Why your silence is important

When you’re in conversation do you enjoy moments of silence? Or do you find it uncomfortable and jump in to fill the space?

Silence leaves room for thinking and reflection. It can give the other person time to consider their reply. It can help to build trust, confidence and (somewhat counterintuitively) rapport. It can also be helpful for creativity and problem solving as leaving space can help us dig deeper and come up with our own creative solutions rather than rushing for the first obvious idea.

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of chatting on a Lucidity Network webinar with Katie Colombus, assistant director of communications at Samaritans and author of How to Listen’ . One of our discussion points was the value of silence. Here’s my key take-aways from the webinar;

  • If, as a listener you fill the silence and jump in with solutions instead of listening and asking questions that help the person come to a solution, you are disempowering them and implying that they can’t find the solution themselves. So even when it comes from a place of wanting to help, you’re actually doing the opposite. Leaving silence is important in empowering people to find their own solutions.
  • Rather than jumping in to ‘fix’ something, leave silence. Let the person think and reflect. You might then ask some open questions (a question that can’t be answered with a yes or a no) to encourage a conversation. For example, ‘How did you feel about that?’ or ‘Tell me what you thought of that?’ or ‘What did that mean for the situation?’
  • If you find it difficult to leave silence, have a go at setting yourself silence targets. For example, at your next meeting you might set yourself the target of not filling any silences, if you’re a manager, at your next 1:1 with members of your team, set a target to only ask open questions and don’t ‘fix’ anything.
  • Start to notice when you want to jump in and do something else instead, for example, count to 5, or take several deep breaths, or my personal favourite (thank you Vanessa Longley) is to pop a Rolo in your mouth (other sweets allowed) and don’t speak until you’ve finished it.

I’d love to hear your thought and tips on listening and silence.

If you’d like to watch the reply of the ‘How to be brilliant at listening’ webinar you can watch it at the Lucidity Network.

The Lucidity Network is a membership community and is for you if you want to take charge of your own learning and development and be happy and more productive in your working life. When you join you get access to practical content, including webinars and training packs, brilliant people who are experts in topics that will help you find your success. We’ve training materials on over 30 topics in the learning vault including; listening skills, how to be productive, strategic thinking, storytelling, learning from failure, having difficult conversations and managing up. All the details on how to join are here.

Are you a good listener?

Are you a good listener? Have you ever felt the frustration of not being listened to though? Perhaps the other person wasn’t paying full attention or maybe they cut you off mid flow, talked over you or rushed in to tell you their solution?

The skill of listening is so important, yet so underrated and often not performed well. There are many reasons why we don’t listen very well. In the cut and thrust of daily life, we might simply forget to show how much we care or to give one another the time and space that lead to better conversations. Or, when we’re under pressure to get through an epic ‘to do’ list, we immediately want to jump in and fix a problem and move on, rather than focusing on being a good listener and encouraging and supporting the other person to learn and grow by working through it themself.

Sometimes, we interrupt rather than listen because we want to be heard ourselves, to talk about when something similar happened to us or explore our own feelings, opinions and experiences. Interruptions are often made with the intention of giving good advice, but sometimes can leave the other person feeling disconnected, undervalued or that their views are not important. It’s good to talk. It’s even better to listen.

When working remotely we lack real-life connections, and feelings of uncertainty can raise anxiety levels. That’s why good listening skills are particularly important now. Making a deliberate point of finding space to really listen to colleagues, friends and family will make an impact on their health and wellbeing as well as their motivation and productivity at work.

Giving someone a safe space to talk and letting them know you’re listening with empathy and without judgment can allow them to let off steam, explore their feelings and make decisions about the best course of action.

We’ve been doing some work with the excellent Katie Colombus, assistant director of communications at Samaritans and author of ‘How to Listen’. 

Here’s three tips to focus your listening skills.

  1. You don’t have to fix things. Good listening isn’t about fixing someone’s problems or giving advice. You don’t need to make it better for the person; you just need to be there alongside them, to listen, and share the weight of what they’re telling you. A huge part of being a better listener is simply recognising that the person speaking doesn’t need any more from you than that. Just pay close attention and keep the conversation going, letting the person talk through all their options until there’s nothing left to say
  2. Hold back on giving advice. Don’t say things like ‘ perhaps you could…’, ‘have you tried…’ or ‘maybe you should…’. By trying to fix a problem rather than simply listening and accepting it for what it is, you might be inadvertently implying to that person that they can’t sort out their own issue for themselves. This can then feed into the already spiralling negative thought loop that they’re not good enough, lacking confidence or can’t cope. Jumping into solutions isn’t always helpful, particularly when there’s more going on for someone and it’s affecting their emotional wellbeing.
  3. It’s about them, not you. Hold back on telling your story of when you were in a similar situation. Listening isn’t about you. It’s about them. You might think you’re being helpful by showing empathy through sharing your similar experience, however if you do this, the person speaking is more likely to feel that you think your experience is more important than theirs which has the effect of feeling not listened to, disconnected or undervalued.

Thank you Katie Colombus for the inspiration and co-writing this blog. 

If you’d like to learn more about listening skills, join Lucy Gower and Katie Colombus, assistant director of communications at Samaritans and author of ‘How to Listen’ on 25 March at 12.30 for a Lucidity Network webinar on how to be a brilliant listener. Join live to ask your questions. Here’s your link to sign up. Hurry as places are limited. 

In a crisis investment in your workforce is the key to survival

A guest blog by Alex Marshall.

I’ve spent my career working in the not for profit (NFP) sector. For the last five years I’ve also worked simultaneously for commercial organisations and start ups in the sport, business, and technology sectors. I specialise in helping organisations provide an excellent employee experience to their workforce. One of the biggest differences I’ve noticed between sectors is in their approach and investment in their workforces.

The arrival of the global pandemic crisis has highlighted this difference to me even more starkly. Where NFPs are stripping back all people-related cost centres, many corporate organisations are doubling down on their people strategies and renewing their commitment to their workforce and employee experience.

Why this stark difference in approach?

It would be easy to argue it’s purely down to money.  NFPs run on a tight shoestring at the best of times, with many funders refusing to support core people costs.

Tech start-ups are equally at the mercy of multiple sets of investor/funder demands. However, they choose to take a more people-centric approach. They believe that ultimately the people they employ and the experience they give them are the key to survival and success, not services or products. These will only ever be as successful as the talent they employ. In times of crisis, they believe you need the best talent to be creative and innovative, as well as different perspectives to fight fires and solve problems.

Research data supports this.  Organisations which invest in their people are more resilient in times of crisis and more sustainable in the long-term. Ultimately they are more successful financially because they are better positioned to attract the broadest range of talent.

Where NFP organisations have an innate advantage in times of crisis is they are built on a strong purpose. This provides a strong sense of direction and inner compass when navigating choppy waters.

Many people dedicate their working lives to NFPs because they want to make a difference to society.  They care passionately about the causes they work for. The sector is built on passion and a culture of going ‘above and beyond’, driven by employees’ innate sense of mission. However, when budgets are tight, this can lead to the development of their people being depriotirised because employees will stay in a role because they are passionate about the cause.

Whatever sector you work in it’s easy in a crisis to have a knee jerk reaction to cutting expenditure. This includes cutting investment in recruitment, training, and wellbeing. It’s easy in a crisis to stick with what you know and look for short-term solutions from freelancers, contract staff and consultants. It’s easy in a crisis to focus on your product and services, forgetting the most important element for long term success, which is the experience you give to your employees combined with the quality of their skills, attitude, and motivation to succeed.

Here are my top tips for quick and cost-effective ways to improve the employee experience for your workforce and therefore your long-term success:

  • Recruitment – If you are about to embark on a recruitment drive, make sure assets like your website and social media channels are up to date and communicate your values. These will help potential candidates get a feel for your organisation, especially now that they can’t do so in person.
  • Onboarding new starters virtually can be daunting for both parties. Consider creating a short welcome film featuring different employees sharing some of their top tips and stories about working for your organisation. This is a great way to connect a new starter to the culture and feel of the organisation.
  • Much has changed for organisations in the last three months, so revisit your organisational values. Your organisational values are core principles, which guide behaviour and decision-making; check they still reflect who you say you are and amend/tweak them accordingly.

Alex Marshall runs Spot The Gap, supporting individuals and organisations to be more inclusive and impactful, through better employee engagement, campaigns, and communications. Twitter: @lexymarshall

 

 

 

If you’re looking for cost effective ways to engage and develop your workforce, check out the Lucidity Network – a friendly professional community, that together with online training and coaching, gives members the tools and support to work remotely, manage uncertainty and achieve success at work.

Your views are really important

Give us your feedback

It feels like everyone and their dog is asking for feedback for absolutely everything. Because ‘your views are very important, please give us your feedback’. I seem to be noticing a lot more incentives to encourage feedback too. If all goes well I’ll be off on a cruise with my new iPad before the end of the month.

Fundamentally this is good. It makes absolute sense to check with your customers that you are delighting them, find out what else they want and provide better products and services that meet their needs. Feedback after all is a gift.

And you have to make feedback easy.

There have been several occasions when I’ve wanted to win an iPad (sorry – give feedback) and haven’t been able to. For example recently I was with a friend in a restaurant and we were given a card asking for feedback with our bill. You had to scan a QR code, which took us to a web page where we had a lot of questions to fill in about the service, the look and feel of the restaurant, food choice, standard of food, waiting staff outfits… and the list went on.

There was a serious amount of questions. The page froze when we were halfway through so we tried again.  It took ages so we tried again. This time we just put any answer to get through the system (yes bad I know but that’s what people do if you don’t make it easy).  The web page still froze us out and we gave up. We didn’t win an iPad. We don’t know if the restaurant received our feedback.

So while I’m a big fan of asking your customers for feedback, if you are going to do it, then do it well so that you get feedback that is useful. Below are some tips that might help you.

  • Make gathering feedback part of everyone’s role. Insights that you get from a chat over coffee, or speaking to a participant at an event or speaking to a customer on the phone can highlight lots of opportunities for improvement without the need for formally asking for feedback.
  • Make sure there is a place for feedback to go. It might be a person, or an email address. But there needs to be somewhere where this valuable information is collected.
  • Make it easy – if I have to scan a QR code, or go to a web page that doesn’t download or have to answer a lot of questions I’m going to get bored or not bother or just tick ‘good’ for everything to get to the end and a chance to win an iPad.
  • Ask the relevant questions – what areas do you really want to know about?  Don’t ask me everything and anything.
  • Test it – get someone to sense check the feedback form/website process/whatever it is, get someone to fill it in that knows nothing about your business. (I’m sure it wasn’t only me that got bored, couldn’t access the site and then gave any old answer)
  • Thank people – ask for their data with the right permission statement so that you can go back to them (or make sure you don’t contact them again depending on their preference) with offers/information or whatever is appropriate. (Presumably the one I tried did this – if only I had got to the end…..)
  • Do something with the feedback – if it just sits on a spreadsheet then it’s a pointless exercise.
  • And finally as a customer – if the feedback is clunky, difficult or doesn’t work – feed that back.

A version of this blog was first published at Lucyinnovation. Feedback and comments welcome.

Why OOO aren’t just for when you’re “out of the office”

Why OOO aren’t just for when you’re “out of the office”

How many emails do you get a day? 10, 20, 50, more?

I wear many hats: journalist and editor; communications consultant; trainer; holiday home owner; creative writing retreat host; barn renovator. I’m in touch with many people and I have a lot of people wanting to get hold of me.

It would be easy to find myself in a state of overwhelm, drowning in emails, too many of which are from people demanding my time, energy and money. Instead I decided to reframe my relationship with my inbox.

I view every email contact I receive as an occasion to help people better understand me and my businesses. And just as importantly, as an opportunity to manage expectations. I control my inbox instead of it controlling me.

Let’s take this latter point first.

Most people use their OOO to let others know that they are indeed out-of-the-office and as such there will be a delay to their reply.

However, even when you are in the office, unless you are a slave to your inbox and have it open all the time – in which case I would seriously question your levels of concentration and productivity – you are not going to respond immediately.

Despite this though, many people expect an almost instantaneous reply. They have little regard for your actual priorities and think it should be all about “me, me, me”. (The person who sent me the press release at 10am and then sent a chasey email two hours later. Yes you. I’m talking to you here).

By setting an OOO each morning and providing details of the likely response time they’ll receive, it helps set expectations. It also indicates that if they’ve got something that is actually urgent to ask of me, they should find another way to get in touch. And always, if clients call or WhatsApp me, I’ll respond asap.

So that’s a helpful use of the automatic reply beyond your usual holiday scenario.

“This week I’m in the Dordogne hosting a relaxing retreat for busy women”
Much more fun though is using my OOO to let people know what exciting projects I’m working on. I’m very fortunate that I get to work with some brilliant minds on activities that really do change the world. My work is also varied, challenging, fun. Why wouldn’t I want to tell people all about this?

I like to set colourful and creative OOO’s that help spread good cheer, share key messages and strengthen understanding of the depth and breadth of what I am capable of.

Some of my recent favourites have included:

Thanks for your message. Today I’m working with the awesome Prisoners of Conscience, which supports people who have been persecuted for standing up for human rights. They rightly have my full attention and so I won’t pick up your message until tomorrow. I really appreciate your patience, thank you. And if you fancy learning more about the important role that Prisoners of Conscience plays, check them out here.

And…

Today I’m writing radio scripts, coaching clients to enhance their writing skills and working on the marketing for my creative writing retreat. I’m also finalising the details for the Lucidity Network’s business book club. If you’re not already a member of the Lucidity Network, you need to ask yourself one question – why not? Hope to see you there soon! (And I’ll get back to your email asap, thank you!)

And…

This afternoon I am helping a client taste test and photograph a collection of Italian meals. It’s a hard life, sometimes. I’ll get back to you tomorrow. With thanks for your patience, Becky 

Now, the astute marketeers among you will be wondering whether this is a GDPR-friendly approach or not. I’m happy to confirm that having checked with clever people who know about this kind of stuff that it is.

They told me that if there is no “sales pitch” included in the copy then it’s absolutely fine. And even then, it’s still ok as the OOO is in response to an email that I’ve been sent. A “conversation” is taking place. This is not me contacting someone out of the blue. The only risk would be if I sent a very salesy OOO to someone who had contacted me to say they wanted to opt out of email communication.

The responses I have received to my OOO’s have always been super positive. People often contact me to say how much they enjoy reading them, how inspiring they are and how they’re going to start doing the same. They’ve also been shared across social media multiple times and Richard Sved even wrote a blog about it! (Thanks Richard!)

In Richard’s blog he comments on how my OOO is “lovely, surprising and delightful” to receive, which leaves him with lots of positive messages about how I feel about my work. Which is precisely the intention. I want people to feel as excited about it as I am! So, I’m going to end this blog by paraphrasing Richard’s excellent blog title and ask you: When was the last time your OOO made someone go “ooo-h”?

Let’s start an OOO revolution. Let’s use it to engage the world in what we do, to share messages of positivity and success, or to simply bring a smile to someone’s face.

Will you join us? Let us know in the comments – and show us some examples of your shiny and sparkly OOO messages.

Becky Slack

 

Becky Slack is the managing director of the PR and comms agency, Slack Communications, and the co-host of L’atelier des écrivains – The Writers’ Workshop, France, a four-day creative writing retreat in southwest France and a member of the Lucidity Network.