Education, Management Tips.

When we think of communication, most of us automatically think of how we express ourselves orally and in writing.  But how we express ourselves is only half of communicating.  The other half is listening to what others have to say.  Most people aren’t very good at it.

It’s no wonder people have trouble listening.  The brain can process 450 words per minute, while the average person speaks only 150 words per minute. When we are “listening” to another person talk at this relatively slow rate, what do our brains do with the extra time?  We may listen selectively, presume we know what the other person is saying, daydream, plan what to say next, or tune out.  Often we don’t pay purposeful attention to the words being said or their intended meaning.

Another factor in listening is that different people process information differently.  Extroverts tend to think out loud, while introverts weigh things silently and more methodically.  The contrast is especially apparent in meetings, where some people feel compelled to share their opinions on most subjects while others remain quiet, mulling over the content and considering carefully what they think. And when they do decide, the extroverts are already discussing the next topic!  The way we take in information, and the rate at which we respond to it, thus may cause uneven participation at meetings.

While I wish I had the perfect solution to these predictable problems in organizations, I can suggest a few ideas. Review Keys to Good Listening for tips on how to listen better. At meetings, invite the quiet ones to share their views and allocate time for all to contribute either during or after the meeting. One client wanted to develop more effective listening and meeting effectiveness in the organization and offered through us a program called Enhancing Listening Skills. Participants learned about their natural listening style along with practical ways to improve listening skills in general and in meetings.

Listening isn’t only a “nice to have” personal ability in business; it’s a “need to have” in order to maximize profitability.  How much money does your organization spend on poor listening and how much can be saved by improving listening skills?  If you have 100 employees and each employee misunderstands or miscommunicates instructions resulting in a productivity loss of only $5 a week, the cost of that $5 over the course of a year is $26,000!

Listening is a skill that can be learned.  Just as we learn to express ourselves, we can focus on specific behaviors that improve how we listen.  Though it may not come naturally, listening can become an acquired habit with willingness and practice.  And bottom line, the listening half of communication pays huge dividends in job performance and productivity.


In today’s workplace, influencing has become more important than ever. Why? Organizational hierarchies have flattened; people work more closely with other departments on company projects.  Cross-functional teams must complete tasks on tight deadlines. Cooperation among employees is critical, and that may mean peers influencing each other to get things done in a timely way—reprioritizing their primary workload. It’s not easy to influence another person to meet your deadline when they have many of their own. Sometimes the completion of the task doesn’t translate into bonuses or performance evaluations for people outside the department. In this situation, personal influencing becomes not only a “nice to have” but also a “need to have” skill. For successful outcomes, individuals must build personal influencing teamwork skills.

So given these new realities, how to influence successfully?  When people think about influencing, their natural instinct is to first consider their own agenda—“What do I need from this person?”  This can be misguided. A more advantageous approach is to borrow from the classic “WIFM” (what’s in it for me?) approach.  Put yourself in their shoes, get at what motivates them, and show how your project can provide that.

Further analysis includes a few additional questions such as:

  • “What does this person want or need?” Is it reward, recognition, a job well done, a team effort?
  • “What may I do for this person in the future?” What would be a trade-off so that there is a mutual benefit?
  • “Why would completing this task be advantageous to this person?” Learning opportunity, additional experience, connecting with people they wouldn’t normally do so, fun, resume building?
  • “What unique skills does this person bring to the task?” How can this project reinforce their strengths?

Answering these questions before meeting with the person will result in better influencing your business partner to make a maximum contribution

Using this method, influencing is less about getting somebody to do what you want them to do and more about building a better relationship.  That outcome is more useful, more sustainable, and more successful.


Stress, conflict, pressure, tension, hassle – whatever we call it, we all feel it.  Some degree of conflict and stress accompanies just about any job.  One definition of stress is “responsibility without authority.”  If you have a big assignment with all the authority needed to accomplish the purpose, that is a challenge.  But if you’re responsible for a task – big or small – without the necessary power to control its success, that is stress.  According to an American Psychological Association survey, more than 36% of workers say they are typically “stressed out” during their workday.

What kinds of things actually cause stress at work?  Some “big picture” issues create anxiety, such as job insecurity, an unpredictable economy, or frequent changes in technology.  More commonly, smaller annoyances comprise the bulk of work stress:  delays, communication breakdowns, poor teamwork.

What can you do to lessen the negative impact of work stress on your life?  Here are a few ideas:

  1. ­Make your own health your top priority.  If that goes, nothing else much matters.  Remember to breathe deeply when the going gets tough – give your system some oxygen.  Get enough sleep.  Eat good food.  Move around.  Staying strong helps you cope better.
  2. Pat yourself on the back.  Spend some time recalling past achievements.  When you feel uncertain about the future, remembering your good qualities and focusing on your accomplishments can restore your self-confidence.
  3. Be flexible.  Nobody ever got anywhere by staying in a rut.  Sometimes change is foisted upon us, and very often it turns out to be a good thing.  Keep an open mind.
  4. Talk to people you trust about the things that are bothering you.  Bottled-up tension becomes greater if you feel alone, and most problems diminish once they are shared.
  5. Take the new CALM in Conflict™ e-learning program to figure out new and successful ways to resolve conflict!

If your day starts to close in on you, stop and ask, “Is this a temporary or a permanent problem?”  If permanent, then you’ve identified a problem you can begin to solve.  Usually, however, the answer will be, “temporary,” and you can proceed with the knowledge that “this too shall pass.”  In the long run, most things really are not worth stressing about.


Several years ago I realized that I was getting into trouble by speaking my first thoughts in conflict situations. If I paused between my reactions and my actions, the result was much better. This insight became the cornerstone of CALM in ConflictTM.

I am a red-haired Irish-American, and I thought having a temper was my birthright! However, not everyone would accept such a whimsical excuse. The way I handled conflict wasn’t working for me. How could I begin to apply logic over feelings? While some conflict is both natural and appropriate, how to make it constructive isn’t always obvious.

Coincidentally around this time, many clients were requesting that the topic of Conflict Resolution be added to Manager Series programs. As a training consultant I often create acronyms as a way to help participants remember concepts. With “CALM” I was fortunate to find an acronym that reflects the spirit of the model.

The first step “C” Clarify is a solo experience that must be done thoroughly in order for the following steps to work. The “ALM” of the CALM model involves the other person in the conflict. Throughout the program, the e-learner is invited to interact by typing personal responses and clicking to see information on the screen. A short quiz at the end of each module reviews and assesses understanding of the content. More about the 4 steps…


Clarifying with 5 questions is a way to insert the pause into the situation. The CALM in ConflictTM e-learning offers you these key questions to help resolve your conflicts.


Asking questions is important because conflict conversations often begin with a declarative statement: "You should not have…!"

The conflict can escalate at this stage and it becomes a blame game of what happened. By asking questions, I am more in control and the conflict is de-escalated. Additionally I will better understand what happened to make the conflict happen – from the other person’s perspective. The e-learning includes the kinds of questions to ask in a conflict.


In general, listening is one of the most critical (and underused) communication skills. Especially in conflict situations, listening may not happen because both parties are invested in expressing their positions. Collaborative conflict resolution requires active listening and asking good questions.

The CALM e-learning program offers a 15-question assessment for listening skills with the first* takeaway – keys to good listening tips customized by the e-learner’s own responses.


In the Move Forward module, e-learners receive a variety of ways to move forward into conflict resolution. Identifying the best option for moving forward can now happen if the above steps are in place.

CALM in Action
The e-learning course ends with an audio-visual recording of a conflict that flares up and gets resolved using the CALM approach. The situation, based on a real-life situation, is easily recognizable and transferable to the current day pressure-filled deadline workplace.

The program concludes with an interactive Action Plan. A suggested script can be completed online and printed as a *second handy takeaway.

Enthusiastic e-learners exclaim, “Everybody needs this program!” I encourage you to experience the CALM approach to resolving conflict . Click here to find out more.

Learn More!


January often brings a mixed bag of feelings.  The holidays are over.  For some that is a relief and for others a disappointment . . . back to reality.  January more than anything is a time to reflect and begin to strategize on plans for the year . . . a doorway to the remainder of the year.

In fact . . .

"January is named after Janus (Ianuarius), the god of the doorway; the name has its beginnings in Roman mythology, coming from the Latin word for door (ianua) - January is the door to the year." (Source(s): Wikipedia)

So, an open door . . . to where?  While most New Year’s resolutions end up being unmet, last January I recommended a different approach to ensuring your goals are realized:  Make them more meaningful.

Create a vision first that can help you shape your goals.  Visions are broad and often more compelling than short-term goals.  Most of us regularly get caught up in the tactical day-to-day tasks vs. strategic pursuits.  We often forget to stop and consider, “Is this important to meeting my goals?”

Several years ago I attended a New Year’s Eve event which involved writing a letter to myself about all the things I wanted to accomplish over the next year.  We wrote our goals in the past tense, as though they had already occurred, for example, “I took the stairway instead of the elevator.”  At the end of the following year, the host mailed us the letters we had written.  Upon reviewing the list, I was gratified to see how many of the items I had actually completed.  More significantly, I was surprised at what a modest list I had set forth.  It reminded me of a quotation:

“Big thinking precedes great achievement.”  — Wilferd Peterson, American author

So with that in mind, think BIG:

What is your vision for 2013?


Around Thanksgiving a small smile appears on my face that pretty much stays in place right into January.  That smile reflects the old holiday jingle, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”  Yes, there is too much commercialism, and yes, the pace can get frantic.  We may be called upon to attend functions we’d rather skip, and family interactions can be dicey.  Still, the benefits of the holiday season far outweigh the potential pitfalls.

Specifically, we get to reconnect with old friends, reflect on the good things the year has brought, and consider questions such as, “What would he like as a present?”  We think of those who matter most to us, those who are living and those who are not.  And while that may be bittersweet, it is a rich experience.

This year my smile may be a bit wider because 2012 bestowed great rewards.  We at Next Turn had the pleasure of continuing to work with many valued long-term clients - thank you, friends at City and County of San Francisco, Golden Gate Bridge District, Melita Group, Port of Oakland, Carl Zeiss Meditec, Zeiss-Microscopy, and Theravance.  It was also a terrific year for building new client relationships…thank you, Skyfire Labs, Synopsys, SAPPacific Steel, Monterey Bay Mortgage, Syer Industries, and County of Marin!

I have gratitude for the many talented business partners who make our excellent programs possible.

During 2012, we also created our first e-learning program, CALM in Conflict™, which will launch in January 2013 (stay tuned)!

All in all, like the holiday season that ends it, 2012 has brought many opportunities to learn and grow.  We sincerely hope the same is true for you and that 2013 brings you joy, personal and economic health.

And by the way, one of my 2013 New Year’s Resolutions is to keep that holiday smile on my face throughout the coming year!

Leadership, Management Tips.

Every team contains people who can make the difference between cohesion and conflict.  I call these individuals game changers.  When I facilitate for intact teams, they are easy to spot because their peers listen to them more closely. They have an impact and it is usually significant.

Allow me to use as an example my favorite sports team.  The San Francisco Giants seem to invite successful analogies for teamwork.  Consider the Giants catcher Buster Posey.  Here is a young man, age 25, a candidate for the esteem-laden title, Most Valuable Player.  Last year an injury kept him sitting on the sidelines all season.  Yet he came back strong, insisting on keeping his catcher’s mitt, despite the catcher's vulnerability to reinjury.  His dedication to a rigorous workout during his recuperation and his current victorious year have earned his teammates' respect.  His positive attitude and example have inspired the entire team's performance. Buster intuitively understands that good game changers make others feel important.

Change management experts report that in any population, 30% will resist change (vocally) regardless of the change.  These are usually the same people who are chronically and vocally unhappy.  Another 50% are fence-sitters and will get on board when the change is in full swing and successful.

A meager 20% see change as an opportunity for improvement.  I would suggest that this same 20% are the game-changes who can make the difference for your team.  Research further indicates not wasting time convincing the 30%, but rather utilizing your 20% to get the 50% off the fence and engaged.

If you have a team where morale is suffering, who are your game changers and how can you encourage them to inspire your team?  Oh....did I mention that the SF Giants just won the National League Division championship?

Employee Recognition, Leadership, Management Tips.

Many organizations are grappling with the same issue: "How can we re-energize our workforce and build commitment while keeping within our (reduced) budget?"

Through education and empowerment, this newsletter offers 15 ways to offer your employees new ways to become engaged.

"Companies with a strong empowerment focus report low turnover and great engagement."

Conclusion from "Top Workplaces in the Bay Area."

The 15 Ways
Employees become more engaged if their organization is committed to their learning.

Introduce social networking and technology opportunities to enhance learning. Employees can share best practices on your company intranet or create your own intranet with these popular free or inexpensive options:

  1. Blogs and/or Wikis/Social Networks
  2. Social Cast
  3. Peer to Peer Training: Mentoring. Experienced employees assist to train and develop recent hires.
  4. Learn how the HR High Technology practices their craft and develop excellent e-learning programs. Find out how through attending a four-part NCHRA webinar.
  5. Offer employees customized training in communication, conflict resolution, meeting management, and management skill development.
  6. Facilitate special interest groups (exercise, games, cooking) to enhance community focus and cross-functional interaction
  7. Offer brainstorm sessions for ways to engage employees and involve them in problem solving company issues
  8. Offer educational, career and special interest opportunities (mentoring, partial tuition reimbursement, professional association dues)
  9. Add flex time, holiday time off, of other ways to recognize balance of work-family life
  10. Introduce relationships and work with non-profits (Habitat for Humanity, Breast Cancer Walk, holiday gift giving)
  11. Schedule regular town hall meetings
  12. Remove ratings from performance reviews
  13. Increase number and variety of employee engagement activities
  14. Encourage employees to give honest feedback on initiatives and respond to information received
  15. Review common team issues to find solutions that build morale and heighten engagement

Management Tips.

This past Labor Day, my sister, who has absolutely no interest in baseball, surrendered to some coercion and agreed to go to the San Francisco Giants game with me.

The thrilling game, which went into extra innings, was described by catcher Buster Posey as “one of the best wins of the season.”

My reluctant sister ended up yelling out the players’ names, booing the other team and cheering when the Giants scored!

At the end of the last overtime inning, when the boys in orange pulled off a torture-filled victory, I turned to her, “I thought you didn’t like baseball?”

“It’s not just baseball,” she replied, “they’re more than a bunch of high-paid athletes. They’re a TEAM, and it’s inspiring to watch them play.”

I agree. It made me think of how a productive team is poetry in motion...a pleasure to watch and to be a part of.

Our San Francisco Giants have shown us that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. In fact we saw many parts taken away this year and they not only survived, they thrived with the challenge. They gave new meaning to stepping up to the plate.

The big prize is in sight.  Winning the World Series is now a possibility. What comes in between that and now is daily progress toward that goal. To all those teams who do their very best every day, day in and out, I applaud you: Go, Team(work)!

Employee Recognition, Leadership, Management Tips.

"Make feedback specific, adaptive, constructive and on-time."
Jill McGillen

  • Specific: Give examples
  • Adaptive: What is the most effective approach to the individual?
  • Constructive: Build up with solutions, don’t tear down with negativity
  • On-Time: Give feedback as close to the occurrence as possible

Is it kind, true and necessary?
If the spirit of kindness is present, the reception will be better. Make sure the facts are accurate and it is necessary. Feedback should serve a purpose other than venting.

Would it help to have a standard way of offering feedback that is balanced with positive and constructive feedback?
There are generally 4 behaviors that you want to happen after an occurrence where feedback is needed: Continue, Do More, Do Less or Stop. This form offers a ways to prepare for the meeting or a performance evaluation. To find out more, contact Jill.

“Show Up, Don’t Show Off”
This was a plea from a disgruntled employee whose manager spent more time meeting with upper management discussing his accomplishments than giving necessary feedback to his team.

5 More Tips for Feedback

  1. Clarify the facts of the situation. Make sure you understand everything before you give feedback.
  2. Use observation, not assumption.
  3. Balance positive and negative feedback. Too much of one or the other will label you as a Critic or a Pollyanna.
  4. Construct, don’t destruct: Discuss and allow the receiver to provide options or solutions to the problem.
  5. Recognize employee encourages ownership and engagement