About Kris Cole

Kris Cole is Australia’s best-selling business author, a management consultant and a keynote speaker. She is recognised internationally as a leading authority on productivity, performance management, leadership and effective communication. You can hear Kris most Wednesdays at 4.45 Australian Central Time, chatting with Annette Marner on ABC radio 639 North and West, and most Monday afternoons around one o'clock Eastern Standard Time on radio 4GR 864, in the Darling Downs, chatting with Graham Healy. Kris has held significant management and human resources positions in the engineering, oil, food and education industries and holds a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Industrial Psychology, a Post-Graduate Diploma in Manufacturing Technology and a Graduate Certificate in Adult Education. Kris established her consulting company, Bax Associates, more than 20 years ago. She has created and led management training programs and assisted countless businesses, government organisations and not-for-profit organisations across Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia, to maximise their workplace effectiveness and productivity. Kris has a practical approach and a clear grasp of bottom line issues. Her books highlight current trends and best practices and are known for their down-to-earth, engaging style. They offer practical ideas backed by solid knowledge, pertinent research and integration of everyday examples of how to lead, communicate, prioritise tasks and thrive in a changing work environment.

Three cornerstones of successful communication

Who are the leader-managers you admire most? Chances are, they excel at communication. Chances are, they have a knack of getting on with people and winning their cooperation. Chances are they shine at three cornerstones of successful communication.

The first cornerstone is really an attitude, or an approach to life and to people; the second two are the skill sets of gathering good information and of giving good information.

  1. Respect: respecting yourself and respecting others
  2. Gathering good information: this takes empathy, the ability to see situations from other points of view, not just your own. This makes you willing to listen and helps you understand the whats, whys and wherefores of other people’s thinking.
  3. Giving good information: what good is it to have an opinion, an idea, or some information if you can’t share it clearly with others?

Here’s your challenge: For the rest of the week, pay attention to three aspects of your communication:

  1. how respectfully you treat others and how respectfully you encourage others to treat you
  2. how carefully you listen to others and put yourself in their shoes so you can figure out where they’re coming from
  3. how clearly and succinctly you give information to others.

That will show you your strengths and where your opportunities to improve are.

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Listening and silence

Have you ever noticed that the words ‘listen’ and ‘silent’ are made up of the same letters? They might look the same in a lot of other ways, too, but they’re really very different.

How do you listen when you’re fascinated with what someone is saying? I bet it’s quite different to the way you listen with ‘half an ear’ when you’re not interested, but just being polite and keeping silent.

When you simply keep silent, you end up listening like a stunned mullet and that’s guaranteed to bring a conversation to a pretty rapid halt. Genuine listening involves your heart, your eyes and your mind, as well as your ears.

That’s hard work and it doesn’t come easily to most people. But it’s worth making the effort because real listening, as opposed to silence, does three precious things for you:

  1. It helps you build better relationships.
  2. It helps you find out what’s really going on and what people really think, which makes you more influential and persuasive.
  3. Listening carefully to someone obliges them to listen carefully to you: the better you listen, the more others listen to you.

So how can you listen, as opposed to just keeping silent? Here are three essentials:

  1. Put your own thoughts on hold, even when you think you have something more important to say and even when you disagree with what the other person is saying. Try to crawl inside their mind and see matters from their point of view. Listen for their thinking and the logic and feelings behind it.
  2. Get your body language right. As they say, when your eyes wander, your mind wanders, too. Without facing the other person directly, which can be interpreted as confrontational, orient your body to them at roughly right angles and don’t fidget.
  3. Show you’re listening with a few nods and grunts – ‘Ahhh’, ‘Uhum’ , ‘Mmmm’ …

With a bit of practice, anyone can be a not-so-silent listener.

How to give feedback

Leader-managers owe it to employees to let them know their contributions are appreciated and how they could contribute even more effectively. No doubt you agree.

But do you get hung up on the word ‘feedback’? Don’t. Banish it from your mind and replace it with the word ‘information’. That way, you aren’t thinking ‘complaints’ and ‘criticisms’ but ‘insights’ offered in a caring, helpful way. Caring, helpful insights are indispensable to healthy workplaces and work teams.

This means banishing negative general comments and body language that implies ‘Oh, no – not you again’. Sarcasm, rolling your eyes, ignoring people or their efforts, and even heavy ‘hints’ fall into this category. It also means banishing telling people they’ve done something ‘wrong’ without explaining how to do it ‘right’.

Instead, motivate and lift people’s spirits with positive general comments that show you’re glad to be working with them. When you want to make sure what you’re commenting on is repeated, be specific – say what you appreciate and why you appreciate it. That builds and maintains first-rate performance.

When you want to help someone contribute more effectively, be constructive. Provide practical information that can help the person lift their performance.

So here’s your challenge for this week: Tell each of your team members something that you appreciate about the way they work and contribute. In a different conversation, show them how they could tackle a task to achieve a more effective outcome. (To find out why to separate your positive and constructive comments, see my blog Why the ‘sandwich technique’ for feedback doesn’t work.)

The people you’re stuck with

Sometimes they’re family members. Sometimes they’re people you work with. Sometimes they’re neighbours. They’re the people you wouldn’t choose to spend time with, but you need to.

Worrying about them or even allowing yourself to be annoyed by them is a waste of time and mental energy. Far better to overcome your annoyances and learn to work professionally with them, even though you wouldn’t choose to socialise with them. Much better for your career, your job satisfaction and your job performance. Here are four tips:

  1. Don’t take their behaviour personally. Maybe they’re having a bad day or maybe they have worries at home. Provided they behave pretty much the same with everyone, understand it isn’t about you.
  2. Look for their strengths and good points. Everyone has them. Recognise and acknowledge their abilities and find ways to put their expertise to good use.
  3. Maintain your professionalism at all times. Communicate with them constructively, not angrily or sarcastically – don’t let them dictate your behaviour.
  4. Stay focused on your work goals and what you want to achieve. This takes your mind off how annoying they are and helps you get on with doing what you’re paid to do – your job.

Is our industrial relations going to go full circle?

Between Federation in 1901 and 1983, social justice guided how we managed our economy and workplace relations. The Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) acted as an independent umpire in workplace relations and based wages and working conditions in part on what it thought was a fair, or living, wage. This meant that, in the interests of fairness and a reasonable standard of living, some people in some occupations were paid more than their contributions were worth.

By 1983, the world had changed dramatically since Federation. The government of the day decided that we needed to make big changes in our workplaces to survive in the global marketplace. It began a gradual move towards decentralising workplace relations and allowing the market to determine wages and working conditions. This began as a joint effort between the government and the unions – remember The Accords?

By 1996 when the Liberal Howard government took over from the Hawke and Keating Labor governments, two of the three pillars of Australian workplace relations, tariff protection and centralised wage fixing, were all but gone. The third pillar, the AIRC, was about to go. The new government further deregulated the labour market and replaced social justice principles with economic rationalism. The role of workplace legislation moved from social fairness and protection to promoting the efficient functioning of labour markets.

The world continues to change. With the rapid rise of artificial intelligence, computer are predicted to take over millions of jobs in the next 15 years. (See my blog How not to lose your job to a computer.) As a result, people are beginning to talk once more about a living wage. The argument is that since computers will perform so many jobs, a lot of us won’t need to work. But we’ll still need money to pay the bills and live a good life. This is where the living wage comes back into the picture. Paying people whose jobs are taken over by computers a living wage will free them up to do creative work, entrepreneurial work, voluntary work, research work and so on. People can ‘follow their dream’ once they’re freed from the need to earn money. In the end, life could be pretty good.

Help people through change

You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again: Change is all around us. Society, the marketplace, the economy and technology are all transforming with dizzying speed. For instance:

  • Australia’s economy has become a service and knowledge economy, which means organisations don’t gain their value from their machinery and equipment but from their people. Organisational wealth comes from successfully storing and using knowledge to create innovative products and services and develop innovative, sustainable, value-adding and profitable systems.
  • Our definition of what a family unit is continues to change.
  • The capabilities of information, communications and bio and nano technologies (e.g. motor the size of a pinhead) continue to soar and promise to transform our lives.
  • Globalisation makes it easier for epidemics to wipe out or temporarily disable a significant portion of our population and wipe out all or part of an organisation’s supply chain.

And that’s just a sample of what’s going on around us. The world is changing so fast that standing still doesn’t exist – we’re either moving forward and making progress or we’re going backward. In fact, the speed of change is speeding up, and right now is the slowest we’ll ever experience it.

To survive, never mind thrive, we all need to stay on top of the game and better still, stay one step ahead. We all need keep up to date with trends so we can more easily adapt as everything around us changes. Perhaps more than anything, we need to keep learning – about the area and industry we work in, about the technology we use, and about new ways of doing things.

Don’t change the rules

Maybe you’ve spent time in a European country or North America. If you drove or even crossed the street, how hard was it to get used to driving on the right or looking right before crossing the road? Hard, right?

There’s a good reason for that. Yes, old habits die hard. And more than that, the first rules we learn (‘Look right, look left, then look right again’) are exceedingly ‘sticky’. That makes them not just hard to unlearn, but really, really, really hard to unlearn.

Unlearning something and learning something else to replace it is frustrating. It’s mentally exhausting. That’s just one of many good reasons to hire trainable people rather than people with experience – your rules and procedures are likely to be slightly different and therefore, require unlearning and re-learning. Old habits die hard and the longer we’ve had them, the more effort and the longer it takes to replace them. To help new starts perform well, hire people who haven’t done the specific tasks they’ll be doing in your team.

To help your team perform well, don’t change rules without a compelling reason. (This applies to your customers and your family, too. It does not apply to continuous incremental improvements.)

There’s enough change to deal with without creating more change unnecessarily.