Category Archives: Professional Communication
At the end of last year and into this fresh new year, I’ve been running some workshops with a big corporate on critical thinking. The emphasis is not so much about the mechanical elements like models, tools and processes, although they do prove popular. The intent is much more about creating, maintaining and supporting a culture that is friendly to critical thinking and thinkers. They’d like a ‘don’t shoot the messenger’ kind of vibe.
Like any organisation attempting to bolster its stock of skills, there are a few ways of going about it. Training is an obvious one and, as a trainer by trade, I am not going to talk you out of that. Depending on the money you’ve got to throw around as an incentive and what time pressures you’re under, another option is to recruit or outsource that skill. What if we’re not talking about the skill of critical thinking though; what if we’re talking about the critical thinking attitude? Do we recruit that? Could we outsource it? Is it even possible to train it?
Before we tackle these questions, let me start by saying the moment you reveal to any trainees a bunch of critical thinking tools, they may well have the intention of applying these on serious strategic and operational work issues and projects but that’s not the first thing they think might benefit from the tools. People default to their personal lives and decision matrices, forcefield analyses and cause-effect diagrams get applied to wedding plans, house purchases and to relationships (both forwards and retrospectively). I swear there is a fortune to be made for critical thinking trainers in relationship decision-making, although that is a workshop I definitely do not want to run!
All jokes and broken marriages aside, providing tools that normal people can see as relevant and applicable to their personal and work lives is one element of nurturing a culture. Get enough people engaged like that and you generate noise and interest. Soon there is a critical mass and a tipping point. It’s less some weird new thing that we learned on a course that we use on special occasions; it’s become more of ‘the way things are done around here’.
Yes, you can train it. Yes, you could accelerate the process by recruiting it. As long as you are adding competencies like teamwork, customer service, and problem solving to your list when recruiting, would one more hurt? The trick in the tale though is if you recruit critical thinkers or people inclined to do so, but then once they arrive it becomes clear quickly that critical thinking is not the ways things are done around here. Training is not going to solve anything other than a skill issue. What would be helpful is some role modelling and structural elements that make critical thinking part of business as usual. When newbies witness someone sticking their head above the parapet to critique something in a healthy way, what happens next is a powerful and essential indicator of the extent to which they’ll ever stick their own head up. As part of any onboarding / induction process, it would be helpful to create or immerse new arrivals into situations or simulations where people do apply critical thinking and their input gets acknowledged, addressed and perhaps even rewarded.
When you google the term ‘critical thinking’, the top three results are: what are the five critical thinking skills; what are the six critical thinking skills; what are the seven critical thinking skills. Are critical thinking skills like razors? They just keep adding another blade as some never-ending marketing game of chicken? I think the ‘five people’ should talk to the ‘seven’ people. I think a critical component of critical thinking isn’t the comprehensiveness of the toolkit nor the 5-7 skills required. I think it’s the ability to better understand the way we think and the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of getting to our conclusions. That requires a self-awareness or a desire for a self-awareness that should be aimed for in recruiting, supported during onboarding and boosted via subsequent training and practical application and reinforcement.
It’s fantastic that for years we’ve been able to walk into parent-teacher meetings in many New Zealand primary schools and see DeBono’s six thinking hats posters on the wall. (Look it up). A classic critical thinking tool being used by educators across a society to enable kids to think critically and examine ideas from differing perspectives if they choose to do so. (That’s the trick, especially during election time). Kids, the employees of tomorrow with ever changing and expanding content need to know how to think not just what to think today. I’m not sure how many boardrooms or planning spaces have those posters. The google debate rages over whether there are five or six or seven critical thinking skills but there are always only ever six thinking hats.
Find out more about getting ‘Change Fit’ and advancing your own ‘Change Evolution’ at www.2dangerousthingsayear.com
I recently posted in the professional development LinkedIn group I run (https://www.linkedin.com/groups/4458256) and threw in a phrase that occurred to me in the moment: ‘thought distributor’. Everyone’s a thought ‘leader’ these days and, if everyone is, is anyone really? I was recently pitched some marketing material on how to commoditise and monetise my own thought leadership. Like the nutrition pyramid, there should probably be one for thought leadership; some thoughts have more carbs and less nutrients.
Most days I think I’m pretty great. (Self-employed have to). But there’s enough humility in me most days to keep myself in check. The last time I exhibited true thought leadership was when I upsized my combo and the three people in line behind me did the same. BUT I aspire to work my way up that thought pyramid and in my work help others do the same. SO, rather than hubristically (not a word) declare myself a thought leader, I’ll settle for now as a ‘thought distributor’, ‘thought curator’, ‘thought tester’, and ‘thought connector’.
Just a thought. www.brainbasedboss.com
More ideas at http://gettingbetterbuyin.com/
About a third of my work is comedy-related. I don’t have ‘funny bones’ but I’m workmanlike enough to know how to construct and do funny. I realise LinkedIn isn’t Comedy Central but enough non-comedy business folk have contacted me via LinkedIn for help with speeches, presentations, training, journal articles and such that there’s clearly a latent demand out there from the accidentally comedic to the professionally unfunny to amp up their game when the occasion requires it.
Not everyone should attempt to write or perform jokes or standup. Some of these ideas I’m suggesting do come from that world. Neither you nor I should expect a NetFlix special to be offered to us. Let’s calibrate our expectations. Maybe you’re a self-employed professional or you’ve got aspirations within your newly joined firm or industry association? How do you stand out and engage people, drawing attention to your key messages and aiding people’s retention of those messages and of you? One way is workplace appropriate humour. They don’t have to be jokey jokes or even obviously a joke per se.
These are tools to put in your toolbox, techniques from which you can choose. They can be a bit ‘colour-by-numbers’ but if you’re competent and confident enough to be asked to write an article or deliver a speech, then the humour aspect isn’t any harder than the technical aspects of architecture or whatever your subject is. Once you know the basic principles of architecture, you can give it a crack. (Note: I do not know anything about architecture).
1. Defined-interaction Questions.
This is a good technique to start with in a low-risk and engaging way. (It’s low-risk for both you and your audience). Indicate how you want them to answer – “Raise your hand if…”, “Shout yes on the count of three if…”, “On a scale of one to five raise some fingers…”.
“Who’s got kids? [Raise hand – Pause] Who’s ever been a kid? [Raise hand – Pause] Who’s waiting on DNA tests? [Pause] I like to include everyone.”
My quote might be a joke for the sake of a joke but it also has the purpose of connecting and creating opportunities for involvement. That principle is fundamental to every field in which I work – writing, training, facilitating, speaking, MCing, comedy. Even if it gets no laughs, as long as you’re not left hanging desperate for a laugh, everything is fine if you’ve created an opportunity for involvement. These are inherently engaging. Here’s a short video on the three critical ingredients for the optimal engagement environmen
For your own opening, what might be your questions relevant to your topic, your audience, this place and time?
2. Point Out Inconsistent Behaviours
“You know how you look at a photo of yourself from 20 years ago and think oh that haircut how embarrassing? You know how you look at a photo of yourself from 10 years ago and think oh that haircut how embarrassing? Yet all of us at some stage today looked in a mirror and said, ‘Nailed it’!”
What might be some inconsistent behaviours in your industry, organisation or team? You can poke at sacred cow topics and at least raise avoided topics using this technique. Does your firm talk a big game on customer service but don’t walk the talk consistently?
3. Misdirection + Dramatic Reveal
I was MCing a conference at which a speaker was talking about workplace drug testing. Her objective was to sell workplace drug testing. She had one session in the morning and the same session with a different audience after lunch. At one point she asked the audience what they thought the percentage of the population who had tried the drug ‘P’ (meth) was. People shouted out numbers and it escalated quickly getting to 40%. When she told them the answer was 15% it was something of an anti-climax. She made no sales that morning.
Over lunch we had a bit of a chat. I talked about a particular type of joke-writing technique called the dramatic reveal. You give some information leading logically in one direction then the punchline is a surprise. Usually this requires a minimum of three steps. She constructed a slide showing the preceding years’ ‘P’ usage that were all very low and only gradually rising – 0.2, 0.4, 0.9, 1,9 Then she rhetorically asked what they thought the last year’s figure was and before they time to answer but while their brains were in a state of curiousity, she dramatically revealed the last bar in the bar graph – a staggeringly larger 15%. That afternoon she made three sales, the least of which was worth to her $10,000.
“I learned most of my job skills via trial and error. Unfortunately, I’m a lawyer”
More ideas at http://gettingbetterbuyin.com/
This blogpost might be challenging for some. It was for me. I like to think of myself as open-minded. (Actually, I just like to think of myself generally. But that’s something else I need to work on). But am I really that open-minded? How would I know? Is there a scale of 1 to 10 upon which I’m a 7?
Psychologist Carol Dweck led the way with research on fixed versus growth mindsets. Crudely and sweepingly summarised, there are two types of default thinking positions and if you don’t effortfully choose one, you likely have a default. The post explains more. I especially like point 2 – when you meet an idea, do you start in response with statements or questions? That was something of a relief to me as three of my five sentences in paragraph one were questions.
There’s a quote that the ability to change your mind is a superpower and another that the true test of intelligence is the ability to have two opposed ideas in your mind and retain the ability to function. If I’m having a good day after a good sleep and have eaten wisely without deadlines yelling at me, then I’m in a resourceful state and I’m certain I could manage that. Other days not so much. It’s the other days that can cause us and our people some problems. It’s for those other days that wee need to prep and practice so when it gets tough, our open-mindedness keeps goings.
Do read the article but if you’re having a low resourcefulness day, here’s 7 quick questions to assess yourself against:
- How do you respond when your ideas are challenged? (My new thing is ABC – always be curious – WHY are they challenging them?)
- Are your first responses statements or questions?
- Do you seek first to be understood or to understand?
- Do you use the phrase, “I might be wrong but…”
- How often do you interrupt?
- Can you simultaneously hold opposed ideas?
- How much effort do you put into testing your own views? Do you deliberately seek evidence to the contrary?
More ideas at http://gettingbetterbuyin.com/
I performed some comedy shows in Singapore a few days back. Such a diverse crowd and real fans of comedy. It really reinforced to me the power of, and need for, humour as a means for humans to express and provoke. Express thoughts. Express opposition. Express alternatives. So, to me, offending through humour is less about topics such as race etc as much as context, purpose, timing and style. And it better be funny. And, if the joke has a ‘victim’, that victim should be an idea. Never “punch down”.
No one’s ever complained to my face that I’ve been offensive. I’m not trying to offend and I’m not trying to not offend. I do try to challenge and provoke. I’m never going to mock someone directly for being overweight or what I might consider to be overweight. I’m not going to mock a group that I might label the ‘overweight’. But I do think society generally need to be healthier and eat smarter. My only platforms to express my views are my presentations, my writing, my comedy and my social media. That’s how I try to tell the emperor he has no clothes. I’ll direct the joke at a behaviour not a person or group. I did do a few race-based jokes in Singapore, a highly multicultural society. I wasn’t going to initially but it became clear that not only was it OK, it was expected and demanded. It was almost an act of inclusion. But, again, it wasn’t attacking people or groups, it was drawing attention to behaviour and ideas. Why did the racist chicken cross the road? Out of ignorance and fear.
That said, I’m a professional, so if you book me to entertain at an event, you’re not looking to change the world. You’re looking to fill a gap before dessert. I get that and don’t fret. That said, maybe your company should tell your emperor a few things and maybe humour is a means. Several native American tribes such as the Navajo and the Lakota have a great system of ‘Sacred Clowns‘ to drive improvement and often survival through humour. Pointing out flaws with purpose – kind of a useful application of humour and one that a few corporations and Governments could benefit from. Although Mr Trump seems oblivious and impervious to it.
This is getting way too deep for me. I’m clearly putting off shifting that half tonne of lime metal into the boggy patches by the barn. Barn owners – you know what I’m talking about right?! Barn owners, make some noise.
This HBR article about debriefing is one I wish I’d written. (From meglomaniacal me, that’s high praise.) I’m often directing participants in my training workshops to conduct debriefs. I tend to use experiential models a lot. For non-trainers (muggles?), that means we do things, then learn from them in a structured way. I favour a 3-phased approach FAD, repeated over and over:
- Frame the activity
- Debrief the activity
I hear a lot of people using the word ‘debrief’ and its meaning seems to vary wildly. In that sense, the word ‘debrief’ is much like the word ‘spicy’ or the word ‘love.’ I try to consistently summarise the meaning of it in my workshops, not just because we’ll use it in the workshops but because it’s one of the most useful things you’ll ever learn in life, not just for work, but for situations where things happen and you’d benefit from learning afterwards. That applies a lot outside work (hopefully.) Relationships and families could well do with that skill. It’d certainly give us something to talk about over compulsory Sunday night family dinners.
To do something and to deliberately learn from it is what successful people do. That might even be a great definition of what success is. To do something and maybe learn from it or not learn from it is what most people do most of the time. Don’t be most people. They’re nice enough but…
The HBR article gives a great structure if you want to either learn debriefing yourself or communicate it to others:
- Schedule a regular time and place (ie make debriefing part of the way things are done around here!)
- Create a learning environment
- Review 4 key questions: What were we trying to accomplish?; Where did we hit or miss our objectives?; What caused our results?; What should we stop / start / continue doing?
- Codify lessons learned (People after us will learn from our mistakes, not theirs.)