The Art of Active Listening

Speaking and listening are soft skills that most of us take for granted and believe ourselves to be fluent in. However, often we may not be fully present in a conversation and as a result, important information can be ignored or simply forgotten. Research varies greatly in terms of how much of what we hear we actually retain, but it is far from one hundred percent, indicating that we may not be as skilled in this area as we might assume.

Active listening is a concept which is alien to many. Often, when people are speaking to us, our minds wander, thinking about what we are going to say next and focusing on the next gap in the conversation so that we can interject with our own pearls of wisdom. This can result in valuable information slipping through the cracks. Not just what the person is saying, but also what they are not saying.

The practice of active listening is when one focuses completely on the person speaking to them – not just their words, but their body language, facial expressions and tone. Themes can emerge and emotions become more noticeable, allowing the listener to understand what the person is really trying to say and also, what they are not saying. By focusing all of ones attention on the speaker, it allows for a far richer understanding of the message that they are trying to convey. That is not to say that interruptions should not be made, its fine to interrupt, if clarification is necessary, or simply to paraphrase what is being said, if there is an appropriate pause in the conversation, but not simply to interject with your own point or counter argument.

Top tips for active listening include:

  1. Focus on the person who is speaking, try to tune out any external stimuli.
  2. Maintain appropriate eye contact with the speaker; nodding or making some other signal which shows you are still fully engaged will encourage them to continue, knowing that they have your undivided attention
  3. Do not try and multitask – put down your phone, or any other work you may be absentmindedly be flicking through, not only is it disrespectful to the person to whom you are speaking, it does not allow you to fully process what they are saying and can mean you miss out on nonverbal cues such as facial expressions or even crucial gaps in the information you are being presented with.
  4. Ask questions in an appropriate way, try not to interrupt unnecessarily, but if something is not clear, do attempt to clarify, simply saying, “so what I’m hearing is…”
  5. If you disagree with what the person is saying, wait until they have finished before voicing your objections, respectfully listen to the point that they are trying to make first

 

Practicing this skill takes time and effort, but the benefits are undoubtedly worth the investment and can include improved workplace relations, a more complete understanding of your client’s needs, and a greater understanding of what is happening in your team and the wider organisation as a whole.

Uncover Your Creative Genius: How to Boost Your Creativity (Infographic)

For many professionals of all types, the freedom to create and innovate within a supportive work environment is an essential element of their overall job satisfaction. Studies have revealed that creativity and happiness are closely linked, with one survey finding that 78% of people believe that being creative makes a difference in their lives.

What is Creativity?

“Creativity is intelligence having fun.”
– Albert Einstein

Creativity is the process of turning new, imaginative ideas into reality. It involves cognitive processes that transform one’s understanding of and relationship to the world. Creative people are skilled at problem-solving due to their ability to identify solutions that may not seem initially obvious.

Creativity: The Key to Career Success

Creative workers are not only happier, but they are also more hireable. As more and more jobs become automated with technology, human skills like creativity and emotional intelligence will only become more desirable for employers. It is no surprise therefore that 60% of CEOs see creativity as the most important skill for leaders.

How to Unlock Your Creative Potential

“Creativity is more than mere imagination. It is imagination inseparably coupled
with both intent and effort.”
– Alex Osborn, Ad Man & Author

The creativity expert, Alex Osborn argued that creativity was a skill that could be honed over time. Just like any muscle, it is possible to train yourself to become more creative. Many people’s creativity may lie dormant for years, but some argue that it can be rekindled through specific activities.

Scientists have conducted some fascinating studies over the years about the various methods we can use to stimulate our creative minds. For example, one study has revealed that sipping a relaxing cup of black tea can put the drinker help put the drinker in the optimum state for getting creative.

If you would like to learn more about Osborn’s thoughts on creativity as well as some other quick creativity hacks, why not take a look at our infographic below?

Uncover Your Creative Genius: How to Boost Your Creativity

Minimalism at Work

We’ve all heard about the Minimalism trend and how it involves rules, such as living with less than 100 items, capsule wardrobes and stark interiors. However, there is a lot more to Minimalism and in fact, less rules than one might think. This article is about how to bring minimalism to your working life, freeing up your time to do the important things, not just the urgent.

Ways to simplify your day to day 9 to 5:

  1. Clear your desk – get rid of unnecessary paperwork, books, cups and general clutter. Keep only what you need and are actively working on, to hand. It might sound like a cliché, but a clear desk really can help bring clarity to the mind
  2. Work on one thing at a time – this draws on the ‘if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly’ maxim. If you are going to dedicate your working hours to a task, make sure you complete it to the best of your abilities and this can be done so much more quickly and effectively by giving it your whole focus, for the time it needs. Decide firstly how long you need to get it done and set a timer. Turn off your email notifications if you can and focus solely on that particular task
  3. Handle things once; deal with your paperwork and then either shred it or file it, don’t keep it in a pile on your desk
  4. Workwear – plan ahead and don’t overcomplicate it. There is a reason why many successful business people wear the same thing, or a variation on the same outfit every day. It simplifies things and reduces ‘decision fatigue’. Project 333 looks at downsizing your wardrobe to 33 pieces per season and mixing and matching it to create a variety of outfits. It’s not compulsory to downsize to a particular number, but it can be useful to have some fail-safe outfits for important meetings and pick out a selection of clothing that you like to wear to work and which is comfortable, smart and functional. Ditch the rest if you can! If you know you’re not going have the necessary repairs done, or you know that a particular jacket will spend most of its time in the laundry basket because you won’t take it to the drycleaners, get rid of it. By editing your workwear, you will need a lot less time to make clothing decisions in the morning.
  5. Food – by eating the same thing every day, you are reducing and simplifying another aspect of your working life, freeing up your decision making capacity to deal with the important things in your working hours. That’s not to say that you need to eat the same lunch 365 days of the year, but by keeping your choice simple you can eat and then take the time to go for a walk, or do something else you actively enjoy during your break, such as reading, catching up on calls to friends or simply sitting mindfully outside and taking that time to recharge your batteries for the second half of the day

There is a lot more to minimalism of course, but these could be an easy way to kick-start your minimalist movement and bring some of the advantages to your working life. Minimalism is not really about less, it’s about more, freeing up more time and energy, in order to use these resources in a more productive and fulfilling way.

How to avoid getting lost in translation

Taking the time to speak to your stakeholders and colleagues in a language that they understand is vital for building relationships in the workplace. As a psychologist, who assesses many people from different professions, one of the most impressive observable skills people can have is the ability to communicate in an interesting and when necessary, simplified way so that you do not need to be an expert in their field to understand what they are saying.

 In the working world, we all speak different languages and this is something which can lead to confusion, mistakes, frustration and damaged working relationships. Finance, science, marketing and engineering, for example may all have to work together and by taking the time to understand that different disciplines may use very different language is vital in creating a cohesive working environment. Understanding what somebody needs to know and what they do not is the difference between engaging your audience and losing them completely. Taking the time to think about what your audience needs to know can be the difference between winning a pitch and losing it.

This is the case both within organisations as well as with external stakeholders. Make it easy for your audience, don’t bore them with unnecessary technical details, even if you find them fascinating, if it is not ultimately going to bring value or increase your audiences understanding. If it is going to add value, find a way of communicating that they will understand, without losing patience, or showing signs of frustration.

Leaving out key information because you think it too technical for your audience is also a mistake. Ensure that you are providing adequate information so that your audience knows that they can trust you and to show that you do know what you are talking about. Glaring gaps will be obvious and will not engender a trusting relationship.

If you are in doubt, try explaining your concept to a friend, or family member – somebody who has no technical knowledge of your field and see if they understand. If they don’t tweak your message until they do.

If your message is a written one, shorten and simplify, read and edit again.

Many professions use acronyms, if you are going to use them when speaking to someone outside your domain, take the time to explain what they mean. This is something which is particularly helpful for new recruits to an organisation as it can be daunting getting to grips with a language which is specific to that company.

Take on the burden of responsibility for your audiences understanding. It is not their fault if they do not understand what you are saying. It is yours. Check in with them – not in a patronising way, if what you are saying is particularly technical, acknowledge that and check that you are explaining it clearly, rather than asking whether they understand – taking the responsibility for ensuring your audiences understanding, rather than placing it upon them. This will help create an environment in which people are more likely to say if they are not clear on something.

Spend time with people who do not work in your field. Engage with other departments if you can and take the time to build your relationships across the organisation, not just within your own domain, this will be beneficial in terms of practicing your communication style with individuals from other areas of the business.

The more you practice, the easier it will become, until one day, hopefully, it will become second nature.

Published in The Sunday Business Post 26th August 2018

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Your Essential Guide to Emotional Intelligence

When a man is prey to his emotions, he is not his own master.” – Baruch Spinoza, Philosopher

Emotional intelligence (or EQ) is an essential ingredient for both personal and professional fulfilment and success. Defined as “the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others”, emotional intelligence is generally said to be made up of three key skills:

  1. Emotional awareness, i.e. the ability to identify your own emotions and those of others
  2. The ability to apply your emotions when performing various tasks
  3. Emotional regulation, i.e. the ability to manage your own feelings or soothe others

Emotional intelligence is important for many reasons. Firstly, it is a core element of both mental and physical wellbeing. What’s more, it helps us to build strong and positive relationships with others. It also plays a critical role in skills that are valuable in the workplace, such as conflict resolution and leadership.

“The greatest ability in business is to get along with others and influence their actions.” – John Hancock

So, why is building emotional intelligence necessary for career success? The ability to understand and communicate your feelings to others is crucial for any fruitful collaboration, what’s more it can help you remain calm in stressful situations and create a general atmosphere of openness and positivity. Additionally, the capacity to recognise the feelings, needs and responses of others can be enormously helpful in managing others, gaining respect and staying on top of stressful situations.

If you would like to learn more about the importance of emotional intelligence, we recommend that you check out our infographic below. This comprehensive guide takes you through the various definitions of EQ and outlines why it is so important for success. It also offers tips on how to hire emotionally intelligent staff and features a brief quiz so you can gauge your own EQ level.

Your Essential Guide to Emotional Intelligence - Infographic

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Are You Management Material?

Contemplating your next career move? For many experienced professionals seeking career advancement, a move into management seems like an inevitability. With better pay, increased responsibility and a chance to make a real difference, a career in management seems like a lucrative prospect… and let’s face it – a no-brainer.

“Management is, above all, a practice where art, science, and craft meet.” – Henry Mintzberg, Business Guru

However, many people take on such roles without giving serious consideration to the actual reality of being a manager. While management is typically perceived as the logical next step for any talented professional, the fact is that such positions may not be suited to everyone as they require a very particular set of qualities and skills.

Are You Ready to be a Manager? 

If you are interested in applying for a management role and are wondering whether you have what it takes, we recommend that you check out our latest infographic (featured below). A handy tool for upwardly mobile professionals, this infographic features a list of important questions you should ask yourself which will help you to assess whether your skills, values and personality are suitable management material.

Read the infographic below for more information.

Are You Management Material? - Infographic

Managing Your Weaknesses

It’s one of the most dreaded interview questions – “What are your weaknesses?” Some see this as an opportunity to humble brag – pretending to be self-deprecating but in fact using it as an opportunity to highlight an attribute of which you are proud. Common examples are “I am a perfectionist” or “I am a workaholic”. This is not what any good interviewer wants to hear.

When an interviewer asks to hear about a candidates weaknesses, what they are really looking for is evidence of self-awareness. They want to see that this person understands themselves well enough to actually know their development areas, as well as having the motivation and ability to work on improving those areas. What they really want to hear is more along the lines of “I am not naturally good at managing my time, but have become increasingly aware that this is unhelpful in my working life and so I have begun scheduling my calendar in advance, leaving adequate gaps for unexpected circumstances and setting reminders for myself to ensure I stay on track”.

Figuring out what our weaknesses are is the first step in managing them. This can be challenging, as well as extremely uncomfortable at times. Think about things that have gone wrong for you in the past week, month, or even year. Write them down, identify what went wrong and why, is there a common theme emerging?

Sometimes, even after being as self-critical as possible, you are still unsure of what your weaknesses are. This is where the uncomfortable part begins. Ask. Ask a trusted friend, colleague or mentor. Ask family, in fact ask as many people as you can, whose opinions you trust. If you ask in such a way that reassures them that you looking for honest, constructive feedback they will be willing to help. But take this valuable information in the spirit in which it was intended; to help you grow as a person, both professionally and personally.

The information you receive may be completely unexpected and you may even believe it to be inaccurate. But if you have chosen these people for a reason – because they know you well and you trust them – consider that they are being brave and honest with you and respect that. Try not to react in the moment, even if, in fact especially if the information is upsetting or angers you. Write down the key points, ask for examples of how you show these behaviours and then reflect. Even if at first you don’t agree, given time to reflect on these points may lead you to see that there is in fact truth in them.

Of course, 360 feedback is an excellent tool designed specifically for this very purpose – it involves giving a questionnaire to a number of colleagues and other stakeholders, preferably those who work with you on a regular basis and who are at different levels both within and outside your organisation. Questions such as “what do I do well”, “what could I do better” and “what would you like to see me to do more of” can elicit helpful responses. In doing this, themes will begin to emerge.

Now that you have this information, what can you do with it? How do you go about actively managing your weaknesses?

  1. Pick one area you would like to work on to begin with. Identify the steps you can take to improve your listening skills for example if that is something which has been identified as a weakness. Identify two or three concrete behaviours directly related to the weakness, that you are going to change.
  2. Ask yourself how this behaviour is visible to others. If possible, at least one of the new behaviours should be visible to those around you so that others can see that you are making an effort to improve.
  3. Acknowledge your weakness to others. Tell them that you are aware that sometimes you don’t listen as actively as you could but you are making an effort to improve on this. Knowing your development points and owning them is a sign of strength. Explain what you are trying to do and even ask trusted colleagues to call you up when you are slipping, to remind you if you’re not listening, or if you are falling back into your old ways.
  4. Keep a journal and make daily notes on how you practiced the new behaviours. Use this to identify any potential triggers which may have led you to slip back into your old behaviours.
  5. It takes an average of 66 days to form a new habit and while at first it may feel unnatural, it will eventually become ingrained in your daily behaviours. The early stages are the most important in terms of learning the new behaviour so try to be particularly vigilant in the beginning.

It takes daily practice and we, as humans can be lazy at times and slip back to our old ways, particularly in times of high pressure or stress. Practicing, developing our awareness and asking others to hold us accountable can help ward against these slips and learn to manage our weaknesses.

 

Published in The Sunday Business Post 24th June 2018

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Natural Talent Vs. Hard Work: Which Wins?

Many see natural talent as more important than hard work but is it true? In our latest infographic, we investigate which is more effective.

Sometimes we may feel that those with natural talent have it easier in life. Recent research has revealed that this is in fact true, with many of us exhibiting an unconscious bias towards “naturals.” In other words, we are often more likely to rate the performance of naturals as superior to the very same performance of hard-workers. Consequently, it can often be the case that the conscientiousness and pluck of “strivers” goes unappreciated.

“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” – Tim Notke

While natural ability does provide a great advantage, the key to attaining real success comes down to hard work. Oftentimes, natural talent is sadly wasted because of a poor work ethic. This is especially apparent when “naturals” compete against driven, diligent hard workers.

Our infographic explores the relationship between hard work and natural talent and examines the respective benefits of both, it also offers advice on how to cultivate the best of both in yourself and others.

Natural Talent Vs. Hard Work: Which Wins? - Infographic