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6 Ways to Make your Online Meetings More Efficient
June 22, 2020
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Microsoft 365 Team

When was the last time you had an in-person meeting? Let’s face it: no matter if you are working for a small business or a large company, today’s work rendezvous are becoming increasingly more electronic. While  online or virtual meetings  can be convenient, they also detract from participant accountability by providing more room to lose people’s attention. When people are distracted, meetings lose focus and require more time for repetition.

To keep your meetings—and your schedule—on track, consider these six tips and transform your routine.

1. Agenda action—Whether your meeting participants are located across the building or the world, it’s important to get everyone on the same page. While formal agendas may not be as in vogue as they once were, reinstate the practice. Include the meeting’s topics in the body of your calendar invite or email out a document 24-48 hours before the designated time of your teleconference. This will provide all parties with the chance to set their expectations regarding the meeting goals. And yes—if you’re the recipient of a meeting agenda, read it! Even if you’re familiar with the project or discussion topics, you may learn important information about the perspectives or concerns on the table, and it’s never fun being blindsided.

2. Prep your (Ps and) Qs—Whether your meeting or teleconference has a set agenda or not, make sure you know what your goals are. Before the meeting, compile any notes or background information you may need to reference as well as any questions. Having a prepared list or set of bullet points will relieve the pressure of thinking of any questions on the spot as well as allowing you to engage with the discussion at hand. Feel free to jot down questions on the agenda if there is one, or set up your notes document ahead of time with initial goals or thoughts at the top. No matter your preparation style, following this preparation practice will ensure you’re reminded of your own agenda the day of the meeting.

3. Troubleshoot your tech—Whether it’s your first online meeting or your millionth, make sure you know how to use your technology. Confirm how to dial in and that your speakers work. If you need internet to access your conference or your (meeting-related) email or notes, check that Wi-Fi! Initial frustrations often develop when that one person needs one more minute to access the conference line. Don’t be that cause—get to your conference room early and dial in. Even if you set your phone to mute until other people join, at least you can focus on the content of your talk rather than getting there in the first place.

4. Sharing is caring—If you are reviewing any information with accompanying visuals or statistics or if you’re referencing external documents, make sure everyone can follow along. Set up a screen share so that you can direct your audience’s attention and keep everyone on the same page. This step may alleviate the “Wait! Where are we?” questions as well as the “Hold on, I have to get to the right page.” Sharing your screen eliminates the need for those pauses and moments of confusion. Just remember: if you’re sharing your screen, make sure to turn off any email, phone or messaging programs or notifications to avoid any uncomfortable announcements. 

5. Be direct—One of the challenges of online meetings is knowing who is about to speak or who needs to jump in. Based on the meeting participants and their personalities, virtual meetings can range on the spectrum of everyone talking over each other to long pauses after someone’s finished speaking. To avoid indistinct vocal jumbles or empty air time, frame questions specifically to other meeting participants. If people are working together or relying on other steps in the process to move forward, don’t be afraid to ask them specifically if they have anything to add or additional questions. By being direct with turning the conversation, you’ll ensure that you’ve maximized meeting time while allowing everyone to be heard.

6. Personality perks—Online, phone or virtual meetings can be a drag—you don’t have body language to read how people are responding or whether they’re following along. To remedy the possibility of losing people’s focus, keep your personality primed. Be as personable as you would be in person—or more so, as the meeting requires. High energy will engage your audience and keep them tuned in to the topics at hand. They wouldn’t want to lose track, especially if you have a habit of asking people directly how they respond to a point. With everyone involved at the top of their meeting game, your meeting points will be addressed quickly, and you’ll cover more material in less time. 

No matter the meeting format, there’s no need to get lost in the virtual shuffle. By being prepared and engaging your colleagues, your meetings will be clear and on target with your goals.

Questions Managers Should Ask Remote Employees
May 18, 2020
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As more employees are working from home or spending days on the road visiting learners and employers, how do you ensure you have the right conversation that homes in on issues that are often unspoken?

Here are 11 questions that you can use to create better dynamics with your remote employees, faster.  Ask these questions when you first start working with any remote employee, or at regular intervals (e.g., every half year), to check in on changes. 

1. What do you like best and least about working remotely?  

Follow-on questions: 

  • What is the high point of a typical day (for example, yesterday)? 
  • What is the low point of a typical day (for example, yesterday)? 

What this question uncovers

Motivation analysis: This question helps you find out what motivates and demotivates your direct reports. Learn more by asking for more context on comments. For example, if they say ‘my high point is getting into a flow state with a project.’  Ask: ‘what creates a flow state for you?’

2. What is your work setup like?  

Follow-on questions:

  • What equipment or process improvements would make things 10% better? 
  • What technology issues have you encountered? 

What this question uncovers

Environment analysis: This question helps you listen for ways to optimize setup and workflow. While doing so, you can also arrange for your remote employee to interview other remote employees from cross-functional departments to learn their setup tips. 

3. What is your daily routine? 

Follow-on questions

  • What do you do to take breaks/ recharge? 
  • Are you able to fully disconnect when on vacation or at the end of the day? 

What this question uncovers

Energy management: Listen for spots to help optimize time boundaries. A big danger for remote employees is burnout since work and life are blended. When working in-person at the office it’s easier to have delineated boundaries for starting and stopping work. 

4. What has your experience been with working remotely in the past? 

Follow-on questions: 

  • What were some challenges in your previous setups?
  • What were some of the learnings you had? 

What this question uncovers

Level of support needed: There is a presumption that working remotely is easy – one simply does what one would normally do, but at a different location. This isn’t true. What we’ve found in our research is that working remotely requires a unique skill set that gets honed with time, including over-communication, clarifying expectations, assertiveness, proactivity, and more. Asking about prior experience with remote work helps you gauge your direct report’s skillsets and determine if more guidance or training is needed to set them up well for success.

5. What challenges do you feel remote workers have compared to those in the office? 

Follow-on questions: 

  • What could make things easier?
  • What benefits/advantages do remote workers have compared to those in the office? 

What this question uncovers

Perception/fairness markers: The human brain is wired to track comparisons between conditions, including in this case in-person vs. remote dynamics. Sometimes remote employees feel more is happening at the office than really is (e.g., team meetings that they are not a part of, benefits they miss out on, etc.). This question helps you surface unspoken issues and re-set expectations if there is a feeling of misbalance. This includes a conversation around perks. The downside of working remotely is getting access to things free snacks or onsite company celebrations, etc, but the positive trade is flexibility, autonomy, no need for a commute, etc.

6. Would you say our meetings are remote-friendly? 

Follow-on questions: 

  • Can you hear and see well? 
  • On a scale from 1-10, how easy is it for you to contribute during a meeting? 

What this question uncovers

Meetings culture: Team meetings are often harder on folks who are dialing in, yet easy to optimize. This question will help you hear, from your remote employee’s perspective, small optimization ideas. As an example, one easy hack LifeLabs Learning has found to quickly improve perceived meeting quality (PMQ) is to have each person in the in-person meeting dial in using their laptop and laptop camera and a jabra mic for the room. With this, all people in the in-person room can speak to each other like normal, but the remote person can see a close-up view of each person who is speaking. 

7. Who do you connect with most often at work? 

Follow-on questions:

  • Which coworkers or departments do you wish you had more connection with? 
  • Who do you go to when you need support or have process suggestions or improvement ideas?

What this question uncovers

Support network: When working remotely, it is harder to make connections, yet an essential brain craving for all humans is to feel like we belong. Asking ‘who do you connect with most often’ and the follow on questions helps you realize if your direct report needs help building out their network. Creating relationship capital for your direct report is easy: you can link them to other people doing similar work, find ways to make their work more visible by creating demos, or set them up for informational interviews with relevant departments. 

8. How do you feel about how often you visit the office? 

Follow-on questions: 

  • Is this the right amount or would you like it to be more or less often? 
  • When you meet with other teammates, do you/ they turn your camera on? 

What this question uncovers

Belonging: This question helps you uncover how your direct report feels about the amount of contact they get and allows you to explain decision criteria around in-person gatherings. Having the right amount of in-person time matters when working from afar. Our research shows that ‘frequency beats length’ when it comes to having contact. What this means is that flying a direct report in for in-person time is important, but having cameras on in order to see each other frequently is even more important.

9. What are some things your prior managers did that you liked? 

Follow-on questions: 

  • What’s something you didn’t like? 
  • What’s something I could do 10% better? 

What this question uncovers

Managerial relationship: This question helps you understand how to work best with your employee. It opens feedback lines by normalizing that your team cares about optimizing work dynamics. It also helps you improve one-on-one meetings for the future. 

10. How consistent are our information systems? 

Follow-on questions: 

  • Which apps do you most use in your daily workflow? When do you use Slack, text, Jira, etc.? When do you feel confused about which systems to use? 
  • Where are we consistent/inconsistent as a team?

What this question uncovers

Communication systems: When working remotely, it is particularly important to know which medium to use for which type of information. This question helps assess confusion spots in the system. 

11. What do you want to learn more about regarding our team or company? 

Follow-on questions: 

  • Has any news surprised you recently? 
  • How included do you feel in team decisions? 

What this question uncovers

Information flow: When working remotely, people sometimes feel out of the loop. This question helps you hear if they feel or are excluded. You can then optimize systems or explain the context.

Article first produced by LifeLabs Learning: LifeLabs provides training for managers, execs, and teams, with a focus on rapid skill acquisition and tipping points: the skills that make the most difference in the workplace. 

How to Help Your Clients Ace a Virtual Job Interview
May 15, 2020
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Job interviews done by video, for example, using Skype, are becoming more common.

You need to prepare for virtual interviews differently than you would for normal face-to-face interviews.

Plan where you’ll do the interview

Choose a quiet place with no distractions, and use a computer or laptop computer with a webcam and good internet connection.

A business-woman doing a video job interview
  • Have a plain background that won’t distract your interviewer.
  • Dress like you would for a ‘normal’ interview.
  • Sit comfortably.
Get used to talking to someone using a computer
  • Practice talking to the webcam, not the people on-screen, so you’re more likely to be looking your interviewer in the eye.
  • It’s OK to look at the screen when you’re listening.
  • Try using a headset – it might keep you from talking too loudly or quietly.
Body language is important

Body language is important in virtual interviews.

If you look off to the side of the computer or fidget, it will stand out to your interviewer.

  • Be upbeat and smile during the interview.
  • Try not to slouch in your seat.
  • Keep your hands down, you may even want to rest them in your lap.
The advantage of a virtual interview

Your interviewer won’t be able to see any helpful notes you stick to the edge of your screen.

You can stick a few things on there, as long as your body language and eye contact aren’t affected too badly. A note could:

  • remind you to smile or talk more slowly
  • be a question you want to ask at the end of the interview.
Do a test run

Ask a friend to help do a test run a day or two before the interview.

That way, you can check how you look, sort out any technical issues that come up and generally make sure things go smoothly.

  • Use an account name that’s professional and easy to remember such as your first initial and last name.
  • Make sure your background and face are well-lit so the interviewer can see you clearly.
  • Make sure your picture isn’t shaky.
Change and Transition Curve
May 14, 2020
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Originally presented at the Tenth International Personal Construct Congress, Berlin, 1999, and subsequently developed in his work on constructivist theory in relation to service provision organisations at Leicester University, England, John Fisher’s model of personal change – The Transition Curve – is an excellent analysis of how individuals deal with personal change.

This model is an extremely useful reference for individuals dealing with personal change and for managers and organizations helping staff to deal with personal change. 

Overcoming Communication Barriers: Attitude

The attitude of both the sender and the receiver can act as a major obstacle in the communication process.

However, it is not always possible to be aware of all of these influences as they are heavily reliant on personal characteristics. 

Some of the principal barriers here include:

  • relationship between communicators 
  • personal belief and perception 
  • culture 
  • status 
  • emotionality 

Relationships

Messages are more easily understood when both the sender and receiver can empathise with each other, as well as with what is being said. Personal attributes can be involved here, some of which cannot be altered, such as gender, race or physique; but all can influence behaviour, and reactions to the behaviour of others. Attitudes can also create barriers – people have a tendency not to listen to others who have a different viewpoint from their own.

The ability to empathise with someone else may not be easy and the relationship between the people involved in any communication process may form a barrier to the effectiveness of communication. If the relationship is good, communication is more likely to succeed.

Personal Belief and Perception

The biases that people have developed during their lifetimes may distort the messages they receive. People are affected by previous experiences, attitudes, values and feelings and all of these can influence the messages being communicated. It is human nature to evaluate others based on these personal attitudes, but this can have a negative effect on communication and cause some aspects of the message to become lost in the transmission. Stereotyping is a significant barrier to communication. It typifies people so that they are dealt with quickly, without any effort as they are regarded as part of a homogenous group with identical traits. Stereotyping is dangerous because it causes people to act as though they already know the message that is coming from the sender. Judgements are made about who is communicating the message, rather than the message itself and the receiver automatically becomes less objective.

Culture

Culture and geography can create obstacles to effective communication. Very often, words or phrases from different parts of the world, or even different parts of the same country, can have different meanings. Non-verbal communication such as body language or gestures can also have different meanings. An example of these variances can be seen in the different interpretations of head shaking. In western societies this means no, while head nodding means yes. To many traditional Greeks and Middle Easterners, an upward head nod means no.

Status

If the person communicating is regarded as an authority on a particular subject, understanding is increased as more credence is attached to what is being communicated. More attention tends to be paid if the person communicating the message is in a position of superiority, e.g. if someone is listening to a speaker, attention will automatically be greater if the listener has admiration and respect for that speaker.

Emotionality

When the sender displays high levels of emotion, the receiver can become distracted. If too much attention is paid to the emotional message being conveyed, important information such as factual information may not be understood. On the other hand, the receiver may completely ignore the emotional message and concentrate on the factual information instead. In both cases, the message is distorted because the entire message is not being absorbed.

Overcoming Mental Barriers

How to develop empathy with the person you are communicating with:

  • Put yourself in their place and try to see yourself through their eyes to understand their point of view. 
  • Listen actively and objectively to the message, not the person communicating the message. 
  • Take time to learn about various cultures and become more familiar with the cultures of people you are regularly communicating with. 
  • Realise that a person’s status can affect the message you perceive. Just because they are in a position of authority, it does not necessarily follow that what they are communicating is correct. 
  • Be aware that a person’s emotional state when either sending or receiving messages can unconsciously affect how the messages are transmitted and can affect how others interpret the message sent. 

It may not always be possible to completely control mental barriers, but even awareness of their existence by the sender or the receiver can help to ensure the smooth flow of communication.

5 Cs of Body Language
May 11, 2020
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If you see a person with arms folded, does this mean they are feeling defensive, with their arms acting as a barrier? Or could this mean they are feeling superior and are making a judgement? Or are they just feeling relaxed and placing their arms in a comfortable position? 

The answer is ‘It depends’. Interpreting body language means much more than just looking up the current body shape in a definitive list. Here is a simple set of five points that offer a critical lens to help see and interpret body language and other non-verbal communication in a more realistic way. 

Cues 

When we act, this is not done as a stand-alone thing. We do and say things in response to what others do and say. These external events act as cues (or ‘triggers’) that stimulate internal responses. 

When you see someone with a particular body shape, a good question to ask is hence ‘What just happened that may have led to the possible interpretations of their body language, and which is most likely?’ 

Cues can also be internal, for example where thoughts and concerns lead to changes in body position. You hence may also ask ‘Given their body language, what might they be thinking or feeling?’ 

Cues are a key part of conditioning, where emotions and actions are paired with a cue such that the appearance of the cue triggers a set of feelings and, possibly, related action (which the person may try to suppress). This cue-response sequence can also be instinctive, such as the way that wriggly creatures trigger a fear-and-recoil response. 

Changes 

A very important thing to watch for is transitions, where body language changes, for example from open to closed formation, or where a person suddenly scratches their nose (both of which may indicate discomfort). 

When you see a change in body language, look backwards for cues that may have triggered the transition, for example where someone suspected of lying is asked a revealing question looks away. 

Sales people watch for changes in body language, such as leaning forward and positive responses to subtle cues, as indicators of customers becoming convinced. The sales person will then use this understanding as a signal to move to the next stage in closing the deal. 

Clusters 

While body language changes can appear as single events, such as folding of arms, they often appear as a group of different movements that occur together or one after another. For example, a person may shift their stance, cross their arms, lean backwards slightly, purse their lips and frown, all as a combined indication of disagreement. 

Clusters of body shifts send clear signals when they all indicate the same thing. This may happen where each has a similar meaning, or where the whole ensemble of movements combine for a single meaning. 

Sometimes, cluster movements contradict one another, for example where a person rubs their nose (indicating possible deceit) and smiles. The resultant mixed message will likely cause you to feel uncomfortable and it makes sense to always be vigilant for such gut feelings, then look for reasons why you may feel this way. 

Character 

A further general factor that can confound and yet can also explain much is the general character of the other person. A person who is more extraverted, for example, may display frequent and large body movements, while a more introverted person might use more concise gestures. 

It easy to confuse these personality traits for others such as exhibitionism and timidity. In seeking to classify others (and hence predict their actions) we often misinterpret limited body signals and thereafter filter what we see through these incorrect mental models. 

Temperament, mood and even shorter-term emotions can also act as modifiers that affect body language and make it more difficult to interpret. Yet if you can determine a person’s current emotional state, you may apply this knowledge in your interpretation and so gain a better understanding of what their movements really mean. 

Context 

The final factor to consider when reading body language is the broader context that may influence how the other person thinks, feels and acts. 

What is going on in the immediate environment can have a clear effect, for example when young men are in the presence of attractive young women, they will indulge more in preening, posturing and other mate-attracting moves. 

The wider context of a person’s life also has an effect on their body language, typically indicating anxieties, excitement and other musings and anticipation. If you have no knowledge about such modifiers, this can have a confounding effect on your attempts to interpret their body language.

Hints & Tips: Maintaining Your Professional Online Presence

By Elaine Mead

Elaine Mead

In the past five years, we’ve seen the rise of the creative resume, digital CVs and the increasing need to have an online presence. You might even hear people refer to a person as a ‘brand’. Statements like ‘what’s your digital brand?’ and ‘how are you propositioning yourself in the digital job market?’ are not uncommon. 

Whether you’re currently looking for a new job or are happily employed, it’s advisable to do a professional digital detox at some stage. Having a strong professional presence online can help with not only with securing a new role, but aid in securing promotions too.

Here are some tips to consider for maintaining your professional online presence: 

Do a Privacy Checkup 

It’s more than okay to have a personal life separate from your work life — just have a think about what you want potential employers to see before making something personal public.

Be Consistent 

Make sure your resume reflects your digital profile (especially on LinkedIn) – job titles, companies, dates and projects should all be consistent, online and offline. Honesty is one of the highest-rated qualities that employers look for so don’t fall short by telling fibs at this stage.

Keep Your Goals in Mind 

Is your digital presence matching up with your real-life career goals? Make sure you’re engaged with the right content and websites for your industry and be sure to look for real-life opportunities such as networking events as well. Don’t just do anything and everything — make sure what you’re doing has the right impact and adds value to what you’re trying to achieve in the world of work. Employers will notice. 

Elaine Mead is a Careers and Work-Integrated Learning Educator based in Tasmania.

How To Break Bad News?
April 29, 2020
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In these challenging times, it is likely that bad news will have to be shared with members of your workforce. The following provides some hints and tips on how to break bad news in a way that ensures everyone understands the message.

Bad news can happen at any time so it is important that people understand how to communicate such information in a way that makes the process easier for those on the receiving end. This article offers some points to consider when preparing to deliver bad news.

Bad news may constitute any number of things in the workplace: redundancies, demotion, resignations, the loss of a major contract, or the death of or injury to a colleague/patient/person, etc. Whatever the situation, the following points are worth considering.

Choose a Suitable Environment

It is always best to deliver bad news in a room where everyone feels comfortable. Somewhere light, airy and spacious is often best. There should be enough seats so that no one has to stand. It is always best to tell everyone affected by the news as quickly as possible and at the same time, so gather everyone together.

Ensure that the surroundings are quiet to ensure everyone can clearly hear what is being said and that there will be no interruptions. Interruptions at such times can cause people to feel awkward or that the situation is not being given the respect it deserves.

Preparing the Audience

Good practice dictates that it is best to come straight to the point, but that the audience should be prepared with a warning shot. It will be helpful to use opening lines such as:

  • This may come as a shock to you. 
  • I have some bad news to share with you. 
  • You may already have some apprehensions about what I have to say. The news is not good. 

After opening in this way, it is best to deliver the bad news directly in clear language. The audience will absorb this raw information in the way most suitable to them.

It is vital to consider the tone of voice and body language.

It is best to speak clearly and calmly with empathy and understanding demonstrated in facial expressions and subtle gestures. 

Break the Information into Bite-Size Chunks

When breaking bad news, nerves and shock can sometimes set-in. When this happens, people tend to speak much faster and less clearly than they would normally. It is important to remain calm and to deliver the information in manageable pieces. This will enable the audience to both hear and absorb everything that is being said.

Clarifying Understanding

After each piece of information, it can be helpful for both the audience and the speaker to clarify understanding. This will help the members of the audience to think about what has been said and to speak up if they don’t understand something. 

It is not always best to clarify understanding after every point, as audience members may have lots of questions – many unrelated to the specific point being discussed. The speaker should consider the situation before deciding when to break for questions. 

Take it Slowly

It is important not to ramble on and bombard the audience with too much and/or too detailed information. Always consider how much the audience need to know at this particular point in time. Is there information that would be better left out until a follow-up session or until the audience members have had time to digest and come to terms with the initial shock? 

Allow the audience to ask questions to clarify their own understanding. If the audience is large, this is better left to the end of the announcement.

Provide Written Information

In some situations, it is helpful to provide people with written information about the news they have just received. This is the best medium for detail.

As well as providing clear and direct information, the written document should include contact details for those who can answer any remaining questions. If any follow-up meetings or further events have been arranged, these should also be detailed in the written document.

Five Transferable Skills That Make Every Graduate More Employable
April 28, 2020
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The following ‘hints and tips’ may be of interest to any graduate looking to apply for their first job post-university. 

We’ve all seen the maxim: no job because no experience; no experience because no job.

But whoever created that maxim clearly didn’t think about transferable skills.

Transferable skills are the abilities and competencies that accompany you with every career transition. You developed a great range throughout university that are highly sought-after by employers.

Here are the most desirable transferable skills you have gained throughout your degree that can help you throughout the job application process.

Writing and Communication

As emojis, Snapchat and Instagram stories become a preferred way of speaking, 44% of hiring managers feel that a solid writing ability is lacking in many new recruits.

However, as a recent graduate, you have writing and communication skills in abundance.

Not only have you spent the last few years refining your language to hit that 2,000-word word count, you’re familiar with spelling and grammar basics and can write both formally and colloquially, too.

Employers don’t want the next Shakespeare; they want someone who can write efficiently, clearly and concisely via reports or emails, for example. Therefore, highlight your writing proficiency on your CV to show you’re a master of communication.

Teamwork

All employers expect their staff to be team players, regardless of whether they prefer to work independently or not. And this applies to all roles and industries.

Throughout your studies, you will have worked in a team, perhaps in a seminar task or in a society, for example.

Group tasks also develop a range of other skills such as active listening, collaboration and cooperation, commitment, negotiation and a positive attitude, which all employers seek in new hires.

When listing teamwork as a skill on your CV, make sure you explain how you obtained skills and precisely and concisely as possible, rather than what your team did collectively.

Presenting

The majority of professionals will present at some point throughout their career.

While it’s more common in client-facing sectors, such as sales, it’s also an increasingly common part of the interview process when you reach management level.

Even if you didn’t give a full-blown presentation during your degree, you will have exercised your communication skills by speaking up in lectures, seminars and workshops.

When discussing your presentation skills in the job application process, don’t limit yourself to being able to communicate effectively and channel nervous energy into confidence and enthusiasm. Remember that there was plenty of planning, preparation and organisation involved too. Present yourself as a well-rounded candidate.

Project Management

The ability to manage your time and workload effectively is imperative in the workplace. You will have your own tasks to take care of, but you will also be part of wider projects, sometimes spanning various departments and plenty of people.

And you don’t want to be the one that drops the ball.

As a graduate, you’re no stranger to the concept of project management after the tight ship you ran to meet coursework and exam deadlines. Explain to employers how you’re organised your resources and prioritised your time to achieve the best results possible. Also, delve into the obstacles and issues you faced and how you overcame them to prove that you’re a problem solver too.

Research and Critical Thinking

Like any course, the purpose of a degree is to understand and explore the subject matter in more detail. As a result, you’re a pro in the art of research and critical thinking – which are in-demand assets amongst the workplace.

The process involves thinking about abstract concepts and sources, evaluating them and then forming conclusions and making decisions. As a result, critical thinkers can present coherent reasoning around projects and proposals.

While you may have been a critical thinker when writing essays, professionals do the same every day, such as when planning a marketing campaign.

Therefore, draw on your critical thinking skills in your job applications and interviews, discussing how you evaluated, reasoned and made decisions throughout your studies and can bring this skill to the workplace.

SARAH: An Acronym to Remember When Supporting Personal Change
April 23, 2020
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The acronym SARAH stands for the stages most of us go through as we adapt to change or are given bad news.

It might be a restructure, a redundancy, feedback on unacceptable performance or a change in the strategic direction of your company. It might be a torturous IT systems implementation. Or there has been a customer complaint about you or a member of your team. Or just the fact the boss you love is leaving. Change is inevitable.

The SARAH model helps you understand how people (including yourself) might react to these circumstances and what you can do to lead more competently through the change process.

What is the SARAH acronym?
  • Shock
  • Anger
  • Resistance
  • Acceptance, and
  • Healing/Hope

Some people zip through the SARAH process as fast as you can say, “hey pronto!” Others amongst us take a little more time to adjust to the new norm. We might even get stuck in the A or R stage. AAARRR indeed.

There’s no right or wrong. But understanding your reactions to change or more importantly, your team members’ reactions – is key.

Here are a few big mistakes you might make when you’re leading change and which the SARAH acronym can help you avoid:
  • You think everyone reacts to change the same way as you do.
  • You forget you’ve had more time to come to grips with the thing that’s changing.
  • Believing comments like, “you’re either on the bus or you’re off the bus” or “isn’t it time you accepted this?!!” will help people embrace the change. They won’t.
  • You miss the power of listening. By listening, you help people face their new reality.
  • You think allowing space for people to share their feelings about the change – especially when those feelings are difficult or uncomfortable to witness – is ‘touchy-feely’ or takes too long. Let’s be honest, it’s more likely because people sharing ‘difficult’ emotions like anger, fear or grief makes you uncomfortable. Merely creating the space for people to share how the change impacts them is often enough to move them more quickly through the SARAH cycle.

Feeling heard is always important. It’s even more important during a change process.

So what does each letter in the SARAH acronym mean? And what should you do when you recognise your team in one of these stages?

Shock

The news is unexpected or the person may have been surprised by their own reaction to the event. This response is often characterised by strong feeling and emotion – or none at all. They might not understand the change. Fear often paralyses. It might show up as denial that the change is even happening at all! Think ‘head in the sands’ or ‘deer in the headlights’.

What to do? Respond gently, empathise, listen. Provide context or historical information that led to the current situation. Support is key here. You might ask, “what support do you need?”. Stay close.

Anger

Shock can manifest into anger or anxiety once people realise the implications of the situation. They might be highly defensive, belligerent or passive-aggressive. You might even see downright ‘dig your heels in’ rage. Resist the temptation to fight anger with insistence or anger. The person in this stage may not agree with the need for change. It’s like the rejection response, but less rational and is heat in the moment behaviour. They may lash out at you, when what they’re really lashing out at is the situation.

What to do? Show empathy, ask questions and let the person talk. Listen, listen some more and paraphrase to check your understanding of their perspective. Restate your points – but only after you’ve done the steps listed beforehand.

Rejection (or Resistance)

During the rejection phase, they reject the need for change. They might deflect, identify loads of other issues and support their case with logic and reasoning. They may be apathetic, check out or temporarily give up hope. You might see cynicism, self-pity or a sense of injustice and start citing their ‘rights’ to prove the rightness of their perceived injustice.

What to do? Be patient (easier said than done). Listen without diving into collusion, stick to the issues and the facts. Agree action plans over clear time frames and with success indicators. The theme for this stage is ‘one step at a time’. Ask, “what is the one small thing you can do today or this week that’s within your power here? What support do you need to get it done?” Focus on small wins and low hanging fruit.

Acceptance

This stage occurs when they’re coming to terms with the change or situation and are ready to accept or live with it. When people begin to embrace or accept the change, the benefits start to become visible to them. They may also come to the conclusion that there is no other way to move forward but to engage in the process you are suggesting.

What to do? Encourage them to take small, manageable risks. Give them positive feedback and cautious corrective feedback, where they can accept it. “Well done on xyz! That meant (insert positive impact). What could we do next to build momentum?”

Help/Hope

Hallelujah! The person is now asking for help. Signs include a lift in energy and motivation. You’ll know it when you see it. You’ll see a shift, a ‘lifting’ of sorts.

What to do? You can now begin to coach and guide them. This includes setting goals, discussing the current situation, exploring options and agreeing actions. Helping to balance learning and develop new skills.

Remember – use protocols, care, tact and diplomacy throughout the SARAH process.  Interestingly, people who are dealing with grief or are going through a dramatic life change may also go through the SARAH process.