People skills hands together

10 Tactics to Instantly Improve Your People Skills

Yes, you can instantly improve your people skills! And sometimes it’s as easy as reminding yourself what effective people skills are. We often get caught up in our to-do’s, in our perspectives, in our worlds that we forget to consider others more often.

People Skills Definition

People skills are often called soft skills (as opposed to hard or technical skills like accountancy, building a house, assembling a manufacturing line, merchandising a product display in a retail shop). If you are running a project to build a piece of infrastructure or design a new car, you’ll need hard skills: engineering, planning, cost-estimating, scheduling. These are the skills that will enable delivery of some kind of output. But the skills associated with whether what you produce, and the process of producing it, is successful are largely soft: working with the client or managing your supply chain; negotiating changes to the scope of the project; agreeing solutions to address unanticipated risk; managing any conflict; motivating people and keeping everyone committed to the project.

They are the behaviours we use when interacting with other people. You might not think of them as skills though (yet). You might feel they are just what you do to communicate and relate with others, be it your family, friends or work colleagues.

Good People Skills for Instant Impact

These skills (outlined below) might seem obvious and it’s amazing how often we forget to use them to improve our effectiveness as communicators and leaders.

Smile sincerely. Many people respond in kind and do what we do so make eye contact and smile when appropriate before even saying anything. Go a step further and smile with your eyes too. Saying ‘cheese’ as cheesy as that sounds does evoke a smile.

Position things in terms of the other person, not yourself. Use the word ‘YOU’ more often then ‘I, me, my, mine.’ Remember someone’s primary interest is in themselves and their world, not in yours. Put yourself in their shoes to try and understand what they might be thinking and feeling.

Make people feel important, genuinely. Notice their achievements, their unique qualities or characteristics. For example, instead of saying well done, say you do that well or even better say you did the report on time and with great attention to detail. Praise behaviours and qualities, not the person or their identity. Do it often, 4-5 positive pieces of feedback for every one negative.

Listen. Listen. Listen. Listen to understand rather than respond. Listen for what’s said and what’s not said. Sense mood and feelings. The term active listening is often used to refer to listening in an engaged manner. Look at the person who is talking (on videos this means looking at the camera lens, not the person’s face on the screen), lean forward, nod your head when you agree, don’t interrupt, take notes. This is also another way of making people feel important.

Ask questions. Be curious. Ask questions to understand things from the other person’s perspective. Stop yourself from making assumptions by asking questions. Ask open questions which require more than a yes/no answer. The best open questions start with WHAT and HOW. Avoid WHY as that has people justify what they said or did.

Find out their motivations and needs. This can be done by listening to what they talk about, by watching what they do and how they do it or by asking (which is the fastest). Common motivators at work are: money, power, autonomy, creativity, avoiding stress or risk, structure, group identification, not working alone, recognition or personal growth. Most people have a combination of some of these.

“Yes, and”. This is a comedy improvisation technique to find something in what the other person said that you can agree with and then name that and build on it. Even if you don’t agree with anything they say find something you can align with like their intention. For example, you can agree with someone who supports an opposing political party to you by aligning on the fact they want the best for the country.

Replace the word ‘BUT’ with ‘AND.’ IT will sound funny at first as we are used to using and hearing BUT a lot. Using BUT often eradicates everything that was said before it. For example, you did a great presentation, but you were confusing in the Q&A. What will people remember? The poor Q&A.

Admit when you are wrong or made a mistake. This builds trust with other people, makes it a safe place for them to fail as well and makes you human and relatable.

Say thank you and mean it. Say it slowly and clearly, not mumbling or as you are walking away. Look at them. Say their name.

How to Improve People Skills

The best way to improve any skill is to practice it. Which of the above ideas do you want to practice? Think of the situations or people with whom you want to practice. How are you going to remember to practice? We need reminders when we are trying something new as it’s so easy to fall into old habits and just do what you’ve always done. Set a reminder for yourself – it can be a post-it note on your computer, it can be a task entered into your calendar, it can be a picture posted on your office wall (of an ear for example if you want to listen more).

Books on People Skills

The right book on people skills for you depends on what your specific development area is around people skills – whether it’s your self-talk, how to have ‘difficult’ conversations, listening or talking. Here is a proven selection from the archives and more recently:

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

The Leader’s Guide to Influence by Mike Brent and Fiona Elsa Dent

Emotional Intelligence Quick Book: Everything You Need to Know to Put Your EQ to Work by Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves

Soft Skills Hard Results by Anne Taylor (yes, me!)

What impact would better people skills have on your leadership?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore your people skills and leadership development opportunities.

Empathy in Leadership Directions Coaching

“Why does Empathy in Leadership Deliver Results?” asked a new client of mine.

A client recently asked why does empathy deliver results? My first thought was that it doesn’t. And then after reflecting on the discussion I thought it would be good to share the rationale of why it doesn’t, on its own, and what does.

Meaning of Empathy

Empathy means the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position as defined by Wikipedia which I think is a very explanative definition.

Empathy is helpful in leadership, when building and interacting with others and is just one tiny part of Emotional Intelligence that will deliver business results. Empathy is great when a team member tells you their partner has cancer (we all know the feeling of fear and sadness of illness). Empathy is not helpful when you are making someone redundant, compassion and respect are better, so you keep your emotional stability as they will understandably feel sad and scared. My article on emotions at work explains more about this.

Empathy does build trust and helps leaders understand what others might be thinking and feeling. This helps a leader understand how someone might react in different situations, what their needs and motives might be. Empathy is the bridge between human interactions.

Emotional Intelligence and Leadership

Emotional Intelligence or EI is defined by the English Oxford Living Dictionary as: “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically”. In leadership terms, it is the skill of building productive and fulfilling relationships authentically. The concept was popularized in the 1996 book Emotional intelligence by Daniel Goleman¹.

EI also known as People Skills

Many organizations capture the concept of EI in performance reviews/appraisals as a person’s degree of self-awareness; or HOW they do their job (versus WHAT they do); or how they achieve the results they achieve through their interaction with others. This is often called people skills or soft skills – the way of influencing and working with others. When I first started my career at P&G the performance review was split 50% on the person’s achievements and 50% on how they grew the organization in terms of people (training, coaching, mentoring, enabling). Skilful emotional intelligence by a leader does deliver results.

Proof about Emotional Intelligence and Leadership

What’s the proof that good EI in leadership is necessary to achieve business outcomes? Here is the answer from business, academia, sociology, neurology and financially:

  1. The Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence In Organizations (yes, there is such a body) highlights 19 studies over the last 3 decades from different companies and organizations (American Express and L’Oréal to name two) and 9 research and academic studies from the last 9 years all identifying how EI delivers results².
  2. Leadership is about relationships; it’s about unleashing the potential of your team by motivating and inspiring them to do the work to deliver the results. Leadership is also about removing barriers which often involves influencing others or resolving conflict. Relationships are about interacting with people, people are human beings not human doings so understanding and adeptness with regards to emotions is key. Additionally, most people leave a job because of their manager, not because of the organization³. That means the relationship (intellectually and emotionally) with the manager is pivotal.
  3. Brain evolution and structure dictates that all the information from our 5 senses enters our brain through the brain stem and hits the limbic part of our brain first which is the place of emotions and feelings before reaching the neocortex near our forehead which is the place of rational thought. The emotional part of our brain is stimulated first with any piece of information before the executive functioning or reasoning part of our brain! Hence, emotions are always ‘present’ first when we take in stimuli – often the stimuli at work isn’t overly provoking so we don’t notice the emotional part, or we suppress it, or we have high EI to manage our own emotions and influence others’ emotions much more consciously.
  4. Humans are herd animals or more politely, social creatures from a sociology point of view. We thrive in well-coordinated groups (hence some of the complication of working from home). Employees want to feel as if they belong to the work group. As such, skilful leadership fosters this feeling of belonging and inclusion.
  5. Company investment in measuring employee engagement is huge! This isn’t about employee happiness or satisfaction. Forbes describes employee engagement as the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals⁴. An effective leader builds that emotional commitment through understanding and managing their own emotions and recognizing emotions in others and handing relationships and interactions with others, thereby, having employees bring their heads, hands and hearts to their work.
    There is a financial cost to poor people skills in terms of lost productivity. FACT. Imagine you have a manager who is in an open-plan office criticizing one of their team for a few minutes. How long do you think that employee is demotivated or unproductive? How long do you think the others in the office are unproductive (trying to console the berated employee or criticizing the manager’s actions)? Imagine the manager does this often. The cost is thousands of pounds over time. The incidences of berating managers are few for my clients. The incidences of empathetic and inspiring managers are few too. The big opportunity to positively increase productivity is the managers who simply do nothing about engaging or inspiring because they don’t know what to do.
  6. Although people skills don’t have a line on the P&L, they do impact each line – salespeople have to have good relationship-building skills to generate sustainable income, customer service needs good people skills to resolve issues and protect reputation, employees who feel valued and are engaged are less likely to quit, saving recruitment costs and less likely to demand extreme compensation (assuming their basic need is met), purchasers with high EI skills relative to their suppliers can result in discounts, advantageous payment terms, and quicker exposure to new initiatives.

Where could you benefit from more empathy and emotional intelligence?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore how you could develop your emotional intelligence further to motivate and inspire your teams to achieve.

1 Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman (London: Bloomsbury Publishing 1996)

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Directions Coaching Woman Thinking

The #1 of All Leadership Qualities? Taking Time to Think!

The quality of everything we do is based on the quality of our thinking. Yes, time to think is the most important of all leadership qualities and there are simple leadership skills to achieve this. Same could be boldly said of all personal qualities too. It’s inspired by Nancy Kline’s book, Time to Think and was part of a coffee hour I attended last week with colleagues.

Time to Think – The Premise

Nancy Kline created a system, decades ago now, called Thinking Environment™ encompassing 10 behaviours of how to be with each other. It’s a model for human interaction that improves how people think and therefore the quality of interaction and the results they achieve at work and life. It’s arisen at this time of lockdown when some people have more time and some people are thinking about different things, pondering different questions than previously.

The fundamental premise is to give people time and space to think and to truly listen to others. It’s to have people think for themselves, a concept fully aligned with coaching – to create a safe reflective space for people to come up with their own answers to things that are important to them.

The 10 behaviours Nancy outlines are: Attention, Equality, Ease, Appreciation, Encouragement, Feelings, Information, Diversity, Incisive Questions, Place. Individually they are powerful and when used together they can be transformative.

Time to Think Leadership Skills: Tips

Key leadership skills that reinforce the time to think premise can be used with team members, peers, key stakeholders and even bosses (as well as family members). Some tips are:

Speaking Leadership Skill:

  1. At the start of a group meeting, especially remote, ask everyone to say something as most people haven’t arrived until they said something. Be specific about what you want them to say given (1) the energy you want to create for the meeting; (2) how long the meeting is and; (3) how many people are attending. It can be as simple as “Share 1 word about how you feel now” or “Share 1 word for you to be present at this meeting” or “Share a sentence of how you’d like the meeting to be.” Of note, this is for a meeting where you want interaction and conversation not a presentation or disseminating information. Although you can still use the concept actually in a presentation where you ask everyone at once to “think to yourself of 1 word to be fully present now.”
  2. Prompt thinking by asking a question. The mind often thinks best in the presence of a question rather than statements. Ask an open-ended question. An open-ended question is a question that requires more than a YES or NO answer. They usually start with Who, What, When, Where, Why. Not: ARE or DO. Questions starting with WHAT are best. Why questions are my least preferred as they make people defensive, justifying what they just said. More on this in my book, Soft Skills HARD RESULTS. For example,
    1. Do you think this solution will work? Closed question, Yes/No.
    2. What is the likelihood of this solution working? Open question, more thoughtful response to consider.
    3. Why do you think this solution will work? The person will only look to justify their solution, not consider all possible perspectives.
  3. Ensure equality or at least fairness in speaking. If people are attending a meeting I assume they are there to contribute, to move the agenda forward, if they are not, why are they invited? Quality organizations want diversity of thinking to ensure the best, most robust answers. Ensuring everyone contributes and will be heard makes for fully formed ideas and solutions. Set the ground rule that if you’re attending you’re expected to contribute, that your input is sought after, invited (unless there is the role of notetaker or observer). Ask for the devil’s advocate opinion, who sees this differently? Ensure it’s not just extroverts and grandstanders who are contributing.

Listening Leadership Skill:

  1. Allow for thinking by being silent, encouraging silence, inviting thinking. Literally say in a meeting “let’s all take a few minutes to ponder this question.” If you notice people are really unsure when to come back to the discussion say, “I’ll invite sharing after a couple of minutes.” The silence will feel long if people are not used to silence. That’s ok.
  2. Notice if people are listening to each other. Often people are just contributing their thoughts with no link to what was said before, or sometimes totally dismissing what was said before without even referencing it. As Stephen Covey, my recommended leadership author at the end of my book podcast I shared in my last email, said “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
  3. What assumptions are you making when people speak? How often do you assume what others want? Or what they need? Rather than really hearing what they are saying, listening to what’s said and what’s not said, ask them to fill in the blanks rather than you making up the answers in your head. What limiting assumptions do you have of yourself? I always said I couldn’t sing. Now that I’ve taken lessons I feel I can sing (at least enough not to mime happy birthday at a party). A colleague assumed she couldn’t run because she had bad hips and injuries after multiple attempts; until a 67-year-old taxi driver told her that he did marathons after 2 hip operations based a conscientious training program. My colleague has now completed a couch to 5km and feels good running.

Quality of Work

Taking time to think (when possible outside an imminent crisis), encouraging others to do the same and sharing those thoughts will positively impact the results, the solution, the culture and the individuals sense of value.

Want time to think about something important to you? Book complimentary quality space and time with me here.

Conflict resolution - Business people shaking hands

13 Conflict Resolution Techniques in the Workplace

Effective leaders must be skilled or at least comfortable with conflict and conflict resolution. Leadership is about optimizing interpersonal relationships towards a desired goal – where there are interpersonal relationships there will be conflict to varying degrees.

Some leaders are uncomfortable dealing with conflict. Common sources for the discomfort trace to their own relationship with conflict, from their upbringing, from the fear of dealing with strong emotions or from their lack of skills or process to deal with it. The following will touch on emotions, skills and process. Separately, leaders could benefit from reflecting on the roots of their own relationship with conflict and how it was viewed/dealt with in their history.

Definition of Conflict Resolution

Conflict can be defined simply as a disagreement between people. Although that feels too simplistic, it is usually a serious disagreement or argument, often a protracted one. Sources of conflict are almost as numerous as humans such as, poor performance, bullying, harassment, discrimination, inappropriate language, differences in opinion or personality, office etiquette, laziness, ego, taking credit for others’ work, jealousy, personal idiosyncrasies, rudeness, misunderstandings, and assumptions.

Language is powerful. The words we use to ‘label’ situations can influence our feelings about them and hence our approach. Conflict should be reserved for serious disagreement. The language of disagreement, clash, misunderstanding and difference can de-escalate situations and bring more conciliatory perspectives to the resolution.

A Conflict Resolution Strategy: Prevention

One opportunity is to prevent conflict in the first place. When I start coaching a group of clients we ‘contract’ for how we want to work together; we ‘design our alliance’ for working together (download template here). It means we talk about what the ground rules are for behaving, what’s acceptable and what’s not, what brings out the best in each of us, and how we want to handle conflict should it arise. This makes it easier if things do arise to deal with them as we’ve already talked about how we want to handle it, we all have permission for how to address it. Lead and encourage these types of discussions early and often, do check ins, this helps identify potential issues, so you can deal with them early.

A distinction I want to make is that some differences that people label as ‘conflict’ is not negative or something to be avoided. Conflict in terms of differing opinions and diverse points of view should in fact be encouraged. Differences and healthy debate of thoughts and ideas about the work leads to better solutions.

5 Conflict Resolution Skills

  1. Listening – practice active listening which is engaged listening to understand rather than to respond. Listen to what’s said and what’s not said, listen with your ears, eyes and gut for a sense of what might be happening beyond the words.
  2. Curiosity – be curious about people, their thoughts, feelings, motivations, fears and needs. Observe peoples’ behaviours with you and in relation to others. Have your ear to the ground for potential poor performers or reactive individuals – talk to them before anything official is raised to understand what’s happening, give feedback if relevant and to focus them on their impact.
  3. Alignment vs agreement – when you don’t agree with someone try to find something within their perspective with which you can align. This allows you to find or create a different solution together. Agreement is polarizing and can close options or result in people disengaging. For example, two people of different religions can find alignment about believing in a higher power and faith whereas they probably don’t agree on the practices or doctrine.
  4. Yes, and – this is a term used in improvisational comedy. The concept is to find something in what someone has said that you agree with or appreciate and then build on it. It’s often used in brainstorming circles so that no idea is judged as bad. In the workplace, it creates an expectation of finding good things in each other’s ideas and weaves people’s ideas together which is a more collaborative approach.
  5. Emotional literacy – good leaders are typically literate in language and numeracy as they are taught in school. Another type of literacy that is necessary is emotional, especially where conflict is involved. Conflict involves emotion. Learn the language and definitions of key emotions, especially those that cause discomfort in the workplace such as anger, sadness, frustration, grief, shame, fear and disgust to name a few.

How to Resolve Conflict

It’s difficult to provide one process for resolving conflict as it depends on the number of people involved, the type of conflict and the seriousness of the situation. Here is a simple process. The leader’s role is usually to facilitate finding an acceptable solution to both parties (assuming it’s not a case of legality)., it isn’t to be a judge of who’s right and who’s wrong.

  1. Acknowledge that the conflict is present. Name the elephant in the room to yourself and those involved.
  2. Listen to each side, potentially separately depending on the issue. Ideally, if possible, try to have both parties present to share their thoughts and feelings. Have the parties sit beside each other, not across from each other in adversarial positions.
  3. Dig beneath the surface to identify the underlying needs or motivations of each party.
  4. Encourage each of them to find alignment between the two of them. What can they agree on? It might be as basic as them agreeing what the problem is between them, or what the worst-case scenario is or what process they wish to follow to find a resolution.
  5. Brainstorm options or solutions together that would satisfy each of their needs.
  6. Agree among themselves how they want to proceed. What ideas do they want to try, how do they want to interact in a way that they both agree. Ensure each party verbally agrees to their actions, to the joint solution. Silence is not acceptance.
  7. Monitor how it’s going. Have check-ins together. You could ask each of them to rate the effectiveness of the solution on a scale of 1 to 10. What would it take to increase the rating (if it’s not a 10)? Have them share ideas and their feelings.
  8. Determine for yourself what you will do if it doesn’t improve. Will you hire a relationship coach or a mediator? What impact is it having on the broader team? Would this become a performance issue necessitating formal procedures?

Remember healthy diverse thinking and constructive conflict resolution can often lead to better outcomes and a rich opportunity for learning and growth, for individuals and the organization.

What conflict resolution would be beneficial to work through to improve your leadership?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore how you could be better at managing conflict.

Conflict Resolution Resource

The following resource is more in-depth about conflict resolution. It supplies further links for specific situations such as bullying, harassment, stress and performance management. It’s done by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development charity.

Someone giving contrsuctive feedback to another person in an office setting.

How to Give Constructive Feedback to Empower People

Empowering people is possible with constructive feedback. Cringe is the first reaction of my leadership training participants and executive coaching clients to the notion of feedback. Often the response is “I’m not good at those difficult conversations.” Amazing how feedback is associated with discomfort and difficulty. It’s almost always assumed to be negative, a ‘big’ conversation, and telling someone something that they are doing wrong.

What is Constructive Feedback?

Constructive feedback is feedback that grows an individual either by reinforcing something positive they are doing or by pointing out areas of improvement. Historically it was negative feedback, something they did wrong. Now constructive or developmental feedback reinforces good behaviours or points out behavioural changes a person can make to be more effective, what they could do differently and how to do it differently.

Key Benefits of Effective Feedback

The benefits of giving feedback are almost too obvious to state – and they are the same whether the feedback is positive or negative/constructive.

  1. Your team feels valued and empowered because overall you give noticeably more positive feedback than negative/constructive (research says financially successful companies give positive feedback 5–6 times for every one piece of negative feedback given).
  2. Your co-workers learn what you expect and what success looks like because you point out the positives and illustrate what better looks like when you point out an improvement.
  3. You create a feedback culture in the organization thereby encouraging everyone to contribute to good/better performance.
  4. Colleagues learn to improve ineffective actions or feel you reinforce their existing positive behaviour thereby positively impacting the business.
  5. Company performance improves (see research referenced in #1 above).
  6. You are perceived as observant, engaged and a people-person (by your team and potentially peers and superiors) because you observe and treat your colleagues as individuals.
  7. Expressing concerns openly and honestly when they arise prevents bottling up of resentment and frustration which, if unsaid, could lead to stress, illness, an explosive tirade or damaged relationships

Steps to Giving Effective Feedback

There is a simple four-step model that many people recommend, and I will follow suit. It’s called the C.O.I.N. model¹ by Anna Carroll and can be used for giving both positive and negative/constructive feedback. It’s so simple, so please keep it simple, this is a great case of less words are more effective.

C is for context or circumstances, the when and where of the situation.
O is for what was observed, the action or behaviour exhibited.
I is for the impact it had, on you, the team, another individual, or the business.
N is for next steps, what you expect or encourage the recipient to do next with the feedback.

Examples of Good & Bad Constructive Feedback

Good: When I was walking around this afternoon (Context), I saw you leaning over your sales manager advising him that he could have been more structured when answering the customer’s questions in the customer meeting earlier (Observation). The impact on him could have been embarrassment and intimidation. And because you are a manager, others in the open-plan office might have felt uncomfortable and that you were being disrespectful (Impact). In the future please deliver constructive feedback eye-to-eye and ideally in your office. It’s better be on ‘the same level’ and to punish in private and praise in public (Next step). How would you feel after hearing this?

Good: In today’s project review meeting, I noticed when Marc expressed his concern over the launch timing you paused, nodded your head, asked a couple of open-ended questions and asked, “this sounds important to you, can we set up some separate time to discuss it?” When you listen to people, ask clarifying questions, acknowledge someone, even if junior to you – Marc feels more valued, the idea of raising concerns is encouraged thereby mitigating risks, and others in the meeting respect you even more. Keep up the good work. Thanks for role-modelling those skills to the attendees.

Bad: You hit your sales target last month which is great, well done, but you failed to get a new client meeting. Work on getting new client meetings. How would you feel hearing this?

Tips to Giving Effective Feedback

How you give the feedback is so important for the feedback to be perceived as genuine and constructive and for it to be received positively. You know what it feels like if someone gives you a beautifully wrapped, timely, perfect-for-your birthday present versus someone just tossing you a creased card a day late that they bought at the corner shop.

  • Give the feedback as close to the action/behaviour observed as possible.
  • Give positive and constructive feedback daily, don’t wait for performance reviews or “extreme situations that require attention”.
  • Give positive feedback in public if appropriate and the recipient likes that attention (or at least can tolerate the attention).
  • Give constructive feedback in private to avoid being perceived as critical or causing embarrassment or shame (there’s a common expression: praise in public, punish in private).
  • Speak slowly and clearly, being as specific as possible. Pause slightly after saying the observation and impact and then stop talking after stating the next step.
  • Use the minimum number of words possible. More detracts from the clarity of the message.
  • Check for comprehension, that they understand what you said. Ask them “what clarification can I provide?” or “what would you like me to repeat to ensure I’ve been clear?” or “what’s your understanding of what I said?”
  • Look them in the eye (softly, not laser-like) and smile (just look pleasant, not a creepy smiley-face).
  • Be patient with yourself and the recipient.
  • Have the intention of being of service to that person, of giving them a gift, of wanting them to grow and develop. Dare I say, have it come from your heart rather than just your head.
  • If it is difficult feedback, give the person some time and space to digest it. Say “I sense you might need time to process/digest/think about what I said. Let’s meet tomorrow to talk about it again.”
  • Remember, just as you are free to give feedback, so the person to whom you are giving it is free to listen (or not), adopt, adapt or reject what you have said.

What feedback have you received that would be beneficial to work through?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore how you could be better at giving feedback or actioning feedback you’ve received.

¹ COIN Model Executive coach and author Anna Carroll, MSSW “The Feedback Imperative: How to Give Feedback to Speed Up Your Team’s Success. 2003

Anne Taylor Directions Coaching

7 Ways You Will Benefit Through Executive Leadership Coaching

Executive leadership coaching has many benefits, this focuses on 7 key benefits that my executive coaching clients are realizing now in this VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world. Now more than ever leaders are looking for appropriate support to navigate the uncertainty that exists, and coaching is one way to get that support. First though, let’s review what executive coaching is and more specifically what executive leadership coaching is.

What is Executive Coaching?

Executive coaching is a one-on-one relationship that creates a safe, reflective space for an executive to develop themselves to improve their effectiveness and achieve specific goals or outcomes. It sounds vague because executives and, potentially their organizations, usually have specific behaviours or situations they want to review, change or improve. It’s lonely at the top, and many high-level executives work with a coach, so they have a safe place to share worries, expose vulnerabilities, stretch themselves and have a trusted sounding board to explore thoughts, ideas and options.

One thing to note is that typically executive coaching is an investment by the organization into that executive because they are viewed as a strong performer or top talent; an individual that the organization wants to support because of their impact in the organization, the career trajectory or the importance of their role.

What is Executive Leadership Coaching?

Executive leadership coaching is similar to executive coaching in that it happens with senior people. It’s more specific to that person’s role as a leader of their team and within the organization. Topics will be less about the business and the deliverables, and more about them as individuals; who are they being as they lead their teams and business. Often it will be about inspiring and motivating their team or key stakeholders. It could be how to navigate sensitive situations or individuals. It can be about their personal brand and impact on their organisation. I encourage them to look at themselves with the same scrutiny with which they look at their business.

Benefits of Executive Coaching

There are as many benefits to executive leadership coaching, some as unique as the individual being coached. Broad benefits are achieving a specific goal, better results, better performance, better relationships, being more effective or efficient, and having more enjoyment/fulfilment. Essentially the same as sports coaching for athletes – faster time, better technique, more wins, less injuries, better emotional wellbeing.

  1. To set, act and achieve a specific goal. It might be to ace a particular presentation. It might be coaching in support of a key deliverable or target you have for the year. It might be to develop the plan, influence the necessary stakeholders and receive the approval for a particular initiative. It might be realizing you get triggered by a certain person or situation and you finally want to manage an adverse feeling rather than it control you.
  2. To grow yourself around a specific skill and behaviour. This is about pushing yourself outside your comfort zone and into your stretch zone. A common example is an executive who has just been promoted and they need to be more strategic and less hands-on. They are used to ‘being the doer’ or the expert and now they are the leader and facilitator.
  3. To motivate and inspire your team. Leaders enable work through others by exciting them to perform. This is a big area for many of my coaching clients. Many organizations do employee engagement surveys to assess their employees’ excitement about the work, the organization, the leadership and the employee’s own development.
  4. To improve your self-confidence and hence impact at work. This can be greater presence or gravitas, being more vocal in meetings, and feeling more comfortable contributing outside your area of expertise and with diverse groups. This becomes especially important for executives who were newly promoted to the management team and now sit as a peer among their former superiors.
  5. To have a safe, confidential place and relationship to surface thoughts, feelings and ideas with a neutral sounding board. Believe it or not, the #1 fear of CEOs is to be found incompetent, being found out, as an imposter. This is not something they openly discuss, and coaching can help get it out and move on. Even by just hearing themselves talk out loud the gain a perspective to view what’s important and what’s not.
  6. To build more productive relationships. This is important at senior levels as the number of stakeholders expands and the implication of those relationships is broader. This can be about more effective communication – transmitting your message, knowing when and where to influence or truly listening to the other person. Or it can be about better situation sensing – sensing someone’s feelings, understanding their motives, and putting yourself in their shoes.
  7. To be an authentic and conscious leader. Authenticity is about being yourself, your best self, aligned with your values and purpose. Conscious leadership is being intentional about your impact and using emotional intelligence to make a difference. This is where personal branding and organizational alignment often arise.

Benefits Outside of Executive Coaching

A consequence of coaching that I hear so often from clients is becoming more self-reliant. Their personal awareness increases, they see their role in any given situation and take responsibility for themselves knowing they can learn and grow.

The executive coaching and leadership coaching have another benefit beyond their organization. Many clients observe that things they learn in the coaching about themselves as well as any new skills are applicable to their personal lives to positive effect. Recently a client recounted that while home-schooling his son he realized what he had learned through coaching at work – to slow down, take his son along with him, find patience and connect his son to what he does well so he can apply it here.

What benefit of leadership coaching would help you be a more effective leader? Which would your team or organization prioritize for you?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore how you could benefit from executive leadership coaching.

Emotional Intelligence to Unlock Your Success in Leadership

Emotional intelligence is the necessary complement to intellect and experience to magnify your leadership impact and hence your success.  You’re successful.  You deliver results.  And more emotional intelligence can take you even further.  Good news, it can be learned.

What is Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence or EI (sometimes called EQ to complement IQ) is defined by the English Oxford Living Dictionary as: “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically”.  In leadership terms, it is the skill of building productive and fulfilling relationships authentically.  The concept was popularized in the 1996 book Emotional intelligence by Daniel Goleman1.  Many organizations capture this concept in performance reviews as: a person’s degree of self-awareness; or HOW they do their job (versus WHAT they do); or their people skills or soft skills.

Emotional Intelligence Components

The four areas of EI are:

Why is Emotional Intelligence Important?

Sustained, positive business results are delivered through EI.  An organization’s top-line or sales is often predicated on the skill of its sales people to interact with customers, build relationship, identify needs, and find mutually beneficial solutions.  This is all about self and social awareness and management.  Same is true for an organization’s customer service department – sensing and acknowledging emotions, managing one’s own emotion to mutually beneficial conclusion.  Same for purchasing – good relationships involving EI, often called partnerships, mean better pricing, access to innovations, and improved responsiveness.   Also, employees tend to leave organizations because of their bosses, not because of the work2.

We have all seen an example of the detrimental effect of emotional unintelligence – a manager who berates a staff member in an open-plan office.  The effect on productivity and morale for the targeted employee and all those in earshot is quantifiable – I’ve literally done the math for a store owner of the cost and it’s substantial.  Substantial enough to motivate him to have a conversation with that manager to address his people skills.  This is the cost of poor people skills or EI.  The benefit of good or great EI is harder to quantify and equally powerful, increased productivity, better ideas, more engagement.  The employee brings their head, hands and heart of the work.

Emotional Intelligence for Leadership

Leadership is about relationships.  The higher you advance in an organization the more your role becomes about cultivating relationships – inspiring and motivating your team, influencing others, navigating different opinions, removing barriers, enrolling others.

Emotions are present at work, whether we want to admit it or not.  Leaders appreciate when the “positive” emotions of ambition, loyalty, passion and trust are present at work.  It seems it’s the “negative or scarier” emotions like anger, frustration, sadness that aren’t welcome.  The fact emotions are present and good leaders want to cultivate a culture of passion, trust and ambition among others, means leadership is about EI.

What you say and how you say it will have an impact on people and the result you get. Be it when delegating a task to an individual or presenting to 100’s of staff.  What you say and how you say it are influenced by who you are, your personality and preferences, and how you feel. If you behave in a skilful way when interacting with others you will create the impact you want and improve the likelihood of getting the result you want.

Examples for Emotional Intelligence

I want to give a recent example of EI from a client to illustrate.  This is only a taster given books are written on this stuff.  Refer to the various resources I’ve suggest below for in-depth examples.

In a large meeting you learn a project will be delayed.  EI is pausing, recognizing you are angry and frustrated, breathing, managing your facial expressions, body language and voice (volume, tone, pace, language).  You sense the project manager is likely nervous and disappointed in himself with the situation.  You moderate yourself to ask the reasons for it, so you can get data to know if it will be beneficial to express your frustration (knowing your expression will be saying something like “I’m frustrated we are in this position”) or not (which might have you say “I sense your disappointed too.”).

Leaders with Emotional Intelligence

That’s a question I’d ask you to ponder.  Who do you know or have seen that you consider an emotionally intelligent leader?  What makes you say that?  Often the best examples are not at the top of organizations.  Two high-profile ones I think are:

Barak Obama’s response to the protests following the killing of George Floyd is a good example. He understood the emotions of the nation and named them.  He managed his own emotions to not make it about him in this instance (as I’m sure he had feelings).  He intentionally chose his language and focus to influence people towards real, actionable sustained change.

Jacinda Ardern’s (Prime Minister of New Zealand) coronavirus press conferences showed she anticipated questions before people asked them, she talked about feelings, named emotions, related to children with her message from the tooth fairy to support parents at a difficult time.

How to Improve Emotional Intelligence

  1. Know yourself – what are you bias, preferences, habits in thinking, communication and behaving relative to others? What feedback (positive & developmental) have you gotten about your impact on others?  What is your comfort level and understanding of your emotions?  Download the first chapter free of my book which contains this exercise at length.
  2. Learn how to identify and label emotions in yourself and others. This is a form of literacy that is not taught formally in most schools, unlike language and numerical literacy.  More about emotions can be found in my blog, Busting the Myth about Emotions at Work.
  3. Determine which of the 4 components of EI are your strengths and development areas. You can do this through self-reflection, reflection with a trusted ally, there are on-line questionnaires and the book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, gives you access to their on-line questionnaire when you buy it.
  4. Manage your stress levels so you can manage your thoughts and actions. Research shows some intermittent stress is beneficial to performance and self-control.  If you have too much stress your brain is not able to manage, meaning you are not intentional with your thoughts and behaviours.
  5. Focus on the needs, motivations and goals of the other people. It’s hard to inspire or motivate someone if you don’t know what motivates them or inspires them.  Hint, it might not be the same things that motivate or inspire you.  How do you find out?  You observe.  You ask.  You propose an idea or direction and ask for their input and feedback.
  6. Coach people when warranted rather than telling them what to do. You learn a lot about someone when you ask open-ended questions and observe their thought processes.  Coaching can also enrol them more in the solution or idea as they come up with the ideas themselves.
  7. Tell stories. Stories allow for communication of both content and emotion.
  8. Experiment. Replicate role-models. Knowing on its own isn’t enough to have great emotional intelligence. You must risk putting it into practice daily to be great at it.

If you want to take your leadership to the next level book a complimentary coaching session with me here.  If not now, when?  Take this bold action, be courageous to become more emotionally intelligent.  Your leadership, organization, results, relationships and fulfilment will benefit.

Books About Emotional Intelligence

TedTalks on Emotional Intelligence

The Power of Emotional Intelligence by Travis Bradberry (2017)

Brene Brown Tedtalks about vulnerability (2010) and shame (2012).  Vulnerability is a key aspect for great leadership.

Why we aren’t more compassionate by Daniel Goleman (2007) (2020)

Articles on Emotional Intelligence

Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations (CREIO)


1 Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman (London: Bloomsbury Publishing 1996)


Remember This

Workplace Relationships – The Golden Rule Paradox

Senior leaders spend more time on relationships as they move up in the organization than on ‘doing the work.’ It becomes more about inspiring others, motivating your team, managing stakeholders. When thinking about how to work with others I sometimes hear people say to follow the age-old “Golden Rule” – to treat others as you wish to be treated. It seems on the surface to be a great ethos for workplace relationships; interact with them how you would wish them to interact with you.

The Paradox

The paradox is that the Golden Rule should be broken especially when you are interacting with someone you know, that you are in relationship with, be it a team member or family member.

What if the Golden Rule was to treat people on your team how they want to be treated? As how they want to be treated may be different than how you want to be treated. Not better or worse, just different

I like tea with a bit of milk. You like black coffee. If I was following the Golden Rule, I’d serve you tea. If I want to have a great relationship with you would I serve you white tea or black coffee?

Authentically Adapting to Others and The Situation

Adapting authentically to others and the situation is about how you navigate that space between you and another person with whom you are in contact, in a way that still allows you to be you and to achieve what you want to achieve. First, this assumes you need and/or want to be in contact with this other person. In the workplace, you probably need them in some way to achieve your goal or the organization’s objective(s). Second, you know you are different from the other person, with differing perspectives, inter-relational preferences, personalities and objectives. And since you are the one reading this, you are responsible for managing your interaction with them. Lastly, this isn’t about you conforming to their needs and wishes or changing who you are; it’s about you being who you are with all your uniqueness while interacting. This is about being yourself with more skill. It’s too much work and energy to be someone you aren’t, so I suggest striving to be your better self.

Isn’t Adapting to Your Staff Really Complying?

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of adapting is: “make (something) suitable for a new use or purpose; modify. Become adjusted to new conditions.”

Complying is one means of adapting oneself when interacting with another person, as is mimicking or confronting. Adapting, when it comes to building a relationship, using soft skills and wanting to achieve business or family objectives, is subtler or more nuanced than just copying or complying. Adapting is about being intentional in the way you interact with the other person.

Workplace Relationships – How to Build Relationships in the Workplace

  1. Know yourself – this is so you are conscious of your preferences, values, default habits, communication style, what you are bringing to the interaction.
  2. Know the other person as best you can – being curious about what they are thinking, and feeling, is very helpful for you to know the other half of the dynamic. Coaching skills are useful here to learn about the other person by inquiring without interrogating. The more often you interact with someone, the more you could learn about them; start to create a picture of them that parallels the information you have about yourself. Step into their shoes. Look at the world from their perspective as best you can.
  3. Be aware of the situation you find yourself in or that you are trying to create – in emotional intelligence language this is called social awareness.
    1. What do you want to achieve?
    2. What are the needs and wants of the other person?
    3. What are your feelings in this moment?
    4. What are the feelings of the other person right now?
    5. What are the stressors in terms of topic or time that might impact things?
    6. Are you on the same side or opposite sides or on the bridge together?
  4. Start the exchange.
    1. Start by checking you know where each of you is relative to the river (topic). ”What I wanted to talk about is…” or “The objective for this conversation is…” or “I want to touch base on…”
    2. Give context – leaders give context rather than just focusing on the content. Leaders don’t assume people know where they are coming from or why they are asking for whatever they are asking for.
    3. Check if they are on the same page as you – ask them “I want to make sure I’m being clear, what are you taking from what I am sharing?” This puts the responsibility for being clear on you, rather than asking them if they understand.
    4. Respond to what they say; remember, respond, not react. As Stephen Covey brilliantly said decades ago in The 7 habits of highly effective people: “Seek first to understand then to be understood.” That means listening to understand what they are saying, checking in that you understand what they’ve said, where they are coming from, what their perspective is, before putting forward your opinion and trying to be understood by them.
    5. Be You
    6. Repeat

More on this in Principle 6 of my book, Soft Skills Hard Results.

The Challenge

Where could you stretch to treat people as they want to be treated? Without compromising your identity?

If you wish to explore those questions further, book a complimentary exploratory session with me here.

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E-Learning Tips for HR Learning & Development Pro’s

HR L&D professionals are looking to e-learning exclusively for staff development during lockdown. The handling of the coronavirus pandemic has put leadership front and centre – be it political leadership, medical, scientific or organizational. Leaders are being judged in this unprecedented time on their behaviours and communication, more so than their technical skills (hospital practitioners aside).

Leaders are often accepting of the need for technical training for their team members. What this public judgement of leaders and the new working situations (be it WFH, social distancing in an office, little work, or overwhelm in critical positions) has identified is the need for more soft skills – towards oneself and others. And now the implications of the pandemic no longer feel like a ‘sprint’ according to leaders I’ve talked to, rather a ‘marathon’ as no one knows how long this will last.

Why Learn Leadership Skills Now?

Your organization and, by extension, you face an exhausting list of challenges that demand a different way of leading now:

– increasing stress and emotions of and among staff,
– the merging of work and personal/family with WFH and health and wellbeing considerations,
– escalating speed and uncertainty around health, regulations, fiscal policy, technology, let alone, competition and consumer needs and wants,
– trying to achieve more with less – money, resources, staff, consumer demand,
– increasing confidence, competence and empathy in your interpersonal interactions especially with the emotions in yourself and others and uncertainty.

Soft skills are people skills (as opposed to hard or technical skills like accountancy, building a house, assembling a manufacturing line, arranging products on shelves in-store). If you are running a project to build a piece of infrastructure or design a new car, you’ll need hard skills: engineering, planning, cost-estimating, scheduling. These are the skills that will enable delivery of some kind of output. But the skills associated with whether what you produce is successful are largely soft: working with the client or managing your supply chain; negotiating changes to the scope of the project; agreeing solutions to address unanticipated risk; managing any conflict; keeping everyone committed to the project.

They are the behaviours we use when interacting with other people. You might not think of them as skills though (yet). Leaders and employees alike might feel they are just what you do to communicate and relate with others, be it your family, friends or work colleagues.

Leadership Development for Self and Others

Leadership or soft skills for oneself are key because the first person you lead is yourself. In this time the key ones I’m hearing people needing are:

  • Resilience
  • Wellbeing
  • Self-compassion and fear
  • Dealing with imposter syndrome or self-doubt
  • Overcoming Hero tendencies to establish boundaries

Soft skills more leaders would benefit from learning in their interactions with others:

  • Empathy
  • Listening
  • Presentation Skills
  • Giving Feedback
  • Storytelling
  • Authentic Leadership
  • Motivating and boosting spirits

E-Learning Opportunities – Practical Tips for Finding The Right Solution

The following tips are in addition to the standard L&D practices organization’s typically have in place such as needs assessment of the workforce or target population, understanding the immediate and future business needs prompting development, prioritizing key positions, etc.

  1. What preferences does the employee have energetically for learning or communicating? This will influence the type of virtual learning programme that would best suit them – self-study vs group exercise might be better for the introvert or might not push them enough outside their comfort zone depending on the development area.
  2. What learning and growth is possible by just being more intentional and conscious on the job, in daily work? I do a lot of 3600 report debriefing sessions. In advance, I’ll ask people their strengths, weaknesses (development areas) and where they’d focus their development. About 85% of the time their summary is aligned with the data in the 3600 report, it might not be quite as precise or as extensive. As an aside, I’m not saying ditch 360’s, often its that data that motivates them to do the work or clarifies better what needs to be done.
  3. What size of intervention is needed – for one person or a group? Often if you can identify a group of people in the organization with the same need you can get bespoke training from many organizations which can be quite cost-effective.
  4. No approval to spend? No problem. Really! There are lots of free resources online that are great (for example,, I have no stake in the company). Additionally, with the pandemic many places are offering free webinars, resources and materials. Ask your staff who they follow or to whom they look for thought leadership and then check out those people for potential free stuff. What companies have you worked with in the past and what are they offering? Many coaches, like me, have time reserved each month for people to have a complimentary coaching session. Alternatively, who in your organization has a strength that they can share be it teaching or mentoring? What I am saying is consider opportunistic interventions as well as formal; we are in agile times.
  5. Ensure the technology of whatever L&D intervention you are considering is compatible with the participant’s set up. This is fundamental and might seem obvious, but tech issues can totally negate the experience!

E-Learning Development – Tips Once Undertaking E-Learning

  1. Ensure the learner has a clear idea of their own ‘why’ for engaging in the L&D effort. When someone is clear on their purpose for doing anything, the benefit to themselves, they are more committed to the activity.
  2. What support would help embed the learning and what accountability does the participant need to entrench that learning? Research shows coaching increases the impact of training. This is confirmed in my work with IMD and London Business School for executive education that coaching with training personalizes the learning making it relevant to the participant and their workplace and makes the learning more sustainable for a variety of reasons you can read here.
  3. Ensure it’s interactive in some way beyond just what happens in the training – with others on the programme, with the line manager, with an HR partner to make the experience and hence skill use less remote.
  4. If during the L&D intervention the participant is finding they are disengaging (for whatever reasons) encourage them to voice that in a constructive manner (this might be a development stretch on its own!). They can say something as simple as “I’m noticing I’m wanting to disengage, what do you suggest I do to help me re-engage?” Often, they are speaking for more than just themselves in the session. Any good facilitator will be grateful for this sign from a participant.
  5. Have fun! Enjoy it and embrace it as the opportunity it is.

This turbulent time is creating lots of new opportunities with many creative options for learning and development. Pursuing remote developmental support allows organizations to expand their search for the best and most cost-effective interventions for your organization.

Book a complimentary coaching session for support on your e-learning journey.

Your Mess is Your Message And Your Greatest Lesson

At least my mess is my message was illustrated in my most recent podcast guest appearance. Being a podcast guest is nerve-racking and exciting – as I explain in Principle 8 of my book, Soft Skills Hard Results, courage (excitement) and vulnerability (fear) are two sides of the same coin.

There was little reason to be nervous as this podcast was with my book coach and publisher, Alison Jones, and it’s her 215 episode for the Extraordinary Business Book Club.

My Message of Soft Skills

This podcast illustrates that our greatest lesson is the thing we want or feel compelled to teach. Intellectually I say I wrote this book for my task-focused and analytical clients who sometimes struggle giving “negative feedback,” doing chit chat with staff, and interacting with people beyond the work that needs to get done. If this is you, please don’t be ashamed, because it was me. Emotionally, I wrote this book because it’s the journey I’ve been on most of my life and certainly the last 15 years since my parents’ deaths. To practice being more connected to people with my heart as my head strives to solve a problem, achieve a goal or complete a task – for greater productivity and satisfaction.

My Mess

My mess is exhibiting my heart to others through soft skills (when I’m focused on getting something done) because I am still practising them myself – how to connect authentically with people while diving into the task. I ‘failed’ just this morning on my Zoom pilates class – at the start of class I said to the teacher “I’ll have to leave 5 min early as I have a work call at the bottom of the hour.” I said that before saying “Hello, how are you?” In my defence there were other people joining, saying hi, lots of chatter so I wanted to ensure she knew I wasn’t leaving because I was unhappy or had an injury. My intention was compassionate, I wanted her to know I wasn’t leaving early because of her, how I did it was abrupt. Soft skills are often about how to ensure your compassion for them shows through.

I talk in the podcast about asking for favours as I was writing my book – another thing with which I’ve historically struggled. The struggle stems from not wanting to bother someone else and with being self-sufficient and independent. A big favour I needed was asking people to endorse my book – it had to be done under tight timelines and was a time investment for them to read my book. As Alison so aptly underlines it’s about inviting people into something fun, cool and exciting. Amazingly, everyone was excited about being asked.

In coaching work, my clients don’t want to hurt someone that’s why they are afraid of giving negative feedback. When we get to the point of them feeling the feedback is developmental (rather than negative) then their belief and compassion for the individual has come through.

What are the things you’ve struggled with in life to overcome? Those are the lessons you can take out into the world and help other people to learn from your struggle and reinforce your development. Maybe that’s why ex-smokers are the biggest proponents for smoking cessation?

What’s your mess that you want to overcome and/or practice more in the world? Book a complimentary 60-minute clarity session with me to work on it.

Extraordinary Business Book Club Podcast

In addition to the ‘mess’ in the podcast there are tips if you’ve ever thought of writing a book and MY recommendation for one of the best leadership books ever!
If you want to listen to the actual podcast, click here.