Optics Matter

October 8, 2013 in Author, Greg Owen-Boger, Meetings

greg 200x300Gretchen Pisano, a consultant colleague of mine, starts many of her consulting engagements with this quote, “Be present or be absent, but don’t be both.” Learn about Gretchen here:  Sounding Board, Inc.

I love that quote.

Next time you’re in a meeting, look around. How many of your colleagues are physically in the room, but not present?

They might be staring off or checking their email. They might even be playing a game on their smart phone.

Who knows? They could actually be listening, but you wouldn’t know it. They appear disinterested and disengaged, and that sends a message to everyone else in the room.

We all know this, of course, but it’s good to be reminded once in a while:

Optics matter.

It’s not enough to be engaged. You need to look engaged too.

By Greg Owen-Boger, VP at Turpin Communication and co-author of the upcoming book, “The Orderly Conversation”

Wearing Two Hats: Facilitating Successful Meetings When You’re the Boss

August 19, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Facilitation

This article was originally published on MondoSpective.

Facilitating a group discussion always brings with it a unique set of challenges. Every group involves different personalities, perspectives, and needs. Facilitators have to work hard to create an environment in which a productive conversation can take place.

When the facilitator is also the boss, the process gets even more complicated. The atmosphere in the room will be affected by who you are. Inevitably, the people reporting to you will feel their response is being evaluated—even if you set up the discussion as a judgment-free brainstorming session. This will affect both how they respond and their willingness to participate.

While you can’t change who you are or your role in the organization, you can facilitate discussions with your team successfully. You just have to remind yourself that your responsibilities as facilitator are different than your responsibilities as manager.

Process vs. Content. The facilitator’s role is all about process. It’s not their job to add to or comment on that content. But it is their job to encourage participation and control the direction of the conversation. That requires two things: demonstrating trust in the individuals in the group and showing respect for their needs.

Demonstrating trust. A successful facilitator creates an environment in which information and ideas can be freely exchanged. That means that the individuals in the group need to feel their questions and comments are welcome. The level of participation from individuals in the audience will vary, of course. But what’s important is not equal participation from everyone, but equal opportunity for participation. So as a facilitator, you need to:

  • Be patient, curious, and unafraid to listen. Don’t waste the good will of the group by not listening, or glossing over nuance.
  • Demonstrate through your actions that all input can be useful. As a leader and manager, it’s often important to assess situations quickly. This is an asset in your daily responsibilities, but it can be a liability when facilitating. During a discussion it’s important to let ideas percolate a little.
  • Level the playing field by allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Remember, you’re the only person in the room who doesn’t feel a little vulnerable already.

Showing respect. The discussion you lead needs to be as efficient as possible. While the group wants to feel that they are free to contribute, they also want the conversation to achieve something. Because you are their manager, individuals might be reluctant to challenge your decisions as facilitator or point out that a topic has run its course. Here are some recommendations.

  • Do your homework. Respect the group’s time and energy by doing the work that’s required beforehand. This involves creating a framework for the conversation that communicates your goal, the problem you’re trying to solve, and what you expect from your reports during the discussion. This framework should be strong enough to keep things on track, but flexible enough to include unexpected turns in the conversation.
  • Remember that the framework exists to make participation easier for everyone. It should serve the conversation, not dominate it.
  • Appreciate the work the group is doing and the risks they’re taking.

Because you are the group’s manager as well as the meeting’s facilitator, there will be times when you’ll want to contribute to the content of the discussion as well. When you do, just acknowledge that you’ve taken your facilitator hat off. Say things like, “I can clear up that question for you, so allow me to speak now as your manager.”  When you’re finished contributing your manager perspective, put your facilitator hat back on.

Remember that the people involved in the discussion are your resource, just as they are when they’re going about their everyday responsibilities. When you’re facilitating, give them a safe, productive environment and the time they need to work through the ideas they’re sharing.

by Dale Ludwig, President & Founder of Turpin Communication and co-author of the upcoming book, “The Orderly Conversation”

People think I’m mad all the time. As it turns out, I just have a “thinking face.” Anything I can do?

July 30, 2012 in Author, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, Engaging Listeners, FAQs, Handling Questions, Managing the Orderly Conversation, Presentation, Sarah Stocker

This is a problem I’m very familiar with; I too have a “thinking face.” When I am deep in thought my face naturally gets a very stern look on it. I didn’t realize it until my colleagues kept asking me, “What’s wrong?” or “What did I miss?” when we worked together during workshops. My “thinking face” made them feel judged, which is obviously not a good thing. Here are a few ways to fix the problem.

The first step is to analyze your “thinking face.” What do you do? (I tend to squint, furrow my brow, and purse my lips.) When do you do it? During meetings? While presenting? When listening to others present? (My “thinking face” comes out the most when I’m listening to someone else speak.)

Once you are aware of what you do and when you do it, you can work to soften it. When I’m facilitating or listening to someone else present, I periodically check in with myself. Is my face scrunched up or tense? If the answer is yes, here is what I do:

  • I relax the muscles in my face.
  • I smile. It doesn’t have to be a huge grin – just a slight smile will do.
  • I open my eyes wider and slightly raise my eyebrows (“smile” with my eyes).

This makes me appear pleasant and receptive instead of critical and mad. Does it feel natural? Not really. But I don’t want to make other people feel uncomfortable or that I am criticizing them, so it’s worth the extra effort. And it does get easier (and a little more natural) the more I do it.

My final piece of advice is to be open about having a “thinking face.” If someone catches me giving them a stern look, I casually apologize, use it as an opportunity to laugh, and explain that it’s just my “thinking face.” It lightens the mood and lets them know it is not a reflection on them. Next time they notice it, they won’t jump to a negative conclusion.

A “thinking face” can give people the wrong impression of you or even shut down a productive conversation. Being aware, softening or brightening your facial expressions, and explaining yourself will help counteract any negative feelings it may cause.

By Sarah Stocker, Trainer and Workshop Coordinator at Turpin Communication