Effective communication & conflict resolution

Grace Gedeon is an expert in the area of effective communication. Her work in the area of business coaching and leadership coaching, where she brings her experience as a lawyer and psychologist to bear, as well as her warm and genuine personality, has led her to the insights in this week’s post.

Grace Gideon, Executive Coach
Grace Gedeon, executive coach

Effective communication

Effective communication is about making your position clear while allowing others to feel respected and valued. One effective communication technique is to paraphrase the person with whom you are speaking in order to: a) make it clear that you are listening, and b) confirm that what you think you are hearing is what they intended. Listening with an open mind and an open heart is profoundly helpful when it comes to removing all judgment and projection, and establishing better and more respectful business relationships.

Conflict resolution

Full-blown battles waste time and energy, damage your good reputation, and decrease your motivation. Conflict resolution techniques, like effective communication and negotiation skills, can help you overcome these obstacles and maybe even make new allies.

Anger management

Anger management is about being able to lose a battle to win the war. It’s also about ensuring you don’t let your temper stand in the way of achieving the best business outcome. Certainly, anger has its uses. For instance, it can motivate you into action. Take note, hot energy motivates, cool energy mediates. Anger management helps you use your healthy anger to fuel appropriate action and once in action, you can learn how to stay cool, clam and collected in order to negotiate and mediate the best outcome for any given situation.

If you have a problem with anger management, talk to me. Together, we can identify your triggers and help you to develop more positive ways to react to perceived threats. This will ensure your business and career can go from strength to strength.

Stress management

Stress management isn’t always easy. The pressures of work can be a tremendous burden. With the right business coaching or executive coaching, you can learn the keys to stress management: self-awareness, self-care, establishing priorities, identifying the source of stress (environmental or emotional), managing your time effectively and, the best stress management technique of all, finding stress relief through love and gratitude in their many varied forms and languages.

Contributor: Our current featured member, Grace Gedeon, is a life coach and executive coach who blends her business and psychology experience to create her unique capacity to intuitively and clinically diagnose the psychological factors that stand in the way of your success and fulfillment. Grace teaches effective techniques to help you transform your career in a deep and long lasting way.

You don’t have to be a yes-person …

… but you don’t have to be a naysayer.

What do you do when a manager suggests a project that you have reservations about?

As we’ve discussed in an earlier post, it’s important for managers to create a culture where their reports don’t feel that they have to be yes-people. When you are the report, it’s also important not to be a yes-person, both for the organisation’s success and for your own feeling of self-worth.

Recently, though, we were discussing with a colleague the importance of using judgement in this situation. Sometimes, in avoiding being a yes-person, it’s easy to fall into the trap of becoming a naysayer. Have a look at the differences in attitude that these responses suggest, and the likely reception you will get from your manager:

Yes-person Naysayer What about …
Yes! What’s the point of this? I’d like a better understanding of the business imperatives for this project.
 Yes! I don’t have time for this. Can we look at resourcing to ensure we meet these timeframes?
Yes! Senior management won’t like this. I have some suggestions for issues you’re likely to encounter in getting management approval.
Yes! I don’t know how to do this. Can you work with me to coach me through this?
Yes! That’s not how we do things here. I think you are likely to encounter some resistance from our accounting and risk departments because historically we have taken another approach to this, which I can give you more information on if you’d like.

Our colleague had recently been leading a project with some very resistant team members. It was difficult to give their concerns full weight, because of the negative way in which they expressed these concerns. She didn’t want or expect yes-people, but the nay-saying was both unhelpful and uninformative. Even when the proposal was to take on additional team members to help with the workload, she was met with the response, “A new team member will just make more work for me”.

Executive Coach Exchange team feedback
Can you recast negative feedback to be more useful and informative?

With responses more like those in the third column – and note, these are not all positive responses – our colleague would have been better placed to address the concerns and make the project work for the team members as well as for senior management.

Our colleague remembered an occasion when she was just starting out, when she was surprised to hear a senior manager strongly recommending someone for a challenging role, despite explicitly recognising that the candidate wasn’t qualified: “She doesn’t have the skills or experience for the job,” he said, “but she’s an energy-giver not an energy-taker, and she’ll bring enthusiasm to the team.”

Our colleague said that after her recent experience, while still not sharing the view that enthusiasm trumps ability, she could understand how a manager could reach the point of wanting to be surrounded by positivity.

When you need to raise concerns or give feedback to management, it’s worthwhile thinking about the result you want to achieve.  You can be honest and forthright without being negative. When you are purely negative, without any suggestions for overcoming the issue, it can be tempting for management to disregard your opinions. If you are prepared to put the time and thought into answers more like those in the third column, this can benefit everyone involved, including the organisation as a whole.

An executive coach can help junior managers reframe their feedback to achieve a more positive outcome, and can help senior managers create a culture where staff feel more able to express their concerns in an informative and helpful way.

Controlling your emotions during difficult conversations

Imagine that you are about to have a difficult conversation in the workplace. For the sake of this discussion, let’s imagine it’s someone who reports to you and who has annoyed you by their behaviour or actions. The specifics don’t matter.

Marg Lennon, Executive Coach
Marg Lennon, Executive Coach

Something to guard against is this. When you talk to them about what they have done you may find your emotions get the better of you. You will want to avoid this and focus on achieving the outcome you desire. How can you achieve this?

The first and most obvious point is to apply the Boy Scout motto: Be prepared. Certainly you will want to be clear about what has occurred to upset you and why. But beyond that you can try to anticipate the responses that you may receive from the other person.

Secondly, think about the sorts of reactions that you may have unconsciously inside yourself. You may find yourself getting defensive and fearful. This is natural. However, the better you have prepared, the less likely it is that these emotions will overwhelm you.

Now let’s remedy this situation with a good dose of curiosity. Think about what caused their behaviour or action, because you can be sure that they feel self-justified. In fact, you can be confident that they see their own actions and behaviour as proper and correct.

Don’t judge too quickly, don’t blame, rather listen to them.

Of course, this is not in any sense to diminish the need to achieve the outcome you want. After all, this person reports to you and you are supposed to be in charge.

However, this approach should allow you a stronger sense of control so that your emotions don’t impede your ability to achieve your objective.

This way, both parties can walk away feeling OK about the outcome.

Contributor: Our current featured member, Marg Lennon, is an executive coach who provides coaching, mentoring and leadership development consultancy services to clients across a variety of industries, including Health, Financial Services, Insurance, Pharmaceutical, Mining, Telecommunications, Education, Architecture, Medical Devices and Public Relations. Marg’s measured approach and insight coupled with her innate ability to build rapport readily enable her to help others minimise risks, operate more strategically and gain critical perspectives to make significant positive changes.

Sometimes the bravest thing is just showing up

For me, what keeps executive coaching fascinating is how much I learn from the process and how inspiring my clients are. As the year draws to a close, I’ve been reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned this year.

In 2017, my coaching practice has mainly been with aspiring and newly appointed leaders in the government and NGO sectors. Working with all these people has been such a rewarding experience.

My first lesson for 2017 has been a reaffirmation of how talented, committed and hard-working the people who work in the public sector and in NGOs are.

My second lesson has been a reminder of how effective executive coaching can be in assisting people to recognise, believe in and apply their own talents.

My third lesson has been the perennial one: how important asking the right questions is in executive coaching.

Executive Coach Exchange courageHowever, the client I learned the most from this year was one who found coaching extremely challenging. I am going to call them Lee.

Lee’s manager had referred them to coaching and, although their participation wasn’t mandatory, it was strongly encouraged. Building trust with a client is always important but my own experience of being coached showed me that it’s especially important when the client has been ‘volunteered’.

I could see straight away that Lee was very wary of the process. Despite a very encouraging shared conversation with their manager, with lots of positive comments, Lee was initially unwilling to share insights into the issues they were experiencing at work.

However, as time went by, things started to change. Lee became increasingly willing to talk through issues and, later, became committed to using coaching as a means to test new ideas and explore new approaches. At the end of the coaching process, Lee told me how much courage this had taken and let me know how pleased they were they had persevered.

The big lesson for me was that a client might come across as a difficult person, when actually they are showing a great deal of bravery just getting themselves to the table, before they can even begin the coaching itself. The more I thought about this, the more courage I thought this took.

Pushing yourself to do something so far out of your comfort zone takes guts and determination. It shows what you can really do when you try.

So, my biggest lesson for 2017 has been:

sometimes the bravest thing is just showing up.

Contributor: Dr Catherine Burrows is a Sydney-based executive coach, available in Wollongong, Newcastle, Western NSW and other areas by arrangement. Catherine is a Founding Partner of Executive Coach Exchange and the CEO and owner of Innoverum independent consulting.

Lee is a fictionalised amalgam of several clients.

Managing poor performance – identifying the issues

At some point in their careers, every manager will have to tackle the issue of poor performance. This is a challenging issue, particularly for people in their first managerial role, so we asked 3 of our HR expert coaches to give us their views.

Marg Lennon has a strong Senior Executive Human Resources background in the Pharmaceutical and Medical Device industries, having spent many years in Australian, Asia Pacific and Global roles.

Trish Kelly was the General Manager Human Resources for 8 years in the NSW Department of Education and Communities, then the largest organisation in the southern hemisphere.

Paula Liverani-Brooks is a Human Resources leader in multinational organisations ranging from Bio-Tech to Consumer Goods and Financial institutions.

We asked them:

  • how managers can identify poor performance and its causes
  • where the responsibility lies
  • how managers can address poor performance and where to start
  • whether there are any traps to look out for.

Over the next weeks, we will share their answers and reflections. We begin our series with Marg Lennon, who says:

Marg Lennon, Executive Coach
Marg Lennon, Executive Coach

Every manager will experience the need to improve an employee’s performance at some stage in their managerial life. Every employee deserves effective feedback on how they are doing with a view to improving their performance, and it is the manager’s job to provide that feedback. Sometimes the person is shocked to find out they are not doing as well as they thought, as no one had told them previously.

The first question to ask is just what exactly is poor performance. Are you talking about the employee’s specialist and technical skills as described in their job description? Or do you really mean that their behaviour and attitude do not align with that of the organisation?

Once you’re clear about what type of performance issue you’re addressing, it’s useful to take a step back and consider other factors that may be affecting the employee in their work environment. Some questions to ponder:

  • How long has this been going on?
  • Is the employee really clear on their tasks, timelines, quality of work and your expectations? (Often managers think they have communicated in a concise fashion, but the employee can hear and act differently from expectations).
  • Have you delegated the tasks well and not micromanaged the situation?
  • Are the timelines realistic?
  • Have you noticed any change recently?

The next step, when you feel you may have grasped the broader picture, is to have a discussion with the employee to discover what the cause of this situation might be. Initially this discussion is a discovery one: you want to know what’s going on for this person that may be affecting their work.

Responding to the issues you have uncovered, you could find solutions in technical or skills training or mentoring from another more skilled employee on a specific task. You still need to restate your expectations and standards and this could include providing examples of similar work, if possible. It’s important the employee knows exactly what you require from them, so they can understand the performance standards required and you can look for further improvements.

If the performance relates to a behavioural issue, then it’s important to give clear examples of the poor behaviour and the improvements you expect to see. The employee needs to know specifically in which areas you are looking for improvement.

Conclude the meeting with a summary of what outcomes is required and the timelines, along with a scheduled follow up meeting. Ensure the employee shows they have understood your expectations by being able to verbally express what they think you said and the areas in which you are expecting to see an improvement.

It is essential to monitor the ongoing performance and to meet with your employee again after a short period. They need a chance to improve, so don’t expect miracles overnight.

Contributor: Marg Lennon provides coaching, mentoring and leadership development consultancy services to clients across a variety of industries. Marg is available in Sydney, Canberra and by Facetime anywhere.

Narrating our colleagues positively

We recently came across this interesting article by Jane E Dutton and Julia Lee, “The Benefits of Saying Nice Things About Your Colleagues”.

The authors make a great case for positively “narrating” our colleagues, saying that “the stories we hear from others that highlight our unique contributions can help us find purpose in our relationships with our colleagues and our work”.

Executive Coach Exchange narratives gellinger pixabay
The authors of this interesting article make a strong case for positive narration of our colleagues.

They suggest four key opportunities to tell positive stories about our colleagues:

  • first impressions – introducing new team members in a way that builds connections as soon as they start in the team,
  • new projects – highlighting the value that each team member brings to a project in initial project team introductions,
  • when a colleague is undermined – using this opportunity to reinforce the colleague’s value in the organisation, and
  • endings and exits – creating meaning when a colleague resigns or is made redundant, by sharing positive stories about the colleague’s contribution.

The authors provide a particularly powerful example of using positive narration when a colleague is undermined, in the story of “Sasha” and “Svetlana”, two new managers who found it difficult to have their voices heard in a male-dominated work team. The article reports, “They decided to publicly support each other and others whose voices were often not heard. For example, when Svetlana proposed a new plan to reduce costs, Sasha followed up by repeating and elaborating on Svetlana’s idea, giving full credit to Svetlana. … These actions shifted the way each manager saw themselves …”

In relation to endings and exits, the authors explain that sharing positive stories can extend beyond the immediate team, to potential new workplaces for the former colleague. The authors give the example of “Sipho”, whose colleagues were encouraged to contribute positive stories about his contribution, and then found that this prompted and empowered them to recommend him to new employers.

As well as the practical support for the individual in a situation like this, the positive narrative approach can help to maintain a connection as the colleague moves to the next opportunity. The approach also mitigates some of the potential damage to relationships between the remaining team members, creating a better outcome overall for the team than can be the case when a departing colleague is ushered straight out the door.

We all have examples of the damage done by dismissive or negative stories about colleagues in the workplace. This article makes an excellent case for taking an intentional, positive approach to workplace narratives.


When to speak up – and when not to

How do you know when to speak up? How do you know when it’s better not to? What are the rules?

Photo: Dawn Arlotta

This is an issue many of our clients seem to wrestle with. It’s often difficult to speak up when you know something others don’t. Here is a step-by-step guide to speaking up.

  1. What’s the context?

The time that people find most difficult to speak up is in a meeting, especially when it’s the boss who has got something wrong. In this situation, ask yourself these questions:

  • How critical is it for me to speak?
  • Do I need to speak now?
  • What are the consequences if I don’t speak?

If you know something important that other people don’t, and the consequences are serious for others if you don’t tell them, you need to speak up.

However, you also need to judge the situation.  If you are about to tell your boss, in public, that they are mistaken, you need to use strong politeness markers.

Depending on the people involved and your personal style, you can signal that you are not being deliberately confrontational, aggressive or offensive with introductions like:

  • “I recently learned that …”
  • “You may already be aware that …”
  • “I’ve just received new/additional information on this issue”, or even
  • “Could you let us know your opinion on this opposing view?”

However, balance this with the fact that if it’s important enough to speak up, then you should try to ensure your message is delivered with confidence, and isn’t lost in too much deference.

  1. Is it essential you speak right now?

If it’s not urgent, find a time later to talk to the person who had the wrong information. Politely let them know you have been given different or perhaps more recent information. Offer to check which of you is correct and update the person later. Try to find out where the other person got their information and be prepared to be wrong.

  1. Is it important?

Sometimes someone is wrong but it’s not important. You need to use your judgement here. If there is no risk and no serious consequences, sometimes it’s best to let it go. Don’t let this become an excuse for never speaking up, however.

  1. Is it personal?

If someone has said something personal, it’s best wherever possible to talk to them later. You are the only person who can judge whether you need to speak to them and when. If you find it’s impeding your relationship, you should seriously consider speaking to them. You may be surprised at how often people are apologetic and upset to find their words were hurtful.

  1. Does it always have to be you?

Observe carefully how other people in the team act in these situations, especially more experienced team members. Are you the only one who ever speaks up? If so, ask yourself why no-one else is prepared to speak. Consider other ways to get your information across.

  1. How can I avoid this situation in the first place?

If you are the subject matter expert, for example in HR, legal or finance, offer to find out the latest information in advance and prepare some notes for your boss for future meetings. A good boss will be glad of the offer of assistance and pleased with your initiative.

Speaking up needn’t be scary. If you learn when to speak and how to speak up politely but firmly, you will gain a reputation as a subject matter expert, a trusted authority and a good communicator.

Delegating effectively – part 2

Last week we looked at setting the stage for effective delegation.  This week we’re considering how to follow up to ensure that your delegation is successful.

Executive Coach Exchange colleagues starflames pixabayEffective delegation does not mean things will never go wrong. If a task is not on-track, avoid the temptation to take the work back and complete it yourself. Your staff member cannot learn how to do a task properly if they know you will take it back at the first sign of a problem. You should also give a clear message that your staff should come to you when they encounter problems. Your staff should feel confident that they can come to you with a problem and you will help them solve it. You might like to try talking to them in these terms:

  • If something goes wrong, I want to hear about it from you and not from someone else;
  • If something goes wrong, we will work together to find a solution and fix it;

and, as they develop their skills,

  • If something goes wrong, come and tell me about it and propose a solution for us to fix the problem together.

Patience and calmness are essential. If your staff are frightened of your response, they won’t tell you when things go wrong until they become crises. Small, solvable problems can quickly become serious if they are not dealt with early. If you calmly work with your staff member to find a solution, they will build their problem-solving skills. They will be more likely to be able to propose a solution when they tell you about a problem and will learn to solve problems for themselves.

Finally, as you contemplate delegating, reflect on times when your managers delegated to you effectively. Recall how you felt when you were first asked to take responsibility for a significant piece of work. Probably you felt happy, proud and more than a little nervous. What did your manager do to help you get started? How did you know what was expected of you? How did they check back in with you? How did they react when things went wrong? Be mindful of your own experience as you delegate to your staff.

Next week, we’ll look at the interesting issue of capture, and when delegation arrangements need to be refreshed.

Delegating effectively – part 1

Every manager needs to learn how to delegate effectively to be successful. Martin Zwilling comments that while some people find delegating easy, most of us struggle to get this important management skill right.

He refers to Jan Yager’s time management self-improvement program, Work Less, Do More, discussing ways to improve your delegation skills, including:

  • Choosing what tasks you are willing to delegate and the right person to delegate each one to;
  • Giving clear instructions, including a definite completion date;
  • Delegating responsibility and authority, not just the task;
  • Trusting those to whom you delegate; and
  • Giving public credit when your staff succeed.

Zwilling also suggests you delegate tasks you are not suited to, for example those which require particular technical expertise. Yager writes, “Delegating the right task to the right person at the right time is key to growing your business and increasing your productivity.”

Executive Coach Exchange colleagues rawpixel pixabay

Mind Tools has a terrific article about delegation. They ask, since “Delegation is a win-win when done appropriately…”, why don’t people delegate? They suggest people don’t delegate because it takes a lot of up-front effort. However, “Delegation allows you to make the best use of your time and skills, and it helps other people in the team grow and develop to reach their full potential in the organization.”

They provide a checklist to help you decide when to delegate:

  • Is this a task that someone else can do, or is it critical that you do it yourself?
  • Does the task provide an opportunity to grow and develop another person’s skills?
  • Is this a task that will recur, in a similar form, in the future?
  • Do you have enough time to delegate the job effectively? Time must be available for adequate training, for questions and answers, for opportunities to check progress, and for rework if that is necessary.
  • Is this a task that I should delegate? Tasks critical for long-term success, such as recruiting the right people for your team, genuinely do need your attention.

Once you decide the conditions are right for you to delegate, you need to help your staff member to be successful. For this to happen, your staff member must understand the objectives of the tasks they have been given and be allocated sufficient authority and responsibility to carry them out.

Trust is important but this does not mean ‘set and forget’. As manager, your role should be to undertake regular check-ups to ensure delegated tasks are on track. We recommend setting specific milestones for this, with both times and required outcomes.

Next week we will discuss how to follow up on effective delegation.

Respectful listening

Executive Coach Exchange Gustav Vigeland
Gustav Vigeland, The Vigeland Installation, Frogner Park

Following on from our recent posts about meetings, this week we are looking at the concept of respectful listening.

A leader in a difficult meeting said, “If I’ve listened carefully, I heard you say…”. Notice how the leader took responsibility for listening carefully to the speaker.

At a basic level, respectful listening involves maintaining focus and avoiding distractions.  Using the time while others are speaking to check emails or hold side conversations does more than distract the speaker and other listeners – it also defeats the purpose of your own presence in the conversation.

Some people see the time when others are speaking as an opportunity to plan their next comment. This means they are not part of the conversation because they are not truly present.

The result is they don’t actually hear what others have to say. Even if they catch the broad message, they will almost certainly miss:

  • the subtle nuances of what others are saying;
  • their implicit messages; and
  • the emotional content.

All these, of course, give powerful clues to what the speakers really care about, what they are worried about and what they really need to win in a negotiation.

To listen respectfully, you need to attend to what people are saying and what they mean. Try using these five steps before you respond with your own comment:

  1. Focus on the person and what they mean.
  2. Concentrate on what lies behind their comments as they speak.
  3. Consider their meaning before replying.
  4. Pause and take a breath before you respond.
  5. Then summarise what you’ve heard to make sure you’ve really understood them.

Associate Professor Will Felps of the University of NSW Business School has carried out research into what he calls ‘respectful inquiry’, which has a strong component of respectful listening and also flows from it.

‘Respectful inquiry…involves asking questions in an open way then listening attentively to the response. “These communication behaviours combine to signal the degree to which someone is encouraged to continue to share his/her thoughts on a subject during a conversation,”‘ he says.

Felps says there are three barriers to a “healthy level of questioning and listening”:

  • simple egotism, or thinking about issues only from one’s own perspective;
  • an old-school model of leadership, based on the idea that the job of a leader is to direct; and
  • ‘threat rigidity’, or “the idea that when we are under stress we lose our will to explore”, which means that the time when respectful inquiry is most essential is also the time it is least likely to be utilised.

Listening respectfully and making respectful inquiry takes time, commitment and practice. It’s a more challenging way to have a conversation because it requires so much more attention. With practice, though, you will find the results far more rewarding, both at a personal and a professional level.