Discover How To Communicate Important Messages Effectively

Based upon a typical workplace scenario, Gary describes the challenges associated with using a single channel of communication. Email in particular is often used ineffectively in the workplace. Strategies are provided to help you to improve your effectiveness when communicating important work-based messages.

“How are things going”, asked Huy.

“Not so well” replied Juanita.

“What’s up?”

“Oh, my boss asked me for this report late on Monday. So I stayed back to complete it and emailed it to her straight away. It’s now Friday and I haven’t heard anything back from her. Obviously I did a bad job, but I don’t know what I’ve done wrong, nor what to do about it.”

Imagine if you were Juanita. Have you ever jumped to a similar conclusion before? (see The Danger of Jumping to Conclusions and a tool that can help). In this scenario it is likely that Juanita will spend a lot of time worrying about her boss’s reaction to her email. This is likely to distract her from focusing on her work which could reduce the quality of her work. This could then lead to more worrying about her work which could, over time lead to lower and lower performance. In many ways Juanita could create the very outcome that she doesn’t want, i.e. her boss seeing her as a low performer.

There are many ways to manage this scenario after the event. But that is not the focus of this article. The focus of this article is about what Juanita could have done in the first place to ensure that her message to her boss had been received, therefore reducing her concern and worry that occurred in the scenario above.

Communication channels
Too often people rely on a single ‘channel’ of communication when sending an important message. Communication channels are the various forms of communication that we use to send messages and include (but are not limited to):

• Face to face conversations
• Meetings
• Presentations
• Telephone (landline and mobile)
• Television
• Skype and other voice over internet protocols (VOIPs)
• Text messaging
• Intranet services
• Email
• Memos
• Letters (snail mail)
• Whiteboards/blackboards
• Brochures/flyers
• Twitter etc. etc. etc.

There are many, many channels of communication. In Juanita’s situation she relied on a single channel, email to communicate the very important information that her boss had requested. Email, by nature is a one way channel of communication until the recipient of the email decides to make it a two way form of communication. Email is often used effectively as a one way form of communication (such as the global emails that your organisation sends to you that you file for reference), but for an important document email should not be the only form of communication used.
Too many people seem to hold this view about what happens when they press ‘send’ for their emails:

• As soon as I press ‘send’ my email will be received by the intended recipient(s) of the email
• The recipient(s) will receive and open my email immediately, because my email is very important to them
• Not only will the recipient(s) understand what I have sent to them, they will understand it in exactly the same way that I intended my email to be interpreted
• Once understood (which, of course it will be!) the recipient(s) of my email will take immediate action as a result of my email
• The recipients of my email will be thankful that I sent it to them and will respond accordingly

While these views are understandable (after all, each of us puts a lot into the work that we send out) they are fairly irrational. People don’t sit around waiting for our emails to arrive, just like we don’t sit around at work waiting for other people’s emails to arrive. Generally speaking we are all too busy to be sitting around waiting for other people’s emails.

Please note that I am not saying that we shouldn’t send emails. Quite the contrary. Email is a very important form of communication. However, just because we sent it doesn’t mean that it …

• Arrived at its intended destination
• Was received and fully understood by its recipient(s)
• The recipient(s) had the time and capacity to take action on the email
• Etc. etc. etc.

Having established that a single channel of communication may not be effective for important messages, consider this issue: up to 70% of the written word has its meaning interpreted in a different way than intended by the sender of the message. This is known as a form of ‘noise’. Each of us uses filters and other mechanisms (such as our mental models, see The Importance of Raising Awareness of our Mental Models) to interpret the messages that are sent to us. With written forms of communication it is very easy for us to listen to our ‘own’ noise and mis-interpret the intended message by the sender.

In this context it is very easy for email messages, even if they do arrive at their intended destination to be easily mis-interpreted. For this reason email should not be the sole form of communication for messages that contain potentially emotional content, or content that is highly likely to be interpreted by the recipient(s) in an emotional way. Again when up to 70% of a message can be interpreted in a different way by the recipient(s) of the email compared to the intentions of the sender, it just isn’t worth sending such potentially damaging emails. Find a more appropriate channel to communicate such messages.

While many people now say, “Yeah, I know that I shouldn’t send emotionally ‘charged’ emails, and yes I know that I should compose my emails using correct grammar and spelling…”, a recent study highlighted that a little under 50% of employees had experienced problems because of mis-interpreting messages sent via email.

It really is worth asking yourself, “Is email the most effective way of sending this message? If it is, what other communication channels should I also use to ensure that my message is properly understood?”.

Reviewing Juanita’s scenario she probably should have followed up her email with a quick phone call to at leave a message that the email had been sent. In both the email and the telephone message Juanita could have included a short ‘call to action’ requesting her boss let her know the report had been received. Why? Because Juanita would explain in her short message that due to the importance of the report it would be pertinent to ensure that it had not only been received but included all the correct information.

When given the request by her boss in the first instance, Juanita could have said something like, “Yes I’ll get onto to that straight away and I’ll send the completed report to you tonight. I’ll also follow up with you first thing in the morning to ensure that the report has been received and is exactly what you want. I can also provide a copy on a USB stick and leave it on your desk if you like.”

Using multiple forms of communication increases the chances that important information will be effectively communicated. As this article illustrates, many, many problems arise when important messages are mis-communicated. Therefore, when you next have an important message to communicate, consider the most appropriate channels that you could use to communicate your message, as well as considering how you might pro-actively use those channels to communicate your message.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at

Learn About The Relationship Between Purpose and Goals

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“We have Happy Feet starting this week.”, said my seven year old daughter as we sat down for dinner.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s a program at school where we see how many laps of the track around the school that we can complete. It goes for two weeks.”

“What part of the school day will you get to participate in this program?” I asked.

“It starts this Thursday and we’ll do it at morning playtime.”

“So you don’t have to do it?”

“No, I want to and I’m going to do it every day. I want to run like you. It’s good for my health and fitness.”

This conversation took place the night after I had completed the Melbourne Marathon. I can’t explain how happy I felt to hear my daughter spontaneously start this conversation. In all honesty, a spontaneous conversation like this one makes me feel even happier than when I complete a marathon (and believe me, I usually feel pretty happy when I get to the finish line!).

My life is so busy and hectic that if I didn’t have goals like completing a minimum of two marathons per year, it is quite likely that I might not do any exercise at all. One of my life’s purposes, however, is to set a good example to my four children about health and fitness. Completing two marathons per year is a concrete goal that I set myself that enable me to live that purpose. A conversation like the one described above provides clear evidence to me that my purpose is working. Over time, examples like this provide more and more motivation for me to continue to ‘live my purpose’.

In the Integrated Personal Planning programs that we provide many participants are very good at identifying goals for themselves. However many people are not clear about the higher purpose to which their goals relate. For example, many people may have a health and fitness goal to lose a certain number of kilograms. For this example, let’s say five kilograms. Unless they relate this goal to a higher purpose these people are at considerable risk of achieving their goal, but then slipping back into the bad habits that caused them to be overweight in the first place. The result; within a very short timeframe they put the five kilograms (and often more) back on. This is a familiar story for many, many people.

Clarity about your purpose may mean that more than one goal is created to help you to ‘live’ your purpose. If your goal is to lose five kilograms, maybe your purpose might be to live a healthy and more balanced lifestyle so that you can physically do want you want to do. For example, you may have one goal to lose five kilograms, and another goal to maintain your weight for five years after you have achieved your first goal, and another again to complete one holiday per year that involves some hiking. All these goals would work together to assist you to ‘live’ your purpose.

Linking goals to your purpose reduces the risk of oscillating between success and failure as it relates to your goals. Another function of having a clear purpose is that it enables you to continue to set new goals as you near the achievement of your current ones. For example, I always ensure that I know the next marathon that I will be doing after I complete the current one that I am booked in to run. This ensures that when I finish my current marathon (and achieve a goal) that I don’t fall into the trap of saying to myself, “Oh, I’ll get back into training when I work out what marathon I’ll do next.” Six, twelve, 24 months etc. could easily ‘fly by’ and before I knew it I would have stopped living my purpose and become unhealthy. Maintaining tension with ongoing goals as they relate to your purpose can be very, very powerful!

It is important that I note that I am not advocating that you all go out and start running marathons. That’s just what works for me. In fact health and fitness goals are relative to your current situation, so it may in fact be a bigger achievement for many of you to run/walk five kilometres than it is for me to run 42kms. Maybe swimming is your thing, or maybe it is averaging a certain number of exercise to music classes per week over a 6 month period. Having goals is what is important, and relating them to a higher level reason for doing them (i.e. your purpose) is even more powerful.

Many people also get stuck with regard to working out their purpose as it relates to their goals. Purpose is not unique. Is my purpose to set a good example of being healthy and fit to my four children (as well as being healthy and fit to be able to do whatever it is I physically want to be able to do in my life) particularly unique? No, it isn’t. Is my goal to run a minimum of two marathons per year also unique? No it isn’t. What IS unique is how I bring those goals into reality. The way I train and the marathons in which I choose to compete are unique to me. What is also unique is how living my purpose and achieving my goals contributes to me creating the future that I desire (see The Power of Personal Vision by Andrew O’Brien for more information).

My challenge to you is to identify the goals that you are currently striving to achieve and then articulating to yourself what higher purpose those goals are serving. The following three questions can be helpful in helping you to work out your purpose:

1) Why is this goal important to me?
2) What are the benefits of achieving this goal?
3) How does achieving this goal relate to the future that I want to create for myself?

Please feel free to share your thoughts with our learning community because the more examples that we have that highlight the relationship between purpose and goals, the more other members of our community will be able to work out the relationship between their goals and their purpose for themselves.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
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The Synchronicity of Inspiration

Gary explains the importance of taking action even when you may think that no-one is being positively influenced by what you are doing. The catalyst for this episode was born in the middle of a marathon in which Gary was participating. While struggling with discomfort, Gary found inspiration from a person who was taking action; nothing more and nothing less.

MP3 File

I’d woken feeling bloated and not quite myself. “This isn’t good” I thought to myself as I ate my pancakes and banana for breakfast and sipped my bottle of water. Tiptoeing quietly around my house so as to not wake my family I showered and dressed in my running gear. My plan was to take our people mover into the carpark at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (known as ‘The G’) and my wife, four children and mother would come in by train to see me finish the race. Another good friend was to meet me at the 30km mark to provide me with some ‘supplies’ for the final leg of the 42.195kms. Outside was very cool and a perfect morning for running was predicted. I was prepared for a cool start to the Melbourne Marathon and had applied lavish amounts of anti-inflammatory cream to my right knee that hadn’t yet fully recovered from my last marathon in Alice Springs less than two months earlier. As this was my 8th marathon I was no longer fearful of not completing the course, just fearful of how I would tackle my mind this time around. Every marathon that I have run has included a mental barrier or two and each time I have been able to overcome them and reach the finish line.

However I’d never woken in the morning feeling quite the way I did this time. My meal the night before which included pasta and pancakes was a fairly normal dinner prior to a marathon; I was well hydrated and looking forward to finishing the run on the hallowed turf of the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Driving in to The G my mind was occupied by how I felt in my stomach. There was no denying it, I felt bloated and this wasn’t normal. As I parked my car my nerves began to rise. I had arrived 75 minutes before the start of the race, so I laid back in the seat in my car, covered my legs with a towel and rested a little more before walking over to the start position which was just over one kilometre away from where I was parked. I had hoped that the extra rest would settle my stomach. It didn’t. I was then hopeful that the walk over to the start of the race would “do the job”. It didn’t either. Once at the start line I had about 20 minutes to wait before the first steps of the run would commence. People were huddled in groups, chatting with each other. It was now light and the race announcers were doing their best to ‘pump’ everyone up. It seemed to work for me as I momentarily forgot about how I was feeling. Kerryn McCann’s sister, Jenny Gillard was being interviewed. Jenny was running in memory of her sister who had lost her fight against cancer after having won the gold medal for the marathon at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games in 2006. Kerryn’s son Benton was introduced as he was going to be the official starter. The crowd had suddenly grown and everyone was both excited and sombre and had spontaneously started clapping in Kerryn McCann’s memory. Within moments the National Anthem was sung, the countdown had begun and we were off!

As I ran through the starting line I waved at the TV cameras – you never know maybe I could get my head on the TV which would make my children happy! Within the first 200 metres my consciousness of my discomfort returned. “This is going to be interesting” I thought. It is amazing how one’s mind can become so pre-occupied with something that everything else around you literally disappears. While I knew that I was running with 4,200 people, I felt as if I was running on my own. I then became conscious of my consciousness, if that makes any sense! I thought, “C’mon! Snap out of it. Enjoy the run, the discomfort will pass, your rhythm will come. Think about how you’ll feel at the end of the run. Think about running in front of Mish and the kids around the G and how it will contribute just a little bit toward their own thinking about health and fitness.” And then, “I think that this will be a PW today – a Personal Worst!”, and then, “C’mon, focus on the moment. Left foot, right foot! Each step is one step closer. Just focus on doing what has to be done now!”. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it! But that little war of words is what was going on in my head. All the while, however, the discomfort continued.

We had travelled about five kilometres when I noticed a man limping ahead of me. Then I noticed his left leg. It was permanently bent in toward his right leg so that when he swung his leg through it actually clipped the inside of his right knee. His left heel appeared to be permanently raised so he wasn’t able to perform a heel strike with his left foot. Rather, he was running on his toes with that leg. He wore a green and white singlet that advertised cerebral palsy, and checkered shorts. We continued to run and leap frog each other for next 16 kms until his paced started to slow and I slowly moved ahead of him. I do not know if the man had suffered from cerebral palsy, but I suspect that he had. My focus on how I was feeling had been brutally challenged. As we ran I found myself thinking about the various challenges that this man may have encountered in his life.

The one thing that I didn’t have to speculate about was whether he had taken on the challenge of a marathon. There he was, running beside me. Suddenly my bloated stomach seemed a little irrelevant. The experience also thrust my mind back to my first marathon in New York in 2006. The advertisement for that race said, “37,000 Stories”, which was true. The same was also true for this day. The only difference being that there were 4,200 stories and not 37,000. The way I was feeling was just another story and everyone around me suddenly took on another level of importance. As I was struggling with my story, possibly they were all facing their own stories and struggles. In this way the very thing that kept us different (i.e. our stories) also kept us united. So I accepted that today I felt uncomfortable and that was that. This would simply be my story for this race. However, I also knew that how I felt was not going to stop me from performing. I had come here to complete the race (ideally under four hours) and that was exactly what I would do.

Joseph Jaworski defines synchronicity as, “…a meaningful coincidence where something other than the probability of chance is involved.” I don’t know if it was anything other than luck that resulted in me and this gentleman crossing paths, but it certainly had meaning for me. Who knows, maybe he was looking at me and the way I looked inspired him to overcome whatever demons he was facing at the time! You never know!

The second half of a marathon is usually where the real race begins. It is both a mental and physical challenge. Yet somehow the mental challenge for me had eased and my body finally felt ‘normal’ over the last 8 kms where I ran the most freely and comfortably I had done for the whole race. Upon completion of the race (in 3 hours and 56 minutes) I stayed around the finish line for a while until I was ushered off the ground to make way for the athletes who were still coming in. I had hoped to cheer the gentleman who had inspired me when he completed his race but I was consumed by the mass of people heading into the bowels of The G.

On reflection this gentleman probably had little awareness of my existence. Yet he had served me in a most profound way by inspiring me to recognise how lucky I was to be able to do what I was doing no matter how uncomfortable I felt. His example displays the power of taking action. This man could run. His running style may be different to yours and mine but he could run. For reasons known to himself through his own story, there he was running the Melbourne Marathon. Did he get up that morning and think to himself that he would inspire and help me through the race. I don’t think so. However, through participating and taking action he created the possibility that he could inspire someone. And that someone was me. That is how synchronicity works.

When you are at work and you think that you are only one person and that what you do doesn’t matter so it doesn’t really matter if you do the right thing or not, maybe it does matter. Just because no-one walks up to you and explicitly points out that your actions have inspired them to take action doesn’t mean that your actions aren’t inspiring anyone. So it might start with the courage to create Ground Rules for your team, or to use a story or article to stimulate a Conversation That Matters, or maybe you take a stand that supports both your personal and organisational values. Leadership isn’t all about titles and power. Leadership is often about the influence that your actions have on other people and just like my friend out on the marathon course leadership is often subtle, yet no less inspiring. So take action; you never know how the synchronicity of your actions could inspire other people to do likewise.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at

How To Create Conversations That Matter – large group conversations that work!

Sign up to the iTunes Gary Ryan Professional Development Series.

A major problem facing people leading large teams is, “How do I truly engage the people I lead with the direction that we are heading?”. Hosting a Conversation That Matters can significnatly enhance a team’s sense of shared direction and responsibility for where it is heading. In this episode Gary explains the key features of a Conversation That Matters and shares his experience of participating in a conversation with over 1,000 people!

It was the year 2000 and Andrew and I were attending the Systems Thinking in Action Conference in San Diego, USA. Andrew had attended this conference several times before but it was my first time attending a conference in the USA, let alone one outside Australia. There was a buzz of excitement in the air as the 1,000 delegates from around the world were waiting to file in to the large auditorium for the keynote speech on the first morning. All of a sudden a piano commenced playing in a modern classical style. “This is interesting” I recall thinking to myself.

The hotel staff simultaneously opened four or five large doors so that we could enter the conference venue. My eyes were met with amazement. Rather than the seats being arranged in rows (which was all I had ever experienced at conferences) the seats were arranged in groups of four around small, round, cafe sized tables. Each table was covered with a cafe style cloth, had a large piece of butcher’s paper on it with some coloured pens in the middle of the table, a “menu” that included some rules for how we would conduct our conversations and a small flow placed in the middle of the table. With the smell of coffee emanating from the stalls across the back of the room, I felt as if I had just walked into a huge cafe!

Within minutes the place was buzzing with excitement. This was different. I sensed it. Andrew sensed it. Everyone seemed to sense it. Our host walked to the podium and introduced himself. He was Daniel Kim one of the co-founders of Pegasus Communications who were conducting the conference. Daniel explained that he was going to provide the first keynote of the conference and that he would also be playing the role of ‘theme weaver’ throughout the conference. He then explained that his keynote would not be a ‘talking at’ event, rather it would be a ‘talking with’ experience. “How is that possible? There are over 1,000 people in this venue at the moment. How can we hold a conversation together?” is the immediate thought that went through my mind. But hold a conversation we did. It was truly amazing.

Daniel shared with us a process that he had learned from Juanita Brown and David Isaacs. Upon leaving the conference venue that morning Andrew and I looked at each other and said that we had to find out more about the process because it fitted perfectly with our perspective of including people who were working on issues that directly impacted them. It also seemed to solve our problem of creating a shared understanding amongst large numbers of people. As a result we have been conducting our version of Conversation Cafes (we call them Conversations That Matter or Strategic Conversations) ever since.

We have worked with many, many different organisations and groups of people and the process continues to work. People like to be able to have their say, but not everyone likes to have their say in front of everyone else, which is why the Conversations That Matter process is so effective. It allows people to have their say while also enabling people who might not normally have an opportunity to speak with each other to have a clear and focused conversation about issues that concern both parties. The process works for group sizes as small as 12 through to more than 1,000 people as our story above highlights. We have also modified the process for groups smaller than 12 using some of the core principles of hosting Conversations That Matter.

The process is relatively simple and includes the following features:
* People sit together in small groups (ideally 3 – 5 people per table)
* Butchers paper and coloured textas are provided at each table
* People are encouraged to have tea, water of coffee while they converse * A brief overview of the process is provided including the etiquette for the conversations
* The first question is posed to the group and the people at each table hold a conversation for 10 – 15 minutes, recording whatever they like on their butcher’s paper
* After 10 – 15 minutes one person stays at their table and acts as the ‘host’, while the other 3 – 4 people who were at the table move on to separate tables for a second ’round’ on the question
* The host welcomes the new people to the table, explains the conversation that had taken place in Round 1, and then invites the new people to share their conversations (this is called ‘cross pollination” of the conversation)
* Depending on the issue and numbers of people present, a third ’round’ on the first question may be conducted
* A ‘town hall’ process is then held to capture themes and patterns that have emerged from the conversations
* Over-all two to four questions are usually posed to the group following the process outlined above
* The final question usually focuses upon a call to action, so that people can clearly see something will happen as a result of the conversation

While the process is simple, creating the right questions to ask is not so simple. Also, this process should only be used when there is a genuine desire to have input from the people participating in the conversation. If you are in a position to include people in conversations about issues that directly affect them, then we encourage you to adopt a Strategic Conversation process because quite simply, they work!

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at

Employability Skills Highly Required in the Manufacturing Sector – USA Report

A report issued jointly by Deloitte, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and The Manufacturing Institute in the United States of America and released on October 5th has once again highlighted the importance of employability skill development. Despite the economic downturn manufacturing employers have indicated that a highly skilled workforce, both in the context of relevant technical skills and employability skills is critical for business success. An interesting aspect of the study was that the surveyed employers identified that their employee development practices do not currently meet their needs.

This highlights the importance of taking personal responsibility for the development of your employability skills. With talent shortages still existing despite the economic downturn, understanding your employability skills and being able to explain how you have developed them can provide a distinct and personal competitive advantage in the job market (see the blog Leveraging Employability Skills for Employment Success).

To see the full article visit

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at

A not-so-service-excellent experience

The purpose of sharing this story is to highlight just how easy it is for organisations to easily and quickly perform below expectations. Usually the core reasons for performing below customer expectations lie between a lack of balance between passionate staff and appropriate systems & processes to support those staff. Below is a story based on my perceived service experience. It is therefore biased because it only contains my side of the story. This is okay because that is how service works. All of us are trying to meet or exceed the expectations of our customers (or use a different word if the word ‘customer’ does not work for you) based on their perception of their experience with our organisations.

I am not going to reveal in this blog what I think the Village Cinema organisation and the specific staff members involved could have done to improve our service experience. Rather I am going to leave that open to your suggestions. Consider yourselves consultants and you have been brought in by Village Cinemas to review this case and to help them to understand whether or not there is anything that they could do to improve their service levels. The research on Employability Skill development recommends that leadership (which includes ‘systems thinking’ skills), problem solving, communication and enterprise skills incorporate the skills necessary to provide service excellence. In this context I’m going to tell you the story of our experience and then leave it open to you to practice the above-mentioned skills to make suggestions in the comments sections about what both Village Cinemas and the specific staff involved could have done to enhance our experience.

The story
My wife, Michelle and I finally had an opportunity to use some gifts that we had been given for our birthdays last year. As parents with four children we have not had a night away on our own since we began our family some nine years ago. Our youngest child has just turned two years old so we thought that he’d be old enough to have relatives look after him and our other three children while we went away overnight. The hotel is located in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs and is situated amongst a substantial shopping and cafe precinct. We had chosen this time to go away because it corresponded with our 13th wedding anniversary. Our gifts included an overnight hotel stay including breakfast and a late check out and Village Cinema Gold Class tickets. The hotel in which we were booked is literally 100 meters from the Village Cinema complex so we decided to take the opportunity to use both gifts at the same time.

After having had a very smooth check in process at the hotel in the early afternoon, Michelle and I decided to wander down to the cinema to see if we could book some seats at the cinema. We were aware that because the Gold Class seats were limited it was possible that there might not be any seats available that evening, so we were also prepared to book seats for the following day. Prior to leaving our hotel room we noticed that the expiry date stamped on the Gold Class tickets was 1 month and three days prior. We had not noticed this date before. We decided that we would immediately draw the attention of the staff to the date and offer to ‘pay the difference’ between the value of the tickets and any price increase that may have occurred since the tickets had been originally purchased. Our confidence was high that a simple solution could be found to this problem.

On arrival to the cinema there was no queue and we were able to immediately approach one of the two sales staff working at the booking counter. We quickly explained our situation including the fact that we were using gifts provided to us from the previous year and that we were celebrating our wedding anniversary, this being our first overnight stay on our own since we had started a family. We highlighted the date issue and asked if anything could be done to help us. The first sales clerk told us that she, “…didn’t think it would be a problem” but felt that she needed to refer us to her manager who was sitting beside her. We were ‘swapped’ with the customers that the manger was serving and we once again explained our story. As accurately as I can recall the following conversation took place. “G” represents when I was speaking, “M” when Michelle was speaking and “VC” when the manager representing Village Cinemas was speaking.

VC: “Yes, we automatically provide one months grace from the actual expiry date on the gift vouchers. Unfortunately you are three days over that grace period and they won’t let me authorise it. The only way for you to use the vouchers now is to call them (hands us a card with a 1300 number on it).”

M: “But we are here now and we’d like to solve the problem now. We are happy to pay the price difference if there has been a price rise since the vouchers were purchased”

VC: “Oh, the price isn’t the issue.”

M: “What is?”

VC: “They won’t let me approve it. As I said you’ll have to call them using the number on the card that I have provided you.”

G: “Who are “they”?”

VC: “Oh, our corporate office.”

G: “I don’t understand how it is that you refer to them as if you and them are separate. To me ‘you’ are both Village Cinemas and we’d prefer to be able to sort this out now. We don’t want to have to wait for the corporate office to sort this out because we might not be here by the time they sort it out. Surely this isn’t that hard. The vouchers have been paid for and we are happy to pay more if there has been a price increase. We don’t think that we are being unreasonable.”

VC: “I’m sorry. It’s the policy. There is nothing that I can do.”

M: “There is no-one else here that you could call for assistance?”

VC: “Yes, but they won’t say anything different to me.”

M: “Would you mind calling that person please.”

VC: (picking up the phone) “Ok.” Dials number and the call is answered as the manager says, “Hi! We don’t accept overdue vouchers do we.” (from our perspective this was said more as a statement than a question.) The manager proceeds with a couple of “Uh huh”s and hangs up the phone.

VC: “I’m sorry, as I said you have to call the 1300 number on the card.”

G: “Why do we have to call them? They are part of Village Cinemas like you are so I don’t understand why we have to call them. Do you mind calling for us?”

VC: “You have more of a chance to be successful with them than me.”

M: “So that’s it then?”

VC: “Yes.”

We left the counter highly disappointed with our experience. It seemed that there had been little effort to solve the problem. In fact from our perspective we had been the only ones who had offered a timely solution and that had been quickly pushed aside.

Reluctantly we decided to call the number on the card that we had been provided. The clerk who answered our call informed us that it was not possible to solve this problem over the phone and that the only way that the problem would be solved was by sending an email to an address that was also provided on the card (the phone number was literally 20 times the size of the email address) and that it would take a minimum of three days for a response to our email.

We both decided that we would skip the cinema and not let our poor experience with Village Cinemas ruin our overnight stay and decided to use our time doing a different activity and we went ten pin bowling (that proved to be a great time!).

You are now providing consulting advice to both Village Cinemas and the staff members involved. Your advice to Village Cinemas may include strategic advice regarding their systems and processes. Your advice to the specific staff members may include your suggestions regarding how they could have managed our experience so that Michelle and I didn’t walk away feeling like our experience could have and should have been better.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
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Setting Groundrules – The Why and The How

Groundrules are a simple and effective way to significantly ENHANCE team performance. Yet most people don’t create them. Don’t be like them, be different. Follow the simple Three Questions Structure set out in this episode to both create groundrules and to keep them ALIVE for your team. Your team’s experience of working together as well as your performance will both be ENHANCED.

The problem

If you like being like ‘everyone else’ then I recommend that you don’t read any further than this first sentence. If you want to be different and to increase the probability that the people with whom you work can be successful, then continue to read.

Over many years I have been involved in helping people to create high performing teams. Recently I have been facilitating a number of workshops on this topic. One of the fundamental steps for creating a high performing team is to set groundrules. Less than 5% of workshop attendees report that they have ever been in a team where groundrules have been created. When I then ask, “How many of you have experienced being a member of a high performing team?” very few participants report that they believe that they have experienced a high performing team.

While there are a number of factors that affect the capacity of a team to perform to its potential, the existence of groundrules is one of the factors that has a significant impact on a team’s capacity for high performance.

What is then interesting is that workshop participants often say, “Look, groundrules sound okay, but we don’t have time for that stuff!”.

It’s interesting how people often say and/or believe that they don’t have time to do the very things that will save time and enhance performance. What I’m about to say next may seem a bit odd, but in the context of creating a high performing team, slower is faster! I encourage you to be different from most other people and to try the following process for creating groundrules. It isn’t hard, people will respond positively and it takes less than 20 minutes (it’s even faster after you have had some practice!).

The process
I would like to recognise Jock MacNeish (a member of this community) for teaching me this very simple process that I have adapted from his book, Teams – The First Twelve Weeks that was co-authored with Tony Richardson and Angela Lane.

The process involves a whole team conversation and agreement around three questions plus a simple way to keep the groundrules ‘alive’ after they have been created.

Question 1
At work (or study) what team member behaviours happen that really annoy us, let us down or stop us from performing to our expected standards?

Record the behaviours that are discussed in this conversation.

Question 2
In the context of our response to question one, what groundrules do we need to agree to so that these behaviours won’t occur in our team?

Record the groundrules that you agree upon. These will be the groundrules for your team.

Question 3
What will we do when a person breaks one of our groundrules?

This is a very important conversation. It allows the team members to discuss the consequences for breaking the groundrules before they have been broken, which enables all the team members to be very clear about what they can expect to happen should a groundrule be broken. Another benefit of this conversation is that it allows the team to recognise if any of the groundrules that they had originally created were not as clear as they could have been. As an example, people often create a groundrule such as, “We will always be on time for our meetings.” The reality for many people is that on occasion they will be late for a meeting. Discussing the consequences for such behaviours allows the team to then discuss what is expected once you know that you are going to be late which will happen to even the most diligent team members from time to time.

A final benefit of the third question is that it clarifies the behavioural standards expected for all team members. This increases the pressure for people to behave to those standards because they are both explicit and everyone in the team participated in their creation.

Keeping the groundrules ‘alive’
There are two relatively simple ways to keep the groundrules alive.

a.) Create an artefact of the groundrules. I’ve worked with some teams where they have created a cafe menu and placed it in a menu holder. When the team meets they place the menu in the middle of the table. While they might not explicitly look at the menu, the artefact of the menu reminds people of what they have agreed. It’s a simple thing to do and it works.

b) Every once in a while include the groundrules as a topic for conversation in your meeting agenda. Ask, “How are we going with our groundrules?”. Should a new person join your team it is critical that you conduct a conversation with that person explaining your groundrules, and provide them with a genuine opportunity to contribute to updating the groundrules. This process keeps the groundrules fresh and relevant for the specific members of your team.

Please don’t be like ‘most other people’. Be different and give the teams of which you are a member every chance for success. Create groundrules for your team and keep them alive. You’ll find that they will not only enhance the positive experience of being in your team, but your performance will most likely improve as well!

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
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Discover Shared Mental Models That Choke ‘Truth to Power’

Truth to Power is the capacity to be honest, forthright and candid with those poeple who hold more real or perceived power than yourself. Gary uses a real life conversation from an elite sport team where dialogue skills were used to challenge a shared mental model about leadership. Gary then relates this conversation to the businessworld and highlights the power of using dialogue to support truth to power in an organisational context.

“Before I was announced Captain of the club”, shared John, “Whenever an issue came up, I would always first look at the Captain for his response. I even did this when someone said something that was funny – I’d check the Captain’s response before I said anything. It was as if I didn’t even have my own mind. When I look back now I realise that I had a view that because the Captain was the Captain, he’d automatically know the answer to whatever issues were raised. You know, somehow he’d been dipped into the font of all wisdom.”

John continued, “Then I became Captain and one of the first things I noticed was people looking at me and waiting for my reaction and I realised that they were now doing to me what I had been doing to the previous Captain. And it wasn’t just a few of the players, it was everyone! But I know that I’m not the font of all wisdom because I’m learning too. If I already knew everything about being Captain then how could I improve over the next three to four years? I can’t imagine that I won’t improve which therefore means that I’m not as good now as I will be in the future. This also means that right now I won’t know the best way to handle every issue that comes up. I’ll know a few because I’ve been around a while now, but I won’t know everything. The pressure you feel to have an answer, “the answer” is incredible!”

After a period of time John added, ” When I wasn’t the Captain I recall a few times when I actually did have a different opinion about what we should do, but I never raised them because I thought to myself, “Oh well. The Captain knows best so we should do what he thinks. Otherwise he wouldn’t be Captain.” Guys, please don’t do that, if you have a different view to me I need to hear it. My view might be wrong. More importantly when we put our different views together maybe we’ll all see something better that none of us could see on our own.”

What an insightful series of comments. John (not his real name) is the Captain of an elite sports team with whom I have worked in Australia. These comments were made in relation to an explicit conversation that I was facilitating with John and the rest of the Leadership Team with whom he was working. The purpose of the conversation was to raise their individual and collective awareness of their mental models regarding leadership. The other members of his Leadership Team remarked that they too had shared the “font of all wisdom” mental model regarding the person holding the title of Captain. They also all agreed how ridiculous such a mental model was and how debilitating it probably was to their performance and their capacity to present a different view to those in positions of power. Yet they also agreed, and I observed in practice, just how difficult such a mental model is to stop from a behavioural perspective.

This brief conversation provides a detailed insight into the collective mental models about leadership that are both flawed and limiting in the context of Truth to Power. Truth to Power is the capacity for people who have less real or perceived power to be honest and direct with people who hold more power. In the example provided by John and his team-mates above it is little wonder people find it difficult to hold alternate views with those in power. Similarly it is little wonder that those in power often behave in a defensive way when people present a different view to the one they hold. Quite literally the issue of ‘saving face’ becomes real.

Elite sportspeople are often described as “jocks who can’t think for themselves”. My experience could not be further from that description. The elite sportspeople with whom I have worked closely have been, to a person people who have been intelligent and willing to learn. Very rarely, including in the corporate world, where we work extensively have I experienced such an open and honest conversation as the one described above. John’s willingness to be vulnerable to his team-mates by suspending (please see the blog on the Seven Skills of Dialogue) his mental models about his role and how they had changed as a result of becoming the Captain was a privilege to experience. John’s intention for sharing this information was to open the door as far he possibly could to enable his fellow Leadership Team members to be honest with him and to not default their views to him simply because he was the Captain.

While we never used the term ‘Dialogue’ the Leadership Team were actually holding a dialogue about their individual and collective mental models about leadership. John was concerned that if he wasn’t explicit about his experience of transitioning not being the Captain to becoming the Captain, then it would not be until the next Captain was in his shoes that he would understand this perplexing situation. While the leadership team still has some considerable distance to travel in their development the fact that this conversation had taken place meant that John could refer to it whenever he sensed that the rest of the Leadership Team were not being completely honest with him about their views on any given issue.

While this example is provided from an elite sport context, the same phenomenon occurs throughout the government and corporate sectors. One of the only ways to release the choke hold on people that the mental models described above can have on people’s behaviour is to develop the capacity to dialogue. My view and experience is that if the capacity to dialogue can be developed within the elite sport arena, then it can also be developed in any other sector. ‘Not enough time’ is often used an excuse for not developing the capacity to dialogue. I can’t think of an industry where time is less available and the pressure as high as in the elite sport arena. The point of leverage for change will come from both those in positions of power and those with less power to trust the learning environment created through dialogue to collectively release the stranglehold of these debilitating mental models.

What are your experiences with holding conversations regarding your individual and collective mental models regarding leadership? Have you ever had them? How do you think they would unfold?

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
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Discover How Doing Something And Doing Nothing Can Both Be Great Examples Of Leadership

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One of the most important roles that a leader has is the development of the people that the leaders serve. Often this means letting those people take the lead even though their level of performance may not be at the same level as the leaders.

Recently a client (let’s call him John) shared a story where he had battled to resist his own internal urge to ‘takeover’ from one of his team members (let’s call her Amy) when it became apparent that Amy was uncomfortable performing the task she had agreed to perform.

Amy had agreed to be the host and welcome a High Court Judge to their team, and then thank and provide a summary of the judge’s speech to conclude the evening. After struggling through her initial welcome John had become quite concerned that Amy’s performance was not up to his standards, despite this being Amy’s first time at performing such a role. As his discomfort rose, so too did his desire to ‘save’ Amy by taking over from her. John knew that he could have done a better job and was concerned about how Amy’s introduction would reflect on the organsiation if it wasn’t rectified for the concluding sections of the event.

Taking this type of action in this instance would have by many people’s standards reflected great leadership. After all, who wants top run the risk of their organsiation looking poor because of someone’s poor performance? Something inside John, possibly his social intelligence, told him to ‘hold his nerve’ and to do nothing. That is right, John consciously decided to do ‘nothing’ (which, if we wanted to get technical, is in fact a conscious choice to do something that in this example was to not intervene). In leadership the choice to do nothing is often far more difficult than the choice to do something!

John’s intuition was justified as Amy recovered her poor welcome address by completing an outstanding thank you and summary of the the judge’s speech. The judge even commented on the quality of Amy’s listening and was appreciative of the fact that at least one person had clearly listened to him! Amy was delighted and received a significant confidence boost from having worked through her challenge.

When reflecting on the evening John had mentioned to me that no-one other than himself had been aware of the leadership challenge that he had faced that evening. Leadership is very much like that. A great deal of the work by great leaders goes unnoticed, especially when the leader is holding themself back for the sake of the development of a team member.

John also noted how delighted he felt when Amy had ‘delivered’ at the end of the judge’s speech. His delight came from multiple sources. The first was that he was delighted for Amy because he knew that she would have been disappointed with her welcome and introduction (which she later confirmed) and that she would have been stressing about the summary and concluding remarks (which she also confirmed). To overcome those stresses and to perform so well was exciting because it showed Amy that she could recover from a poor start and it would also give her confidence moving forward into her next development activities. The second source for John’s delight was that he had been his own master in this little episode. On previous occasions he had stepped in and ‘saved the day’, or so he had thought. After this experience his thoughts about the previous ones were, “What if, instead of saving the day, I had actually reduced the development of those people so that I could look good?” It is an interesting question, isn’t it!

Leadership is not always about being the person out the front making all the noise. Often, true leadership comes from having the personal mastery to let others lead. In this way, doing ‘nothing’ can be just as effective as doing ‘something’.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
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Learn About The Seven Skills of Dialogue

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Dialogue is a much used term. It seems that it is often used as a synonym for conversation. While this is in part accurate, dialogue is in fact a form of conversation that is distinct from other forms of conversation. The attachment Dialogue continuum Dialogue continuum.pdf positions dialogue at the opposite end of the conversation continuum to debate.

It is important to note that debate, polite discussion, skilful discussion and dialogue are all legitimate forms of conversation. Our perspective is that most people are highly skilled at both debate and polite discussion and poorly skilled at skilful discussion and dialogue. Debating is when each person in a conversation has a view that is un-moving and they seek to sell their view or ‘to beat down’ opposing views until their view ‘wins’. People often use their positional power to win debates which is one of the reasons why many people become very skilled at debating.

Polite discussion is when people have the appearance of agreeing with a particular view, but do not actually support the view. For a range of personal, cultural and organisational reasons people choose not to be honest. Instead, they nod their heads in agreeance or acceptance but then let others know when they are in the office kitchen that they really hold a different view. Our perspective is that polite discussion is a damaging form of conversation and should be minimised as much as possible. At least in a debate people’s positions are clear. With polite discussion, no-one other than the person themself knows their true position.

Skilful discussion is what most of us achieve when we are trying to use the skills associated with dialogue. It is a highly productive form of conversation and is the result of the generally low dialogue skills that most of us possess. Like most skills, if we haven’t practiced them very much throughout our lives we tend to be fairly poor at executing them when we first begin to use those skills. However, many of the benefits of dialogue such as learning, deeper insights, innovation, shared understanding and a deeper understanding of vision, purpose and values can be achieved through skilful discussion. In other words it is a highly desirable form of communication which demonstrates the value in practicing these skills even when we may be poor at them.

Dialogue is a form of conversation where people genuinely try to access different perspectives to enable a new understanding to emerge. Unlike debate, dialogue seeks to discover a new meaning that was not previously held by any of the participants in the dialogue. While difficult to achieve, the seven skills of dialogue can be practised at any time. Through practice, dialogue skills can significantly enhance skilful discussion and dialogue itself when the opportunity arises.

The seven skills of dialogue are deep listening, respecting others, inquiry, voicing openly, balancing advocacy and inquiry, suspending assumptions & judgements and reflecting. Each of these skills is explained below.

1. Deep listening
In its most simple form deep listening derives from the conscious choice to listen. It involves quietening the voice in our heads so that we can hear the true story of the person to whom we are listening. As we listen to understand their whole story we literally stay quiet and just listen. In exercises that we conduct on listening, people often report that they are amazed at how much they can hear when they know that all they have to do is listen. Instead of readying themself for their turn to speak, the listener focuses on understanding the speaker. Deep listening can occur anywhere, anytime. It could be with a team member while walking down a corridor. It might be with a customer in a busy department store or on the telephone. It might even be with our own partners! Imagine the difference that enhanced listening could make in that domain! The common element in all listening examples is the genuine choice to listen. It is both powerful and important if deep listening is to occur.

2. Respecting others
Voltaire, a French author, humanist, rationalist and satirist is reported to have said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” This perspective lies at the heart of respecting others. Clearly this is particularly difficult to do when we interact with people who have contrasting views to our own. Practicing this dialogue skill therefore becomes imperative if we are to develop the true capacity to dialogue. While respecting others does not mean that you have to agree with them, it does mean that you will allow them the time and space to have their say and you will see it as a perspective that while you may not understand it, it is a perspective that is valid in the context that it contributes, even if only in a small way, to our understanding of the ‘complete’ picture of whatever is our area of focus at the time.

3. Inquiry
This is the capacity to ask genuine questions. As such it encourages the use of open questions that enhance our understanding of different perspectives, or assist in the deeply held mental models that lie behind many perspectives to come to the surface. The blog The Art of Skilful Questions provides a range of insights and suggestion to assist with developing improved questioning skills.

4. Voicing openly (advocacy)
Many of us are quite talented in this skill, at least in part. Voicing openly is the capacity to say what you think and to be able to explain why you think what you think. Unfortunately many people struggle to share their view. All views, if they exist, are important for the development of a true understanding of a situation. If those views are not shared, then a part of the picture is missing which is why voicing is so important in the context of dialogue.

5. Suspending assumptions & judgements
The capacity to explain why we hold the views that we hold lies at the heart of suspending assumptions & judgements. Much like we hang our clothes on a line for them to dry, suspending means that we ‘hang out’ our reasons for our views. This allows people to look at them, question them and assist us in developing a deeper understanding of our perspectives. To suspend your assumptions & judgements illustrates a willingness to be vulnerable which is a key attribute of servant leaders (see the blogs Dee Hock – an example of a Servant Leader and The Paradoxes of Servant Leadership if you are not aware of servant leadership). Should we discover that our views are not useful through the act of having suspended them before others, we have the opportunity to adopt new ones. This experience is often described as true learning.

6. Balancing voicing (advocacy) and inquiry
This is as simple and complex as balancing sharing our view and why we have it with asking genuine questions to better understand another person’s view, or to allow the group to talk about issues that will enhance the whole group’s collective understanding of a topic. To practice this skill involves utilising all the skills listed above; deep listening, respecting others, inquiry, voicing openly and suspending assumptions & judgements. Even if the other people with whom you are conversing are not trying to dialogue, practicing this skill significantly enhances the quality of your contribution to the conversation. People will notice your enhanced communication skills because the quality of the conversations within which you participate will be enhanced by your contributions to them.

7. Reflecting
Our fast paced world offers little time to reflect. However the capacity to reflect is a big rock (see the blog The Rocks and the Jar) and enhances our communication skills and capacity to dialogue through considering how we have just practiced our skills. In team environments it is worth holding a reflection at the end of an attempted dialogue to recognise where the skills of dialogue were used effectively and where they could be improved. The blog Conducting an End of Meeting Reflection provides some pointers for such a conversation.

People often recognise that practicing dialogue is not easy. It isn’t. But the various skills of dialogue can be practised at any time in any form of communication, and providing they are used for the purpose of genuinely enhancing communication, practicing these skill will provide immense benefits for all involved and result in improved team/group performance.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
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