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  1. Small Talk At Work – Love It Or Loathe It?

    July 17, 2012 by Jenna

     

    I included the awkward elevator photo as my inspiration for this week’s blog as I often find this is the prime example of where we see small talk play out – those that love small talk are initiating conversations between levels, whilst those that loathe small talk are staring ahead waiting patiently for the doors to open at their floor.

    Turns out that just as the elevator shifts between levels, so do you between loving and loathing of small talk, with most of you decidedly sitting in the middle, here’s what you said:

    • Small talk at work can be beneficial at the right times. Everyone needs a social break now and then.
    • In the middle – I am happy to say hello and have a quick chat but no longer than that. It tends to eat into time when you are working.
    • In between – I love catching up with colleagues to connect but I hate office gossip, back stabbing and stirring.
    • Sometimes love, sometimes loathe – Depends on the topic and who I am discussing it with at work and how much time I have to do my workload – when you are under pressure from deadlines, it can be hard to enjoy small talk at work.

    What makes us love small-talk is that it helps build unique, interesting connections with our colleagues. Don’t we all feel more valued – when someone smiles at you, gives you direct eye contact and asks ‘how are you?’ and actually listens to the answer?

    So what is small talk then and how can we make it most effective? Severino Consulting outlines 5 easy steps to improving small talk at work:

    1. Make it real – Disclose something that is not too personal but something that is right now on your heart, head or hands (what are you feeling, thinking and doing?)
    2. Make it useful – Think of it as a time to get some ideas on things you are working on.  Share what you are stuck on and then pause to allow the other person a chance to comment.
    3. Make it a time to learn about the other person – what was the highlight of their weekend?  Where did they go on vacation? What was their favorite holiday gift?  Ask a good question and then pause and listen.
    4. Follow up – next time you see the person, ask about their home improvement project or their new pet.  Continue to learn more.
    5. Notice what you share with friends and family — you may find a snippet of the week to use elsewhere. Maybe you Tweet or Facebook. The process of writing creates a reflection about “current events” that I can then share with others.

    Small talk is a form of engaging with others and you will only get out of it what you put in. And by that I mean, if you often avoid eye contact with others in the workplace or the casual ‘hello/goodbye’ in passing, you will start to notice other staff members stop attempting to make that effort to approach you. I tend to find it’s a common courtesy to acknowledge someone, and regardless of what type of day you’ve had, sometimes small talk can be a great distraction and often make a bad day brighter.

    So yes, we can love small talk when we make it real and reciprocal, but not all topics should be included in our small talk repertoire. About.com outlines the 10 Top Topics to avoid when making small talk in the workplace:

    1. Financial – Asking personal financial questions of people that you have just met is inappropriate.
    2. Politics – The problem with talking about politics is that you never know who in the crowd may have strong opinions.
    3. Religion – Religion is another extremely personal and potentially sensitive topic that should be avoided.
    4. Intimacy – Talking about sex or asking questions of an intimate nature is inappropriate.
    5. Death – Remember that you are in the company of strangers and this is not the appropriate time to bring up emotional topics that have the potential to be upsetting.
    6. Age and appearance – If you have just met someone, do not ask her age. Although the question might seem simple to you, it can be a hot topic for some. In addition, avoid questions related to appearance.
    7. Personal Gossip – While celebrity gossip is fair game during small talk, gossip about people that you know personally is not
    8. Offensive Jokes – Save your off-colour jokes for your best friends (or better yet, replace them with clean jokes).
    9. Narrow Topics – Although you will want to tell interesting stories at some point during small talk, avoid talking at length about topics that are one-sided.
    10. Past relationships – unless you know the person well, this can often be an emotional subject that may be awkward for some to discuss.

    What do you think – are these topics off limits or what do you love about small talk at work?

    Don’t forget to participate in this week’s poll: Do you dread a performance appraisal or does it drive you to perform better? The results will be published in next week’s blog post so stay tuned!


  2. What are the ways in which you effectively manage your time?

    May 2, 2012 by Jenna

    Time Management. Isn’t that the word we all love to hate sometimes?

    Let’s face it, we can all be guilty of it from time to time. I’ve been reviewed in previous jobs for time management because I wouldn’t handle those difficult tasks first and by not speaking up soon enough which would result in it coming back to bite me.

    But we need to effectively manage our time, otherwise, when will we be able to find balance in life outside of our working environment? We are not machines, so why not get the most out of our time at work so that we can then find the time for our families and friends (and a life!)

    Everyone will have a different tactic or strategy that they like to follow, and for some people time management comes more easily than it does to others.

    I used to work for a company that tried the use of a GO ZONE, where we would take an hour at the same time every day to strictly work on the very important tasks on our priority lists without allowing any distractions. This meant we would have to close our emails if need be, set our phones to voice mail, and not make any attempt to interrupt our fellow colleagues until we set that time for our tasks. For a while I found it was working too, but in the world of events it was not an easy strategy to follow, because as you can imagine, every event held is different, and there is always something last minute or urgent that pops up that you have to drop what you are doing to look after.

    One website I reviewed called smallbusiness.chron.com outlined the common signs of bad time management:

    • Procrastination – avoiding the bigger issues/tasks of the day
    • Tardiness – being late for work or appointments as a result of too many tasks to complete or lack of sleep due to stress
    • Stress and Fatigue – Not having enough hours in the day, therefore longer hours result in less sleep and stress will also prevent a good night’s rest.
    • Lack of Preparation – Poor time management can result in reports not being in on time, presentations not being properly researched, or meetings with clients/customers not going as planned because of the lack of preparation.

    Recently I attended a breakfast event on Managing Your Time – The Recruiters Guide. Even though it was targeting our line of work specifically, there were still a lot of ‘common sense’ steps that could apply to any business and it was good to be reminded of this. The presenter stated, ‘Productivity is a measure of how much you accomplish, not how busy you are.’ Haven’t we all been there where we have so much work and yet it doesn’t feel like we are getting anywhere?

    He also mentioned about our body and how we have natural highs and lows in our energy and motivational levels and we should prioritise the client face to face time or telephone calls during that high period and perhaps set aside the paperwork, data entry, and more routine tasks to our low periods of the day. I have a friend that told me that he doesn’t officially wake up until midday, so I guess you could say his client/customer time would be in the afternoon!

    Another good point which I am often guilty of is ‘Deal with the worst/hardest task of the day first’, something I think we are all aware of but often avoid. And to be honest, if we did those hard tasks first then we would not have to think about it and let it distract us and build up until we finally take the plunge and do it.

    And of course diary management, especially when multi-tasking, is always the best reminder of how are working day will be set out, not to mention a helpful reminder for appointment times. And really there is no excuse when it comes to diary management. We have Microsoft Outlook Calendars, Phone reminders, Written Diaries, Wall Calendars, you name it! At any quiet time of the day you can lay out a plan of your working week, even set appointments way in advance.

    I put together these key points in last week’s poll to see what you as the respondents would rate them on in terms of importance:

    • By doing the most time consuming and least favourite tasks of the day first, allowing you more time to effectively manage the rest of your day – 58% agreed to this
    • Having a GO ZONE where you set aside an hour or two to do your tasks without checking your email or phone allowing distractions – only 21% agreed to this
    • Setting your diary for meetings so that you can better balance the time period in which to complete the remaining tasks – 47% agreed to this
    • You don’t have time to come up with set strategies, you take on the tasks of each day spontaneously – 16% agreed to this

    Everything has a different deadline, I prioritise according to the size of the task and proximity to that deadline. Hasn’t done me wrong in the past! Or if nothing is particularly urgent… I do the fun stuff first. I find it motivating to be able to mix my day up so that it suits me.

    Another website I reviewed called www.thundersgarage.com listed some top tips for effective time management:

    1. Spend Time Planning And Organising

    2. Set Goals

    3. Prioritise

    4. Use A ‘To Do’ List

    5. Be Flexible

    6. Consider Your Biological Prime Time

    7. Do The Right Thing Right

    8. Eliminate The Urgent

    9. Practice The Art Of Intelligent Neglect

    10. Avoid Being A Perfectionist

    11. Conquer Procrastination

    12. Learn To Say ‘No’

    13. Reward Yourself

    While a lot of these points may seem very straight forward to you and you may have heard this all before, as we can sometimes slip out of the organisational stream or become easily distracted I think it is important to often be reminded of effective time management skills.

    This blog will link with this week’s poll: What are the best ways to cope with workplace stress? which will put you in the draw to win a Hoyts Cinema Double Pass so don’t delay!

    Haven’t had your say? Why not add a comment below.

     

     

     

     


  3. How much does positive thinking influence your outcomes?

    October 25, 2011 by Jenna

    One fine morning a few years ago, my very lovely and well-meaning neighbour thrust a DVD into my hands. It was “The Secret”. Many of you will be familiar with this title. The book spent forever at the top of the New York Times bestseller list. I still remember my feeling of absolute incredulity as I viewed the film. Was I being too negative as thoughts such as “you have got to be kidding me” and “what a load of nonsense” floated through my mind? 

    “The Secret states that desirable outcomes such as health, wealth, and happiness can be attracted simply by changing one’s thoughts and feelings. For example, if a person wanted a new car, by thinking about the new car and having positive feelings about the car, the law of attraction would rearrange events to make it possible for the car to manifest in the person’s life.” [Source

    Almost 22% of respondents to last week’s online pollHow much does positive thinking influence your outcomes? – selected “Completely – exactly like the law of attraction, my thoughts attract what I want”. 

    Fascinating. 

    To gain more of an expert insight into the “positive psychology” movement and philosophy, I approached our Organisational Psychologist, Narelle Hess, for some guidance. The articles she directed me to all cautioned that “positive psychology is much more than ‘positive thinking’, and offers a vast array of insight and direction for how people can function more optimally. Positive psychology offers us added insight into how we can embrace change, feel positive about who we are, and enjoy healthy, responsible and fulfilled lives. But, like anything else the application of this knowledge and information is very important. Particularly when it comes to how we apply positive emotions.” [Source

    This reflects the feelings of 75% of our poll respondents, who agreed that positive thinking helps them “Moderately – a positive outlook helps me to approach situations, but thoughts won’t work without actions too”. One commented: “You can think as positively as you like, however, it is your actions that will determine whether your positive thoughts come to fruition”, whilst another said “the power of positive thinking is incredible and certainly helps me, but in certain situations action is required. All the positive thinking doesn’t get the job done but it certainly helps and stops procrastination.”     

    Last week, I read Peter Bregman’s book 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done 

    I was particularly struck by a section in which he discussed how managers can motivate staff members by giving them tasks above their current abilities and outside their comfort zone. The important thing for the manager to do was to assure their staff member that it was okay to take some time, make some mistakes, and even to fail initially. The combination of setting realistic expectations within a framework of unleashing unrealised potential created an ideal environment for growth, achievement and a new level of productivity for the staff member, and therefore the company. 

    The interplay between a positive environment and attitude, combined with a realistic set of expectations and actions, created the optimum zone. There can be no result without action, but a positive yet realistic attitude certainly helps things along. 

    As a final, neat illustration of this, the person who responded to the poll with the comment “this week’s poll is the best ever and will win me tickets” was not the winner. However, if they, and you, continue to enter the poll, they might be a future winner. 

    As my dad always says when he buys his Lotto tickets, “You’ve got to be in it to win it”.   

    Our new poll is live! Tell us: Are we relying too much on email, rather than actual conversation, to communicate? Results published in next week’s ChallengeBlog …

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  4. Should smokers be allowed to go out for a cigarette break during office hours?

    September 13, 2011 by Jenna

    Initially, I was quite surprised at how close the results of the online poll leading up to this blog entry were: 

    Should smokers be allowed to go out for a cigarette break during office hours?

    Yes – 38.2% 

    No – 47.0% 

    Other – 14.7%

    My initial response when I was chatting to my boss about this topic was something along the lines of “certainly not outside normal break allowances, ie, lunch. What if I said to you ‘I have an addiction to pretty shoes and must go out looking for them at least four times a day’? I’m sure you’d just love that …” 

    But then I put my reality hat back on and thought a bit more about it. We all hear and read about the notion of ‘the flexible workplace’ these days and how, due to factors such as technology and constant connectedness to our jobs, standard hours of work don’t really apply any longer. 

    So, really, as long as the job’s getting done, who cares how many ‘smokos’ someone has during the day, or how many ‘fresh air breaks’ they take, or how many times they update their Facebook status, or how often they pop over to Priceline or Nine West or Wittner (ahem)?

    Here is some food for thought from last week’s poll respondents:

    > “As long as it is not excessive and the time is made up for there is no issue.”

    > “As long as they make up the time elsewhere or don’t have as long a lunch break as non-smokers. Meaning, they should add up the time they take smoking each day and calculate this into their break/overtime etc.”

    > “If cigarette breaks are allowed, which can add up to an hour or more a day, then non-smokers should be entitled a similar type of break or given a 1.5 hour lunch break as standard.”

    > “If smokers go for a smoko break, then non-smokers should get a non-smoko break. It is only fair. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander!”

    So, the notion of fairness and ‘break equality’ is the key for many people. Fair enough. I also rather loved this response: “Are you going to stop people from having a cup of coffee, too? Smokers have a wonderful ‘friending’ network which seems to be evaporating in the office where people do not talk but prefer to email or text.” This totally reminded me of my pre-Challenge Consulting job when I was a smoker who did smoke on the job. There was a place where the building’s smokers all gathered, enjoyed a cigarette, and chatted for a few minutes. I met colleagues from other departments I would not have otherwise. Interesting …

    But what of the health issues surrounding smoking? I think it’s fair to say that, whilst it may be someone’s right to choose to be a smoker, is it ethical for a company to in any way support what is generally accepted to be a very damaging habit? Granted, many smokers don’t smoke during the working day such as this poll respondent, who said: “There has been a ‘no smoking’ policy in the work place for more than 20 years. I am a smoker but I do not smoke at work.” Another respondent was much more decisive: “It is counter productive and bad example for the company.”

    Yet another respondent observed: “if you’re a smoker who works in the health industry then no, it’s not a good look to smoke at work.” I know I have often found myself aghast during visits to hospitals seeing nurses outside puffing away on cigarettes. On one hand, I think they have one of the most stressful jobs in the world and don’t blame them (as an ex-smoker, I know how marvellously relaxing a cigarette can be), but then I also think that they are in a prime location to witness the ravages of what a lifetime of smoking can have upon the human body and if that’s not a deterrent, then I don’t know what is.

    Ultimately, as with other workplace issues, consideration for your fellow workers must remain topmost. 

    Smokers should ensure that their cigarette breaks are not adversely affecting their work performance or inhibiting their productivity. Smoking should be undertaken discreetly. And, as one poll respondent quite rightly pointed out: “Smokers need to be aware of the smell they bring back with them and freshen up before rejoining their colleagues.” 

    Mint, anyone?

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  5. Workplace Conflict: How do you take responsibility?

    August 30, 2011 by Jenna

    Challenge Consulting has a Facebook page. “Like” us now to stay in touch re our new blog posts, weekly poll, links and more …

    ______________________________

    The Challenge Consulting office is on edge. As we always are at this time of year. The level of competitiveness will soon reach fever pitch. The coveted title of ‘Tipster of the Year’ is up for grabs! It is true that some members of the Challenge Team are more excited than others about the end of the NRL Season approaching. We won’t name the tipster who elatedly declared “It is nearly over!” when made aware that this weekend is the final round of the season. Naturally they were over moon to hear that the tipping continues for four more rounds of finals action – when each correct tip will earn double points!

    So as I sat down to write this week’s Challenge Blog – of course I had to use a sporting analogy. I had planned to use the recent Phil Gould spray on the Sunday Roast about head high tackles being an accepted “part of the game” as the basis of my sporting metaphor. But then Friday night happened. Two of this year’s most successful NRL Teams were involved in a brawl that has since resulted in both clubs being fined $50,000 by the NRL and 11 players facing charges, just a week out from the finals.

    This week the Challenge Poll asked: “Who do you think is most responsible for managing workplace conflict?”

    In the case of the Storm versus Sea Eagles, there have been varying views as to responsibility: Wayne Bennett (Coach for St George Illawarra Dragons) – declared “The players have got to be accountable. We just can’t keep blaming someone else”, whilst Monday morning NRL Chief Executive David Gallop weighed in to say: “This isn’t a time for anyone to be looking for excuses or deflecting blame to others … both clubs need to face up to their responsibility for the overall behaviour of their players.” Whilst pointing out “As much as we are keen to take any lessons that can be taken I stress that anyone who blames the referee for what happened on Friday night is wrong and that they are looking to escape the real issue at hand.” Perhaps the real issue at hand is the question of how did the culture of the NRL get to the point that this year’s two most successful teams participated in such an ugly brawl?

    Our recent Challenge Consulting Poll suggested that mostly the buck needs to stop with Line Managers, with 52% of respondents suggesting that Line Managers were mostly responsible for managing workplace conflict. The remainder of the votes were split pretty evenly amongst: HR, Senior Management, and Co-Workers, with a handful of voters selecting: ‘other’ and confirmed that managing Workplace Conflict is the responsibility of everyone. But what role should everyone play or how can we help Line Managers to ensure that conflict doesn’t become counterproductive?

    ►      “Each and every one of us is responsible. As much as line/senior managers should step in where necessary -it is up to all of us.”

    ►      “While Senior Management should ultimately be held accountable, HR should provide the strategic guidance and tools for management to be effective in the management of conflict.”

    ►      “Everybody should share this responsibility. Effective policies and procedures will empower all staff to recognise conflict appropriately, deal with it in a professional way, and limit the negative effects on the rest of the business.”

    During the recent Challenge Consulting discussion forum we discussed that conflict based on tasks and ideas is not always negative if managed effectively. In fact, a lack of conflict in some teams can be a sign of dysfunction. But we do know that conflict not managed proactively or effectively can have a range of negative consequences*, and can escalate out of control, much like what we saw on Friday night. During the Discussion Forum we explored the different conflict management styles people adopt, and confirmed that some organisations through their procedures, environment, and culture may escalate counter-productive workplace conflict**. Some could say that the examples of players pushing the boundaries of acceptable behaviour over the last few weeks may have influenced the conflict we saw on Friday night. But does this deny responsibility? No.

    Each one of us, regardless of level in the organisation, has responsibility for creating an environment where we can be our most productive. Senior Management needs to lead the way through their behaviour and actions. HR needs to help in developing the framework so that there are clear boundaries as to what is acceptable, what is not acceptable, and what to do when things have moved beyond what is productive. Line Managers need to develop the skills to build trust in their people through open dialogue and proactive feedback that encourages collaboration and proactive sharing of ideas. Whilst each one of us has responsibility to take the time to understand our peers and work within the frameworks that have been set out for us to manage conflict effectively. When counterproductive conflict does occur, we each have responsibility to manage it immediately, respectively and consistently.

    And for those playing along at home – Carmen Mackrill, Della Einfeld and Patricia Hegarty are currently leading the Challenge Tipping Competition – who will take the coveted prize? No doubt the competitive spirit will heat up over the coming weeks, but with Senior Management leading the way, a clear framework for managing disputes, and open and transparent dialogue, our conflicts should be based on the task at hand, rather than counterproductive behaviours, because at the end of the day we have a Tipping Competition to win!

    Want to know how Challenge Consulting helps Line Managers build their Conflict Management Skills – Effective Supervision Workshop or how Challenge Consulting help teams proactively manage conflict – Team Building Workshops.

    How do you help manage counterproductive conflict in your team and organisation?

    Disclaimer: During the discussion forum we discussed that sometimes Workplace Conflict reaches a point that may need external mediation. For more information, please refer to our article on Workplace Bullying and the references listed.


    * When it’s not always black and white, Human Capital Magazine

    ** Hershcovis, Turner, Barling, Arnold, Dupre, Inness, LeBlanc, & Sivanathan (2007). Predicting Workplace Aggression: A Meta-Analysis, Journal of Applied Psychology 92, 228–238.


  6. About Our Blog

    March 11, 2011 by Jenna

    What is the Challenge Consulting Blog all about? We’re glad you asked! In essence, we wish to put the wonders of modern technology and social media to work to unite the Challenge Consulting community.

    We work with clients and candidates nationally and internationally from diverse backgrounds and industries. The Challenge Consulting Blog is our way of bridging the divide and providing an informal, safe, relaxed forum for the exchange of ideas and information from the ever-changing world of recruitment, staff development and career management.

    Our goal is to present the experiences, ideas and opinions of our talented team of consultants in a real and entertaining way. They work daily at the frontline of candidate and client management. We also want to inform our readers with the latest national and global industry trends, ideas and innovations, and to invite you to get involved via your comments and feedback.

     




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