Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Negotiation: Mind Over Matter?

It’s kind of natural that we tend to think of negotiations as BIG stuff like union contracts, tenders for new business, going for a pay rise, renewing a corporate lease – you get the picture. Yet our everyday lives are filled with a series of little negotiations about even the smallest things, and the skills we could use for the BIG stuff are equally relevant for the small stuff.   

First, let’s look at one of my favourite kind of negotiations: negotiating with yourself.

If you are anything like me you might even have ‘treat’ negotiations. They go something like this: “When I finish this article, I’ll treat myself to a cup of tea and a bickie.” “If I clean the house today, I’ll treat myself to a lie-in tomorrow.” “If I go to the gym, I’ll treat myself to an extra piece of chocolate tonight.” “When my inbox is empty I’ll treat myself to a couple of games of Sudoku.”

Now, the reason I call these negotiations instead of statements of intent is what happens when I don’t actually finish the article, clean the house, go to the gym or empty my in-box?  That’s when the negotiations begin. “Well, I nearly finished the article, so I’ll have the tea and biscuit anyway.” “I’ll just give the house a quick dust and it’ll be fine – I’ll still have my lie-in.” “I did walk to work, so I don’t absolutely have to go to the gym and what’s one little chocolate anyway?” “I’ve already done a lot so one game of Sudoku will be OK.”

The fascinating thing about negotiating with yourself is that you don’t really need to. You could just have the lie-in, eat the chocolate, fill in the Sudoku grid without the justification.  Somehow the negotiation allows us to give ourselves permission to do what we wanted to do in the first place.  

The reason I’m even introducing the idea of self-negotiation is the impact our minds have on even the simplest negotiation and how all that chatter can actually get in the way of achieving what we want.

One key sack of coal that fuels that chatter is how much we assume about the other person when we are negotiating even a simple thing like which restaurant we should go to on Saturday night. The mind builds up so many arguments, counter-arguments, uncertainties, over-questioning, what ifs, that it stops us from cutting to the chase of what we actually want.

Here’s an example. What you really want: “I want to try that new Italian restaurant that opened a couple of weeks ago.”

What can happen: the yapping in your head might take over and tell you that the other person probably won’t want to go to the Italian restaurant because it might be too expensive or you just had pasta at home last night or she generally prefers fish and chips on the weekend or she’d probably rather chill out on the sofa with a take-away.

When you decide what the other person is thinking and feeling that definitely clouds your ability to present your negotiations clearly, simply and with an end goal in mind.

It’s really hard to negotiate with all that going on up there.

A far better approach to try to still those voices is to: 1) Determine what you want – the new Italian restaurant that just opened. 2) Find out what the other person wants without deciding ahead of time what you think that will be. 3) Decide what you are willing to give away – does it have to be this weekend for instance? 4) What would win-win look like? Fish and chips this weekend, Italian restaurant the next or even something completely out of the box: “Let’s not go out for three months and save that money for a fabulous weekend away.”

When you get stuck conversing with yourself about possible outcomes, it limits your ability to see what might be possible.

It’s clear that when you translate all of that into negotiating the big stuff the consequences can be significant. In the same way you negotiate with yourself over the biscuit or in your head over where to go on Saturday night, you start the bargaining process in your mind before you've even set the parameters of what you want. By doing that you create uncertainty, which is the last thing you need when you negotiate because the other person will sniff that uncertainty out and consciously or unconsciously exploit it to take advantage of your hesitation.

If you’ve already decided in your mind that the other person is going to say no or that they won't think you’re worth it or they'll think you’re too arrogant (etc., etc., etc.) then of course that will have an impact on the way you negotiate. You’ll give those thoughts away through your body language or your verbal language weaving in extra padding, not getting to the point, not giving a straight answer (Yipes! Sounds like a politician!!).

Cutting out that extraneous noise can be tricky. Most of us have lived with those naysaying voices most of our lives, so trying to shut them up can be very hard work. The first step is of course to pay attention when you do start those internal negotiations. I know that for the longest time I didn’t even notice the cartwheels my mind was doing because the prattling seemed so normal. It felt a real breakthrough when I could hear myself and perceive just what I was doing.

The second step is not to give yourself a hard time when you notice the brain-babble.  Notice it and move on.

If you can do steps one and two, guess what? Then the fun of negotiation can begin and you might actually get what you want – with the little stuff and the big stuff.

Check out Impact Factory’s range of One Day Negotiation Skills and Two Day Influencing & Negotiation Skills courses.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Bring back the art of dialogue. It’s National Conversation Week

Did you know that this week is the first ever National Conversation Week? 

I certainly didn’t and I say – Hooray!  What a great idea to encourage people to have actual conversations with each other at work, with friends, at home.

Well most of us need to raise our awareness of how dependent we’ve become on technology to do our communicating for us and how quickly the habit of making time to converse is diminishing. 

But for me it’s not just technology that gets in the way of conversations; it’s the speed with which we run our lives, run being the operative word – we run from one task to another, from one engagement to another. 

We over-pack our lives with lots of doing, me included, so this week my personal resolution is to slow down and talk to people.  I love that there’s a National Conversation Week because already it’s made me think about times I’ve sent an email instead of picking up the phone, or even worse, all the letters I’ve written in my head whose words were never put to paper. 

There are consequences as well.  How many of us have either sent or been on the receiving end of an email or text that we or they completely misinterpreted?  And then that misinterpretation caused a whole lot of difficulty.  I can raise my hand to that one - I recently sent an email to a friend where she read all sorts into it that I hadn’t intended.  If we’d been face to face or even talking on the phone I would definitely have picked up those signals that tell us all is not well and could have pre-empted all those misunderstandings.

Avoiding conversations we’d rather not have is quite common as well.  Our tummies churn and chests get tight (well mine do at any rate) when we think about saying what’s going on for us.  We also make up in our heads what the other person is going to say (well I often do at any rate) so having had the conversations in our minds, we often don’t have them in real life.

The less we have those difficult conversations, the more they build up; the more they build up, the greater our anxiety about having them. So we don’t and the cycle continues.  Something quite small can grow into something huge that feels often impossible to tackle.  I think back embarrassingly to a friend I cut off decades ago when I was in my twenties because I simply didn’t have the courage or the skills to have that difficult conversation.

During National Conversation Week we could all take some small steps:  if you are writing stuff in your head, send a letter or email instead; if you are about to send an email, pick up the phone, and when you do pick up the phone, make a date to have a face to face conversation.

Conversation used to be considered an art and I agree that it is a skill well worth honing for the sheer pleasure of using words to connect to others. 

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Communication, ConflictManagement, Assertiveness and Business Networking courses.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Customer Service – Has Frustration ever got the better of you?

Ever had a phone call or face to face confrontation with someone who was in a Customer Service Department where you almost burst with frustration?

I have. I was reduced to tears. Me! I don’t get reduced to tears over stuff like when my phone is going to be hooked up or why my express delivery package never arrived.  But I did. 

There was me working incredibly hard to remain calm, reasonable, logical and what I got in return was prevarication, disinterest and someone who absolutely didn’t listen. This, by the way, was my fifth call to get my problem sorted. And we all have heard stories of people who have made far more calls than I did to try to get some form of satisfaction.

Why, oh why, is it so hard for some organisations to offer the fundamentals of good customer service? 

Clearly, I’ve got a real bee in my bonnet and I will confess that when it comes to customer service I’m like a one-woman vigilante, spotting poor service from 100 paces.

The thing is that good customer service isn’t hard to achieve.

Let’s start with some basics to think about for yourself or your people who have to deal with customers. 

Be a real person talking to another real person.

Your customers will listen to what you have to say if they, in turn, feel listened to.

It’s quite off-putting to know that people are reading from a script or are using pat answers.  I know I don’t like it when I’m on the receiving end of over formality which simply distances me from whoever I’m speaking to. 

Equally, I don’t want over-familiarity (I absolutely hate it when someone calls me Jo – not my name) which is nearly as off-putting as the script reader. False cheeriness will not endear me to anyone when I’m looking for resolution of a problem.

No one should need to put on a ‘Customer Service persona’.  Pleasant, friendly and welcoming are all excellent qualities that indicate you’re talking to a real person.

The empathy thing

I’d say that every list of top tips on great customer service talks about empathy.  So why is that? Because it makes my first point about being a real person more possible. It’s hard to genuinely relate to another person if you can’t imagine what they might be going through.  You’re never going to feel exactly as they do, but with empathy you can certainly get a fair insight for what’s going on for them. 

Really listening to what the customer is saying and then reflecting back what you’ve heard and letting them know you understand all add up to authentic empathy.  People respond to empathy are far more likely to calm down and be less stressed when they realise the person they are talking to isn’t just trying to get rid of them but cares about resolving the problem.

Resolving the problem

Once you have established a connection then you can get down to discussing the options that will resolve the issue. Not every problem has a straight-forward resolution – wouldn’t that be great.  However, when you establish empathy and demonstrate that you care about this real person with their real problem you are far more likely to get the customer to help find a solution instead of them berating you for not getting it sorted asap.

An extra bonus is that when someone is treated really well, they are more tolerant of hold-ups and delays and even when you mess up. I’ve said before that a sign that you are providing great customer service is that your customers will forgive you for your mistakes.

Another sure-fire way to connect with your customers is to show flexibility. You can usually tell when someone is ‘taking the piss’ and trying one on; most of the time though, your customers just want to get to the bottom of what the problem is and to get it sorted. The more flexible you can be, the better. Sticking to rigid rules says to the customer that the deck is definitely stacked against them.

It really isn’t rocket science

Offering great customer service isn’t difficult: ditch the script, remember you’re both real people, treat your customers with excellent listening skills and empathy, show flexibility and work with your customers to resolve their issues. If you can create an environment where this is the way customers are treated, you will be a customer service master.

Check out Impact Factory’s Customer Service courses.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Good leaders or a leadership culture: What makes an organisation thrive?

We need leaders. Most people would rather be led than lead and that’s just fine, especially if you have a leader who is inspiring, creates trust, sees the big picture and yet has an awareness of the small stuff too.

People often need guidance and direction and also feedback that they’re on the right track and that the leader has their back.

At the same time, there has been a lot more talk in the corporate and training worlds about developing leadership throughout an entire organisation and how much more effective that is than simply developing individuals.

On our Leadership Development courses professionals come along with a range of levels and requirements: some want a refresh of their skills, some have just been appointed to new roles, some need to take a good hard look at their leadership style and how they communicate their vision, some even feel a bit of a fraud, as though they aren’t really leaders and are going to be found out any day now. 

We believe that people can be developed into better more motivating leaders prepared to make a more effective impact on their organisations. 

As far as we’re concerned, there doesn’t need to be an ‘either or’ but rather, we ask the question, what would most benefit your organisation? And why not do both: develop individuals in leadership roles and spread a leadership culture to everyone in the business.

What do you mean by a leadership culture I hear you ask?

Take a look at your own organisation. Has everyone ‘bought in’ to the ethos of the business and feel that their contribution is appreciated and acknowledged?  Are people trusted at all levels within the company? Are people able to challenge the status quo, make suggestions for change and given responsibility for actualising some of their ideas? Are staff members encouraged to initiate projects and feel they can influence the outcome of decisions?

A leadership culture can exist equally well in a strict hierarchy or a flat structure as long as the environment is supportive and fosters the concept that everyone, whatever their status in the organisation, has a valid voice.  This does mean that people will question how things are done and will offer suggestions that may, at first glance, not exactly fit.

So how do you create a leadership culture? That brings us back to leaders, doesn’t it? If you already have a leadership culture, then the key is to maintain and develop it and ensure it keeps bubbling along with commitment and enthusiasm. 

If it doesn’t already exist, then someone, or more than one someone has to introduce its benefits both to the powers that be (if they aren’t themselves the powers that be) and the organisation as a whole.

And there couldn’t be a better time than right now to take the ball and run with it because of the uncertainty and volatility that exists in the world today. Old ways of doing things may simply not work anymore nor will completely top-down structures necessarily be responsive to the changing business climate we are experiencing.

Organisations may indeed have to ‘turn on a dime’ and the more involved, trusted and creative the workplace is, the better any organisation will be to handle its future in a valuable, productive and considered way.

Check out Impact Factory’s Leadership Development, Personal Impact, Line Management and Five Day Elite courses - Communicate with Impact and Presentation withImpact.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Presentation Skills Top Tips to Overcome Fear

“No, no! Please don’t ask me to make a presentation.  I can’t do it; I get too scared; I’ll faint; I won’t be able to breathe.”

Now, maybe you don’t have this extreme reaction when you’re asked to present, but perhaps your initial reaction is like a rabbit in the headlights and you mentally leap to how to avoid it or why you’re the wrong person or just how awful you’re going to feel.

All common responses; all completely understandable.

Why they’re understandable is that for most people standing in front of a group of people or sitting around a table presenting is unnatural, exposing, awkward and utterly nerve-wracking.  It’s also why things like daises and PowerPoint and iPads are used so extensively – because they’re something to hide behind.

For a lot of people, they think there’s nothing they can do but endure and get through it.

If you’re one of those people, here are some things you can do before you make your next presentation and of course, when you’re actually in front of an audience.


  1. Do your homework.  Too often I’ve seen people who felt they were too busy to prepare.  I cannot emphasise enough just how important it is to be well-prepared.  You don’t have to know every nuance of your material but you have to know enough to be able to reassure people you know what you’re talking about and how to direct people to learn more. 

  1. Someone else’s slide deck.  If you are expected to present someone else’s slide-deck, then make enough notes in your own voice so when you present it sounds like you, rather than presenting something that doesn’t quite fit.

  1. Avoid trying to wing it.  Even if you’re well-prepared, you still need to rehearse and rehearse again.  And again.  If you use PowerPoint, then you absolutely have to learn how to make it work for you.

  1. Visit the space.  There’s nothing like really knowing the arena you’ll be presenting in. Sometimes that may not be possible, but when it is, have a walk around the space, sit at the table, get a feel for the room’s vibes.  Walking into an unknown place can be very unnerving, so getting to know it ahead of time will serve you very well.

  1. Make the space your own.  Not only is it important to get a feel for the space, it’s also good to put your own stamp on it, even if all that means is shifting some chairs, moving a table, leaving brochures for people to take – really anything that shows you are connected to the space.  For your audience, on an unconscious level, the more you ‘own’ the space, the more credibility it gives you.


  1. Breathe.  That seems pretty obvious, but when your nerves are on over-drive, your breathing tends to be shallow which in turn can make you feel as though you aren’t getting enough oxygen.  Before you start it really helps to take three or four deep slow breaths (note: if you take fast breaths you could well become dizzy and light-headed).

  1. Jump around.  Not on stage but before hand you could jump up and down a few times or if that’s not possible, do some stretches.  Even if you are sitting, you can still stretch your arms above your head, or turn your head slowly from side to side, shrug your shoulders; pretty much anything that will get you settled into your body.

  1. Take your time.  When you’re scared, it’s easy to rush.  By slowing things down right at the beginning, you will come across as thoughtful and considered.  If this is indeed the first time in the space, if there’s any furniture or props (a dais, a table, a carafe of water, a computer or tablet, etc.) move them, handle them, place them where you want them.

  1. Eye contact.  Again, when your nerves are strung as taut as they can stretch, it’s easy to stay buried in your notes or keep your eyes focused on your slides.  Making eye contact with at least a few members of your audience is a good way to settle some of those nerves.  Seek out a couple of friendly faces and return to them throughout the presentation.

  1. Sips of water.  Think of taking sips of water as mini-breaks where you can gather your thoughts, look at your audience and move a bit. Moving around is really important if you find yourself becoming rooted to the spot.  Not only will it help you breathe better, it will get your blood moving as well.

  1. Enjoy yourself??  Believe it or not, once your nerves are under manageable control, presenting can be an exciting, energising and engaging way to communicate with others.

Follow even just a few of these tips and you’ll feel a lot more like the king of the jungle than that poor, frightened rabbit.

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Presentation Skills courses:  Presentation Skills One and Two Day, AdvancedPresentation, Public Speaking and our Elite Five Day Presentation with Impact.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

How to Create the Christmas You Want: Top Tips for a Happier Holiday Season

“Christmas comes but once a year, and when it comes it brings good cheer.” (Traditional Nursery Rhyme)

Ya, well, for some it brings good cheer; for others, it really can be a miserable old time.

My advice is not only relevant for people who dread the upcoming ‘festive’ season, but for those who listen year in and year out to friends and relatives who moan about their dismal Christmases.

Here are your options this year:

Do exactly as you did last year
Do something different

All right, so that's a bit simplistic.  The reality is that unless you do something different you will indeed repeat the same dynamic as last year.

Although it's slightly late in the day, you could cancel the usual Christmas that you inhabit and book Christmas lunch at a pub or restaurant.  I know a few families who have done that in the past few years and have never looked back.

You could even book to get away from everything and everyone.  I'm a great fan of turning tail and running if you dread what's up ahead.

However, if you genuinely want to have a family Christmas despite what happened last year (and presumably the year before and the year before that and so on, stretching all the way back to childhood), then you absolutely have to change what you do if you want a different outcome.


By doing something different you may not get the outcome you want, but I can guarantee you will get something different.


Whenever families get together, whether it’s a jolly time or a fraught time, everyone will fall into patterns of behaviour.  

Forewarned is forearmed.  With Christmas a hop, skip and jump away, this is a great time to step back and take a good hard look at the patterns that can make your Christmas so hard.  Until you can get under the skin of where the problems lay, you can’t do anything about shifting them.

What actually happens every time you get together?  Or rather, what are the patterns that are detrimental to peace and harmony?  Keep the good patterns, get rid of the negative ones.

How do I do that??

Accept that your aim is only to change your behaviour.  You have no control, nor should you, over anyone else’s.  


Once you've identified the patterns it's imperative to identify the triggers.  Patterns can only be maintained if you get hooked by the triggers and thus repeat the unhelpful, unhealthy behaviour.

Here’s a for instance:  the pattern could be:  "Every time we get together, I end up arguing with my sister."  The trigger could be:  "She always criticises the way I speak to my daughter."

Once you isolate the specific behaviour that triggers the argument, then you can begin to change what you do.

Here’s what you can do
Using the above example, here are some options:

1. Using Diversionary tactics.  As soon as you see her mouth getting ready to say the same old thing, take diversionary action and get her to do something for you.

2. Preempting.  Get in there before she does.  "Oh look I've done it again.  I know how annoying it is to you when I speak to Ella that way. My bad!"  And change the subject.

3. Agreeing.  This can be tricky as you don't necessarily want to agree with her point of view, but you can acknowledge how she feels.  "I agree Sis, I can see it annoys you when I talk to Ella that way."

And then zip the lip and get on with stuffing the turkey or whatever other job you have on hand.

4. Putting it on the back burner.  Knowing that the holiday time can bring out the worst in both of you, now would be a good time to let her know you know how she feels but that now isn't the best time to open the discussion.  "Why don't we park this for now and find a better, quieter time to have a chat."

5. Going to the loo.  Invent an urgent need as soon as the offending words are out of her mouth.  This will buy you some time where you can have a silent scream, collect your thoughts, rip up some loo roll as though it was your sister and calmly and smilingly return to the fray.

In each case you have no idea how she will react.  She might wind down, she might escalate, she might walk off in a huff or she might take the hint.  You just don't know.

What will be different is that you've taken charge of the situation by altering what you do so you participate in changing the pattern.

The options will be effective for any trigger you identify:  mother-in-law criticising the way you roast the potatoes, hubby plonking himself in front of the telly, Uncle Smithy getting drunk, etc.

The key is to hold on tight and avoid the bait that's either consciously or, more likely, unconsciously thrown your way.

Surviving Christmas means raising your awareness to the point where you can actively choose to behave in ways that support your well-being instead of perpetuating old, dysfunctional patterns that drag you down.

PS:  Patterns aren’t just for Christmas!  If you find you simply don’t have the strength to challenge your own behaviour during Christmas, by all means give it a try in the New Year.  That would be one resolution worth keeping.

Check out Impact Factory’s range of one and two-day Assertiveness Skills, Conflict Management and Personal Impact courses.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Fibbing about Father Christmas

Today has been a day of BBC radio interviews asking my reaction to an article in a couple of the national newspapers about the long-term damage to children being ‘lied’ to about the existence of Father Christmas.

The authors of a piece in The Lancet (Prof Christopher Boyle from the University of Exeter and Dr Kathy McKay from the University of New England in Australia) claim that lying about Father Christmas and the subsequent discovery by the child of the lie destroys the trust between parent and child.

Whoa!  That’s quite a claim if I do say so myself.

As a psychotherapist, I have heard a lot of stories about the traumas of Christmas, but never in my career have I heard anyone talk about how damaged they felt at being lied to about Father Christmas.

The authors claim that when children find out their parents have lied about Father Christmas then the bond of trust is broken because, what else have they been lied to about.  Granted, the authors say their theory isn’t based on observation but is theoretical so there isn’t actually a body of research to back up the claim.

It’s still worth unpicking to see if there is any merit in the argument.

Is fibbing about Father Christmas really worse than fibbing about the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny or any other fantasy characters children embrace when they are young?  

When you think about it, parents lie to their children all the time, often for their own (the child’s) well-being:  “Can I watch another film?  Please, please, please?  “Oh, it looks like the video isn’t working any more; let’s read a bedtime story instead.”  And so on.  We sprinkle our communication with lies for convenience, protection, expediency - any number of reasons – and children do survive these lies unscathed.

Let’s get serious for a moment.  There are far more damaging behaviours that parents do to create long-term harm to their children including physical, sexual or emotional abuse; consistently not keeping their word; malicious lying.  If we’re concerned about the breakdown of trust that’s where our attention should be.

Personally, I’m not keen on parents using Father Christmas as a threat (“he knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake”), but it seems very reasonable to join children in their pretend world till it isn’t pretend anymore.

Children thrive on fantasy, on make believe, on using their imaginations to create their unique worlds and often long after they have learned the ‘truth’ about Santa Claus, they enjoy perpetuating the myth for the next lot coming up.

In just about every interview I had today, I was asked what parents should say if their children ask if Father Christmas is real.  The answer was the same, ask the child what he or she thinks; ask what they like about Father Christmas and what makes them think he isn’t real.

Create a dialogue with your child rather than making it a question and answer session because dialogue helps them work things out for themselves in a way that works for their reality, not necessarily yours.

This whole notion has felt like a tempest in a tea-pot and I for one will continue to support whatever myths the little ones around me have till they don’t believe them any more and they’re on to something else. 

By Jo Ellen Gryzb, Director of Impact Factory