Designing Electronic Conferencing that's Effective, Efficient, and Emotionally Intelligent: Part III
Skills, Structures, and Strategies for Mastering the Medium, the Message, and the Meeting - III
Part I of this essay captured one of the ironies of our ever-changing and expanding technical world: when it comes to electronic meetings, phone conferences, webinars and webcasts, the need for traditional "soft or people skills" - emotional-interpersonal intelligence, verbal and nonverbal communication/presentation, group dynamics, and leadership-facilitation - is more critical than ever. Increasingly, an organization's capacity to survive and thrive depends on the adaptation of these skillsets across a range of interactive media. The operational and tactical challenge becomes generating something like a parallel or analogous "live" and engaging experience that is "effective, efficient, and emotionally intelligent" in the virtual realms of individual and group learning, sharing, and decision-making.
Part I also presented the first two skills, structures, and strategies for bridging the electronic meeting/conferencing/training world of "high tech and high touch." The twelve "hands on" tools will be evenly divided among the six segments of this series. These planning-focusing-communicating-connecting tools and techniques will help leaders, presenters, and participants maximize the use of the medium, the message, and the meeting.
Part II examined the 3) "Obvious Challenges of Phone Conferencing/Communication" along with recommendations: a) Be Concrete, if Not Vivid, b) Design "Bihemispheric" Power Point Slides, c) Expand and Modify the KISS Mantra, d) Repetition, Reframe, & Reinforcement as well as 4) Find "Small" and Meaningful Areas of Personal and Cultural Connection: a) Arrive Early, b) Acknowledge Areas of Broad Interest or Concern, c) Don't Pass Up that Personal Connection, and d) Recognize Diversity Along with Universality. A provocative and productive diversity case vignette is provided.
If you are up for the challenge, here are several "low- or medium tech and high touch" recommendations, "The Dynamic Dozen +1 Skills, Structures, and Strategies for Successful Phone/Web Conferencing":
5. Connect to Pain and Passion Using Client's Words and Language. There's an urban myth that the meaning of a message is mostly influenced by nonverbal dimensions. Don't buy it. Words, grammar, and jargon, that is, semantics - "the study of how meaning in language is created by the use and interrelationships of words, phrases, and sentences" (Encarta Dictionary) - matter…especially when we can speak both the formal and informal language of the other party. (Hey, in the above vignette, do you think labeling my actions as an "interruption" as opposed to an "interjection" or "intervention" has meaning and significance? It definitely mattered to me!)
a. Reflect and Build on Client's Words and Concerns. Continuing with the above vignette, in her intro the Vice Chancellor mentioned concern about the existence of "silos" or territorial barriers between departments in her division. During my presentation, I shared a story about facilitating an interactive senior leadership workshop that helped a military brigade remove similar barriers. In fact, according to the Commander, the retreat program laid the foundation for the Brigade's most productive, most open, and least contentious predeployment planning meeting. This illustration clearly hit home.
b. Beware Provocative Language and the Need to Be Right. Conversely, out of frustration, telling my IT colleague that "he was shooting himself in the foot" was a poor choice of words for having him hear my desired message: that a fairly lengthy and somewhat complex, non-stop presentation, lacking "check-in" was diluting the accessibility and power of his verbal presentation. Actually, with hindsight I would have (1) used his professional language, and (2) employed this language in a more positive manner, e.g., suggesting he strive for a better "signal to noise ratio."
While he was casting aspersion on my motives, did I have to respond (actually, react) in kind? When engaged with folks who insist on being "right," and won't consider or self-importantly dismiss other perspectives, on occasion I can step back and generate some emotional detachment by recalling the words of Andre Gide, from his book The Immoralist: One must allow others to be right…it consoles them for not being anything else. Ouch! Okay, so my double-edged desire in life is to be a wise man and a wise guy.
c. Appreciate Ambient Program Pressure. The disruptive effect of my interjection was magnified by the conference call's importance, tight time margins, and a competitive business milieu not just punctured pride. When both sender and receiver fail to place text in context, message sent will struggle to become message received.
6. Deliver Meaningful Messages in Organized Chunks and Concise & Colorful Stories. It often takes some forethought and planning for a message to be "short and simple" yet also "smart." Several keys come to mind:
a. Separate the Wheat from the Chaff. Establish what information is essential and what is peripheral or of secondary import; always consider the needs, capabilities, concerns, along with fears and frustrations of your client or customer; beware falling in love with your own pearls.
b. Share a Brief, Compelling, Moral- and Morale-Boosting Story. Illustrate your ideas by telling a succinct story that frames the narrative and conceptual content with an emotional moral or message. Use vivid and visual ideas and phrasings to help people "see" your point of view. Consider this real life example whereby purposeful yet playful empathy and exaggeration not only enabled divided parties to break down interpersonal barriers but to transform a "funeral" into a face-saving and forward marching procession and proclamation of partnership.
Discovering the Formula for Turning a Funeral into a Festival
In the early '90s, I was consulting with a federal court that was automating their record keeping process. As I recall, management had not solicited much input from employees directly impacted by the technical changes, especially involving a key administrative form. The employees were not just anxious about an uncertain future but were also angry at being bypassed in the decision-making and implementation process. In the employees' minds their professional status and experience were being ignored or discounted. And not surprisingly, there was passive group resistance to the change. People were reverting back to the old form and former operational process.
Memos and motivational exhortations were having minimal effect when an epiphany began percolating. In a meeting with top management, I noted that we missed the boat on the front end of implementation, but believed we could still get back on. However, management had to stop simply defining employee behavior as resistance to change. Court leaders needed to appreciate and truly understand the employee's sense of loss of control and even a loss of identity, especially for those most directly impacted by the change. We needed to grasp the reality that a new learning curve often generates anxiety and, depending on the circumstances surrounding the change, perhaps even a diminished sense of self-confidence and competence. And, of course, not being consulted on the nature of the change process only enhanced the feeling of being organizational pawns, and disrespected ones at that. Clearly, the employees' emotional responses and subsequent behaviors were motivated by a complex mix of psychological and situational dynamics, not unlike an involved and intense reaction to the death of a loved one, the breakup of a once close relationship, and the loss of a cherished belief (or even a fantasy, such as management wanting input from professionals in the trenches).
Once I recognized that the employees were actually grieving, and "Aha!" moment rose like a Phoenix; now a starting point was possible: "Let's have a forms funeral." (Going way beyond the box…obviously I was thinking "out of the coffin!") Suddenly, we had a forum in which uncomfortable reality and emotional intensity could be acknowledged and shared. And exaggerating the circumstances proved a lot more creative and productive than an all too familiar gripe session. Employees now had a public forum for: a) mourning the loss of the old data processing system, b) expressing frustration with management's unilateral implementation process, and c) articulating concerns about the upcoming changes. Steps to rebuilding trust required management actually listening to appropriate criticism, acknowledging mistakes had been made, and not punishing people for speaking their minds. This group grieving enabled folks to gradually and more objectively recognize the limitations of the old and the productive potential of the new. Employees were now willing to give the new system a chance to succeed, and all levels in the organization realized that the whole had to be part of the problem and part of the solution.
In summary, initial common ground was forged when a symbolic funeral was able to be a multi-purpose arena for grieving, giving and accepting genuine feedback, along with a forum for reaching closure. The conceptual playing field shifted from "employees resisting" mandated top-down procedures and memos to the need for "bottom-up expression of grief" and the appropriate articulation of grievances. This diagnostic and strategic reframe laid the groundwork for management taking responsibility for missteps and management-employee dialogue and consensus. In addition, by creatively thinking and acting out of the box-coffin, a more cohesive and responsive Organizational Phoenix rose from the administrative ashes of unilateral decision-making and dysfunctional struggle. This collective had forged true synergy: the contentious parts, for now at least, had transformed into collaborative partners.
c. Weave Clear, Concise, and Colorful Associations and Connections. The notion of a compelling and colorful, tactical yet tactful tapestry is captured by the above conceptual, "game changing" reframe: the problem is less employee resistance and more management's need to understand and affirm the importance of grief expression in times of significant change and uncertainty (especially when tension is aggravated by short-sighted and demeaning program implementation). And the pass is found in the seemingly interminable impasse, as a new morning rises from the ashes of mourning.
d. Use Unexpected and Thought-Provoking, Imaginative and Punchy Language and Concepts. Employing terms like "Forms Funeral" and "Thinking Out of the Coffin" suggest I'm following the intellectual footsteps, the wit and wisdom of a renowned American humorist. According to Mark Twain, Wit is the sudden marriage of ideas which before their union were not perceived to have any relation. And when a message hits home through a pithy line that packs a meaningful and memorable punch, then I'm also paying homage to the bard. As Shakespeare observed: Brevity is the soul of wit!
e. Know When to Let Go and Seek Feedback. The challenge of organizing meaningful messages is heightened, of course, when you are responding spontaneously to a question or feedback. Alas, too often when a communicator doesn't receive "MS = MR" feedback, he or she thinks: "Well, let me try to connect or prove my point with another story or concept…and, if necessary, then another." When connection is up in the air, if the presenter is sufficiently confident, the best strategy is to put on the brakes and check in with the target of your message, with a responsible-taking "I" message rather than a blame-shifting "You": Trust me, most listeners much prefer "Am I being clear?" to "Do you understand?"
Part I of this essay captures one of the ironies of our ever-changing and expanding technical world: when it comes to electronic meetings, phone conferences, webinars and webcasts, the need for traditional "soft or people skills" - emotional-interpersonal intelligence, verbal and nonverbal communication/presentation, group dynamics, and leadership-facilitation - is more critical than ever. Increasingly, an organization's capacity to survive and thrive depends on the adaptation of these skillsets across a range of interactive media. The operational and tactical challenge becomes generating something like a parallel or analogous "live" and engaging experience that is "effective, efficient, and emotionally intelligent" in the virtual realms of individual and group learning, sharing, and decision-making.
Consider these skills, structures, and strategies for bridging the electronic meeting/conferencing/training world of "high tech and high touch." Part I provides the first two; Part II the next two. These planning-focusing-communicating-connecting tools and techniques will help leaders, presenters, and participants maximize the use of the medium, the message, and the meeting. The first half of "The Dynamic Dozen +1 Skills, Structures, and Strategies for Successful Phone/Web Conferencing" includes:
1. Take Time for Pre-Conference Call Planning
2. Integrating Agenda Setting, Time Consciousness, & Directive-Interactive Leadership
3. Be Aware of the Obvious Challenges of Phone Communication
4. Find "Small" and Meaningful Areas of Personal and Cultural Connection
5. Connect to Pain and Passion Using Client's Words and Language
6. Deliver Meaningful Messages in Organized Chunks and Concise & Colorful Stories
Stay tuned for the closing half of the "Dynamic Dozen +1." Until then…Practice Safe Stress!