Monday, 20 June 2011

Generation X and Y uncovered

I admit I was only ever vaguely aware of the Generation X and Generation Y debate...

...And it was only when my colleague John kept referring to it in that knowing way that people “in the know” do when they know you’re not – in the know that is - that I felt inclined to take a closer look.  With many original opinions claimed on the subject the most readable explanation was an article by Jo Jackson.
Jo brings opinion up to date and introduces Generation Z - born post 1995 - and of course as happens with these social profiling questions the first thing I wanted to know is where I fitted in? Well it obviously wouldn’t be “X” or “Y” I knew that much about it. “Boomer” seemed a fair bet - what with the 60’s and all that. But I certainly wasn’t prepared for the shock  I got on discovering I was a “Veteran!!”  Yep – post war cohort born 1928 to 1945 - surely not? And as I read on...  “disciplined ...respect for law and order ….comfortable with command management style” confirmed it -yes that’s me all right.

But hold a second - “optimistic, ambitious and loyal ….job status conscious.” Yes, that’s me too - and that’s your Baby Boomer. OK I'm happy now - I’m on the cusp.

Generation Y
Even if unread on the subject you won't have escaped the Generation X and Y effect if you’ve been in any kind of communication or relationship oriented career, had kids, or paid attention to the world around you as you grew up.
Certainly as a know-it-all 15 year old I had different values and opinions to my dad, my schoolteacher, the caretaker who “policed” the flats where we lived, and practically everyone remotely connected with authority – which was anyone more than 5 years older than me. And together with my mates I insured those differences were always recognised by talking in an alternative language designed to confuse and exclude our elders.
Then when I was a 20 year old I experienced the second phase - Next Generation Reversed Perspective. It was the Beatle's Christmas Concert at the Hammersmith Odeon. We'd taken two 15 year olds - and overhearing them chatting about the upcoming acts I realised they were talking in a language that now excluded me!  It got worse when they gasped in disbelief on reading that one of their heroes  "was 21!!" I gulped in dismay - realising that I was now officially past it.
Get to the point please...

Winding forward to my 40's I then remember working with a former boss and mentor - he'd always been a role model for his directness and fluency with words - and hearing his "anarchic" young team agreeing "he'd always use ten words when three would do!"
And then only last week Holly was telling me "Gran-dad ...I'd love to hear the end of your story ...but I must get on!" Bless her.

So inter-generation dialogue has always been an issue.  But it certainly is more conspicuous now because of mobile communication technology and social networks. But they haven't caused the problem. They've certainly encouraged a new alternative language of phonetics and shorthand - things need to be said quicker as Holly points out.

Keep out - Generation Y only

But it's not just about brevity. The  "Y" and "Z's" really love their 'phones and facebook.  They provide peer acceptance, empowerment and inclusiveness - all huge issues in a coming-of-age generation.  And issues that in turn influence and shape values, beliefs, needs and opinions - shepherding individual belief systems into the strongly defined group identities we now see.
As anyone in communications knows it's the belief system that lies at the heart of choices and decisions that we make.  So as we strive for hearts and minds - tailoring the message for the distinctive groups ...and getting it across in a minimum of words seems a pretty essential strategy.

But inclusiveness has an exclusive side to it as far as outsiders are concerned - and as brand managers and employee engagement managers rush to embrace social media they need to ensure there is congruence between message and messenger - or else the audience won't let them in.
Listening to a "Generation X going on Vet"  talking about his "wicked apps" is more likely to prompt thoughts of disco dad rather than garner attention and create rapport with this generation.

Monday, 6 December 2010

The map is not the territory!

The map is not the territory?
I took a long time to work that one out when I did my NLP Practitioner training.
For a start I've always been very comfortable with maps "so why should anyone else have problems?"  was my reaction. Navigation is a straightforward exercise. I instinctively know my east from my west and I've always followed those instincts whenever needing direction - whether in a big city at home or on holiday in a dusty hire car.
Of course there was the one exception when I drove from Lake Garda to Milan some 6 years ago. 
I left Garda and drove south to join the A4 - my "hard-wired" mental map directing me that I should turn left and head east towards Milan and Venice. Now whilst Venice is indeed to the east - Milan is actually to the west.  And with Italian motorway junctions being a bit tricky it was easy not to notice that in following the Milan sign I'd turned right and was heading west. Later when returning from Milan and rejoining the A4 the first sign I see is Venice - my mind map says "not that way - head west away from Venice."   
It was as much denial as disbelief when I neared Turin. When a helpful local insisted I must turn around and drive back my mind wouldn't accept.  Even the Dolomites to my left was not "mountain of evidence" enough to convince me that I was travelling east not west.  Bardolino is only a short distance up the east side of Lake Garda. When I finally hit the lake - which inexplicably had now shifted south of the A4 - I chose to drive round it's entire west, north and east sides before reaching Bardolino from the "wrong end??"
That "mind freaking experience" of 6 years ago prompted understandable curiosity in an article published recently in Current Directions in Psychological Science which covers our capacity to orientate ourselves.
Dealing particularly with architecture and the layout of buildings it explains how the mind builds a cognitive map as you enter a new building. It creates a layout of objects and shapes which we then use to navigate our way back out as we leave and back in when we revisit. Apparently, what the mind doesn't do very well is store a record of the route we took - that  sequence of left and right turns that we made. 

Now that very much explains a problem I have when asked to remember directions that are coded in the format: "1st left ...2nd right ...4th on the right."  Forget it! Because I will.
My processing preference is definitely for recognizable landmarks: "left by the park ....right at McDonalds ....and right by the Ford dealers."
There are some inevitable parallels that we can make here with the ways in which we communicate with others and attempt to influence their thinking.
You will have built your own "mental layouts" of knowledge and experience of - well pretty much everything really. The way you encountered situations and stored the parts became your map.
Now your map it isn't going to be wildly different from other peoples but different nonetheless.
So at the simplest level of communication - if for example you're wanting something done and you assume understanding and don't check - you'll probably not get the job done as you'd hope.
At a more extreme level when you're putting people under some pressure - like overselling ideas or being demanding then there is a very good chance that you and the other party are going to be in two different places altogether - like Turin when it should be Garda!

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Get working on that inner self

Listening to the radio yesterday and hearing some 'phone in requests I realised how naturally humble we tend to be!
"I'd just like to say...." "I'd just like to ask..."
And it's the same when somebody receives an award or is invited to make an impromtu speech at a leaving do or something like it.
"I'd just like to thank..." "I'd just like to mention..."
Listen to us!  What is it that we're really saying?
"Forgive the intrusion ...this won't take long I'll just be a few minutes?
"I'm not worthy of this attention that I'm attracting to myself?
"Whatever I say I know it'll be rubbish so I'll lower your expectations now!"

I reckon it's one of those cultural things that history has blessed or cursed us with. Whether we're a product of the forelock touching toiling class or the stiff upper-lipped landed gentry. Who can say? 
Certainly not me I dropped history in the 2nd year at school.
But what I will say is that such a simple phrase as "just like to" - together with the inevitable excusatory voice tone and body language has a powerfully negative effect on the message that we communicate.
And it's this devlish thing called sub-conscious communication at work again. That cunning second channel into the other parties mind that is so sensitive to auditory and visual signals. To the extent that it can undermine and over-ride the words travelling in via the conscious channel.
My colleague Julie at career change specialists Churchill Brook talked recently about candidate performance at interview. She highlighted how candidates who were currently employed displayed significantly more confidence and presence than candidates who were not working - and of course how this influences the outcome of interviews.
How we outwardly express ourselves through our non-verbal language is of course an outcome of the way we inwardly feel. But it seems that few of us recognise this and take steps before an important presentation or interview to prime our inner self.
There are several simple and highly effective "inner-self workouts" you can try such as affirmations, visualisation and reframing - the link will tell you more about them.
But also ask yourself how thoroughly you plan and prepare for that interview or presentation. Go on be honest - do you tell people that you're good on your feet or better when spontaneous? Yeah right!!
When you are clear about the specific outcomes you want to achieve - and equally clear about the steps you will take to achieve that outcome - then you effectively create for yourself a flight plan.
Now you know where you're going and how you're getting there.
You are confidently able to direct things - and it shows!

For more tips and advice visit  

Friday, 19 November 2010

Men really are from Mars!!

Why is it blokes can't read body language?
Now it's not that I was eavesdropping ...but you know how it is in Costa with the tables being so up close and personal! 
I'd have said they were meeting for the first time? It's usually the case when you see couples showing exaggerated interest in the mundane background stuff they chat about.  And it was  going very well.  Leaning forward ...faces cradled in hands - they were mirroring in perfect rapport. Big smiles. Tentative touching when they got up to order seconds - yes definitely must have been a first date.
Then I heard him say that he still lived with his parents!
Her smile went. The voice lost its happy ring. Hands dropped into her lap as she sat back in her chair locking her feet together under her chair. "Is that mine?" she asked - turning her attention to the toasty with a suddenly acquired interest in moving things along.
He of course hadn't noticed a thing! He happily continued - leaning in and going on with the same hyper-enthusiam. Whilst she - now fully out of rapport - was visibly  backing away from this "alien" from another world. This person whose body language was saying "yes" when her's was definitely saying "no!"
Because it isn't just words that consciously register and suggest disagreement.
More telling is the non-verbal language that unconsciously registers and confirms disagreement!
What I was observing does of course go on everyday in both both personal and business relationships. Even in telephone conversations

The daft thing is that most of the time we are actually trying to behave in the right way.  As an illustration of this picture the scenario:
Angry customer telephoning customer services: "That TV you installed isn't working. It cost £700 and I'm missing the cup final!"
Customer Service Agent #1 with a doubting tone says: "I am surprised. I'm sure there can't be anything seriously wrong with one of our new state of the art LCD HD sets"
Fair answer but wrong answer. The customer wants empathy not questioning of his complaint. Sensing no sympathy for how he feels, he demands his money back.
Customer Service Agent #2 with an angry disappointed tone says:  "Really!! That is not good! We need to quickly sort this out for you."
Good answer and right answer. The customer senses a likeminded response. They're in rapport and he is happy to be talked through the set up steps as the agent now shifts into calm problem solving manner.
This is pacing and leading at work. Matching the non-verbal language as it reflects the mood  and rhetoric of somebody before using it to lead them out of conflict and into resolution.
Yes our friend at Costa's needs to learn to mirror the "state we don't want to be in" language of his friend and lead her out of it - otherwise he'll always be living with his mum.

For more tips on persuasion go to

Friday, 12 November 2010

Allow people to persuade themselves

I talked in the previous post about the "ying and yang of persuasion." And about borrowing the soft hands techniques of Tai Chi - where you use the force of an opponents argument to your advantage.
Allowing somebody to persuade themselves towards the outcome you want is undoubtably the best form of persuasion. I'm convinced of it - it's what I've been observing in business for over 40 years.
I first consciously applied it in sales. Not as a salesman but as an Area Sales Manager - the best job there is in which to learn and practice influence and persuasion. Because it exposes you to situations every day: Sitting in on a sales interview where with a coach's 3rd party perspective you see and feel so much more than when you're actually doing the selling.  And as a Manager and coach - encouraging people with different needs and personalities to meet team goals and standards.
 Generally speaking people don't want to be told what to do.  And that is definitely the case if you suggest that what they're doing isn't good enough.  So launching in with a direct "I think this is what you should do" approach just doesn't work. You'll most probably get a defensive reaction. If you don't ...then the chances are you're being temporarily tolerated ...just for a quiet life. Once you're gone with no commitment made they revert to old ways and attitudes.
I was reminded of all this when catching up with one of the old team from those early days and we talked about the success of the team and in particular the dynamics of area meetings.
Apart from revelling in the flattery which was very enjoyable it was good to hear how he had taken on board and applied the same approach in his subsequently successful career:
At meetings he would establish and agree the team goal.
Then invite suggestions on tactics - and lead towards  consensus on the preferred tactic - which happened of course to be his choice too.
With ownership of tactics secure he would invite the first bids on individual targets and identify the predictable gap.
Then allow further debate to shapen up the tactics followed by further bids - knowing just as he had years previously that personal conviction plus a bit of self-esteem would ensure an achievable but stretching pledge would fill the gap!
Then he would confirm commitment - again remembering just how he would always achieve any target he'd agreed and committed to - and knowing full well that I would probably have settled for less! 

Friday, 5 November 2010

Use ying and yang to get agreement

I must get back into the routine of Tuesday evening Tai Chi.
The first hour is very well spent on the "health" aspects - practicing the moves and understanding the breathing and skeletal massage benefits.  
The second hour our teacher Bernie gets us on the martial arts stuff - that is great fun.
Not necessarily the diving forward rolls onto a mat - that makes me giddy! Nor the stamina building routines - holding weights and swinging your arms at shoulder height for several painful minutes.  Nor is it necessarily the sparring with the gloves on - its a nose protector not gum shield that I need!  But Bernie explains that "you need this stuff just in case it kicks off outside the chippy on a Saturday night!"
The part I get the biggest kick out of is the pushing hands practice. Embodying one of Tai Chi's key principals of using your opponents force to your advantage - it teaches you to be alert and sensitive to their imminent movement and then to allow their own attacking momentum to unbalance them. Initiate the attack yourself and you end up on all fours!
It's a principal that I find serves us very well in resolving conflict or when influencing opinions towards our own point of view.
Disappointingly we are inclined to counter-attack when our opinions are challenged. Which is fine if you just want to enjoy a good row but not very productive if agreement is the end aim.
And an attack can be very innocent in it's intent. Simply saying "you're wrong!" "that's not the case!" "I disagree!" signals a difference which in turn means that you're on opposite sides. And the shields go up.
We have our own "soft hands" that we can use to counter disagreement:
Keep quiet - listen intently - don't rush in with a response.
Nod your head in apparent agreement
Empathise with a response like: "fair point" "I think I can see why you say that"
Qualify their thoughts: "would you mind explaining it a bit more to me please?"
Qualify their feelings: "I see ...and why is that particularly important to you?"
Now - not only have you let them talk out their objection - deflate the balloon as it was once taught to me - but you know the needs and wants that sit behind their objection. You can tailor your response and make sure it meets those wants in every way.
Which is much better than a sore nose ...or falling on all fours 

For more tips on persuasion visit

Friday, 29 October 2010

Why do we love "Top 10 lists?

Why do we love "Top 10" lists so much?
What is so compelling about discovering "The top 10 ways of doing this!" or "The 12 greatest ways of doing that?"
Why is it that as a teenager I couldn't move from the radio when they were playing the latest Top 20 selling singles?
Or be fascinated by the list of most watched programmes around the TV regions? And delight in seeing that Ulster TV's favourite show was The Flintstones!
What persuades me to sit through a two hour TV programme on a topic of minor interest just to see how Channel 4 viewers counted their favourite bits down from 50 to number 1?
And while I'm about it - who was it who said that any article we write for the web has to be "the 6 top tips..." or "8 awesome ways...?" Where is the evidence for this unchallengable rule?
If not evidence, there is plenty of opinion about. I particularly like the offering from National Public Radio Their No 1 is Lists bring order to chaos. And they quote David Wallechinsky who co-authored the Book of Lists - talking about lists he says "lists help us in organising what is otherwise overwhelming." Spot on there mate!
The Montreal Observer's no 1 reason is They make us feel smart followed closely by They make us feel smug. Yes. have to agree with that too.
And Stuart Brown of Modern Life writing from the perspective of a blogger and article writer points out their obvious attraction - They are easy to digest!
I think that is a key point - digestability. Which is why I and many others ignore the rather ridiculous 100 hot hints or 50 finest findings.  Even 8 awesome ways may be stretching it a bit.
But with an eye or brevity I think lists or rankings are a brilliant aid when putting together a presentation or lengthy pitch.

  • Lists help retain attention - telling the audience there are 5 compelling benefits you want to share conditions them to listen up for five chunks of information.
  • They hold interest - positioning your list in a "saving the best until last" manner hooks the audience with curiosity - just like I get hooked by a two hour TV show!
  • They have implicit authority - probably because our brains have become "Google'ised" to think this way - we just seem to accept that a list is definitive.
For good measure, qualifying your list with "based on proven demand" or "derived from research findings" makes it practicably irrefutable. And to be really on the money with your message why not assemble it into your own Top List of ...usefulness or ...value in the benefits? A simple e mail questionnaire or an hour or two on the telephone would do it for you.
So the next time you're mapping out those presentation key messages express them in a ranked listAnd get yourself into the No 1 slot!   

For more tips on persuasion visit