Friday, 26 January 2007

It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you say it ….powerful vs powerless speech

It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you say it ….powerful vs powerless speech

Anyone who does communication or presentation skills training is probably aware of the work of Albert Mehrabian PhD on the relative importance of verbal and non-verbal messages in face-to-face communications. The “7-38-55” rule is that the content of speech (the actual words used by the speaker) accounts for only about 7% of meaning. The way it’s said (pitch and tone of the speaker’s voice for example) accounts for about 38% of meaning, and the body language of the speaker accounts for the remaining 55%. Which explains why, if you’re saying one thing, but your voice and body language are saying another, people are more likely to accept the message you give through your non-verbal clues, not the literal meaning of the words themselves.

So what happens when communications aren’t face-to-face, and the body language element is absent? I was intrigued when I heard Alison Fragale, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behaviour and Strategy at the University of North Carolina on Radio 4’s All in the Mind programme on 23rd January. She talked about an experiment to find out what type of speech, a more powerful style or a more powerless style, is more conducive to gaining promotion in the workplace. I think most people with a background in business would say that an assertive style is a prerequisite.

She described powerless speech as a more submissive or tentative style, characterised by hesitation (e.g. ‘um’ and ‘well’), intensifiers (e.g. ‘very’ and ‘really’) as well as phrases like ‘don’t you think?’ and ‘I’m not really sure but…’. Powerful speech, on the other hand, has none of these linguistic markers.

All the communications skills training I’ve ever come across is aimed at getting people to speak more confidently and assertively, but what Fragale’s experiment revealed is that it depends on how much interdependence there is in an organisation. If there is a high expectation that people will work collaboratively, then a submissive style is seen to be preferable, and people with this style of speech will be promoted. In organizations where people work independently, however, an assertive style will more likely lead to promotion.

Fragale’s advice to people in business is

1) to increase your awareness of the type of culture you’re working in,
2) practise the style of speech that will lead to the outcome you want, and
3) continually ask for feedback on your style of speech.

So it would seem, context, rather than content, is still very much king.

Thursday, 25 January 2007

In celebration of National Women’s Enterprise Day

Did you know that yesterday was National Women’s Enterprise Day? Do you care? According to a report by the BBC News it is important because the government wants more women to start their own businesses.

Apparently we (women) are lagging behind the USA quite substantially, to the point where the U.K. would have 750,000 more businesses if it kept pace with our US counterparts; a statistic put forward by Trade and Industry Secretary, Alan Johnson.

Significantly, the BBC News report goes on to say that the women’s enterprise group Prowess wants the government to prioritise the 18-24 age group, since they have been found to be the least entrepreneurial, according to a report by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM). Another BBC News report on Monday 11th September 2006, said that local education authorities will be required to avoid gender stereotyping, when advising schoolgirls about possible career choices.

I have worked in the USA, some 18 years ago admittedly and I have been 18-24, many moons ago. On the first point, it strikes me that the USA is far more able to accommodate entrepreneurs – both male and female into its social structure far easier than we are. The USA has been built on a nation of people following the American Dream – whatever that might be and whatever it takes to get there - get there they will. Over here we seem to be only just getting around to the idea that sales and marketing are real professions and not just a job that used car sales people do. It seems to me that the USA does not have the ‘baggage’ associated with gender stereotyping that we do. I remember seeing female road sweepers and airline pilots even back then. On top of that, Americans just seem to be more positive about their work than we do – some might say they are generally more positive – others might say nauseatingly so.

Not only that, the service economy over there just makes things much easier for women to work – when I lived there, and this was in the 80’s, I was amazed to find it cost $1 to get a shirt dry-cleaned and only marginally more to get it delivered back to your office. There are places to park (Ok maybe not in New York, but this was Silicon valley, California) when you go for a meeting or take a client to dinner and if not there was always valet parking; making the whole experience far less stress inducing. There were even affordable shoe shine counters at local airports for those business commuters who had forgotten or didn’t have time to clean their shoes that morning. I could go on…

Now on the topic of the 18-24 age group, I am again perplexed by this. According to demographic trends, we along with most other developed countries are ageing as a population thanks to the baby boom generation. According to a report issued by the House of Lords, Select Committee on Economic Affairs, printed on 5th November 2003 and titled ‘Aspects of an ageing population’, the Government Actuary’s Department projects that by 2050, the 65+ age group will represent 24.4 per cent of the total UK population. It is a very good idea to offer training for young women, but why discriminate either positively or negatively? Has anyone seen any initiatives for ageing entrepreneurs?

Whilst I certainly welcome flexible working, time-share and more crèche facilities at the workplace, I really do think the UK has a long way to go to alter the perceptions surrounding part-time work, often conducted by women. Another BBC News article on Thursday 5 January headlined: ‘Gender equality is decades away’, goes on to report that even The Equal Opportunities Commission says the increase in the number of women in politics is very low, and that only 10% of senior posts in large firms are held by women. Bridget recently met Mona Larsen-Asp, who leads the Department of Policy Promotion at the Norwegian Equality and Anti-discrimination Commission; in Norway, the government has passed legislation requiring all public sector and large commercial organisations to have at least 40% female representation on their managing board. Rather than see this as restrictive, companies are developing innovative ways of enabling women to take up these top leadership positions.

It seems that it is likely to take some time before we in the UK fully acknowledge that professional careers may advance through the application of flexible working practices and society may flourish through a better work:life balance – whatever gender, whether employed or self-employed and whatever age.

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Glittering Prize

Did you read the articles on Happiness in the Independent on Sunday ? Fascinating stuff. I loved ‘Happy Now?’ by William Leith, the whole “Christmas = consumerism gone mad = cause and effect of unhappiness” argument is very persuasive. How many people do you know who really did have a fantastic Christmas holiday, full of joy and goodwill towards others, not blighted by tears over burnt turkey and unsuitable or forgotten gifts (at best) or ugly family rows and break-ups (at worst). According to Manches LLP, a leading divorce law firm quoted in the Telegraph, the 2nd week of January is the busiest for divorce lawyers – once the kids are back to school, parents have the time to start divorce proceedings....

Leith talks about his experiences of happiness, and in particular an exceptionally happy moment from childhood; he describes being so involved in the activity that he doesn't notice time passing. Three hours actually seemed like twenty minutes, so when it’s time to go he is shocked. What he neatly describes in this short paragraph is what psychology professor, Csikszentmihalyi, calls ‘flow’ (see Flow: The classic work on how to achieve happiness’) i.e. a state where you are so absorbed in what you're doing that time passes much faster than you realise. This optimal state is one which we all strive for, since it is then that we perform at our best, whatever we are doing. By the way, don’t be put off by the unpronounceable name; this book is an extremely good read and is highly recommended.

Sarah Harris’s ‘Happiness: a user’s manual’ also quoted in the IoS gives you a dozen or so “rules” to follow to increase your happiness. She doesn’t quite give you the full story, however: she says ‘get married’, for example, quoting a large research study in the States in which 40% of married people described themselves as happy compared to only 24% of single people. But might it not be that happy people are more likely to get married in the first place (and unhappy people more likely to stay single)? You’d need to do some kind of survey of the same people before and after getting married to prove that point, wouldn’t you?

She also says that people who believe in God are happier than those who don’t. But this might not be to do with God per se, it might instead be something to do with optimism, or hope (life after death). According to Snyder et al (see Chapter 19 of the Handbook of Positive Psychology) , hope provides a buffer against negative emotions and negative self-talk, is critical for psychological health and has been shown to improve sporting and academic achievement. But then, as Dr Ilona Boniwell points out, it might be more to do with the social connections that people make through going to church. Sarah Harris also states that finding ‘a class or group of any kind (that) fosters a sense of belonging’ is important to increasing your happiness.

According to Martin Seligman, the American guru of happiness and, with Csikszentmihalyi, co-founder of the Positive Psychology movement, about 40% of your happiness is within your control (the rest is due to circumstances and genes). So in addition to the rules given by Sarah Harris, what practical things can you do day-by-day to increase your happiness? Here are a few of the ideas I’ve picked up over the past year or so:

1) Avoid keeping up with the Joneses, whether literally next door or the celebrities you’ll probably never meet. There will always be people who have ‘more’ than you (wealth, beauty, luck, success, Prada handbags, or whatever), and continually comparing yourself with other people is proven to cause dissatisfaction. Notice when you compare yourself to other people, and notice how you feel about making those comparisons. The more aware you are of it, the easier it will get to avoid doing it.

2) Get involved with something which is bigger than you (eg a choir, charity, community group, soccer team, anything which you can’t do on your own) – this helps to build social connections, and keeps you focussed on “life outside”.

3) Do a good deed every so often, or talk to someone at the bus-stop, or the supermarket check-out . See this fabulous Random Acts of Kindness website for ideas.

4) Write a daily journal and keep a note of the three best bits of your day. I took this up when I did my NLP training, and it really works. The three best things could be anything, big or small. Writing it down is useful – it’s very encouraging to reread it several weeks or months later – however if you haven’t got time to write, put aside 5 or 10 minutes at the end of the day to recall those moments.

I did look for the YouGov poll mentioned in Leith’s article, but the only thing I found was a link to a Daily Mail article (“ Britons despair of falling standards in society despite increasing affluence”), not the actual results themselves. If the figures he quotes are correct (only 11% of us think Britain will be a better place in 5 years time), let’s at least be positive about it….the only way is up, as they say….


Monday, 22 January 2007

The Importance of Being Authentic – the changing nature of trust

I was looking forward to attending my first City Women’s Network meeting in London last Tuesday night. The topic for the panel discussion was ‘How to protect, create and maintain your image’; I had been wondering how much it would focus on the impact of new media, and blogging in particular, on personal branding.

What initially struck me about the CWM was the sheer energy in the room, even before the main debate got underway. About a quarter of the delegates were new to the network, the atmosphere warm and welcoming, in sharp contrast to the rather solemn surroundings.

The panel, made up of

contrasted traditional and new media contexts in a lively and engaging way, drawing on their personal experience and including many anecdotes to illustrate their points of view.

And what also intrigued me was the contrast between the way ‘old’ and new media works, with the latter having an unforeseen level of impact on every aspect of PR and personal branding, as well as on society more generally.

* In traditional media (newspapers and mainstream TV) it may take several months or even years to carefully craft the ‘right’ public image. With new media (basically anything delivered using the internet), this might be achieved within days or even hours.

Business people might dismiss this as only relevant to the world of celebrity, but the point is that personal and corporate reputations can be improved or tarnished in just the same amount of time.

In addition, your (or your company’s) public image can even be created or affected without your agreement or knowledge. We were advised by Neville Hobson to google our own names when we got home - whilst we may not be able to change what is out there in the public arena, at least we can be aware of it. Forewarned is forearmed.

It seems that the rewards for getting it right can be enormous, but the risks are equally large.

* The way new media works dictates that authenticity is crucial. When you’re in the public eye (voluntarily or not), if you’re not authentic you’ll be found out and exposed, and probably sooner rather than later. So why is authenticity so important?

* Well, authenticity is linked to trust, and new technology has contributed to a huge change in the nature of trust in society. According to Neville Hobson, we are more likely to trust “a person like me” than our politicians or the media. It seems that we are now prepared to trust people we’ve never met and probably never will, simply because we got talking to them in an internet chat-room, or liked what they had to say on a blog. Therefore, if you want to create a professional image which is trusted and respected, be authentic.

There were several questions to the panel along the lines of "given what we’ve heard about the dangers, should I try to establish a personal brand at all?" Stuart Higgins quoted an example of a very high profile woman whose reputation has been enhanced by the fact that she has resolutely kept quiet at public engagements. It works both ways. The key is to know what you’re going into and to adhere to the simple rules.

And what of the business world? Well, the Edelman Annual Trust Barometer states that

“Trust has important bottom-line consequences. In most markets, more than 80% [of respondents] say they would refuse to buy goods or services from a company they do not trust, and more than 70% will “criticize them to people they know,” with one-third sharing their opinions and experiences of a distrusted company on the Web…”

So companies are not immune from the issues surrounding authenticity and trust.

According to Edelman, …” To build trust, companies need to localize communications, be transparent, and engage multiple stakeholders continuously as advocates across a broad array
of communications channels”

For another perspective on this CWN event, see writer Yang-May Ooi's blog.

Other reports and surveys about the nature of trust :

Reuters survey

Public trust and confidence in charities – Nov 05

Public Affairs News - Democratisation of Trust

IEEE Communications Society - Survey of Trust in Internet Applications - 2000

Trust Us – Survey of Corporate Sustainability Reporting

Monday, 15 January 2007

And now for something completely different….well almost…

I’ve got a couple of meetings in London this week, one at the University of East London over in Stratford. Last time I went to London I just bought tube tickets as I went along; this time I thought I should look at getting an Oyster card, which I thought would definitely save time and maybe save money as well.

So I looked at the Transport for London website for information about the Oyster card, and costs of ‘normal’ tube/bus/train tickets to compare it to. After searching various web pages, at last I found a 20 (yes twenty) page brochure of tube/bus/train ticket costs for 2007 called “Your Guide to Fares and Tickets…Tram, Tube, bus and DLR”. I’m sure to find the answer here I thought…Not a chance. Having trawled my way through tables, capping rates, travel card and season ticket options, I was simply delighted to notice that at the end, as if the previous twenty pages weren’t enough, the brochure listed the titles of five other leaflets I could pick up from the Tube Station if I needed further information……Sacrebleu!

Compare this complete fiasco with my travel experience in France just after Christmas, when I wanted to get from Charles de Gaulle airport to central Paris. I get a 1 page summary of all the ticket options from the information desk. That’s it. One page. Admittedly it wasn’t a nice glossy brochure, in multicolour with graphics and a lots of diagrams. In fact, it was pretty poorly photocopied sheet of paper in black and white…in fact, it wasn’t even one page, it was HALF a page (the other half is left blank for notes), and it’s A5 at that….But it did the job superbly. I got the ticket I wanted straightaway.

The French definitely know something about Customer Service that we in the UK don’t. Plus, and this is where they have a huge advantage, they know how to be concise when it really matters. None of this “business speak” that we so love and revere in the UK.

Think about how much time it takes to write a 20 page brochure, check its accuracy, and keep it up-to-date. And all the time (and money) it takes to maintain the myriad of different pricing tariffs that the brochure tries to explain. According to the Economic and Social Research Council, the good news is that UK productivity has increased substantially across each of the last four decades. However, they also quote data from the Office for National Statistics which shows that France has higher labour productivity per worker than the UK (see the paragraph called “Comparative Productivity – International”), and this has been the case for many years. Another example of where ‘less is more’.

Monday, 8 January 2007

Well-being vs well-doing

Maybe it’s the traditional British reserve but whenever I mention that I’m interested in the subject of happiness, people tend to raise their eyebrows and look a little bemused. Very often they say ‘that’s simple, if I had more money I’d be happy’, or at this time of year in particular, ‘if I lost a little weight/stopped smoking I’d be happy’. Happiness is worth a closer look because, actually, it’s not that simple; research has shown that health and wealth might bring happiness to a point or temporarily, but that it doesn’t last…

Happiness is becoming big business now. If you type ‘happiness’ into Amazon, you get over 5000 books on the subject. There are TV programmes about it and websites devoted to it. But why does it matter to organizations what makes people happy?

In his article ‘Happiness is a serious business’ quoted in People Management, Nic Marks, head of the Centre for Wellbeing at the New Economics Foundation, refers to the CIPD employee attitude survey 2006, part of which looked at the relationship between positive and negative emotions and several key performance indicators (KPIs): job satisfaction, meaningfulness of work, absorption in work, commitment to complete work, loyalty and performance.

What the survey found was that, with the exception of job satisfaction, positive emotions seem to have more than twice the impact on these KPIs as negative emotions do. In the case of job satisfaction, says Marks, “people’s satisfaction ratings and assessments of others are more clouded by their negative feelings than their own experience and behaviour”. He concludes that organizations could therefore have more impact and improve individual, team and organizational performance “by promoting a climate that fosters positive emotions at work”.

In short, there is a very serious point to ensuring that people are happy at work. In the past, we have thought that feeling happy was a result of good functioning i.e. ‘life is going well, therefore I feel good’. However there is a growing body of research (e.g. by the psychologist Dr Barbara Fredrickson, a world expert in the field of positive emotions) which suggests that feeling happy is also a cause of good functioning. So happiness is important to organizations because feeling happy actually helps promote creativity, resilience and resourcefulness; all qualities that we need to improve our performance and succeed at work.

Friday, 5 January 2007

The Knowledge Economy - why soft skills matter

According to Will Hutton, Chief Executive of the Work Foundation , the "knowledge economy" (not easy to define, in fact there is a 31 page paper 'Defining the Knowledge Economy' on the website) - illustrated by sectors such as business services, education, finance, telecoms - is fast becoming the biggest contributor to UK GDP. The growth of the knowledge economy started in the 1980s, he says, when traditional manufacturing (steel, transport, coal etc) started to decline.

One can take a systems view of these changes - that as one economy (manufacturing) shrinks, another (knowledge) grows to take its place. One might be tempted to think "well that's OK then, there is still equilibrium". But the more important point is that the kind of skills you needed to survive then are not the same skills you need to survive now and in the future .

As Hutton points out, what distinguishes the survivors from the casualties of the declining manufacturing sector (or indeed any declining sector) are soft skills. Now, in this particular programme (' What Makes Britain Rich?' ) he didn't elaborate, but we can guess the kind of things he was referring to - maybe resilience, emotional maturity, empathy, creativity, leadership, negotiation, team working, willingness to learn, self-awareness...there are many more.

This leads me to question whether the changes in the UK education system are really keeping pace with these changes in the world of employment. We do seem to be somewhat more focussed on league tables and targets than on developing our children's soft skills, and preparing them to become adults, workers, parents, inspirational leaders and responsible citizens. Hutton states that the new knowledge economy in the UK is here to stay - we can't turn the clock back. Therefore we need to ensure that the development of soft skills appears higher on the agenda.

Wednesday, 3 January 2007

Where am I now, and where do I want to be?

With 2006 now almost out of sight and the New Year on its way you might be wondering...where am I now, and where do I want to be?

Thanks to my experience of living in Asia, and being married to a person of Chinese origin, I have developed an interest in Eastern philosophies and religions. Although I can by no means claim to be an expert, I subscribe to the view that there must be something in it. In fact, it seems to me that the wisdom of the I-Ching is somewhat akin to what we know today in the west to be a 'systems view' of life. A systems view, put simply says that everything is inter-related; there is no cause without effect. The system of life in Chinese thought is largely determined by yin and yang - or opposites such as male/ female; black/white;hot/cold etc.

The I-Ching, or Book of Changes, is one of the world's oldest books. The wisdom of the I-Ching as a system has been consulted as far back as 1100 BCE. It is used in modern times to offer solutions to human problems .

Our company logo is based on the Contemporary I-Ching. Hexagram number 10 (hence 10 Consulting). It suggests that there will be success if the qualities of sincerity, honesty and modesty are applied to all interactions. These are the qualities that underpin all of our interactions and that we apply when offering solutions to our clients.

Reference: Palmer, M, Kwok, MH and O'Brien J (1989) The Contemporary I Ching

Tuesday, 2 January 2007

Why are Danes the world's happiest nation?

The following is a summary of a recent article in the on-line British Medical Journal, called "Why Danes are smug: comparative study of life satisfaction in the European Union". You don't have to read the full article, although it's quite short and an easy and fun read we think; but the main message is that having realistic expectations in life is key to maintaining happiness. As this is the time when a lot of us are thinking about New Year's resolutions, this is something to bear in mind.

"Earlier this year, Denmark came top in a world map of happiness (the UK ranked 41st out of 178 nations). And for more than 30 years it has ranked first in European satisfaction surveys. So what makes Danes so content?

Researchers in this week's Christmas issue of the BMJ decided to find out why life satisfaction in Denmark substantially exceeds that in Sweden and Finland, the two countries most similar to Denmark.

Their hypotheses range from the unlikely (hair colour, genes, food and language) to the more plausible, such as family life, health and a prosperous economy.

However, their analysis points to two explanatory factors. Firstly, winning the 1992 European Football Championship put Danes in such a state of euphoria that the country has not been the same since. This may explain the high level of life satisfaction in Denmark after 1992, they write.

Secondly, while Danes are very satisfied, their expectations for the coming year are rather low. In contrast, Italy and Greece, which rank low on life satisfaction, rank high on expectations for the year to come, together with Swedes and Finns.

The causes of the stolid depth of Danish wellbeing are undoubtedly multifactorial, they say. The Danish football triumph of 1992 has had a lasting impact, but the satisfaction of the Danes began well before 1992, albeit at a more moderate level. The key factor that explains this, and that differentiates Danes from Swedes and Finns, seems to be that Danes have consistently low (and realistic) expectations for the year to come.

So the key to happiness may lie in the fact that if you lower your expectations enough you might feel a bit better next Christmas, they conclude."

Contact: Professor Kaare Christensen, Danish Twin Registry, Institute of Public Health, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark Email:

Now I'm not an avid football fan (i.e. I watched the World Cup, but that's about it) but I was intrigued by the reference to the beautiful game...I wondered what it is about the Danish psyche that still leaves them feeling euphoric some 14 years after their greatest footballing victory to date, whereas in England our approach is to try to live up to the standard we set in 1966, and then beat ourselves up every time we don't succeed. I was reminded of something I heard Professor Raj Persaud and Dr Chris Johnstone say at a Bristol University lecture last year, that continual comparison with others (who are better-off in terms of good looks, wealth, status or whatever) or even with our own previous good fortune, is a surefire way of making oneself dissatisfied most of the time. But more on that another time.

Monday, 1 January 2007

How to Keep your New Year Resolutions

If you still haven't broken your New Year Resolutions yet [ :-) ... of course you haven't, just teasing...] you might be interested in taking part in some scientific research which is being undertaken at University of Hertfordshire in the UK.

It was reported in the Guardian on Friday 30th December ("Psychologists seek key to successful new year resolutions") that Richard Wiseman, a professor of psychology at the University, is hoping to get around 10,000 people to take part in this on-line experiment. The point of the research is to find out what are the best ways of motivating people to keep to their resolutions.

So, even if you don't succeed, you'll still be providing some useful input to the research! If you want to take part, simply log on to

Out with the Old, In with the New

Last year, I experienced a particularly unique and simple approach to goal setting. I'd like to share it with you:

1. On a piece of paper write 3 statements about your experience of 2006: Both Good :-) or Bad :-(

2. Once you have digested these statements, take note of your over-riding thoughts or emotions

3. Walk to a waste-paper bin

4. Tear up the piece of paper and put it into the bin

You may find this difficult to do, especially if you have had a good year - do it anyway. Last year is gone, and you will never get it back again; good or bad. This is a chance to experience 'closure'.

Now walk back to your work surface:

1. Take out a new piece of paper

2. Write 3 statements about your aspirations for 2007

3. Think about the first step you need to take to make a new start, or to continue with work-in-progress (it may be one overarching step or 3 distinct ones)

4. Begin

Enjoy the journey!

With special thanks to Antonella Shorrock for first introducing me to this technique