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Beyond language – towards communication coaching by Bob Dignen Print E-mail
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Bob Dignen 

Many times over the last few years I’ve delivered a presentation for Cambridge University Press entitled ‘Beyond language’. It outlines the thesis that language trainers need to broaden their skills set to become communication coaches, building awareness in their students of the potential impact of their communication style on business partners. Could some see them as too direct arrogant, dismissive, rude? Could others see them (at the same time strangely) as too indirect too focused on pleasing others, vague and imprecise, probably indecisive? If our students get their grammar and vocabulary right but build the wrong impact due to a poorly managed communication style, they will fail as international communicators. I maintain it is our job to help them learn language and style at the same time. All very well, I hear you say, but how to start with communication coaching? Well, in this blog I would like to outline an activity which you can run which not only builds awareness of communication style but will help you to plan a number of activities over time to develop behavioural flexibility in your students ... beyond language and towards communication coaching.

Dimensions of communication style

Communication is as complex as the human being so don’t put yourself under pressure to have all the answers as you begin this journey with students. It’s enough to simply begin the journey and to explore together different perspectives and positions. This builds sensitivity as a platform for developing new behaviours. One way to deal with communication style in the classroom is to follow a three-step approach outlined below:

Step 1 Read through the following communication style dimensions and decide which best describe your typical style at work

Students need to reflect on the communication style dimensions outlined below and decide which most accurately describe how they see themselves and how others may see them. Two points to note here when managing this process. Firstly, be aware that students as with every human being tend to overestimate their own flexibility and are likely to say ‘Well it depends on the situation.’ To an extent it does depend on the situation but we have fixed patterns of behaviour (which we might term personality) clearly recognisable by others if not ourselves. We need students to become more aware of these fixed patterns. The second point is that our perception of ourselves will differ to how others see us. So while we may see ourselves as good listeners, others may hesitate to agree with this based on their experience of us. As a teacher-coach, you will need to give feedback to students based on your experience of them, which is not a judgement or some form of truth, but simply an honest report of your experience of the person.

 

Blog 15 - Dimensions

 

 

Step 2: Ask students to identify what risks their communication style might have for people they work with, and identify actions to manage the risks.

Some of the risks of the different styles are noted in the descriptions above but it is useful to brainstorm more possible risks negative perceptions of style. Once this has been done, students should think about how they might mitigate these risks. For example, if it is identified as useful to become less direct in the eyes and ears of others, it could be useful to examine the language of diplomacy/tact and the use of more questions to investigate others’ ideas longer rather than confronting with disagreement a coach approach.

Step 3: Ask students to identify which positives are relevant and discus how to exploit them more effectively in their working contexts.

It’s not always a question of focusing on weaknesses. If individuals are direct and focused, this may be a strength in contexts where colleagues lack vision and an understanding of key issues. I often spend time with students examining how to sell directness more effectively. My main teaching is to encourage students to be more transparent with positive motivation and to manage feelings more explicitly so that others do not read directness as a form of criticism. This would mean moving from ‘That’s wrong.’ to ‘I understand your argument which is logical but I have a different idea.’ or to ‘This is not a criticism of your thinking but I would like to take a different view and ...’.

Step 4. Identify relevant work-based role plays so that students practise new communication styles / strategies and get feedback on their performance

For me, getting students to buy into personal change (which is difficult for everybody) means making them see the relevance of adapting behaviours for real work scenarios. And it’s very easy to ask students to describe five typical meeting/negotiation situations (people, topics, underlying issues), then to take the role of one of the student’s work colleagues (talk through the mentality and communication style of this person too) and then to do the role play and feedback.

This is a starter. You can move on to look at a number of different models of communication style connected to personality dimensions (DISC is a good starting point) or even take a look at Belbin’s team role model or the situational leadership model and associated communication descriptions. In the workplace, language is an instrument to reduce costs and increase profit. Developing awareness of communication style increases the ability of our students to make this kind of financial impact and justify the cost of the training.  

BOB DIGNEN is a director of York Associates. He specialises in intercultural skills programmes and international team seminars which he delivers to clients in Germany, Switzerland, Iceland and Sweden. He is accredited to use The International Profiler (an intercultural profiling tool) and is also an advanced practitioner of TMP (Team Management Profile – an international team profiling tool).

As an author, he worked on English365 for Cambridge University Press and has written 50 Ways to Improve your International Presentation Skills. He is also co-author of Developing People Internationally, a multimedia international team training resource.

 
English for project management by Bob Dignen Print E-mail
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Bob Dignen 

So let’s imagine the scenario. You’re just been notified of your next student. Seems to be a very nice guy. Works as a software expert with strong track record in SAP. Just joined an international IT project which, as luck would have it, has the task of rolling out SAP into three subsidiary organisations. English level has been diagnosed at B1/B2 level – good old intermediate. Guy feels confident about his IT language but not confident with his English and unsure about terms for project management. So, question is, how do you go about teaching him? Is there a logical syllabus for this quite typical international project worker profile. Short answer ... I think there is and I would like to share my ideas with you.

The guy is going to need some vocabulary

Projects are driven by a high level vision and more specific objectives. Participants need to be able to understand and talk about both of these project aspects, even if they are not project leader. This means being able to speak about the envisioned future state – explain its rationale within the context of the company’s strategy, and explain the organisational objectives and benefits, particularly to those stakeholders working in local organisations who might not immediately identify with what is likely to be seen as a very headquarter-driven initiative. Introducing and practising key terms and collocations to speak about objectives – goal, target, aim, to reach, to achieve, to reduce, to increase, efficiency, productivity etc. – is an excellent starting point.

Next area of useful terminology is going to be around the project organisation, tasks and roles. There are actually a number of quite specific terms to be taught – stakeholder, sponsor, steering committee, project management office, work package, sub-project etc. The usual terms such as responsible for, in charge of, is headed by and report to could be complemented by more project-based expressions such as the main deliverable of this workstream is … etc. Don’t forget to look at terms like interfaces and dependencies and the like as the workflows of the different parts of projects are often intertwined in complex ways and represent an important part of project planning.

The next big area of vocabulary is around planning, scheduling and timing. There are obvious terms to be clear about such as plan, schedule, timetable, agenda, milestone, sub-milestone and deadline. It is also critical that project professionals are able to describe the status of schedules – what has been done (already), what not yet, what still needs to be done and what will be done and by when. Lots of work here on tenses and prepositions ... but in a really pragmatic context which makes sense to students.

You’ll probably need to look at a little finance language connected to budgets. Each project will have a business case which will allocate costs and resources to parts of the project work, alongside estimated or projected savings. As you can see, it’s a rich area of vocabulary. Don’t forget to spend some time looking at terms to describe risks, challenges or problems ... and associated solutions or mitigation measures. Project managers often use quite specialised templates to manage this component of their projects. Forget course books at this point. Familiarise yourself with the actual project templates used by your student in order that you are equipping them with the right language tools for their job.

Final area of vocabulary? You guessed it! Communication – the heart of any successful project. Anything and everything associated with email, meetings, telephoning, negotiating and socialising is likely to be useful.

Beyond vocabulary

Good, the guy is getting lots of vocabulary. He’s also going to need some skills support. And I think there are some specific areas which you should start with. Firstly, socialising, rapport building, relationship management … whatever you term it, the guy is going to have to connect to other people in the team and start the process of trust building.

In terms of project communication, it’s likely one of the core tasks will be reporting on progress, presenting updates, discussing what has been done, and what hasn’t, and why. And then there’ll be discussion of what needs to happen next and what resources are required. I work mainly with simulations in my classroom, building realistic scenarios through discussion with my students so that they get to practise what they will actually be doing.

Negotiation skills will also be an important part of the training here as projects inevitably involve competition for resources, disputes over levels of quality and data to be provided, and your guy will need the skills to make his case and defend his position.

And what about culture?

Working in international projects means working with diversity – whether it be at the level of personality or culture. In projects, there are some key issues which students need to consider and even discuss within their project teams:

1. What is leadership?

People have very different approaches to leadership across cultures – from very directive to very facilitating approaches.

2. What is a team?

It cannot be assumed that everyone will answer this question in the same way. For some, a team is a collection of individuals working on their own roles. For others, this is not teamwork, which demands cross-role collaboration and support.

3. What is good communication?

Direct or indirect? Lots of it or minimal on a need-to-know basis. Decisions made by leaders or by the whole team? People answer these questions differently and can get upset when others don’t follow their rules! Sensitise people to diversity. Confront them with their assumptions and get them to think more flexibly about ways of working with people with diverse values, attitudes and behaviours.

So, in a nutshell, that’s my internal mental template for working with international project staff. The focus stretches and contracts in line with the specific needs, talents and blind spots of each student but it provides a useful roadmap for my own teaching practice. Hope it helps to support you too!


BOB DIGNEN is a director of York Associates. He specialises in intercultural skills programmes and international team seminars which he delivers to clients in Germany, Switzerland, Iceland and Sweden. He is accredited to use The International Profiler (an intercultural profiling tool) and is also an advanced practitioner of TMP (Team Management Profile – an international team profiling tool).

As an author, he worked on English365 for Cambridge University Press and has written 50 Ways to Improve your International Presentation Skills. He is also co-author of Developing People Internationally, a multimedia international team training resource.

 
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    I think this is very helpful for everyperson.

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    i am a teacher of English so need to update world ...

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