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.

 

Are you getting enough from your brainstorm?

Do you love a good brainstorm?

I do.

It’s a great way to collect a plethora of ideas together in one place, whether thoughts from a super creative and overflowing mind or the result of collective input from a group. It’s a common enough technique, and simple to do.

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But there are most definitely things that you can do to make sure you get the most out of your brainstorm, and to make it more effective, at least in the group sense. Let’s leave aside for a moment the lone brainstorm. I am partial to “brainstorming myself”, and use it to:

  • Offload a myriad of thoughts floating around my head that need to be captured and contained somewhere, usually on a piece of flipchart paper.
  • Organise that information in a way that I might be able to make use of it effectively. Once it’s recorded then I can start to reflect and decide how to act upon the content.
  • Perhaps generate some more ideas to clarify, modify or add to the ones that I have just “stormed”.

That’s more or less what a brainstorm is – eliciting information from inside the complex systems that are our minds. Doing it alone can be tricky. Doing it in a group is far more effective, but not without its pitfalls.

So how can we make a group brainstorm work well?

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The first thing to pay attention to is WHY you are doing the brainstorm in the first place.

Obviously you are asking people for ideas, thoughts and suggestions, but sometimes a brainstorm is used primarily as a discussion starter. In this sense you might be less worried about the answers people give, and more interested in the discussion itself. A brainstorm used in this way may be most effective at the start of a workshop where you are teaching people something new; a training session. Before giving your participants the “right answers” you are opening up, stimulating ideas and helping people engage with the topic.

You may however really need to find out and gather particular knowledge from the people in the room. For example if you are looking for ideas to save costs on a project, or answers to a specific problem, you are looking to the participants for some answers. While the brainstorm has the same function of stimulating discussion and engaging people, its main aim is to elicit the ideas from the people in the room. The ideas, knowledge and experience held by the participants are what you are really after. They can provide information on a certain topic which may then be built upon and investigated in more depth later on in the session. This is more common in a meeting or facilitated workshop where the main purpose is not to teach people new things, but to help them to share what they know.

Whatever the main thrust of your brainstorm, it is important to make sure you know exactly what you are asking of people and make your questions clear.

If you manage your brainstorm well, then you will get all sorts of ideas flowing. A good brainstorm will not only help people to share their insights and knowledge, but help ignite the sparks of new ideas and produce fantastic gems of information. This is when a brainstorm can become truly valuable. It moves beyond simply asking people to offer up an answer, or even stimulating a discussion. It is about really enriching that discussion, broadening it out and creating a result that is so much bigger that the individual ideas on their own.

WHAT you do with the information elicited very much depends on the aim of your brainstorm in the first place. But, the more in depth and targeted the process, the greater the flow of ideas and the more extensive the possibilities will be for your next steps.

A brainstorm is far more that a brain dump. It is far more than collecting and recording information. It is far more than finding out what people think. It can be the start of something quite exciting, a voyage of discovery. But as with many of the simplest things; the devil is in the detail, so make sure you think about what you need!

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Sorry About the Meetings….What Should we Change?

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I came across an article the other day, talking about something that is, I think, fairly well known, about the way women often struggle with meetings, are perceived as bossy when they speak up and often use apologetic language. I am sure it is not just women that encounter difficulties participating in meetings in crushingly corporate environments. Meetings are a fact of life and teaching people ways to survive and perhaps thrive in such situations (such as those discussed in the article) does sound like a very decent plan . If this was me I would probably love a lifeline like the Get Heard in Meetings Course – workshops in how to do things differently, how to learn poise, speak louder, get yourself listened to. I am a sucker for a good workshop, and this does look fun!

I read this not long after another article about the Google App “Just Not Sorry” that helps women to stop saying sorry via e-mail. And I watched again a brilliant sketch by Amy Schumer “I’m sorry – A Conference Goes Awry” I have seen this several times – it’s also about women saying sorry. This made me cringe and laugh out loud at the same time.

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It is a thing. Women do often say sorry a lot. And it’s not just that, there are many many things about the way we communicate that are vastly different from the way men do. Women fitting into predominantly male environments is not a new topic of discussion. I know that it’s not just about communication and not just meetings, there is far more to these kinds of workplace difficulties where men and women in particular clash. That is a bigger conversation…..

But I confess to being the proud owner and purveyor of “soft skills”, I am a people person and I like it when people get on. I am a facilitator and my job is very much about adapting the environment to include the people. Not the other way around.

So I can’t help thinking that when looking at the bigger picture, this is all slightly back to front. Like most people I have been to all sorts of meetings in my life. Some I have felt comfortable in, some less so and for all sorts of different reasons. True, I have never been employed in a male dominated highly corporate environment, but I have worked and networked with plenty of men. I have facilitated workshops on many occasions where I am the only woman. I have also facilitated meetings. So I do know the scenario, it is not a myth.  And in many situations where you have clashes of communication, culture and style things can be tricky to say the least, and soul destroying at worst if this is your norm.

But it doesn’t make sense that women (or anyone for that matter) should have to learn to behave differently in order to be a part of a meeting. Presumably the people attending the meetings are skilled in their fields, expert and knowledgeable. Is it reasonable to expect them to learn something extra just to be able to share that with people?

I would say no.

Meetings themselves are very often at the heart of the way businesses are run. They are also the bug bear of many. They can be a necessity and a time waster, an efficient way of delivering and discussing information, or completely fruitless. A way of informing and feeding back or a lot of hot air. They are that double edged sword that many people loathe, but we all have to embrace on some level.

What about focusing on running meetings better? Managing meetings so they make space to include the people that need to be included, women and men alike. Rather than sticking to a format that excludes people, necessitating them to learn how to cope, wouldn’t it be better to revisit the way the meeting functions? Using some well founded techniques to encourage people to feel like they want to go to meetings, that they will get a lot out of them and will be able to put a lot in to them is surely a good idea. Much has been written about ways to run meetings better. A good chair or a facilitator, a focus on engagement and a clear agenda are a good start. Teaching people to listen is also a valuable skill that we could all work harder on, and something that goes far beyond meetings. Focusing on the people in the meeting is, I think fairly fundamental – after all, the people are what make the meeting.

Knowing there is a place to learn skills to enable you to get on better in meetings is great. Tools that are out there to help women “manage” their communication (whatever the format) are clearly important. But encouraging people to run better meetings in the first place would be a much larger win, have far wider implications and a much deeper impact. After all, it’s better for everyone when we are all less sorry!