Information, tips and tricks you can use every day!

Great Communication Skills: Do’s and Don’ts of Using Humor at Work

Posted by on July 13, 2012

Be Sociable, Share!

Great Communication SkillsDoes humor really count as a component of “great communication skills”? After all, humor is just joking around, right? Well, it turns out that humor—or the lack of it—is a major component of one’s communication skills as a whole. In fact, an incredible 98% of CEOs would rather hire someone with a good sense of humour than someone with a more serious demeanor.*

Want to know how you can use humor in an effective and appropriate way at work? I won’t kid you…there are a lot of minefields to navigate. First, let’s make the distinction between jokes and humor:

  • Jokes usually stand alone, aren’t closely connected to the situation, and tend to follow a recognizeable format such as, “3 guys walk into a bar…”
  • Humor is pulled from the situation or environment, such as mentioning to a colleague that you’re trying to cut out carbs as you both walk into the breakroom to find a mountain of donuts and bagels someone brought in. You might say something like, “See? It’s a carb conspiracy!”

The clever and appropriate use of humor is a great way to improve communication, reduce stress, help people think creatively, reduce the fear of making mistakes, improve morale, build stronger relationships, alleviate boredom…and more! How can you make this miracle tool work for you? Let’s talk about what you should do.

Workplace Humor: Do’s

  • Incorporate humor into your everyday conversations and presentations
  • Know your audience and tailor your humor to them
  • Make your humor self-deprecating when possible
  • Fit your humor into the context of the conversation
  • Include the whole group; no “inside” references

Following these guidelines is a great place to start, but beware of pitfalls! Poor use of humor works like a poison. At best, it can fall flat and embarass you. At worst, it can offend others, create strained relationships, and even get you into legal trouble. On that note, let’s talk about what you shouldn’t do.

Workplace Humor: Don’ts

  • Never make jokes about people’s appearance, sexuality, religion, socio-economic status, or ethnic heritage
  • Don’t make fun of people, only situations
  • Avoid using humor to complain about your colleagues, supervisors, team or organization
  • Never use profanity or inappropriate references
  • Be careful when using sarcastic humor: it can come off as insulting, arrogant and/or snarky

Put yourself in the place of your audience and try to imagine their reactions. I strongly suggest that you practice using humor in a safe environment—such as with family or friends—before unleashing your hilarity at work.

Used well, humor at work can change the whole atmosphere for the better. Who knows? You colleagues may soon be referring to you as “that funny guy/gal”!

* According to a survey of 737 CEOs conducted by Hodge-Cronin & Associates

Sources: Forbes, Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, ScienceDaily

Influence in a Matrix Environment: Use Your Personal Power! [Week 2 of 2]

Posted by on July 5, 2012

Be Sociable, Share!

Positive Power and InfluenceLast week, we talked about the first 2 keys to influencing in a matrix environment:

  1. Stakeholders: Know who your key stakeholders are in the process.
  2. Objectives: Be very clear about your objective with each key stakeholder.

This week, we’re adding the final 2 powerful keys to your success:

3. Power

Be aware of the limitations of your positional power in a matrix. Keep in mind that when working in a matrix, there is a fair amount of stress in the system and tensions can run high. Many times our perception of what is at stake needs to be carefully managed. Of course we all would like others to see things from our perspective, however that usually isn’t the case. Tread carefully! It can be very tempting to rely on positional power for leverage in a matrix, but overuse of positional power can be fatal in an influence situation. You run the risk of coming across as high-handed and arrogant, losing credibility with others and eroding relationships that should be nurtured. Instead, you should use your personal power: your ability utilize a variety of influence techniques and approaches based on the situation and the people involved.

4. Flexibility

Influence style flexibility is the key to creating results. The most important thing you have in a matrix is your ability to persuade others with logic and create exchanges that make sense for all parties. In order to do this, you must cultivate your ability to listen carefully and build bridges with others around common interests and shared vision. Continual work on your influence skills will be required, since a well-rounded set of influence skills will help you identify conditions in each situation that will impact the style and approach you choose.

When you put all 4 of these powerful keys to success together in the training classroom, you take away an incredible set of tools you can use to improve relationships in your own “sphere” within the larger matrix environment. You’ll experience the benefits almost immediately!

Karen Holmes is a CGWA Senior Consultant and Trainer, based in the U.S. and delivering programs such as  Coaching, Interpersonal Communication Skills, Positive Power and Influence, Presentation Skills, and many more.

Influence in a Matrix Environment: It Can Be Done! [Week 1 of 2]

Posted by on June 27, 2012

Be Sociable, Share!

Positive Power and InfluenceIn a matrix environment, employees report on day-to-day performance to a project or product manager whose authority flows horizontally across departmental boundaries. They also continue to report on their overall performance to the head of their department whose authority flows vertically within his or her department.*

Sound complicated? It is! This challenging environment can be fraught with conflicts of interest. For instance, perhaps your “vertical” supervisor is demanding time or resources you have already set aside for your “horizontal” supervisor’s project. One of the key skills sets that will set you apart from your colleagues is the ability to influence…across job functions, at all levels, and without positional power. Sound impossible? Since 1977, CGWA has been awakening individuals and organizations to the power of positive influence skills—skills which aren’t limited by power structures, be they traditional or unorthodox. In a matrix organization, these skills are especially important.

Not sure if you are working in a matrix organization? A few simple questions can help to clarify:

  1. Do you report to more than one person or line of business?
  2. Is your focus on more two or more functions or segments of the business?
  3. Must you focus on several factors at the same time such as functions, departments, regions or products?
  4. Do you work in teams with people from different departments and locations, in which there are no hierarchical relationships?

If you answered YES to any of these questions, then you are working in a matrix environment! This week, I’d like to discuss the first 2 keys to influencing in a matrix environment:

1. Stakeholders

Know who your key stakeholders are in the process. A stakeholder is a person or group that has an investment or interest in something. Consider individuals, groups, and other organizations that are affected byand also affectdecisions and actions related to the business. Using a list or “mind map,” identify the people that are key to moving the process forward. Who are they? Think about regions, functions, departments and segments of the business.

2. Objectives

Be very clear about your influence objective with each key stakeholder. The ability to articulate influence objectives can make or break an outcome. Setting a clear influence objective can help you plot an accurate course to guide you through the influence process. Without a clear influence objective, your path will become confusing. Make it easy for the person that you are trying to influence by setting a clear objective that can be met.

Stay tuned next week as we discuss more keys to influencing in a matrix environment! 

*Source: Business Dictionary

Karen Holmes is a CGWA Senior Consultant and Trainer, based in the U.S. and delivering programs such as Coaching, Interpersonal Communication Skills, Positive Power and Influence, Presentation Skills, and many more.

Great Communication Skills: Listen, Listen, Listen!

Posted by on June 21, 2012

Be Sociable, Share!
  • Have you ever “tuned out” when someone was talking to you?
  • Has anyone ever asked you, “Are you listening to me?”

If you answered yes to either or both of these questions…congratulations! You’re human.

We’ve all made the mistake of not listening, and it almost always gets us in trouble. People have an innate need to be heard, and they’re looking for feedback from you that tells them you’re listening. This is why “pretending” to listen usually doesn’t work.

Communication Skills

Real Listening

Being quiet while someone is talking does not constitute real listening! The key to real listening is wanting and intending to do one of these four things:

  • Understanding someone
  • Enjoying someone
  • Learning something
  • Giving help

When you are really listening, following through with active feedback will show the speaker you are fully engaged. When they know you are paying attention, they can relax into their message, beginning the whole conversation on a better note.

Active Listening

“Active listening” requires feedback from you so the speaker knows you’re listening. This feedback can take many forms:

  1. Eye contact
  2. Facial expression
  3. Posture
  4. Verbal responses and asking questions
  5. Actively avoiding distractions

If you’re truly listening, the first 3 items should happen automatically. Items 4 and 5 are a little harder.

Active verbal feedback consists of paraphrasing, clarifying with questions, then sharing your reactions. Make sure you hear the whole statement before making any judgments, and listen with empathy. Make sure you are aware of any mismatches between the words being said and the speaker’s tone of voice, emphasis, facial expressions, and posture. Do all these fit together? Using these techniques will help you see past the surface to the real message being conveyed.

Actively avoiding distractions means ensuring the conversation takes place in as quiet a place as possible without phone, email, or human interruptions. Easier said than done, but doing this will ease the whole interaction and allow you to absorb the message without confusion caused by interruptions. It also signifies that you respect the speaker and their message.

Blocks to Listening

As soon as you have active listening down pat, watch out! There are some common blocks to listening that we all have to deal with, and they sneak in so stealthily you may never notice:

Communication Skills

Pay attention to where your mind wanders when someone is speaking to you. When you are able to catch yourself doing these things, you can then work on correcting these tendencies and avoiding them altogether in the future. Just imagine what an outstanding listener you can become!

Karen Holmes is a CGWA Senior Consultant and Trainer, based in the U.S. and delivering programs such as  Coaching, Interpersonal Communication Skills, Positive Power and Influence, Presentation Skills, and many more.

Take Training Seriously and Maximize Employee Performance!

Posted by on June 13, 2012

Be Sociable, Share!

Maximize Employee PerformanceManagers achieve their objectives through the efforts of their team—so in most organizations, an important aspect of the annual performance review is the assessment of development needs in order to ensure that the skills and behaviors of individuals are at a level that allows them to deliver on their objectives. Most managers take the performance review process very seriously. So I find myself wondering why managers often don’t put the same effort into supporting their employees before and after attending a training course. After all, training should directly support the goals of employees and managers alike.

As a Trainer and Coach with almost twenty years’ experience, I am often dismayed by the lack of support and, in some instances, distinct lack of interest shown by managers when they send an employee on a training course. At its worst, it can mean that participants do not even know why they are attending a workshop and have not had a pre-course conversation to discuss the objectives of the development they are seeking to achieve. Even if a pre-course discussion has taken place, the majority of attendees don’t have a post-training meeting with their manager. So, what are the best practices for pre- and post-training manager-employee discussions?

Pre-Training: Best Practices

Assuming that an employee’s development need has been accurately identified by their manager and mutually agreed upon, the next step is to select the best method to develop the skill or behaviours. Keep in mind that a training course may not always be the best option; coaching, on-the-job training, online training, and even reading can be excellent methods of development. However, once it has been determined that a group training course is the best option for a particular employee, the next steps are:

  • Target areas of development and identify how these align with the course objectives
  • Be specific about expectations and explore how these skills should enhance employee performance
  • Discuss any concerns or limitations which the employee may have
  • Decide how you will each assess the impact of the training
  • Discuss whether the employee has to collect feedback or complete pre-work prior to the course, and if so, discuss how that process works

During Training: Best Practices

With the training scheduled, the pre-course discussion finished, and pre-work completed, how can you best support the participant during the training? There’s only one rule:

  • Ensure that the employee has the opportunity to participate in the training course without interruption by agreeing upon how their role will be covered while they are away from their job
    • The advent of the mobile device and email means that we are never truly “away from work,” but managers can encourage their employees to put an out of office message on their email and only deal with extremely urgent issues during the training
    • Managers can also demonstrate support and commitment to employees’ development by not contacting them and resisting the urge to ask employees to deal with work during the course

I have seen all types of interruptions from the managers themselves, up to and including calling employees to meetings or conference calls during workshops! This is not only disruptive to their learning, but also that of other participants. It’s vital that managers should resist the urge to interrupt their employees’ training experience.

Post-Training: Best Practices

And now for arguably the most important role you can play in maximizing the development of an employee: post-training support. Unfortunately, statistics show that only 14% of participants have any follow-up discussion with their manager post-training! This is a huge wasted opportunity, since a post-training meeting demonstrates that you are taking their development seriously and gives an added impetus to the consolidation and application of learning. While the exact nature of the conversation will depend on the type of training undertaken, the areas to be covered should include:

  • What were the key learning points?
  • How can the key learning points be put into action?
  • What support is required?
  • How will the impact of the learning be measured on an ongoing basis?

Taking the time to demonstrate an interest in employees’ development before, during and after training is essential to maximizing your training investment. It’s part of a good manager’s role. As Calvin Coolidge so aptly said, “All growth depends upon activity. There is no development physically or intellectually without effort, and effort means work.”

Angela Steatham is a highly experienced facilitator, coach and OD consultant and a CGWA expert trainer. Based in the U.K., she delivers the Positive Power and Influence program throughout Europe.

Commercial Excellence for Life Sciences: World Class Assessment Tool

Posted by on June 6, 2012

Be Sociable, Share!

Have you done everything you can around creative pricing, value pricing, and hiring the best talent you can find—and yet you’re still looking for that competitive edge?

Commerical Excellence Sales and MarketingDid you know that CGWA has been researching commercial sales and marketing best practices in the biotech, healthcare, medical device, and pharmaceutical industries for over 20 years? Through our extensive work with top life sciences companies around the world, we have formulated our unrivaled World Class Assessment Tool (WCAT), developed in response to requests from those clients to define commercial excellence in the field.

How did it all start? In the early 1990s, one of our clients—the CEO of an industry-leading medical device company—issued this challenge to CGWA: “We have 600 people representing our company worldwide, and only about 25 know how to go to market with our products corrrectly. Your mission, CGWA, is to find out what those 25 do so well and then train the other 600 people in our organization.”

That was the beginning of a 4-year research and customized training program in which we:

  • Traveled the world conducting in-depth interviews and 1-2 day field visits with those top 25 reps and many others within the company, in cardiovascular, neurovascular, peripheral vascular, endovascular, etc.
  • Created our original WCAT based on that research
  • Designed a custom training program that included every sales and marketing rep and leader in the company, getting everyone on the same page and using the same best practices
  • Through the use of these methods and tools, we helped our client achieve significant and measurable commercial success

Since then, CGWA has continued to continued with that reserch, gathering fresh, relevant data from all branches of the life sciences industry. Companies like American Medical Systems, Boston Scientific, Cardinal Health, Cortes, Covidien, Edwards Lifesciences, Kinetic Concepts, Stryker, and many more. We now have input from more than 1,000 biotech, healthcare, medical device, and pharmaceutical leaders.

We are currently working with a leading medical device company, in the process of deploying the WCAT and implementing World Class Commercial Excellence processes for over 40,000 employees in 59 countries.

If you believe that best practices and commercial excellence gives companies a competitive edge, CGWA has the model and assessment tools to determine where your company stands in relation to those proven best practices. How will you know if your sales and marketing teams are well-aligned…or if they’re ready for a change?

Greg Wright founded CGWA in 1977 on the principle that customized, skill-based training provides the best learning experience for employees, as it incorporates a company’s culture, business trends, and “real life” situations into the structure of the training.

Are you sabotaging yourself? Rate your Influence Skills now!

Posted by on May 30, 2012

Be Sociable, Share!

It’s now or never. You’re standing in front of that key person—the one you need to convince. You need their help on a project, more cooperation on the team, approval for your request, or…[fill in the blank]. You plan to persuade them using the same method you always use, with everyone. Sure, it doesn’t always work, but there’s nothing you can do about that. Or is there?

Influence SkillsYou can improve your chances of a successful influence encounter today! One of the most difficult parts of improving your influence skills is evaluating how you come across to others. Where do you start? By figuring out what your best influence style is and which styles need work. The style you choose affects how others perceive you during an influence conversation, so it’s important to know where you stand.

There are 2 main influence “energies,” Push and Pull, which consist of sub-categories called Influence Styles. In order to understand where your skills lie right now, I’d like to talk a little about each style.

Push Energies

  • Persuading: proposing and reasoning
  • Asserting: stating expectations, evaluating, and using incentives and pressures

Pull Energies

  • Bridging: involving, listening, and disclosing
  • Attracting: finding common ground and sharing visions

You need to determine the style you use most of the time; the one you’re most comfortable with. But perhaps more importantly, you must determine the style you need the most help with. From this starting point, you can begin to practice your weakest style(s), and eventually alter your influence style with each person you encounter in order to achieve the best results.

In the classroom, we present participants with concepts, tools, and insights that are practiced extensively to create a better understanding of how they influence and how to approach others more effectively. We also teach how to create a positive environment by planning for these critical interactions. I can’t explain how fulfilling it is to watch people experience influence breakthroughs in the classroom and then improve their everyday interactions through the use of their newfound skills!

Karen Holmes is a U.S.-based CGWA Senior Consultant and Trainer, delivering programs such as Coaching, Interpersonal Communication Skills, Positive Power and Influence, Presentation Skills, and many more.

What Were They Thinking? 8 Bad Business Decisions.

Posted by on May 23, 2012

Be Sociable, Share!

Bad Business DecisionsIn business, there are times when leaders and committees—armed with incomplete information or a poor decision-making process—simply make the wrong decision. In hindsight, of course, the mistakes seem obvious. Let’s take a look at 8 bad business decisions (in no particular order):

1. Turning Down the Beatles

In 1962, Mike Smith and Dick Rowe of London’s Decca Records decided not to sign the Beatles because, “…we don’t like your boys’ sound.” EMI Records eventually signed the group, which became the most popular band of all time. Ironically, later Decca ended up partnering with EMI because demand for Beatles records was so high they couldn’t keep up with it.

2. Rejecting the Telephone

In 1876, William Orton of Western Union decided not to buy the patent for the telephone, invented by Alexander Graham Bell. The patent was offered at $100,000 by Gardiner Greene Hubbard, a wealthy Bostonian who had helped fund the invention. However, Mr. Orton decided to respond directly to Mr. Bell saying, “…after careful consideration of your invention, while it is a very interesting novelty…it has no commercial possibilities.”

3. Lowballing Microsoft

In 1979, Ross Perot offered to buy Microsoft from Bill Gates for between $6 million and $15 million. Mr. Gates wanted between $40 million and $60 million. The two couldn’t come to a deal, so Mr. Perot walked away. Of course, today Microsoft is worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

4. Passing up The Cosby Show

In 1984, Bill Cosby gave ABC-TV first shot at buying The Cosby Show. ABC turned him down saying, “…viewers won’t watch an unrealistic portrayal of blacks as wealthy, well-educated professionals.” NBC swooped in, and over 8 wildly successful years—including 4 straight years at #1—The Cosby Show became the most profitable series ever broadcast to that point.

5. Failing to Improve the Model T

In 1908, Henry Ford launched the Model T: the very first model to come off the line at Ford Motor Company. It was so successful that Mr. Ford decided improvements weren’t needed—for 19 years! By the time the popular Model A was marketed in 1927, Ford’s market share had already been lost to companies such as Dodge and General Motors as consumers satisfied their hunger for something new and exciting.

6. Counting on Viral Marketing

In 2006, General Motors, in conjunction with the TV show The Apprentice, launched an internet-based viral video marketing campaign to promote their new Chevy Tahoe SUV. Unfortunately, consumers weren’t impressed. Hundreds of people used the campaign to air their grievances with the vehicle and the GM brand in general, accusing it of contributing to global warming, the war in Iraq, or simply disparaging the Tahoe’s quality.

7. Recycling Credit Card Info

Also in 2006 (a bad year?), as part of a paper recycling program, the New York Times Company inadvertently tops copies of The Boston Globe and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette with printouts showing the credit card information of 227,000 of their readers. Immediately sending employees door-to-door in a retraction campaign, they were only able to retrieve a small percentage of the recycled toppers.

8. Becoming Big Brother

In 2009, retail giant Amazon deletes George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm from users’ Kindle devices after the publisher decides to pull the e-books “off the shelf.” Although refunds were issued, the deletion seemed to violate Amazon’s own Terms of Service. The move invites critics and consumers alike to compare Amazon with the “Big Brother” described by Orwell in the very same 1984.

Sources: CNET News, CNN Money, The Wall Street Journal, Time

Negotiation Skills: Top 10 Ways to Lose a Negotiation

Posted by on May 16, 2012

Be Sociable, Share!

Negotiation SkillsIt’s like a bad dream: You arrive at a negotiation without the tools and tactics you need to produce a win-win outcome. Things go horribly wrong, and everyone leaves with a bad taste in their mouth. In fact, you’re sure that the other party wants nothing more to do with you. Even if you technically “won” the negotiation, it’s not a true win. We call this a lose-lose outcome.How do you avoid a repeat? First you need to know what notto do. There are many ways to lose a negotiation. Here are the Top 10:

  1. Fail to plan ahead
  2.  Go in with a combative attitude
  3.  Have no idea what you can offer and when to walk away
  4.  Arrive without responses to the other party’s likely objections
  5.  Assume you know what the other party wants
  6.  Fail to address the other party’s questions and concerns
  7.  Ignore the underlying power balance
  8.  Fail to neutralize the other party’s negative tactics
  9.  Narrow down the negotiation to only one issue
  10. Negotiate a win for you that results in a loss for the other party

One or more of these are probably familiar to you. We all have to start somewhere, right? The worst part is, any one of these actions is enough to sabotage a negotiation and possibly the whole relationship.

Presentation Skills: Q&A is Crucial!

Posted by on May 9, 2012

Be Sociable, Share!

Last time, we talked about your presentation conclusion. I promised I’d go into more detail about question/answer sessions in another blog, and here it is!

Presentation Skills

Many people see the great challenge as the presentation itself. When the questions begin, the presenter breathes a sigh of relief and relaxes. This is when trouble can begin. Responding to a question with an appropriate, efficient answer is the real challenge!


The first step to successful Q&A sessions is preparation. Your audience expects you to be prepared for your talk, but they do not expect you to be prepared for the Question and Answer session. If you are, you will undoubtedly enhance the success of your entire presentation. The key to preparing for questions is to anticipate all questions that may be raised. Ask yourself:

  • What questions will my audience be likely to ask?
  • Who will be likely to ask questions?
  • Are there any provocative ideas that might threaten individuals in the audience?
  • What are the tough questions?
  • What are the questions I hope no one will ask?


To help you anticipate all questions, it is a good idea to review your presentation with:

  • Peers: who may be able to think of questions you overlooked.
  • Insiders: someone in the same industry as your audience will be able to think of questions from your audience’s perspective.
  • Outsiders: someone who is not in either your or your audience’s industry will be able to think of questions from a completely fresh perspective.

To assist you in anticipating questions, here is a list of commonly asked questions:

  • Do we really need this?
  • What are the alternatives?
  • What will happen to us if we don’t?
  • What will it cost?
  • Can we do it for less?
  • Is it in the budget?
  • What is the ROI?
  • How do we do it?
  • Who will do what?
  • How long will it take?
  • Will this action create new problems?

Once you have anticipated all questions, prepare answers for them as thoroughly as you prepared the presentation itself.


Q&A sessions give you an opportunity to continue making your point. The purpose of your presentation is to induce action. Be sure each answer you prepare will contain information that will help your audience take the action you want them to take. Always be sure your answers include benefits so your audience will understand what’s in it for them.

Karen Holmes is a U.S.-based CGWA Senior Consultant and Trainer, delivering programs such as Coaching, Interpersonal Communication Skills,Positive Power and Influence, Presentation Skills, and many more.