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)jewellfacilitation.com

 

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.

 

Workshop Essentials – One year on and going strong

As we seem to be hurtling fast towards the end of the year, I find that I am already starting to reflect on what I’ve been up to these past 12 months. A lot has happened, but one very important thing sticks out – the fact that Workshop Essentials is one year old!

first birthday

November 2015 was when I held my first workshop, attended by a group of 8 people at the Easton Business Centre. While I have designed and delivered many different workshops in my time, this was the first time I had created an open workshop; one that people had to sign up to come to. The majority of my workshops are in house and the participants (usually staff members) are all organised for me by the client. I had no idea if anyone would come, whether I had the skills to market my workshops or whether enough people wanted to learn how to do a workshop in the first place. But like many of these things, you just have to give it a go and see what happens…….

The workshop itself was born out of conversations with a number of different people, mostly small business owners about the best ways to do workshops. Commonly there would be questions about ice breakers and activities, as well as confidence in putting a workshop together, and how to keep people interested. So, my informal research told me that yes, there were people out there wanting to learn about workshops. While I would happily talk workshop all day, it’s much easier to show you. If you want to learn a new ice breaker you might as well see it in action. If you want to know how to get a great discussion going it’s more memorable if you have been part of one. And if it’s about confidence then a good place to start is arming yourself with the right knowledge in the first place.

So, the idea to hold a workshop, on how to do workshops moved from being a niggling idea at the back of my brain, into a reality.

I have now run 4 of these workshops, so let’s see how they are going:

Who came?

While I aimed this at small business owners (as this is where my conversations started), I found that they actually only made up about 70% of the participants. The businesses they came from were: styling, nutrition, coaching, social media, PR, marketing, interior design, health and wellbeing, business process improvement, law, web design and IT.

But I also had several people from charities, representing: refugees, dementia research, back to work and unemployment, and families in need.

As well as some public sector workers.

So – my evaluation tells me that there are in fact a broad cross section of people wanting to know about workshops. Although the most heavily represented sector so far has most definitely been social media and marketing and digital/IT work.

I have kept the numbers to 10 people as I think this strikes a good balance between getting a good participatory buzz, and allowing time for me to give everyone 1:1 attention on their workshop plans.

What did people think?

I have been fortunate to have consistently great feedback from my workshops, which is definitely something I feel proud of! Let’s face it, if the feedback has been rubbish I would’ve stopped long ago. If you’d like to view some testimonials, there are some here and here and a little sample below:

“Helene delivered a fabulous workshop on how to hold a workshop. I learned so much as a beginner. Helene is easy to talk to and very knowledgeable too” Katy Batt, Realistic Holistic

I would like to let you into a secret though – it’s not 100% positive, there were areas for improvement. The first time I put on the workshop I ran out of time, or rather I rushed the workshop along to fit all the content in. One of the participants felt a bit overwhelmed and I realised that while I wanted to tell everyone all that I know, there just isn’t enough time in half a day.

Lesson learnt: I cut out some of the workshop that I thought was interesting, but not essential (like the title of the workshop suggests!). It all fits together beautifully now but it is a good example of something I tell people all the time – don’t put too much content in, less is more…..I did consider creating a whole day, but instead created a Part II (The Workshop Toolkit) to do in conjunction with Workshop Essentials, or as a stand alone half day in itself.

What did the participants learn?

Of course not everyone who came on my workshop was a complete beginner, some of the participants had put on workshops already, they just wanted to do them better. But here are some examples of what people have said they’ve taken on board and what they have done with it:

Confidence to deal with difficult people: One of the participants told me a short while ago that she had had a “difficult person” to deal with at an event. Having been on the workshop, she coped fine having followed my advice. Dealing with “awkward customers” is something we discuss on the workshop.

Learning to be “reactive”: I think that doing a participatory workshop is taking a bit of a leap into the unknown at first because you don’t know what questions will come from the participants, and you don’t know where discussions will go. Of course it’s easier to be in complete control of the situation and just deliver information to people. But it’s not nearly as effective. Although I hadn’t quite seen it in those terms, one of my participants described this as being “reactive” or being able to react to what might come at you from your participants. If you know your subject, and you create a robust workshop you will be able to react well.

Ending the workshop (and next steps): One important topic we cover is ending your workshop. Ending of course is important to tie everything together in a nice tidy package for your participants to go home with. So they feel things have finished properly. But it’s also important for those “next steps”. You need to ensure that accountability and commitment and the “effect of the workshop” continues well after the workshop has ended. This has been a key learning point for a couple of the people who have attended my workshops.

next steps

Getting on with actually putting on a workshop in the first place: Most of the people who come on the workshop are content specialists. They know very well what they are talking about, they have a wealth of knowledge. But converting that knowledge into a particular format, like a workshop can feel like a huge challenge, especially if you’ve never done it before. I wanted the workshop to enable people to bring their ideas and work through them to see how possible they could be. Several people have said that coming along has enabled them to get their ideas together and get on with it!

Other things that people said were the “best bits” of the workshop were:

A framework/structure to plan a workshop

The handout/workbook

Importance of interactivity and ways to engage people

Hearing other people’s ideas

Each time I do Workshop Essentials it’s new and exciting. I have new participants come to join in and find out how to do amazing workshops, and in turn I get to hear all about their workshop plans. As a self confessed workshop geek, this is all rather thrilling! I love it when people have those lightbulb moments, when people “get it” and when people laugh. If there is laughter, then I know they are enjoying it. If there are questions, I know I’ve got their attention. If there are discussions, I know there are ideas igniting. You can feel when you get a workshop right and I love that feeling.

It would be remiss of me not to mention some of the workshops that are being held by my “graduates”, here are a couple I’d like to mention:

Carly Lightbrown and Claire Stone have their Eat Happy workshop next week.

Shereen Pasha has her Business Bootcamp coming up next month, with Becs Miller as a guest speaker

What next?

Of course I am all set to put another batch of workshop enthusiasts through their paces, so if that sounds like you you then please don’t miss out. I have both my Workshop Essentials and The Workshop Toolkit taking place on 12th January 2017.

I am always thinking of new things to add to my workshops, so watch this space…..

 

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.

Questions

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.