THURSDAY THOUGHTS! – How do you handle tough questions?

Everyone, at one time or another, finds themselves in situations where they have to handle tough questioning.  Are you a waffler or someone who freezes when this happens?  Is your coping strategy one of telling the questioner everything you possibly know about the subject or do you actively slow things down to give yourself time to think and calmly answer the question with  something featured on our picture this week?

“How do you handle tough questions?”

There are real strategies available to you if you find yourself going scarlet and freezing.  Some successful ones I’ve used in the past include:

  • ask for clarification if the question is unclear to you (“is your main concern about …?”
  • share and stop – state your message and supporting points, check whether the questioner is satisfied, then stop as decisively as you started (don’t just tail off!)
  • focus on what you know and what you believe is relevant, then ask for clarification
  • hypothesise (“I haven’t looked at that yet, but my hypothesis would be …”)
  • Tell the truth!  “I’m sorry, I haven’t looked into that yet.  Does anyone else have ideas?  If not I’ll look into it”
  • Boomerang!  Redirect the question back to the person who asked it or to a group (“interesting point – what are other people’s views?”)
  • Problem solve – think aloud – involve others if possible (“Suppose we tried x – could that work?”)

I’m sure there are plenty of others too.  What are yours?  I’d love to hear about what worked well for you in these situations.  Please share!


THURSDAY THOUGHTS! – Do you know what a “fog factor” is?

Have you ever had to read the same paragraph more than once – sometimes maybe even over and over again?  If you have, several things could be happening, not least the author might be writing for someone other than you.  By this I mean that you could be a practitioner reading an academic journal; a member of the public trying to get their heads around a highly technical business document; or even a University Professor trying to de-cypher a young persons text speak.  Perhaps you spend hours on end writing a beautifully crafted committee report which doesn’t receive the level of engagement you expected or needed?

The thing is – not everyone who reads your work or listens to your words, lives in your world.  By that I mean they don’t eat, sleep and breathe the language, jargon, terminology etc which occupies over 90% of your day.  If you have to present to public audiences, this is especially true with much more care needed in these forums, or else your audience will noticeably doze off!

Been there, seen that happening?  Well, it could be because you (or someone you are watching) don’t understand how the Gunning-Meuller Fog Index works.  Robert Gunning worked with the most popular newspapers and magazines.  His mission? To improve readability (and therefore circulation!). The result was the Fog Index.  So I will give a brief explanation of it but first, please do this:

  • select a random sample of your writing that consists of 100 words
  • work out the average sentence length, i.e. divide the number of word in the sample by the number of sentences
  • count the number of long words in your sample.  A long word has three or more syllables
  • Add the average sentence length (from step 2) and the number of long words (from step 3)
  • Multiply the sum by 0.4 to find your fog index

If, instead of the paragraph above, I had just presented the formula for doing this, I know instantly that many of my readers would now start flicking over to other blogs, because many of them might find formulas an instant barrier, turn off, etc.  But it looks like this for those who particularly like formulas 🙂

0.4* ((words/sentence) +100 (complex words/words))

But we don’t need to know the formula, or get frightened by the sight of it, we just need to do the 5 simple steps above or even visit and it will do it for you via a cut and paste!

So lets assume you now have your results from the above …. You need to know what it’s telling you.

The index represents the number of years of education needed to understand your writing easily.  An index of 13, for example, would mean that the writing is appropriate for a reader with 13 years of school (i.e. an 18 year old = “A” level standard).

Most newspapers are written at a reading level for 13-17 year olds, which is a fog index of 8-12.  That’s generally a safe index as its accessible to a wide range of audience. Less than 8 gives you near universal readability. If you write too high, or too low, your readers may find your writing either difficult to understand (have to re-read several times), or even insulting (and stop reading completely).  Same goes for listening to presentations for that matter – a lesson which isn’t nice to learn in front of the public or your colleagues.

The best way to reduce your Fog Factor is to use simple words when simple words will do!  Easily said, hard to do on a daily basis!

So …. “whats your fog factor and what are you doing to reduce it?”

Mentorship & Me – Part 13 – Peggy Edwards – 360 Feedback Exercise

Well it’s done and I have the results! I have put off doing a 360 feedback exercise for years as I have always been scared of the results, and now I don’t know why. The results were great, not saying I am perfect but nearly everyone provided really positive feedback which was not only touching but also has helped me realise that I am a valued member of the team. There wasn’t a huge gap between my own scoring and the scoring of others which is reassuring that I have a certain degree of self awareness. It has also provided me with new perspectives to take to my manager to inform my PDP and gave me pointers on where I can improve my support of the team and my behaviour in my workplace, which gives me a great way forward. The whole process was very easy and the delivery of the feedback from my mentor was (as always) supportive, professional and also probing about next steps.

So my advice to others? Go for it!  I intend re-doing the exercise in 12 months time but with far more people to get a wider view.

THURSDAY THOUGHTS! – What did you teach someone this week?

I am a firm believer in the fact that people learn more from listening to others and observing and admiring behaviour before them, than from any classroom environment.  I regularly ask the question of those I coach and mentor “who is your hero or to whom do you aspire?”.  I never fail to learn something deep and meaningful about the person from every single reply I have ever received.  I instantly get a feel for what sort of value base they have, what motivates them, what sort of reading they undertake, and even what they see in others that perhaps some others still, are blind to.  So this week, I’m asking the question:

“What did you teach someone this week?”

I have had two significant episodes of this, this week alone.  Both instances have been as a result of instant decision-making (not mine) and have come about through just gently reliving both scenarios with the decision taker of each and suggesting or probing for alternative “third ways”.  Black and white thinkers are prone to hasty decision taking – they are blind to shades of grey, which I live my life managing (or so it seems).  There’s a great analogy here with my other love, photography.  Every year, I point out the many shades of green in every landscape I see and I can’t believe I’m the only person who can distinguish between the 100’s of greens on display, particularly at this time of the year!  Equally, photography deals with the black/white dimension, which is why so many people take pictures of snow or bridal gowns which look grey!  There is a reason for this happening and not to stray too much into my other blog ( its about managing white balance in the camera 🙂

So the managerial equivalent of “managing the white balance” is active and timely reflection.  I constantly bang on about the value of reflection to those I coach, this will not be news to them, and this week, just 5 short minutes of instant reflection would  have averted much managerial angst, not to mention wasted time and effort. So, I’m challenging you this week …..  tell me what you taught someone this week (and reflect upon just how good it made you feel!)

Mentorship & Me – Part 12 – Peggy Edwards – Will I ever learn?

I have spent many years teaching people how to investigate patient related incidents. I emphasise that hindsight is a wonderful thing and on many occasions people are “too busy doing it instead of thinking whether they should” (points for those who can name the 80’s film this is quoted in).

Do you think I listen to this philosophy myself? Well I didn’t this week. I had a very difficult workshop to facilitate which was vital to a key development at work. It involved external delegates whose input would be invaluable. So did I excel, did I perform at my peak and was it a success……NOPE. It was a nightmare!  I tried to run a workshop over video conferencing, web ex and face to face across five different sites; why did I ever think this was going to work?

So, after a rather large Gin and a good whinge I decided to follow my mentors advise and reflect; what went well, what didn’t and what I would do differently? One of my personality traits is that I want to please people and help; I thought I was helping and being supportive by allowing this farce to go ahead. I knew it wouldn’t work but I wanted to ensure we bent over backwards to engage with as many people as we could. Instead of getting people on board we actually alienated them and some even walked out!

Too busy doing it instead of thinking whether we should…what would I do differently? I will never ever use VC again for workshops, it doesn’t work, it isn’t good enough for multiple sites. It is web ex or face to face from now on. If I have to run workshops regionally so be it, I will never be in that situation again. I am also going to be a bit more assertive about my concerns, I knew this wouldn’t work so why didn’t I just stand up and say so? I was trying to please again, but that isn’t my job, my job is to manage risk and I didn’t manage the risk of that workshop going wrong. Lesson learnt, onwards and upwards………

THURSDAY THOUGHTS! – E-mail – Filter low priority messages – Lesson 8 (FINAL)

The final week of our “Managing e-mail” series is an important week as not only does it finally keep unimportant messaging out of your in-box, but it celebrates Aresko’s First Birthday 🙂  This week we look at:

Empty your in box – everything should have its own place, and the inbox is not it!

Decreasing  your response time – The One Minute Rule

Crafting effective messages

Highlight Messages sent directly to you

Using disposable e-mail addresses

Consolidate multiple e-mail addresses

Script and automate repetitive replies

  • Filter low priority messages

Previous weeks have looked at rules to filter messaging so this shouldn’t be too much of a tough ask this week.  What I will ask you to do is review ALL lessons so far, engage with the ones you have resisted most (!) and celebrate both our first birthday AND the fact that by now, you should have significantly reduced the time you are having to spend ploughing through an overfull in box.

What we’ve been doing so far is reducing noise and focussing more rigorously on the professional messaging you REALLY have to deal with.  Do you get messages from Great Aunty Dorris which are full of cute kitten photos?  Or do you get a lot of CC messages from happy co-workers who perhaps spend rather more time on circulating jokes than you have the time to read?  If yes, then this week is for you ….

Step one : turn off FB friend notifications/google alerts and any other mailing list messages you’ve previously set up.  It’s good to “unsubscribe” to as many as you can THIS WEEK!

Step two : revise those “rules” you set up in week 4 and make new ones like:

  • delete any messages annoying.person@so and so .com
  • delete any message that don’t contain any one of the following e-mail addresses in the TO field (or redirect them to your not important folder)

One of the most common misuses of e-mail is the over-use of the CC box.  So think about a new CC folder and create a rule to directly send to that folder for sifting at your leisure.

But most importantly:  refresh your personal behaviour by reviewing ALL these lessons as a whole to the end of this week and over the weekend.  Then celebrate your new found precious resource of the time it has rediscovered for you and have a think about how ARESKO could help you in the future – then give us a call 🙂

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