Tips, advice and musings to help you improve your management
and leadership skills
Three channels of information continually hit our brains with information. These channels are through our ears, eyes and the rest of our bodies.
You can’t turn these senses off, so your brain has to develop a strategy to assess and prioritise the information it recieves.
During your childhood, you developed a preferred channel that you are probably using today. This doesn’t mean you don’t use all of them all the time; it simplt means you have a preference for one (or maybe a pair) over the others.
Creating a long-term business relationship with other people is based on the process of communication between them. We tend to concentrate on our side of the conversation, like ‘Am I saying the right things in the right way?’ or ‘How can I make my point here?’
Instead, try to remember that people have what is known as a dominant, primary word catalogue. This is the mind’s way of gathering information, knowledge and experience based on our main senses. This catalogue also makes an association of meanings to words. Just like you have a dominant arm or leg, ear or eye, you will have a dominant catalogue for how you express your opinions, ideas, feelings and goals.
So people will describe these concepts and thoughts in terms of words that reflect the main wiring in their brains, the preferential one being the ‘default’ method for accessing the catalogue of experiences.
You can therefore note other people’s word catalogue by listening to how they express themselves and the type of language they use in their conversations. People with a primary visual word catalogue will use visual keywords more frequently than others to describe their experiences.
Try this exercise. Check the last ten business emails you sent to customers or colleagues. Check they’re not too short to make any meaning in this context. Make a note of how many visual verbs you used (words that reflect you were thinking visually), then ‘hearing‘ words (words that reflect your were thinking in terms of sounds or listening or hearing) and finally those words that reflected feelings, commonly known as ‘kinaesthetic‘.
Check your list and see if there was any dominant words you noticed in the way you communicate. If so, you have found your preferred language and have identified your word catalogue that you are comfortable using.
Now, make a note to listen to the next conversation you have or the next meeting you hold, and just mentally identify the preferences in the room. That way, you will find it easier to talk to them in their language and maybe have a better understanding between you.
Many managers tell me that the level of trust that exists in the team could be better. They often quote some of the main behaviours that reduce trust within a team, which include:
* Sending mixed messages of inconsistency
* Being more concerned about their own wellbeing than that of others
* Avoiding taking responsibility for actions
* Jumping to conclusions without checking facts first
* Hiding or withholding information that would be of benefit to others
Here’s an exercise to help you begin the dialogue about the level of trust within your team.
Put the following words on a blank sheet of paper, well spaced out:
Prepare one sheet for each team member.
Ask each person to select three words that best describes your team and circle them.
Ask them to anonymously give the paper to you.
Count up the words that have been circled.
Post the results.
Lead a team meeting on the words receiving the most votes, and those receiving fewer or no votes.
If there are negative words on the list, discuss the word they would rather use to replace the negative one.
Discuss changes needed to aspire to the desired state within the team.
If you carry out this exercise purposefully and honestly, you build the relationship in the team and get them to identify how trust can be generated. Merely having the discussion can often help alleviate a lot of the problems associated with lack of trust. And if the team themselves work toward curbing the negatives that reduce trust, you form greater ties with them and will see the rewards of trust in the results you obtain.
As a manager, we are often asked to think ‘outside the box’ to find answers to questions that stump us. The question I often ask is ‘how do I think outside the box?’
Well, I came across an interesting study recently by Hudson (1967), who studied thinking in schools and concluded that there were two different forms of thinking or ability at play. He called one form “convergent” thinking, in which the person is good at bringing material from a variety of areas, in such a way as to produce the “correct” answer. This is helpful if you are trying to get just one answer to a problem, and you are plainly just interested in facts.
The other he termed “divergent” thinking. Here is where the thinking out of the box idea can be loosely developed, because the person’s skill is in broadly creative expansion of ideas prompted by an outside stimulus.
In order to get at this kind of thinking, Hudson devised open-ended tests, such as the “Uses of Objects” test:
Here are five everyday objects. Think of as many different uses as you can for each:
* A barrel
* A paper clip
* A tin of shoe polish
* A brick
* A blanket
There’s no time limit to this, but allow around 15 minutes
Your list will test your divergent style of thinking, sometimes linked to brainstorming, and will allow you to generate many ideas. In business, you can highlight a particular problem and then identify many possible options (divergent thinking). You can then assess the quality of them and hone in on the best ones (convergent thinking). It will allow you to think differently, expand your options and gain answers that maybe you hadn’t thought of before.
(My thanks to JS Atherton (2010) and his article ‘Learning and Teaching; Convergent and Divergent Learning’ for further information on this topic)
The saying goes “perception is reality”. Well, it is, as far as humans are concerned. What we perceive is real to us. As a manager, it would be appropriate to see how your team’s perceptions could be enhanced every day.
Try this ‘time-out’ exercise next time you have a team meeting. The five minutes it takes will be well-rewarded:
Have a volunteer stand up in front of the group. Tell her to close
her eyes and think of a person she likes very much. She should try
not to show her feelings to the group. Let her concentrate on this
person for about half a minute. Then tell her to concentrate on a
person she really dislikes. Again, with closed eyes, she should not
show her feelings to the group. Do this again for about 30 seconds.
The other team members should remain silent, just observing any differences.
Now you ask the volunteer questions about the two persons e.g. which
person is taller, which one is older, which one earns more money,
which one does more sports, etc … After each question, the volunteer
should close her eyes and think of one of the two persons and the
other team members have to guess if the answer is “the one I like” or “the one I dislike”. Even if the volunteer tries to keep a “poker face” the
audience will guess right almost 100%.
This exercise shows that our body is always communicating our
thoughts even if we try to avoid it. Our body language gives away how we are feeling and what we are thinking, as it emanates from our subconscious. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to cover over the fact we are nervous, frustrated, angry, in love, overjoyed, etc, simply because these emotions will bubble to the surface and show in our behaviour.
The volunteer in this exercise will show specific micro-signals whenever they are thinking about one particular person, and these can be picked up by the trained eye.
So, get your team to recognise how they can improve their perception skills by reading another’s reactions and body language. The more they practice, the more likely they are to see another person’s reality, i.e. the way they perceive things. And that will naturally improve their communication skills. Bonus, eh?
This exercise shows how difficult it is to really take notice of things we see every day. Use it with your team in your next meeting, just to see how observant they are.
Pick someone who has a lot of confidence. Make sure they are wearing a watch. Without telling them what you are going to do, ask them to place their right hand over the watch face on their wrist.
Get them to stand up and approach you, still with their hand covering their watch. When they get to you, ask them to turn their wrist over, undo the watch strap and pass it to you.
Ask them how many times they look at their watch, on average, every day. Then ask them how long they have had their watch.
If they say they look at it on average 10 times a day, and they have had it for 3 years, then they have actually looked at their watch over 1000 times. Work out the figures quickly in your head for whatever numbers they tell you.
Now, while you have the watch and they can’t see it, ask your team members some questions about it. Obviously, the more complicated the watch, the better the exercise.
Ask such questions as
– what colour is the strap?
– what words are on the face and where are they?
– how many numbers are on the watch?
– does it show the date, and if so, where?
– describe any distinguishing marks or features on it
Alternatively, you can ask them to describe their watch in detail. When they have done so, ask them questions about any details they have missed out.
After the questions, feedback how they did. Most people will get at least two or three answers wrong.
Don’t embarrass the person, but clarify the point that we all see the same things every day but can often become blasé about them because we don’t pay attention at the conscious level.
Ask the group; are there things that we do every day in the workplace because we have always done them that way without thinking? Could it be that we have become blasé about the quality of work we produce? Is there a way we could become more aware of the standards of our work, simply by becoming more observant?
Maybe if we all noticed what we can do to improve the quality of our work, we would all be able to support each other effectively.
By the way, make sure you thank the volunteer and ask everyone else there if they would have done any better if they had been the one chosen to describe their watch!
I know I’ve given you activities similar to this before but I’d like you to take some of the new information about honesty and ethics into consideration as you think about today’s question.
You have two resumes on your desk. One is from a bright, young college graduate with no experience. His college major is in line with the work you do within your organisation and – even better – he graduated from the same university you went to and has the same fraternity ties!
The second resume is from a man with a college education as well. He has about 20 years experience in the industry and has been relatively successful.
They’re both good candidates, but how will you choose?
Will you look at their experience levels? The younger candidate has very little but he’s mallable – you can mold him the way your organisation wishes him to be. He’ll also present a fresh, modern viewpoint when it comes to new developments. The second candidate is older – true – but he has all the experience. Will he be difficult to work with or will that experience add value to your team?
Or – will you hire the younger guy because you have common interests?
Oh – you didn’t think people made unethical decisions like that? Well, they do. And the funny part is that many of them don’t even consciously realize they’re choosing one person over another for an unethical reason. They’re justifying their decisions with concrete points that simply aren’t as strong as they could be in order to cover up the real reasons.
So which candidate would you hire? I’d love to know!
November 20, 2009
As a manager you should certainly be able to deal with conflict, even if it means negotiating.
The truth, however, is that every member of your team should be able to do the same thing because doing so will mean they’re better able to work together as a team. Learn More