Monday, 10 July 2017

Performance Management: Are You Guilty of Magical Thinking?


There's a lot of magical thinking that hovers around Performance Management that even seasoned managers succumb to: that, somehow, problems with people's performance will fix themselves without anyone having to say anything to anybody.

I've heard line managers say things like, "They must know what they're doing isn't right so at some point they'll do something about it.”  or “It’s obvious there’s a problem; I’ll wait for them to bring it up.” Or “it’s not so bad; I’m sure it will come good at some point.”

The answer is “No”.  No, they won’t do anything about it; no, they won’t bring it up and no, it won’t come good at any point.

Problems don’t magically fix themselves; problems don’t just go away.  Indeed, unaddressed problems get bigger and bigger till they often escalate to a state far worse than if they had been dealt with early on.

Magical thinking like this is prevalent because it’s hard for a lot of managers to deal with things in the moment (or near enough to the moment).  Often in these situations, the manager will have an emotional reaction to whatever is going on (“Did that just happen?”) and won’t quite know what to do.  And then they delay doing anything.

Many managers fear emotional outbursts (what if the other person cries or gets angry?); they don’t want to rock the boat (things are going so well, why spoil it by bringing up a problem); they’re afraid of disagreement which could turn into conflict.

Even though we all know that ignoring problems won’t make them go away, people still do just that.

I remember working with one manager on a Performance Management course who said he intended asking for a transfer to another department because he had knots in his stomach every time he came to the office (and which he took home with him as well).  There was one member of his team in particular who caused him sleepless nights because he was sure this chap was now deliberately being difficult.

I asked him if he had had any conversations with his team member about the issues and he actually said he thought that because his colleague was clearly doing things on purpose there was no point in discussing it.

By the way, irrational thinking like this definitely falls into the magical thinking category as well.

I pointed out that it was very possible that if he transferred to another department there might be someone equally difficult there and wouldn’t it be better to upskill himself rather than transfer from department to department because he was unable to manage people’s day to day performance if there were difficulties.

Upskilling seems rather obvious but when someone is in the middle of strong emotions, anxiety and even fear, running away actually seems the more viable option.

Equally obviously, running away doesn’t necessarily change anything if the same situations arise in the place you’ve run away to.

So let’s look at what some of those skills are that can dispel magical thinking and give managers the confidence to handle day to day performance and be better able to deal with difficulties as they arise.  If you are one of those that fall into the magical thinking category, these tips are for you:

1. Look for opportunities to acknowledge and praise team members on a day to day basis; don’t just wait for the above and beyond.  By recognising the stuff that people do every day you are building trust so that if difficulties do arise, it will be easier to have the conversations.

2. Have regular feedback sessions.  Again, this creates a climate of trust because you are keeping a dialogue going about day to day things that arise.  Here you can summarise all the positive things you’ve noticed and especially any improvements since the previous feedback session.  This is also the opportunity to review any difficulties that have arisen to see how they are being dealt with.

3. Make it two-way.  Any conversation with a colleague needs to be just that – a conversation, not a lecture.  Ask open questions and listen to your team member.  Also be open to any issues he or she may have with you.

4. Nip it in the bud.  Don’t wait for your feedback sessions if something comes up that’s problematic.  The longer you wait, the more the situation will fester.  Even if you agree to discuss it in more detail during your feedback sessions, letting the other person know that there is an issue means it’s out on the table and you don’t have to carry around that extra anxiety about dealing with it.

5. Set really specific goals and parameters in order to improve performance.  Don’t leave the onus completely up to them; measureable goals do make it clear for both parties to see whether there has or has not been progress.

6. Offer support.  Alongside goals, giving support to achieve them will help both of you as you will be doing what you can to improve the situation and the other person will see that they aren’t being left to fend for themselves.

7. Accept that sometimes not all problems are ‘fixable’.  If you’ve done all the above and things haven’t improved, you may indeed have to escalate things to a formal disciplinary.  The main thing is that you will have done all you can to avoid that and to maintain healthy working relationships with all your team.

Let’s face it, most people (me included) really do wish that everyone would just get on with their jobs, get on with their colleagues, manage their emotions, deal with problems maturely and contribute to making work a lovely place to be.

That’s magical thinking in a nutshell.

Great Performance Management, however, can actually bring a little magic into the workplace.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb

Check out our Performance Management Course

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Influencing When You Have No Authority: Tips to Making an Impact

This is a common question we get asked, “how can I possibly influence someone when I have no authority over them?”.

And our answer: the same way you would if you did have authority over them.

Really, that’s not as glib as it sounds; what we mean is that what you have to adjust is what goes on in your head because what goes on in your head will influence your body language, what you say, how you react and what your expectations are.

If you try to influence someone who is either higher up or completely unrelated to your area, department, etc., you could have the attitude that they really have no obligation to even listen to you, let alone give you what you want. Right from the off you will be expecting a no; you’ll be drenched in anticipated disappointment.

With that attitude you may come across as apologetic, diffident, possibly even slightly defensive. You won’t be able to convey your wants effectively because your approach will get in the way.

If, however, your attitude is that you have something exciting / relevant/ important / interesting / useful to discuss with them then your whole outlook and manner will be completely different.

We did some work with the marketing department of a very large global organisation a few years back and the theme we had to address in our Influencing courses was that the marketeers had virtually no authority over anyone else in the company with whom they had to negotiate to get things done or changed.

What they struggled with was that aside from benefiting the collective whole of the organisation, there wasn’t really anything in it for the people they were trying to influence.  Or so they thought.

Most delegate's aha moment came when they realised just how much their attitude 'influenced' their ability to influence. Once they saw that they could choose their attitude, then the practical tools were a piece of cake.

Once you have an attitude shift, there are so many more options available to influence where you have no direct clout.

Here are some easy, practical tips you can use to influence:

1. Think about what might make you more amenable to hearing someone out when you have no real obligation to do so. Although not applicable to everyone, a fairly reliable approach to take is to acknowledge what the other person has done that makes you want to influence them in the first place.

It isn’t about false flattery (you can try that but I’m not a great fan), it’s about genuinely recognising their talents, expertise, abilities.

2. Empathise with their position, perhaps letting them know that you assume lots of people must come to them for help or advice and you don’t want to overburden them. Personally, I’m far more likely to look favourably on someone who makes an effort to understand how busy I am than someone who just assumes my door is open 24 hours a day.

3. Make an effort to see the situation from their point of view. When we want something it’s very easy to get caught up in trying to convince the other person about what our point of view is and to keep plugging away till they ‘get’ it. A far better tactic is to put aside your perspective for a bit and look at it from their perspective, or what you think might be their perspective. You can even say something along the lines of, “I’m wondering if this might be going on for you…..” or “I’m assuming this might be happening…..I wonder if that’s the case?”

Get them talking about what’s going on for them and you will have a tonne more information than you did and you can use that information to adjust and tweak what you were going to say.

What all of this does is to help shape how others see you so that you are someone other people want to support rather than someone people duck behind desks to avoid.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director of Impact Factory

Check out our Influencing and Influence and Negotiation Courses.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Quicker Better Meetings: Changing unproductive, unhelpful patterns


Does this scenario sound familiar?

You’re at a meeting that’s going along rather well and the agenda items are being ticked off at a satisfying rate and disagreements are ironed out with ease. It even looks as though the meeting might end early and your mind flits ahead to the extra time you’ll have to catch up on all the emails that will have come in during the meeting.

And then……a voice pipes up asking a long, convoluted question that had to do with something three agenda items ago, accompanied by lots of shuffling of papers. 

“Oh no,” you say to yourself, “here we go again.” 

By the time whoever’s chairing the meeting has figured out what the question is and attempted an answer, your dreams of an early finished are dashed and you pretend to be interested in what’s being said, which is usually a repetition of something that was said half an hour ago. You might even be discreetly trying to sneak a peek at your phone so of course your mind isn’t on the meeting at all.

And that’s just one example of what can bog down a meeting. We, all of us, will have lots of examples of what can make a meeting torturous: a chair who can’t keep order, no agenda, lots of rambling and distractions, someone trying to hijack the meeting or browbeat others, drowning in minutiae and on and on and on. 

See if you can identify what gets in the way of you having ‘quicker better meetings’. 

One of the reasons why some meetings tend to be deadly is that they fall into a pattern very quickly.  All you need is to have two meetings in a row with the same people and if no one steps in to change the dynamic, then a pattern will be set. If that pattern includes allowing people to rabbit on, to go off the agenda, to keep dragging in irrelevant issues, to complain when they don’t get their way, then your meetings will be endless with greater conflict and fewer concerns resolved.

So how do you get your meetings to become quicker and better?

Change a Pattern

Look at the patterns that are slowing down your meetings and see what you could do to shift them.

The interesting thing about changing patterns is that this can be done in ways both subtle and not so subtle depending upon how embedded the patterns are.

For instance, we worked with a company that often had contentious meetings between management and union reps. Meetings inevitably ended up as ‘them and us’ scenarios. When we started working with the union reps we asked how the meeting rooms were set up and unsurprisingly the union chaps sat on one side of the table and management on another, and thus it had always been.

We recommended that they get to the meetings ahead of time and to dot themselves around the table which would immediately break the physical representation of ‘them and us’. Once they changed the physical set-up it was almost like magic one of the reps told us, because instead of squaring up across the table, the found they were chatting to whoever was next to them which took the heat out of the situation.

That’s just one pattern that was easy to change and really was done under the radar.

Other patterns require a less subtle approach. I call these the ‘people patterns’ where individuals fall into the same behaviour every single time there’s a meeting, just like the person I mentioned at the beginning of this blog. 

As a matter of fact, that description is based on my personal experience and the frustration and impatience I felt was mirrored around the table. Since this was a group that met often, I would grit my teeth as this person asked yet another question that had already been answered ages ago. I finally came up with my personal strategy since the chair didn’t seem to know how to handle her in any effective way – as a matter of fact, he kind of treated her as though her interruption was normal which only encouraged her even more.

My tactic was first, to wait till she was seated and then to sit next to her. That way I could monitor her body language when it looked as though she was about to speak after shuffling her papers.  Second, was as soon as she asked a question that had already been dealt with I intervened in a really friendly way saying that since the question had already been covered earlier I’d be really happy to stay on after the meeting and go over it all with her. 

Over the course of a few meetings I did this about three times and I knew I had broken the pattern when instead of asking the chair a question she turned to me and whispered if I’d mind going over something after the meeting. Victory!

The reason I have used these two examples (and we have so many more tricks up our sleeves when it comes to making meetings more efficient) is that in each case something really different but not confrontational had to be done to change the dynamic. 

Here’s a couple of quick tips:

1.       Look at what you could physically do to change the layout of your meeting room or where people sit. Be the first to ‘sit on the other side of the table’. 

2.       Identify what behaviour patterns both you and other people do that slow things down. It’s easier to change your behaviour so let’s start there. You can do simple things to do with your body language which will have a subtle impact on everyone else (sitting straighter in your chair, leaning forward, ensuring you give eye contact to everyone when you speak).


In other words, if you want productive meetings you have to start to change the patterns that make them unbearable. 

Don’t wait for someone else to rescue your meetings; put on the life preserver and take the plunge!


Check out our Quicker Better Meetings Open Course.


Thursday, 1 June 2017

Negotiation: Does Compromise Get to Win-Win?


I've been thinking a lot recently about compromise when it comes to negotiation. 

In negotiation-speak the phrase 'win-win' is often used as the sought after outcome of a negotiation.  So where does compromise come into it when compromising can often feel like giving in?

Certainly, when I was much younger compromise felt like win-lose, with me on the losing side. I hated compromising because it felt as though I was conceding and the other person would be triumphant that I had ‘caved in’.

What happened to me then (and what happens to a lot of people in many kinds of negotiating arenas) is that I held on to my position because it felt like life or death (even negotiating what to do over the weekend). It’s as if compromising not only meant giving in over this one thing, but it also was an indication that I was a pushover, that everything I believed was up for grabs.

It doesn’t make any rational sense but back then, when negotiating, my rational side often disappeared and in its place, a fight to the death. I look back and cringe at some of the situations where I ‘held my ground’ because it felt as though my very being was being attacked when I differed with someone during a negotiation. I hid it very well, but inside I felt my sense of self was on the line when I compromised.

How wrong could I have been?

It wasn't till I became older (and wiser) that I began looking on compromise not only as a terrific bargaining chip but also as the manifestation of empathy.  The more I empathised with the other 'side', the more I was able to see his or her point of view; the more I was able to see the other point of view, the more I was able to understand what would help them feel heard and acknowledged.

The more the other person felt heard and acknowledged, the more they would be willing to meet half-way. Conceding was no longer about losing but far more about bridge-building. 
I was no longer buffeted by irrational beliefs but liberated because I became a much better negotiator the more I was willing to give stuff away. 

Negotiating isn’t about getting my own way, but is about building relationships so that everyone feels good about the interaction.

This shift in attitude really does make life easier. I go into negotiations with a much lighter heart, no longer feeling threatened or attacked if what I think I want isn’t going to happen. I’ve talked about this before in previous negotiation blogs about changing my want. So instead of hanging onto what I thought was my bottom line and focusing all my attention on getting it, I now am willing to change what I want often to something intangible like both of us just feeling like we had a good conversation and not necessarily arriving at a conclusion.

Compromising means it all doesn’t have to happen right now just the way I pictured it. I can change the picture if it means I don’t have to get into a fight. 

Let me take up the image of bridge-building. Bridge-building is about making an offer rather than demanding a concession from the other person. I’ve used this analogy before but it bears repeating:  if I put a plank down or even two or three planks, then the other person inevitably will put a plank down and this can carry on till you meet in the middle of the bridge and both still feel good about carrying on communicating.

Each time you consciously and deliberately compromise you are laying down a plank and the more planks you put in place, the easier it is for the other person to offer a plank and to make the bridge stronger.

Think of compromise as an art, a skill, a tool, rather than something that takes an emotional toll (as I used to think and feel) – it’s a much easier way to get to win-win.


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




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.