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Le blogue de Solutions & Co.

Le blogue de Solutions & Co.

Navigate difficult conversations with empathy during a period of tension

Difficult conversations… You dread them, you postpone them sometimes, but you have to have them at some point. Difficult discussions are part of everyday life, especially in times of crisis.

When tensions are high, it’s easy for a conversation to slide in a direction you didn’t want. You may end up trying to prove that you’re right, rather than listening and trying to understand the situation from another angle. You may find yourself talking too loosely to avoid offending, leading to confusion and passive-aggressive attitudes. You could also make your points hurtfully because you haven’t given yourself the time to refocus.

Because they often involve major issues and are emotionally charged, these discussions could put your trust and influence to the test. But they are also an opportunity to showcase some of your skills such as listening, empathy and openness.

It is possible to transform a difficult conversation into a relationship-building opportunity. Here are some suggestions…

Work on yourself first

Before starting the conversation, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do you hope to achieve during this conversation? What is the expected result?
  • What are your assumptions about this person’s intentions?
  • Are you more emotional than the situation warrants?
  • How does your attitude influence your perception of the conversation?
  • What are your needs and fears?Do you have any common concerns?
  • How did you contribute to the problem?How did the other person contribute?

After thinking about these issues, it is time to take action.

Start the conversation

Introduce the topic in a neutral way. Do not go directly to solving the problem... The most important thing to keep in mind is creating a safe environment for the other person to be expressive and not defensive.
Make it clear to them that you want to hear their opinion and that you do not intend to lecture them. We don’t want the person to close at the beginning of the conversation.
How to get started?

  • I would like to discuss something that I think will help us work together more effectively.
  • I want to talk about _____ but I would like to get your opinion first.
  • I think we have different views on ____ . Do you have time to talk about it?
  • I would like to see if we can come to a better understanding of _________. I really want to hear your feelings on this and also share my point of view.

Inquire

Go in with a curious mindset. Cultivate an attitude of discovery and curiosity. Imagine that you know nothing and try to learn as much as possible about your interlocutor and his point of view. Ask open-ended questions to understand the situation from all perspectives. Learn your speaker’s priorities and don’t rush to the part of the conversation where you can talk.

Example:

  • What do you think?
  • Your behaviour towards your colleagues has changed.What’s going on?
  • I wonder what you think about what happened.Do you want to share?

Listen

Listening helps to calm any conflict or difficult conversation. When we are influenced by negative emotions, we tend to stop listening. But any conversation in which both parties listen to each other can streamline the flow of communication.

Let the speaker speak until he is finished. Do not interrupt, except to validate understanding. Try to learn as much as possible in this phase of the conversation. Resist the urge to correct or defend yourself. Let them finish speaking first. Wait your turn.

Listening to each other is not so easy. Let them speak, without interrupting. To fully understand their point of view, ask open-ended questions, put yourself in their place, invite them to summarize your exchanges and rephrase their words by asking them for their assent. You will avoid the dialogue of the deaf and the empathy you show will allow you to find a lasting, shared and satisfactory solution for both parties.

Recognize

Recognition means that you have heard and understood what the other person is communicating. Recognition can be difficult if we associate it with being in agreement. Signal that you recognize (or at least are trying to) their point of view, even if you don’t necessarily agree.

Empathize - Remember that you don’t have to agree with what the other person is saying. You just acknowledge that you understand what they said. Saying "it seems really important to you", does not mean that you agree with the interlocutor’s decision.

Paraphrase - This does not mean to reproduce verbatim what the person has communicated. Instead, try to summarize in fewer words what they have shared, including the emotion they expressed. Paraphrase what the person has said and ask them to validate your understanding.

Be assertive

When you feel that your interlocutor has finished expressing their opinion on the subject, it is your turn. Clarify your position without minimizing theirs. Remember to turn “you” statements into “I” statements. You are the expert on your own feelings. You are not the expert on their feelings, intentions or lives. Share what you know about yourself, such as the impact of the other person’s behaviour or situation.

Example: Turn “you are insulting” into “I feel hurt”.

Take a break if necessary

If you feel that emotions are increasing, you can take a break!

Example: “I just heard a lot of things that surprised me, I would like a little time to sit down and calm down a bit. Do you mind if we take a break and come back in half an hour (or tomorrow)?”

Problem solving

Now that you have both had your turn, you are ready to work together to find solutions to improve the situation. Ask the other person for advice and take the time to recognize what you like in their suggestions. When making suggestions, keep their priorities in mind and try to take advantage of their proposals.

Ask them what they think might work. No matter what they say, find something you like within it and build on it. If the conversation becomes contradictory, return to the investigation. Asking the other person’s point of view usually creates security and encourages them to engage.

This is to assess the feasibility of the options, to discuss. Sometimes that leads to looking for other options because the first one is not realistic. It is necessary to remain calm, in active listening mode, and to pay attention to the other to be sure that they are also in active listening mode. Then agree on a solution and decide together on a sensible next step. Give yourself a time to review the situation together. Follow up and document as required.

In conclusion…

Even if you can’t dictate the outcome of a difficult conversation, you can control how you navigate the process. When we are stressed, we are not always at our best. But, like any acquired skill, you can prepare yourself for a stressful situation and be ready to present yourself as you carefully planned.

Good luck!

  39 lectures
39 lectures

Managing your emotions in time of uncertainty and chaos

Circumstances of great uncertainty - like the current crisis - can make us feel destabilized and anxious. Our emotions and thoughts can get in the way of us feeling in control and we suffer by spending a lot of energy trying to manage these emotions.

Fortunately, we all have the capacity to strengthen ourselves against external circumstances by strengthening our own internal resources. Emotional regulation allows us to harness those feelings and thoughts to our advantage.

Regulating your emotions means working with whatever emotions you might be feeling in order to do your best work. The more emotionally stable we are, the better equipped we are to remain calm when challenges arise.

Emotional regulation is not about putting on a fake happy face while you suppress any negative feelings. Instead, it’s about acknowledging what’s happening for you emotionally and working with those feelings, so that you are free to choose your response to a situation, without the emotions controlling you.

Here where to begin:

Understand the biochemistry

The opposite of remaining calm is the state of "fight or flight", a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival.

The reaction starts when the amygdala (an almond-shaped structure where your brain processes memory and interprets emotions) sees a situation as a threat. This perception causes your brain to secrete hormones that tell your nervous system to prepare your body to take drastic action. Your breath gets short, your body floods your muscles with blood, your peripheral vision goes away, and so forth.

Since neither fight nor flight are appropriate in everyday situations, your body never gets a release. The tension in your body tells your brain that there is a threat, your brain responds, you end up with your brain and body in a feedback loop… And you get exhausted!

Be aware of your triggers

We can’t run from everything that bothers us, but we can increase our awareness of situations that trigger unwanted emotions. The more aware we are of our triggers, the better we can control them!

Don’t suppress your emotions

Research shows that in the long run, suppressing negative emotions doesn’t work nearly as well as transforming them by acknowledging and expressing them.

Label the emotions

To calm yourself and remain calm, you need to interrupt that feedback loop. You can reduce the reaction of our amygdala if you assign names or labels to the emotions that you're experiencing at the time. Reflecting on your feelings and labeling them may assist in calming the amygdala, allowing you to move out of the fight-or-flight mode and free up energy allowing you to think more clearly about the issue at hand, rather than worrying.

Stop thoughts

Did you know that research says you can disrupt a negative train of thought by saying “Stop!”? Next time you notice your thoughts going down a down-spiral path, try it!

Re-label your emotions

At this point, you've interrupted the feedback loop. In this step, you eliminate the emotional impetus that created the fight-or-flight response.

Go through the list of emotions that you identified in the previous step and assign them labels that are positive rather than negative. For example: Fear | Anticipation, Worry | Concern, Alarmed | Curious, etc.

When you re-label your emotions, you are using controllable parts of your brain to convince your amygdala that this is not a fight-or-flight situation but instead a "stay aware and watchful" situation, or even a "sit back and enjoy" situation.

As you continue holding the relabeled emotions in your mind, notice the speed at which your heart is beating. You will find that it gradually returns to a normal pace. You've regained calmness.

Practice Self-Compassion

Self-compassion involves offering compassion to ourselves: confronting our own suffering with an attitude of warmth and kindness, without judgment. Learning how to practice self-compassion can be as easy as looking at how compassionately you act toward others. Try to remember a time when one of your close friends was really struggling through a difficult time. How did you respond to him/her?  Now think about a time when you were in a similar situation. In contrast, how did you respond to yourself? When facing a crisis in the future, try treating yourself the way you would treat a friend. How do you think things might change if this were the case?

While it’s true that controlling our emotions isn’t always easy, remember that your viewpoint all comes down to their explanatory style—the story we tell ourselves when things don’t go our way.

Challenge your assumptions!

Don’t worry if all these techniques feel difficult or elusive at the moment, the more you practice them, the more easily it will come to you. Over time, your practice will shift so that emotional regulation becomes your automatic, go-to response when times get tough.

Good work!

  76 lectures
76 lectures

Optimism – In time of crisis…

Why write about optimism when we are in the midst of a worldwide crisis and people are manifestly fearful and worried? Research in neuroscience and psychology clearly shows that, in this kind of high-pressure situation, everyone’s anxiety level increases, which activates the portion of the brain that processes threats—the amygdala—and steals resources from the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for effective problem solving.

The present is gloomy, and the future seems threatening. What to do and what to think? I invite you not to sink into pessimism … pessimism is a silent and odorless gas that poisons us. As Goethe said: «Pessimism is condemned to be a spectator».

This period is chaotic and it’s understandable to have a hard time being optimistic. Your attitude is a crucial factor in these trying times, and maintaining a positive outlook becomes important … results are optimized when the brain is positive.

Optimism … What it is, and what it is not!

Optimism is not just about being positive. Being positive all the time (especially in times like these!) is unrealistic. Optimism is not about falling into naiveté either… Far from magical thinking, optimism is not an illusion … The «illusionist» is content in formulating magic sentences and incantations.

The challenge of optimism is to inspire yourself and others around you to behave intentionally about the future. It’s being capable of facing the dark aspects of reality. It reconciles realism and critical thinking …. It’s a positive intelligence that some call «opti-realism».

Optimist is intelligent: it plans, takes into account the criteria of effectiveness, and uses our personal resources and intelligence.

Our human nature is to be optimistic. Otherwise, we would not grow, walk, fall in love or acquire any skills. Optimism is a momentum, a vital force that pushes us to go forward, to obtain, and to conquer. Optimism just needs to be activated, channeled, and then used.

Optimism versus Pessimism

Pessimism is useful when put at the service of realistic optimism. Pessimism obliges us to take into consideration the constraints, the difficulties, the obstacles, and all the possible failure factors, without ignoring or minimizing them. It pushes us to show initiative, creativity, imagination and allows us to mobilize all our resources. Listen to that suspicious inner voice, list its warnings, stay sharp, and think about how we could get there despite the pitfalls.

The difference between optimists and pessimists is that optimists make more decisions to protect themselves from announced risks than pessimists: they are convinced that their actions can influence their destiny and not that they are victims of fatality! Optimists believe that taking action will have more beneficial consequences than if they just «let it be».

Being proactive versus being reactive

Proactive behavior (developing a strategy, making a choice, taking action and assuming the responsability) is always more positive - in terms of self-image, confidence and vision for the future - than reactive behavior.

Being reactive is more instinctive, it’s led by our reptilian brain, which triggers our defense mechanisms. It is not rational. Although it is good to look for the opportunity hidden in each difficulty, it needs to be done proactively instead of reactively. It is important to take the time to digest the new situation and the emotions it triggers. Too many decisions are made hastily because they are motivated by the desire to survive or to jump to a more pleasant stage.

Being optimistic also means accepting that there are problems and situations that are definitely or temporarily impossible to solve.

Change your relationship with stress

Don’t get stressed-out about being stressed-out. It’s important to remember that stress has an upside. Remember the life experiences that most shaped who you are today and notice that these experiences most likely involved great stress. Stress is not just an obstacle to growth; it can be the fuel for it. Stress is an inevitable part of life, but your attitude toward it can dramatically change how it affects you.

Developing Optimism

Training your brain to be optimistic is not so different from training your muscles at the gym. Research on neuroplasticity—the ability of the brain to change even in adulthood—reveals that, as you develop new habits, you rewire the brain.

To be «Opti-realistic» is to:

  • Strive to oppose each fear or obstacle to its positive antidote, so as to rebalance thoughts and emotions.
  • Consider unpleasant episodes as momentary, specific to a given situation and linked to reasons external to us.
  • Develop the emotional endurance to withstand these trying times.
  • Take a distant look at the situation and analyze each experience.

A good reflex is to take the situation into account and then ask yourself:

  • What can I do now?
  • What did this situation teach me (about me, about others)?
  • What improvements can I make (training, information, ...)?
  • What perspectives does it open for me (Changing my modus operandi, waiting for the right moment, ...)?

This keeps us from seeing ourselves as victims … you may not have control over the situation, but you still have control over how you will act in it – self-control!

Engaging in one brief positive exercise every day can help you develop optimism and have a lasting impact. Choose an activity that correlates with positive change:

  • Jot down three things you are grateful for.
  • Engage positively with people, even if virtually.
  • Help a neighbor, a colleague or a friend.
  • Meditate at your desk for two minutes.Exercise for 10 minutes.
  • Take two minutes to write in a journal about your latest most meaningful experience.
  • Choose one stress that you can control and come up with a small, concrete step you can take to reduce it.

In this way you can nudge your brain back to a positive mindset. The habits you cultivate, the way you interact with people, how you deal with stress—all these are good ways to start and can be implemented to increase your optimism and maintain a sense of well-being.

So here we are!

We are currently subject to an excessive dose of uncertainty. Psychological researchers have shown that intolerance to uncertainty is a fundamental dimension of what is called generalized anxiety, this sickly tendency to worry about what is uncertain, unpredictable and uncontrollable.

Before this event, we lived in an environment in which we exercised a certain control. This is no longer the case. This feeling of control is very important for our capacity for action and our emotional balance. Today the tolerable thresholds of uncertainty and loss of control may have been exceeded, hence our difficulties in remaining optimistic.

To get through the crisis, many efforts will be necessary; one of the most important is to build up our optimism. The falling tree always makes more noise than the growing forest: to become optimistic again, you have to become aware of your surroundings, not only of your problems, and listen to the forest growing!

  209 lectures
209 lectures

Visual supports | The analog tools’ advantages in the digital era

Before foreseeing a PowerPoint for your next presentation, and neglecting (even forgetting) white boards and flip charts, take the time to read this:

Visual supports

Visual supports help the audience remember key points, they clarify ideas, help you illustrate your words, and strengthen your arguments. They give a rhythm to your presentation and simplify some complexities.

People using visual supports are often seen as more prepared, more persuasive, and more interesting. They reach their goals more often than those not using them.

Studies have shown that a visual support makes a presentation more effective; a recent study from the University of Wisconsin shows that visual supports can improve comprehension and learning up to 200 %.

A visual support is a “support”. Unfortunately, I have too often seen visual supports being used to:

  • Impress the audience (with over detailed tables or graphs) ;
  • Avoid interacting with the audience (by reading slides word for word) ;
  • Fill a lack of planning from the trainer! (by using it as a crutch).

But that is another topic … let’s get back to our original one: analogs or digitals?

The advantages of the analog tools

Visual supports come in many different formats: hand-outs, white boards and flip charts, models, computer screenings and electronic medias, etc.

In our trainings, at Solutions & Co. we still use static writing surfaces such as textbooks, white boards, and flip charts!

What makes analog tools such amazing learning tools is the way they require both the use of the body and the brain in the learning process.

Researches on cognitive matching have shown that the physical process of writing, and doing diagrams helps people learn and remember the information. Using a writing surface like a whiteboard is both kinesthetic and visual, because writing and drawing engages the user both physically and mentally and fosters learning.

When we go through ideas visually, in a constant back and forth manner, in real time and in the same space, we offer a level of social connection different from the one offered by most digital solutions.

Proper use of writing surfaces can facilitate team work, improve commitment, and foster creativity and problem solving. Integrating analog tools in training rooms can allow participants to discuss, to communicate, and to share their ideas. And it helps us connect with each other by encouraging collaboration and sociability.

Conclusion? When we physically express our thoughts and ideas, and we progressively reveal the content, our brains are engaged in a way that release more potential for learning, ideas, solutions, and reflection.

Which ones are more relevant? Analog or digital tools?

Obviously, this not a “digital tools versus analog methods” competition. The ideal path of success is neither one nor the other, but knowing to pick the appropriate support in order to meet the audience’s needs and to reach its goal.

Studies reveal that 73% of teachers having used both connected and offline tools note a rise in students’ interest (Center for Digital Education), and 58% of students state learning better in an environment mixing both digital and analog tools (ECAR undergraduates survey).

The strength lies in the strategical use of your visual supports. Even if technology prevails in most professional environments and modern classrooms, analog tools remain an important and effective tool not to be overlooked.

No matter which visual aid you choose, do not let it overpower your presentation. Even UNESCO reminds us that digital is only to assist education not to replace it. Visual aids are used to enrich your presentation; they do not replace you.

  150 lectures
150 lectures

Front-Line Personnel – Have we abandoned our soldiers on the Front?

Soldiers? Uuuh… On the front? What? As a soft skills trainer, I have encountered thousands of workers who come to learn the skills needed to face the daily workplace reality without losing their marbles. They are looking for tools to optimize their professional “know how to act” … Most of the time, they are professional in their “knowledge”, excelling in their “know how” …But they still need to learn the value of “knowing how to be” and “knowing how to interact”. To ensure their effectiveness, they must be hard-skilled, but also soft skilled.

What good is it to know your products inside out if you can’t present them with confidence?

What good is it to have a customer service if the person behind the counter doesn’t know how to manage their emotions, to show some empathy, to understand the customers and to manage a complaint?

What good is it to have the world best product if you can’t show any professionalism?

Believe me, those are not caricatural! These situations are seen every day.

Front-line workers are in touch with customers on a daily basis: they have an opportunity that other members of the organization don’t. They interact with the customer, promote and represent the organization.

And every time, I ask myself the same question: Why do people wait so long before teaching these “soldiers” how to use the essential survival tools before sending them to the Front?

No self-respecting general would pick people off the street and send them to the Front, left to their own devices, and think they still have a chance to win the battle! This is only a metaphor used to show you what often happens in our businesses: people are hired only because they can fulfill a task; but without ensuring that they are willing to embrace the mission and the corporate culture, with no concern for their ability to interact with customers or coworkers, nor for their ability to manage stressful situations, to solve conflicts, or simply to be aware of the benefits of active listening.

The way your front-line staff represents your business sets your customers satisfaction level. A positive approach to the front-line team allows you to develop and secure a long-term relationship with your customers.

In your opinion, what would be the most effective way to build a satisfactory relationship with your customers? An automated thank you note from your CRM in order to thank the customer for their business? Or a warm greeting at the reception desk? A personal attention from the clerk? Or a genuine smile from the deliverer? Obviously, a human and personal interaction has a much greater impact, doesn’t it?

Imagine what a difference it could make if we gave every front-line worker the possibility and ability to solve customers’ dissatisfactions, the opportunity to manage their priorities effectively, to gain the skills needed to adequately cooperate and communicate. Business performance would increase exponentially.

This article’s title might seem a tad bit pessimistic (even far-fetched for some), but soldiers Abandoned on the Front! Illustrates how all the front-line employees are left to their own devices, with no vision, no support, no training beyond their immediate duties, no encouragement, no coaching… Abandoned at a crucial time – the moment of truth, the moment where a trustworthy relationship can be developed, the moment where the customer’s loyalty  can be secured! There are more leadership and management trainings than ever before! Even if managers training is important, I think training the workforce is mandatory in order to cope with a constantly changing work environment.

For every manager’s vision, there are tens (even hundreds) of employees who must provide continuity. For it to be possible, it is first of all necessary to equip those workers so they can assimilate this vision and contribute daily to the organizational objectives’ achievement.

I strongly believe that these employees are and will remain the most important asset of any organization wishing to increase its productivity and competitiveness. I am convinced that their soft skills can never be replaced with software, and that they are worthy of our investments as well as our respect.

Every position is important. However, front-line employees are often seen as the bottom tier within the organization; they usually earn insufficient wages and are insufficiently equipped. Front-line employees are important, they deserve the title of the organization’s ambassador, in order to skillfully and professionally represent it before the customers. Because we entrust them to take care of our customers, of a complaint, or a need. The organization’ success thus rests on their shoulders…

As the new year begins, I want to encourage you to step back, think, and answer with sincerity the following: Have we abandoned them on the Front, or have we equipped them with the needed tools to win?
  222 lectures
Mots-clés :
222 lectures

Les participants le disent…


« Vraiment une formation extraordinaire, et habituellement, je suis très critique! Tout le personnel devrait suivre cette formation, il y aurait un gain d’efficacité! »

Ville de Québec

Témoignages des participants

…et nos clients aussi!

« C’est avec un grand professionnalisme que l’entreprise a offert une formation attrayante et de qualité à nos employés. Nous sommes particulièrement satisfaits des résultats obtenus grâce à cette intervention et il nous fera plaisir de retravailler avec Solutions & Co. dans l’avenir. »

Xavier Aymé, Chef des opérations | Mercator Canada Inc.

Témoignages des clients

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