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Engagement skills to compliment your operational capabilities

Supplier: Australasian Supply Chain Institute
18 July, 2012

Naked Conversations - A three question interview with high-stakes conversation expert Hugh Gyton

Q: Do conversations really matter (even in the supply chain world)?  Can they improve productivity in a tangible way?

Hugh: I don't think we have to look any further than the definition of 'Supply Chain Management' by The Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) to realise why conversations might matter:
"Supply Chain Management encompasses the planning and management of all activities involved in sourcing and procurement, conversion, and all logistics management activities. Importantly, it also includes coordination and collaboration with channel partners, which can be suppliers, intermediaries, third-party service providers, and customers. . . . ."

It goes on but I am sure you get the gist.  The ability to get anything done efficiently in our complex, competitive world depends on great conversation skills - the ability to be understood and to influence appropriately.  The myriads of relationship that potentially have to be managed in a supply chain are fraught with risk.  Our different agenda's, pressures, responsibilities mean we are continually negotiating with each other.  As soon as more than one person is required to be involved in a process there is the opportunity for misunderstanding and error.  What we say we want to happen and what people hear needs to be done can be two totally different things.

Learning the language of engagement so that people will choose to do what is needed to be done and do it efficiently is a critical skill for productivity.  Let's also not forget the power of the conversations we have with ourselves as to how productive we might be at any given time.
Q: What is a "naked conversation"?

Hugh: Part of the dictionary definition of naked is "defenceless, unprotected, exposed ...bare of any covering."  Our fear of being 'exposed' in the workplace - not being perceived as competent, capable, committed, results in us wearing 'masks'.Pretending to be something we are not.  We, consciously or sub-consciously, choose to protect ourselves by not being willing to be open.   The challenge is, if when we think of ourselves as 'anked' it conjures up images, thoughts of being exposed, of feeling vulnerable then we may communicate in ways that make it harder for others to trust us.  Without trust it then becomes really difficult to easily get things to happen.  Think of the number and complexity of relationships involved in developing an efficient, smooth supply chain.  If you are unable to easily create trusting relationships within that environment your ability to perform effectively is seriously compromised.

The real key to a 'naked' conversation is the courage to bring your whole self into a conversation, into a relationship.  To 'risk' being vulnerable by accepting that you know what you need to know, that you are who you need to be and that your intent is to do good work - that you don't need to 'pretend'.
Q: In your keynote presentation you'll share with us five characteristics of naked conversations. Can you share with us here just one/two communication techniques that you think all managers should master in order to better engage with employees in the workplace?

Hugh: With all the work I have done in helping clients improve engagement with their teams I would have to say a key competence to focus on for major impact would be the skill of being present.
We have become so 'busy' that we have lost the art of just being and connecting properly with each other.  During 2002 and 2006 there were 12 major Employee Engagement Studies held in Australia.  Amongst the various factors identified as directly impacting engagement there was one that consistently shone through as a major factor and that was 'relationship with manager'.  People crave to be acknowledged and appreciated by those they work for.
How does this show up?

Well, in my world, my children have taught me the power of 'presence'.  I have a son, 11, and a daughter, 9.  As a work from home Dad I have the pleasure, and challenge, of my children coming into my workspace at around 3.15pm most afternoons when they get home from school.    I could hear the patter, ok thud, of my children's feet as they galloped up the stairs to my office, their excitement, as they would run into my office to say "hi".  What happened next was impacted entirely by how I responded.

Often I might be in the middle of writing an email or preparing a presentation and if I continued to work and just give them a cursory welcome an interesting thing would occur.  They would hang about.  They would start drawing on my whiteboard, my daughter would start picking at things right by and around me.  They would just keep distracting and annoying me until I 'showed up'.
If, on the other hand, as I hear them running into my office; I stop what I am doing, swivel my chair through 90 degrees, open my arms into a big welcome, and smile broadly at them.  They come in for a lovely big hug, say 'hi', turn, run out and go off and play for an hour or two.  All over in a matter of seconds and, if I am honest, I am left in an emotional state of wanting more - as opposed to frustration at being interrupted.  Ironic.

How often when our people come in to speak with us are we still tapping away on the keyboard?  How often do we see people out together, having 'coffee meetings', and more attention is being paid to the phone than the person?

So next time someone comes into your office; stop what you are doing, get present, connect and truly listen.  They will feel more acknowledged and become more engaged.
Hugh Gyton is a high-stakes conversation expert, author, professional speaker, mentor, trainer and coach.   You can learn more from Hugh about engaging through naked conversations at apics NSW's annual dinner on Wednesday the 26th of September at Homebush.

Learn more about Hugh at www.hughgyton.com 

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