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Author: Kupe Kupersmith

How to Stop the Long-Winded: With Class

I was on a call the other day with people from around the world. Usually, these calls are awesome. The fact that I get to work with people from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Italy, and beyond is amazing to me. Life is not always awesome, though.

This last call was not fun. Apparently I was one of those long-winded people. A reaction from the meeting chair ended up hurting my feelings. I felt shut down. I stopped sharing my ideas. Some of you may be saying, “good, you and the other long-winded people need to keep quiet for a while.” Maybe you have a point. The short term goal of shutting me up moved our agenda along. The long-term impact was I stopped providing ideas in the meeting. That is not a good thing.

What happened was we were discussing a topic and asked to provide questions if we had one. I had a question, so I started in. My question was not yet well formed. I started talking trying to formulate the question. I am an extrovert, so I talk to think. At some point during my dissertation, the chair of the meeting piped in “Kupe, Kupe, Kupe!” I don’t know maybe there were 10 Kupes before he got my attention. I was trying to talk fast so I could get to my question. I was not rambling for the sake of rambling, I promise! I finally stopped and he said, “Kupe, you are going on and on, do you have a question? WHAT is your question?” That’s when my feeling got hurt, that’s when I stopped talking out loud and said “whatever” in my internal voice. I think I even threw up the “Whatever” sign. You know, making a “W” with your 2 hands. We didn’t have video, he couldn’t see me. I’m 44, but I can still act like a child! I ended up asking a question. But you could hear a new tone in my voice. I became disengaged. For the rest of the meeting, I shut down.

I know some of you are saying to yourselves, “jeez Kupe, man up. We need to have thicker skin than that.” Believe me, I know. I do have pretty thick skin. My kids say that they love that I don’t care what others think. The context there is I do goofy things trying to embarrass them. Needless to say, I am very comfortable with who I am, my thoughts and beliefs and don’t get my feelings hurt often.

The point is, even people with the thickest skin can get their feelings hurt or get defensive. You need to make sure you are facilitating meetings where people feel they have input. Where they feel comfortable sharing their thoughts. The goal is buy-in. I talk about this more in a post titled “Your goal is not to shut people down just for the sake of sticking to an agenda.”

Related Article: It’s Time to View Your Role as a Communication Expert

There is a real problem here. You need to make people feel comfortable sharing their thoughts. You also only have so much time. The long-winded are a challenge. The ones that don’t speak are a challenge too, but they don’t take up any time. What are you to do?

In a face-to-face situation, peer pressure comes into play. When you have a long-winded person going on and on, people start shifting in their chairs, looking at their phones, etc. People start to see their team’s reactions and may adjust. In a remote session that peer pressure is gone. Many people are on mute and you don’t see anyone. It actually makes the long-winded even longer-winded because they are not getting feedback. In my case, I was not sure people on the call were understanding where I was going with my thoughts, so I kept going. That is until the rude “KUPE” to the tenth power came from the chair.

Some would say, it’s all about relationships. If you have a good relationship with the people you work with, then you can be less politically correct. I am a huge believer in relationships and promote it all the time. Even if you have great relationships with others, you need to be careful. I have a great relationship with the chair of this meeting. I have a really good relationship with the others on the call. In my situation, the chair did need to stop me. In hindsight, I was really long-winded. In many of your meetings there may be a person or two that needs to be stopped.

Is there a better way than coming across as abrasive? Is there a way to do this without hurting others feelings? More importantly, is there a way that does not stop engagement from others?

My tip is don’t leave it up to the person running the meeting. That puts all of the pressure on one person to keep a meeting running smoothly. Eventually, that person snaps and comes out with a statement that can shut down the talker. It needs to be clear in the meeting that everyone has the right/ability to get the long-winded to wrap up. Come up with a code word or sound. When that sound is made or word spoken the talker needs to wrap it up. This can be used for face-to-face meetings too, although it is critical for remote meetings. Make sure everyone knows it is not personal. It’s about making meetings more efficient.

Don Palmer from The Dallas Federal Reserve Bank recently told me about an analogy he used to show his executives the effect of showing displeasure when project managers present project status reports that included issues. He refers to it as hitting the goalie. Don explained there is a rule in hockey that prohibits players from hitting the opposing team’s goalie. This originates from not having many people want to play goalie. Kids want to play offensive, goal-scoring positions. So, there were not a lot of goalies out there from which to choose. If a team hit the goalie and the goalie was injured, teams would have to go to a backup goalie. Then if the backup goalie was injured, there was no one else left to play the position. This would completely alter games. In the project status world, Don explained if you badgered the project manager for bringing up issues during status reporting, PMs would begin to present all positive results during the project. Then in the end the projects would fail because they were hiding the truth all along to avoid the public badgering. This behavior did not allow executives to make decisions along the way to get the projects back on track. Don explained that badgering a PM is like hitting the goalie and pushed to have a “no hitting the goalie” rule. Now in status meetings if one executive is badgering a PM, another executive will say, “you are hitting the goalie.” I think this is brilliant. This is now a term that everyone understands and respects. It also results in PMs sharing the information as it is and not sugar coating the status of their projects.

There is no silver bullet. Feelings will get hurt. Your goal as a leader is to work consistently towards obtaining full participation. The outcome you are looking for is buy-in from the group. You gain buy-in by allowing the team to share their thoughts.

To not hitting the goalie,

Kupe

Team Improvement Comes from More than Agile Techniques

Agile is being seen as a way to help improve team performance. If we just go agile we’ll be so much better. The problem is many people are still viewing agile as a collection of techniques. Yes, there are some new approaches. I would argue there are less new techniques and more existing techniques with new names. A few years ago I saw someone introduce an agile technique called “Shadow Me”. This is where you go watch someone do their job to understand current state. We have been calling that observation for a while now. On the flip side, those not completely buying in say analysis is analysis regardless if you are on an agile team or more traditional waterfall team. These arguments or debates miss the point and don’t help teams improve. What helps teams improve is a mindset shift that takes more work to implement. There is a way of thinking that is subtle and makes a huge impact. And this mindset is where the real difference of agile comes in.

Outside of my day job I volunteer for an organization of which my family are members. I was appointed to a special committee by the board of directors. Our committee is working on an initiative where communication to members is critical. We came up with a communication plan and now working on the implementation. One of the items included having printed material at an event where a majority of the members would be attending. Our committee was not given a formal budget so a message was sent to the board treasurer to understand how we should request funds for this initiative. The treasurer’s, let’s call her Commander Cate, response was basically, this initiative is not important enough to spend money on outside resources so we should use our internal copier. Commander Cate went on to tell us what she thought was important enough to spend money on. I couldn’t believe it. When I saw the email my first thought was “who is she to tell us what to do”. She was not involved in the day to day discussions and now she wants to make decisions like this. Our committee was very clear this effort was extremely important and we wanted high quality collateral.

OK, I will admit, the treasurer was correct in this case. Spending the money on high quality printing from an outside resource was not worth it. But that’s not the point. She is in a command and control mode. She was elected treasurer and she holds the purse strings. She may even think it is her responsibility to make the call on every decision. Commander Cate does not have the agile mindset. A more appropriate response would have been similar to, “The committee can allocate x amount dollars to the entire initiative. Spend the money as you see fit. Knowing some of the other items that will require money a better option may be to use our internal copier, or see if we had ideas for raising money to fund pieces of the initiative.” Something other than “no, that is not important enough” would have been better.

This is a situation where the result would have been the same for both approaches and the change in how the conversation is framed is very important. There is a huge difference in how the team reacts and buys in to the decision based on the conversation(s) to come to that decision. What happens when you are on an initiative and someone tells you how to do your job? Frustrating right? Having parameters is important. The details need to be left up to the team closest to the details. There is never one path to get results and if the team is told how to operate within those parameters they will always be looking to those people for direction. If teams look to someone outside the team for detailed direction the speed at which you can react drops significantly. And the people outside the team don’t have all the information and in many cases can make a uniformed decision.

This mindset is not just for people outside the team, it comes in to play on the team as well. In a session where I was working with a team to have more positive conversations a student asked, “Why not just get to the point. If you know the answer, just tell the team and move forward.” You can do that in some situations if you have earned the trust of the other team members. If that is the case the team will acknowledge you have the answer and agree to buy in to that decision. Many times this is not the case. For many reasons the entire team may not trust your judgment fully or have a different approach they think is better. In that case the team won’t be bought in. I’ve written on ways to gain buy-in by being a team player and other fun stuff in other blogs like “It’s Time To Take the “NAKED” Approach to Business Analysis”, “Say Goodbye to Your Ego” and “Don’t Bother Building Consensus”. So, I won’t repeat myself regarding the how of gaining buy-in.

In the end, team improvement comes from how you work together, not the individual techniques you use. Even in those times when you know you are right resist the urge to direct the team if they are not ready to be directed. Yes, that one task may get completed faster if you tell the team how to move forward. Think about the impact to future tasks. Team work is a marathon, not a sprint (seriously, no pun intended).

All the best,
Kupe

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Be a Good Team Player

I have written before about how critical it is to be a good team player. Regardless of your skills, you limit your growth and potential if you don’t play nice with others. We are taught from an early age to share, listen, use our magic words (yes and please), and never, ever bite. These basic principles are not just for 3 year olds. They should stay with you for a lifetime. I know there are some people who are just bad team players and others that only play nice with people of influence, like a boss or someone signing their paycheck. Although this post is a good reminder for them, it also relates to everyone. For most of us our intention is to be a good team player, but work stress and life in general get us out of our team player mode.

I teach a one day workshop, Improving Communication through Improvisation, where I facilitate an exercise to highlight the common traps we fall into during projects which make us not-so-good team players. The exercise is called group juggle. The group gets in a circle. One ball is tossed around the group with each person catching and throwing the ball to someone else just once. The ball makes it around to each person crisscrossing the circle depending on where each individual wants to throw the ball. Next, I introduce 2 balls, with each ball going in the same order.  Then a third, fourth and fifth ball is added in. As the balls are flying in the air I encourage the group to move fast because there is not a lot of time for the exercise.  Without fail balls are hitting people in the head, flying way out of reach, or being thrown to the wrong person.  Sometimes a ball gets dropped and just lies at someone’s feet.

Once the exercise is complete the group discusses how the exercise relates to projects. Here are the common points discussed.

  • You may have guessed that the ball represents an activity or task, and my encouragement to move faster is the equivalent to a manager, business stakeholder, or a project manager pushing to get the project completed as fast as possible.
  • The cause for the balls hitting others in the head or flying past them is caused by others just wanting to get a task off their plate.  The person passing the ball (task) was not making sure the receiver was ready for that ball (task). 
  • Balls being left on the ground are like tasks that get forgotten by one teammate or one teammate having too much to do.  No other team member stepped in to pick the ball up.  Being a good team player means you will jump in when necessary to help out a team mate.   

In life and especially on projects we do not accomplish overall objectives in isolation.  With the help of others we come together utilizing each individual’s strengths to achieve the best results.  You need to slow down and make sure your teammates are ready for the hand-off of tasks. You need to make sure your transition of a task is done in a way that works for your teammate.  And when a teammate needs help be there for them.  When you need help they will be there for you. 

Do it for the team,

Kupe

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Do You Get the Attention You Deserve?

FeatureJuly27I attended a presentation given by John Reed of Westreed, a brand consulting group. Mr. Reed provided some great tips to help you connect with people in writing like you connect with them in person. As professionals, we are always trying to get others’ attention in writing. You are probably taking a break from writing an email to read this blog. Most people receive on average 100 to 300 emails a day. And they are not reading every one they receive. What are you doing to make sure people stop, read and respond to your emails? Here are some of the tips Mr. Reed shared.

There are three areas to focus on when writing: 1) get attention, 2) get understood and 3) get a response. Let’s look at each area.


Get Attention

  • Use a headline to catch the reader. Come up with a headline that answers a key question the reader will have; “Why should I care?”
  • Make it easy to read or scan the communication. Don’t have one big paragraph. As an example, use a short introduction paragraph, three to five bullet points for the body, and a short closing paragraph.

With email communication, take time to think about the subject line and make sure it pertains to the content of your email. The subject line should be used like a headline for a newspaper article. Resist hijacking another email string to start a new thought. Start a new email with a new subject line.

Get Understood

Mr. Reed shared a four-step process to get started writing quickly and make sure your points are made. This is very similar to an approach I use to write my blog posts!

1. Start with a brain dump. Just get information down.

2. Throw away the junk. Read through your brain dump and start removing content that is not needed.

3. Box and label the valuable stuff. Group thoughts and give each group a label.

4. Clean up and edit. This is the last step. Resist the urge to edit as you go.

Prior to me learning a similar strategy, I remember feeling paralyzed sometimes and couldn’t even get one word down. Here are some other helpful hints to help you get started.

  • Start with the easy stuff. Don’t feel like you have to write linear. You don’t have to write the intro, then the body, then the closing. Start with what is easiest for you.
  • If you are struggling writing. Write in question-and-answer format. What questions will the reader ask or need to know? You may not want to send a communication that way, although you can. But, at a minimum it will help you get some thoughts down.

Get a response

Some of our communication is for informational purposes only, but much of what we are doing is looking for some action to be taken. It may be you want the reader to make a decision, review a document, provide feedback on the information shared, etc. Always ask for a response and make it easy for the reader to respond. If you want someone to call you, share your phone number…don’t make them have to search for it. If there is a document you want them to read, attach the document or provide a link. Don’t say something like “download the document from our project SharePoint site.”

The final thought shared by Mr. Reed was the 24 rule. Write something and wait 24 hours before you send it. If you don’t have 24 hours, wait 24 minutes. If you don’t have 24 minutes, at least wait 24 seconds. It helps to get something down and re-read it later after you stepped away from it. By the way, I just waited 24 seconds to re-read this!

To better communication,

Kupe

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Don’t Bother Building Consensus

May10_KupeWouldn’t it be great if all stakeholders always agreed on the specifics of a requirement or scope of a project?  It would be easy, but thankfully it’s not reality.  Best decisions are not made when everyone agrees and there is a lack of debate and discussion about differing opinions.  Business analysts need to work with stakeholders to allow them to discuss, debate, and then come to a decision on how to move forward.

This process is usually referred to as building consensus.  There is a problem with building consensus.  First of which is it may never happen.  I often hear people referring to consensus as trying to get everyone to agree on a decision.  A common definition of consensus is An opinion or position reached by a group as a whole. Here are negative scenarios that can result with consensus building as defined:

  1. A decision never gets made or is delayed – By trying to get everyone to agree, stubbornness can kick in and individuals can stall or stop decisions from being made.
  2. A weaker solution can be determined – By trying to include something for everyone the best solution can be watered down.

In my opinion you don’t want consensus – you want buy-in from the group.  The definition of buy-in is “agreement to support a decision”. With consensus you are trying to get everyone in agreement on the decision.  With buy-in you are trying to get people to back the decision and do what is necessary to move forward.  You don’t need to get everyone to agree that the decision is the best.  You need everyone to support the decision.  There is a subtle difference, but a there is a difference.

How do you get buy-in?  Let them share their ideas.  If people have had the chance to speak their mind they are more likely to buy-in to a decision even if they are not totally convinced it is the best solution.  This is the same as trying to build consensus, but the tone changes from “do you agree with the decision” to” can you support the decision.”  Leaders know that any movement is progress.  Decisions need to be made, executed, and evaluated.  Getting buy-in allows you to move through this process faster.

Another reason I promote buy-in over consensus is buy-in comes into play at times you think consensus is not needed.  Based on the shared belief of consensus, consensus requires multiple people agreeing on a decision.  Buy-in kicks in when one person makes a decision.

Often there is one ultimate decision maker.  As a BA you can’t just go to that stakeholder to get the scope of the project and all the requirements and move on.  There are others that are impacted and can easily sabotage or slow down the process if they don’t buy-in.  Not getting buy-in is a cause for scope creep. Think about a director making a decision about project scope in a vacuum and not including his management team in the decision process.  There is a great chance that one or many managers will not agree with that decision and try to slip in their scope items throughout the project.  As the business analysts you need to recognize when people are not bought-in to a decision.  You may need to step back and gain buy-in before moving forward in the project.

Can you support this?

Don’t forget to leave your comments below. 


 Jonathan “Kupe” Kupersmith is Vice President of Brand Development, B2T Training and has over 12 years of business analysis experience. He has served as the lead Business Analyst and Project Manager on projects in various industries. He serves as a mentor for business analysis professionals and is a Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) through the IIBA and is BA Certified through B2T Training. Kupe is a connector and has a goal in life to meet everyone! Contact Kupe at [email protected].