Be a coach, not a critic

In chimpanzee troops, the leader sits at the centre. About every 30 seconds, all the other apes orient themselves to him. They take their cues from him. When he’s stressed or nervous, so are they. When he’s calm, so are they.

Like the chimp troops, we need our leaders to remain calm and in good spirits. When you’re in good spirits, you lift everyone’s spirits. When you’re down in the dumps and feeling stressed, you lower everyone’s spirits. Your mood and the way you deal with staff affects the way they do their jobs and deal with each other and their customers.

On top of that, the brain is hard-wired to give more weight to negative messages than to positive messages. Whether you intend to send a negative message or not, and whether it’s verbal or nonverbal, your messages carry weight. No matter how considerate, constructive and tactful you aim to be, your words can all too easily dismay, distress or alarm. To counter that, your messages need to be cool, calm, collected and mostly positive.

And, of course, the tougher your message and the less people want to hear it, the more difficult it is to get across. And sometimes you need to give a tough message. which is when you want to be a coach, not a critic.

Here are five ways turn your complaints & criticism into constructive comments so that your words sink in rather than sting:

  1. Think about your goal, not the problem. Focusing on a problem keeps you stuck with it. Thinking about how to remove or avoid a problem is destructive and negative. Thinking about how to replace the problem with something you want is creative and positive. So think about what you want to happen or what you want to replace, say, an annoying behaviour with.Saying something like ‘We both want the same thing, here,’ works like magic. Mentally step back and talk about what you both want to show you’re both on the same side. ‘We both want a good working relationship.’ ‘We both want to make the changeover a success.’ ‘We both want to get this problem rectified.’ Now, you only have to work out how to achieve your joint aim.
  2. Focus on the future, not the past. Thinking about your goal automatically means you focus on the future. Coaches avoid post mortems except to see what everyone can learn from them. They keep their sights firmly on the next game, the next match, the next round. Why criticise someone’s mistake when you could show them how to get it right next time?

    LOSE THESE                             USE THESE
    You shouldn’t have …               From now on …
    You’ve done that wrong.          Try it like this.
    That isn’t right.                           Here’s what needs to happen.
    I’ve told you before not to …    Next time, try it this way …
    You never …                                 Could you please …?Outlining what you need to happen instead of blaming someone for something they’ve done or failed to do invites cooperation rather than resistance. It wins you support and improved performance.

  3. Be positive not negative. Thinking about your goal also puts you in the positive. Criticising gets people’s backs up and leads to arguments. Just what you don’t want in a professional relationship. Say what you want, not what you don’t want. Discuss what can be done, not what shouldn’t have been done or what not to do. Here are some ways to turn critical phrases into coaching phrases:

    LOSE THESE                             USE THESE
    Why can’t you …?                      How about …?
    This is difficult.                          Here’s how to do this. Watch carefully.
    We can’t do that because …     We can do that as soon as …
    You’re wrong.                             Here’s how I see it…
    We can’t do that.                        Here’s what I can do….
    No problem.                                It’s a pleasure!Finding solutions, not fault, strengthens working relationships and makes sure things are done right.

  1. Ask don’t tell. People tend to resist when they feel they’re told to do something, forced into something or given unasked for advice. Instead of demanding ‘Do it this way’, suggest: ‘How about…’ or ‘Would you mind…’.Try simply prefacing your comments to flag what you’re about to say or do. For example, asking ‘Would you mind if I make a suggestion?’ means you don’t ram unwanted advice down peoples’ throats.
  2. Be specific not general. You know what you mean, and you want to make sure others know what you mean, too.‘This report isn’t good enough – you’ll have to fix it!’ What specifically needs to be fixed? The layout? The content? The ‘voice’ or tone it’s written in? Is an Executive Summary needed? Perhaps more supporting data would help.Whether you’re being complimentary or constructive, say why. When you need to be constructive (that’s the coaching word for critical), say ‘because’ to take the heat out. When you offer a compliment, saying why you appreciate something sounds more sincere and makes it more likely that the ‘something’ will be repeated.

Coaching, not criticising smooths your professional relationships, brings out the best in people, and gets you more of what you want.

The lights are on but no one’s home

Years ago, I participated in a training exercise I’ve never forgotten. To this day, it makes me queasy with discomfort!

The trainer asked us to pair up and one person in each pair was to leave the room for a couple of minutes. I went out. While we were out, the trainer instructed those remaining that when their partners returned, they were to engage us in conversation and listen. BUT – they were to offer no sign whatsoever that they were listening. No eye contact, no nods, no grunts, no nuffink.

I can tell you, I found the absence of those non-verbal ‘encouragers’ not only extremely off-putting, but actually quite distressing.

Two things happened very quickly:

  1. I reached the firm conclusion that my partner was an absolute dork.
  2. I dried right up.

Normally, as those of you who know me know, I can talk the hind leg off a donkey, but with someone sitting opposite me, just sitting there like a lump and doing absolutely nothing, I completely lost my train of thought. I began rambling wildly. And then I ground to a halt. I was most uncomfortable to say the least.

That made me realise, in a very visceral way, how important it is to not just ‘sit there’ and listen. We need to do something.

So here are six small but crucial things to do when you’re listening to someone:

  1. Make eye contact.
  2. Nod.
  3. Say ‘uh-huh, ‘I see’ and ‘mmm’ a lot.
  4. Repeat a key word or phrase.
  5. Orient your body towards the speaker.
  6. Lean slightly forward towards the speaker.

That way, you won’t find your conversational partner drying up and thinking you’re an absolute dork.

The silent language

Well, hopefully last week, you got straight into perfecting your work space. And now you’re sitting in it, and you know what? You’re sending a clear message that you’ve got your act together – you’re in control and you’re reliable. So that’s good.
You know what they say – actions speak louder than words. Every single thing you do (and don’t do) communicates. You positively brim with unspoken messages, mostly unintentional and unconscious.
Those message reflect your innermost self, your skills and your confidence. They highlight or hide your talents and accomplishments and tell others how much appreciation and respect you give yourself and expect others to give you.
That, in turn, influences your friendships, promotions, pay rises and career paths. It influences how much support and help you receive from others, how much help and support others seek from you and whether they accept your ideas or ignore them.
So here’s a quick tour of how to radiate confidence, trustworthiness and professionalism. Pick one or two to work on until they’ve become a firm habit. Then pick another, then another and before you know it – the world is your oyster. Whatever that means.
First of all, pay attention to the way you sit and stand. Does it tell people you’re interested in them or involved in what you’re doing? Does your upright posture signal you’re calm, composed, confident and competent, or do you constantly jiggle, shuffle or pace to and fro, signalling that you’re nervous, ill at ease and discombobulated? Or maybe your body drips, oozes and sprawls, so you look like you don’t have the energy or attitude to even sit up, walk or stand, never mind think anything sensible?
Do you detract from your image by sucking on a pen, fiddling with a paper clip, your hair or your tie? Do you weaken your influence by constantly clearing your throat or tapping your foot? Or are you relaxed and calm and your movements open, which says ‘I’m in control; you can trust me’?
How about your voice? When more than 30 per cent of your sentences end as if you’re asking a question rather than making a statement, you sound unsure of yourself and people discount what you’re saying and switch off. You sound more credible and confidant when you lower your voice and you sound more thoughtful and serious when you slow down a bit – but not so slow people can fall asleep between your words. You can speed up to show your energy and enthusiasm, but no so fast people can’t understand your words and follow what you’re saying.
So there you have it. A few quick ways to convey less of what you don’t want and more of what you do want so that people are more apt to like you, believe you and trust you.

How to prevent people from lying to you

People lie. Some people tell the odd white lie; some lie so they don’t have to tell a difficult truth (to themselves or someone else); some people lie habitually.

Most people don’t become habitual liars because telling a lie, at least for personal gain, causes the amygdala, which lies (no pun intended) deep in the brain, makes them feel bad about the lie. But the more lies a person tells, the more the ‘feel-bad-about-the-lie’ response fades. As that response fades, it becomes easier, and easier, and easier, to lie. And the bigger the lies become.

Lying is a slippery slope. Habitual liars become habitual liars because they lie a lot.

You may know an habitual liar. It might someone you work with, someone you negotiate with, someone you ‘meet’ on the Internet, a neighbour or even a friend.

You probably can’t do much to stop a chronic liar lying to you. But you may be able to head off other people’s lies.

Here are two easy ways:

  • Tell the truth yourself. Since people tend to respond in kind, truth-telling encourages truth-telling.
  • Get to know people, because people are less likely to lie to someone they know, like and trust than they are to a stranger.

Here are three slightly more complicated, but also effective, ways to ward off lies:

  • When you make an assumptive statement or ask an assumptive question, put a negative, or pessimistic, spin on it. When the spin goes against the interests of the other person, they’ll disagree with it. When it’s the truth, they’re like to agree with it rather than tell an outright lie by contradicting it.The reason this works is that people tend to agree with assumptions and assumptive questions, which means they’ll agree with an incorrect assumption when it’s in their interests to do so. But when the assumption is incorrect and goes against their interests, people are willing to disagree with it and set the record straight.
  • Don’t let spin and articulate avoidance fool you. Inarticulate honesty is always preferable to articulate lies and confuscations.
  • When you as a question or make an assumptive statement, make sure the question is answered and the assumption isn’t artfully avoided.Bamboozling people with eloquence and avoiding answering questions are two other ways people skirt the truth. To make sure that doesn’t happen to you, remember your assumptive comments and questions and make sure they’re addressed. Write them down if you need to and don’t move on until you have your answer.

Encouraging the truth isn’t only in your own best interests. It also helps others by making the slippery slope of lying harder to slip down.

How to get what you want without nagging

Would you rather I asked you:

  • Reader, remember that you promised to exercise more this year.
    or
  • Reader, are you going to exercise this year?

How about this:

  • Reader, you really ought to think about recycling.
    or
  • Do you recycle, Reader?

And here’s one more:

  • Reader, healthy eating is good for you, you know.
    or
  • Do you eat healthily, Reader?

When you want to influence someone’s behaviour, it’s better to ask a question than make a statement. That’s what researchers found in a meta study led by Professor Eric Spangenberg published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology (‘A meta-analytic synthesis of the question-behaviour effect’, Dec 2015) that reviewed over 40 years of research in the area of influencing. That’s fantastic news for parents and managers everywhere. Teachers and trainers, too. Anyone, really, who wants to get people to do something.

The researchers think that the reason questions are better than statements for persuading people to change their behaviour is that a question subtly reminds people what the best thing to do is without being pushy and telling them. A question about exercising, recycling or eating healthily can lead the person to feel a bit uncomfortable if they don’t do those things. As a result, they’re more likely to do them in order to ease those uncomfortable feelings.

So teachers might ask: Are you planning to finish your project in plenty of time?

Parents might ask: Are yu taking your turn at washing up tonight?

A manager might ask: How is your XYZ coming along? (The XYZ being something you want the employee to work on but the employee isn’t that keen.)

Professor  Spangenberg says that questions are great at encouraging people to behave in socially acceptable ways. Questions can sway customer purchases, reduce gender stereotyping and influence all sorts of other behaviours, too. And you don’t have to ask the question in person, either. You can ask it in an advertising flyer or brochure, a radio advertisement, put up a poster with your question, or ask your question on-line on social media, for instance.

There are two big buts:

  1. Don’t ask a question when the person reliably does whatever it is you’re asking about because they’d be miffed.
  2. Don’t ask a question about unwanted behaviour, because your question could encourage it–the opposite of what you want. So you wouldn’t ask your teenager as he’s heading out on a Saturday night: ‘So, will you be doing a lot of drinking tonight, then?’

Ask don’t tell. Question in the positive to get what you want. Without nagging. Simple, really, isn’t it?

What time spells

A child asks Dad to play Scrabble or play catch and but he’s too busy. An employee stops by a manager’s desk for a quick chat and she carries on with what she was doing while listening with half an ear.

How aware are you of the messages you send people? Do they ever say ‘You’re an interruption’ or ‘I don’t care’, even when you don’t mean them to?

Everyone’s time is precious and that means everyone needs to choose how they spend it. And those choices are important.

Children spell ‘love’ differently that adults – they spell it: t-i-m-e. And to employees, ‘time’ can spell ‘I c-a-r-e’.

So this week, pause and give some thought to whether you’re spending enough of your time on what, and who, are most important to you. What you were doing can often wait when giving the gift of time spells ‘love’ to a child, or ‘I care’ to a friend or employee.

Listen and learn

Video

A lot of people are so busy (quite correctly) mastering their high-tech skills that their people skills have taken a back seat. When you’re wrapped up in codes, alerts and dynamic dumps, it’s easy to forget how to, or not bother to, strike up a conversation and keep it rolling. In fact, I recall reading recently abut a millennial who gave up, cold turkey, their smartphone for a fortnight (gasp, shock, horror) and discovered the joys or talking to another person at the bus stop or waiting beside them in the sandwich queue. So that proves my hypothesis.

In the spirit of keeping alive the art of face-to-face tête-à-tête then, I offer my Four S Tips breaking the conversational ice.

  1. Smile. A smile breaks the ice and invites a smile in return. It’s a great way to connect with someone and a great way to look friendlier and even more attractive than you already are (that’s actually scientifically proven). And everyone knows that a pleasant, friendly-looking person is always more attractive than a grouchy-looking person. It’s hard to not return a smile, even from a stranger (unless it’s a creepy-looking stranger). Plus, a smile relaxes your attitude and your vocal chords, so your voice won’t squeak when you do the next S, which is:
  2. Say hi and make a comment the other person can pick up on. For instance, at a conference you can say something about what you do or where you’re from in a way that invites an interested follow-up comment or question. I have a friend who mows paddocks with his tractor for a living; he says ‘Hi, I’m Con. You grow it, I’ll mow it.’ Corny, but it gets a conversation rolling!
  3. Shake hands. Unless it’s culturally inappropriate, a hand shake eliminates awkwardness and makes a connection with the other person. Don’t wait for the other person to stick their hand out – stick your own hand out with confidence to get the conversation off to a good start. (When the other person is Japanese, you might want to give a sight bow instead.)
  4. Solicit information. That means: Ask questions. What better way is there to draw out the other person’s ideas, experiences and opinions? Then ask some more questions to find out more about those ideas, experiences and opinions. Then think about sharing some of your own.

When you use these Four S Tips, you can avoid talking to impress (that means: boring). Instead, you can listen and learn with another real live human being and let the computer cool off in the cupboard for a while.