Engage Your People – Stop ‘Telling’, and Start ‘Asking’

How does it feel when someone tells you what to do? It’s maybe one of those situations where you are not given a choice, you feel resistance in your gut, and yet you go ahead comply.  The reason you are being agreeable is that at some level it feels like it’s in your best interest to go with the flow.

And now ask yourself, how does it feel when someone actually takes a different approach. Rather than telling you what to do, or how to do it, they slow down and get your input. This is called engaging others.  Engagement creates a dynamic that fosters team work, creativity, and collaboration on all fronts. When we engage others, we give them the feeling and impression that we care and that they matter. And trust me, this goes a long, long way.

One of the #1 mistakes which shows up in the workplace is how leaders continue to default to a poor communication strategy of ‘telling’.  Telling someone is very different from engaging them.  Telling is lazy, authoritarian, often times offensive, and lacks the skill and understanding of how to truly engage your people. We engage others when we invite them to be part of the conversation.

Four Steps of Engagement

Step 1. Conscious Listening – stop talking and start listening.

Conscious listening is having a deep and sincere desire to truly understand the sender’s world. To be a conscious listener you need to ‘let go’ of your own frame of reference, your autobiography, your value system, your own history and your judging tendencies. A conscious listener develops the ability to go deeply into the viewpoint of the sender.

When you consciously listen you create a safe and trusted space for the conversation to take place. Conscious listening is also established without words through energetic presence and body language. It is the responsibility of the listener to be present with the intention to give their entire attention to the situation which in turn creates the possibility for meaningful dialogue for all parties.

When you listen consciously, you show the other person you care and value them.  And now you are off to an excellent start to creating solid engagement.

Step 2.   Ask Empowering Questions – get inside someone’s world through inquiry.

Empowering questions are a valuable tool in the process of effective communication. They are the foundation to soliciting and qualifying information to help you gain deeper understanding specific to the person speaking and their current situation or challenge.

These questions support their experience of feeling heard. The questions also set the stage to keep the process moving forward.

Any change or correction is dependent on their buy in on the fact they feel heard by you. And the best way to show this is to ask questions and value their input.

Step 3.  Move Them Forward – help them take responsibility for their actions.

When we empower others in conversation, we help set the stage for moving them forward. There is a two-way conversation, and we are no enrolling the other person. Rather than mandate, we include them in the solution. When we include others in the solution they will more likely take responsibility for next steps rather than resist.

This is the empowering phase. This is where the commitment and action take place.

You can also help them towards their own appropriate action by asking more questions such as “what do you want to do now? or how do you see us moving forward?”

In order to help an individual with realignment of their performance, we empower them with use of our words in such a manner regarding what’s working and how they can be an effective and productive part of any change.

Step 4. Support Next Steps – follow up and follow through.

Don’t even think about dropping the ball here. It is your follow up and holding them accountable that will make any sustainable difference. Don’t just drop in and throw down some micromanaging because this will only cause frustration and mistrust. Leaders go into overtime and help with the follow up and follow through.

When you finish a discussion ensuring you have helped the individual come to their own solution to change the specific behavior. Ensure there is a specific plan and an opportunity to follow up on the plan.

Make the time to arrange for a time to revisit the issue at hand. Ask if there is anything you can do to support them. Show them you can be trusted and care about them their issue or challenge moving forward.

For more information about how you can engage your people, go to The Essence Group Leadership Coaching




Play Your BEST Under Pressure

By Jane Crowshaw, CEC

Unlocking the key to performance is learning to handle pressure. Whether heading out onto the court, the course or a corporate presentation, you look forward in anticipation to testing your skills, making a difference, and doing your best.  And in a perfect world this would be the case. However, what typically happens for many individuals is the recurring experience of that familiar scenario when your performance does not hold up under pressure. And this, my friends, is where the plot thickens.

Most people can identify when they choked or feel triggered in certain situations. It happens to everyone, even the pros. The question is less about ‘if’ you get nervous or tentative, but more about what you will do ‘when’ this happens. You know this is happening to you when you feel as though something in your performance is letting you down.  You feel it in your hands, your legs, and maybe your gut. It’s as if your mind and body are experiencing some recurring flashback of a less than desirable performance state.

Triggers are very personal; different things trigger different people. They can be anything from your external (people, situations) or internal (self talk) environment. You know you are triggered because your emotional state has shifted from focused to worried or agitated.  Your job now becomes stopping this downward negative spiral as soon as possible and to get your game back on track.

It’s not important to analyze and dissect your performance at this point. Many may disagree, but what you want to do is focus on what you want and keep it simple doing so. Figure out what you want, believe you can do it, and connect with the confidence of possibility. Yes, that simple. This is called making a positive mental correction and maintaining balance in your mental state.

Everyone must be able to identify their top triggers. Most of us have at least one trigger, maybe more, that can interfere with your best performance.  By identifying your triggers, you significantly increase your chances of making sustainable correction and change. The most useful correction is your ability to use cue words and phrases that support what you want.

Warning: this takes practice just like everything else you have done to excel in your sport.

What is a cue word or phrase?

A cue word or phrase is a short statement you say to yourself to refocus your concentration. Cue words or phrases help you to stop negative and distracting thoughts that impact your performance. It is important to assign a cue word or phrase to your specific trigger.  These statements should be:

    1. Personal – You need to find a cue word or phrase that works for you! Take time to think about a word or short phrase that connects you to confidence and self belief.
    1. Positive – To be effective in refocusing after mistakes, a cue word or phrase should be positive. Focus on what you want; do not spend time criticizing yourself or replaying the mistake.
  1. Short – The ideal cue word or phrase allows you to quickly refocus but does not interfere with the necessary thoughts during performance. As mentioned earlier, some athletes prefer a single word such as “focus”, or a command word such as ‘finish’, while others use a short personal statement such as “I got this.”

How do cue words or cue phrases work during competition?

Using a cue word or phrase for refocusing during competition is not difficult but does take practice. Using a refocusing cues in combination with a deep or centering breath allows you to refocus and decrease muscle tension caused by anxiety. So how does this work? When you find yourself unfocused or unable to refocus after an error, execute the following steps:

Step 1 – When you feel triggered – PAUSE – stop and consider a new approach. Once you recognize you are triggered, stay connected to your body. If you fail to do so you will likely default back to the body / muscle memory that keeps you stuck.

Step 2 –  Now Breathe – inhale a breath through your nose lasting a count of 4, hold the breath for 1-2 seconds, and exhale the breath through your mouth lasting a count of 4.

Step 3 –  Rather than focus your attention on what is not working, state your refocusing cue word or phrase in your mind for purposes of creating what you want.  This strategy pushes the mistake out of the forefront, and a positive replacement is inserted.

Step 4 – Keep using your cue word or phrase to help you make and engrain the correction. You cannot hold two thoughts at the same time, so it’s your choice which one you will wire.  Wire what you want.

Step 5 –  And don’t forget to keep breathing.  It is suggested in through the nose and out thought the mouth for the fastest calming effect.

Some skeptics might believe using cue words is a waste of time, but they likely have not had the discipline to follow through with this strategy. Cue words and phrases can be incredibly effective and very worth the effort. When you are under pressure, it’s your job to remember what you want, and cue words are helpful as they often serve as mini reminders.

Cue words and phrases help you stay in the moment. That is where high performance lives and thrives. Generally, when you focus on outcomes then your mind is in the future. And sometimes our mind is in the future worried about repeating the past.  When you focus your mind on the process, on what you want in the moment, then you are best prepared for your best performance, and cues keep you in the here and now.

There is a wise old saying; ‘nothing changes if nothing changes’.  What this means for many is that if it feels as though something in your performance is not working, then you must take it upon yourself to commit to changing something, anything is better than doing nothing. Really, what have you got to lose except another frustrating and disappoint day when you are actually meant to be enjoying yourself. Your choice! It’s surely worth a try.

Prioritizing Mental Strength Training

by Jane Crowshaw CEC

When coaches and athletes are asked about the importance of mental strength training for high performance, they generally agree that the mental side of sports is just as important, if not more important.  

Mental strength training is equally important for performance of any kind; corporate, sport, art, and music, to name a few.

The challenge is that when these individuals are asked how much actual time they devote to mental strength training and preparation, the answer is… “not much at all or not as much as they should.”

As we all know, when the physical, technical and tactical part of any discipline is put to the test, a mentally strong individual will be more prepared to handle the pressure, maintain solid decision making, and push past fear and fatigue.

Furthermore, research estimates the actual number of high performers who prioritize mental training as an essential part of their practice and preparation and competition is less than 10%.

The question is: WHY?  How is it possible that something proven and deemed to be of such huge value is not prioritized?  Some believe it just doesn’t make a difference, most don’t schedule it into their daily routine, and for others, it’s challenging to measure the benefits because it’s not tangible.

For mental strength training to be beneficial, there needs to be a clear understanding of what it is, why it helps, and how to integrate mental strength exercises and strategies into every day routine and training on the field and off.

We train and develop physical skill to be competent.  We eat healthy foods to maintain high energy.

We stretch our muscles to improve strength and flexibility.  And as importantly, we must train our mind to handle the pressure and challenges of our sport.

The unfortunate part of mental strength training is that individuals don’t embrace it until they are at a critical stage of needing help. They are struggling with nerves, choking, and sometimes for many, they may have waited too long to get help.  Building mental strength needs to be part of training, not on a ‘as needed’ basis.

Sustainable high performance demands a holistic approach. It is important to develop the whole individual by helping them understand who they are as a person and their mindset. Developing a solid sense of self and mind are two components that drive self-empowerment designed to support anyone interested in reaching their full potential.

You are never too young or too old to start becoming more self aware by exploring your relationship with yourself, your performance, and your mindset. This is how you build unshakable confidence in yourself and your abilities. Developing mental strength is absolutely a winning approach when the time comes to dig deep, work hard, and handle the pressures and challenges that come in sport, and life.

Most of us like to have fun, take on a challenge, and like being good at something.  What we can’t necessary anticipate is how some of this can change for each of us once ‘it matters the most’. The more you do to support mental strength training for your performance the more you are setting yourself up for consistent and sustainable success.  And in my opinion, that’s a check in the WIN column.