Taking Your Stage Blog  
  Helping you improve the communication skills of the leaders and teams in your organization.  

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15 items from October 2013


Communication Quote of the Day

We do not need to proselytize either by our speech or by our writing. We can only do so really with our lives.

--Mahatma Gandhi




Do You Feel Like a Hippo Attacking an Elephant?

IStock_000008556612_webDid you happen to see this article about a Hippo attacking an elephant?  The elephant wouldn't back down, especially when several of his fellow elephants came to his aid.  Do you ever feel like the Hippo in your organization?  Are you trying to address cultural and communication issues only to run up against the elephants time and time again?

Don't give up.  It's not easy, but progress is being made and you are not alone.  Your efforts make a big difference.  In a survey by the Kelton Group, a key finding was that 26% of employees say they don't have training available to them and the 62% who say they do claim it isn't relevant.  Workers with training available to them are more committed, happy, and excited.  A survey by Global Novations revealed that 60% of organizations placed developing new leaders as its top training priority.  You're not alone.  Many other organizations are facing the same old elephants too.  It can sometimes seem like a Hippo facing off against a herd of elephants, but your efforts at improving communication (and other) skills do make a difference over time in an organization.

Here are four things you can do today to make progress in your efforts:

  • Have lunch with someone to understand their work life - engage them as an ally.
  • Tell stories to engage people with the need for change.
  • Find someone that you can mentor (even if it is informal).
  • Read and train yourself on communication and leadership skills to set the example.

Plus you're not the only Hippo on the island...




Do Your Leaders and Managers Think They Are Communicating With Clarity? Have Them Try This

IStock_000010677531X_WebAccording to a study by The Conference Board, almost two-thirds of all employees are 33% as productive as they could be because they don’t understand what they are being asked to do.  According to author and consultant William Schiemann (see his book Performance Management: Putting Research into Action), only 14% of employees have a good understanding of their company's strategy and direction.

I have seen several similar studies and experienced this first-hand.  For example, I have articulated a number that represents a target goal (i.e. 5 new clients), only to have ambiguity the very next day from my team.  Whose fault is that?  Mine.  I have to be accountable for my communication.  In that case, I threw out several numbers, muddying my message.

You can bet the statistics aren't much better for individual teams and groups.  That means there are a lot of leaders and managers in your organization who think they are communicating with clarity but are not.  If the statistics hold, you and I are probably both one of them.

Here's an exercise you can give them to test the level of actual clarity and alignment:

After a meeting discussion, give everyone a sheet of paper, and ask them to take 2 minutes to write down what was agreed upon (or what the strategy is, or whatever it is you have been communicating).  Ask them to read their responses.  Remember this isn't to evaluate them, it's to evaluate you.  How can you communicate with more clarity?  Is everyone properly aligned?  Or are is there a disconnect?  This gives you the opportunity to discover the perception in the room of what is happening, and it provides a discussion point.  Many times people will not share what they are thinking and you assume you have clarity and alignment when you do not.  They go off and don't do the things you want them to do, and you wonder why not.

Never assume that you are communicating with clarity.  Constantly evaluate, check alignment, and practice improving the clarity in your communications.




Having Trouble Engaging People? Use Storytelling

IStock_000003405900_webbHave you ever thought about how to really engage and motivate people with your business communication?  I sure have.  The problem is that everyone has heard all of the cliches and motivation-speak before: "we have a great opportunity if we work hard", or "we need to be more creative", or "we need to pull together and work nights and weekends to get this product out the door."  They sound great but have diminishing returns when trying to motivate and engage others.

Here's a suggestion: start telling stories!  Did you know that Kimberly-Clark, 3M, and Proctor & Gamble teach their executives how to effectively use storytelling?  They do, according to an article by Dan Schawbel at Forbes.  Think back for a minute on a great speaker that you have heard recently.  I'll bet they peppered their presentation with stories.  Stories engage and draw people in, unlike motivation-speak and Powerpoint bullets.

If you are like me, that sounds like a great idea but I need some concrete ideas to actually do it.  Here are some ideas on how to tell stories, and develop your storytelling skills (as derived from theatre and business experience):

  • Describe two opposing forces (such as people, relationships, ideas, or possibilities).
  • Add an event in the story that disrupts the current balance of things.
  • Add obstacles to restoring the balance.
  • Tell how balance is restored.
  • Include a surprise.
  • Bring it to a resolution.
  • Be concise - this is a business setting not a 3 hour play.

You can use a story that has happened to you, a story that has happened to someone you know, a story from a book, or a story based on where you want to take the team.  If you have a situation where you need to get buy-in on an important topic, or want to take your team someplace, try storytelling, and see if there is a different level of engagement and discussion from your "audience."




Quote of the Day

Most conversations are simply monologues delivered in the presence of a witness. --Margaret Millar