Most of us have some degree of prejudice or negative notions about individuals or groups we consider a certain “type”. It’s not something we like to admit, but it is an aspect of being human.  We are wired to mistrust or even fear what we don’t know or understand. Yet, being the subject of a stereotype or discriminated against can be very harmful to the impacted individual and society as a whole. So, it’s up to each of us to make an effort to get better informed of the facts.

What if there were a way to make the world a kinder, better place just by listening? What if we could have a sit-down with someone we’ve never met before but who represents a “type” we hold poor assumptions about?  What if we could hear their story; their lived experience?  Would we be surprised?  Would we feel compassion? Would we feel they are more like us than we thought? Would our fear and judgment give way to understanding and acceptance?

In Denmark in 2000, The Human Library Organization (HLO) was conceived by a group of two brothers and their colleagues to put these questions to the test. It set out to see if opinions would change if taboo topics were openly discussed, without condemnation, by those directly experienced in the matter. Created as a project for the Roskilde Festival in Copenhagen, the HLO was a raging success, and the potential for it to benefit other communities could not be ignored.

Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

Since then, HLO, a non-profit organization, has enabled members of the public to borrow a person — or “human book” —  for 30 minutes to hear their life story.  Just like a book, each story-teller has a title, for example, “Unemployed”, “Refugee”,  “Bipolar”,  “Muslim”, “Recovering Alcoholic” and “Homeless”.  All of the HLO’s “human books” are volunteers. They give their time freely to foster a greater understanding of their lifestyle, circumstances, religion, illness,  or some other aspect of themselves that they are an expert on and which may be negatively viewed by others. This is a dialogue, not a presentation. Difficult questions are expected, appreciated, and answered.

Today, the HLO is active in more than 80 countries on six continents. Not only does it conduct “human book” borrowing sessions, but it has also formed partnerships with several of the world’s major brands to help them with their inclusion and diversity efforts.

To find out more about the HLO visit and learn how to become a “human book” and how to borrow a “human book” for a potentially life-changing chat through your nearest Human Library.

At Forge Coaching & Consulting, we help individuals and organizations increase their cultural emotional intelligence (EQ).  We offer workshops that help to improve cultural sensitivity and empathy in the workplace. For more information call us at 905 873 8393.

Stepping into the role of manager for the first time can be a little daunting. It’s natural to feel a bit anxious but, remember, you were promoted because others have faith in you. You earned this job! Here are a few tips to help you make a successful transition into this next phase of your career.

Meet with your direct reports individually as soon as possible

It’s important to sit down privately with each individual as soon as you can. This is a discovery meeting for both of you, but also a chance to start forming a connection. What are their skills and interests and how well do they align with the company’s vision and goals? What is their communication style? What are their aspirations? Are there any issues you should be aware of? Use this initial conversation to convey your general expectations and how you will support them in their role and development.

Foster effective communication

Effective communication starts with sharing your vision, plan and timelines. For individuals to be fully engaged they must understand the company’s objectives and how they contribute to them. Lead by example with respectful and clear communication. Invite debate to explore different perspectives. Once a decision is reached, which does not always mean consensus, ensure that every team member is clear on their deliverables. Leave no room for ambiguity in your instructions and respectfully hold people accountable for their contributions.

Nurture your emotional intelligence (EQ)

Emotional intelligence is often referred to as a soft skill and its impact is underestimated. Experience has proven that EQ is more important than hard skills. Good managers with high EQ are self-aware, able to empathize, and can control their emotions and composure even under pressure. Increasingly, organizations are realizing the value and competitive advantage of hiring and advancing emotionally intelligent leaders. To develop this skill, keep a close eye on your emotions. Become mindful of how you express them, both verbally and non-verbally. Practice delaying your reaction for a few seconds. Commit to being a respectful leader at all times as this will help you remain accountable to others.

Prepare yourself for tough decisions about hiring and letting go

Leadership takes courage and sometimes difficult changes must be made. Start with ensuring you have the right person in the right seat. Once the team has identified its knowledge gap, they will likely understand why people are let go or redeployed, or why new recruits join the team. Often, people select to opt-out of a role when they see it change in a direction that does not work for them. Empathizing with your team members and supporting them during that transition is crucial. You can be a courageous and kind leader.

Manage Your Time

As a new manager, your mind may be spinning with the volume of work and competing priorities. Good time management skills are linked to clear priorities and effective delegation. Start discerning where you are truly needed and can add the most value and make that your focus. Create strategies for keeping on track. For example, set aside blocks of time each day to check email and have a meeting-free day each week for heads-down work on key deliverables.

Ask for Feedback

Learn to ask for feedback. Encouraging your team to give you feedback will set a tone for direct, candid, and respectful conversations. Be prepared to really listen to their thoughts. The same goes for your superiors. No matter how self-aware we are, we cannot experience ourselves as others do, so feedback is essential to fully understand how we are perceived. Accept the feedback graciously and design a specific development plan so that you continuously hone your leadership abilities.

Ask for Help When Needed

There’s no shame in asking for help, whether it’s approaching your boss, a colleague, or HR. We all need help occasionally, and it’s far better to seek help than allow an issue to deteriorate or an opportunity to be missed.

Importantly, when you embark on your new role, don’t let moments of self-doubt inhibit your performance. Take the steps needed to start out right with your team and set a positive tone. Learn all you can about how to manage well, and consider seeking the input of a professional coach to help you really shine. Remember, like you, every great leader of the business world, was a first-time manager once!

Business leaders know that access to reliable data is vital to sound decision making. Over the years, gathering and making sense of data has become an increasingly important aspect of business operations.  Terms like “big data” have emerged, as have new jobs in areas such as data management and data analytics.  While data is key at any time, it is never more critical than in a time of difficulty or crisis — whether that relates to the organization itself or society at large. That’s why, as we enter 2021, still caught up in a global pandemic, a keen focus on data will be especially important.

Using Data to Adapt to Customer Needs

In March, when COVID-19 hit the majority of us to a greater or lesser extent, businesses had to turn on a dime to recalibrate and survive. Decision-makers were faced with an unprecedented situation in which they had to quickly resolve how to continue to provide products and services to their customers when many, if not all of their employees and supply chain partners were in a total lockdown. During the last nine months, executives have had to pivot time and again as fresh data revealed the latest insight about what customers and prospects want, expect, and are prepared to do differently during a time of crisis.

It didn’t take long for organizations to realize that when the pandemic is over, a return to normal is not to be had.  We are approaching a “new normal” now, in which businesses will continue to capitalize on the key learnings from COVID-19.  For example, many have discovered that not all their employees need to be based at the worksite to be effective. The cost savings from reducing office space by enabling employees to work from home can be significant. Others are ramping up their digital transformation strategy to ensure that should there be another pandemic, they’ll be ready.  Another positive arising from this awful situation is that many businesses who were forced to do things differently just to stay afloat found more efficient or cost-effective ways to do things which they’ll be sticking with long after the pandemic has passed.

In the coming months, as vaccines are made available and the outbreak of COVID-19, hopefully, subsides, we will be entering another unprecedented period of uncertainty — recovery.  We must keep a keen eye on data as it relates to the wants and expectations of our customers, the activities of competitors, and the larger economy, as this new situation unfolds.

Using Data to Understand Employee Engagement

While customer and competitive data are important, so is data that relates to employees.  How are they coping with the new way of working?  Are they happy to be working from home, or struggling with feelings of isolation? Have their working relationships suffered because they are physically distanced from their teammates? Relationship challenges in the workplace impact productivity and employee morale and must be addressed quickly.  Gathering information from employees and taking steps to resolve any issues will be essential to your businesses’ full recovery.  Ensure employees know who to go to for help, including how to access your Employee Assistance Program, if available.  As well, ensure they have the opportunity to provide candid feedback on work-related issues, ideally anonymously, so you get an accurate view of the pulse of the organization and employee engagement.

As IT advances, data gathering and interpreting tools are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and most large organizations have enormous amounts of stored data. It’s incumbent on business leaders to know what information is available to them to utilize and to make a case for new types of data being sourced if they feel it will benefit the company.

Forge Coaching & Consulting helps business leaders, teams, and individuals resolve problems and achieve their full potential through workshops and one-on-one coaching.  Our workshop, Building Communication Bridges with Style, gets to the root cause of most workplace relationship issues; misunderstandings and poor communication.  Connect with us at (1) 905 873 9393.

Getting together in person as a team may seem off-limits for many businesses and non-profits during a pandemic, but with adherence to public health guidelines and careful planning, it is possible to do so safely.  Recently, Forge Coaching & Consulting conducted a day-long session led by Manon Dulude, Leadership Development Coach for the Halton Learning Foundation (HLF).  Here, Manon and Lesley Mansfield, CEO, HLF, describe the experience.

What session was provided and how many individuals were involved?

Dulude: The workshop is called Building Communication Bridges with Style, and it’s one of our most often-requested group sessions.  In this case, there were four participants, but this workshop is suitable for teams of up to 14 people when we’re not restricted by a pandemic.

Where was the session delivered?

Dulude: Everyone gathered at my home office in Georgetown, Ontario.  It’s large enough to enable proper physical distancing at all times for four participants and myself.  It was conducted when indoor gatherings of up to 10 people were permitted.

What industry is the client in?

Mansfield: HLF is the Halton District School Board’s Foundation, supporting students in financial need from kindergarten to grade 12.  We are a small team and fortunately, everyone was able to participate in this professional development activity. For those in the charitable sector, it can be rare to engage with a professional facilitator to lead a fulsome team-building workshop.  In this case, though, it was an opportunity we just couldn’t pass up!

What was the purpose of the session?

Dulude: This workshop is designed to help team members learn about different behavioural and communication styles.  These aren’t things most of us consider when we interact with others at work or with friends and family, but they matter. Different people have different styles. When the styles of others are understood, and when we also learn how to transform our approach so we are better understood ourselves, misunderstanding and conflict can be avoided.  Instead, trust, collaboration, and productivity can thrive.

Mansfield: In our case, the Building Communication Bridges with Style session was particularly valuable because one of my team members had joined HLF during COVID-19 and had not met any of his teammates in person.  Our regular Zoom calls have enabled everyone to meet virtually, but it’s difficult to cultivate solid working relationships if you don’t meet in person. A Zoom or conference call can provide words and tone of voice (except when the screen freezes or the internet connection is lost) but 55 per cent of the meaning is lost without incorporating body language.  So in essence, half of the meaning is lost, which often leads to confusion in all messaging.  The workshop was very helpful not only in terms of its content but because it brought everyone together in person in the same room.

It was extremely beneficial to the team dynamic.  I learned valuable information about my team members that, despite working with them for an extended period, I had not known. This will help me understand their needs and reactions more effectively and has already proved helpful during their recent performance evaluations.

What impact has COVID-19 had on the participants?

Mansfield: Like others in any helping profession, my team has been managing through periods of extreme stress coupled with those focused on administrative activities.  As we are all working from home, the workday is often longer than it would be if we were physically in the office. It’s also more challenging to maintain a separate home life, so the two often co-exist in a greater way than before.  We are also hearing the stories from parents about how the pandemic has played out in their lives – from losing jobs to increased health risks from living in proximity with elders in small, cramped areas, to a lack of proper technological infrastructure for students to effectively learn virtually. These stories and others influence our work with young people and motivate us to provide as much support as we can. Even though we turn off our computers at the end of the day, it’s impossible to forget that these people are our neighbours and need help more than ever.

How did the participants react to getting together in person?

Mansfield: We all were conscious of safety first and foremost, however, when the initial moments passed, there was a genuine relief about meeting in person. There was laughter, chatting, and a sense of true team building.  Since the session, I’ve seen and heard different conversations happening between our team and many of the practices we learned are being put into play. The risks of our in-person meeting were extraordinarily low thanks to the myriad of protocols put in place (and effectively managed) by Manon. The benefits of our time together cannot over overestimated.

What safety measures did you put in place for the session?

Dulude: Before the session, participants were advised about the steps we’d be taking. Everyone wore masks at all times. We each kept two metres apart. Upon entering my office, everyone used hand sanitizer. Individuals brought their own pens and handouts were provided. Surfaces were wiped down with disinfectant before and after the session.

Have you conducted other sessions with teammates who have not seen each other for a while and if so, was the reaction similar?

Dulude: Yes, I have conducted Zoom sessions with a team that is spread across the country and who see each other just a few times a year. That team is used to working remotely from each other.  With the HLF session, it was different because this team, under normal circumstances,  would work closely together in the same office.  COVID-19 forced their separation.  On-boarding a new teammate during a pandemic made things particularly challenging.

What advice would you give to those considering having an in-person team meeting during COVID?

Dulude: First, we all must operate within public health guidelines. That said, teams need to continue to finds ways to enhance their knowledge of each other and this is especially important during tough times when there may be additional stress. Stress can lead to more misunderstandings and even conflict.  Leaders are aware that teams are pivoting and adapting more than ever.  In times of volatility, unpredictability, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA) having a team that has a deep appreciation for each other’s behavioral and communication style will increase the team’s emotional intelligence.

Mansfield: This was a valuable workshop that worked well for my team. It’s natural to be hesitant about meeting in person during a pandemic, however, if public health guidelines are followed as they were for our session, and there is strict attention to safety measures, it can be done safely.  The benefit of bringing separated teams together in person after a long stretch apart cannot be overlooked.

Forge Coaching & Consulting provides several workshops that can be delivered safely on- or off-site, in-keeping with government guidelines.  For more information call us at  (1) 905 873 9393.

Building Communication Bridges with Style

Relationship challenges in the workplace impact productivity and employee morale and must be addressed quickly.  Building Communication Bridges with Style gets to the root cause of most workplace relationship issues; misunderstandings and poor communication.

This workshop helps teams, groups, and organizations build communication “bridges” and eliminate interpersonal barriers that cause workplace conflict. The Personal Style Indicator, an online assessment tool, helps determine the preferred personal communication, behavioural, and work style of each team member. It helps participants appreciate that individuals manage stress, approach work, manage relationships, and solve problems, differently.

Building Communication Bridges with Style is an interactive learning process that helps team members discover the strengths and challenges of their own personal style and better assess and appreciate the style of their counterpart.  This approach to communication is the foundation of a respectful and collaborative workplace culture.

Learn more about Building Communication Bridges with Style


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