Sunday, 26 April 2009
Saturday, 18 April 2009
Getting More from Your Idea Sessions
Brainwriting allows everyone to participate.
Many of us have taken part in brainstorming sessions. These are commonly used to generate ideas, and to come up with a creative solution to a problem. What can often happen during a brainstorming session, however, is that key players on the team speak up and express their ideas. Everyone else then enters the discussion about those few ideas, and they reach a consensus on the solution – without considering many other ideas that could have been generated.
This can be one of the drawbacks of the brainstorming process. Some members of the group may not speak up because they're shy, or are afraid that their suggestions may be rejected. Others may say nothing at all because they fear their ideas are simply too outrageous or bold. People with stronger personality types may loudly push and defend their ideas, without listening to others' suggestions. And ‘conservative' people may tend to propose only safe alternatives.
Yes, brainstorming can be effective in getting people to think laterally about a problem. However, if you're faced with obstacles like those we have just mentioned, how do you overcome them?
Enter the brainwriting technique – an idea-generating process that enables EVERYONE in the group to participate in a nonthreatening way. This approach can often generate more potential solutions than traditional brainstorming.
Why? One reason is because traditional brainstorming sessions allow only one person to speak at a time. By the time each individual has spoken (and the group has finished the discussion), most participants have edited, discarded, or simply forgotten their own ideas. This is called ‘blocking,' and it can reduce creativity and productivity in these sessions. Brainwriting can help to eliminate this problem.
In this article, we'll show you what brainwriting is – and look at how you can start using it with your team.
What Is Brainwriting?
Brainwriting is similar to brainstorming – they're both methods for generating ideas and solutions for a problem.
Brainwriting, however, gives everyone equal opportunity to participate, and it enables all group members to think without any ‘blocking.'
Here are the steps of a brainwriting session:
- Seat group members at a table, with a sheet of paper in front of each person. At the top of the page, ask them to write down the problem that everyone is trying to solve. (Note: They should NOT write their names.) Appoint someone to be moderator, and time each round.
- Give the group three minutes to write down three ideas for how to solve the problem. They should not edit the ideas, or try to perfect them. Allow them to write in ‘free form.' Do not permit any discussion.
- After three minutes, move on to round two. Ask everyone to pass their papers to the left, and then generate three more ideas on the new paper they have just received. They can build on the first three ideas that are already written, or think of three new solutions.
- Ask the moderator to decide how many times the papers are passed around the table.
- When all rounds are finished, collect the papers, and write all ideas on a whiteboard for everyone to see. Then begin discussing which ideas would work best for solving the current problem.
Benefits of Brainwriting
There are several advantages of using brainwriting in a group:
- Because there's no discussion during the initial idea-generating rounds, you can produce many ideas in a very short amount of time.
- All group members – even the quiet and shy people – have an equal chance of offering their ideas for consideration.
- Everything is anonymous – you don't know who wrote which ideas – so there's more freedom to be truly creative. Participants are often empowered to suggest solutions that they otherwise might have thought were too unusual, or would not be well received.
- Exchanging papers still allows group members to evaluate and build on other people's ideas, but in a much more concentrated, creative way.
When to Use Brainwriting
Brainwriting can be used to help solve almost any problem. The process is used often in marketing, design, and creative fields, but it's also gaining popularity in other areas.
Any time that you would traditionally use brainstorming to solve a problem, you could use brainwriting instead.
Although brainstorming is the most common technique for generating ideas in a group, brainwriting can be much more effective, because it involves all participants on an equal basis. Both introverts and extroverts can participate, and you can produce more ideas in less time.
Monday, 13 April 2009
Developing strong "people skills"
Emotional intelligence is a key part of success.
We probably all know people, either at work or in our personal lives, who are really good listeners. No matter what kind of situation we're in, they always seem to know just what to say – and how to say it – so that we're not offended or upset. They're caring and considerate, and even if we don't find a solution to our problem, we usually leave feeling more hopeful and optimistic.
We probably also know people who are masters at managing their emotions. They don't get angry in stressful situations. Instead, they have the ability to look at a problem and calmly find a solution. They're excellent decision makers, and they know when to trust their intuition. Regardless of their strengths, however, they're usually willing to look at themselves honestly. They take criticism well, and they know when to use it to improve their performance.
People like this have a high degree of emotional intelligence, or EI. They know themselves very well, and they're also able to sense the emotional needs of others.
Would you like to be more like this?
As more and more people accept that emotional intelligence is just as important to professional success as technical ability, organizations are increasingly using EI when they hire and promote.
For example, one large cosmetics company recently revised their hiring process for salespeople to choose candidates based on emotional intelligence. The result? Salespeople hired with the new system have sold, on average, $91,000 more than salespeople selected under the old system. There has also been significantly lower staff turnover among the group chosen for their emotional intelligence.
So, what exactly is emotional intelligence, and what can you do to improve yours?
What Is Emotional Intelligence?
We all have different personalities, different wants and needs, and different ways of showing our emotions. Navigating through this all takes tact and cleverness – especially if we hope to succeed in life. This is where emotional intelligence becomes important.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize your emotions, understand what they're telling you, and realize how your emotions affect people around you. Emotional intelligence also involves your perception of others: when you understand how they feel, this allows you to manage relationships more effectively.
People with high emotional intelligence are usually successful in most things they do. Why? Because they're the ones that others want on their team. When people with high EI send an email, it gets answered. When they need help, they get it. Because they make others feel good, they go through life much more easily than people who are easily angered or upset.
Characteristics of Emotional Intelligence
Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist, developed a framework of five elements that define emotional intelligence:
- Self-Awareness – People with high emotional intelligence are usually very self-aware. They understand their emotions, and because of this, they don't let their feelings rule them. They're confident – because they trust their intuition and don't let their emotions get out of control.
They're also willing to take an honest look at themselves. They know their strengths and weaknesses, and they work on these areas so they can perform better. Many people believe that this self-awareness is the most important part of emotional intelligence.
- Self-Regulation – This is the ability to control emotions and impulses. People who self-regulate typically don't allow themselves to become too angry or jealous, and they don't make impulsive, careless decisions. They think before they act. Characteristics of self-regulation are thoughtfulness, comfort with change, integrity, and the ability to say no.
- Motivation – People with a high degree of emotional intelligence are usually motivated. They're willing to defer immediate results for long-term success. They're highly productive, love a challenge, and are very effective in whatever they do.
- Empathy – This is perhaps the second-most important element of emotional intelligence. Empathy is the ability to identify with and understand the wants, needs, and viewpoints of those around you. People with empathy are good at recognizing the feelings of others, even when those feelings may not be obvious. As a result, empathetic people are usually excellent at managing relationships, listening, and relating to others. They avoid stereotyping and judging too quickly, and they live their lives in a very open, honest way.
- Social Skills – It's usually easy to talk to and like people with good social skills, another sign of high emotional intelligence. Those with strong social skills are typically team players. Rather than focus on their own success first, they help others develop and shine. They can manage disputes, are excellent communicators, and are masters at building and maintaining relationships.
As you've probably determined, emotional intelligence can be a key to success in your life – especially in your career. The ability to manage people and relationships is very important in all leaders, so developing and using youremotional intelligence can be a good way to show others the leader inside of you.
How to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence
The good news is that emotional intelligence CAN be taught and developed. Many books and tests are available to help you determine your current EI, and identify where you may need to do some work. You can also use these tips:
- Observe how you react to people. Do you rush to judgment before you know all of the facts? Do you stereotype? Look honestly at how you think and interact with other people. Try to put yourself in their place, and be more open and accepting of their perspectives and needs.
- Look at your work environment. Do you seek attention for your accomplishments? Humility can be a wonderful quality, and it doesn't mean that you're shy or lack self-confidence. When you practice humility, you say that you know what you did, and you can be quietly confident about it. Give others a chance to shine – put the focus on them, and don't worry too much about getting praise for yourself.
- Do a self-evaluation. What are your weaknesses? Are you willing to accept that you're not perfect and that you could work on some areas to make yourself a better person? Have the courage to look at yourself honestly – it can change your life.
- Examine how you react to stressful situations. Do you become upset every time there's a delay or something doesn't happen the way you want? Do you blame others or become angry at them, even when it's not their fault? The ability to stay calm and in control in difficult situations is highly valued – in the business world and outside it. Keep your emotions under control when things go wrong.
- Take responsibility for your actions. If you hurt someone's feelings, apologize directly – don't ignore what you did or avoid the person. People are usually more willing to forgive and forget if you make an honest attempt to make things right.
- Examine how your actions will affect others – before you take those actions. If your decision will impact others, put yourself in their place. How will they feel if you do this? Would you want that experience? If you must take the action, how can you help others deal with the effects?
Although "regular" intelligence is important to success in life, emotional intelligence is key to relating well to others and achieving your goals. Many people believe that emotional intelligence is at least as important as regular intelligence, and many companies now use EI testing to hire new staff.
Emotional intelligence is an awareness of your actions and feelings – and how they affect those around you. It also means that you value others, listen to their wants and are able to empathize or identify with them on many different levels.
Wednesday, 1 April 2009
Hear what people are really saying
Don't interrupt when someone is speaking.
Listening is one of the most important skills you can have. How well you listen has a major impact on your job effectiveness, and on the quality of your relationships with others.
We listen to obtain information.
We listen to understand.
We listen for enjoyment.
We listen to learn.
Given all this listening we do, you would think we'd be good at it!
In fact most of us are not. Depending on the study being quoted, we remember between 25% and 50% of what we hear. That means that when you talk to your boss, colleagues, customers or spouse for 10 minutes, they pay attention to less than half of the conversation. This is dismal!
Turn it around and it reveals that when you are receiving directions or being presented with information, you aren't hearing the whole message either. You hope the important parts are captured in your 25 – 50%, but what if they're not?
Clearly, listening is a skill that we can all benefit from improving. By becoming a better listener, you will improve your productivity, as well as your ability to influence, persuade and negotiate. What's more, you'll avoid conflict and misunderstandings. All of these are necessary for workplace success!
Good communication skills require a high level of self-awareness. By understanding your personal style of communicating, you will go a long way towards creating good and lasting impressions with others.
The way to become a better listener is to practice "active listening". This is where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, try to understand the complete message being sent.
In order to do this you must pay attention to the other person very carefully.
You cannot allow yourself to become distracted by whatever else may be going on around you, or by forming counter arguments that you'll make when the other person stops speaking. Nor can you allow yourself to get bored, and lose focus on what the other person is saying. All of these contribute to a lack of listening and understanding.
To enhance your listening skills, you need to let the other person know that you are listening to what he or she is saying. To understand the importance of this, ask yourself if you've ever been engaged in a conversation when you wondered if the other person was listening to what you were saying. You wonder if your message is getting across, or if it's even worthwhile continuing to speak. It feels like talking to a brick wall and it's something you want to avoid.
Acknowledgement can be something as simple as a nod of the head or a simple "uh huh." You aren't necessarily agreeing with the person, you are simply indicating that you are listening. Using body language and other signs to acknowledge you are listening also reminds you to pay attention and not let your mind wander.
You should also try to respond to the speaker in a way that will both encourage him or her to continue speaking, so that you can get the information if you need. While nodding and "uh huhing" says you're interested, an occasional question or comment to recap what has been said communicates that you understand the message as well.
Becoming an Active Listener
There are five key elements of active listening. They all help you ensure that you hear the other person, and that the other person knows you are hearing what they say.
- Pay attention.
Give the speaker your undivided attention, and acknowledge the message. Recognize that non-verbal communication also "speaks" loudly.
- Look at the speaker directly.
- Put aside distracting thoughts. Don't mentally prepare a rebuttal!
- Avoid being distracted by environmental factors.
- "Listen" to the speaker's body language.
- Refrain from side conversations when listening in a group setting.
- Show that you are listening.
Use your own body language and gestures to convey your attention.
- Nod occasionally.
- Smile and use other facial expressions.
- Note your posture and make sure it is open and inviting.
- Encourage the speaker to continue with small verbal comments like yes, and uh huh.
- Provide feedback.
Our personal filters, assumptions, judgments, and beliefs can distort what we hear. As a listener, your role is to understand what is being said. This may require you to reflect what is being said and ask questions.
- Reflect what has been said by paraphrasing. "What I'm hearing is." and "Sounds like you are saying." are great ways to reflect back.
- Ask questions to clarify certain points. "What do you mean when you say." "Is this what you mean?"
- Summarize the speaker's comments periodically.
- Defer judgment.
Interrupting is a waste of time. It frustrates the speaker and limits full understanding of the message.
- Allow the speaker to finish.
- Don't interrupt with counter arguments.
- Respond Appropriately.
Active listening is a model for respect and understanding. You are gaining information and perspective. You add nothing by attacking the speaker or otherwise putting him or her down.
- Be candid, open, and honest in your response.
- Assert your opinions respectfully.
- Treat the other person as he or she would want to be treated.
It takes a lot of concentration and determination to be an active listener. Old habits are hard to break, and if your listening habits are as bad as many people's are, then there's a lot of habit-breaking to do!
Be deliberate with your listening and remind yourself frequently that your goal is to truly hear what the other person is saying. Set aside all other thoughts and behaviors and concentrate on the message. Ask questions, reflect, and paraphrase to ensure you understand the message. If you don't, then you'll find that what someone says to you and what you hear can be amazingly different!
Start using active listening today to become a better communicator, improve your workplace productivity, and and develop better relationships.