My top tips to thrive in a culture of constant meetings

thrive in a culture of constant meetings

Do you sit in meetings feeling anxious about what you contribute or wondering if it’s the best use of your time? Have you ever sat waiting to get a word in and then the meeting is over before you’ve had a chance to speak? I think, for too many people, meetings get in the way of getting the important work done. After running a workshop on speaking up and making the most of meetings last week, I thought I’d put my top tips for better meetings down in a blog.

Say no to meetings

I know this might sound controversial but it’s perfectly acceptable to say no to a meeting request. Even if it’s from a very senior important person. Your time is important – you only have a certain number of hours in the day and you must use them wisely. Meetings can suck huge chunks out of your day. So before you say yes make sure that you are clear on the following:

  • What is the purpose of the meeting? What does success look like? For example, to discuss the blah project and decide on timelines, roles and responsibilities.
  • Understand your role in the meeting – why are you invited, what are you there for? If it’s just for information, I’d challenge if you need to be there. Could you get updated on the ‘information’ in a more time effective way like on an email or a quick briefing? Only when you are clear on the purpose of the meeting and your role can you make a decision on whether it’s a good use of your time to attend.
  • If you’re calling the meeting, clearly brief the meeting attendees on the purpose of the meeting and their role. Consider how long the meeting needs to be. Often we just keep talking until the hour is up. A quick-fire meeting could last 10 minutes and if you all stand up it can make it even quicker.
  • I’m a big fan of walk and talk meetings because they are quicker, it creates a
    better dynamic than staring at someone across a desk and walking is proven
    to help your thinking.

Do you ever lose your confidence? Be prepared.

Confidence is something that comes and goes and you have to be deliberate about keeping your confidence tank topped up otherwise it can run empty. When it comes to confidence for speaking up in meetings here are my top tips.

  • Prepare for the meeting – if you know why you’re going and what’s expected of you, you can do a bit of research. When you know your topic it helps you to feel more confident.
  • Give yourself time to breathe. Quite literally, take a few minutes to breathe properly before you go into a meeting. Breathe in and count to four and breathe out and count to four. Repeat.
  • Prepare – be early, bring water (for those nervous croaky throat moments) and go to the bathroom.
  • Turn up to work every day dressed appropriately for a surprise meeting with the most important person in the organisation, this way you are always prepared.
  • If you believe the research by Amy Cuddy, your body language can change your physiology and make you feel more confident. In your meeting pay attention to your body language. Sit up straight, shoulders . back, head upright. Don’t fidget and maintain eye contact.
  • Demonstrate you are actively listening by leaning in. Make eye contact. Use the phrase ‘yes and’ and words from part of the previous sentence when responding to show that you’re really listening.
  • Often we doubt ourselves, the critical voice in our head tells us we don’t know anything and we’re going to get found out. Form an answer in your head compared to what other people are saying in the meeting and when you start to realise that your answers are similar to other peoples it can help to build confidence.
  • Use a technique called anchoring. Remember a time when you felt confident, it could be a work or a personal situation. Remember how you felt in that moment. Practice reconstructing that moment in your mind to tap recreate those feelings of confidence. There’s more on anchoring here.

I always miss my opportunity to speak

It’s happened to the best of us, you hesitate, miss your moment, someone else speaks up, the moment passes and you don’t get to speak at all. You leave feeling a bit disappointed. When it comes to making sure you contribute I advise:

  • Give yourself permission to interrupt, remember you have been asked to the meeting for a purpose, It’s your job to contribute.
  • Lean into the meeting and raise your hand to indicate that you have something to contribute and make eye contact with the meeting chair.
  • Buddy up with an assertive person and work with them to introduce you, for example they might say something like ‘Dave had a good point about this topic’ providing you with a clear opportunity to speak.
  • Remember why you’re there – to share insight based on your unique set of skills and experience. It’s important for the outcomes of the meeting that you contribute.

I’m just too anxious to speak

For some, it can be incredibly daunting to speak up in a meeting and many people feel way out of their comfort zone doing it. If you ever feel like it’s just too scary to speak up, here are my tips:

  • Take small steps to get out of your comfort zone. For example, you might start by agreeing with someone else’s opinion as a way to find your voice rather than making a lengthy point yourself.
  • Ask more questions or ask for clarification. We can often feel anxious by asking what we feel might be a ‘stupid question’. In my experience, if you have a question you won’t be the only one and having the courage to ask it does everyone a favour.
  • Get networked – get to know people in the room, which can make speaking up less intimidating.
  • Tell someone else your thoughts ahead of time so they can introduce you.
  • Remind yourself that you are separate from the issue and you’re there to share your unique views to help move a situation or project along or come to the best conclusion on a problem.
  • Practice speaking up anywhere and everywhere, with friends, family and strangers. For example, when you order your coffee, at the supermarket or in the lunch queue. Say hello, start a conversation, talk about the weather it doesn’t really matter what you say. All these small steps add up to building your confidence for speaking up in meetings.

When I do speak I mess it up

Part of the fear around speaking up in the first place is that we’ll fail or get it
wrong. We perhaps fear that we’ll not represent ourselves well or ‘do ourselves
justice’ and this makes us feel bad. If this resonates with you then my tips are:

  • Speak in headlines – short direct sentences – this helps to stop rambling, which can easily happen when we’re nervous.
  • Listen in to your tone of voice and be careful not to end your sentences (that are not questions) with a questioning tone.
  • Don’t apologize, watch out for ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ and don’t use filler words or words that do yourself down including, ‘just’ and ‘I could be wrong’
  • Take notes and write down what you’re going to say.
  • Set yourself goals, think about the most important information you bring to the meeting and set yourself a goal to just say that one thing.
  • Leverage your expertise and refer back to it when you speak. For example quote research or a time you’ve experienced something similar with great results.

Let’s agree to ban pointless meetings that suck great chunks of the day and exchange them for enjoyable, effective places where you can thrive. Aim to get the desired results in the shortest time freeing you up to achieve your task list and go home on time. If you have more tips for making meetings great again please
do share them below. Let me know how you get on.

If you’d like some help with making time to think, upping your productivity and reclaiming your ‘me-time’ join the Lucidity Community Facebook group to get in the Lucidity groove for clearer thinking and better results.

5 ways reading will boost your communication skills

5 ways reading boosts your communication skills

1) It gives us something to say

In a world where information is the new currency, reading is one of the best sources of continuous learning, knowledge gathering and idea sharing. Books and articles give us the ability to roam throughout the world, travel back in time and look to the future, affording us with a deeper view of ideas, concepts, practices, emotions and events. Reading can open your mind to new choices that you may not have known about or considered before. This is all information which we can then share with others.

2) It helps us understand other people

The first rule of effective communication is to know your audience. Reading about other people can help you understand them better. The same neurological regions of the brain are stimulated when you read about something as when you experience it. Unlike watching the television or listening to the radio, reading gives the brain more time to stop, think, process and imagine the narrative form in front of us. Therefore, reading can help put you in someone else’s shoes, to get inside their heads and experience the things they have. The more you understand someone, the more you can tailor your communications to what they need.

3) It increases our vocabulary

The more we read, the more likely we are to come across new words. Business books, in particular, have words and phrases that are unique to their topic. If you need to communicate with particular sectors and industries, understanding the language being spoken is essential. Otherwise, how are you going to know your CTR from SEO?

4) Reading strengthens the brain

And a strong brain means more effective communication overall. Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. As we read, our brain decodes abstract symbols, makes connections, and conducts various visual and auditory processes. Indeed, multiple studies suggest that mentally challenging tasks, such as reading, help to maintain and build brain cells and connections between those cells, helping to preserve the memory and thinking skills.

5) Reading can give us the ability to make a point

The more we read, the more our brains are able to link cause and effect. The ability to communicate cause and effect is a central component of any argument, sales pitch, negotiation or story. As such, a well-written article or book will be structured in a way that helps us to think in sequence rather than jumping from point to point.

If you’re keen to read more, expand your mind and learn new stuff, why not join the Lucidity Network and participate in the business book club? Members have the opportunity to nominate their books of choice, and all discussion will take place virtually meaning you can take part no matter where in the world you are.

Membership of Lucidity Network is only open for a short time though so you need to get in quick. Join now so you don’t miss out.

If you’re already a member of the network and want to join the book club, drop Becky Slack a line to register your interest. She’s leading on the group and will be coordinating the reading list.

 

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.

Is it time to pay attention to your leaky bucket?

leaky bucket

When did the standard response of ‘fine thanks’ get replaced by ‘busy’ or ‘really busy’ or soooo busy’? If you don’t say that you’re busy do people think you’re lazy? Or boring? Or both?!

Everyone is busy. It’s like a rite of passage. But why? Hasn’t life got easier, more automated? What are we all so busy doing?

Are we busy photographing our lunch for social media? Or multi-tasking across multiple apps and web platforms to stay up to date with the latest news and trends? Or are we just expected to live at a faster pace – to achieve more?

Where are you on your ‘to-do’ list? Is it growing rather than shrinking? You are not alone. In the Lucidity Innovation Leadership Launchpad report, the top reasons that people didn’t do ‘innovation’, or any kind of strategic thinking was because they were too busy, too stressed and they just don’t have enough time.

Is stress catching?

If everyone you surround yourself with is in a state of stress it becomes a problem. It begins to self-perpetuate, we start to feel that we have to be busier or achieving more than our stressed-out friend’s family and colleagues.

Tim Ferris author of The 4-hour work week claims that, ‘you are the average of the 5 people you most associate with’. Think about who those 5 people are. If what Tim says is true, what does this mean for you stress levels?

The problem is, if we spend our time being too busy to look after ourselves our stress levels increase to such a level that we reach burn out. A physician called Hans Selye defined a three-stage reaction to stress called General Adaption Syndrome or GAS. In stage three he said:

The body’s resistance to the stress may gradually be reduced, or may collapse quickly. Generally, this means the immune system, and the body’s ability to resist disease, may be almost totally eliminated. Patients who experience long-term stress may succumb to heart attacks or severe infection due to their reduced immunity.’

This is serious stuff. To live healthy lives, we must learn to reduce our levels of stress. When we are striving to do our best, to deliver work for other people, to look after our family and to climb a career ladder we often forget that in order to do all these things we must be OK.

I heard a quote recently ‘You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm’

To get the results we want, it’s important to take a step back and recharge, otherwise we’re just like a leaky bucket, constantly on the go, our energy draining out through the holes. We need to do two things.

  1. Plug the holes – get the root cause of the stress
  2. Refill the bucket – replenish our energy

Tips to help you keep your bucket full

  • Reframe your thinking – stop telling people you’re busy as your default. When you tell people you’re busy, it often makes you feel more stressed.
  • Take time every day to prioritise. It might just be 10 minutes, for example, at the end of the day to plan your priorities for the following day.
  • Take time every day to list and then reflect on what you’ve achieved that day. Write them down.
  • Get a mentor or a coach; a trusted person to help you focus on what’s important and make progress and help you to manage the feelings of being really busy.
  • Start to notice what triggers your stress, is it a person, a situation? What physically happens to you when you are experiencing stress? Feeling hot or cold, like you can’t think straight, agitated? Start to notice your stress triggers and your response.
  • Next time you feel your stress triggered, try and manage it, for example, go for a walk or phone a friend.
  • Say ‘no’ more often. If you are really busy and taking on something else is too much, then say so. You could offer a different solution, e.g. is there someone else that could help, or negotiate deadlines, could it be done next month when you have more time rather than immediately?
  • Make time to do the things that you love, whether that’s spending time with friends and family, the movies, theatre, reading a book or going for a run. All these things are your fuel – they refill your bucket. Don’t wait until your bucket is empty before you do them. Do them regularly and keep your bucket full.

Let me know how you get on.

If you’d like some help with making time to think, upping your productivity and reclaiming your ‘me-time’ you might benefit from joining the Lucidity Network. It’s a pick and mix of online and offline learning and connection to a dynamic network of people that can help you. We’re open for new members a few times a year. Join the Lucidity Community Facebook group to get in the Lucidity groove for clearer thinking and better results and be the first to hear when the Lucidity Network is open for members.

Five ways to thrive in 2019

5 ways to thrive in 2019

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, January and February can feel like a bit of a slog.  It’s cold. We leave the house in the dark and come home in the dark. That flu virus that sprang up in October is still doing the rounds. We’re still secretly recovering from the overindulgence of Christmas and thriving can feel like the last thing we’re doing.

That’s why last month it was such a breath of fresh air to interview Colette Heneghan of Optimum Living about how to thrive. Colette specialises in helping people working in high-pressured corporate environments as she puts it ‘to be the architect of your own day and not the victim of it.’

If you’ve never felt stressed out by your working day or never felt like you’re stapled to the mattress when the alarm clock goes off in the morning then stop reading. This blog will be a waste of your time.

If, however, you’ve ever felt just tired all the time and overwhelmed by juggling lots of different tasks and priorities. Or if you’ve ever had a day when it gets to 4 pm and you realise you’ve not eaten, or been to the toilet and your feet are like ice blocks because you’ve not moved for six hours then read on.

Colette helps people because she’s been the ambitious burnt-out person and so has a stack of practical tips and tools to turn you from a victim to an architect.

Colette’s advice is to first know the signs that you are not thriving. We’re all different but the most common ‘red flags’ are cancelling social plans because you’re too tired because of work. A one-off is nothing to worry about but if it becomes ‘normal’ to choose catching up on work over friends and family then it’s time to take a step back.

The second common ‘red flag’ is how you feel when your alarm clock goes off in the morning. If more often than not you feel dreadful, like you have to drag yourself out of bed, or for example you have to roll onto the floor so you are so uncomfortable you have to get up (which of course I’ve never done) then that’s bad too.

And if you often feel overwhelmed that you can’t get everything done and end up jumping from one thing to the next, working through lunch and not getting through your list that’s a ‘red flag’ too.

Colette’s first piece of advice is to take a step back give yourself a break. Then start with a blank screen or a blank notebook and write down everything you’re working on and everything that is stressing you out. Get it all in one place so you can see what you’re dealing with. Then she advises not to make big radical changes all in one go, but to make small changes and ‘Never underestimate the power of quiet consistency’.

Colette suggests five things to prioritise in order to thrive:

Seek out daylight early on

Daylight sets our energy dial-up high and helps us sleep later on by regulating our sleep/wake cycle. Also known as your circadian rhythm, the sleep/wake cycle is a 24-hour internal clock that cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. Start to notice what times of day you feel more awake. For example, most people have a slump in the afternoon. Work with your natural cycle and do the hard work, the things that you have to really focus on either earlier or later in the day when you are in the alert part of your cycle.

Eat the rainbow every day

We mean fresh fruit and vegetables and the more brightly coloured the better. Different coloured foods play different roles in the body. Eating a variety of colourful food provides vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to nourish your body that can’t be replicated in a supplement. Aim for at least three colours at every meal and two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables over the course of the day. (Skittles or the cherry on your Tequila Sunrise don’t count here).

Move more

Our bodies were designed for motion not for sitting behind a desk for hours on end. You don’t have to fork out for a gym membership or a new personal trainer. It’s the small things that add up every day, for example, get off the tube or bus one stop early, take the stairs instead of the lift, set an alarm during the day to get up and have a walk and a stretch every hour, or you might even start your day with a 20-minute workout fresh from YouTube.

Get enough sleep

Lack of sleep can affect your immune system, making you more likely to get sick with colds, flus and other illnesses. Set yourself up to have the best nights sleep. Get into a pattern to go to sleep at the same time each night, switch of screens, make the room dark, control the temperature – on the cool side is better than too warm and make it a comfortable place with good pillows and duvets, an environment that you look forward to being in.

Hydrate

Get into the habit of carrying water with you in a reusable bottle. Remember to sip from it regularly throughout the day. It’s a simple ritual to top up energy and daily focus, but because it’s so obvious we often overlook it.

I suspect that the tips above aren’t new news. Think about how you are working right now? What things can you, and want to work on from the list above to help you thrive?

There’s often a gap between what we know we should do and what we actually do. So plan your day to close that knowing-doing gap. For example, if you want to be better hydrated, carry a water bottle, if you want to eat the rainbow stock your fridge and cupboards with fruit and veg. You know it. Now do it and make the small changes that will make a big impact on your ability to thrive.

If you’d like more tips and tools to thrive then check out Colette’s latest book Work Fuel available in March 2019 and pre-order here.

The ‘How to thrive in 2019 webinar with Colette Heneghan is part of the exclusive content available to Lucidity Network members.

The Lucidity Network is a professional development network that combines a mix of face-to-face meet-ups, online toolkits and access to a community that supports you in getting the results you want. We’re open for new members a few times a year. Sign up to the waiting list to be the first to know when the Network is open for new members. In the meantime, you can join the Lucidity Community free Facebook group for clearer thinking and better results.  

Why this octogenarian is engaged

1942 photo of Genevieve (age 7) leading "Molly", the pony with two evacuees on her

At a Lucidity Network meeting, a member asked me directly why I am still so energetically engaged at age 83. I did give some reasons, but recognised that the answers are complex and that other people are surprised or puzzled at the level of my engagement. I decided that for my own and others’ sakes I should reflect on my motivators.

In Japan, in the 1970’s, I realised that I should record my personal observations about health and other experiences and that could be valuable to other people in the future. My accumulative and updating journal ‘Resources: sources and resources for occupational health’ in the 1980’s was indeed a practical attempt to make my professional observations available widely.

When I was elected as a councillor, in the London Borough of Hounslow, I decided that rather than health and education “which I know about”, I would do planning. Open House London offered excellent training as did TfL (Transport for London). Their training and ‘councillor‘ status gave me the confidence to contribute in other professional groups where I was often the only ‘political elected’ person or representative of local government.

Resulting from my research for Resources and beyond, I have followed threads on health, environment, third sector (for example NCVO), and others. I have done biblical translations and Bible-related content, and created a dictionary, that is to be available as open source, and is suitable for teachers and students of English as a second or additional language. I’ve followed KTN and Innovate UK from the early days. Since becoming a councillor, I have also engaged with local government and national government information sources.

After a long period of illness, pneumonia and sequelae in 2009-10 I started to engage or re-engage within something like a five-mile radius. I had moved to Hillingdon after selling my maisonette on the day that I had been elected as a councillor in Hounslow, so had not built strong local roots. The social worker at the hospital suggested that I join the U3A, an Age UK social group and activities at the local Leisure centre. I did those things.

To facilitate my rehabilitation, my church leader wanted me to re-order the church library and voluntarily work in the office each week, which I did. Supervision, feedback and related engagement were invisible. When the church’s new office and community room were being refurbished last year – that stopped. In spite of enquiries, the library is still in boxes, and there has been no discussion about possible resumption.

After being with the Age UK social group for over a year I moved to being a volunteer in an ‘Aging well’ group where I was able to express my creativity. I joined the U3A Science, Geology and Digital photography groups but gradually discontinued after about three years. Physical distance and the exclusive social climate discouraged me. After about three years I gradually desisted from both in favour of walking, especially in a short-lived walking group, that went outside my normal range.

As I regained confidence I cruised, to enjoy a Christian history theme, around the British Isles and eighteen months later cruised, with the same captain, to biblical sites in the Mediterranean. Both cruises were very personally affirming with great personal engagement.

I did attend some professional meetings, as earlier, and have continued that engagement that is growing again now. I started to attend some London Borough of Hillingdon meetings. However, still being a newcomer to the borough made engagement difficult.

I hosted a highly qualified nurse from Papua New Guinea for the six-month duration of her one day a week course in tropical medicine. We exchanged experiences and knowledge. We walked miles together and she was amazed as my ‘dead’ vine and other trees gradually displayed their full glory in the especially long spring. I saw our beautiful natural environment through new eyes.

While attending an older people’s consultation group at the Civic Centre I signed up to BORG (Brunel Older People’s Reference Group). That engagement has been very personally rewarding. BORG invited us to an event to discuss a research project (and they fed us). A few weeks later we get a letter describing the research project and participant requirements. If eligible, we were encouraged to sign up. When the study was finished we got an invitation to the report day. Several universities or other groups may get involved (and they feed us!). As the most proactive BORG member, I now attend lots of other events at the University and am gradually being rewarded by growing engagement and recognition.

I participated in a Brunel research study on loneliness in the elderly. I noted that digital photography was increasing the quality, intensity and interest of my observations, especially of the natural and built environment. That allowed engagement with the environment but not proper engagement with people, which was becoming more difficult.

I lost my closest female friend, my adopted brother’s wife, in 2009, and after five or so years in various care homes, my older sister and my former room-mate, in early 2018. So, the people who really knew me have gone.

When the Age UK ‘Aging well’ group closed I moved to a group of mainly Punjabi speaking women. where I join in the exercises, move lots of chairs, and usually play Rummikub ‘open handed’ with one to three group members.

There are sometimes two or more weeks in the summer and at Christmas when engagement stops. Yes, one does get invited out on Christmas Day. I usually carve the turkeys at St John’s, West Ealing for the ‘soup kitchen’ Christmas dinner but then go to a home for the rest of the day. I also call available people together for a muddy walk between Christmas and the New year, ploughman’s lunch and board games afterwards.

At some point, I realised that when I went to a meeting ‘in town’ (London), I built in exercise including cardio exercise by walking up the escalators and stairs. I also realised that organisers were glad to welcome and engage with attendees. Also, that at London meetings one often met with and could engage with leaders, especially, the professors at the BCS Women and related meetings. I use my Freedom pass and started to look for more frequent events ‘in town’.

Knowing that one will have one or more meaningful engagement in which one can offer some useful contribution brings me deep pleasure.

Thank you, Lucy and Lucidity Network, for enabling such purposeful engagement even between the physical meetings!

Genevieve is the oldest (and one of the most engaged!) members of Lucidity Network, if you need a hand reawakening your mojo come join our free Facebook community dedicated to clearer thinking for better results. You’ll also be privy to upcoming events and find out when the network is open to new members.

Genevieve M Hibbs former: nurse (general and occupational health), midwife, Christian missionary, lecturer, elected councillor, mayor and a member of the Lucidity Network.