Communicating in the Time of Coronavirus

At this point, we all our have stories.

 

During the uncertain time which we find ourselves in with the outbreak of the Coronavirus Covid19, emotions are running high. On both ends of the spectrum.

 

There was the taxi driver who drove me this week to the River Lee Hotel in Cork.  The conference I was to facilitate the following morning was going on as planned. But organisers texted me as we arrived at the hotel: three groups from the previously sold-out event were backing out and three of the business-leader speakers were now forbidden by their companies from attending.

 

I told the driver about the phone texts coming in and asked him how concerned he was since he worked with the traveling public. It was as if I hit an ignite switch. Three, two, one….

 

“Ah!” he blasted off. “It’s a bunch of damn over-kill and CYA from the government. The only thing I’m worrying about is that my fares are scarce.  I caught the swine flu back in 2009 and I’m here to tell you about it. This time around, I’ll still keep my health, but I’ll lose my business.” He had more to say, but I’ll spare you the even more colourful language.  Suffice it to say he was not happy.

 

I caught the swine flu back in 2009 and I’m here to tell you about it. This time around, I’ll still keep my health, but I’ll lose my business.”

 

Then there was the taxi driver who met me as I arrived at Heuston station. This time I was traveling back home to Dublin after delivering a keynote in Shannon at an aviation event which had about a third of the would-be participants cancel at the last minute. The taxi driver pulled up toward me in the queue and came over to help me put my suitcase in the back. He was wearing thin, blue surgical gloves.

“I change them after every passenger,” he explained. “I bought a huge supply back in January. That’s not all I’m ready for.  When the health care workers and government and safety officials are all busy with Corona,” he went on referring to it more like the beer than the virus, “that’s when the dissidents will strike. It will be anarchy.”  I didn’t enquire what other goods he might be stockpiling in preparation for that scenario.

And then there was the man in front of me this week at Lidl with two full shopping carts. Peering at his assortment of frozen pizzas (mostly pepperoni), bags of different shaped pastas, two dozen jars of sauces and lots of loaves of bread, I was surprised there was no toilet tissue.

“Why not?” I asked him.

“Because I stocked up on a trolley-full of that yesterday,” he replied, smiling as he reached for his change from the cashier.  “I’m prepared.”

I noticed as the cashier handed him a few bills, that the man tucked the money in his wallet and then vigorously sniffed and rubbed his nose without a glance at the small bottle of hand sanitiser protruding from his jacket pocket.

From those who may be blasé or angrily dismissive, to those who seem paranoidly apocalyptic to those who appear calm and cautious while perhaps not hygienic, the pandemic of emotions may be worse than the current pandemic.

I don’t claim to have any answers, but I do think that this is a good time to reflect before we react.

  1. Examine your sources

When your friend on your Whatsapp chat group writes “sh*t is going to hit the fan” and then goes on to speculate a wide range of things that may or may not come to pass, this is not probably your best source of news.

Who are you listening to? Consider whether the information is coming from a medical official with first-hand research and the latest findings, or a political leader or a news-correspondent.  The most reliable source is the person closest to the actual data.

  1. Limit your intake

Once you locate a reliable source, limit the time you spend poring over your newsfeed. Yes, it’s important to stay informed during a developing story such as this but choose your times and news curating locations wisely.  For instance, spending even a minute or two on Twitter searching #Coronavirus or #Covid19 will likely leave you anxious, frightened, angry or a mixture of all three.

  1. Be considerate of others’ perspectives

Before you announce your beliefs in no uncertain terms, consider your audience. What is their perceived level of vulnerability? Might it be a good idea to temper your declarations of doom or your well-intended blanket-statement of reassurance? Our spoken – and written words – have impact. Even saying something casually and off-hand can have a lasting and dramatic effect depending on the person.  

  1. Embrace humour

We can’t be sober about this all the time. I’m not encouraging to drown anxiety in booze, but a little well-placed humour is good for cutting the tension. 

  1. Journal

It’s better to get your feelings out then stifle them inside. Journaling is a great way to sort, organise and process the rollercoaster we are all on. We can’t control the outcome, but we can control our emotions.
Keep your head. Keep your compassion. And yes, wash your hands.

 

 

Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie.  With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon


If not yet balance, how to find harmony

This past week, Unilever announced it reached 50:50 gender parity in managerial roles across its global business, while US primaries determining the Democratic candidate for president shut out the last remaining viable female in contention. Today, on International Women’s Day, I think we can celebrate that we are making strides and acknowledge that we still have miles to go to reach thorough balance.

Balance is a word routinely raised in business. Gender balance, pay-balance and work-life balance. It’s not surprising, then, that I posed that oft-asked question about attaining work-life balance to my interview subject this week, the head of planned partnerships in Australia and New Zealand for Workplace from Facebook, Vicky Skipp.  But what was surprising, to me at least, was that she moved away from the word “balance” to embrace a different word: “harmony.”

 

  1. Aim for harmony, not balance

“I love this question and I think it’s also applicable to men,” Vicky replied after I asked. “When I look at my husband and our daughter, I think there isn’t balance.  We’re going to make mistakes and there is no such thing as work-life balance. But if we align as a couple, we can still work together as a team and aim for harmony.”

Harmony. That mysterious blend of sometimes pleasing and sometimes startlingly unlikely simultaneous sounds.

When I was eight years old, my mom made me start taking piano lessons.  “You have to keep at it for one year,” she said as she outlined my future for me. “At the end of the year, if you want to quit, you have to directly tell the teacher yourself that you want to stop.”

Knowing my personality at that point in my life, my mom wisely played me on my piano playing.  After my first year was complete, there was no way my nine-year-old self had the courage to look into the face of my rather stern teacher, Mrs Sheets (that really was her name), and tell her, “I’m outta here.”

Instead, I kept coming back. Every week. For ten years. I only finally quit when I moved town to start college.

I tell you all this, because as a kid who had no natural gift for music, I ultimately emerged with the ability to play - moderately well. I can read notation and am grateful I was exposed to a range of classical selections during my childhood. I appreciate harmony.

I also appreciate the discipline I developed during my decade of piano lessons.  Discipline is another trait that Vicky emphasises.

 

  1. Maintain maniacal discipline

“In building out my career, I had to maintain absolute maniacal discipline,” Vicky colourfully explained.  “Distraction is the biggest disruption in people’s career growth today. You can’t let your eye wander onto other people or compare yourself to others, you need to focus on your own course and that requires unwavering discipline.”

For me as a child, I remember I was supposed to practice an hour a day. My mom would set the timer on the kitchen stove.  When she wasn’t looking, I would jump up and move it ahead several minutes.  Magically, the laws of the universe would collapse, with the hour-set buzzer going off after 45 minutes.  Of course, my mother never fell for it and I was marched back to the piano. I learned the benefit of discipline. The hard way.

  1. Declare your non-negotiables

Like my unwavering mother, who was determined to give her daughter the gift of music, if you don’t safeguard what is precious to you in life, who else will?

For instance, Vicky’s daughter, Summer, has just turned six. “On Fridays, I work from home so I can pick up Summer from school and have quality time with her as a family. I travel at the first part of the week not the end.” Vicky also stockpiles her meetings on days other than Thursdays.  “I use that day to think and strategise.  I have to have rules within my calendar.”

“Every career has a lifespan and you have to think about what your non-negotiables are and then you must be very clear about them and the principles behind them,” declared Vicky.

  1. Face your fears

For Summer’s recent birthday, she wanted her ears pierced.  Vicky and her husband took her to fulfil the wish but after the first lobe was pierced, Summer decided it was too painful to continue. So, they didn’t. At first, Vicky described Summer as feeling worried about going to school the next day. “She wondered what to tell her friends and how she should wear her hair to cover the other ear. I looked at her and said, ‘Summer, you’re enough. Be bold. Just tell them what happened. Don’t worry.’  The next morning, she asked for pigtails. She was ready. When she got home, she told us it went fine. I learned a lot from my daughter that day. She faced her fear head on.” She found her harmony.

While we continue to strive for that largely elusive balance, we can work to find our harmony. We can still all make beautiful music. Together.

 

Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie.  With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon


How to Power-up Your Networking

As you read this on Sunday, I should be driving toward my first visit to an area that Conde Nast Traveler magazine describes as “one of the most beautiful places in Ireland”: County Donegal.

Under Letterkenny’s towering spire of St. Eunan’s Cathedral and near the rushing water of the River Swilly, I will be privileged to join a group of other industry experts sharing our stories with business leaders during the kick-off to Local Enterprise Week on Monday.  Thanks, Brenda and Eve Anne for inviting me to give a keynote and purposeful communications workshop for this LEO conference.

Sharing stories is a vital part of business communications. Charts and graphs for projected sales targets can be dull and uninspiring. Lectures about new HR policies can lull teething babies to sleep. A company’s visions, strategies and goals only come to life when they’re linked to a compelling, often personal, story.

And how do we best share stories? Face-to-face, of course, as part of that over-used, yet essential business buzzword we’re going to focus on today called, “networking.” 

  1. The importance of ongoing networking

Why network? I spoke with Conor Morris, Managing Director of Ireland’s Executive Institute.  As with the Local Enterprise Offices around the country, facilitating networking is a commitment of the Executive Institute which arranges several events around Dublin and Cork.

“Networking is terribly important,” Conor explains. “You can learn from other organisations that have already faced a challenge you may be facing.  We also run a CEO series.  It can be lonely at the top and they rarely seek support form their own colleagues. If you’re a senior leader, you may meet another senior leader who can help you to not feel alone in your struggle.”

  1. Networking for younger professionals

If you’re not a manager or a CEO, don’t stop reading.  Networking is not reserved for seasoned professionals. In fact, earlier this week, I had a great conversation with an actress in her twenties who recently moved back to Ireland after years in the off-Broadway scene in New York.  Now based in Cork, she’s eager to expand her reach to Dublin, so she enrolled for a night class on Thursdays. When I recommended that she leverage Thursday afternoons in Dublin as a strategic time to meet with theatre professionals, she was initially surprised.

“Oh! I had planned to have a lie-in during the day,” she admitted.  “Nope!” I kindly admonished. “Instead you’ll reach out to loads of Dublin contacts to let them know you’re available for meetings during the day of your class.”

Conor agrees, “Networking is like a pension; you need to start early.  The more you invest in your twenties, the more you’ll have in your thirties and the same for your forties and into your fifties.” Speaking of continuing to network, I must point out that I was introduced to Conor through a mutual contact last month.  When we met, he reminded me that my own commitment to networking could be powered up.  Upon Conor’s suggestion, I attended a networking event the next week and met several new and interesting people. It is always a thrill to do so.

But back to networking strategies for you, er, younger professionals.  I know some of you might feel intimidated at the thought of attending a function and initiating a conversation.  Conor offers this advice: “Ask open-ended questions. ‘What speaker have you come to hear?’ What business are you in?’ Express a sincere interest in what the other person is saying. Remember that my most interesting topic is actually me and the more you ask me about myself, the more interesting I think you are.”

  1. Online or In-person?

Perhaps you as the young professional will contend that social media networking has replaced the in-person version.  Conor disagrees. “I’m active on social, but in reality, I find physical networking much more effective.”

Likewise, while I post regularly on Linked In and Instagram, nothing beats a group of real human beings when I want to roll out a new inter-active leadership communications exercise or brainstorm about a trend in professional development approaches.

As Conor says, “We will become obsolete if we don’t reinvent ourselves. You must be able to show an employer that you have a keen interest in staying relevant and keeping up to date.”

  1. Women and networking

Unless it’s a specific event aimed at female professionals, I have never been to a networking function with more women in attendance than men. In keeping with those lower participant numbers, Conor confides that he regularly needs to ask a whopping four times more women to speak just to get equal representation at their conferences.  “I would be very much encouraging women to speak more, to prioritize it more,” he urges.

No matter your age, your seniority or your gender, it’s time to capitalise on your next networking event.

Conor sums up: You’re either a sponge or you’re a stone. The world is changing much quicker than it’s ever changed in the past.  You need to be a sponge to survive. Stones sink to the bottom.”

NEXT WEEK ON THE COMMUNICATOR:

In honour of International Women’s Day, look forward to inspiring stories from some top female leaders.

Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie.  With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon


Be Driven

When planning a trip to Napa Valley recently, a helpful friend who had already traveled there gave me a tip on her favourite vineyard excursion.  “The best tour of California’s wine country,” she declared with utter certainty, “is to be driven.”

I thought about her statement for a minute. Not about the obvious need to acquire someone who isn’t going to be tasting a wide variety of potent potables to sit behind the steering wheel on my behalf, but about the need to be driven throughout one’s career, business and life in general.

  1. Be driven.

Successful leaders often describe their top three characteristics as being “passionate, committed and driven.”  Self-motivation, however, is tough.  It’s no wonder that a University of Scranton study found only 8pc of people who made a New Year’s resolution were able to meet their goal.  Ouch. Does that ring true with you? We’re only in February, but have you already given up? I find one of the best “self”-motivators is to get out of yourself and actively connect with others.

How fitting, then, that the person I’ve decided to connect you with today to share  communication tips and experiences to keep you driven is Justine McGovern, Director of the California Wine Institute UK and Ireland? Justine helps California and Napa Valley exporters get their wines represented and promoted while at the same time helping importers sell the wine when it’s here. She’s truly a driven connector.  Who points out that she doesn’t drive solo.

“Every single part of my day involves relationships. I couldn’t achieve anything without having strong communications with some of the greatest people in the wine trade,” Justine told me this past week from her home outside Dublin.

  1. Be the initiator.

Like with that Napa Valley driver I clearly must hire, I can’t expect helpful people to magically come to me. I need to reach out. First. Likewise, when Justine travels to large trade shows, it’s crucial that she instigates contacts and actively builds her network.

“When I was first put in this market, I didn’t know anyone in the UK. Nobody. At first it was discouraging because everyone knew everyone else there. But step by step, piece by piece, I really made some great friends and now it feels like overnight,” she said.

  1. Be nice.

But how to get started? Well, the morning I wrote this column, I led a video training session for a group of sales executives in Australia.  We were discussing “opening lines” for networking events and some of the best are the simplest.  Try smiling, extending your hand and saying, “Good morning, I’m fill-in-the-blank, how are you?”  Obviously, if it’s an afternoon or evening event, adjust your time accordingly.

Justine advised, “Just be nice. The great thing about it is it makes up heaps of time. I’m naturally sociable, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not daunted by some situations and have to try as well. Every single day, I can be many things. I can be grouchy or whatever. But you have to smile at people in life. In the grocery store, for example, I smiled at the girl at the counter and I told her about my busy day and she shared hers. We had a little moment. The little moments add up. You can expand this positivity into your work.”

Be in-person.

The married mother of three young children underscored the importance of in-person meetings. “To me, email is just an admin function.” Justine stated. “You just get through it. But to truly solidify relationships, you must get face-to-face with people. It can’t all happen on video calls. You have to go meet them.” 

“Every day I use the telephone, video links. Zoom video conferencing and Skype because what is fundamentally important is talking to people and when you can, seeing and meeting them,” Justine said.

Be attentive.

From opportunities to pay a compliment to opportunities to support, when you get out of yourself you will observe people in ways others may overlook.

“Pay people compliments,” Justine said, “It can go a long way. If you’re compliments are genuine, you often pick out something of the person that means the most to them. Be it earrings, style of clothing, haircuts.”

“Also, when there’s a group dynamic, pay close attention. Once, when we brought a group to California, there was a young woman who seemed a little distant, who didn’t appear to be fully joining in.  I noticed that when everyone was stepping up to a counter to order coffee, she said she didn’t want one. I said, ‘I’ll buy you one’ and then she felt comfortable enough to tell me she had forgotten her wallet and hadn’t wanted to tell anyone.”

For Justine, switching her focus to others, trying even when she felt uncertain, and reaching out first, not only allowed her to connect with people and make important relationships, it also put her squarely in the, you guessed it, driver’s seat of her career.

NEXT WEEK ON THE COMMUNICATOR:

What’s the difference between employee communications and executive communications? I talk to the head of Ireland’s Executive Institute to find out.

 

Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie.  With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon


How to Sell Yourself Better

Are you employed in direct sales? If so keep reading. Are you not directly involved in sales? If so, definitely keep reading.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a college student, unemployed and looking for a job, a mom (or mum) about to re-enter the workforce or a top executive in that coveted corner office of a multi-national company, each of us is in the business of selling ourselves each and every day.

New York Times bestselling author Daniel Pink summed it up in his book To Sell Is Human, when he wrote, “at every opportunity you have to move someone – from traditional sales, like convincing a prospect to buy a new computer system, to non-sales selling, like persuading your daughter to do her homework.”

Understanding that fundamentally shifts the way you look at yourself and your interactions with others.

For more on the topic, I turned to veteran salesperson David Tumulty to share the secrets he’s learned after nearly three decades of success in the business.  From car insurance to call centers to IT solutions, David’s sold it all.  He’s currently a recruitment consultant in the construction and civil engineering sector for Duttons Recruitment based in the UK and serving across Europe. See if you can apply even one of his tips to help you better move yourself and others.

  1. Focus on communications

“Communications is the key to sales,” David told me by phone this past week from his home in Cardiff. “Verbal and non-verbal.  Communication is the difference between selling or not selling. It’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity.”

I firmly agree with that statement as a fundamental principle. But what are some thee more specific traits or strategies you can apply to effectively communicate?

  1. Focus on the pause

In the area of communications, listening skills are huge. But we’re not talking about active listening here, instead we’re talking about actively taking a moment to let a silence settle in between you and the other person. David explains it this way, “Someone told me many years ago, that a pause of more than four seconds makes people feel very uncomfortable.  They will want to break the silence and say something and what they say next can be very telling for the sale.”

To use Daniel Pink’s example, imagine you’re negotiating with your daughter about homework (something I’m a bit familiar with with Lulu, my 12-year-old). If you ask her to suggest a time that she’ll begin her homework or ask her to suggest how long she’ll work on her book report for the evening and then jump in with your own ideas before she has a chance to make her offer, how successful will you be?  Likewise, if you’re preparing to discuss a price or a solution, ask the question of the other person first, then wait.

David suggests that during this time of silence or pause, the person who is first to break the silence is likely the one who will lose control of the negotiation. “You should be doing about 30 percent of the chatting and the other person should be doing about 70,” David recommends. “As the old adage says, ‘We have two ears, but only one mouth.’”

  1. Focus on Mirroring

Daniel Pink’s book refers to a Dutch study that found servers who mimicked their customers’ styles and behaviours earned more tips than those who did not.  If a group of diners are dressed in suits or smart dresses and behaving formally, then the waiter should interact in a similar business-like manner. If, on the other hand, the waiter meets a buoyant group on a family reunion, a more laid-back and familiar approach will likely work better.

David agrees. “When you’re meeting someone face to face, mirror their body language.  If they put their hand lightly on your shoulder, you can do that too.” Same thing with speaking style.  “I speak to a lot of builders,” he goes on. “If one of them says, ‘Dave, Mate….’ and proceeds to talk about football, I will probably also call him ‘Mate’ at the end of the call. But if he calls me Mr Tumulty, I will call him ‘Mr’ or ‘Sir’ throughout.”

  1. Focus on the objection

Imagine what objection your daughter may raise when you bring up the dreaded subject of homework. Now imagine what your boss may say when you bring the notion of a pay rise. Or, as David explained to me, imagine the objection a decision-maker may have if you’re making an cold call.  “The number one thing they’ll say is that they don’t have enough time, so I do the salutation and move right in with, ‘I know you’re really busy and so am I. That’s why I’ll make this really quick.’ It’s really powerful because you already have identified and acknowledged their objection first.”

By focusing on the pictures in the other person’s head first: their reluctance toward silence, their mood and mannerisms, their possible objections, you will accelerate the speed with which you can close the sale, get the job or, perhaps best of all, complete the homework.

NEXT WEEK ON THE COMMUNICATOR:

You won’t have anything to whine about, but you might discover something to happily wine about as I interview Justine McGovern, the Dublin-based director of the California Wine Institute UK.

 

 

Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie


What is a leader?

I was in a hotel conference room working with nearly a dozen top executives from a variety of companies.  We were discussing the various behaviours, attributes and communication strategies that leaders can purposefully deploy to better motivate and engage their employees.  One of the participants looked up for a moment from his workbook and remarked, almost casually, “I don’t feel like a leader.”

After the workshop, I called over to Clarke Facades, a company that has steadily grown from a plaster and flooring business when Michael Clarke founded it in the 1980s - to an innovative engineering organization now headed  by eldest son, Eugene, the very same person who previously mentioned he did not “feel like a leader”, and asked to talk to him.

Eugene graciously agreed to share his thoughts which I hope will also resonate with you. Although he’s been in the top position at Clarke Facades for five years, this married father of three young children had not fully transferred the mantle of leader onto himself, because he was still picturing an old style of leadership in his mind.

What was the old-style leader?

“I suppose there’s a leader avatar,” Eugene said to me, “of a person with loads of grey hair and loads of charisma who is authoritarian and likes to hear themselves speak. I think of old World War II leaders or Napoleon. When I compare myself to that, well, I’m relatively young, I’m not a social animal, I’m quite reserved. I am relatively humble, and I don’t rule with an iron fist.”

Does that sound like you? I wonder what you see when you close your eyes and imagine a “leader.” There are as many different definitions as there are different human examples.

To me, a leader, is an influencer. I don’t mean someone with a zillion followers on Instagram. But someone whose words and actions can positively – or negatively – impact a person or group of people. You don’t become a leader when you have a multitude of people under you. You are a leader simply when you are conscious that you do influence people and take ownership of how you influence.

Therefore, each of us has the capacity to become a leader.  From the way we influence our colleagues to our children to ourselves.

The question becomes one of what type of influencer or leader are we? Are we the old “command and control” style that Eugene was picturing? Or are we something new?

What are the traits of a new-style, positive leader?

“I think my style of leadership,” Eugene considered aloud with me, “stems from a deeper sense of purpose.  For instance, we use our family name on our business and that’s because it means something. It stands for our integrity and it’s why I come to work every day.”

What is your sense of purpose? Does your name mean something to you? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? Asking these kinds of questions can help you determine what you stand for as a leader.

  1. Discipline

For Eugene, actively demonstrating discipline every day is important to him as a leader. “On Saturdays, for instance, I might want to kick back, but you know there’s a piece of work that needs to be done, so I turn the TV off. It’s doing the right thing, when no one is looking.”

Eugene and I agree self-discipline needs to conquer our self-indulgence. We may feel like watching TV and think that will make us happy, but in the long-run self-control and getting the job done will provide more fulfillment.

  1. Gratitude

“Next on my list,” Eugene reported, “would be gratitude. I praise twice and criticise once. If I actively praise my seven-year-old, she will jump up and down and if I give out to her, she looks all down-hearted. So, I try to catch my employees ‘doing it right’ which encourages them to do it more.”

  1. Grit

I suppose the other big leadership quality personal for me would be ‘grit’”, Eugene said. “This is the ability to sort out troubles and difficulties, even if it’s really painful or you’re not feeling it. Don’t leave it. It will create more hassle. Don’t kick the can down the road.”

  1. Appearance and Punctuality

Eugene capped his list with these two important traits. Arriving on time shows you value the other person as does taking pride in your appearance.

“I once met one of my competitors and he was so badly dressed it gave a bad impression. But he was a competitor, so I was glad!” Eugene joked.

All joking aside, John Maxwell, whom Inc. Magazine lists as the top leadership and management expert in the world, has described a leader as someone “who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.” Eugene therefore, is clearly a modern-day leader. So, too, can be you.

NEXT WEEK ON THE COMMUNICATOR:

Whether we have a “Sales Executive” title or not, each of us is always selling something. I’ll talk to a couple of top salespeople to discover strategies you can apply in any situation.

 

Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie

With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon


Make feedback constructive to encourage future success

Ireland's rugby team is making its way around Australia during a three-test series, and so am I. That's why I was in Melbourne recently where Barry Corr, the CEO of the Irish Australian Chamber of Commerce, welcomed me to a corporate lunch before the second match.
The event included a lively panel discussion led by local sports broadcaster and Co Cavan native Catherine Murphy.
She oversaw insights and observations from former Irish rugby team performance analyst Eoin Toolan, who now works for the Melbourne Rebels rugby team, and from former Wallabies hooker Stephen Moore, the nation's most capped player, raised Down Under by Irish parents.

Eoin and Stephen reviewed a series of plays from the first match between Ireland and the Wallabies (during which I probably don't need to remind you rugby fans that, er, Ireland lost) to explain what Ireland could try to do better next time. Catherine asked Stephen to recall what it felt like to go "through review sessions" with analysts when he was a player.
His answer jumped out at me. "It can be embarrassing to be called out before your teammates," he said, "You can break someone's confidence if it's not handled properly."

And that, my dear readers, is precisely the focus of today's column: how to give constructive feedback properly.
As organisation leaders, team members or just plain professional people, we often must give - and receive - feedback. And while we publicly say we welcome it, in reality we probably don't welcome it at all.

That's because when we say we want feedback, most of us are really hoping for reassurance. No one much likes to be told they're wrong or should be doing something in a different way.
Of course, it's important to get information about how you can better perform so as to add more value to your career and your company, but we don't want the information delivered in a negative way - and fear of that scares us. The risk of that negative experience is often associated with feedback. So, here are my top four thoughts on the matter.

1 Public v private

It's no wonder that, as Stephen pointed out, it could be very embarrassing to sit as a team with an analyst - who wasn't on the field - going over each play and calling out players in various forms of judgement. Ouch. It's often said, "praise in public and criticise in private". I think that's right. Sometimes, as in the rugby comparison, an issue covers a number of people - and that may be good reason to deliver critical feedback to a group.

But other than that, I can't think of any situation in which the best scenario is to correct someone in front of their peers. Shining the negative spotlight for all to see will make the issue seem bigger and the person feel smaller. If you're a manager, talking in private will allow the other person to more freely express themselves and open up.

2 Team effort

Rather than one manager presiding over everyone else, a super way to get a group or a team involved is to guide it as a collective effort. In this situation, perhaps as debrief after a project or event has been completed, each person takes a turn in a discussion - not finger-pointing - format. Speak in general terms about approach or lessons learned, but don't single out an individual.

3 Make that sandwich

You've probably already heard about the 'sandwich'. This is simply making sure to surround every piece of meaty criticism between two slices of soft positive observations about the person's work or professional style and effort. An unrelenting stream of negativity is bound to fatigue the receiver and unlikely to get the effect you may be after. So, don't forget to remind the person of their overall value and contribution to the team.

4 Let them talk

Obviously, when providing feedback, it's important to design solutions. But what isn't always obvious is where the solutions should come from.

If you're the manager, you might think you should have all the answers. Maybe, as with a rugby review, you'll announce what kind of actions should be taken next time. However, in most cases, it's better if you ask the other person what they imagine can be done. Rather than describing the situation to them and jumping into what you foresee as the needed change, first ask the person to give their own assessment. Let them do the talking and they're more likely to come up with a better plan than you even had.
Ireland lost in Brisbane and won in Melbourne. By the time this column runs, we'll all know how Ireland ultimately fared through the three-test series against Australia. What lessons can be learned for next time? It's the same delicate question-and-answer cycle we constantly try to incorporate into our communications for business and personal relations.

One of the best phrases I've come across in relation to striking that balance is to
"encourage the future, don't punish the past".

So, here's to your future of more encouraging, and therefore more effective, feedback.


It takes an age to build trust and only a moment to ruin it

Whatever your business, whatever your career, you need a combination of skills, networking and timing. But above everything else, real success depends on trust. And yet...

The Washington Post reported earlier this month that US President Donald Trump has now told a whopping 3,000 documented lies since taking office. And Facebook reluctantly admitted the enormous user data breach from its business with Cambridge Analytica.

And, of course, tragically, here in Ireland, the scandal enveloping the national health service continues to unfold over its decision not to tell women the truth about their Cervical Check smear tests which terminally-ill Vicky Phelan, a former patient, poignantly described as "an appalling breach of trust".

In a world of post-truth, fake news, alternative facts, data breaches, Russian bots and trolls, we are living in a crisis of trust.

Sure, elected officials may be voted out. An unseemly company may fold, as with Cambridge Analytica. Or top leaders of organisations may step down - as in the case of HSE's now-former director Tony O'Brien.

Yet, what happens when a new leader steps in, and processes remain the same? What if the shuttered company rebrands under a different name, as reports have suggested Cambridge Analytica appears to be doing in the form of Emerdata. What reassurance do customers have?

But first, does trust really matter? Yes, according to a myriad of research and surveys. The Harvard Business Review reports that employees in high-trust companies are more productive and stay with their employees longer. Customers are more loyal. Trust is the basis of any relationship.

So, then, what does it take to establish and maintain trust?

I talked with global affairs analyst Michael Bociurkiw, who regularly guides large institutions through emergencies. Notably, he served as a spokesperson for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

"It takes a very long time to develop a brand which people trust. Yet it only takes a moment to bring it down," he said. "If you've made a mistake, own up to it immediately. Even if you don't have all the facts, it is better to sound contrite or empathetic than unapologetic or insensitive. Just ask the CEO of United Airlines if he'd do things differently after the airline took a terrible PR blow when one of its passengers was dragged off one of its oversold flights - all recorded on smartphones and sent around the world on social media and TV screens. Adopt the mentality that the customer always comes first."

The people-first mentality or mindset is the key. This past week, I had the privilege of facilitating a three-day cyber-security conference in London. There, Jyrki Rosenberg of host company F-Secure, a Helsinki-based global privacy company, said: "Being trusted and trustworthy must become the collective mindset of your organisation from top to bottom."

Establishing and nurturing an integrated mindset of trust can be divided in three parts:

1 Ethics

People must believe in you and your organisation's motives. They must be convinced that your intentions are good. That your values are grounded and all actions are guided by a moral compass. You must share your common goals and vision purposefully and thoughtfully with your employees and customers. You walk the talk. When you work in an ethical way, you need to do it consistently, when it's difficult and when no one else is watching.

2 Excellence

It's not enough if we believe your intentions are good, we must also trust that you can deliver. Does your company have the capabilities to provide the proper service, product or solution? This is all about having the abilities to achieve what you say you can do.

3 Empathy

This is the willingness, desire and passion to truly try to understand the customers, the people you claim to serve. Whoever they are. As real human beings with hopes, dreams and fears. This is done by creating opportunities for genuine dialogues. Have conversations. Find ways to engage and ask for feedback. Listen. Then act accordingly.

Trust can only be fully demonstrated through the tests of time. And speaking of time, if you lose trust, experts agree that it can be recovered. But it takes time. How much of it depends on the level of severity of the breach and the efforts taken to address the mistake.

Bociurkiw cites the way Starbucks management handled the wave of bad PR from last month's arrest of two African-American men in one of its stores in Philadelphia.

The men had sat at a table without buying anything, saying they were waiting for friends. The manager called police and the arrests sparked protests.

"Starbucks' CEO took action immediately, saying their removal was unjustified and this is not the way they treat customers," said Bociurkiw. He paid a visit to Philadelphia and announced the very bold decision to close more than 8,000 of its US stores on May 29 for racial-bias training for all its staff, using credible, outside sources to conduct those trainings. And just last week, Starbucks' chairman Howard Schultz said all are welcome to use its store washrooms, even if they haven't bought anything. A great customer-first move!"

For trust to be built or rebuilt, actions always will speak louder than words.


Your best competitive tool may be your communications?

As I write in my Sunday Independent newspaper column this month, it’s high time for your regular check-up!

To improve your chances of living a longer life, we make periodic appointments to visit doctors, dentists and optometrists, don’t we? So, to improve your chances of advancing in your career or to better lead and guide your employees, why don’t you schedule regular appointments to examine and sharpen what may be your best competitive tool: your communications?

1. CEO’s are not exempt.

Let’s start at the top. This is a collective call. You senior execs are not too cool for school. In fact, you are probably long overdue for a check-up.

As an influential friend confided to me recently, “These types, despite telling themselves that they won’t fall for it, often end up surrounding themselves with cheerleaders and it only gets worse over time. Many leaders need cheerleaders to massage egos, mask sometimes incredible insecurities and generally keep them going. But the really smart ones will listen and learn to go onto another level and, as you know better than anyone…

it’s all about better communications – internal and external.”

Amen. But don’t just take my friend’s word for it. Take a look at what the CEO of Zoetis, the world’s largest animal health company, has to say about the importance of communications training.

Juan Ramòn Alaix was already a successful general manager with Pfizer before being tapped to head its animal spin-off business. Knowing he was going to be assuming the, er, top dog role, Alaix started an aggressive training program that lasted 18 months. He paid a former CEO of a big European company to mentor him and he paid for nearly two years of communications training.

He said, “I would have responsibility for communicating our strategy to the outside world—including the media, analysts, and investors. “ That is real dedication and commitment, isn’t it?  Understand we all need ongoing training, no matter where you are in your career or how high in a corporation you’ve already risen.

2. From new hires to middle managers, don’t put off your communications check-up.

Like with physical health, prevention is better than the cure. If you are just starting out in your career, it makes perfect sense to begin developing your abilities as a strategic communicator now, as opposed to after you have picked up years of bad habits. Deploying strategic communications is not something you’re born with.  It is a skill that must be developed over time in the same way that you would learn a second language or learn to play an instrument.  It takes time and practice.

Most of us operate only in default mode. We say whatever comes to mind whenever it does. We don’t listen. We are simply waiting for the chance to talk next. Regular health check-ups may mean the difference between life and death, regular communications check-ups may mean the difference between career status-quo and promotion.


When would you like to schedule your communications check-up? Contact me today! As Lucy from the Peanuts comics would say, “The doctor is IN!”

Change your Communications,
Change your Life!

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How to Remember Names

After a conference I recently chaired, a woman came up to me and asked, “How on earth do you remember everyone’s names?!”

Truth is I don’t. But I make a concerted effort to do so and that’s the difference. How many times do you hear yourself saying, “Oh, I’m terrible with names.” 

As self-fulfilling prophesies go, this may be one of the easiest.  If you tell yourself you’re not good at remembering names, you probably won’t be.

I, on the other hand, am good with names.  I’m not bragging here. I really am. I may not be great. I do occasionally have to be reminded of a name. But I am good. Because, like I said, I work at it.

At the conference I mentioned, I was introduced to dozens of people in rapid succession. All people matter, so every name is important.

I remembered them all. Especially, Jayson, the technician, to whom I was introduced during the set-up, long before the event began.  He’s the one who controls the lights, the sound, my microphone. He’s one important guy!” 

I don’t deploy Darren Brown-style “memory palaces” or other fancy mental gymnastics to partner a person’s name with a rhyme or an object.  Like “Fancy – Nancy” or “Burt in the Red Shirt.”  No way.  I am not that clever nor quickly creative.

But, simply, here is what I do.  I find it really works.

  1. FOCUS: Slow down and really focus on the person’s name. Chances are, when you’re introduced to someone, you may have other things on your mind.  Turn that off for a moment. Make the moment matter.  Genuinely look at the person’s face and let their name sink in.
  2. REPEAT. Silently say the name over and over in your head while you’re looking at them. I’m not talking a mindless repetitive mantra here, say it to yourself in a thoughtful way.  Find meaning in the name. Is it a name of someone you’ve met before, perhaps a relative or a dear friend?  Jerry happens to not only be the name of the technician, it’s also the name of my step-dad for whom I have enormous love and admiration.  That helped the memory stick. 
  3. SPEAK: Say the name back to the person.  Don’t let yourself off easy, with a simple, “Nice to meet you.”  Add “Nice to meet you, fill-in-the-person’s-name-here.” Of course, you don’t want to over-use the person’s name as an obvious measure to remember, but here is a great opportunity.  
  4. LEARN: If it’s an unfamiliar name, take time to try to learn it properly; don’t simply nod and gloss over the introduction. In today’s global marketplace, this is especially important.  Here in Ireland, I am learning that names written in Irish, “Caoimhe” for instance, are said differently than I may first have thought. I also do a lot of work in Africa and am learning a range of great new names there as well.  The wife’s name of a business associate in Nigeria, for instance, is Olaseyi.  It is pronounced “Oh-lah-SHAY-ee” and it also has a lovely lowering in pitch on the final syllable. 

Where does your work take you? Wherever you go, the point is not to create a fuss about a new name, but to demonstrate your sincere interest in expanding your horizons -  embracing the new - and getting it right.  This can build rapport with the person in addition to solidifying your recollection of that person’s name.  

  1. ENQUIRE: Take a moment to ask a question of the new person. Try to learn something about them.  In your mind, repeat their story along with their name. Rather than overloading your memory, this gives the name a story to stick to which makes it easier for you to recall the name when you need it.

Take time to remember names.  It’s a good place to start to build a friendship.  Business is built on relationships.

Don’t tell yourself or others that you’re no good at remembering names. It’s a throw away comment that doesn’t get you off the hot seat.  Take a breath and discipline yourself. Try. You can remember names.  

Now go meet the people at those holiday parties you’ll be attending.

Happy holidays.

Gina