so how would you define your Penis?”.

Well that is what people heard.

Obviously what I had said was “so how would you define your P-ness?” but by then the damage had been done and a shocked silence descended upon the room.

Thankfully the silence only lasted a second or two before giggles, chuckles and then guffaws replaced the silence. My embarrassment was complete however when some bright spark from the Activist group asked me if I would like them to redefine their A-ness!!!!

So, still blushing at the memory, I would like to wish each and every one of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. If you like a tuneful e-card please click on the link below and enjoy our chosen charity’s greeting.

Merry Christmas from all at The Reality Business

This year the Reality Business decided to send our Xmas Card budget to the charity Crash who do sterling work with the building industry to help the homeless. We have been fortunate to work with several clients in that sector this year so were delighted to do our bit.

Always Check your Facts

About this time last week I was relaxing on holiday in Turkey gently floating on a lilo in the stunning infinity pool. A sudden yell from my wife, a few feet away, interrupted my reverie as I heard her shout “that person has taken Agy’s (my daughter’s) towel from her sun lounger”. As I looked up I saw her pointing at the figure of a young man disappearing from the poolside carrying a blue towel and heading swiftly in the direction of some lodges. “Quick” she said, “go after him” and instinctively I swam to the edge of the pool hauled myself out and gingerly trotted up the path feeling the red hot paving under my feet.

“Hey you” I optimistically called out but the culprit was by now turning into a small garden seemingly unaware of my pursuit. As I reached the garden I called again and this time he turned around in surprise as he was unlocking the door. “You have taken my daughters towel” I said, hoping that my voice sounded assertive even though I knew I was slightly panting from the exertions. The man looked perplexed and said nothing as I reached out and took the offending item from him.

Upon returning poolside my wife somewhat sheepishly now advised me that in fact it was from a neighbouring sun bed that the towel had been retrieved and indeed Agy’s was where she had left it!

Had I double checked my source’s information I could have avoided one difficult conversation (let alone the comical sight of me running and the resulting burnt soles). As it was I now had to face up to a second potentially difficult conversation!

Fortunately the young man had not yet rounded up his larger relatives (he turned out to be one of a party of Russians) and I was able to mumble an apology and thrust the towel back into his arms before scarpering.

So let this be a lesson – always check your facts especially if they emanate from a third party however sincerely given.

blue towel

Beware Multiple Questions

set of hand drawn arrows and speech bubbles on cardboard  background, vector illustration

set of hand drawn arrows and speech bubbles on cardboard background, vector illustration

A common mistake made by managers when giving feedback is to ask questions which are unclear. This can easily make the conversation more difficult than it should have been.

Let me give you an example:

“Fred, I have noticed you have been late in submitting your figures for the last two weeks and this is having a knock-on impact delaying the new marketing campaign.”

(so far so good)

“What’s the problem? Is it to do with the new software or is it because you are waiting on Jim in sales? Is there anything I need to know and how can I help?”

(Fred now has a choice of which question to answer and will probably plump for the easiest)

“Thanks boss, no everything is now under control and I will let you know if I need any help.”

The result of the above exchange is minimal. The manager is none the wiser about what has happened and Fred is none the wiser as to what the manager wants him to do in future.

A much better question would have been:

“What’s the problem?”

(Fred talks about the situation and you listen, before asking a second question)

“What do you need to do to ensure your figures are always submitted on time in future?”

Multiple questions do not help the person receiving the feedback so keep your questions short, simple and only ask one at a time.

Reap What You Sow, by Steve Farmer

It has been a little while since my last tip and a couple of things have prompted me to get back in the swing of it. Firstly I have received several really nice bits of feedback saying how useful the old tips have been and that they have helped with some challenging conversations. Secondly I have run a ‘difficult conversations’ workshop this week and a new ‘top tip’ emerged from one of the ‘Real Play’ scenarios.

This scenario was different in that the difficult conversation was going to be with a person the manager had not met and did not know. In this case it was going to be a conversation with a key customer about outstanding invoices but it equally could have been any number of other situations where you need to influence or negotiate with a new customer/supplier/employer.

The manager in this instance was new in role and was picking up a problem that others had failed to resolve. He had been given snippets of information about the customer (a senior manager in a council department) and most of that feedback had been about how difficult this person was to deal with. Apparently he was unsmiling, short of time, unfriendly, only interested in own agenda and generally tough.

Now those things may well have been true and were shared honestly to try to help this manager. The problem in this case was that these impressions were used to shape the approach that this manager took. In the ‘Real Play’ (where an actor is the council manager) our manager had the conversation expecting bluntness and a battle and lo and behold that is exactly what he got back.

When we unpicked what had happened it started to emerge that our manager had almost tried to mirror his expectations. He had been unsmiling and serious. He had adopted a fixed posture and steely gaze which remained unaltered. He had used very direct language and failed to listen stating only his needs.

Management Tips Graphic - Businessman Reaps What He Sows

The beauty of ‘Real Play’ is that you can rewind and try different approaches. The second time our manager was more ‘himself’. He smiled a little more, was more relaxed and listened better. He put aside his script and responded to the other person and lo and behold a dialogue started with scope for better understanding and finding areas of mutual benefit.

The real meeting is due to take place next week and of course there is no guarantee it will go anything like our second iteration. However, I can guarantee it will certainly go like the first attempt if our manager assumes too much of how the other person is going to be.

Fundamentally whether the other person is an actor or a real person they will respond to your behaviours. In other words we reap what we sow.

Managing teams better for greater efficiency

‘What would you do?’
I was with a group of delegates chatting over dinner during a residential management workshop this week. During the day we had been discussing time management and delegation skills and had agreed that managers need to spend as much of their time as possible dealing with the most important tasks.

It was agreed that one of most effective activities to achieve this was the delegation to your team of those less important tasks.

One of the managers had been reflecting upon this and said he was struggling to see how he could apply the learning. Only that very day (whilst on the workshop) he had received 6 calls and emails from his team wanting his help in sourcing non-standard items for customers. He saw this as an important part of his role as experience had shown him that the extra effort in sourcing a solution often resulted in either a new or more loyal and therefore valuable customer.

I asked the manager about their team. The manager said that whilst they had a good team they did not feel any of them had the experience or as much passion as he did about providing this level of service. Their default solution therefore was to work extra hours to get everything done or if they were away from the office to explicitly instruct the team with step by step instructions of what to do.

What Would You Do? Management Graphic

The manager was well aware that his approach was not tenable in the long run and he wanted to trust his team more but did not know where to start. I asked him ‘what else could you do when you get a phone call from your deputy telling you about a challenging customer request?’ After a while the manager said ‘I suppose I could ask them what they would do… but what if they say they don’t know what to do or suggest something I don’t like?’

‘Good question’ I said. What would you do in that circumstance?’ There was a pause and then the manager smiled at me and said ‘I see what you’re doing. You are asking me for my solution before suggesting one yourself and that way I either feel empowered by my own ideas or supported if guidance is still needed. I suppose I could try this with my team!’

Using a phrase like ‘what would you do?’ is a coaching style of management and whilst not suitable for every situation it’s definitely one to have at your disposal. Especially if you are a bit of a control freak!

Talking v. Listening

There is a perception that in a difficult conversation it should be the manager who does virtually all of the talking. After all they have probably called the meeting, they should have a clear purpose and outcome in mind and of course should be prepared with some key questions and relevant data.

My experience shows that this one-way type conversation will quickly cease being a conversation and turn into something more akin to a moan, rant, tirade, monologue and general telling off. The other person will either pay minimal lip service or simply go silent and nothing of any value will have been achieved.

I am going to suggest that there is a different way

I am on fairly safe ground to suggest that the normal ratio of talking and listening for any conversation between two people should be about 50 / 50.

Conversations by definition must be two-way and a just because a conversation is difficult that should not radically change that natural dynamic.

However, I would suggest that 50% talking for a manager should be the maximum. Ideally aim to create an environment where you mostly listen and occasionally talk – let’s put the figure at 70 / 30.

How do I get to 70/ 30?

1. Avoid having a script
2. Outline your purpose and share your feedback
3. Ask a good question

4. Listen and ask more questions prompted by what your have heard
5. Listen and ask more questions to confirm and get commitment

In the next newsletter I will provide some top tips around the different sorts of questions that you can ask and where these are best placed to help achieve the 70 /30 ratio.