Recently, I have been conducting some face to face workshops around influencing, effective communication and stress management. It is exciting to have the opportunity not only to teach these skills, but to put them directly into the context of a specific working environment. It was amazing to see some of the aha moments people had, along with the realization that they had the keys to their biggest problems right in their own hands.
The training starts with some education on the power of influence. I share 6 levers of influence – authority, expertise, resources, information, relationships and attitude. The workshop goes deeper into the specifics of expertise, information and resources in the workplace. Even though I lived in the middle of it myself back in my project manager days, I am still always surprised at the volumes of information that need to be shared in a cross discipline team, and how often little pieces of information change and ultimately impact the project. Communication breakdowns in this environment are plentiful – and they are a key source of inefficiency and frustration.
What I’ve seen, both in my overall career and in the discussions in these workshops, is that even when information is conveyed, often it is missing critical context. There are a hundred reasons something can change – some of them viable, understandable and important to the outcome of the project. When the context of the change isn’t shared along with the change, the level of urgency and importance can be lost, but new and lasting frustrations can also be created when people don’t know why they are being required to change everything (again).
In a fast-paced environment, communication takes place in many different ways. Email, collaboration tools like slack, instant messaging and even text are some of the ways that communication is made in writing. In the name of speed, we often crack off one-liners to update people. This can be dangerous for many reasons. The first of which I just mentioned above – CONTEXT! Instead of just asking a question or giving a new direction, taking a moment to add the context of the request can make a big difference in the way people receive, perceive and respond to that request. Unfortunately, we also do a lot of speculating and assuming about people and their intentions. One-liners might seem potentially efficient and even innocuous, but the receiver can take the brevity as an insult or reproach without any other context.
Learning about communication styles and how they impact what people listen and respond to is often one of the biggest eye openers for participants. Often we think we are being crystal clear – and quite possibly we are being crystal clear for someone who has the same communication style and focus that we do. But people with different styles are tuning you out when you are focused on process if they are interested in action, or on big ideas, or on the impact to people. By simply adapting the context to better align with the person’s preferred communication style, you can capture the listener’s full attention instead of letting it slip away.
Listening is such an important part of communication. Our attention spans have grown shorter, and with 100 things on our to do lists, it can be quite hard to stop and focus 100% on something, anything. But distracted listening has so many traps because when we are distracted, we miss important information, simple physical and intonation cues, and most importantly, the opportunity to ask questions and ensure we really understood the situation. We miss most, if not all, the CONTEXT which I can’t stress enough is the difference between effectively solving problems and flailing away at things again and again.
I have a big focus on stress management in all my training and workshops. Complex, matrix working environments with many parts and pieces and people dealing with constant change are stress incubators. Stress impacts us physically and it impacts our behavior. We go through a repetitive cycle of thoughts which trigger emotions. Strong negative emotions like distrust, anger, frustration, doubt, trigger a physical stress reaction. From there we are often not our “usual” self. We snap, we argue, we want to break something and alas, what usually gets broken is people.
There are lots of ways to interrupt that cycle but they all start with awareness. Before you can change anything, you have to become consciously aware of it. So learning how to identify the cycle and your body’s way of reacting physically to stress is a critical first step to changing stress-induced outcomes. And frankly, it’s hard, if not impossible, to resolve conflict when you have lost your calm.
Resolving conflict requires all the skills we’re talking about here: influence, effective communication, listening and asking questions as well as managing your own stress are all at play. The workshop takes it all to the next level as we use real scenarios from the work environment to do role playing and see the different tools in action.
One thing I will be adding to my training and workshops is more focus on personal responsibility. In even the most stressful environments, people often think the problem is……everyone else. But the reality is, even when we have learned all the possible tools for stress and influence and conflict and communication, we still don’t always use them. Each individual has a central role to play in changing an overall stressful environment. Taking personal responsibility and owning the impact of everything you say and do is the first step to a better place to work. Own your own reaction when other people are behaving badly and don’t respond in kind. Before you ask what your teammates can be doing better, think through everything you control directly and can do better.
I can’t wait to do it again! Contact me for more information about training and workshops in your workplace.