Monthly Archives: March 2008

Blocks to Good Communication

There is no doubt that one of the greatest skills to develop in business and in life is that of being able to communicate clearly. That means not only being able to articulate your thoughts, ideas and needs clearly, but also being able to listen to others and being able to absorb their thoughts, ideas and needs.

It sounds simple but there are often significant hurdles to overcome and blocks to clear communication. Part of becoming a better manager is becoming aware of those blocks, recognising what is causing them and them generating a strategy for overcoming them.

As with most management behaviours, it requires a combination of knowledge, skill and attitude to create a positive outcome. Think of the blocks to communication as a wall between 2 people that want to share information. Each gap in knowledge and skill becomes a brick in that wall.


Presence in the Moment: You have to be fully engaged in the conversation, listening actively and asking questions for understanding and clarification. Often people use the time when others are speaking to think up their response. This is called the monologue of the deaf where 2 people talk ‘at’ each other rather than ‘with’ each other.

Qualities and Attitudes: Do you show respect and empathy to each other? Is there any indifference and hostility on either side that reflects a deeper problem than just the issue you are discussing?

Beliefs and Assumptions: What assumptions are you making about the other person and what assumptions are they making about you. These issues are often the heart of cultural problems experienced in organisations so question your assumptions routinely to see if they are still valid.

Hidden Agendas: Often people are less open and honest because they are pursuing a hidden agenda. Perhaps they are being silent because they are unprepared or feel vulnerable. Perhaps they are being defensive because they perceive the conversation may result in an unpalatable outcome? Perhaps they are trying to control and manipulate you into acting a certain way. Hidden agendas often block communications because they stop people talking in an open and honest way.

Goals for the Outcome: You need to know what you both want so that the communication moves towards an acceptable outcome. Deception, hidden agendas, and ambiguity can lead to misleading information being passed and a subsequent loss of trust. Ensure you both understand the outcome and agree to move towards it.

Skills in Communication: Sometimes people struggle with their articulation or perhaps do not have the economy of words to ensure accurate, brief and clear communication. Perhaps struggle in getting their idea across. Perhaps they repeat themselves or the same point in the same way because they lack the verbal flexibility to change their approach. This requires some understanding on both sides so that both can work together to share the idea or information.


As well as knowledge and attitude based blocks to communications, people often display behaviours that can inhibit clear communication. You are probably aware of some of these behavioural style already. Each has very definite characteristics and different effects on the communication.

The Mumbler: Despite knowing how to communicate, the mumbler lacks confidence and their input is loss or misinterpreted because it is poorly articulated.

The Know It All: The know it all seem to have the answer for everything and provide that answer even if it isn’t correct. Often compensating for feelings of inadequacy they see information as a means to compete with the others in the conversation.

The Interrupter: The Interrupter uses the time when they are not talking to plan what they are next going to say and then when they have formulated their statement, say it without any respect for others or who is still talking.

The Sentence Finisher: The sentence finisher is often galloping ahead in the conversation and make assumptions about where your thoughts are going. Impatient with the pace they will often complete your sentence (frequently incorrectly) and move on to their next point without really listening to you.

The Gabler: The gabler talks to retain attention often to avoid the illusion that they have nothing of value to add. Their statements are often vague and full of extra redundant words.

The Speech Giver: The speech giver uses every opportunity to speak, non stop, on their subject, evangelising their ideas and using the conversation as an opportunity to get out their soap box and push their own agenda.

The Egotist: The egotist uses the word ‘I’ more than ‘We’. They use the conversation as an opportunity to evoke admiration of those around but trying to force admiration only creates alienation.

Once you recognise that you and your team are not communicating well, you can begin to identify the reasons and begin to address that shortfall. Remember that often, as a manager you will have limited time to communicate the idea. Limited time, however, does not relieve you of the responsibility for communicating well. It takes time, effort and a degree of flexibility but the outcomes are increased understanding, trust and output, and are clearly worth the effort.


Dare to Aspire


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Organisations spend significant amounts of time and money recruiting the best people they can. But retaining quality people is often more difficult than recruiting talented people in the first place. Many companies do not have active staff retention procedures and often rely only on financial leverage to keep a top performer in the company.

There are, however, several simple techniques in addition to financial retention incentives ,that you can employ to help retain the quality, talented people that you need to keep your business thriving:

1. Create a challenging environment – There are not many talented people who want that talents to be wasted on projects that offer no challenge, responsibility or kudos. Not providing a challenge will most likely force a person to increase their own challenge by looking for a better employer. Find your talented people and give them the challenge they need to thrive and grow.

2. Favourable work environment – Poor working environments are one of the major reasons that people state for leaving their job. It could be the physical environment, the culture, the managers or even the restrictions of the policies and processes that are at fault. The working environment needs to be conducive to people enjoying their work.

3. Flexitime – Life is pretty complex, more so than it has ever been. The goodwill you engender in your staff just by allowing a degree of flexibility in their working time is worth the effort required to manage the different schedules people want to work.

4. Additional Holiday- No-one on their death bed ever said, ‘I wish I had spent more time in the office’. Allowing people more time off, allows them to relax, de stress and become more innovative, creative and productive when they return.

5. Stock Options – With the complexity of taxes that apply to financial rewards, there may be a strong incentive in giving stock options in some kind of tax free wrapper. It also has the added benefit that if a person sees the company performance directly affecting their wealth, then you have an ally in the work force helping you increase overall performance.

6. Family-friendly policies – Family life can be very demanding, so organisations that can help make family life more manageable are likely to generate a large amount of company loyalty.

7. Relaxed dress code – Some companies offer professional services that require more formal dress. However, the innovation, creativity and success of companies like Google is unlikely to be recreated in an office where everyone is wearing a suit! Allow people to wear whatever makes them comfortable and most productive within some sensible guidelines of decency and cleanliness.

8. High Quality Leadership – Have highly visible leaders with a strong clear vision, who communicate that vision well and ensure that the organisations strategy and resources are employed to support that vision. Leaders without vision and without people skills and who are only interested n the bottom line are unlikely to encourage people to stay. In fact they are likely to be leaving in droves!

9. Visionary technical leadership – A company that doesn’t innovate will not survive in the modern business environment. This requires some truly creative and technically adept people to lead the organisation’s teams.

10. Training and training reimbursement – Most people want to improve their knowledge and skills. They see their prowess improving as a way to climb the corporate ladder or to undertake the challenges to which they aspire. Make training a priority and you will see an increased loyalty. It is often thought that people train only to move on. I would suggest that those people are going to leave anyway, so offer them training and some of the other retention incentives and you may actually keep that person.

Margaret Mead once stated that.,‘A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’

If you apply these retention techniques, you are more likely to hold into your talents and resourceful staff so that they can indeed change the world.

Dare to Aspire


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Focus, Arousal and Cues

You are constantly bombarded with stimuli. Everything you see, hear, feel, touch smell, taste and think is firing off little triggers in your head, each demanding attention from your conscious mind. Much of this input is filtered out so that you can cope more effectively with what is actually going on.

Any stimulus that you need to achieve a goal or activity is known as a ‘Task Relevant Cue’. Anything that does help you is ‘Task-Irrelevant’. Researchers have discovered that when your mental arousal level increases, there is a narrowing of perception that allows you to focus more effectively. This narrowing of focus means that your mental filters are working for you so that the only cues you accept are those relevant to your task. This increases mental activity in the area that you need it and improves performance.

However, if arousal continues to rise, attention can become so narrow that task-relevant cues are also filtered out. This can stop important information being made available to the brain and so reduce overall effectiveness.

The classic example of this phenomenon was demonstrated by Prof Daniel Simons and Chris Chabris in an experiment that has become almost folklore. The experiment was for spectators of a basket ball game to count how many time the people wearing white passed the ball. During the game, a gorilla ran across the pitch and then left the court. A surprising number of people failed to see the gorilla because their focus was acutely on the ball movement and the count.

The figure below shows the arousal of optimum performance, below which non-relevant cues are included and above which key information is missed.


So What?

The key is to your extend your optimal range of arousal by training so that when you do get forced into an arousal level that is higher than normal, you still have the capacity to cope.

Consider a simple model of mental capacity. You have a comfort zone, a stretch zone and a panic zone. Your comfort zone is where you are able to process both task-relevant and non-relevant cues easily because you are familiar with the stimulus being received. The stretch zone is where you are no longer comfortable with the stimulus but are coping. Finally, when the input is too high you go into a panic zone where you no longer function logically.

I believe that the stretch zone is probably fairly fixed for most people. Those that get overwhelmed easily due to mental capacity will more than likely get overwhelmed in another. This is anecdotal but seems to be a fairly consistent observation following years of teaching martial arts, sailing and rock climbing.

The key then to increasing someone’s ability to cope with increased stimulus is to increase their Comfort zone. We can do this with training and exposure to environments and situations that take the person out of their Comfort zone into the upper region of Stretch without going into Panic. The more time a person spends in their Stretch zone, the larger their Comfort zone becomes and the less likely they are to Panic!


Training in any new activity is useful for moving people out of their Comfort zone. Adventurous training in particular is beneficial and a stalwart training approach of the military. The main aim is to expose a person to increasing levels of perceived risk without necessarily placing them in harms way. Frequent exposure to such perceived risk will increase that Comfort zone and so make Panic less likely and also ensure that they have the increased capacity to perform when the stimulus level increases.

Dare to Aspire


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Be a STAR storyteller: Simple presentation formula

No matter the story you are telling, whether a joke, a report, a briefing or a presentation, the STAR formula is a simple and practical approach that will help you engage and hold your audience.


S- Situation

Set the scene for the rest of the story. It sets the context and helps build a picture for the listener. The listener for his part will use his imagination and make the story personal in his mind. Try to use the frames (Visual, Audio, Kinaesthetic) that the listener users or if you are presenting to a large group, try to include as many elements as you feel necessary to engage each member of your audience.

T – Task

What is the problem, issue or task you needed to address? Outline the problem so that your audience can appreciate the scope ad scale of what you have achieved.

A- Actions

What did you do? What actions have you taken to resolve the problem and why did you choose those actions rather than an alternative course? This is where you explain the activities that you decided would make the differences you wanted to create.

R- Results

This is the punch line, the end of the story that highlights how your efforts have either met the need, or not. This is the key to the story so remember to phrase it with the impact it deserves.

Following this simple formula won’t necessarily guarantee success, but it will ensure your story meets the fundamental needs of the listener and help you engage their interest.

Dare to Aspire

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Ten Rules For A Successful Career

1. Communication is the most important career tool: The most important skill is to be able to describe in clear and simple terms what the choices are, and what represents the best way forward. Good managers talk in terms that people outside their department will understand.



2. Walk in the other person’s shoes: Above all you need to listen and see the issues from their perspective. Most people think that everyone is like them, but in reality, people are much more different. Think about things from their perspective to see how best to meet a need and add value.


3. Culture is more important than cash: Culture clashes can cause significant problems, so it is essential to join a company where you will fit in. You can always retrain but you must fit into the culture to thrive


4. Work with technology, but be a military/business professional: Being a technical expert is relatively easy, but relating that technology to the business can be much harder. You have to mix with the people as well as the technology.


5. Take your meetings seriously: Always research the meeting and have a pro-active approach. Being prepared allows you engage in the meeting more actively and appear more effective.


6. Make friends with people who matter: You need to ask who are the decision makes in the organisation and think how to guide them to get what you want. Decision makers need advice and you can become their advisor if you first become their friend.


7. Project management skills are evergreen: Managing projects will be the core of your success, and without that ability your career will stall. The best way to learn these skills is by doing.


8. Deep technical knowledge is only useful in the early stages of a career: Learn about technologies that are a benefit, and generate a broad knowledge to help generate solutions. Then find people who have that knowledge and manage them in ways that provide a valuable output for the organisation.


9. He who doesn’t ask doesn’t get: Exceed your targets and ask for more; more challenge, more money, more responsibility. Make achievement you brand name.


10. If you’re not having fun then go home now: Making your way to the top relies upon having a passion for what you are doing. You can spend 40 hours plus a week on your work role, if you don’t enjoy it, then it is an awful waste of your life!

Dare to Aspire

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The Power of a Mentor

Sometimes you will find yourself unable to see a way ahead in your work life. At times like these, the benefits of someone that can help you are immense. If you can build a relationship with a person then they may be able to help you grow and develop and perhaps they may become a permanent mentor.

Benefits of a Mentor

1. An assistant who can help you develop your personal and work life.

2. A useful sounding board that can listen and provide an independent judgement without any fear of the feedback having a negative effect on your career.

3. A guide and perhaps a champion if you need extra training or development.

4. A person who puts your agenda first and acts as a motivator and personal change agent.

5. A person who helps you on a path of self discovery for your benefit.

Qualities of a Mentor

1. They are totally trustworthy. They are working with you at a professional yet quite intimate level and so trust is essential for you to expose your professional weaknesses and concerns without fear of ridicule or impact.

2. They must be patient. Development can take a long time, particularly when there is a high level of complexity. Your mentor will need to be patient, persistent and help you stay on track.

3. A mentor must astute enough to ask the deep probing questions that will help you identify personal shortfalls.

4. They must be committed to making the relationship work. If you are both non-committal, the mentoring process is doomed.

The Mentor-Mentee Relationship

When you find a person that is willing to be your Mentor, it is important to agree the terms of the relationship. You should both be committed to that relationship and so it is worth spending time establishing the scope of the activity, the level of individual commitment and the boundaries you both want to work within.

When I enter this relationship I have guidelines:

1. Absolute confidentiality. What goes on in the relationship stays within that relationship.

2. I am willing to commit to regular meetings to discuss goals, aims, techniques and progress. I am also willing to entertain the occasional irregular contact, but generally only when my Mentee has exhausted their own resources and have hit a barrier that they cannot pass.

3. If either of us make a commitment, it is exactly that, a commitment.

4. If we agree a meeting time, we are never late. Being late shows disrespect.

5. There will be a time when the relationship grows beyond both of us. Either person can withdraw from the relationship without any guilt providing it is done with respect and good grace.

Most other guidelines we work out together but these are generally enough to begin the process.

Anyone can benefit from a Mentor so see if you can find someone who could help you progress and ask them to help. Most senior people are very happy to help those who recognize the need for help and are brave enough to ask.

Dare to Aspire

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9 Tips For Personal Success

Take charge of your life

Accept that your are responsible for your life, no one else. Not your parents, spouse, manager or friends. YOU! The decisions you make and the actions you take define the outcomes you achieve, so take charge of those decisions and actions and start moving towards your goals today.


Have a Purpose for Your Life

What separates successful people from the rest is that they live their lives with a purpose. A purpose that helps then create goals, gives them a head mark to aim for and that gets them emotionally engaged with their vision for their future. Pick your purpose and get juiced up!

Take Action

It is important to have a vision and set goals for the life you want to achieve, but these are nothing more than a vain hope unless you take action. Keep taking action daily towards your goals and you will achieve something, and eventually everything!

Be Willing to Pay for Your Dreams

It isn’t realistic to achieve everything. Select what you truly want and then sacrifice all of the other things. Successful people find out what it’s going to cost to make their dream come true. Having what you truly want requires you to pay that cost either in financial terms or in accepting that other things will not be achievable. The key is to focus on what you truly want and then Act.

Stay Focused

The pace of modern life means that every day we have more to do than we can possible cope with. People, tasks and information are all competing for the limited time we have available. A successful person understands that they cannot keep jumping from task to task, but rather need to focus on one task at a time. They also realize that only the tasks that move them rapidly towards their goals should appear on their ‘to do’ list. Only by focusing on the most important things can you hope to become successful.

Excel in your chosen field

Whenever you think of a successful person, you automatically associate them with an area in which they are highly capable, an expert if you like. This is because they have identified where value can be achieved and then focused completely on that area. Spend significant effort on a particular topic and you will soon become an expert. One hour makes you aware of the topic, 10 hours makes you familiar, 100 hours makes you comfortable and 1000 hours makes you an expert. Start today!

Have a plan

It is a cliché but a person without a plan is like a boat without a rudder. Going in any direction and often the wrong one! Taking the time to write out an action plan not only helps you identify for how you’re going to achieve your goals, but also helps you identify any potential barriers you are likely to face.

Be Persistent

When you’re truly committed to achieving your goal, giving up isn’t even an option. You must be willing to do whatever it takes to make your vision happen. The reason that there are no squirrel proof bird tables is not because humans cannot devise one, it is because squirrels spend every waking moment thinking about how to get at nuts. They aren’t brighter than humans, they are just so damn persistent that they always achieve their aim in the end. Learn that lesson!

Do It Today

Life is tentative, unpredictable and the ultimate experience. At least it is far better than the alternative. So act now to make it the most rewarding experience possible. Why put off until tomorrow what you could do today? Do it today and if you really enjoy it then you could be doing it again tomorrow. Act now and achieve your goals.

Dare to Aspire


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