Are you being heard? How to use your voice so that people listen

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Ally Yates, author of ‘Utter Confidence: How what you say and do influences your effectiveness in business’ and an expert on behaviour analysis

Throughout the world every single day, there are thousands of business meetings with even more ideas and strategies being discussed. With the enormous amount of people involved and the wide-ranging sectors that affect companies globally, it is important for the right people to be heard.

Business Leader Magazine recently spoke with author and behaviour analysis expert, Ally Yates on how you should conduct yourself in a business meeting.

Can you give our readers a brief overview of yourself?

I’m Ally Yates. I’m an author, coach, consultant and facilitator. I’ve been working independently for over 15 years, having served my apprenticeship in the Big Four. Before that I trained as a therapist, working in mental health services. And I did have a stint as a DJ on a radio station in Vancouver.

Overview of your book?

Utter Confidence is an invitation to improve your behaviour, communication and effectiveness at work by sharing some life-changing secrets from the field of Behaviour Analysis – the study of what you say and how you say it.

It begins with a canter through the core concepts of behaviour analysis in simple, everyday language, before moving on to show how the concepts work in practice and the results they deliver. There are examples and case studies along with a host of practical, handy tips that are useful no matter where you sit in an organisation.

I’ve tried to show how an academic idea can transform the workplace, enabling better teamwork, more focused and productive meetings, greater participation and a more thoughtful, proactive process of sharing ideas. It’s written to inspire readers to be impatient to start putting the ideas into practice!

How do you use your body and voice in business meetings so that people listen to you?

It’s useful to start by combining non-verbal behaviours with what you say. For example, if you want to get in to the conversation, you can do three things:

  • Indicate non-verbally that you want to make a contribution – e.g. lean forward, make eye contact with the chair, gesture with your hand
  • Label your behaviour – Behaviour labelling is a device for announcing the behaviour you’re going to use next – for example, “Can I ask a question?”. It catches people’s attention prepares them for what you are about to say
  • Use the behaviour – as with the previous example, ask the question

As people understand the broader reach of behaviour analysis they can select from a range of other options for contributing effectively in meetings.

What are the best and worst ways people conduct themselves in business meetings?

A skilful chair is the recipe for success. To be effective the chair has to separate managing the process of the meeting from contributing to the content. It’s hard to do both well. There are three key points for managing process: Establishing a clear structure; Ensuring clarity; Maximising participation. Each of these is supported by different behaviours.

The worst way is to hog the airtime. When people do this, they often overuse a category of behaviour called ‘Giving Information’. This is where they state facts, reasons or opinions. The contributions are lengthy and, worse still, they repeat themselves, in the belief that an extra iteration will convince the rest of the group. The paradox is that the other people in the meeting have usually switched off through boredom or because they’re feeling railroaded. The voice in their head is saying: ‘Here he goes again’ and they stop listening.

What is the best advice you could give to someone entering management and the challenges they will face within these parameters?

If you’re attending a meeting, be sure to make a contribution. Otherwise, why did you attend? You may lack experience of the topic under discussion. If so, lead with questions to help you and other members of the group understand more. Also, help the group by summarising at regular points throughout the meeting. For this you’ll need good listening skills, for which you’ll be thanked.

What is the best advice you have received?

“Choose your battles wisely”. When I was younger my enthusiasm sometimes blinded me. I was so driven to do the right thing and to get things done that I would argue more than was sensible. My boss at PwC, David Dockray, had a quiet word in my ear. He also led by example, so I learned fast after that.

Who is your favourite corporate client you have helped?

Being self-employed means I get to choose who I work with and that’s a real privilege. It also means I choose not to work with some organisations – perhaps where sponsorship is weak or they’re focussing on the wrong issue.

I’m lucky to have diverse clients, each bringing different challenges and ambitions. I like them all, for different reasons, and that’s probably why we have enduring relationships. If I’m pushed to make a choice I’d select Barry Callebaut, the world’s leading producer of cocoa and chocolate products. As their CEO said, they are a “cool business, with a cool product and they do cool things”. That’s something everyone can relate to!

Finally, what is the future of behaviour analysis within business?

The scope is huge. So much time is wasted in ineffective meetings. Even people who claim to know themselves well lack insight into how they behave and the impact it has on others. Learning some simple lessons about managing process, collaboration, involvement, managing ideas and influencing can make a big difference, as my book attests. Behaviour Analysis can also be applied to selling and negotiations. Learning the behavioural traps to avoid and the skills to practice and develop could be the difference between being a winner and an also-ran.

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