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Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Stupid is as stupid does

I’m constantly amazed by how stupid I was two weeks ago.

And I’m OK with that. After all, I invest lots of time and money in self-development. I’d expect to be better today than I used to be.

But there have also been many times when I have been stupid.

Like when, a few years ago, my mum asked me if I wanted some 
apricot juice.

I said “No thanks. I don’t like apricot-y things… 
apricot juice, apricot jam, apricot-glazed pork chops, apricot tarte tatin…”

And then it suddenly dawned on me: I don’t like apricot.

I’d never realised that before.

I was 34.

Stupid, right!

So here’s a question for you: if a total stranger looked at your diary, and saw what you did every week, what would they think was stupid?

For instance, would they see things that:
  • You hate doing 
  • Take miles too long 
  • Happen too frequently – weekly when they could be monthly etc 
  • Involve too many people, many of whom don’t need to be there 
  • Achieve nothing 
  • Everyone complains about 
  • Take place very late on Friday afternoons 
  • Involve too much paperwork and pre-reads… 
  • …that are often circulated too late to read them anyway 
  • Watch presentations where the speaker shows a wordy slide and says “you won’t be able to read this but…” 
  • Send emails called “FYI” and expect people to do anything with them 

And after that, what would this stranger advise you do with these things?

For example, let’s say they saw you go to meetings you think are pointless, they might suggest one/more of the following:

  • Stop going 
  • Miss one, and see if you/anyone cares. If no-one does, miss the next one 
  • See if you’re needed for the whole agenda. If you aren’t, ask the Meeting Owner to put your agenda items at the start, attend for those only, and then leave 
  • Meet the Owner one-to-one instead 
  • Dial-in instead of taking the time to travel and attend face-to-face 
  • Ask for the Actions Arising, instead of attending 
  • Reduce something – the duration, frequency, number of attendees etc 

For me, today’ll be a good day. I won’t eat any apricot.

But in two weeks, I’ll be amazed how stupid I was to do something I did today.

Will you?

Action point

Look at your diary and ask yourself ‘what do I do that’s stupid?’

And then identify lots of ways to remove/reduce them.

Finally, choose your favourite 1-2 ways and do them. Two weeks from now, you’ll be amazed… ;-)

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Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Why we must FAIL to succeed

A toddler takes her first steps; then falls over.

Her proud parents say “Well, she clearly is never going to be a walker”

Ok – wouldn’t happen.

Instead, they’d encourage her to get up, and keep trying until she mastered it.

The toddler didn’t fail. It was her first attempt. That’s why F.A.I.L. stand for First Attempt Is Learning.

Obvious, yes?

So why do we forget this as adults?

We do it to others. We see someone try something for the first time, stumble over and say “he isn’t very good at that, is he?”

And we do it to ourselves. For example, we attend a training course, try a new technique we learned, it doesn’t work, so we decide “that’s it, I’m never going to be able to master this. I’ll stick with my old ways”.

But, unless we try new things – and keep at it even if we stumble/they feel odd – we never improve.

For example, one of my customers recently asked for my help with their Update Meetings – they were too long, too boring and too pointless.

So I devised a better format for them – ‘Best thing. Worst thing. Next thing’:

  • Everyone has 30 seconds max to share (1) the best thing that’s happened to them since the last meeting (2) the worst thing (and any advice/help they need) and (3) the next thing they’re prioritising after the meeting 
  • People then discuss the important issues arising from everyone’s 30-second summaries 
  • The meeting ends with agreeing actions… 
  • … and each attendee has to have at least one action 
  • Nobody can use PowerPoint, pre-reads or handouts in the meeting – not needed 
  • The meeting lasts 20 minutes max – shorter if possible 

This approach was miles better than what they’d been doing (I’m sure you can imagine what that was like).

But in the first meeting they tried my approach, two people forgot to prepare their 30-seconds so waffled on, and the Chair let the meeting overrun by ten minutes.

So, although everyone thought mine was a much better format, it was suggested they go back to the old way.

So I reminded them that they all thought the old way was too long, too boring and too pointless. I told them the toddler walking analogy; and that – after just one stumble - they were saying “clearly, we aren’t walkers.”

I then reminded them that their First Attempt Is Learning. And I said “You think this new approach is better than the old way. So do it again for two more meetings. But learn. Next time, everyone prepare your 30-second-summaries better. And ensure the Chair sticks to time.”

The next meeting was better. The third one was brilliant. Already, the “new way” has become “the way”.

They even look forward to their Update Meetings now… Now there’s a sentence you don’t hear very often!

Remember: If at first you don't succeed, try, try and try again!

Action point

Today you’ll see someone – it might be you – try something for the first time; and it not work.

Remind them/yourself that the First Attempt Is Learning; and that they/you should try it 2-3 more times, learning each time. After that, you’ll have a much better idea whether you’re going to be a walker or not.

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Tuesday, 4 October 2016

These six words will change the way you communicate

The best communicators say the right words when it matters.

Some of them are blessed with the Gift of the Gab, and the right words just come out all the time.

However, most of us mortals need to identify in advance, the best words we should say.

Here are six I’ve found that work pretty well…


This is a popular one.

Stuck in a meeting with people going in to too much detail? Try this:

“This conversation’s useful, but getting too detailed. Let’s take it offline”.

When you say this, people often stop discussing the detail. So, in effect, ‘offline’ is a nice way of saying ‘shut-up’!


Want someone to engage with you? But worried they won’t because they’re so busy? Use the word ‘quick’ to overcome their concern…

“Can I ask you a couple of quick questions?”

It’s surprising how much more appealing this is than “Can I ask you some questions?”


Want someone to do something; but concerned they might say ‘no’? Try this:

You: “Can I ask your advice about something?”
Them: “Of course” (this is the only answer they could give!)
You: “It’s important we move forward with [topic]. What would you advise we do next?”


In an argument?

They can quickly degenerate into the Blame Game - ‘It’s your fault’; ‘No, it’s yours’. But it’s more important to find a solution than it is to be right. So try this:

“We’ve clearly had a misunderstanding. Let’s look at ways we can resolve it.”


Asked a question you don’t want to/can’t answer? Try this:

“I’ve got a couple of ideas about this. Let me have a quick reflect and come back to you”

This buys you some breathing space, giving you time to come up with the answer you’re happy to give.


Want to make a sale, but not come across as sales-y? Try this:

“Let’s have a quick chat to explore our options”.

Six simple words. And often very effective ones.

Now, before you hit reply and tell me times these six words won’t work… I know they won’t always work! Nothing always works.

But they often do. As do others – words like easy, new, surprising, immediate, secret, definitely etc often attract attention.

So can I quickly ask your advice?

Action Point

Which of these words could you use immediately?

Choose one, use it… let me know how you get on.

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Tuesday, 27 September 2016

What restaurants can teach us about communication

Restaurants confuse me.

They have thirty things on the menu. But I’d only ever choose ten of them. Why have the other twenty?

Then, after I’ve finished eating and am full, waiters keep bringing hot food from the kitchen for other diners. But I’m full. How can they be hungry?

And then it hits me: other people are different to me. They like different things. Just because I’m full doesn’t mean they are. I might be at the finish line, but they haven’t started yet.

And people are different aren’t they?

A teacher and his apprentice are at a busy train station. The teacher turns to his apprentice and asks if she she can see any two people who look identical. The apprentice could not. The teacher tells the apprentice that’s because everyone’s different and we can only see their outside. The differences are even greater on their inside. And so, it’s important to understand them, so you both enjoy chatting.

Obvious, yes. But worth remembering when you’re communicating:

  • Preparing a communication for someone important? Ask what they want you to talk about. Don’t just trot out what you think they want 
  • In a sales meeting? Ask about them, their company, what’s annoying them, what they would prefer things to be like. Trust me, they’ll prefer this to you starting with “We were founded in 1922” 
  • In an argument? Just because someone annoyed you doesn’t mean they intended to. So, if you react to them angrily, they will be surprised, defensive… and maybe even aggressive to you. So work hard to see things from their point of view, so you can find an outcome you are both happy with. Remember, it’s more important to find a solution than it is to prove you’re right 

Action point

What’s the next thing in your diary?

Preparing a communication for someone important? In a sales meeting? In an argument? Doing a different type of communication?

Remember: work hard to see things from their point of view. Ask them what it is. Do that, and you’re much more likely to reach a great outcome for you both.

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Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Outstanding communication, especially WHEN IT COUNTS

Have you ever been on a workshop that you knew would change your life? Then, put your notes in your desk drawer…

… only to forget all about them, finding them by accident a few months later?

The trouble with wanting to change how you act in certain situations is that, next time the situation arises, you might forget what you’d planned to change.

And this isn’t our fault. After all, there isn’t much we can do if it doesn’t enter our head when it matters.

Well, actually that’s wrong.

It is our fault. We should have remembered. And the only way to remember when it counts, is to have a reminder when it counts.

For example, let’s say you want to remember to include Calls To Action at the end of your emails. That means you’ll need to remember when it matters – in other words, every time you’re emailing.

This means you need a reminder every time you’re sending an email.

The solution? Change your email autosignature. After all, you see it every time you send an email. It makes it impossible for you to forget. So now, instead of it saying “Cheers, James”, it now says “Our actions: XXX. Cheers, James”. Your reminder is now front-of-mind, because it’s front-of-face.

See how it works? All I did is ask myself “what am I looking at every time I do this thing I want to change?”; and then put my reminder there.

Other examples:

  • Want to smile more when you’re making presentations? Well, your eyes will be looking at your presenter notes. So write the word “smile” all over them 
  • Fed up with attending boring meetings that don’t have a desired outcome? Change your standard meeting agenda templates – insert a box at the top, containing the heading “Desired outcomes”. Next time you print the agenda, you can’t miss it 
  • Want to remember to cover a few key points in a meeting? Get the thing you’ll be making your notes on during the meeting – your pad, iPad, etc – and write a reminder on there. The other person won’t mind. And you won’t forget 
  • Got in the bad habit of turning up to meetings unprepared? Put a recurring calendar reminder every Friday morning – “Preview next week’s meetings – for the ones I need to go to, do the prep now. For the ones I don’t, decline now” (this is always a popular tip!) 

This Tip is a good one. It’ll help you improve; and without effort. In fact, I bet you’ll remember it for a few minutes.

But will you remember it when it counts?

Action Point

  1. Identify one improvement you want to make (for example, to your emails) 
  2. Think what you’re looking at when you do this thing (your email autosignature) 
  3. Put a reminder there so you always remember when it counts

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