Benefits of Communication Training

As professionals grow in their careers, they usually become aware that every business or management skill is useless if one cannot communicate well with co-workers and clients. At some point, everyone should consider putting their best effort in maximising their true potential by improving their communication skill set. Whether you got promoted or join a new company, you will have to decide whether to remain stagnant or progressive.

Still not convinced? Well, we have compiled a few facts about the benefits of having a communication training. Check them out.

Self-awareness
One of the benefits of having good communication skills training is that the process itself will help you become more aware of certain areas that you can still develop, and perhaps more importantly, the skills which you have already mastered. This may seem unproductive to you, but you will find that improvement doesn’t only require knowing what you lack, but also harnessing what you can still develop. Being part of a workshop or seminar can help clarify the situation in several ways.

Better relationships 
Having problems socialising with your peers? Well, good news! Taking part in a seminar on communication skills often results in improved relationships. For instance, when an individual’s manager has a stern and serious way of communicating with other employees, misunderstandings may arise; however, exploring these differences allows for creative solutions like choosing to start a discussion with a quick overview of key points so that both people are on the same page immediately. While better work relationships are a major motivator for workplace training programs, one of the things that will eventually improve is your interaction with immediate family members.

Improving your communication skills through seminars and training will not only create a positive impact on your career as a professional, but also on how you communicate with everyone in general.

Light Box Leadership aims to aid all the management issues that you are encountering through a holistic approach in training. Our company was formed eight years ago with the simple mission to help improve lives by sharing the knowledge and skills needed to achieve excellence. With a team of highly skilled professionals, we continue to provide the highest quality, evidence-based training for individuals, leaders and teams in order to help them create superb distinction within their organisation. Any questions? Feel free to give us a call on 0117 9427856 today.

How Great Leaders Motivate Their Employees at Work

Knowing how to motivate each person on a team can be a challenging endeavour. Most assume that money is the biggest motivating factor in workplace motivation, and while undoubtedly it is a pretty good motivator, it’s not the best.

At the root of human motivation is emotion, with positive emotions being the source of high-performance motivational energy. A great leader understands not only how to trigger that motivation, but also how to keep it consistent even after obstacles and drawbacks in team plans and projects. As a leader, you’re in control of key environmental factors in the workplace, so it’s important to know how to optimise these factors for both you and your team:

Put the people first.

Great leaders view their employees as individuals rather than as a collective workforce, establishing trust and investing time into employer-employee relationships. Provide the resources and work environment your team needs to work comfortably, and most importantly: treat your employees like adults. Entrust them with the company values, vision, and mission without resorting to micro-managing.

Encourage positive organisation culture.

Energise your team by resolving to bring passion and positive energy to the workplace. Reward employees with tools for growth, such as free e-books from Amazon, for example, or an offer to sponsor classes. Let your team know that with you, they can grow not just as professionals, but as individuals too.

Be a good communicator and a good listener.

Transparency between you and your employees is an absolute must. Transparency goes both ways: be an effective communicator, but also encourage your employees to speak out, emphasising your ability to listen. Schedule periodic one-on-one meetings to discuss performance, and ways both you and your team member can grow together in the workplace.

Nurture life outside of work.

The key to a well-oiled workplace: the concept of work-life balance. Prevent burn-out and fatigue in your employees by pushing for annual leaves, after-work hangouts, and mental health breaks.

Invest in Resilience Training

Resilience is the hallmark of both successful people and successful companies and is marked by the ability to bounce back from hardship and continue to perform well despite the struggle. Absolutely nothing is more powerful than a group of positively motivated, highly-resilient employees, so invest in resilience training seminars and proper coping mechanisms to get your team in tip-top shape.

Light Box Leadership was formed eight years ago with the simple mission to help improve lives by sharing the knowledge and skills needed to achieve excellence. With a team of experienced professionals, we continue to provide the highest quality, evidence-based training for individuals, leaders and teams in order to help them create superb distinction within their organisation. Got any questions? Give us a call on 0117 9427856 to speak with one of our friendly experts today.

Effective Tips To Improve Your Time Management Skills

Time Management Skills

Do you always feel like you’re running out of time? Maybe you should manage your time more effectively. Effective time management helps you achieve your goals and gain focus and control in your life—here are some tips to help you:

Make a list.

Create a to-do list for the day’s task to keep you on track and organised. Keep them in one place and somewhere you can always see. It may be your planner or your phone—what’s important is that you can always see it and you will not forget about anything.

Prioritise tasks.

Now that you have a to-do list, you should now sort your tasks according to their importance and duration. You can classify them into four:

  • Urgent and important
  • Not urgent but important
  • Urgent but not important
  • Neither urgent nor important

The key to this is to fill your to-do list with urgent and important tasks. You should concentrate on not urgent but important tasks before they become both.

Declutter.

If your desk is cluttered, chances are your mind can be cluttered, too. You could misplace and forget important documents or not finish your daily tasks. Keep your desk organised and neat—throw out broken pens, replace old stationery or use desk storage compartments.

Take a break.

Effective time management means balance—you have the time to do your tasks effectively and you also have the time to rest or take a break. Go away from your desk for at least 30 minutes, do exercise or take a walk. You’ll go back to your desk refreshed and focused.

Manage emails.

You might not notice it but answering emails can take up the majority of your time and away from more important tasks. To curb that, practise the four D’s:

  • Delete: less important emails
  • Do: urgent emails or things that can be done quickly
  • Delegate: if the email can be done by someone else better
  • Defer: set aside time for emails that need longer time and attention

Light Box Leadership was formed eight years ago with the simple mission to help improve lives by sharing the knowledge and skills needed to achieve excellence. With a team of experienced professionals, we continue to provide the highest quality, evidence-based training for individuals, leaders and teams in order to help them create superb distinction within their organisation. Got enquiries? Give us a call on 0117 9427856 to speak with one of our friendly experts today.

Reasons To Invest In A Leadership Development Program

Leadership Development Program | Light Box UK

Companies that invest in human capital by providing their employees with the resources to develop their leadership skills perform better than companies who leave it all up to chance. Moreover, these industries tend to be more appealing to prospective talents who are looking for career growth as well as being more motivational for existing teams. Even if employee retention and turnover are nonexistent issues, developing lower-level employees equips the organisation with a more capable and progressing workforce.

Investing in a leadership development program also establishes a strong culture that will continuously provide influence through the generations to come. Here, we have listed more reasons why your organisation needs to enrol in a leadership training program:

Develops comradeship amongst your organisation’s future leaders

Forming and establishing a strong sense of teamwork and common ground within the leadership team tends to be quite hard for companies who typically import new leaders instead of honing and promoting their own. A huge benefit of investing in a leadership development program is the opportunity to let your future leaders start working together and build a level of comfort and trust with each other even before they are officially appointed with individual leadership roles. Your company can use this benefit to have a significant competitive advantage compared with other organisations.

Increases your organisation’s agility

A leadership development program can help your company’s aspiring leaders to be mentally prepared when meeting a variety of tests and unexpected changes. Effective leadership does not only apply to the day-to-day business operations but is also critically needed especially during risky situations such as corporate restructuring, workforce reductions, drastic change, political upheaval, accidents and personal tragedy.

Improves your company’s bottom-line

Apart from obtaining the power of having a leadership team that understands and trusts each other as well as providing your company with the ability to easily navigate through critical situations, investing in human capital via a leadership development program also drives new lines of revenue, reduces your organisation’s costs and improves customer satisfaction.
Light Box Leadership was formed eight years ago with the simple mission to help improve lives by sharing the knowledge and skills needed to achieve excellence. With a team of experienced professionals, we continue to provide the highest quality, evidence-based training for individuals, leaders and teams in order to help them create superb distinction within their organisation. Got any questions?
Give us a call on 0117 9427856 to speak with one of our friendly experts today.

WHY A HAPPY WORKPLACE IS ESSENTIAL TO YOUR BOTTOM LINE

Smile emoticon for Happy Work place Blog

I think a secret belief that too many leaders still harbour is ‘Who cares if employees are happy or not? That’s their own business. What matters is how well they’re doing their job.’ And this mind set is perhaps an understandable one, given the very private sphere that mental health traditionally inhabits.

You could make the moral argument to employers that as work is the biggest cause of stress in peoples lives, and one in three employees suffer form anxiety, depression or chronic stress, organisations have an ethical duty to mitigate that and look after employees mental wellbeing, but frankly the economic argument speaks a lot louder.

An expanding body of research suggests however that psychological wellbeing has a direct impact not only on how well a person does their job, but also whether they stick at their job and consequently the business’s bottom line.

Soaring levels of sickness absence, staff turnover and presenteeism – i.e. when people turn up but are under-productive and do the bare minimum to get by – costs UK employers anything between £33bn and £42bn every single year.

And investing in staff wellbeing is not just a question of mitigating against negative effects. It actively boosts profit because positive emotions improve performance. Studies show that the productivity of happy employees is 12-20% greater than that of a control group. It is no coincidence that Fortune’s ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ stock prices rose an average of 14% per year from 1998-2005, compared to 6% for the overall market.

There are multiple approaches to creating the conditions of a happy workplace and the right approach will end up being as unique as your organisation and the people who make it up. As a broad rule of thumb though, workplace happiness correlates with operating on an appreciation model rather than a blame one and recognising individuals’ strengths and fostering growth from that foundation. And although changes to workplace culture need to be modelled from the top, they need to be authored collaboratively, beginning with asking employees the simple question:

“How could this workplace be made better for you?”

 

HOW TO INFLUENCE OTHERS WITHOUT FORMAL AUTHORITY

How To Influence Others

There’s no debating that positional power is useful because with status comes power. If someone has the authority to promote you, give you a raise or restructure you out of your job, it is likely that you are going to be responsive to their needs. The law of the jungle doesn’t feel very fair but it is probably here to stay.

Positional power does have its limits though. For one, as a leader, you only have that power for as long as you’re in the post. And positional power can often be a block to the valuable creative and critical contribution of the wider team. Leaders often sacrifice excellence for expedience and control by not being open enough to the ideas and influence of those whom they lead. Another shortcoming of positional power is that it doesn’t always allow us to influence people beyond the confines of our own organisation.

Personal power is a counterbalance for the shortcomings of positional power and because it is available to everyone and lacks the coercive element that positional power carries, personal power is better understood as influence. There are three key, interrelated things that determine how much personal power we wield. Our relationships, our communication ability and our expertise.

Above all else, it is the quality of our relationships that determines our personal power. Not just our relationships with the colleagues who work most closely to us on a day to day basis, but our relationships with people across departments and locations, and with people above us and beneath us in the organisational hierarchy.

To maximise personal power in your workplace, build a broad relationship base there. Spend time getting to know people whose paths you might not naturally cross. In particular, find out their values and who they are as individuals. What is their communication style and what are their drivers and motivations for work? If you know what they hope to be doing in five year’s time, you’ve done a good job of getting to know them.

To build these kinds of relationships takes some investment. For one it takes time – your most valuable resource – and secondly it requires you to break out of the comfortable social cliques that naturally form around us and spend time with people whom you might feel less of a natural affinity with. But as an investment it gives a big pay off in terms of your influence, not only because it builds trust and respect, but also because it gives you expertise. This broad relationship base will give you unrivalled insight into your organisation, its challenges and its strengths, as played out by the people in it.

An important aspect of relationship building is also getting to know influential people before you need them, and the best way to do this is to network. A good tip for networking is to start where you are. Look to the people you already know who could introduce you to influential people i.e. people with with positional power, personal power or both. Be strategic about it. Who do people go to for guidance? Who seems to make things happen in your organisation or sector? And just as importantly, ask who habitually creates obstacles to new ideas and resists change? You can find all this out through the informal chats you have with people while you are building your broader relationship base.

Also worth noting is that certain people are like gatekeepers to a whole load of other people and wider networks. If you spot someone who is super-connected and networked in this way, make relationship building with them a priority. Check social media to read up on what’s on their radar, have a coffee, go for lunch, ask for their input. Asking for others’ input and taking a collaborative approach is vital as people are more likely to back ideas they have already contributed to.

Worth a mention here also is that shyness is the enemy of this sort of relationship building. Most of us secretly feel we could use more social confidence and falter when it comes to making an approach. A nice trick to help overcome this sort of apprehension is to do a brainstorm of what would make you dislike a person who approached you, and modelling the reverse of the qualities you come up with.

Being well networked goes a long way in upping your personal power but it’s not enough by itself. You also need to be credible. No point getting to know one hundred and fourteen people across and between organisations if all one hundred and fourteen of those people think that you are an idiot. To have influence you have to spend time listening keenly to other people to draw on what they know. Talk to experts, test assumptions. Do your homework. Engage with critical thought. If there are prevailing beliefs in your sector, or entrenched processes, gently scrutinise them. Ask why?

Just as importantly, ask others to play devil’s advocate and pick at the corners of the ideas that you bring, to help you to refine your own perspectives. You can then anticipate objections and be ready to counter them. If you can get other people thinking and demonstrate that you are a thinker, then you’re bringing something valuable to the table that will be taken seriously by others.

However extensive your expertise is though, it will be impotent if you don’t know how to communicate it well. Knowing how to adjust your communication style and pitch to your audience isn’t really that hard if you brush up on your presentation skills and take the time to learn where the person you seek to influence’s priorities lie. And rightly or wrongly, it is the emotional arguments that win the day. Not as in shout and cry at the people you seek to persuade, but make them care. You win the emotional argument by knowing what people care about and presenting that thing as being at stake. If you don’t know what someone cares about, then you have more listening to do. This is why you shouldn’t try to exert influence prematurely, always do the groundwork first so you can pitch it right.

And demonstrate how much you care, too. People are unlikely to buy into something if you don’t appear to be100% bought in to it yourself. If you make proposals in a lukewarm way, you’ll get a lukewarm response – at best. Enthusiasm is contagious. If you keep the ‘why’ alive for yourself, that energy and sincerity will come across and get a positive response.

Regardless of your role at work, there’s power and influence just waiting to be grasped by you. So do a little audit of your personal power and before you leave this blog behind, write down the name of three people you could go for a coffee with either in or beyond your organisation. These people could be anyone you don’t yet know or know well, people who could give you some useful advice, share their own perspectives or experience about something or simply reveal to you a little more about who they are. Then email the first one today.

HOW DOES STRESS AT WORK AFFECT PERFORMANCE?

 

stress

We’ve all heard that stress is a killer, but did we know that stress is also our friend?

Stress can affect our workplace performance for better and worse. Making the distinction between good stress and bad stress isn’t always straight forward though.

The dictionary definition of stress is ‘a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.’ A complete absence or demanding circumstances, of challenge, in our work lives tends to produce a state of stagnation because without a certain level of pressure, motivation drops through the floor and performance inevitably suffers.

Competitive athletes illustrate this relationship between stress and peak performance well. Doing what they do is not easy but it’s the very fact that they exert themselves in the face of demanding training schedules that allows them to excel. But they walk a fine line between enough of the right kind of pressure, the pressure that keeps challenging them to grow, and the sort of pressure that injures them, inhibiting their ability to compete altogether. One of the keys to staying on this fine line for athletes is their protective habits. Without the right protective habits to support the intensity of their training, like sports massage, optimal nutrition and stretching, instead of being a catalyst for achievement, the stress will become damaging.

We can draw a lesson from athletes and apply it to stress in the workplace. Bringing awareness to the habits that support (or under support) our lives, and them making incremental changes over time to address any weak spots we’ve noticed pays off hugely in terms of increasing our capacity to manage stress. It’s vital to take this approach because if work stress gets the better of us over a long enough period of time, our ability to do our work well suffers and worse, there can be a high price to pay in terms of both physical and mental heath.

The health risk of stress is a very real one. When our body continuously releases the stress hormone cortisol, these chronic elevated levels can lead to serious issues. Our immune system gets suppressed, blood pressure and blood sugar increases, we become more susceptible to heart disease, cancers, anxiety and depression – a common feature of depression is heightened levels of cortisol in the blood. Cortisol has also been shown to damage and kill cells in the part of our brain responsible for memory and evidence suggests chronic stress causes prematurely ages the brain.

On the flip side, it is these same stress hormones that make stress, at the right levels and handled well, a performance enhancer. For example, norepinephrine, another stress hormone, makes us more responsive by keeping us in an aware and focused state. And although on the one hand prolonged stress has been observed to kill off brain cells in the hippocampus, University of California research suggests that shorter bursts of stress, in the form of challenging tasks, actually doubled the proliferation of brain cells in the hippocampus, and in fact improves memory function rather than depletes it.

So what can we draw from this contradictory account of how stress affects us? Well it all comes down to walking that fine line between the sort of stress we can manage and grow with and the stress that debilitates us. And to reiterate, critical to walking that line are the protective factors we build in to our daily lives. Cultivating habits that promote positive emotion, engagement, good relationships, a sense of meaning and attainment will all build our resilience over time.

In the context of work there is however one notable factor that is not directly in our control. That is the support we receive from our leadership. In terms of this support, having leaders who place realistic expectations on their team’s time capacity is flagged up by multiple studies as a major determinant of avoiding negative stress in the workplace. Skill training around time management and prioritisation of course go a long way in helping to resolve this, but ultimately, knowing how indirectly control this, to ‘manage up’ and promote leadership’s awareness of front line reality and what sustainable output looks like is the only way to tackle this issue at its root.

Ultimately, whether we are going to crumble under pressure or flourish in the face of stress at work comes down to both our own protective habits and equally the responsiveness of leadership.

It’s a two-way deal.

If you are fulfilling your side of the bargain and investing in your own resilience, but the level of challenge is unrelenting, unrealistic and you are not receiving the skills training and support that you need from above, it is time to question whether any job is worth risking your health for.

 

ARE CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION THE SAME THING?

CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION

It’s widely recognised across industries that mastering innovation gives us the competitive edge we need to thrive. With game-changing technologies constantly shifting the ground beneath us, being creative and having the ability to roll out responsive new products and services is vital. A common question that this shift poses is ‘are innovation and creativity the same thing?’ And the answer is yes but no.

They are closely related. Innovation can not happen without creativity as creativity is a major part of the innovation process. Creativity can happen without innovation though. Creative ideas, expressions, perspectives and acts don’t ultimately need to produce any new tangibles. Whereas innovation does.

To be creative all you really need is your imagination which can draw on your all internally held experiences to come up with new connections and perspectives. To innovate successfully though, you first need info from your current external environment. You need input. Observations, data, facts about your industry, customers, resources and so on. And the quality and breadth of the data that goes in will directly impact of the quality of your outputs at the end of the innovation process, so this stage is definitely not to be rushed or skipped past.

After that explorative research has been done, innovation then does require you to get creative and let the imaginative, reflective, playful side of your brain have free reign. This is where creativity and innovation intersect and at this stage of the process, they are arguably the same thing.

But when your brainstorms are over and you’ve got your short list of new services and products that you think would be worth developing, it’s time to leave creativity behind and get your lab-coat on. The next step in the innovation process is about business experimentation. Methodically testing your assumptions and checking that the idea does deliver the outputs that you need it to. And you do all this experimenting at a low-risk level where you can afford to fail.

Only once you have completed this experimental stage will you know which ideas to fully resource and roll-out. And for the roll out to succeed, you want to have organisational and process-led thinking (as opposed to creative thinking) at the fore. This ensures that you’ll be executing your innovation as efficiently and effectively as possible.

So returning to the question of ‘are innovation and creativity the same thing?’ I’d sum up that innovation is an inherently creative process, but one that needs us to extend ourselves beyond creative thinking if it is to succeed. If you want to build up the innovative muscle of your organisation a good approach is draw on the strengths of the whole team, not just the lateral thinking abilities of the most creative members. By levering everyone’s different abilities into the various stages of innovation, you’ll succeed in building a strong innovation capacity into your business.

HOW DOES COMMUNICATION AFFECT RELATIONSHIPS AT WORK?

Communication Style

Working relationships at their best are productive, co-operative and even joyful. Frequently though, despite our best intentions they can be frustrating sources of conflict and misunderstanding.

Here are 4 ways that communication affects our relationships at work for better or worse, depending on the awareness and skills we bring.

1. Communication Style

Some colleagues and clients are easier to talk to than others. When communication seems effortless with another person the chances are it’s because we share a similar communication style with them.

We’ve all got a communication style comfort zone that we automatically operate from. There are 4 broad styles, Promoter, Controller, Facilitator and Analyst.

Knowing which style you have and learning how to talk in the style of another person with them will close the distance between you, minimising frustration, misunderstanding and distrust.

2. Active listening

Have you ever worked with someone who talks a lot about what’s going on with them but rarely checks in to see how you’re doing? Contrast the quality of that sort of working relationship with one where your colleague does take an interest in your challenges and achievements. Which relationship grows you and motivates you more? The answer is obvious.

When someone takes the time to listen to us, to give us the space to finish our sentences and then ask us follow-up questions that delve deeper into what we have just said, we feel valued by them. And it’s the working relationships in which the participants feel mutually valued that are the most productive ones.

Play a game next time you speak to a colleague. Try to avoid using the word ‘I’ and give your self 5 points for every ‘How, what and why’ question you ask them in response to what they’re saying. Invite them to play the same game next time they talk to you.

3. Inflammatory language

When the workplace is a source of stress, 9 times out of 10 it’s not the work that is the problem, it’s certain people that we work with. When we experience conflict with colleagues, a big determinant of that conflict is our own inability to see the role that we ourselves are playing in keeping the conflict alive. We are often so focused on the failures of the other person and how they are making things difficult that we overlook the only half of the equation that we have any real control over; our own actions. Specifically, the language we chose to use.

Practicing Non-Violent Communication weans us off the habit of using ‘inflammatory language’ – language the carries implicit judgment or blame. It helps us to give people objective feedback aimed at a behavioural level rather than identify level, rather bombarding them with our emotionally loaded opinions of what they should and shouldn’t have done. And importantly, it enables us to take responsibility for our own emotional reaction to the situation rather than making it all about them.

When we feel under attack we get defensive. Listening stops, progress stops and conflicts don’t get resolved. Non Violent Communication takes the ‘attack’ out of our language use and builds foundations for more understanding and respectful relationships with even the most challenging colleagues.

4. Assertiveness

It’s nice to be nice and most us like to be liked. This can sometimes backfire and negatively impact on our relationships at work though. Our desire to be seen as agreeable often causes us to agree to taking things on that we don’t actually have the time or headspace to do. If we’re in the habit of doing this, it runs the risk of storing up resentment in our work relationships. We resent others for asking too much of us and the they resent us for letting them down when we commit to more obligations than we can properly fulfil. So learn to skilfully say no. Here’s how:

i) Start with their name. Studies show that we experience brain activation when someone says our name so we tend to listen really carefully to whatever is said next.

ii) Acknowledge their request. This shows that you have really listened to what they have asked of you and signals respect.

iii) ‘I’m going to say no.’ This is simultaneously assertive and emotionally considerate use of language; you are linguistically ‘softening the blow’ of the no by structuring it this way.

iv) Give one good single reason why. Less is more here. More than one reason will start to sound like excuses.

v) Offer an alternative, if possible. This sends the message that you are supportive, and the support  has to be on terms that also suit you.

 Practice this technique to build and maintain healthy, authentic and boundaried workplace relationships.

Whatever the communication skills are that we want to develop, the key is to take ourselves out of auto-pilot and into an awareness of the  big shifts we can achieve in our work relationships with small changes to how we talk and listen.

 

 

ARE NETWORKING EVENTS WORTH IT?

 

NETWORKING

The Harvard Business Review article:  “Don’t Waste Your Time on Networking Events” got a lot of attention because I think it struck a chord with so many people. We all know that a bit like many team meetings, networking events can be a colossal waste of time.

Attending networking event after networking event and having very little to show for it is a classic ‘Busy Fool’ manoeuvre that we should all watch out to avoid.

Why do we so often fall in to this ineffectual networking trap? I think there’s two main reasons: one reason is the short-term, illusory sense of achievement it gives us. That gratifying sense of ticking a task of the list but failing to question the task’s actual value. In other words, we mistake activity for output. The second reason is we simply lack the skills to make the networking event worth our while.

Successful networking is about growing relationships with people worth knowing and fortunately there are some straight forward strategies that can help us to do just that. Here are six to consider:

1. Do your homework

If you can, check who else is going and decide who in particular you’d like to meet. Once you have set your sights on a few people, do a bit of internet stalking – check their LinkedIn and Twitter feed to see what connections and common interests you have, and what’s on their mind. Knowing where the common ground lies will make having a good conversation a lot easier. It also makes us more likeable. Research suggests we have a preference for people whom we perceive to be similar to ourselves in some way, so discovering and focusing our attention on commonalities is a great strategy.

2.  Pretend you’re a detective

Every hear the expression ‘Interesting people are interested people.’? You already know everything there is to know about yourself, so don’t waste your valuable networking time talking about Numero Uno if you can help it. You’ll learn nothing and impress no-one. Do have a short, powerful introduction about what you do (NB Under 15 seconds, and not just your job title but something memorable about what your work actually involves / achieves). Beyond that though, focus on learning about others rather than talking about yourself. Demonstrate your interest in others by actively listening to them, using open-ended follow up questions (i.e. what, why, how questions). Studies show being a good listener will make you more likeable, and being likeable lies at the heart of being an excellent networker who gets good connections and leads wherever they go.

3. Ask not what this person can do for you. 

A common mentality to networking is ‘What’s in it for me?’ and there are a two main reasons why this can be problematic. First of all, it can be difficult to tell whether or not a person will be useful to know on first meeting them. Opportunities usually emerge further down the line when you have built up a bit of a relationship and some trust, and not on the day that you meet. Second of all, the ‘What’s in it for me?’ mind-set is so unappealing that when we detect it in others – and we can usually sniff it a mile off – there’s a good chance it will alienate us and make us wary of them, rather than form the foundation of a productive connection. So the antidote is to flip the thinking on its head and ask ‘What’s in it for them?’ Ask yourself why getting to know and staying in touch with you will be beneficial to the other person? What information, contacts or encouragement do you bring? Work this part of the equation out and the the ‘What’s in it for you’ side will take care of itself.

4. Lever body language

Numerous scientific studies all say the same thing about this: your body language speaks loud and clear and leaves a lasting impression on others whether you are aware of it or not. So always begin with a handshake, remember to smile and keep good eye contact, and to absolutely maximize your likeability factor, be sure to nod a lot.

5. Have fun

A recent ComRes poll shows the majority of people feel uncomfortable while networking. To get good at it you have to find a way of making it enjoyable. The obvious answer to many, but not really the best approach, is to down plenty of Dutch courage if there happens to booze to hand. I mean what could possibly go wrong? A safer strategy is to ‘Gamify’ it. Make a points system, for example 5 points for every handshake. 10 for every LinkedIn connection afterwards, 25 for every enjoyable conversation you have. You can even think of some obscure and amusing vocabulary that you get points for skilfully slipping into conversations. The possibilities are endless. Then if you go in with a target in mind, say to score over 200 points by the end of the event, you will find yourself fully engaged. It’s even a funny conversational gambit – telling others at the event what you’re up to, about your ‘game’.

6. Keep in touch

Afterwards take a few notes on the professional interests of the people you meet and any personal information relevant for rapport building – for example if they’re going sailing in the Greek Islands that summer, jot that down. Anything in particular you bonded over at the event, write that down too. Then follow people up within 3 days to say ‘Great to have met you, let’s stay in touch’ and after that remember to share interesting, funny or useful stuff with them at least 2 or 3 times a year, with a friendly message checking in with them. And schedule these contacts, or else they won’t happen. With a rapidly growing network you’ll probably need a reminder system to keep it ticking over.

So back to the question this blog began with: are networking events worth it? Simple answer is yes, if you are any good at networking. The good news is, anyone can learn to be.

THE SCIENCE OF THE ART OF EXCELLENCE

THE SCIENCE OF THE ART OF EXCELLENCE

Take a look at this photo.

What is interesting about the photo is that it is not actually a photo. It is an acrylic painting with a realism that beggars belief: Big Self Portrait by Chuck Close.

What is also interesting about the painting is his artistic method and what it has to teach us about achieving excellence in our own professional or personal life.

Using a photograph as a guide, he adopted a technique employed in a lot of Renaissance artwork. He placed a numbered and lettered grid over the photo – thousands of pixel-like squares – to recreate the picture one square at a time. When you are looking at his Big Self Portrait all you are actually looking at is a precise mosaic of simple black, white and grey squares.

How does this apply to to us, and to excellence?

Big, magnificent, shimmering excellence, if you look closely at it, is nothing more that a carefully arranged mosaic of precise, simple actions. And by precise, I mean actions that are taken with intention, with a clear final goal in sight. Chuck Close’s intention was to perfectly replicate his photographic image, and this determined which exact paint shade he chose to use to fill in his very first square with, out of an array of possible shades that he could have applied. Then he chose which shade to use for the next square, and the next one and the next. Applying choice informed by intention to every single one.

So the science of the art of excellence is sublime in its simplicity. There’s just three parts to it.

1) Being extremely clear on your goal. What will excellence look like once you’ve achieved it?

2) Treating your time more like the way Chuck Close treats a canvas, i.e. like a precious resource out of which there is the potential to create something excellent.

3) Focussing on the very, many, very small choices for action that every day presents, and applying more intention to actions you choose, always with the end goal in mind.

For example when I am on a roll, I somehow manage to drag myself to the gym down the road and run 5k every weekday morning. I do it because I know I’m happier and work better that way and I feel pleased with myself when I do this. But! After thinking how I could take more of a ‘Chuck Close’ approach to excellence, I realised that the 45 minutes I spend running, is actually still in some ways an empty square I could be doing something with. So now instead of suffering the cheesy gym workout music they pump out, or even listening to my own tunes, I put in my earphones, harness the wonder of YouTube and learn a huge amount of useful stuff that I can apply to my work goals during that time on the treadmill.

45 minutes per weekday morning multiplied by 52 weeks is 195 hours of learning every year. That’s a third of a postgraduate certificate. It sets myself at a considerable advantage against the theoretical me who inhabits the parallel universe where I am still not making that particular intentional choice.

And the real beauty of it is that it is such a tiny adjustment, such an imperceptible choice that has been exercised that it doesn’t feel like any effort or work.

Getting better, inching towards excellence is, it turns out, as simple as 1,2,3.

Lucy Duggan

WHEN WORKPLACE WELLBEING DOESN’T WORK

WELLBEING

With World Mental Health Day putting workplace wellbeing in its crosshairs this year, it is worth asking  what workplace wellbeing actually is, as an agenda, as a practice and as an outcome that impacts on individual people’s lives.

Since our work at Light Box began back in 2009, the wave of public interest in wellbeing and mental health has consistently gathered pace. It’s now hard to open a Sunday supplement or newspaper and not stumble across another mental-health story.

The appetite to discuss wellbeing is now huge, along with the surge of initiatives to help people and organisations promote it.

It’s unarguably a sign of progress that some of the stigma that surrounds mental-health has fallen away as a consequence of this upswing in interest, and yet the sceptic in me is uncomfortably aware of how the wellbeing agenda is vulnerable to being hijacked and distorted, and worryingly, how it can be used to eclipse some hard realities that need to be examined.

Played out in the workplace, the wellbeing agenda can go one of two ways.

I’ve heard some great stories about staff teams being treated to wellbeing and resilience training, only to be handed their redundancy notices a few weeks later. Applied cynically, perfunctory wellbeing measures taken in the workplace can be a way of sending staff the message: ‘Can’t cope with unreasonably big workloads / long hours / low pay / scant annual leave? Hmmm, maybe you should be working a bit harder on your well-being, then.’

Done well though, workplace wellbeing can be the basis of thoughtful action for change – not least a change in organisational culture, led from the top. It can be the opportunity for increased self-awareness, assertiveness, improved relationships and yes, self care.

If you get it right, a focus on workplace wellbeing can ensure that the workplace is a source of camaraderie and a place that’s free of blame culture. That it’s a place where each person is allowed to be vulnerable in some way and is called upon to use their particular strengths to create shared value. When the workplace presents an opportunity to meaningfully contribute to something and be thanked for your contribution, then it becomes a haven of security and a source of positive identity in an unpredictable and often difficult world.

In the UK, 11.7 million work days were lost this past year alone due to stress, depression or anxiety related sick leave, and studies consistently show that people are at their most creative and productive on the job when they are feeling happy. The science and statistics speak for themselves: workplace wellbeing is too important to get wrong.

Perhaps a good first step for any organisation with a genuine interest in this, is an honest, inclusive conversation about what works for people’s wellbeing in the workplace, and what works against it.

TWO WAYS OF WORKING

two waysWhen we are working well, it feels wonderful. Energy flows along, things get done, tasks get tackled one by one. There’s few things better than that feeling you get when the day draws to a close, that you’ve been productive and moved things on in one way or another.

When we are not working well, it feels very different. There can be a tinge of panic. And a masochism. It can feel like swimming against a current. Whatever we have done well, in the days or weeks before, it often seems like it is not enough, or worse, not relevant. It is as if all the productive, positive action that has gone before dissolves and has no bearing, and we are pushing the gas pedal down hard on an empty tank of fuel.

We might identify this second way of working as the necessary drive to keep going that all success depends on. A healthy no pain, no gain mentality.

But it is not. It’s an impatience, and ultimately it fuels discouragement and demotivation. This way of working quietly erodes our confidence in our abilities to solve problems as they arise and do well. And when confidence is lowered, we don’t approach opportunities in the same way, we don’t act in a bold, creative manner. Instead, we shrink back and don’t do so well. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. A trap.

It’s so easy to get sucked into the vortex of this second way of working, and stay unwittingly trapped inside it all day until it spits you out at home time feeling pessimistic, stressed and useless. When this happens it feels so draining, and it so greatly undermines any gains that the first way of working accrues, that it is crucial to watch out for this psychological tendency more and to take its menace more seriously.

Perhaps next time you spot it taking over, consider going on strike against yourself for half an hour, have a walk and some self-talk reminding yourself that working hard is meant to feel good, not bad.

WHAT’S NEXT VERSUS WHAT’S NOW

Calendar

Minds have a tendency to drift into the future, and the influence that the future tends to have on our mind-set is mixed. On the one hand it can give rise to hope. On the other hand it can bring on apprehension, even fear.

Whatever its effects, the main thing  to remember about the future is that it is a mythical place. i.e. it does not exist.

And it never will.

If you are dreaming of how next year things could be better – how the summer you have could be more fun than the one just gone, how your earnings could go up, how you could support my family and close friends in bigger, more elaborate ways, when you are preoccupying myself with what’s next – you are loosing sight of what’s now.

And what’s now is the one and only thing you will ever have any influence over. Whether it is your relationships, how you treat myself or your approach to work. It ‘s about the micro choices, the actions and inactions. Is there good music on in the morning when you get ready for work, or is there not? Do you hurry from meeting to meetings ignoring your surroundings or do you not? Do you text a friend on their first day of a new job or do you not? The more you turn your gaze away from the future, the more you will see the kaleidoscope of choices to be made in the now.

Each one tiny. Each one important.

When you look after the now the future looks after itself. 

Here’s a James Joyce quote to leave you with that says it all in just a line:

“Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past.” 

THE SURPRISING MATHEMATICAL LAW BEHIND SUCCESSFUL WORKING RELATIONSHIPS

productive work groups

Even if we like a person, it is difficult to predict whether we will continue to get on in the long run and make it through all life’s challenges with our relationship intact.  For example, few couples getting married anticipate that one day they fall out and yet 45% of marriages end in divorce.

To better understand why certain relationships endure and remain productive, researcher John Gottman studied the relationships of hundreds of married couples. And incredibly, he was able to predict with 94% accuracy which couples would get divorced and which couples would last the distance.

How?

Using a ratio. He observed that in instances where the positive feedback the couple exchanged  exceeded the negative feedback they shared at a ratio of three to one or more, their relationships were resilient. Couples who fell short of this golden ratio of 3:1 however, didn’t fare so well.

John Gottman’s findings have been since been replicated in diverse settings. In businesses and colleges the same feedback ratio continues to be an accurate predictor of whether a group will succeed and flourish, or become weakened over time by disharmony from within.

In light of this research it is worth asking what feedback ratio prevails in your workplace and how that impacts on the team?