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Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Tired of people not replying to your messages? Try these 5 tips...

Email Tennis. Telephone Tennis…

You know the sort of thing – you leave a message, they leave a message, you leave one back, they leave one back…

Or even worse – you leave a message. And they don’t reply. So, you’re faced with the joyous decision: chase and feel like you’re pestering; or wait and feel impotent?

I hate Email Tennis. So I don’t play it. Here are some things you can do instead:

  • If you work in the same office, walk to their desk 
  • Change something. If you’ve chased by email and not had a reply, don’t send another email. Instead, ring them. Or – often better – text/instant message (IM). People tend to reply to texts/IM's. Something like ‘Hi X, Let’s catch up today. I’ll call at 4pm. If this time doesn’t work, please text me a time you’d prefer’ 
  • During Conversation One, agree when you’ll have Conversation Two. And get it in both your diaries before you finish Conversation One – ‘Let’s avoid Telephone Tennis – that’s just a waste of our time. When would be good for you, for us to have our next chat? Let’s put it in our diaries now’ 
  • Confirm Conversation Two’s timing in any follow-up communications – ‘As agreed, I’ll call you at 10am on Thursday’ 
  • (Be careful with this one) If person X just won’t get back to you, ask one of their close contacts for advice - ‘I’m struggling to get through to X. How would you advise I contact them?’ 

Which of these is best? Well, it depends on the situation, the person you’re speaking with, etc.

But I find a text and IM's often work well. And it makes sense. People get hundreds of emails a day – most of them boring. It’s easy for yours to get lost in the noise…

But they get fewer texts and IM's. And people tend to reply more quickly to them. Worth a try?

Action point

Identify the people who aren’t getting back to you. Now identify a new way to chase them. Remember: if your last chasing technique didn’t work, it probably won’t work next time either. So try something new. It’s often as simple as that…

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Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Actions speak louder than words!

Have you ever been to a meeting, agreed lots of actions…

…and then found they didn’t happen?

Thought so.

There are lots of reasons why this happens. But one often is that the actions weren’t actions. They were ideas.

For example, last week, I saw a Sales Director end his meeting with the action ‘so, let’s raise our game and sell more this week’.

That’s a lovely idea. It isn’t an action.

Other ideas-not-actions are things like ‘let’s be more customer-focused, be more efficient, improve the way we do things, embrace our new strategy’, and so on.

Ideas are good things, of course. But, without actions… well, nothing happens.

It’s easy to turn ideas into actions. Simply identify the very first step.

For example, let’s say you want your team to make their presentations more interesting (clearly, a great idea), it might look like this…

‘So let’s agree how we’re each going to start making more interesting presentations. Our first steps are:

  • Look at your diary to identify the next presentation you’re making – that’s the one you’re going to make more interesting 
  • Put a diary entry in 2-3 days before it, called ‘prep time: making presentation X more interesting’ 
  • In that prep time, identify 2-3 new things to include, to ensure your audience enjoys it more than usual. For example, you could X, Y, Z 

See how the idea (make interesting presentations) has become an action (add a diary entry)?

And It’s impossible to fail at it! (Though it’d have been very easy to fail the vague idea of ‘be more interesting forevermore’).

So, I could end this post with the idea-not-action of ‘always make sure that you have actions at the end of your communications’. But, this’ll be much more helpful…

Action point

Preview today/tomorrow’s diary.

Identify the first communication where it’s important that people take action after it.

Spend time beforehand preparing how you’ll end your communication. Remember: it’s essential you help them understand what their first steps are.

After all, when people don’t know how to start, they don’t start.

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Tuesday, 14 June 2016

How to help people deliver your message

“My mate fancies you.”

Four words that never work for teenagers.

After all, asking your friend to tell the person of your dreams you fancy them… well, it’s just not going to work, is it?

She’ll wonder why you haven’t told her yourself.

If she’s keen on you, you aren’t there to take advantage of this keenness.

And if she isn’t keen, you aren’t there to undo the damage your friend’s just caused.

So, all in all, using a middle-man in this situation is a bad idea.

In business, though, we often need to use a middle-man. For example, you might…

  • hold a senior position, and want your direct reports to cascade your messages to their teams 
  • have created a training programme you want others to deliver 
  • want to take a Business Case to the Board. But you aren’t allowed in the meeting, so have to ask someone to present it for you 

So, here’s the key thing: how to ensure your middle-man adds value to your message. And doesn’t dilute it. Or worse, contradict it.
Here are a few ways to ensure they do a good job for you: 

  • Be crystal clear what your desired outcome is. That way, your middle-man knows what you are looking to achieve 
  • Be equally clear on the reasons you think your ultimate audience both (1) will want to do what you want them to (your middle-man can focus on these) and (2) why they won’t want to do it (your middle-man can help remove these) 
  • If you give your middle-man supporting information – a slide set, set of trainer notes etc – for each page/slide, explain both its purpose (in other words, what you want the ultimate audience to say/feel after hearing it) and how best to deliver tricky or contentious topics 
  • Ask them to add their own insights and experiences to your message. Their personal slant will help bring your content to life. In fact, without it, they aren’t needed. You might as well bypass them and communicate directly with the ultimate audience 
  • Offer to act as a Sounding Board. Tell your middle-man they can practise bits/all of it on you at any time, until they feel certain they’ll do a great job 

You will add your own ideas to this, of course. But – whatever you choose – I strongly advise it falls between the two extremes of:
  • Giving no guidance – “say what you like”; and 
  • Giving total guidance – “I’ve scripted it word-for-word for you” 

The former means it’s 100% their message and 0% yours. And they might not do a good job.

The latter is all your words and none of theirs. It just won’t sound right coming out of their mouths. They’ll sound like an odd version of you. Also, this approach ignores all the great ideas they could include.

Action point

Identify the next communication someone’s delivering on your behalf. Find simple ways to brief them better. That way, your message becomes a combination of the best bits of both of you.

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Tuesday, 7 June 2016

What would Churchill do?

Here’s a memo Winston Churchill sent to his War Cabinet in 1940…

Memorandum by the Prime Minister


To do our work, we all have to read a mass of papers. Nearly all of them are far too long. This wastes time, while energy has to be spent in looking for the essential points.

I ask my colleagues and their staff to see to it that their Reports are shorter.

  1. The aim should be Reports which set out the main points in a series of short, crisp paragraphs. 
  2. If a Report relies on detailed analysis of some complicated factors, or on statistics, these should be set out in an Appendix. 
  3. Often the occasion is best met by submitting not a full-dress Report, but an Aide-memoire consisting of headings only, which can be expanded orally if needed. 
  4. Let us have an end of such phrases as these: “It is also of importance to bear in mind the following considerations….”, or “Consideration should be given to the possibility of carrying into effect….” Most of these woolly phrases are mere padding, which can be left out altogether, or replaced by a single word. Let us not shrink from using the short expressive phrase, even if it is conversational. 
Reports drawn up on the lines I propose may at first seem rough as compared with the flat surface of officialise jargon. But the saving in time will be great, while the discipline of setting out the real points concisely will prove an aid to clearer thinking.


Looks like the human race has learned very little in 76 years.

And I reckon he’s right. Do you?

A quick question: if Winston Churchill – or your colleagues for that matter – reviewed your documents, what would he think of them?

Action point

Two simple actions – do one or both of these:

  • Look backwards – review your most recent document. Does it satisfy his criteria for good comms? 
  • Look forwards – preview your next document. Ensure it does.

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Tuesday, 31 May 2016

A simple technique to getting more yeses that's so powerful, it's practically a superpower!

The problem with asking someone to do something?

They might say ‘no’.

In fact, when people want to ask someone to do something for them, they tend to either:

  • Ask a yes/no question, get a “no” and feel disappointed; and/or 
  • Dread getting a “no”. So they don’t ask at all 

Not good.

But here’s a very simple way to increase your chances of getting a “yes”.

Just add a question word at the start

For example, imagine you’re meeting with someone, and want to meet them again:

  • If you say “Shall we meet again?”, they might reply “no” 
  • But if instead you say “When shall we meet again?”, you’re more likely to get a “yes”. After all, it’s much harder for them to reply with “Never” 

So ‘when’ is one of the question words you could use. Others work too:
  • When shall we meet again? 
  • Who else shall we invite to our next meeting? 
  • Where would you like our next meeting to take place? 
  • How should we meet next time – face-to-face or virtually? 

You can give them 2-3 options if it’ll help – “When shall we meet again? Later this week or early next?” or just keep it as open and let them choose.

But the Golden Rule: don’t offer a yes/no choice.

And, like all the best techniques, you can use it with lots of situations:
  • Looking to make a sale? Offer the customer two options with different price points, and ask “Here are the two ways we can best help. Which do you prefer?” 
  • Wanting your boss to see you today? Try “When’s best for you, for us to have a quick catch-up today?” 
  • Want your children to go to bed? “It’s bedtime soon. You can go now. Or – because you’ve been so good today – you can have another 5 minutes if you want. Which do you want?” 

So, will you use this technique this morning?

No, strike that. This is much better…

So, when will you use this technique this morning? 

Action Point

Use it straight away!

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