Communication discussion starter

If communication was a vehicle what would it be?

When doing my workshops, I do like a good analogy. I find that likening one thing to another helps us process what we are talking about and create a mental picture. Because I see a workshop and the discussions that take place as a journey, something that moves forwards and gains momentum as it does so, I frequently use analogies that involve moving. These are often related to vehicles, roads, rivers, maps and journeys, so I have created a short exercise, a discussion starter mapping communication onto different vehicles!

How does it work?

Well, first have a think about communication, what is it, what does it mean, how does it feel. Try to visualise it. Communication means different things to different people, and that’s where things can go a bit awry. So it’s good to create space to discuss it. For some it’s all about clarity, for some it’s about speed, for some it’s about quality. Perhaps listening is most important. It may be the two way nature, or it may be the versatility, or maybe the depth and range of things we can do with communication. It will inevitably be a combination of things, but different combinations for different people. Think for a couple of minutes what it means to you.

Next imagine if your idea of communication could be represented as a vehicle, what vehicle would it be? Perhaps you see communication as something that is slick and efficient, but perhaps (particularly with all the different mediums available to us) it can be a bit high maintenance. Perhaps a high end car. But maybe you think communication needs to be something that glides along smoothly, that you like it to be simple and uncomplicated, maybe that makes you think of a boat gliding down a river. It’s completely up to you.

Then you draw your vehicle.

Communication discussion starter


There is no right or wrong answer. I did a workshop recently where someone drew a picture of a tank! They saw communication as a bit of a struggle, and they needed it to be like a tank to get through, to get their message heard. The point is to use this as a discussion starter, to use the analogy to explore what different people think, to gather opinions and to get everyone thinking. One of the things you might find is that actually a certain vehicle is great for a number of things, but that there are many things it cannot do. One mode of transport does not quite represent all the facets of communication. It is a multidimensional thing. This exercise is a way of starting to explore that. From this starting point you may go on to dig deeper into communication problems, challenges, ideas for improvement, setting goals to move forwards, creating actions. But that’s the real heart of the workshop. This is just to warm you up.

It can also be a bit of fun and can be good to break the ice. This analogy can be used for other things too, not just to discuss communication – you can make it about anything you want.

Have a go and I’d love to hear the results, and I’d really like to see some pictures too!

What vehicle did you choose?

Have you tapped into the power of a group?

A problem shared is a problem halved as they say. By sharing your problem with someone else, it often seems smaller as you gain perspective by talking it through. Sometimes that’s all you are looking for, a chance to mull over something out loud, an ear to bend. Talking it through can help those intangible blobs of seemingly unfathomable problem take shape and start to become clearer. If you’re lucky, you might actually realise that the problem isn’t a problem after all.

Unfortunately some problems, puzzles, or concerns are more tenacious and don’t move along quite so easily. Sometimes you get stuck with a half idea that won’t budge, it will neither go away nor gain momentum. Often it’s not just about talking it through and sharing or offloading. Resolutions and ideas for how to tackle the issue are required. Outlining next steps, creating tangible solutions and developing practical ways forward are essential. To give that problem a bit of a kick, to unstick it and to move it from its prime spot niggling away at you, you’ll need some deeper thought on the subject. And there’s nothing like the power of a well facilitated group to provide some much needed mental energy to help you move forwards.

group facilitation

Why a group?

Each individual has their own knowledge, skills, experiences and ideas. As individuals we can draw on the information available to us to offer advice and support to others. But as a group, each person brings something that can be built upon by others, their initial contribution magnified and enhanced. Whether these are complimentary or contradictory the process of bouncing information and ideas around is an important part of working through a dilemma or difficulty. Different people will come up with different questions based on what they know, to dig deep into any ideas. Teasing out different elements, sharing creative thoughts, sparking new ideas and discussing new information are functions that a group can provide. The collective energy of a group, when harnessed in the right way can be invaluable for helping to unstick those sticky problems.

Capturing that energy is not always easy, which is why it’s good to have a Facilitator on the job! Problems and ideas can be like flies trapped in a bottle; they can go round and round in circles without really resulting in very much. But with a well structured process and some key tools to address the task, the group can be guided through the problem by managing discussions, unpicking and unpacking the issues and coming out the other side with some possibilities to take forward.

Problem solving

If you have a team or department at your disposal just waiting for a Facilitator to come along and work with you, that’s great! But what if you are a small business owner, or sole trader who doesn’t have a ready made group of brains at their disposal?

Well, for a start, if you are a women in business then I have some great news for you! As part of International Women’s Day 2017 on 8th March, I am going to be running the Brainstorming Booth at The Enterprise Network’s Women in Business Conference. There will be two sessions during the day for you to come along with your problem, stumbling block, query or idea. You can share this with others who can work together to help you solve it, move it forward or at the very least provide some clarity. By being a part of the group you will also be able to share your own knowledge and expertise to help with someone else’s conundrum. It’s all about sharing and learning from each other. Many problems discussed may be common to quite a few people, and you quite possibly might find answers to questions that you didn’t even know you had, or surprise yourself with a new idea!

This is a really exciting opportunity, and this year’s theme is #beboldforchange. Perhaps you have things you want to change in your business, but aren’t sure how to go about it. Perhaps the power of a group can help!

And if this isn’t for you, then watch this space as I have another exciting brainstorming event coming up later on in March…..

For more information about this or about in-house facilitation of this kind please drop me an e-mail on helene(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)


How do you create a communication environment that’s right for you?

I’ve just been trying to organise a night out with a group of friends – can’t be that hard can it? Well, Christmas aside, yes it is. And it’s not because we’re all busy (although we are, of course, isn’t everybody?) but because we’re all on different channels. By which I mean, everyone’s on Whatsapp except one person who can’t get into it because she’s forgotten her password. Not an unsolvable issue, but certainly one that might make you not really want to bother. Everyone’s on Facebook messenger except one person who doesn’t like Facebook. Everyone’s able to text but we can’t do a group text/reply and we all have different phone systems. See where I am going with this?

I do rather love a bit of technology, and I wholeheartedly embrace a whole host of Social Media. I am not one of the naysayers, despite my overwhelming love of face to face communication. But amongst the myriad of different issues the world may have with hi tech communication, it is the number of options available that often leave me frustrated. Too much choice can definitely scupper our chances of doing what many of these things are set up to do  –  allow us to communicate effectively.

When you are in a social group, the stakes are low. Someone may get a bit peeved that they didn’t get an invitation to something, and someone else will probably make sure they get the message a different way. But imagine this in a workplace setting. The stakes are far higher; frustration amongst employees, huge amounts of time wasted chasing things, and worse the haemorrhaging of important information. The possibilities for how to communicate are almost endless; Whatsapp, e-mail, texts, Facebook messenger, Slack, Skype, Snapchat, Yammer, the good old fashioned phone, and a whole lots of other things that I don’t even know about. There is rarely just one system, but there are always a lot of different preferences. We all like different things, and we all like to do things in slightly different ways.

So what’s the answer?

Well, one of the things that can be done in a proactive way, to prevent this discombobulated communication is to have a conversation. Get your employees together and create an opportunity for discussion. Whether this is a meeting, or workshop, or discussion forum, face to face communication is definitely the way forward if you want to alleviate misunderstanding and ambiguity.

  • Ask people what they think works
  • Ask them what they think doesn’t work
  • Tell them what the business needs
  • Find out what they need
  • Look for some common ideas
  • Consider some action steps and agreement use

By getting people to work together, face to face, person to person to share their views you will be providing everyone equal opportunity to get involved. That’s not to say you can’t use technology to hold a workshop or meeting of some kind, and how you do it is important. How you have that discussion matters if you want to get the most out of it. But the getting together of people and engaging staff in this way shows that you care what they think. It demonstrates that you want to find the best way of doing things for everyone. And this matters because they are the ones who will be using it.

The only sure way to make sure that you find out exactly what everyone thinks, is to ask. If you do this right you will have:

  • Had an opportunity to share with everyone the systems that are currently in place
  • Found out which ones are used most and which ones are disregarded
  • Deduced which ones work best and in what situation
  • Given everyone the opportunity to say what they think and to ask questions
  • Involved you staff in creating their own solutions, and to have a say in what happens next. This buy in is probably the most crucial aspect. You need people on board, to use the system in the first place for it to work.

If this type of communication conundrum sounds familiar then why not give me a call. I have been working with Gerald Crittle from GAcceleration, an expert in business communication technology to create some workshop packages. The focus of these workshops is internal communication, and more effective meetings, and both workshops have an employee engagement phase, followed by a technical training. The workshops are carefully designed to make sure everyone that needs to be is involved, engaged and on board so that you can create a communication environment that is right for everyone.


How do you use Questions?

When you ask a question you want the answer, don’t you*? Of course, otherwise you wouldn’t have bothered to ask the question in the first place. But it’s not always as simple as that…..

It is true that when we ask questions we are usually looking to obtain information about something,  “what time does the workshop start?” might be a good example. We don’t know something so we ask to find out, simple. But there are many other reasons we ask questions and they serve a variety of purposes besides just providing information.


We may be hiding an instruction in a question “do you want to put the kettle on?” actually means – I’d like you to put the kettle on! We might ask a question to make out feelings known about something “Is it my turn to do the photocopying again?”. Or perhaps to help us feel a certain way. The “does this look okay?” type question may actually be a request for validation rather than information, but you do want a reply. And of course there are rhetorical questions you might ask where you don’t really expect information, or even a reply. They are often used to make a point, or even to answer another question. “What does he think he looks like?” or “Who cares?” might be some good examples.

We use a plethora of different questions types to frame our conversations and give them extra meaning. Most of the time we do this without thinking about it and it’s part of our social use of language; the way we use language to communicate. In this sense our questions are more about the process of asking a question, than the actual question itself.

Questions can often lead to discussions, whether intended or not. Sometimes when we need the information we need to have a discussion to get to it – after all not all questions are simple and you may need more than one. A back and forth exchange of question and answers could be the mechanism for getting what you need. Sometimes it is purely about the conversation itself and questions are a good way to get a conversation going. We often do this when we are trying to engage with someone and get their attention. Of course, we need to make sure that we do listen to the answers otherwise the discussion will be rather short lived!

workshop conversations and questions

In the workshops I do, questions are often designed to start conversations, to keep discussions going and to generate more information. I use them to:

  • Engage people and break the ice
  • Maintain engagement and keep conversations flowing
  • Guide conversations and help them move in a particular direction
  • Help the group to solve problems
  • Elicit new ideas and to stimulate thought
  • Brainstorm
  • Tease out information that people often don’t realise they have
  • Debate a situation or particular topic
  • Help manage group dynamics

And a whole lot more. They are an important facilitation technique. Sometimes I plan these ahead and may use a particular method, such as the ICA’s Focused Conversation approach. Sometimes I plan one or two questions and bring in others as the workshop progresses. Much of the time it is about drawing on a bank of tried and tested question types as and when they are necessary. And sometimes, I rely on my flexibility and experience as a facilitator and bring them in when I need them with out the pre-planning.

I love a good question. It’s not always because I need information. But it is usually because I want a reply and I most definitely love a good conversation. So, my opening question for you is:

How do YOU use questions?

For more information about how you can use questions in workshops and a whole lot more check out my latest Workshop Essentials workshop now.

*Incidentally, for the grammar geeks amongst you, this particular question is known as a “tag” question.








Awareness in the Fast Lane

When I was growing up I used to do lot of swimming. It’s the only sport I’m really any good at. I don’t like running. Not at all! These days I can still hold my own in the pool even if my butterfly is limited to two lengths before I’m complete custard. And it’s generally the fast lane that I head for when I go to my local pool, along with a lot of other swimmers who clearly think, believe and know beyond a doubt that they are also fast.


The problem is, that having decided they’re fast, they absolutely need to be in that fast lane.  They have read the sign and that’s that. There’s not much that will move them from the fast lane. Even, it seems the fact that it is packed to the point where its nearly impossible to swim. They seem to be having these conversations with themselves:

“It says fast, so I must stay here.”

“Hmmm, but the medium lane is far less full.”

“But it tells me this is where the fast people need to be. I need to be with the fast people. Here is where I’m staying”.FAST2

I am however hot foot over to the medium lane, which I have checked out and can see is far less full. The “fast lane”label is actually rather defunct as no one is able to swim properly, it’s too packed. But somehow the congestion in the fast lane seems to be created by that word; “fast”. No one else seems to have cottoned on, they are so keen to be fast……..

And for me, this behaviour is all about awareness. Or lack of it. Which amounts basically to carrying on with what you are doing without really thinking about it. Determined to fulfil a goal, without monitoring your progress.

It’s very much like carrying on regaling someone with a tale without realising that they are bored to tears. We all do this sometimes and if you spend any length of time observing people having conversations then you will see what I mean, particularly in groups when there are a lot of different people taking part. It is usually just a few people that find it harder to take on board their surroundings, but in doing so they do show this kind of “plough on anyway” behaviour – I’ve started so I’ll finish as Magnus Magnusson used to say.

This often manifests itself as not listening. But its not just about listening. It’s about paying attention to all sorts of different things going on; it’s the body language, the frequency of exchanges, the types of conversations being had and the level of language used. It’s about hearing responses and connecting them to what you are talking about. Particularly in a group there is always a danger that we just do what everyone else does, what we think is expected of us without actually checking first.

And if you are determined to be in the fast lane regardless you are quite possibly focusing on the wrong thing. You are not seeing that there are other ways to get what you want, to speak to people, to have a conversation. There are other ways to ask questions, tell a story or discuss a problem. If you want to stay fixed to your goal without thinking about the other people around, then you might actually end up achieving it slower. You need to have the buy in of other people into your conversation or it’s not really a conversation, but one way traffic.

So next time you have that “fast lane feeling”, maybe stop and collect yourself a bit. We are all guilty of this trait on one level or another and we don’t always employ our best awareness tactics. I know, really that telling my daughter to put her shoes on in the morning 5 times in a row isn’t effective. Yet I still do it. Maybe if I gave her the chance to finish what she is doing first, we might get better results but somehow my fast lane feeling can sometimes become the default setting when under pressure, when in a rush.

We all sometimes miss the important signs, the subtle things, the less obvious. We are constantly distracted and diverted by our busy lives and our need to get things done. If we take a look at other approaches available to us once in a while and think about the alternatives to steaming on regardless there may be some surprising results.