How I herd cats - teamwork, persuasion and communication

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Most of us can only accomplish what we need to at home and at work through communication with others. I use this presentation with university students to give them an idea of the types of teamwork, …

Most of us can only accomplish what we need to at home and at work through communication with others. I use this presentation with university students to give them an idea of the types of teamwork, persuasion and communication that they'll find useful in their careers.

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  • By and large we achieve things in life through communication, whether we are husbands, writers, plumbers or software developers.
    Examples:
    Communicating your great new idea about website design to 1000s of website designers so that 1000000s of websites adopt it.
    Persuading venture capitalists (or managers within your own company) to invest in a new product or project you believe in.
    Selling your (or your company’s) product or service
    Give examples – RBS; my patterns redbooks, SOA workshop, SOA scenarios etc.
  • This problem applies to failed communication in all aspects of life. Dilbert is describing his working life as an unproductive frustraing experience because he is unable to communicate with the people who matter most to him in that context.
  • This cartoon illustrates many of the primary ways in which projects go wrong. It is all about communication in various forms.
  • Examples: Investor’s Den
  • Arguably, communication technologies are speeding up the world; but as far back as 1969 the Architect and town planner Christopher Alexander writing in “Notes on the Synthesis of Form” argued that professionals in his field were deluged with information about new techniques and new technologies and couldn’t keep up.
    Davenport and Beck’s book “The Attention Economy” argued that when seeking the attention of a person or an organisation we need to recognise we are competing with their e-mail, their cellphone, their family, their next business meeting and all the other people wanting to speak to them about something. Unless we recognise that and approach communication by first winning someone’s attention by demonstrating our potential value to them, we may struggle to be heard.
    I once arrived at a business meeting at Hertz to find a large hired lorry parked outside their office; the entire side of the lorry was covered in a message addressed by name to the CEO and saying, “my CV and business proposition are in your in-box, you need to hire me” along with the name of the person responsible. I don’t know if it worked, but it will certainly have stood out from the crowd!
  • What is it that really wins the interest of the investors in the Investor’s Den? It’s not initially the detail of the business proposition – in reality, there is insufficient time to investigate that. It’s the personal credibility and confidence of the presenter. An answer that’s deliver in an unconfident, hesitating manner is as unlikely to be believed as one that is factually wrong.
    To establish credibility: get to the point; make it clearly and in a way that is supportable; don’t digress; but be able to answer exploratory questions convincingly. And do your homework and brief stakeholders early!
    An inspiration of mine was Jonathan Adams, with whom I won investment from IBM’s executives for a project that we pursued for nearly 2 years. Jonathan co-ordinated a series of calls and meetings with the various stakeholders in IBM who would be affected by the project if we were successful getting funding. Each time we presented our idea to a stakeholder, they would say “if that’s what you want to do, you should talk to such and such first”. In every case, Jonathan’s preparation was so careful that he or I could say “actually, we talked to them last week; they support our idea because it adds value to them in this way ...” and so on. Eventually we held a call with the Executives with the ability to fund us, and because all of their challenges and questions had been answered in advance in our conversations with the relevant stakeholders, they confirmed the money on the spot.
  • The previous slide said to get to the point quickly; this slide makes the point that sometimes describing something concisely – particularly something complicated – is extremely difficult to do; and a concise description may take a very long time to prepare.
  • Once you’ve got someone’s attention, don’t waste it. The world is littered with lost opportunities of every kind that went begging because an initial success getting someone’s attention didn’t result in achieveing the original objectives.
    There are various types of conversation, and each should be approached explicitly. Be mindful of your objectives – and maybe even explicit about them. And depending on the type of converestaion you are having, structure it and carry it out effectively.
    Many converesations consist of teaching or learning. I hope I’m teaching you effectively now. Some of the techniques I’ve employed in the attempt are to tell you what my objectives are and remind you from time to time why particular sections of this lecture relate to them. I’m also trying to keep you interested by adopting a variety of different styles and giving personal examples that I hope are relevant to you. And I’ve tried to structure the lecture around a handful of key ideas that are short and clear enough for you to remember afterwards without having to refer back to your notes.
    It’s equally important to understand how to approach communication when *you* are the one learning. “Learning” is as broad a term as the process in which a manager of an employee who is not performing well determines whether the underlying reason is lack of skills, poor motivation or an underlying cause such as problems in personal life that the employee may be unwilling to disclose. Empathy; approachability; understanding and the ability to vary your personal style so as to allow the person your communcating with to open up to you are crucial to earning the trust required for them to do so.
    Many conversations come down to persuasion – if you’re selling something; if you’re asking someone to invest in your project or business; if you’re a lawyer trying to win a legal case; or if you’re at a party trying to persuade someone to have a drink with you.
    Persuasion is about achieving empathy with your audience; making them interested in your proposal by appealing to the things they care about; and about being clear about what you want. In many cases, first judgements and appearances are critical. If you can descrbe a proposal clearly, quickly, simply and compellingly from the point of view of your audience within the first few minutes of speaking to them, you will have won them over. They may want to know more detail; but they will want you to succeed and help you to do so. On the other hand, if you are garbled, irrelevant or unclear, your audience will quickly become sceptical that you have a well formed proposal, or that it is relevant to them. The conversation may continue, but it is likely to be hostile and to generate misunderstandings.
    In many business contexts, communication is about a group of people working together to create ideas or agree how to approach the challenges they face. With many people involved, it’s more important than ever to use organisational techniques such as agreeing objectives and agendas; and to adopt appropriate styles so that everyone contributes and agreements are genuine rather than enforced or mistakenly presumed. I once introduced two colleagues to each other to have a discussion about a topic that I knew they were both interested in. I left them to talk, but when I came back found that they had had a blazing row. I talked to both of them separately afterwards, and realised that they held identical opinions about the matter they had been discussing. The reason they had argued was simply that they both had strong personalities and styles of communication, and these styles of communication clashed with each other. Neither was flexible enough in their style, or aware enough of its impact on the other, to notice what was happening and change their style to create a constructive conversation.
    Ask yourself: do I stand or sit for this communnication? Speak loudly or softly? Watch the room and look for clues of body language and invite individuals to participate.
  • Over and over life teaches us it’s as much about “who you know” as “what you know”.
    Imagine you want to persuade the CEO of a company to invest money in your idea. If you only have 20 minutes to persuade him, you’ll have to be at your absolute best to succeed. And if he doesn’t know you at all, he’s unlikely to agree on the day – he’ll ask someone in his team to look into your proposal before considering what to do about it.
    But what if you could get to their right hand advisor and pre-brief them? They could prepare the CEO by making sure they understand the proposal, and collecting any relevant supporting information. Or they could give you guidance as to what the CEO will want to know, and how to present your case. Then you would have a much better chance of succeeding, and succeeding first time.
    The point here is: wouldn’t that be easier if the CEO’s chief advisor just happened to be someone you’d communicated well to in the past, and hence was pre-disposed to view you as credible and someone worth paying attention to.
    Think that’s unlikely? Yes, of course it is (though not impossible). But what’s absolutely likely is that if you explore the network of people you’ve connected with in the past you’ll find someone who knows someone who knows someone … and eventually the chain will reach the people you want to influence. So with foresight and preparation, you can gradually work your way through the network building trust upon trust from your own direct contacts. In doing this, you’ll not only get a favourable introduction to the CEO’s advisor (and then the CEO themselves), but you’ll also gather a groundswell of support; and feedback from every relevant part of the business. So by the time you reach the CEO, it will be obvious to his whole team that they should agree to your proposal.
    This may sound like a lot of work – and it is. But in many, many cases it’s how the world is changed. There are very few people who can simply chose to do significant things without go through a process of persuasion of this sort. And those people tend to be sat in the chairs on Dragon’s Den and have been successful precisely because they worked hard in that way beforehand.
    So once you have communicated well, stay in touch. You never know when the contact will be useful – to promote an idea, to find some expertise or for a thousand other reasons. It takes very little effort, and can be very valuable.
  • Our perception of events may be skewed by preconceptions and misinterpretation, and may / will not match the perception of others
  • Our actions may not be perceived and interpreted the way we intend
  • We can’t change someone’s thoughts and perceptions, we can only change what we do, be aware of the perception that it creates, and act differently if the perception that is created is not what we had wanted.
  • (in other words: listen at least as much as you speak)
  • It’s important to vary your style e.g. in face to face vs group situations. Think about authoritative vs. coercive vs. affiliative styles
    Are George Bush and Vladimir Putin really the best of friends as they appear here? Or are they using spoken and physical communication to create a friendly atmosphere to faciliate a negotiation?
    There is a balance to be achieved in matching our communication style to both our business objectives and our emotions and personal values whilst maintaining integrity.
  • Asynchronous communication
    Formal project documentation
    Will you always be there to give your presentation, or do the slides truly need to speak for themselves?
    Important when communicating across international boundaries and timezones
    Semi-synchronous communication
    Can create confusion, e.g. When an e-mail is sent to a group, and different people read and reply to the e-mail in different orders. I’ve seen this process lead in minutes from a simple business request to a bad-tempered exchange for no reason other than a misunderstanding created by several people reading e-mails in different orders.
    Incomplete communication
    Meeting formalities tend to disappear in conference calls
    Beware backchannels – whilst you’re speaking to people on a conference call, are some of them instant-messaging to each other? And is that subversive (Rick’s giving a really bad presentation isn’t he?) or helpful (In a moment I’m going to ask you how many deals you’re expecting to win this quarter – are you ready to answer?)
    Humour, mood and intent are very easy to confuse without the benefit of body language
  • As statistician Edward Tufte points out in his book, Visual Explanations, the evidence that the Space Shuttle’s o-rings could create a disaster was presented to NASA management before the Challenger tragedy. Unfortunately, the data – describing the condition of the o-rings after launches at various temperatures - was presented in a confusing way, ordered by the date of the launch.
    It is only when this same data is charted along a temperature axis (thanks to Tufte) that the problem becomes abundantly clear: cooler temperatures increase the chance for damage.
  • Part of Web 2.0 is driven by demographic change. When I was a child in the 70’s and 80’s it was very unusually to have a computer; those who did treated it as a rather geeky hobby and indulged in programming and other activities that would nowadays be recognised as “Computer Science”. Children of today have grown up with not just computers but the globally connected web of them we call the “internet” as an absolutely unremarkable aspect of everyday life; whilst most of them wouldn’t recognise “computer science” if it hit them, they are enthusiastically experimenting with it and in the last few years have created more new forms of communication than have existed in the previous history of our world.
  • There are techniques for every style of communication. Some of them are explicitly about helping you to get what you want (e.g. sales school, Neuro Linguistic Programming); others will actually give you deep insight into yourself which may improve your personal life and relationships in ways you don’t yet appreciate (e.g. Arbinger Institute “Leadership & self-deception”, management and leadership education.
    There are specific domain techniques too, e.g. IBM’s Architectural method is a communication tool of sorts for complex projects; various workshop / brainstorming techniques etc.

Transcript

  • 1. © 2011 IBM Corporation Rick Robinson, IBM rick_robinson@uk.ibm.com twitter.com/dr_rick How I Herd Cats
  • 2. © 2011 IBM Corporation Achieving something often involves communicating (successfully)
  • 3. © 2011 IBM Corporation I will have succeeded in communicating with you today if  I persuade you that communication is important  I hold your attention  I teach you about some insights and techniques about communication that I have learnt  I persuade you to pay more attention to communication
  • 4. © 2011 IBM Corporation When communication fails life is frustrating and unproductive
  • 5. © 2011 IBM Corporation
  • 6. © 2011 IBM Corporation How am I doing so far?  I hope I have persuaded you that communication is important  I will try throughout this lecture to hold your attention  Next I will try to teach you about some insights and techniques about communication
  • 7. © 2011 IBM Corporation Stages of effective communication  Getting attention  Establishing rapport and credibility  Having a meaningful conversation  Staying in contact
  • 8. © 2011 IBM Corporation
  • 9. © 2011 IBM Corporation How true are the following statements of something you spent attention on?  I was happy and excited to spend time on it  I paid attention to it because it was in my best interests  I couldn’t avoid it; it was necessary or imperative  I might have suffered otherwise – it wasn’t necessarily positive  It was a subconscious decision  I had been waiting for something to occupy me
  • 10. © 2011 IBM Corporation How true are the following statements of something you spent attention on?  I was happy and excited to spend time on it  I paid attention to it because it was in my best interests  I couldn’t avoid it; it was necessary or imperative  I might have suffered otherwise – it wasn’t necessarily positive  It was a subconscious decision  I had been waiting for something to occupy me (rarely happens)
  • 11. © 2011 IBM Corporation How true are the following statements of something you spent attention on?  I was happy and excited to spend time on it  I paid attention to it because it was in my best interests  I couldn’t avoid it; it was necessary or imperative  I might have suffered otherwise – it wasn’t necessarily positive  It was a subconscious decision  I had been waiting for something to occupy me (only really applies to mechanical activities such as driving a car)
  • 12. © 2011 IBM Corporation How true are the following statements of something you spent attention on?  I was happy and excited to spend time on it  I paid attention to it because it was in my best interests  I couldn’t avoid it; it was necessary or imperative  I might have suffered otherwise – it wasn’t necessarily positive  It was a subconscious decision  I had been waiting for something to occupy me (applies to things the police or your boss tell you to do)
  • 13. © 2011 IBM Corporation How true are the following statements of something you spent attention on?  I was happy and excited to spend time on it  I paid attention to it because it was in my best interests  I couldn’t avoid it; it was necessary or imperative  I might have suffered otherwise – it wasn’t necessarily positive  It was a subconscious decision  I had been waiting for something to occupy me (all require you to persuade your audience why they should pay attention to you)
  • 14. © 2011 IBM Corporation Establishing rapport and credibility
  • 15. © 2011 IBM Corporation Je n'ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n'ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte. I have made this [letter] longer than usual, only because I have not the time to make it shorter. – Blaise Pascal
  • 16. © 2011 IBM Corporation Having a meaningful conversation  Teaching or learning something  Persuading someone or being persuaded  Creating or agreeing something  Whatever you’re doing establish a common language
  • 17. © 2011 IBM Corporation Staying in contact
  • 18. © 2011 IBM Corporation Elements of effective communication  Self-awareness  Choosing an appropriate style  Using media effectively
  • 19. © 2011 IBM Corporation How we see the world Events Deletion Distortion Generalisation Thoughts Filters (Thoughts = Reality)
  • 20. © 2011 IBM Corporation Events Deletion Distortion Generalisation Thoughts Actions Motivation Working Traits (Your actions = your thoughts) How we interact with the world
  • 21. © 2011 IBM Corporation Deletion Distortion Generalisation Thoughts Actions Motivation Motivation Traits You What you can change What you can’t Deletion Distortion Generalisation Thoughts Actions Motivation Motivation Traits
  • 22. © 2011 IBM Corporation Deletion Distortion Generalisation Thoughts Actions Motivation Motivation Traits Deletion Distortion Generalisation Thoughts Actions Motivation Motivation Traits You (Avoid write-only mode!)
  • 23. © 2011 IBM Corporation Choosing an appropriate style
  • 24. © 2011 IBM Corporation “I’m sorry I was talking on mute”  We often need to communicate with people who are in a different place, or who work at different times  The technologies we use to do that are not perfect  Unless we are careful our communication will be incomplete or confused Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink. – Martin Lomasney  (Although, carefully used, these technologies can be extraordinarily effective)
  • 25. © 2011 IBM Corporation Visual explanations can be compelling
  • 26. © 2011 IBM Corporation (But remember that while a picture may be worth a thousand words sometimes what you really need are a few carefully chosen ones)
  • 27. © 2011 IBM Corporation The youth of yesterday played football, bought My Little Pony and watched Grange Hill The youth of today are defining the usage patterns for the most sophisticated communication media the world has ever seen (and in some cases learnt to code Z80 assembler) (and now they’ve got jobs)
  • 28. © 2011 IBM Corporation Use the right techniques
  • 29. © 2011 IBM Corporation Did I succeed today?  By persuading you that communication is important?  By holding your attention?  By teaching you about some insights and techniques about communication?  By persuading you to pay more attention to communication?
  • 30. © 2011 IBM Corporation A few related ways you can spend your attention  The Attention Economy – Davenport and Beck  Visual Explanations – Edward Tufte  Leadership and Self-Deception – The Arbinger Institute