Listening – in one ear and out the other…

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We all listen right?  We listen to Ted talks, we listen to the radio, we listen to our kids, our families and our friends. We listen to the people we work for, the people who work for us. But my question to you is, do we listen in the same way to all of these? Do our ears get bigger depending on how important the topic is for us? Do we HEAR what people are saying when they’re talking, or do we just pick out the bits that suit us?

It’s a complicated set of questions. Because I bet we would all say that most of the time we are really good listeners. That we have empathy and can really respond in a way that shows we’ve been tuned in. but do we? There has been loads of research done that says we pick out the bits we want to hear, the bits that are relevant to us. So when someone tells us something that is happening to them in their lives, we find the bit that is relevant to us. It makes sense right, it means we can relate to it, can understand what they’re saying in the context of ourselves. It is in fact what makes a big contribution to a conversation.

So why talk about listening?

Well, I think that there are many opportunities lost when we don’t really listen to people. I think that wars could be stopped, that religions can live together, that governments and people could realise they want the same things, but from different perspectives. I think that if we were able to listen, really listen, hear and not let our prejudices get in the way, that we might find ourselves living in calmer times, less bloody times, less prejudiced times.

When I look back over the last two decades I can mark very clearly times when listening has been key.

There are trite times, when I was a young and excitable music journalist having to really listen to what artists were saying about in the interviews to try and portray accurately whatever mystical message they were trying to get across. It’s really good training on how to listen when you have to report back what has been said, when you not only have to hear the words, but understand the essence of what people are trying to get across.

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How to engage South African style

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You can’t get solid experience without engagement.  That was the topic I  covered at  the South Africa / UK Communicator’s Breakfast, hosted by Lisa Wannell at the VMA Group HQ in London’s leafy Bedford Square.

Specifically, I shared insights from the recent #IABCafrica14 conference in Cape Town. The attendees at the VMA session were from a range of corporates; agencies; freelancers – and also a senior communicator with experience of the workings of the South African government.

You know A-Z but how about an S through A? Here’s a brief index of experience and engagement opportunities in S-O-U-T-H-A-F-R-I-C-A:

  • S – is for Social – and it is still growing – for example, 3m people are now on LinkedIn (vs. 17m for the UK) [for context, compare population counts of 52m vs 64m ].
    • Tip: if you’re looking to operate in South Africa, get ahead of the curve and be sure to have a social presence. The LinkedIn Executive Playbook may come in handy if you want to lead from the front.
  • U – is for Underground – who knew De Beers have coal mines too? (To be fair, they have a point: it is all carbon – some of it is just more dense).
    • Tip: more to the point, there are some real good practice gems out there to be picked up – not to mention an opportunity for yours to be recognised: http://gq.iabc.com/

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How to become a better communicator through compassionate communication

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Communication is based on stories. Often communication is about MY STORY: what happened to me, what I feel, and what I want. As an expatriate, my approach to communication was indelibly impacted by 8 years working and living in emerging and non-western countries. These are countries where I experienced absolute highs and lows, rare in the comfortable West, forcing me to consider how I really interact with people.

The expatriate experience magnifies what happens in our home country, but we normally can’t see it happening. As a result, I’ve been learning to take my experience and make my communication more compassionate wherever I live.

Compassion comes from the Greek “to love together with”. So Compassionate Communication is about talking alongside someone, rather than talking to them; about entering into their frame mind, rather than trying to get them into mine; about finding ways that we are the same, rather than different. It’s about ANOTHERS’ STORY and less about MY STORY.

Compassionate communication came to me as an expatriate because of:

  • Working alongside others who haven’t had the same education or experience, which helped me show rather than tell. The well-known quote says, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”
  • Learning new languages, which helped me see similarities rather than just differences. Goethe writes, “Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own”.
  • Experiencing new values, which helped me see those which overlap and influence mine. Martin Luther King Jr writes, “All persons are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality…. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.”

Compassionate communication is about understanding more than being understood and loving more than being loved.

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Five things CEOs want from communicators

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Get a seat at the table, influence senior leadership and get the skills you need become a trusted business partner. All wise recommendations. Recent posts by Stephen Welch and Michael Ambjorn, have great ideas on how to navigate that challenge.

While reading them, I started wondering: what happens once you get there? Say you’ve made it into the idealised board room… then what? A lot of what I read focuses on what we want from the company. What if turned the question around?

It seems at least one company already has. The fifth IBM Global CEO Study interviewed over 1,500 CEOs and found three common imperatives for business: empowering employees through values, engaging customers as individuals and amplifying innovations through partnerships. All three goals that could be well served by the skills we champion at IABC. The research did not revolve around communitcations, but I can’t help but see the value we could bring to those goals.

Inspired by these findings, I had a chat with Anthony Hodge, President of ICMM –  the organisation I work for – on what CEOs look for in a communications professional. He routinely deals with 21 of them and leads a team of communicators. Together we came up with the following. What do you think?

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New Era for Government, Media and Communication

Notes from Conference in Nicosia, Cyprus which discussed a New Era for Government, Media and Communication and was attended by the The President of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades.

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The President of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, opened talking about the importance of communication in a democracy and that “an informed and active citizen is a better citizen”.

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He was followed by the British High Commissioner, Ric Todd, talking about the role of effective government communication in public debate and discourse.

His best line: “good communication does not guarantee popularity, but bad communication guarantees unpopularity”.  This is a lesson many corporate managers can learn.

Mini-masterclasses in communication from Eleonora Gavrielides, the Director of the Cyprus Press and Information Office, and Alex Aiken, Executive Director for UK Government Communications. These expert professionals provided complementary perspectives on what it takes to deliver effective government communications. I can’t say I agreed with everything they said, but it was good to hear how governments are working hard to ensure effective communications with their key stakeholders.

Then some great additional perspectives from local and UK media, the Director of the Cyprus Media Community Centre, talking about the role of non-state actors in communication.

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