Fallouts in the Jungle – what can we learn from others’ behaviours?

What a wonderful study of human behaviour and emotional intelligence ‘I’m A Celebrity ….Get Me Out Of Here’ provides.  Voyeurism aside, we could do worse than learn some lessons from studying the campmates’ human interactions. 

Take the conflict which divided the camp this week – with Lady Colin Campbell, Chris Eubank and Kieron Dyer on one side and apparently everyone else on the other.  Whatever your thoughts about Lady C, it was heartwarming to witness the way Kieron was willing to listen and engage with her, when most others had walked away.  A sure sign of emotional intelligence that looks and listens for what is behind the words, and a strength and integrity to resist crowd-following. Vicky Pattison showed similar social skills when she said that Lady C just ‘wants to feel appreciated’. Her insight that Lady C’s difficult upbringing in a Jamaican community could be why she now feels ‘defensive when a man talks to her’, demonstrates her ability to empathise, and makes for an altogether more mature and professional attitude.

Undoubtedly, Lady C seems to be top of the leader board when it comes to triggering reactions in others – she certainly doesn’t hold back with her opinions and words. But the point here is that some people, as Vicky and Kieron have shown, are able to manage the reactions that others evoke in them and cultivate a willingness to look beyond the persona.

Of course we only get to see the edits and that’s an important point – it’s easy to make judgements when you’re watching scenes that have been brought together for the very purpose of pushing opinion.  Were we in the jungle and able to take in the whole off-screen atmosphere, there would be so many other things said and done that could help balance our views of the participants. The problem is that we’re all susceptible to making judgements of people and situations – it’s human nature. And often those judgements are taken on board by others, creating standpoints and positioning, prompting misunderstandings, and leading to conflict.

Nonviolent Communication© is a remarkably powerful way of communicating, in everyday situations, both work and personal, which encourages non-judgement and helps build emotional intelligence. Through a focus on basic human needs that we all share, this methodology offers us a 4-step process to turn our judgement of the situation into an observation, connect with our feelings triggered by a situation or words, and understand our underlying need, at which point we can then move forward with our strategy to meet that need. The same process, which is also used in mediation situations, can help us understand and empathise with others and prepare for dialogue that has a greater chance of meeting the needs of both parties. 

Mundane reality show?  Not at all, I say, rather a great way to observe others’ behaviours, and learn valuable communication skills.



Posted in Emotional Intelligence, Judgements, Listening | Leave a comment

How to listen empathically

Marshall B Rosenberg Ph.D, author and founder of the Centre for Nonviolent Communication (www.cnvc.com)  says that whatever we might do or say, we’re all simply trying to meet a need at that particular moment.  That’s what we’re always ever doing – acting to meet our needs.

And that’s why focusing on needs can help us understand more fully what is happening in any given situation. What need am I meeting by doing this/that? What need is behind this person’s action? 

We  might sigh at the thought of having to consider what needs the other person is trying to meet when they’re standing shouting at us for not completing a work project. It can be a tall order for anyone – especially when all we probably want to do is shout back in defence, or return to our desk and curl up.

And yet, empathically tuning into the other person’s needs can really help all round.  The very act of imagining what might be going on for them in such a situation can make the difference between whether you react or respond. It can open up other possibilities outside of your own viewpoint, and make way for a different kind of dialogue.

It’s not an onerous task. All we have to do in a difficult situation is to sense, by the feelings that the other person is demonstrating, what it is they are wanting to achieve by way of basic needs. In the case of our project, it may be completion, or competency in our work or even a security around their own workload.  Taking a moment to consider this can help turn our thoughts of defence or defeat to ones of understanding or at least acceptance – and from there we may be more able to speak about how to go forward, rather than mulling over what went wrong.

While we’re on the subject of practising empathy, how do we do it on a deeper level, when we’re in a situation with another person who needs empathic listening, maybe in a one-to-one meeting with a colleague or a team member?

Here are some examples of what we might typically say when listening to someone. And even though our intention may well be to help and connect with the person, they won’t necessarily contribute to empathic listening.  

“Oh I think you are insecure and you worry too much.”

 Data Gathering – questions that don’t really help the speaker
“When did this happen?”  “Was anyone else there?” “What happened next?”

 ’Don’t feel’
“Cheer up.”  “Don’t worry it will be alright.”

“You are so right.  I absolutely agree with you.”

 Intellectual (rather than empathic) Guessing
“I know, you must be feeling so angry/hurt/annoyed.  Anyone would feel as you do.”

“I know just how you feel, I had exactly the same experience myself.”

“Maybe they had no choice.  It’s what always happens.”

“That’s not what happened.  You are wrong.  I saw\heard something different.”

“Have you tried therapy?  “It worked for me so I think it should work for you.”

“Oh there, there, it’s not your fault, you tried really hard.”

“Now that reminds me of a time…..”

 Taking the focus
“That’s awful, but not as bad as what happened to me last week.”

“Oh you poor thing, I feel so sorry for you.”

“This could turn into a very positive experience for you and you could learn something from this.”

So if that’s not empathic listening, what is?

It’s a case of:

  • Emptying our minds and being present in the room with the person. 
  • Listening intently – with all our senses.
  • Seeking to understand the other’s viewpoint regardless of our own.
  • Passing no judgement.
  • Being able to walk in the shoes of the other.
  • Tuning into what needs the other person is meeting, or not meeting, in their situation.

The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”  Ralph G. Nichols

 Penelope Newton-Hurley: www.commpassion.co.uk
Email: penny@commpassion.co.uk 
The Communication half hour ~ listen live online at:
Stroud FM,
7.30 till 8am, Thursdays
Find us on:
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How to give feedback that people will want to hear


Feed·back  /ˈfēdˌbak/ Noun
When information regarding past behaviour e.g. a person’s performance of a task is delivered in the present with the aim of positively influencing future behaviour.

When it comes to giving feedback, we often shy away from it. We may find it easier to give positive feedback, however the thought of having to sit down and discuss something that someone has or hasn’t done makes even the most eloquent communicators feel distinctly uncomfortable.

So why are we afraid to give feedback?

It may be due to one of these reasons:

  • Fear of being disliked for criticizing a job done poorly
  • Fear of giving feedback to a supervisor or manager, someone in seniority
  • Fear of looking foolish if you praise someone for a job well done
  • Not knowing how to start or what to say  
  • Low organisational levels of trust or inexperienced management

What are the keys to giving feedback effectively?

  • Face the situation be confident that giving feedback is a valuable and constructive way to help another person improve. It also shows a level of professionalism and emotional intelligence. Create the right environment.
  • Adopt a positive intent – Check that your intention is to help the person and structure your feedback with a positive message. E.g. “You really put your message over well.” And then…”Do you think if you had answered the manager’s first question, he would have been more receptive to your idea?” or  “Here’s where you really made a strong impression and my thoughts on what you could do better next time.”
  • Focus on behaviourrather than his/her personality or character.  This gives him/her a chance to make changes and improvements.
  • Avoid judgementstalk about factual events and behaviours rather than perceptions and opinions. E.g. “I noticed you didn’t hand your report in on Friday as I asked” rather than “You’re always late with your work”.
  • Use ‘I’ statementssuch as “I observed that” rather than “some say that” this helps you own responsibility for your feedback.
  • Listen fullyand empathically. Allow the other person an opportunity to give his/her view of the situation so as to be able to correct misunderstandings and make decisions on actions.

Remember the basics:

  • Think about your intention
  • Keep it constructive
  • Keep practising!

 Penelope Newton-Hurley: www.commpassion.co.uk
Email: penny@commpassion.co.uk 
The Communication half hour ~ listen live online at:
Stroud FM,
7.30 till 8am, Thursdays
Find us on:
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How much time is poor communication costing you?


We recently conducted some research on how much time employees felt they spent unproductively due to ineffective communication.


Take a look at what they came up with:

  • Re-explaining when not listened to, emails were not read, own message lacked clarity

1½ hrs

  • Spending time in ineffective meetings – whether as the host or attendee

4 hrs

  • Wading through emails to pick out what needs to be read/done, etc.

3 hrs

  • Engaging in long email conversations rather than speaking

3 hrs

  • Searching for information

1 ½ hrs

  • Chasing for answers to previous requests

1 ½ hrs

  • Downtime (ggrrrrrrrr!) due to disappointment or anger following non or miscommunication. 

½ hr

  • The blind alley – working on non-priority projects, tasks, actions or making ineffective decisions because team/personal strategy and objectives not clear or communicated 

 2 hrs 

Grand Total

2½ days minimum

So up to half our working week could be less than productive due to communication issues - that’s half a salary. Now that’s a scary thought!  And just one of the reasons why we should be focusing on developing employees’ personal communication skills and installing sound processes.

Here are some other reasons:

  • ‘A significant improvement in communication effectiveness is associated with a 15.7% increase in market value.’ 
  • ‘A £100 investment six years ago would now be worth £83 in companies with least effective communication programmes and £130 in companies with the most effective.’
  • ‘Effective communication and financial performance are strongly related: companies that are highly effective at communication are 1.7 times as likely to outperform their peers.’
  • ‘Companies that communicate effectively are 4 times as likely to report high levels of employee engagement.’
  • ’63% of top performing companies train employees on communication strategy and processes compared with only 17% of low performing companies.’
  • ‘Top performing companies:
    Train managers to communicate effectively
    -  Involve internal communicators in managing change
    -  Measure the performance of communication programmes
    - Engage employees in the business through communication’

Quotes taken from the Watson Wyatt ’2007/08 Communication ROI Study’ and Towers Watson ’2009-10 Communication ROI Study’ and ’2011–2012 Change and Communication ROI Study Report’.

Just goes to prove, communication isn’t a business ‘nice-to-have’ – it’s an intrinsic and crucial factor in an organisation’s financial performance.

 Penelope Newton-Hurley: www.commpassion.co.uk
Email: penny@commpassion.co.uk 
The Communication half hour ~ listen live online at:
Stroud FM,
7.30 till 8am, Thursdays
Find us on:
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Turning judgements into observations

Choose your words carefully, avoid judgement statements and focus on the facts.

“By having a believed judgement about oneself or others, the mind will unconsciously sort information available to it in such a way as to support the believed judgement.  In this way the belief filters our perception and becomes a self-reinforcing mechanism – we get what we believe.”   ‘Words that work in business’ Ike Lasater

Making judgements is a natural human trait, and some, such as: ‘Is this piece of work more important than that piece of work today?’; or ‘Is the car far enough away for me to cross the road?’, are necessary for everyday living.

Judgements of people take on a very different meaning and are ones we need to take care with, particularly in business relationships, and especially at times when there may be challenges or potential conflict.

Consider these examples of things we might hear ourselves saying to ourselves or others:

  1. Jane is lazy and incompetent
  2. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about with this project
  3. You’re not listening to me
  4. She always has to do things her own way when it comes to setting up my meetings
  5. Frank complains all the time

This type of vocabulary can be seen as criticism, interpretation, assumption, labelling and, when used when talking about people, may have a less than positive effect, for various reasons:

  • People may take it as fact and carry that belief about a person even without knowing them
  • Gossip can start from this basis
  • It can come over as non-professional
  • Someone hearing criticism about themselves may instantly put up defensiveness or resistance – making the ensuing conversation difficult (something to consider when giving feedback)

Here’s an example of how the same five situations might be alternatively viewed, based on factual observations:

  1. Jane’s work is incomplete and the deadline has now passed
  2. He has a different opinion and level of experience to me with this project
  3. I see you were reading an email whilst I am talking to you
  4. I notice that you set up meetings in a different way to how I’ve asked you 
  5. Frank has told me about the same problem five different times

What to do instead of judging

  • When you hear yourself judging, evaluating, analysing or labelling yourself or others, take stock, and try to make a pure observation of what you actually see or hear, so as to get a better perspective on the situation.
  • If you must put forward a judgement, state that it is your opinion
  • Be careful of the words ‘never’ and ‘always’, which are nearly always exaggerations and rarely fact

Penelope Newton-Hurley: www.commpassion.co.uk
Email: penny@commpassion.co.uk 
Thought for the week ~ listen live at:
Stroud FM 7.30 till 8am Thursdays
Find us on:
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The ABCDE of message planning

Want a simple method for planning your communications?

The ABCDE process is for both one-off messages and large-scale campaigns, for wide-ranging or smaller audiences and even one-to-one communication.
Simply follow the steps in order, from A to E:Audience / Behavioural Objective / Content / Design and Timing / EvaluationAudience

  • Who needs to receive the message and where are they located?
  • What are their skill levels and what do they already know?
  • How willing are they to change their behaviours?

Behavioural Objectives   

  • What is the purpose of this message in changing or reinforcing audience behaviours?
  • Is it aiming to sell, tell, educate, get buy-in, get feedback, motivate, reassure, console?
  • Does the audience need to accept a decision or participate in decision-making?


  • What are the key messages you need to deliver in this communication?
  • Who are the people best qualified to provide the content and how will you access their knowledge?
  • Aim to include no more than three main points in any one piece of communication.
  • Ensure it is reviewed by at least two people who understand the audience needs.

Steps A, B and C need to be completed before committing resources and before making any decisions on step D. Only after Step C is completed should you move on.

Design and Timing   

  • When should the message go out –what key dates are you working to?
  • How many messages will be needed e.g. for a change project it is important to start early and keep communicating throughout and after the project.
  • What is the most effective and efficient way to deliver the message? For any message whose behavioural objective is to motivate, sell or achieve buy-in, there should be as much if not more use of verbal communication and/or ways of gaining feedback than written communication.
  • For messages requiring a big impact, consider using several different (verbal and written) channels over a period of time. Check the channels available to you.

Evaluation Techniques

  • How will you know if the message has been received and has had the desired impact? Try phoning or emailing a random selection of the audience to ask them questions, or speak to line managers, or raise it in any meetings that represent the audience.
  • How will you measure the overall effectiveness of the communication?  Put in measures of the behavioural change e.g. how much take-up has there been for X following communication.  For large campaigns consider mid or post communication surveys or focus groups.
  • Are there lessons learned that should be noted and shared?

So use this process the next time you’re planning your message – it’s as simple as ABCDE!

Penelope Newton-Hurley: www.commpassion.co.uk
Email: penny@commpassion.co.uk 
Thought for the week ~ listen live at:
Stroud FM 7.30 till 8am Thursdays Find us on: Linked In, Facebook Email: penny@commpassion.co.uk 



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How to really listen

‘I can’t get a word in edgeways’
… I say to myself as the other person continues to witter on… and, whilst I’m thinking those words, my mind is evidently occupied with my own thoughts. Even if I hear the words the other is saying, I’m not in a position to fully give them my attention. The communication and connection between us has broken down.

Bonding as that might be, whilst I’m busy planning my next words, it’s impossible for me to fully engage with what they have to say.  To truly communicate with someone else we have to be ready to clear our own minds and give our full attention to the person – listen to their words, sense their feelings about the subject, absorb the essence of their message.  The result is a more profound understanding between the two of us – they feel heard and we get the full impact of their message.  This applies equally to a colleague telling us about their awful morning getting to work, as it does to our manager explaining why he/she wants us to prioritise a particular project.

There are different types of listening – here are the main ones:

  • Active listening happens naturally when we are interested in what someone is saying – such as when a colleague might be giving us information about a project we’re involved in. This type of listening is easy to do as we don’t have to think about it and often occurs when we have a vested interest in the subject matter.
  • Attentive listening. If we’re not actively listening, we need to consciously listen and connect with the speaker. We may clarify a point they have made by asking a question, or summarise what they have just said to check our understanding, or we may reflect back to them a point they have just made (this allows them to rethink and confirm their own thought pattern). All this is called Type A listening.
  • Empathic Listening – this Type B listening goes to a different level. Here we are aiming to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, to the exclusion of our judgements. By noticing the person’s tone, energy, type of vocabulary, levels of positivity/negativity, we are able to ‘feel’ their situation and help them to talk about it by asking more in-depth questions, guessing what they might be feeling and needing and gently getting to the bottom of the situation to help them clarify their thoughts and articulate them more clearly.

Honing skills for attentive listening:

  1. If a person asks to speak to you and you are able to give your time, stop doing anything else, whether it be writing an email, listening to conversation around you, or thinking about what you need to do next.
  2. Turn your body, eyes, and ears towards the person speaking.
  3. Release anything else you are thinking about from your mind (if this is difficult, try mentally putting the thoughts in an imaginary bag and putting them outside an imaginary door – you can go back to them later)
  4. Put your full focus on the other person
  5. …and listen.  Listen not just with your ears but with all your senses to detect behaviours and body language.
  6. Focus on the words that the person is saying, whilst also taking in his/her body language for a fuller understanding.
  7. Consider listening with a child-like mind and being curious enough to want to understand what they are wanting to tell us.
  8. Encourage the person to speak more easily by occasionally clarifying a point they have made, summarising what they have just said to check your understanding, or reflecting back to them a point they have just made (which allows them to rethink and confirm their own thought pattern).
  9. Make sure that these interjections are at a natural point when the person has paused and that they don’t interrupt the flow of their thinking.

 The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention.’   Rachel Naomi Remen, author and Clinical Professor of Family and Community Medicine at the UCSF School of Medicine.

Penelope Newton-Hurley: www.commpassion.co.uk
Email: penny@commpassion.co.uk 
Thought for the week ~ listen live at:
Stroud FM 7.30 till 8am Thursdays
Find us on: Linked In, Facebook and Twitter

Posted in Listening | Leave a comment

Improving your communication with plainer English

Ever been confuddled by messages like these?

 ‘We need a more blue-sky approach to facilitating strategic matrix approaches.’

 ‘Our upgraded model now offers synchronised third-generation programming.’

 ‘Forward-looking companies invest in responsive management capability.’

Eloquent as they sound, sentences such as these just don’t convey the message clearly.  And it’s not just highfaluting words that cause the problems – over-lengthy phrases and superfluous expressions all create too much noise and can cause readers and listeners to switch off.

So when it comes to communicating, whether it be a business document, user instructions, a presentation to the board or a speech to the Women’s Institute, the advice is clear – keep it simple, and use Plain English.

To help make your English plainer, we’ve compiled a selection of common usages – words, phrases and expressions that can be left out, reduced or substituted for more palatable ones.  Give them a try!

Leave it out!
Attached as we might be to our ‘comfort’ expressions, certain words and phrases we use often add little or no extra meaning to a message.  They can even detract from we are trying to say.  You may feel an initial resistance to dropping them altogether – but just try leaving them out and see if your sentences survive without them!  Notice the emphasis it can give to the words you are using. Here is a selection of redundant words and phrases:

a total of each and every one obviously
absolutely extremely of course
abundantly I am of the opinion that other things being equal
actually I would like to say quite
all things being equal in due course really
as a matter of fact in the end really quite
as far as I am concerned in the final analysis regarding the (noun), it was
at the end of the day in this connection the fact of the matter is
at this moment in time in total the month(s) of
basically in view of the fact that to all intents and purposes
currently it should be understood to one’s own mind
during the period from last but not least very

Choose the simpler option…
It can take time for our minds to process longer words and sentences, whatever our level of education or knowledge. To increase the chances of getting your message across clearly, go for more simplistic ones. This list may help you in your choice.

afford an opportunity let, allow is in accordance with agrees with, follows
along the lines of like, as in in the event of/that if
as a consequence of because in the majority of instances most, mostly
at the present time now (or edit out) in the near future soon
by means of by in view of the fact that as, because
costs the sum of costs is of the opinion that thinks
deem to be treat as it is known that   I/we know that
despite the fact that though, although (a) large number of many (or say how many)
due to the fact of because, as may in the future may, might, could
during which time while on behalf of for
for the duration of during, while on numerous occasions often
for the purpose of to, for on receipt of when we/you get
for the reason that because referred to as called
in a number of cases some (or say how many) that being the case if so
in accordance with  in line with, because of the question as to whether whether
in conjunction with and, with to the extent that if, when
in connection with for, about with a view to to, so that
in excess of more than with effect from from
in lieu of instead of with reference to about
in order that so that with regard to about, for
in relation to about with respect to about, for
in respect of about, for with the minimum of delay quickly (or say when)
in the absence of without you are requested please
in the course of while, during your attention is drawn please see, please note

Write to express, not to impress.
With a quarter of a million individual words, English is no doubt one of the richest languages for vocabulary, and we do like to take advantage of it.  You may have even experienced elation when you successfully use a brand new word to replace a boring, everyday word – but you’re taking a risk if you do so. Even if your audience does understand the vocabulary, it takes longer to process non-everyday words, so it’s about choosing ones that people can more quickly assimilate (rather than ‘zone out’ on) to get your message across more clearly. Here are some lovely sounding words… and their more understandable equivalents.

accordingly in line with this, so imply                      suggest, hint at
afforded given incorporating which includes
aforesaid this, earlier in this document incurred have to pay, owe
aggregate total materialise happen, occur
alleviate ease, reduce negligible very small
ascertain               find out notwithstanding even if, despite, still, yet
bestow give, award option choice
cease finish, stop, end permissible allowed
comprise make up, include predominant main
concerning about, on previous earlier, before, last
concur agree remainder the rest, what is left
consequently so remittance payment
constitute make up, form requirements needs, rules
deficiency lack of review look at (again)
designate point out, show, name revised new, changed
diminish lessen, reduce solely only
documentation papers, documents specified given, written, set
empower allow, let state say, tell us, write down
encounter meet subsequently later
endeavour try substantial large, great, a lot of
evaluate test, check sufficient enough
exceptionally only when, in this case supplementary extra, more
expedite hurry, speed up thereafter then, afterwards
facilitate help, make possible to date    so far, up to now
factor reason transfer change, move
formulate plan, devise unavailability lack of
forthwith now, at once undertake agree, promise, do
henceforth from now on, from today utilisation use
herewith with this (or edit out) variation change
hitherto until now virtually almost (or edit out)
implement carry out, do whatsoever whatever, what, any

The Plain English Campaign has a wealth of advice, examples and glossaries to help make your English plainer. Visit it at: http://www.plainenglish.co.uk

Penelope Newton-Hurley: www.commpassion.co.uk  Email: penny@commpassion.co.uk Find us on: Linked In, Facebook and Twitter
Thought for the week ~ listen live at: Stroud FM 7.45-8am Wednesdays.

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Assumptions as barriers to communication

Did you hear the one about Fred? He was looking out of his window one day, thinking how much his grass needed cutting, but his lawn mower had broken last season.
 “I know” he thinks.  “Charlie next door has one – I’ll see if he’ll let me borrow it.”

As he’s putting on his shoes he carries on thinking about Charlie’s lawnmower:
 “It’s quite an expensive lawnmower – what if he doesn’t want me to use it?  But Fred’s on a mission, “I’ll go and ask anyway.”

As he’s going out the door, another thought occurs to him:
“I bet he’ll say I can’t borrow it because he’s using it today.” But Fred’s need is greater than his feelings, “The grass is so high now, so I’ll just have to try for it.”

As he’s opening Charlie’s garden gate:
 “But he might go complaining to the rest of the neighbours and give me a bad name.”   Followed by, “I’ll just get the lawn done quickly and take it back straightaway – then he hasn’t got anything to complain about.”

Now, as he’s walking up Charlie’s garden path:
 “What if he doesn’t give an excuse and just says ‘no, I don’t want you to use it?’” Followed by,Right that’s it!…”

He gives a loud knock on the door and in no time Charlie opens the door with a friendly smile on his face and says “Hello Fred, nice to see you!”.

With a purple face, Fred goes straight up to Charlie and barks:

How many times do we approach someone with an assumption of how we think they will respond?

These aren’t the type of assumptions we need for business projects, where we need to ‘assume’ various situations/conditions when the information we need to make a concrete decision isn’t available at the time.  We’re talking about the kind of pre-conceived ideas we have before we’re about to communicate with someone. They’re usually automatic thoughts that arise from past experiences, beliefs, habitual behaviours and often the need to control or protect.  Assumptions are something we learn from an early age.

We may recognise these types of thoughts: ‘I can’t ask Jane to take on that new role – she’ll just say she hasn’t got enough time, as she usually does’.  Or, ‘What shall I say to my boss about why I haven’t clinched the deal yet?  He’ll be angry whichever way I put it’.

Unfortunately, assumptions can form barriers to communication. If we approach a conversation with a ready plan of what we think the other will say, it makes us more resistant to the response.  It also denies the person his/her responsibility to respond since we think we already know what they will say, so our ability to hear what they actually say is diminished.  In short, it can lead to miscommunication, misinformed decisions, and denies both parties the potential opportunities that could arise (including more discussion on the possible problems surrounding the situation) if the situation were approached with a more open mind.

Charlie didn’t get a chance to lend his lawnmower in the end.  Maybe he had reacted negatively in the past or hadn’t always been generous with his possessions. Or maybe Fred had heard secondhand about someone else’s experience with Charlie  … but on this occasion perhaps Charlie might have loved to have helped Fred out and feel that he had contributed to someone’s day?

So how can we reduce our tendency to make assumptions in our conversations?

1.  By being aware of our thoughts.

  • Be on the alert for any clues to suggest you have an assumption or a pre-conception.
  • Words such as ‘I bet’, ‘I expect…’, ‘I suppose….’,  ‘He/She/They will probably….’, are just some indicators that an assumption is in action.  These are rife in business and tricky to harness.
  • Thinking about what has happened on past occasions also suggests you might be focusing on past behaviour.

2. By pushing those thoughts to the side

  • Ignoring the experience of what has gone before and opening your mind to what the person has to say there and then.

3. By being present to this new conversation

  • Avoiding doing or thinking about anything else when you are speaking with that person, to give them (and not your own pre-conceived ideas) the chance to speak out for him/herself.

4.  By focusing on the words that the person is saying

  • And aiming to look at it from his/her perspective (even if it triggers a reaction in you) to be able to respond rather than react.


Penelope Newton-Hurley  www.commpassion.com

Find us on Linked In and Twitter

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How to avoid flame wars

Avoid writing emails and making phone calls when you’re angry, upset or frustrated. Instead, meet with the person or phone them to sort issues amicably and quickly.

Consider this scenario…

Person 1 – feeling uneasy/unhappy with something person 2 has done/said (or not done/said) spends 30 mins (or more) crafting an email to make sure all points are covered and to leave recipient in no doubt as to what his/her feelings are.

Person 2 – instantly feels anger and either writes back straightaway with similar venom, or has a sleepless night (takes it out on wife/husband/cat/anything in sight) then crafts a reply which takes an hour to write and covers off all those points with equal and matching data to back up his/her point of view.

Person 1 – reaches higher anger levels and takes an hour and a half to write back with increasing adjectives, judgements and opinions – and copies in his/her boss to boot.

Person 2 – goes for a cigarette break (despite not being a smoker), sounds off to others to gain some allies and then sends allies off to spread the word.

Person 1 – experiences palpitations whilst reading the next email and goes off to….    ETC, ETC.

A bit of a far-stretched story, maybe – but you get the picture!  So what can we do to avoid ‘flame’ email wars?

Tips for avoiding Flame Wars:

  • If you’re sitting with fingers poised to the keyboard and notice you are feeling in any way unnerved, wary, disappointed, uncomfortable, frustrated, irritated, or downright angry about something… stop, take a deep breath.
  • Consider what this feeling is telling you about this situation. What do you need right now? Is there anything underlying that need, e.g. you might think you just need an answer to something but maybe underlying that is a need for your opinions to be understood or heard?
  • Consider when might be a good time for you to talk about this with the other person.  Then either phone or email them to set a meeting time. If you are emailing, keep it polite and purely on the subject of ‘having a discussion about  X’.
  • After the discussion, you may wish to confirm what has been said – as objectively as possible – in an email.

Note:  Face-to-face discussion is also preferable when the subject of conversation is delicate, or personal.

Penelope Newton-Hurley   www.commpassion.co.uk


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The Art of Small Talk

 ‘Being able to connect with others through small talk can lead to big things.’ Debra Fine, author of The Fine Art of Small Talk. [A former engineer, Debra  Fine recalls being so uncomfortable at networking events that she would hide in the restroom. Now a professional speaker, she says the ability to connect with people through small talk is an acquired skill.]

Small talk is important – it helps to break down barriers, shows respect, enables connection and encourages further discussion.

When it comes to small talk it seems you either like it or you don’t!  Some of us are natural conversers and will talk the hind legs off a donkey whatever situation we’re in (probably for many different reasons – either genuine interest for the other person, a desire to meet new people, even nervousness).  But for some, small talk can be awkward, tedious and, frankly, more time-consuming than we think it is worth.

In the 1920s, a study by Bronislaw Malinowski on small talk – or phatic conversation  – concluded that it is indeed an acquired social skill. But whilst it may be considered by some as meaningless drivel, there are some very useful advantages. Light talk can actually form a type of bonding ritual, a ‘social lubricant’ that helps you establish an immediate rapport, from which a deeper conversation or even a closer relationship has the opportunity to stem.   

When might we use small talk? It all depends what country you are in, but when it comes to Britain or USA you tend to hear people having a light conversation almost anywhere: in a queue for a take-away, at the train station, supermarket, during cocktail parties, networking events, dinner parties, the doctor’s waiting room, and at the start of a business meeting.  

So, what are the advantages of Small Talk?

·         Creates a positive first impression

·         Sends a message that you’re willing to communicate

·         Makes it easier to get to know someone

·         Enables you to learn details about someone in a relatively short time 

·         Helps you establish areas of common interest before a conversation or meeting.

·         Builds self-confidence

·         It gets easier with practice!

Tips for building your Small Talk skills:

  • Be prepared to start off a conversation rather than leaving it to someone else – just jump on in there!
  • If you’re at a big event, look for people who are engaging and willing to give you eye contact.
  • Introduce yourself first then use easy-to-answer open questions to bring in the other person. Instead of ‘Are you here for your business or pleasure?’ ask ‘What line of business are you in?’
  • Focus on the person’s name when they say it – and remember it. Repeat it to make sure you have it right and repeat it frequently during the conversation.  
  • Use positive subjects of conversation and avoid potentially hot topics – listen out for emotionally charged comments and avoid focusing on them.
  • Find an area of common interest: work, hobbies, interests, holidays, opinions.
  • Talk about yourself (in moderation of course) otherwise it can seem like an interrogation for the other person. 
  • Balance talking and listening but on the whole listen more and talk less.
  • Concentrate on the person you are speaking to – don’t look around for the next person – and if someone else comes up to you, say sorry to the person you are speaking with, address the new person briefly, then return to the original conversation.
  • Watch your body language – make sure it shows you are interested.
  • Be careful about tapping into someone else’s conversation – hovering can be detected by others. Use your own conversation as a guide to whether or not to move on to someone else.
  • End the conversation with a comment about something they have said, eye contact and if you want to meet again make a suggestion to contact (but only if you sincerely intend to).
  • A natural pause in the conversation might be a good time to consider switching your small talk partners by saying something like – ‘Oh, I see a friend of mine at the bar, I should probably say hello. It was lovely to meet you.’
  • The bottom line is, if you wish to master your communication skills you have to practise.
  • If you find it difficult to make small talk, take the advice of Bernardo J. Carducci(director of the Shyness Research Institute in Indiana): “A golden rule is that you don’t have to be brilliant – just nice. If you start with simple, even obvious comments, that makes it easier for others”.

And did you know?!…

  • Small talk at a dinner party can last for the whole event. Dinner etiquette guidelines suggest to have a conversation with the person to your right during the first course of a meal.  Then, when the course is changed, aim to engage in the conversation with the person to your left.
  • For business meetings, the host of the meeting should be the one who changes the direction of conversation from small talk towards business talk. At formal meetings, it can be considered rude to jump into business discussion before the host. As a host it’s  important, therefore, to judge when it’s time to switch.

  Penelope Newton-Hurley    www.commpassion.co.uk

Other resources:  http://etiquette-tips.com/good-manners-daily/simple-guide-to-making-small-talk;    http://edition.cnn.com/2005/US/Careers/03/03/small.talk/index.html

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Remember to say thank you

It’s a positive and powerful attitude that leads to better relations with others.

‘78 percent of employees … are motivated more when recognised for accomplishments’    September 2011 Globoforce Workforce Mood Tracker study

Dave called a meeting to discuss the future plans for a project. During the meeting, attendees offered their many different opinions and ideas, and Dave found each person’s comments useful in helping him and his project team determine their next steps.

While a generic “Thanks everyone for your input” at the end of the meeting would have been sufficient, Dave wanted to take it a step further. He made a special trip a few minutes after the meeting to the desk of the meeting attendees and thanked them personally for their input and participation. He went way out of his way to say “Thanks John/Louise/Paul (etc.) for your time and your help with this. I really appreciate it!”

The moral: Taking a few moments to simply say ‘thanks’ is immediately noticed and felt.  By being outward with your appreciation, you’re showing respect for others. In doing so, you give other people a boost, you lighten up their day and help them feel better about themselves.  You’ll also find that those people will be more inclined to deliver what you need from them and go the extra mile. Giving appreciation really can produce some exceptional and positive consequences.

Penelope Newton-Hurley    www.commpassion.co.uk

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How to simply articulate your strategy

‘When employees understand their overall role in a business 91% will work towards this success, but this number plummets to just 23% if they don’t.’
Bill Quirke, Managing Director, Synopsis Internal Communication Consultancy.

Ensuring all your employees or team members know your strategy for the year is of paramount importance to your business success.  You may already have a strategy, but does everyone know what it is?  Did they have chance to input or feedback on the strategy?

A Strategy Map is a great way to create and articulate a strategy successfully, step by step, with the involvement and buy-in of all your colleagues. It’s a one-page document with horizontal layers: the vision and mission at the top, the priority four or five strategies underneath them (this all provides the ‘what’), the objectives (how you will implement the strategies), and underneath them, the measures by which you will track progress and decide when objectives are complete.  These layers are of course adaptable: for instance a section for initiatives could be added under the objectives to more finely articulate action plans.

The Map can be adapted for use at any level within a company and, ideally, each division, department and team would have their own strategy maps all stemming from the main Company one (linked by the Company Mission and key strategies on the top layer).   

To create a Strategy Map needs one or more sessions of dedicated away-from-the-desk time with the team to brainstorm through, and agree on, the content for the different levels. Once constructed it becomes a handy document to reference and track at regular update meetings and to review annually. 







Penelope Newton-Hurley    www.commpassion.co.uk

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Do we always take responsibility for our actions and words?

At all times accept responsibility for your words and actions – it presents a professional approach and engages you more with others.

It’s a natural tendency to think that what we say and do are ‘correct’ (despite what our colleagues or even spouses might say!). We generally aim to do our best and we don’t like to ‘get it wrong’.  But when things don’t go to plan, do we really always take responsibility for our part in it?

This is when it’s easier to lay the blame elsewhere – someone, something, some event must have caused the issue.

But very often if we really analysed the situation, there will be something – even if only a small part – that we could take responsibility for in that course of events.

How can we identify what we are responsible for?  Simply look at the facts of the situation and ask yourself some honest questions about your actions, words and intentions.

Example:  You send out an agenda in an email for a meeting later that day (the meeting is about a project that you’ve volunteered for and is not part of your day job that you are paid for). You’re aware that although the meeting time was set at the last meeting, you probably (but can’t remember) didn’t confirm it to attendees or non-attendees but you feel they ought to remember from the last meeting (and to have shared it with those not there).  After half an hour two people have emailed back, sounding slightly put out, to say they can’t make it as it’s too short notice.  What do you do …?

Maybe a natural tendency: You have an instant reaction and thoughts run through your mind ‘don’t they think I’ve got enough to do?’ ‘I do enough for this project then I forget to do one thing and everyone notices’, ‘I organise my day job meetings meticulously – I just don’t have time to do the same with this project’.   You come to the meeting with these thoughts and mutter about just how busy you are and how lucky they are that you’re even on the team.  As a result, the others may feel a bit embarrassed, certainly uncomfortable, and could come away not feeling motivated.

An alternative approach (taking responsibility for your part): The initial reaction of annoyance is an alarm bell to say let’s stop and think about this.  Think about the facts: on checking you find you definitely didn’t send out the meeting date after the last meeting; it is perhaps unfair to expect people to turn up to a meeting with only an hour or two’s notice (even if they should have remembered from the verbal agreement at the last meeting); the meeting stands less chance of being successful if people haven’t had chance to prepare; etc….  In so doing you accept responsibility for not having contacted them sooner (for whatever reason). So you contact them to apologise for the lateness of the notice and offer to rearrange the meeting. Your colleagues appreciate your honesty, and your willingness to allow them more time, and are more understanding (even though you haven’t overtly said it) of the time you are putting to the cause.


If we can take more responsibility, it gives us ‘Response-ability’.
In other words we have the ability to ‘respond’ rather than ‘react’ to a situation or conversation.

 Penelope Newton-Hurley    www.commpassion.com

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The communication power of a smile


Smiling is one of the simplest techniques for effective communication.  It’s a non-verbal communication that can speak louder than any words we say – yet it’s something we don’t often put conscious thought to.

Why smiling is good for business…

  • Leaders who smile find that employees are more eager to listen and engage with them.
  • Smiling communicates a friendliness and openness. A smile says “I am interested in you” and draws people to us. It’s the first step for building relationships within and outside of the workplace and creating an open culture.
  • A study conducted by the University of Michigan found that people who smile more manage, teach and sell better.
  • There is a Chinese saying: “A man without a smiling face must not open a shop.”

 Why smiling is good for your health:

  • Smiling can relieve stress – it helps to prevent us from looking tired, worn down, and overwhelmed. When you’re stressed, take time to put on a smile – it’ll reduce the stress and make you better able to take action.
  • Smiling relaxes us and so helps the immune system to work better.  Help prevent the flu and colds by smiling.
  • Medical research demontrates a measurable reduction in blood pressure when we smile.
  • Studies have shown that smiling releases endorphins, natural pain killers, and serotonin. Together these three make us feel good - so smiling is a natural drug.
  • Research shows that even if a person fakes a smile, chemicals that are normally present when we are really happy, and smile automatically, are released in our brain. In other words, you can enhance your feeling of wellbeing when you consciously make an effort to smile.
  • Smiling is contagious – smile and the world smiles with you!

And finally … make a point to smile when you answer the phone (even when it’s interrupting what you are doing) – it makes such a difference to the person on the other end, and ultimately to the quality of the conversation you then have.

 Penelope Newton-Hurley  www.commpassion.com

Refs:  http://youthempowermentsolutions.org/ ; http://longevity.about.com

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The 7/38/55 rule of communication – how useful is it?

From our handshakes to our hairstyles, non-verbal details reveal who we are, and impact on how we relate to other people. They also give clues as to what is going on in our minds, and in others’ minds.

However, the often quoted statistic, known as the 7/38/55 communication rule, which is understood as:

  • 7% of what we communicate comes across in our words
  • 38% of what we communicate comes across in our tonality
  • 55% of what we communicate comes across in our physiology or body language…should be used with care.

The ‘rule’ comes from two pieces of research conducted by Dr Mahrabian in the late 1960s. The studies were very specific.  In Study 1, subjects listened to nine recorded words, three conveying ‘a liking’ (honey, dear and thanks), three conveying ‘neutrality’ (maybe, really and oh) and three conveying ‘a disliking’ (don’t, brute and terrible). The words were spoken with different tonalities and the subjects were asked to guess the emotions behind the words as they were spoken. The experiment found that, when conveying emotion, tone carried more meaning than the individual words themselves.

In Study 2, subjects were asked to listen to a recording of a female saying the single word ‘maybe’ in three tones of voice to convey liking, neutrality and disliking. The subjects were then shown photos of female faces with the same three emotions and were asked to guess the emotions separately in the recorded voices and then the photos, and finally in both as a combination. Results from the photos were more accurate than those from the voice, by a ratio of 3:2.

So the 7/38/55 communication rule is useful when considered in certain circumstances and at the same time, as Mehrabian concluded on his website, ‘unless a communicator is talking [not writing] about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable.

So, how can we best use this piece of research:

  • Non-verbal communication is indeed an important part of spoken communication – when we aren’t congruent (i.e. our body language and tonality does not convey the same message as the words we are using) then the listener will have cause to doubt our message.
    • Which is why we should pay attention to our body language when we’re feeling nervous and wanting to make a good impression, say at an interview for example.
    • And why speaking with authenticity is important so as not to confuse our listener with what our non-verbal signals are saying.  It is generally considered that body language and tone of voice are more difficult to control than our words.
    • And it’s why, if we are in any cause to do so, we can detect from another’s body language if there are underlying issues to what they are telling us.
  • Without seeing and hearing non-verbal signals, it is easier to misunderstand words.
    • Which is why telephone discussions, without the benefit of facial expressions to help us, need extra care.
    • And why choosing our words carefully when writing, especially when quickly tapping out emails as we are accustomed to doing, is important.

Penelope Newton-Hurley: www.commpassion.co.uk
Email: penny@commpassion.co.uk 
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Posted in 7-38-55 rule, Body Language | Leave a comment