Personal Impact

Who’s Laughing Now?

The Change Gear team is an incredibly talented one; each of our consultants brings a diversity of thought and experience to everything that we do. In this post our resident stand-up comic (as well as expert facilitator and coach), Sam Sanns reflects upon what she has learned about the relationship between comedy and leadership and whether leaders can learn anything from the world of stand-up.


A leader, a stand-up and a cynic walk into a boardroom…

Having worked in the worlds of coaching and stand-up comedy for the past two decades, I’ve become increasingly curious to see how these two very different worlds collide. I’m not usually one for a big bang so have instead decided to eagerly straddle both worlds in the service of exploring the true value of humour in corporate settings, providing tangible skills that a leader can employ. 

My career started in acting. I went to drama school after reading the shocking statistic that 95% of actors are unemployed at any one time. Result! You only have to work 5% of the time! It swiftly dawned on me however that only working 5% of the time meant you were only paid 5% of the time, which I hadn’t really thought through and so turned my hand to comedy. I also started to look for opportunities to utilise my passion for self-development and instilling confidence; something where I could help individuals who were blocked in realising their full potential. I studied hard and qualified as an Advanced Executive Coach. This provided a bridge between the brutal world of stand-up comedy and the often-sit-down tragedy of the boardroom. 

Business and humour are traditionally unhappy bedfellows. Of course, there’s the broad seriousness of making money, though often the differing roles and status of those collectively contributing to the company’s success can present communication challenges. I believed this to be worthy of further examination so, purely as an exercise, I pitched up a tent in the C Suite to see if I couldn’t create a titter or two, proving that they’re actually a match made in heaven, like Romeo & Juliet, Posh & Becks, Boris & Brexit. My objective was not to create stand-up comedians of leaders, but instead share the strategies and skills employed by comedians to win hearts and minds. This is what I discovered:

What’s in it for you as a leader?

Building Trust

Many communication models (including Patrick Lencioni) highlight vulnerability as an essential ingredient in building trust within a team. Humour is a way for leaders to show their humanity and a useful, controlled tool for shining a light on ‘selective’ vulnerability. No need to diminish your status or fear that you’ll come across as unhinged – humour can remove potential for an awkward response and leave you looking confident and credible as you reveal your poker hand with no apology. Trust will build. 

Being Present

Stand-ups live or die by how present they are. Trust me on this! A recent session I attended with global leaders illustrated just how hyper-vigilant one needs to be in order to observe reactions, stay in the moment and adapt one’s style to effectively influence the room. How often do we allow ourselves to fully sit in current reality and just observe the raw data? It can be overwhelmingly exposing to just ‘be’ and to put our own agenda aside. There are many exercises and strategies a stand-up will employ in order for them to read the room, enabling them to make conscious choices on delivering material, being physical, pushing boundaries and getting the timing right.  All this results in the notion that the individual who visibly displays the skills is one who is at the core – present; in stark contrast to one who hides behind the twin shields of PowerPoint and corporate jargon.

Authenticity

Humour can’t be faked. You can lie about your LinkedIn profile, be creative about your credibility, even say “I do” with a straight face when “I’d rather not” is your gut reaction, but you can’t ‘apply’ comedy. It is, by default, authentically you. Leaders who authentically connect with and influence their teams are those who are truthful, direct and honest. Comedy is egalitarian and provides a shared experience across all levels of an organisation and can break down barriers. There’s nothing better than being in a room where everyone is on the same page. It creates a common ground where colleagues at all levels can feel heard and valued. Laughter is contagious and an involuntary reaction to something that is funny. It’s always more about the relationships, not the jokes. As a word of caution though, not all leaders are authentically funny and the use of comedy to mask a hidden agenda can go horribly wrong and often just look and sound desperate. There are enough toe-curling examples by politicians over the years to illustrate this (Teresa May’s Dancing Queen anyone?) And a word of caution I’m not talking about the evil that is “banter” either, which is the exact opposite of authentic communication and often has a divisive rather than collaborative impact. 

Neuroscience

A good joke has a setup that takes the listener in one direction then delivers a punchline that sidetracks them down a completely different path. That wonderful ‘Aah, I didn’t see that coming!’ moment. Good comedy relies on the flexibility and adaptability of the front temporal lobe – the part of the brain responsible for spontaneity, problem-solving and judgement. People hear differently when they are amused, alert and open to suggestion. This can be of enormous benefit for leaders in a corporate environment, contributing to compelling storytelling, decision-making, consciousness and communication. 

Empathy

Humour provides an excellent tool to demonstrate empathy and draw out the best of human group behaviour.  To creatively share with a workforce that you know how they feel, without ever having to say; “I know how you feel, guys’ which can ignite a knee-jerk reaction of “Do you?!!!! Do you really??!!!” It can deflate tension in the workplace and is a means by which colleagues can openly share solutions and create a forward-thinking and transparent culture, taking teams from one emotional state into a more positive, future-focused mind set. It’s harder to feel like a victim when you’re laughing. Its rhetoric can provide an effective persuasive tool. A Clinical Director of an Intensive Care Unit, I worked with recently shared with me the value of humour in troubled times. Some professions seek refuge in black humour and already see the value of a leader that can stand unshakeable in this, think Adam Kay’s best-selling book “This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor” and you get the picture!

It’s absolutely not my intention to recreate Live at The Apollo within your workplace, or to encourage you to turn up to meetings riding a square-wheeled bike with a spinning bow tie. I will however provide a space where you can learn first-hand the value of comedy and the real benefit of appropriate humour. I will share exercises that bring this theory to life and offer techniques that you can put in your back pocket as another behavioural tool in your leadership toolkit. Try these techniques on for size and decide for yourself if they support you in your role as leader. At the very least, make someone smile today.

Mike drop.

If you would like to know about our lunch and learn session “Comedic Performance and Leadership” please get in touch with us at hello@change-gear.comwe would be delighted to share with you the details. What better way for your people to spend their lunch hour, than taking part in an endorphin-producing event, that will set them up for an afternoon packed full of productivity!

HOW WILL YOU “PRESS (OR DRESS) FOR PROGRESS?”

Today is International Women’s Day – a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women around the world.  And a further reminder to press forward and progress gender parity.  International Women’s Day encourages us to:

  • Maintain a gender parity mindset
  • Challenge stereotypes and biases
  • Forge positive visibility of women
  • Influence other’s beliefs and actions
  • Celebrate women’s achievements

Every year in our business we make a commitment to one of these key areas to specifically focus on in our own sphere of influence.  This year we have chosen “Forge the positive visibility of women”.

However, as women, we sometimes deliberately want to be less visible than our male counterparts or indeed other female contemporaries. Many of us lack the self-confidence we feel we need to become more visible and can sometimes do this through subtle behaviours such as choosing to dress in a way that says “I don’t want to be seen” or taken seriously.

With the boundaries of work wear often blurring into our “downtime” wardrobes – dressing to be visible in a positive way can be a challenge (or indeed a headache) to be avoided.  Yet we all know the importance of first impressions and sadly they can make or break our success.  You’d think it would be simple; we do it every day – but I’m sure this message will resonate with many of you. If only we could take the headache out of this daily habit.  It was certainly something I was keen to do being a busy working mum running around meeting new clients, coachees and participants on a frequent basis.  Which leads me to introducing our new guest blogger, Gemma Fox, Founder of Plume Boutique, Marlow, Bucks.  Read on to hear what Gemma has to say:

When Carrie Stockton, Founder of Change Gear and one of my wonderful and super stylish regular customers asked me recently to contribute a few words to the change-gear blog I jumped at the chance.

Having set up my own independent fashion retail business 12 years ago and in that same period built up an extensive network of fashion intrigued females it seemed like the logical next step to have a conversation with Carrie about how our paths may cross on a business level too. A year ago I changed the business model of my independent, Plume, from a stand-alone large store open 7 day’s a week and with extensive window frontage on the high street in Marlow Bucks to a more focused and exclusive personal shopping set-up, in line with changing shopping trends and customer needs. The result is a specialist Private Shopping Showroom nestled in a gorgeous little building right off the high street but still available to all of my regulars who have been visiting the store for years and relying on me to style outfits based on their individual lifestyle requirements.

As word has spread about the attraction and appeal of the Private Shopping Showroom I have found myself naturally branching out to a more “corporate” customer – I use the term hesitantly as fashion in business is changing very fast with many medium and large businesses relaxing their dress code and small business owners increasingly adopting a style that is still smart but a lot more casual whilst still being effective. Enter the phase of relaxed tailoring! This is a style that I am creating with my customers on a daily basis, for their work life, for networking events, for business trips and client meetings and it definitely requires more effort than throwing on a dark suit and crisp shirt BUT once you learn the formula this look becomes like a uniform and your go-to style as a woman in business today.

I work with ladies of all ages, shape, colour and purpose and each of them are unique which makes my job so exciting and rewarding, but at the same time their fashion concerns can be very similar, and I regularly hear these statements –

  • I don’t have time to go shopping!
  • I have the time but don’t enjoy clothes shopping
  • I am stuck in a style rut and need help
  • I don’t really know what suits my shape
  • I’ve gone through a change in circumstances (baby, divorce, new job etc) and my wardrobe isn’t relevant anymore.

There are so many considerations to take on board when choosing the right key pieces for your wardrobe and many of us could benefit from some style guidance so that’s where I step in, in a nutshell I take the stress out of clothes shopping and give my customers the confidence and positivity purely through their wardrobe choices to go forward and conquer! There is nothing more satisfying for me than providing customers with the essential tools to create a winning style that can often be life and career changing.

And the bit I often forget is how natural styling other women is for me, like a 6th sense, so I feel it’s my privilege to showcase this ability with customers and in many cases transform negative mindsets based on previous shopping disasters into positive and empowered outlooks.

When new customers come to see me we have an initial 10 minute consultation to establish their personal lifestyle needs and to understand their wardrobe buying behaviour. I almost always raise these suggestions and questions –

How do you feel about your wardrobe? – if it doesn’t give you instant sentiments of joy and excitement something needs to change (e.g time to de-clutter/ re-organise, update)

Get to know your body shape, are you a pair or an apple? What are your best bits? What are the bits you don’t like? (We all have them)! Start to filter your fashion choices according to you, not your friend/ instagram idol/ that actress whose style you love

Do you have a good idea of the colours that suit you best? Most people instinctively choose colours they are meant to wear but often have one or two that are definite no no’s (black, white, yellow) and the wrong colour can make you look drawn, pale and downright unwell. I have a good instinct for assessing customers’ correct colour palette too.

Buy a few good fashion mags to get an idea of what the new season trends are – its more important to dress your shape and according to your colour palette than to cover fashion fads but useful to have a few key accessories to keep your style looking contemporary and fresh.

Now try on pieces that are totally out of your comfort zone – a jumpsuit, a cropped wide leg trouser, a skirt that shows your knees, a block heel boot and forget for a moment about your personally inflicted mental fashion constraints you’ve subjected yourself to for years (possibly based on something your mother/ teenage daughter/ old boyfriend once said that has given you an unrealistic dose of body dysmorphia)! It’s time to liberate and reinvent yourself while in that changing room!

Above all HAVE FUN!

 

And so with this advice to ponder I will leave you to consider how you can make yourself or your female colleagues feel more visible in the workplace.  As Gemma has intimated, dressing can be an enjoyable experience and lift your confidence back to where it should be.

I’m also delighted to confirm that Gemma will be partnering with the Change-Gear team, supporting some of our clients in the corporate world in personal confidence-enhancing image consultations.  Please contact hello@change-gear for more information on how Gemma can help you.  And if you’d like to visit Gemma at her boutique she can be reached at Tel. 08450 038950 or visit

http://www.plumeboutique.com .

In the meantime we’d love to hear about any initiatives you may have towards “pressing for progress”.

Happy IWD to all

 

“WHO DID WHAT TO WHOM?” THE LOST ART OF STORYTELLING

In its simplest form storytelling is a connection of cause and effect. A narrative helps us make sense of the world around us. In fact, our informal conversations are dominated by stories; researcher Jeremy Hsu found 65% of our conversations are made up of personal stories and gossip – “who did what to whom?

Great stories surprise us; they have the ability to spark emotions, whether it’s happiness, anger, trust or guilt. They have compelling characters. They make us think and make us feel. They stick in our minds and help us remember ideas and concepts in a way that numbers and text on a slide with a bar graph don’t.  Fundamentally our brains are more engaged when listening to stories and studies show that when information is communicated in this way people will better relate to and remember it.

Story telling has been used successfully in brand advertising for years.  Guinness has come up with some great marketing stories such as their “Empty Chair” ad where a bartender leaves a pint of Guinness at an empty table every night.  No one sits at the table, and the woman shoots a dirty look to anyone she catches eyeing one of the empty chairs.  Without fail, the Guinness is there every night. It’s a powerful image that serves as a sign of hope for the bartender. But we aren’t exactly sure who the beer is for until the very end. Everything comes together when a soldier finally returns home to claim his Guinness.

Lego’s “Let’s Build” ad is another great example of storytelling in advertising. The ad features a father and son bonding over their Lego; it shows the two of them creating fantastic skyscrapers with their enormous Lego collection. For a second you forget that it’s advertising toys because all you see is the perfect home life parents and kids are always dreaming of. And so a story unfolds.

Although storytelling is a timeless human tradition, unfortunately it has become a lost art in many businesses. Instead of taking the time to craft captivating stories, most people in business create dreary Powerpoint presentations; you could say Powerpoint has killed our ability to tell good stories, and this is a habit we need to change.

However, a word of warning! – storytelling works on a spectrum – at one end you have BIG stories – like legends, epics and fairytales – at the other end you have small stories such as examples, recounts and anecdotes.  When starting out in storytelling it’s best not to try too hard – start small with your stories until you get more confident.  And try to build a bank of stories – funnily enough they don’t always pop in your head when you need them.  In the meantime here are a few of our top tips to help you on your way:

 Surprise your audience

When you set out to create your story, it’s always good to start by revealing an important fact or detail that isn’t common knowledge or includes an unexpected turn of events. Try to hook your audience by sharing something that no one would expect because when it comes to storytelling, predictable plots won’t engage anyone.

Get to the point

Although you need to hook people in, it is also really important to get stuck into your messaging as quickly as you can. Stick to relevant details if you want people to listen to your entire story, as most people don’t have the patience or the time to hang around! Choose two or three main points that people will actually care about and focus on those — things like money saved, number of users, growth over the years are all effective examples.

Think about your purpose

What’s the point of your story? Are you informing or teaching your audience, are you trying to sell them something or are you just engaging with them to make them feel inspired to act? Make sure you have a single message that you want them to take from your story.

Be honest

Everyone makes mistakes or does embarrassing things every now and then, but being honest about those less than perfect moments will make you and your message easier to relate to. Share those painful lessons you learned. Even the simplest things like a spelling mistake in a text can show your human side.

Overcome the odds

Talk about a few of the challenges you have overcome, such as rejection or setbacks. Tell your audience what you learned from each challenge, how it motivated you and inspired you to get better.

Don’t forget humour

Using humour will engage your audience and make your story more likely to be remembered and shared. Laugh at yourself or a situation you found yourself in, never at someone else. But do run it by a few friends or colleagues first, just to make sure it is actually funny as well as appropriate.

And finally … Hold something back

As well as the tips above about being honest and open, you shouldn’t reveal everything all at once. Keep people interested and wanting to come back for more by finishing on a cliff-hanger. Make sure all your content can stand alone but getting your audience to think you have something more that they need to hear will keep them hooked.

And on that note, I invite you to join us at our free breakfast seminar “Powerful Persuasion – The Art of Storytelling” on Tuesday 20th March at CitizenM Hotel, Tower Bridge, where the Change-Gear team will share with you their secrets on how to finesse this age-old skill.

To book your ticket please follow this link: ART OF STORYTELLING BREAKFAST SEMINAR

We look forward to seeing you there.

 

ON TOP OF THE WORLD

Greetings from Dubai!

Once again my offspring are appearing in my blog. Trying not to make a habit of it, but given that I’m travelling with my 15 year old daughter (sorry, she would most definitely correct me by saying “16 in 31 days actually”) it’s a bit unavoidable.

So, at the age of “almost 16” my super lucky daughter was given the opportunity by a very generous friend to gain some invaluable work experience in Dubai. To say she’s had a blast would be an understatement. I am so grateful that she has been so well looked after and has learned so much in such a short space of time. If only more businesses could follow suit and give our emerging young talent this type of invaluable life experience – I am positive that young people would be so much better equipped to start out in the workplace.

When the opportunity was first discussed over 6 months ago, both of us were very excited. A trip to Dubai, working for a very well-known lingerie and beauty retailer (exceptionally popular with ladies, young and older, around the world). Maddie has been the envy of many friends – having said that, she’s had a busy week with a real marketing project to do as well. I’m sure this experience will stay with her for many years.

So, she needed a chaperone and here I was to be that person. It sounded like a ball… Maddie busy at work and mum could sit by the pool… maybe not! Firstly, it’s not entirely in my nature to watch my daughter go to work while I indulge in “me time”.  Secondly, I wanted to make the most of this great opportunity to network in the UAE and take some uninterrupted time to focus on doing some business development.

So, five days in I’ve started to realise a few things. Firstly, sending your daughter off at 8am in the morning whilst you’re cooped up in a hotel is nothing but odd! I found myself a little lost and wondering whether I was supposed to relax or get straight onto my work. I settled for working while she was working and then chilling out with her when she had finished. Secondly, the challenge of working remotely from an unknown hotel in the UAE was harder than expected. My normal routine had gone out of the window. I wanted to eat well, work out, swim, get some sun and be productive = it was all too much. So what did I learn and how did I cope? I needed a few strategies to keep me focused.

Here’s 5 top tips that might help if you’re planning something similar:

Internet – Have a plan for your Internet connection. When you’re travelling internationally, you can’t always rely on the corner Starbucks. If you’ve griped about the WiFi speed at the coffee shop in the UK, the connection can be even more frustrating abroad. Do your research before you travel and find out what WiFi provision is in your destination, and have a back-up plan, whether it’s purchasing an Internet SIM card or securing a spot in a co-working space.

Old-school rules – Carry around a notebook and pen. There will come a day when you can’t connect to WiFi and you’ll be grateful you have this.

Time after time – Be mindful of the time differences. Keep track of time zones so you don’t end up calling a potential client or another important contact at 3am without realising it! Most smartphones allow you to set a clock for another time zone, or you can download an app to keep track.

Be realistic – The days are shorter than you think. Don’t over-estimate what you can do. And plan some down-time. You’ll feel more productive as a consequence.

Be culture savvy – Every country has its own specific customs and traditions. Although immersing yourself in a culture is the best way to learn what is appropriate and what is not, try to research and avoid any major faux-pas before you pack for your destination. I’ve only worn 10% of the wardrobe I brought with me so far as everything else is either inappropriate or unacceptable.

And so today it’s my official day off with my gorgeous daughter – a well-deserved trip to the Burj Khalifa – and I can’t think of a better person to be on top of the world with!

 

 

#employabilityskills #luckymum #pricelessmoments #fabworkexperience #workingmums #beautifuldaughters #worklifebalance #verygrateful

Lend me your ear: The key to fantastic customer service

As an ex retail manager, there is nothing quite like poor customer service to get my froth in a knot!! And I am not alone in my frustration; a recent study reported that 76% of consumers say they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. The study also went on to say one-third of respondents report they would ‘rather clean a toilet’ than speak with customer service! (Aspect Experience Survey)

Now cleaning toilets is definitely not my favourite pastime but based on the 2 hours I recently spent on the line to a mobile phone insurance company trying to replace a broken phone, I can certainly agree with the study findings. So, sparing you all the boring details of the conversation, let me cut to the chase and relay to you the exact crime of the customer service “agent”. The biggest crime of all – NOT LISTENING!

While I was trying to explain the specifics of the problem the agent was clearly sticking to a script, one that involved him doing the talking and me doing the listening; getting me no closer to an acceptable solution. Let me share with you the exact details of the crime being perpetrated?

  • Allowing a pre-written script define the conversation
  • Shouting at me
  • Giving me back my problem and refusing to own it
  • Blatantly lying that there were no Managers available for me to speak with
  • Using the phrase “I will do it for you this time but this time only!”

But the final body blow was yet to come. After 2 hours of high adrenaline and stress, the customer service agent uttered those dreadful words – “and is there anything else that I can help you with today?”  Oh, the irony!! Now if he had been truly listening to me, he would have anticipated that those words were likely to be red rag to a bull and resisted saying them, even if the script stated that was the way to end the call.

Great customer service is not always easy but there are some key things that clients want and are simple to achieve.

Warm and friendly responses – When customers make contact with you face to face or over the telephone, they want a warm response. It can still be businesslike but you and your people need to look and sound – friendly and likeable.

They want to feel important – They know that you have lots of other customers and clients but they don’t want to feel they are just a number in the call waiting queue.

Flexibility – Customers hate to hear the word “No” or “it can’t be done.” It’s not always possible to say, “Yes” to a customer or do exactly what they want; however, it is important to be as flexible as you can. Tell customers what you can do – not what you can’t.

Recovery – When things go wrong, customers want you to solve their problems quickly. They don’t want to hear excuses or who’s to blame or why it happened, they want options and solutions and most of all they want the problem fixed fast.

Structure not script – Customers expect that you will guide the conversation but if you only use the script you will come across as insincere and not wanting to solve the problem which can heighten the customer’s emotional response.

They want to be properly listened to! – Customers repeatedly report this as their pet peeve! If you are on the phone or face to face ensure you let customers explain fully without interrupting, listen to their tone as well as their words; are they frustrated, angry, want a quick solution? Angry customers often calm down if you acknowledge how they are feeling but remember, be genuine and sincere when you do, or you will sound as though you are back on that script again.

At Change Gear we deliver bespoke Customer Service training programmes but central to all our programmes is PACE – a method of ensuring good listening.

PAUSE – Allow the customer to talk without interruption

ACKNOWLEDGE – Both the problem and how the customer is feeling

CLARIFY – Ask questions to fully understand the issue

EVALUATE – Explore potential options with the client and finally respond with what you can do

PACE yourself, the customer and the conversation and you will achieve great and satisfying results that will build the reputation of your company, generate repeat business and create  a sense of loyalty that ensures your customers return time and time again.

For all of us in the customer service arena – let’s give our customers a great experience, so they prefer talk to us rather than cleaning the toilet!!

To find out more about our bespoke Customer Service programmes, please contact us at Karen@change-gear.com we are always around to lend you our ear!

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