Productive communication

Effective communication plays such an important part in working life and a solid skill to develop for greater success at getting your point across, expressing your opinions, and leading yourself and teams.

What I’m keen to explore though is a deeper step into effective communication: productive communication. It’s great that people can understand what you’re saying, but is it productive? Is it progressive? Is it helpful?

Effective communication needs to be productive; it needs to have a purpose; it needs to have a point for it to be necessary.

Of course, effective communication can also be productive; Leadership Choice lists 4 productive benefits of effective communication, for example mitigating conflict and workplace tension. They explain that whether tension is derived from misunderstanding, not understanding how others communicate, or feeling that emotional needs are being disregarded,:

‘[…] Regardless of the conflict, communication is usually an underlying factor.’

Researching into effective communication, you’ll find somewhere that explains that there are 4 main components to it.

Sorry, 5 components.

No, 6 components.

Wait, 8 over here.

Or are there 9 to be on the safe side?

Whatever the number, there doesn’t seem to be anything about the usefulness and purpose of the communication within these. Adhere to the 4, 5, etc. components and you will no doubt be an effective communicator, and I’m not here to pooh-pooh them. But what’s the point if you don’t have a point?

Your communication needs to have a purpose and intention. If you want to be an effective and productive communicator, check out a really helpful post I read on productive communication which includes these two significant elements within its 10 tips on being strategic about productive communication.

Know your point. Know your intention. Know the outcome or product of your communication.

Underused skills – reasons, consequences and solutions

Mingling within HR circles, there’s a lot of commotion about underused skills in the UK workforce at the moment. A report from the CIPD has found that nearly half of us are completely mismatched in our roles which means we are more likely to leave our jobs and less likely to be promoted.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – in the grand scheme of things, we have people leaving roles to better use their skills, and by doing so leaving their now-vacant role for someone who will be more suited and satisfied to fulfil it.

Essentially, one of the main reasons this happens in the first place though is down to job design; whether the role was designed at the point of application (and the employee applied for the wrong reasons or elements of the role weren’t evident up front) or after a natural period of time, the role evolved into something else in response to the organisation’s goals or industry changes.

As avid doers, we may find ourselves in this situation at some point or other in our careers (or multiple points, sadly). Self-initiating change within our roles – and indeed our lives – is something we do to remedy job lolls and where there’s restriction to change and a large portion of our skills aren’t being used, this can be incredibly frustrating.

With frustration, comes disengagement, lack of motivation and a sense of resentment. We may forget the fact that change is our responsibility and instead place the blame elsewhere (mostly our employer) which just breeds more negativity.

So what can you do (after of course you talked it out with your manager)? Multipotentialite leader Emilie Wapnick calls the first suggested solution as The Einstein Approach which means you have a day job unrelated to your hobbies or interests and so allows you to have the mental/creative/physical/etc. stamina to work on your true skills and talents outside of work. I’ve written about this before in my article about not having one true calling, ultimately finding outlets for all your interests without relying on your day job to fulfil these entirely. Who knows – these can end up being the foundation of a bigger and better career that supplements your skills developed in your day job.

Or over at Corporate Rebels – the awesome rebels who are challenging how things work in the corporate world – they much prefer the concept of ‘job crafting’. While they write about it from an employer’s perspective, my take-away from this is that there may be some wiggle room in your role to influence it to go into a certain direction to further use those untapped skills of yours. This will benefit you, your team and your organisation by being happier, more productive and engaged, and using skills that improve the team’s spectrum of abilities. The Corporate Rebels go on to quote Wrzesniewski and Dutton (2001) who say that job crafting is a:

“self-initiated change behaviour that employees engage in with the aim to align their jobs with their preferences, motives, and passions”

Pretty good huh? No new role, you get to stay where you are AND be happier!

But then of course you do have the option to look for a new role that uses your skills better if Einsteining or job-crafting aren’t possible. Looking elsewhere would be the best option for those who feel they aren’t performing their best in their current role – you might just not have the right opportunity to perform the great skills you have rather than being a poor performer. Think about that possibility the next time you give yourself a hard time at being pants at your job.

Skills transference is a big theme with The Avid Doer blog, so surprise! The option of getting a new and better job also allows you to transfer skills that are both used and unused to combine together in an innovative and unique way, one that will provide a lot more job satisfaction and fulfilment (and set you apart in the application process).

So while the employers are doing what they can to address this workforce issue, there are ways or us to address it to.

Do you feel your skills are underused in your day role? Are there any of these solutions that stands out to you the most?

Book review: ‘Mind Flip’

As you may know I’m a feature writer for HR Zone, and doing this on a regular basis means that I don’t usually share a link to what I’ve written on here; instead, I have a link to a list of my articles on my ‘Publications’ page.

But, I’ve recently written a book a review for HR Zone which I think readers of The Avid Doer (like you!) would find interesting. The book is called Mind Flip, written by Zena Everett, and is a great resource for people looking to develop their professional persona, as well as for those who are looking for the next step in their career.

I’ve given the book 4.5/5 but I’ll let my review do the talking!

Check out the review here!

No dramas – Resilience at work

There’s a lot of stuff out there on building resilience which suggests it’s an arduous step-by-step process of laying down the foundations before you can even begin to feel the benefits.

I much prefer the concept and practice of maintaining resilience. What is a simple language shift means that my perspective has shifted to my existing resilience and I just need to take the reins and follow it through.

I’ve read an excellent piece by Barry Winbolt – trainer, coach and psychotherapist – on resilience in the workplace, explaining that this is an active, not passive process. This means it requires ongoing effort and conscious decisions.

The article includes an eloquent quote from Salvatore Maddi and Deborah Khoshaba’s book Resilience at work: How to succeed no matter what life throws at you (American Management Association, 2005) about the attitudes that come with resilience:

“Simply put, these attitudes are commitment, control, and challenge. As times get tough, if you hold these attitudes, you’ll believe that it is best to stay involved with the people and events around you (commitment) rather than to pull out, to keep trying to influence the outcomes in which you are involved (control) rather than to give up, and to try to discover how you can grow through the stress (challenge) rather than to bemoan your fate.”

What challenges are you avoiding or struggling with? Identify these challenges and, as Winbolt says, “develop the habit of using challenges as opportunities to acquire or master skills”.

Clarifying your career’s direction through volunteering

I get frustrated with the tired advice of ‘what could you do for free?’, given to those who are seeking clarity on their career’s direction or specialism. With a lack of focus on money-making skills, and more attention on unrealistic daydreaming, this exercise can sometimes provide very few practical solutions.

Applying for a volunteering role takes this exercise a step or two further, and it’s interesting to see how this commitment can really help you be specific about the skills you want to offer.

Careers blog The Muse talks about how:

“[…]volunteering helps you find clarity about the things you love (or don’t) in your career[…] Long story short, the more experiences you give yourself, the better chance you have of learning about the type of work you love doing and the types of environments you excel in.”

This, to me, makes sense. When making your application to volunteer, you’re committing yourself to take on roles for free. You will be accountable to do those all…for free.

As such, you’ll put yourself forward for only the things you can do (your existing skills and experience), the things you will like to develop (a good understanding but having a desire to develop a skill) and within the environment you’re most comfortable (your preferred place of work).

So I’ve given this ago myself for my local CIPD branch – with absolute commitment – and was surprised to see the selected skills that made it through to the final cut in my pitch email.

Give it a go! Are you surprised by the skills that make it through to the final cut? Are there fewer/more than expected?

A new word for ‘weakness’

We are often told we need to work on our weaknesses in order to develop our skills and progress our career; or at least traits that are labelled as ‘weaknesses’.

This isn’t the case. At the very least the word ‘weakness’ in this context needs to be re-defined to something more accurate. By way of example, a ‘weakness’ of being a poor public speaker is not a weakness. There’s a gap there – of confidence, skill, knowledge, ability, trust, authority – rather than a weakness.

A great Medium article I recently found on this topic talks about how weaknesses and strengths are the same thing, and warns us of the damage that may occur when we try to see them as two separate traits. Umair Haque writes:

“When we try to divide them, that is when we fail at both. We are principled, so we try to be less judgmental. And now we are not even principled. We are compassionate, but easily hurt, so we try to be harder, but lose our compassion.”

I thoroughly recommend reading the entire piece.

This takes me back to when I completed the 16 Personalities test, a free online test that’s based on Myers-Briggs testing (I don’t buy into the criticism that MBTI testing is similar to horoscopes – like most things in life, the results are only as strong and true as your input).

The results of the test are compiled into comprehensive lists by topic, including your weaknesses. Two of mine, as an ‘Advocate’ (INFJ, FYI) for example are: needing to have a cause in something I do and; being too sensitive.

Do these not contribute to my strengths, which, according to my results include being determined and passionate? Could they not therefore be considered as standalone strengths? Are my labelled ‘strengths’ not jeopardised if these weaknesses are worked on?

I’m interested in looking further into re-wording ‘weakness’ in the context of skills development.

In the meantime, focus on your strengths, the things you’re good at, and don’t bother too much about your ‘weaknesses’ until they have been correctly reworded.

The Avid Doer 2.0

Thanks for holding! It feels really good to be back after a couple of weeks of rejigging The Avid Doer. As you will notice, the site has had a bit of a makeover in terms of design and content.

As mentioned in my post before the brief redesign, the focus of The Avid Doer will still be on career management and the world of work, but from an entirely new perspective. Not necessarily my own comings-and-goings – this isn’t going to be a diary.

Instead of me providing advice from a (supposedly) ‘learned’ point of view, I will be sharing insights into the world of work, career development and independent learning from a ‘learning’ point of view.

If you haven’t already, check out the ‘About’ page which explains this concept much more comprehensively.

To give you a taster of the ‘feel’ of the content going forward, I’ve uploaded four new posts in one batch (well, I have to make up for lost time!)

New posts will be added more often but not to a specific schedule unlike the weekly posts before. So what better opportunity to ‘Follow’ the blog! Wink!

The neuroscience around change

“If someone is finding change hard, it’s not a sign of weakness, but their brain registering discomfort with something it is not designed to like” so says Hilary Scarlett in her article for HR Zone “The impact of organisational change on the brain.”

HR Zone is a good, trusty spot to read up on other HR professionals’ insights and advice (and I’m not just saying that because I write for them too!), and my latest fix is this beauty of an article. What hits me the most is that the concept of change on a neuroscience level, which is quite comprehensive, is explained so clearly and accurately, sans jargon.

Hilary says that while some parts of our brains have evolved, there are other parts that haven’t, and these are the areas triggered when there’s a change a-brewing at work. The brain actively seeks out threats that may or may not exist in order to convince yourself that change is dangerous, and it even impairs our memory. This is a scary time for the brain.

Focussing your efforts on explaining the change to employees at an early point, and on an ongoing basis, helps these thoughts become informed. Even if it’s bad news, Hilary says “To the brain, bad news is better than no news.”

If you’re starting to get an interest in neuroscience in the workplace, I think Hilary’s article is an excellent first port of call.

Writing about contemporary art

I have a book of Gilda Williams’ (correspondent for Artforum and lecturer at Goldsmiths College and Sotheby’s Institute of Art) called “How to write about contemporary art”.

I bought this during my art days before my umpteenth career change, but have rediscovered its relevance to my career now, not just in my writing, but in HR as well.

It promises (and delivers) a helpful, no-nonsense approach to structuring written pieces, avoiding common pitfalls, developing concrete research and close thinking, and positioning language effectively. It’s incredibly helpful for those who need to articulate their internal chatter concisely and accurately, and generally be a better communicator.

It never ceases to surprise me how often skills and supposedly-niche advice can transfer into other sectors, other roles, and complementing other skills.

Thinking back to your previous careers or fields, do you still find relevance for ‘specialist’ guidance?

Free agents

“It is generally recognised that humans have a need to experience themselves as free agents, and are not just entities to an ordered environment”. Eugene McKenna wrote this back in 1994 in a beast of a book I’m reading ‘Business Psychology and Organisational Behaviour’ (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Ltd, 1994), and it’s interesting to see this rally for individualism in the workplace was still in swing 24 years ago.

I’m giddy with a specific pivoting word in this quote which almost goes modestly unnoticed – “just”. It suggests we need to be free agents and “are not just entities to an ordered environment”.

To some organisations “free agents” would spark absolute horror. This quote however notices that an ordered environment is still needed to facilitate this freedom, which sounds oxymoronic but makes sense if you see the order as warranted and well-thought out parameters.

We do need to let the workforce make more decisions and have freedom in how they work, within the safety net of pragmatic and nurturing order which we as people still need.