Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Style relates to more than just fashion!

Why does my writing style matter? 

Using words, whether written or spoken, is our way of communicating with others. When communicating, it is important to understand the impact that your communication can have. The words that you choose, and the way that you use them, can be the key to successfully or unsuccessfully delivering your message.

Getting the message across in business could be making the sale, responding clearly to enquiries, explaining your business, responding to complaints or explaining something to a colleague; each one of these are different situations in which the way you communicate is incredibly important. Getting our message across in personal situations is about developing relationships and presenting ourselves in the best possible light, and is equally important. We must aim to always use accurate, clear and high-quality information at all times.

Remember: No-one writes perfectly, which is why it is always vital to check your written work multiple times.

How do I write effectively?

         Know your audience

When you are writing you need to think about who will be receiving your message. Before you start writing you should ask yourself:

Who is the audience? (roles, genders, ages, profession)
What do they know about your topic?
What do they need to know?
What questions would they have?
How will your message impact them?
Would they prefer quick facts and “executive summaries” or lots of detail?

You should use the responses to help you decide how you will write the content.

         Know what you are trying to achieve

What are you trying to achieve through this content? What you want to achieve affects the way in which you write your content. You should ask yourself:

What is your objective?
What do you want people to know? (do they really need to know all that?)
What do you want people to feel? (to feel excited, like they belong?)
What do you want people to do? (change the way they work, take action, send feedback?)

If you do not want people to do anything with the communication, you should ask yourself whether there really is a need to communicate.

         Choose the correct 'tone'

When we communicate face-to-face we are able to use a number of things to help us convey the meaning, such as our body language, tone of voice and facial expressions. When we are writing we only have our words. This means that we have to be incredibly careful in the way that we express ourselves through our writing.

There are a number of techniques you can use to get the right tone:
(Examples by Ellen Hake (2010) “Language and tone”)

         Use engaging language

Controlling language
Engaging language
You are required to
You need to
If you have a valid excuse
Can you explain what happened
You misunderstood
I didn't explain that clearly

         Talk about a positive result

Negative result
Positive result
To avoid delivering it late
So that we can deliver it on time
You haven't given us enough information
We need you to give us more information
The project doesn't have enough money
The project needs more money

         Talk to one person

To the group
To one person
As most people know
You may know that
To our clients
Dear client
Which of you has been
Have you been

         Use stories and examples

Stories and examples
20,000 homeless
Gillian who lost her job, then her flat when she got sick.
Experience counts
Last year, George was faced with a crisis, but with 20 years in the field he knew...
Businesses benefit hugely from advertising to students
Company X was trying to generate further revenue. They approached BAM to help them target the student market. X, Y and Z were the positive results that they achieved.

         Adapt your tone to the situation

Please send the form by 16th July
You need to send the form by 16th July
Send the form by 16th July to avoid penalties
You owe £100 because you did not respond by 16th July
Let's talk about what you need to do to make the booking

         Keep it simple

Despite what you may naturally think, plain language is often better received than using complex sentence structure and fancy words. Cut out unnecessary words and break down long sentences into shorter ones. Where you can use active verbs instead of passive to make it sound more personal:

Passive: It was decided/ The decision was taken
Active: We decided

I hope that you have enjoyed this week's blog and I also hope that some of these pointers will help everyone to be clearer and more engaging in their written communication. As always, do feel free to comment or send me any of your own ideas on this topic!

Monday, 14 May 2012

The importance of eye contact when communicating

I recently received an email from one of my blog readers, Helen Hastings-Spital,  regarding my last article about communicating effectively. Helen is a UKCP registered psychotherapist based in Cirencester and has sent me some really interesting information about eye contact in communication, which she has kindly allowed me to share with you.

"Eye contact is an important aspect of good communication as it can help to get our point across to our audience in a powerful way.

Maintaining eye contact suggests you’re interested in what the other is saying while little eye contact or avoiding eye contact can suggest you/the other are disinterested, anxious, shy or even dishonest. Most people can’t look you in the eye while telling a fib or an outright lie!

Staring intensely at someone can make him or her feel acutely uncomfortable – they can feel ‘pinned down’ or trapped by your gaze.  An intense gaze can imply deep interest but can also be interpreted as confrontational, intimidating or a challenge to the authority of the speaker (e.g. being ‘stared down’.)

So what’s the ‘right’ amount of eye contact to make? In natural conversation, listener and speaker maintain an unconscious rhythm in their eye contact. The speaker will maintain eye contact with the listener for between 5-7 seconds before looking away. When eye contact is re-established with the listener immediately, this unconsciously indicates the wish of the speaker to continue talking. If there is a longer pause before re-establishing eye contact this is an implicit invitation by the speaker for the listener to respond and begin talking. This non-verbal guide to ‘turn-taking’ in conversation is learned from a very early age through what are called ‘proto-conversations’. In this process the m/other and baby engage in eye contact and sounds/gurgles that establish the art of turn-taking in a pre-verbal form of communication. Later this learning is transferred to guide effective turn-taking in conversation.

Interestingly, changing the length and frequency of eye contact can change the pace (speed) of a conversation. Lengthening the time of eye contact made with a speaker can increase the pace and intensity of the conversation. As a listener, looking away more frequently may slow the talker down, allowing more space for thought and reflection.  Why don’t you experiment next time you’re trying to communicate something!

But beware – know your audience! Some cultures consider direct eye contact as rude and aggressive. In Middle Eastern cultures eye contact between members of the opposite sex is seen as potentially provocative, so is avoided, while in Asia/China avoiding eye contact with a superior is seen as a sign of respect. In most of Europe and the USA, maintaining eye contact is a necessary part of good, honest, powerful communication.

Finally, psychology research has shown that when words (content of speech) and non-verbal behaviours (eye contact, body posture, facial features) are mismatched (e.g. the speaker says they are happy to see you but doesn’t make eye contact) the listener will place more trust in the non-verbal cues to rate the truth of a statement rather than believing the spoken words!"

So there you have it, eye contact is an incredibly important part of communicating effectively. Thank you very much to Helen for her guest post on my blog, I am certainly going to try varying my eye contact with people to see what effect it may have.

If you think you have an interesting article to share with my blog readers, please do send me an email at jennyhazan88@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Communicating Effectively - Up close and personal

Communication is vital to our everyday life. It is how we express ourselves, understand others and interact as human beings. Many people have heard the old adage that only 7% of effective communication is verbal (i.e what you actually say), the other 93% is non-verbal (i.e your body language, tone, vocal variety etc).

Over the next couple of weeks I will be writing a few short blog posts on ‘communicating effectively’. Today’s post will focus in on face-to-face communication and I will provide my five top tips that I hope will help you to avoid the common mistakes that people make time and time again. You may be talking to your boss at work, giving a presentation, going for a job interview or perhaps just meeting people for the first time, but every time you communicate you are giving off an impression (and sometimes it is not always the one that you were hoping for!)

Top Five Tips

1.   Take your time. You know that awkward moment when someone asks you a question you weren’t expecting and words leap out of your mouth before you have actually thought of a proper response? Don’t let yourself do it. There is nothing wrong with a considered pause, in fact it often helps you to formulate a sensible and intelligent response to the question and you will look far more confident taking your time than just letting your words fall out of your mouth.

2.    Make yourself understood. Now that you have given yourself a pause to think about what you want to say, don’t ruin your point by slurring your words or speaking at 100mph! Enunciate your words clearly and be careful not to mumble. You may have an intelligent and important thing to say, but if you are not clear you will lose your audience quickly.

3.   Vary your tone and pace. No-one likes the person with the dull and monotone voice; it makes whatever you are talking about sound boring. Make sure you change the pitch of your voice to enhance the meaning of what you are saying and slow down when you are trying to emphasise the point you are making. Be careful not to overuse this technique though, a chaotic use of tone and pace with constant variation will only make you sound insincere and will be difficult to understand. Try reading this blog out loud and vary your pitch and tone to see how changing your voice can change the emphasis of the words you are saying.

4.   Maintain eye contact. It can be nerve wracking to look someone in the eye whilst having a conversation, particularly if it is at a job interview or in a pressured situation. However, acting as if the person you are talking to is a basilisk, that will cause you immediate death if you look them in the eye, is not helpful either. Shifty eye contact can be perceived as untrustworthy and can arouse a subconscious feeling of mistrust and suspicion within the person you are speaking to. Similarly, staring at someone directly in the eyes for a sustained period of time would make anyone feel uncomfortable. If you are feeling nervous, try looking just above someone’s eyes when you are speaking. This will appear to them as if you are giving good eye contact without you feeling as if you are staring directly into their eyes.

5.    It’s not all about you! Less speaking, more listening. This is a key point that people often forget. A conversation is a two-way or multi-way interaction between two or more people (except when you are muttering to yourself angrily when you have forgotten your umbrella in the rain). This means that it is vitally important for you to listen to what others have to say. Even more importantly you should be understanding, interpreting and evaluating what you have heard. Being a good active listener is often an uncommon skill. Think about the number of times when someone has been speaking to you and you have already begun formulating what you are going to say in response before they finish rather than actually taking the time to understand their point – go on, admit it, we have all done it! Try to get a better grasp of someone’s opinion or point by asking questions and repeating the main points of what they have said to ensure clarification.

I hope these tips have given you some ideas about how you could communicate more effectively in your day-to-day life. Over the next few weeks I will be writing about the following topics:
·         Presentations – How to keep your audience awake
·         Why style is just as important in your writing as it is in fashion
·         The written word – Making yourself understood

Please do comment if you would like me to cover any other topics specifically.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The Chaos of Change (part 2)

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about change. I was specifically referring to one of the most recent changes in my life, my boyfriend Paul was moving to London and I was going to have to move house. I promised to keep my blog readers up-to-date with my progress along the change curve and this gave me an idea for a speech at my local Toastmasters Speaking Club, where I am a member. Tonight I spoke to my club about the "chaos of change" and was rewarded with "Best Speaker" of the evening, which I am incredibly pleased with. I decided that perhaps it would be good to share my speech on this blog, so here it is!
Mr. Toastmaster, fellow toastmasters, most welcome guests. Good evening. “Who, in this room, is going through some sort of change in their lives at the moment?” Anyone? [I witnessed a number of hands zoom up]. It could be something big, maybe you’ve started a new job, moved house, got married or perhaps it is something smaller like joining a new club, getting a haircut or going on a diet.

Life is full of constant change, from the very big to the very small and we all choose to react to it in varying ways. However, academics have produced countless numbers of “change curves”, like the one you below, these diagrams are designed to help us understand the impact change has on our emotions. We can move through these emotional curves in a matter of minutes or sometimes it can take years. We also tend to be going through multiple change curves at the same time.

In business, the objective of many of those who work in ‘change management’ is twofold, to minimise the impact change has on our emotions and shorten the amount of time in which we move through the curve. The aim is also to reduce resistance to change and smooth the process. I have been lucky enough to come into contact with the subject in my job and have found it absolutely fascinating, I hope I will be able to share my fascination with you this evening. I am naturally starting to apply my change management knowledge to my personal life and I wanted to walk you through a change curve using one of my own personal experiences. Recently, my boyfriend Paul was offered a job in London. This triggered quite a big change in both of our lives. Although I knew he had been applying to jobs outside of Cheltenham, when he told me about the offer, it was still an unexpected shock.
Stage 1, Anxiety/Shock – Did he really want to move to London? What was I going to do? I would have to find somewhere new to live and leave our apartment.
This was a scary thought but quite quickly my emotion changed to:
Stage 2, Happiness – Paul had found himself a great opportunity and I was happy for him. I was also going to have the chance to make some new friends in Cheltenham, with my newly found free time.  I was also going to finally be able to make my bedroom really girly (something Paul had never let me get away with) and most importantly I could make sure that the loo seat would stay down!
A few weeks later I moved into: Stage 3, Denial – This is an optional stage that goes off the change curve at a tangent.With 6 days to go till I needed to move, I had left my stuff unpacked and I hadn’t found anywhere to live. I just assumed that if I didn’t do anything, nothing would change. (Note to self – this is not true and by waiting, I have now ended up living with 3 boys and that damn loo seat is back up again!) Stage 4 and 5, Fear and Anger – These two emotions came at the same time for me but thankfully they were fairly short lived. After Paul had packed his things and moved to London, I felt very much alone. I had taken for granted someone to walk home with who would actually be interested to hear about my day (or at least pretend to be!). I returned to my empty house to do the last-minute packing, cancel bills, arrange for cleaners and do all the things that you have to do, whilst Paul was enjoying the delights of the capital city. I have to admit I was pretty angry to have been left with all the responsibility.
This stage was followed by:

Stage 6 and 7, Guilt and Depression -  These are not nice stages, you are at the bottom of the curve. I felt guilt for not being more happy for Paul and I felt depressed at what had been lost and a realisation of what would never be again.
Having worked with the change curve before, I knew that I had to pull myself up and reach:

Stage 8, Gradual Acceptance - I’m naturally quite a positive person, so I tried to think about the many new doors that could be opened by this change. The first positive that I came up with was that I would now have a good excuse to go to London shopping, regularly. A few years ago, I moved to Mexico for a year, leaving Paul 7000 miles behind and whilst I was drinking tequila and making new friends, he was experiencing a similar change curve ... So I think that I have to accept that 2hrs15 on the train to Paddington is not quite as bad as the 18hr flight he made 4 times!
Resisting change wears down our bodies, taxes our minds, and deflates our spirits. It is important to try and move on and find something positive from within the change as quickly as possible. Change is inevitable and whilst it can be scary and unsettling, it can bring many unknown opportunities and possibilities.

I hope that you take away from my speech the courage to face change head on. Remember courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage in the face of change is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.