July, 2012 | Published by Anecdote - Putting Stories to Work.
Whenever we start discussions with a potential client about what we do and how we do it, we always get asked; "We're a bit different from your other clients. Do you think people tell, and will share, stories around here?"
Whether it's mining, banking, retail, insurance, government departments, consulting firms, pharmaceutical companies, power generators, or telcos they always start with that question. And the answer is always the same - absolutely.
Stories are our natural way of communicating. In fact research by Robin Dunbar shows that 65% of the time when we are talking we are actually talking about who did what, to whom. We're telling stories.
From mine sites deep in the Hunter Valley, to the factory floor of a power plant outside Lithgow, to the top floor of a corporate headquarters overlooking Sydney Harbour, we hear people telling stories. As human beings we just can't help ourselves!
So with that in mind, welcome to the latest edition of Anecdotally. Sit back and relax, we've got lots of stuff to share with you.
In this edition, we have:
Technique - The best way to persuade people is with your ears - by listening to them
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The best way to persuade people is with your ears - by listening to them
“The best way to persuade people is with your ears - by listening to them.” Dean Rusk (US Secretary of State 1961-1969)
In November 2008, I attended a workshop in Melbourne run by Ash Ramsden. Ash used a simple exercise to illustrate the tremendous negative impact of failing to listen. To give you an idea of the impact this activity has, Ash specifically instructed us that there was to be no physical contact during the exercise (i.e no matter how angry you get, no hitting!). The technique was described in our December 2008 newsletter, but we have included it again because listening is so fundamental, and organisations don't seem to be getting any better at it.
Anecdote's purpose is to help restore humanity to the workplace and one of the simple ways this can be done is to become better listeners. Not surprisingly then, I have used Ash's technique many times, especially in leadership programs. Without fail, the activity has a powerful impact. Listening is one of the many little things that are not easy to do when you're busy and under pressure. When we don't listen we de-humanise workplaces and the result is poor performance and low staff engagement.
How to run this activity:
Create two lines of chairs facing each other. Get them close enough that the participant's knees are nearly touching.
The facilitator should say something like: "We are about to undertake an exercise in listening. It's important that we do it in the spirit of play and exploration. Throughout the exercise keep watching yourself and notice how you are reacting and feeling. You must not touch the other person at any time. One line will be the talkers and the other line are the listeners. For the talkers, talk about something you are passionate about, something that's important to you. For the listeners I will be walking behind the talkers and when on your left I want you to give 100% effort in listening: body language, feedback, eyes - everything you've got. When I'm on your right I want you to be completely disinterested and adjust your level of interest in line with where I am between highly engaged to disinterested".
The facilitator should start at the positive end and let them talk for about 30 seconds before slowly walking down to the negative end. Stay at the negative end for awhile then head to the middle. Stay in the middle for awhile then move to the positive end staying there for the last 30 seconds. This should take 3-5 minutes.
Then swap roles by the facilitator popping over to the other side.
Debrief the activity by asking the group: How did you feel when they were not paying attention? Or when they were?
And go here for a a great little eBook on listening.
We're running several Storytelling for Business Leaders Workshops for a variety of organisations including a major Australian Bank in Melbourne, an Energy Provider in Queensland, an Educational Institution in Victoria and a large Insurance company
Exploring employee engagement for a division of a technical manufacturing organisation
Working with a government organisation to disseminate the results of a three year research program
Running a leadership program for one of our regular clients
Where you have events makes a difference to those events. Let me give you an example of what I mean.
I had dinner with Chris, a good friend of mine, when I was back in the UK late last year. Since we worked together, Chris has had a stellar rise up through the ranks, and now heads up a very big division in one of the UK's leading insurance companies. He was telling me about how they launched their new strategy, and the importance of, not only how it was communicated, but where it was communicated.
Due to the tough market conditions their strategy was now more focussed on efficiencies, reducing costs and getting the most out of what they already had. The organisation's previous focus was on growth, either organically or through acquisition. He realised that you would send very mixed messages if you launched a strategy that focussed on reducing costs by having it at the big, flash Hotel ballrooms or event centres where these kind of events used to be held. You know the type of event? Large Hotel ballroom, stage, banners, huge screen, all the senior leaders miked up, corporate video on loop, uplifting music playing, endless supply of coffee & pastries and followed by the three course dinner with flowing wine etc. etc. I am sure you have all seen, or been a part of them.
Chris knew it wasn't only about the cost of an event, or series of events, like this, it was about the mixed message he was sending his people about where their focus now needed to be. Very difficult to talk about how the world has changed and things were a lot tighter financially as you sat in a very expensive Hotel, nibbled on another pastry or drank some more of the free wine.
So what did he do instead? He launched his new strategy with a series of events at the local 'Riding for the Disabled '. He didn't tell his staff where they were going, or what they were going to be doing, just to dress in outdoor type work clothes. They jumped on buses and ended up at these sites, with rows of plastic chairs, and a few hay bales for Chris and his team to sit on as they talked through the new strategy. They spoke for a couple of hours and the rest of the day was spent volunteering on the site, getting stuck in helping tidy up and improve the place so they could continue to do great things for the disabled people that came along. And people loved it.
There was no chance people didn't realise the world had changed and things were now different. The message and the location were aligned. The event itself also showed that the new strategy, and its focus on efficiencies and cost savings, wasn't all doom and gloom. It could still be engaging, they could still work together to find different ways of doing things, and there was enjoyment to be found in doing that. It also sent a message about the leaders. I am sure it triggered stories across the rest of the organisation with them telling stories about the day and their leaders being knee deep in horse manure with a shovel and a smile.
So is where your event held aligned with the messages you want to get across? If you want 'breakthrough thinking', 'different ways of looking at the world' or 'innovation' does the venue promote this, or do you have it in the same meeting room you held the session on last quarters financial performance or the last risk review? Where something is held is a key component of how successful that event will be.
In this classic YouTube video, a woman walking through a mall falls into a fountain while texting. Its a good example of how talking on the phone or texting is very distracting and in some cases dangerous. Drivers who talk on a cell phone are significantly distracted from the task of driving and are more dangerous than drivers at the legal limit of alcohol intoxication. Interestingly, the research shows that talking on a cell phone is a cognitive distraction rather than a visual distraction and it doesn't matter whether you are holding the phone or hands-free.
Multitasking is also very dangerous to your productivity. No matter how much we wish we could get more done in less time, and how tempting it is to do multiple things at once, recent research clearly shows that for the vast majority of us, attempting to do two or more tasks at once causes us to divide our attention, so that we focus less on each of these activities. The net effect is that we do all the tasks worse and it takes longer to do so. The ‘multitasking generation’ is also a myth. Research indicates that people who frequently multitask are often the worst at it.
I realised some time ago that attempting to multitask was significantly reducing my productivity. I put three large post-it notes at the bottom of my computer screen. They read: one thing at a time; finish it off: and do it now. When I follow these simple instructions, I get more things done. I have also been using the application WriteRoom, which creates a distraction free writing environment and allows you to focus on the single task of writing text. WriteRoom is only for Mac; there are alternatives for Windows users including Dark Room. In fact you can get similar applications for Java, Python, GoogleDocs and a range of other environments.
This 2-minute video clip neatly summarises the research.
Strayer, D.L and Watson, J.M; Supertaskers and the Multitasking Brain, Scientific American Mind, March/April 2012, page 22.
We live in an intensely verbal culture, and doodling, sketching and drawing pictures in a work setting is likely to be frowned upon and seen as "child's play".
Don't be drawn (pun intended) into this kind of thinking.
Studies show that sketching and doodling improve our comprehension - and our creative thinking. Using imagery, colour, word pictures and typography can change the way you understand information and also dramatically increase your level of retention, by up to 30%. [*1]
I had a recent experience graphically recording a workshop for a Community of Practice around Sustainability, where this research was confirmed in practice for me:
It helped make the content easier to understand and retain: During the workshop a number of participants took photos of my flip-charts and sketches as an aid to remember. One participant specifically asked, "You don't mind me taking photos of this do you? I'll remember things much better that way."
It helped make content engaging: I was excited to see during the course of the workshop, that some participants — with a little bit of nudging — started to experiment with their own sketches and doodling on the flip-charts we gave them during the exercises. It was as if they were given 'permission' to be more creative and to have fun, which made them more engaged.
An additional benefit to using visuals to record meetings is that it makes your charts and records of the session worth keeping, looking at and referring to. In this instance, the organising team took lots and lots of digital photos and walked away with my flip-charts under their arms. They've since shared these with their friends and colleagues as artefacts, and mementos of the workshop. Hopefully they'll serve as conversation points, or what my favourite cartoonist Hugh McLeod calls *social objects*.[*2]
Organisations must recognise the powerful effects of visuals and find ways to use them to make a big impact. It is in fact, according to Dan Pink, one of the six essential aptitudes on which professional success and personal fulfillment now depend[*3] Incidentally, **story** is another!