The Management Blog
Tips & advice to help you improve your performance
Do you feel unmotivated and bored in your team meetings when the need to brainstorm comes up?
This is a pretty common attitude held by leaders worldwide; they feel like their employees simply cannot or do not want to contribute creative new ideas, thereby leaving all of the brainstorming on their shoulders.
When trying to get a message across to your team, there is no better way of doing so than to tell them a story.
Storytelling captures your audience’s attention and emotions, leaving them feeling motivated.
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?