The first time someone asked me to be their mentor, I was both flattered and puzzled.
It felt like an honour to have been asked, but I wasn’t quite clear about what being a mentor actually meant. Instinctively I turned to the dictionary, and in doing so realised that I was consulting a mentor of my own.
Although it’s called the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, it comes in two hefty volumes, runs to 2,672 pages in my edition, and weighs in at 4.6 kg (I know, because I’ve just weighed it on the bathroom scales.) I bought it more than forty years ago and ever since it has been on hand, always beside me in my office, ready to be consulted if I need it.
That will sound cryptic, if not nonsensical, so let me hasten to explain. Effective salespeople do more than simply push their products, propositions or services. So what else do they do? How do you sell well? What does that sound like? What voices are involved?
One thing that is not in short supply in our working lives are potentially difficult conversations:
Giving or receiving feedback, selling ideas or proposals, being interviewed, performance appraisals, negotiations, contributing to meetings large and small, especially when the personalities of the participants can be so very different from one another. The list could go on. The point is that we are all faced with a multitude of occasions when we need to make our voices work in a particular way and where it can be difficult to ensure the outcome we would wish.
‘You look a bit stressed.’
‘Sure am. Got a difficult session coming up today.’
What does ‘blue sky thinking’ sound like? What voices do you need to put it into practice? What indeed does this particular piece of ‘management-speak’ actually mean? Let’s look at how to facilitate blue sky thinking.
‘Blue sky thinking’ is one of those easy-sounding turns of phrase which come up in organisational life, but which are not always clarified sufficiently for people to understand what is expected, when they are asked to do it.
What is the ‘blue sky’ metaphor meant to convey? Lucid? Bright? Fresh? Unencumbered? All of the above? Or is it a peculiarly British expression reflecting the notorious British weather? Is it simply an exhortation to get away from patterns of thought that have become familiar, grey, dull and downcast?
With terrorism a matter of acute public concern, the latest in our Voices at Work series focuses on one of the roles in the front line of keeping us safe.
Voices at Work – The Investigative Interviewer
Neil Brewster is an investigative interviewer. If you wanted to be more sensational about it, you’d call him a professional interrogator. He is a former military intelligence operator who now runs a consultancy service for clients who place a premium on the honesty and integrity of the information provided by people. Neil carries out investigative interviews for his clients and also provides them with training and coaching in how to do it themselves. He is an expert in his field, having conducted investigative interviews in a wide range of contexts from counter-terrorism to human resource management, from the high stakes to the everyday, from interviewing terrorist suspects and incident debriefing to security vetting and assessing candidates for job selection.
What does good feedback sound like? What voices, or ways of expressing yourself, do you need to enable feedback to be both critical and constructive? How can you give better feedback that’s likely to make a difference?
Let’s start with an example of how not to to do it.
I used to work with a manager called Jimmy and one day, glancing out of the window while we were in a meeting together, he suddenly said, ‘There’s MacTaggart arriving late again. I must have a word with him.’ That was on the Monday and the first thing that Jimmy got wrong was not giving his feedback promptly. I know that, because I was with him again on the Thursday, when he finally did. We were walking through the factory together to another meeting, when he suddenly peeled away and went over to the bench where the unsuspecting target of his feedback was working. ‘MacTaggart,’ said Jimmy sternly, ‘You’re getting a reputation.’ He accompanied his words with a slow, hard look. ‘Sort your act out.’
Each of us has a personal but largely unconscious profile of ‘voices’ which shapes the way we talk and the impact we make. We each favour some voices, and often over-rely on them, while neglecting others.
The effect is not only to leave us less versatile than we could be and need to be, but also deaf and blind to our own inflexibilities and to the consequences of some of our actions.
By bringing your personal pattern of voices, and its impact on others, into conscious awareness, VoicePrint makes your personal, inter-personal and organisational skill-set more complete, more agile and more effective.