That was the month that is… November

Rebecca Dalton

By Rebecca Dalton

“I think it’s the worst thing that we do to each other as women, not share the truth about our bodies and how they work.”

Michelle Obama, in an interview to promote her strikingly revealing new memoir.

I have a long-standing girl crush on Obama, but this confirmed her as my top living hero and life guru. I also immediately started a Christmas list with her book at the top, along with tickets to the Spice Girls reunion tour.

Michelle – as I’m sure I will call her when we become BFF’s – was talking about the biological clock and miscarriage (something I’ve experienced). However, that’s not the only part of our reproductive lives women feel shy about sharing. I’m now on the approach road to (whisper it) the menopause (Edvard Munch ‘Scream’ face/ lightning/ thunder crash), and that really is taboo in polite company.

It does strike me as strange that as women we often pride ourselves on our emotional intelligence and our communication skills. We are also stereotyped as chatterboxes, over-sharers, having ‘more rabbit than Sainsbury’s.’ Yet we are often unable to articulate what is happening to our bodies – sometimes even to close friends.

In the workplace I feel this stems from years of feeling that any physical weakness that can be linked to our sex – period pain, pregnancy, breast feeding – is going to be used against us in the competitive race for promotion. Am I the only person who’s had a female boss who seems like an automaton, totally impervious to the usual vagaries of the female body? Let’s not just hear it from the girls – let’s hear it about the girls: let’s have the courage to speak up and open the door for others to do the same. That would be real Girl Power.

A postscript: on finishing reading the Obama interview, I immediately tried to Google her speaking dates in the UK, only to find there was only one – and that a mere 35,000 other people were in the digital queue ahead of me. This was bad news for me, but brilliant news in every other way. And anyway, perhaps I shall have better luck with the Spice Girls.


The Brain Alchemy Needed for Successful Negotation

By Melanie Lilley*

We are all negotiating and influencing all the time. Most of our daily interactions involve a negotiation of some kind. From the obvious, interacting with your team members or landing that next client or job, to the less obvious: is that journalist negotiating with your existing beliefs? Once we stretch our interpretation of negotiating we open up opportunities to influence and impact.

The Science bit:

Trust and distrust are located in two different areas of the brain – distrust in the primitive reactionary amygdala and trust in the rational executive brain – Pre Frontal Cortex. When assessing someone initially, our brain makes a reactionary judgement 400x faster than rational thought and either processes it to protect us (fight or flight/stress and distress – releasing Cortisol) or as trust to begin a relationship (releasing Oxytocin).

Steps to Influencing:

‘We like people like us’ the science says, so how can we use this to activate our Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC)? Let’s look at areas of potential influence:

  • How well do you know the other person/people? What overlaps are there in your lives? How old are they? What information sharing style resonates with this age group?
  • What can you find out about them (social media platforms/mutual colleagues/reputation)? What are their habits/hobbies? In one negotiation we worked on, we discovered a member of the other party was an avid follower of the Tour De France, so a member of our team became a cycling enthusiast overnight.
  • Watch them closely to discover what really drives them. In our courses a key concept is understanding the personal needs of the other party. Are they data driven? If so present an analytical case. Are they a big picture thinker? Present visionary scenarios.
  • How do they dress? Can you mirror style/colour?
  • We can subliminally influence when emailing or phoning. Repeat back words (without obviously mimicking), tone, pace – this is all saying ‘we are similar’ and triggering subconscious reactions.

Where can you find common ground and start a conversation?  Research shows that even if we find one nugget of common ground our brain inexplicably assumes we have so much more in common.

Environment has an impact on emotion. When working with a particular government body (which was very keen to showcase its success stories, naturally) we had to advise that pictures around the walls of aircraft carriers, tanks and the latest weaponry were sending out a very aggressive and intimidating message to external contractors.  Of course, this is also a tactical use of power in some instances. 

Watch out for irritators

Insults, rejection, and micro-aggressions – whether intentional or unintentional, actually cause physical pain. Upsetting someone through exclusion or criticism for example, engages the same neural pathway through which physical pain is relayed, so we really do feel that perceived insult as a physical blow, this is why you may forget a compliment but never forget a slight. Don’t damage the relationship unintentionally.

Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, Endorphins and Cortisol all play a key part in our everyday interactions (your daily DOSE). We have the ability to activate these neurochemicals within ourselves, and more importantly understand what it is that increases these levels in others.

People are 6x more likely to make a deal with someone they like’ Chris Voss FBI International negotiator.

* Melanie Lilley 07971 008848

As a trained negotiator with a leading global consultancy, ENS International, I have a passion for supporting women and researching applicable commercial neuroscience. Sign up here for newsletters, tips and techniques at  Or contact me via LinkedIn.  Let me share details of how we can work with your organisation and in particular your Female development journey.

How to avoid an appraisal emergency: Hear our SOS – be Specific, on Time and Sincere

Appraisals: a necessary evil, which if you play your cards right, may give you a slightly bigger slice when the bosses carve up the bonus pot. Yes, a cynical but not completely unfounded view of the annual appraisal system – a system which at its worst can be a demotivating and unpleasant experience for everyone.

It should be very different: a way of improving rather than judging individual performance. One thing it should never be is a surprise. The annual chat with your line manager is not the place to hear for the very first time how well – or not so well – he of she feels you have done over the last twelve months.

On a personal level, I regard it as a major perk of running my own company that I no longer have appraisals. I used to get butterflies in my stomach and have at least a couple of nights of disturbed sleep beforehand.

I don’t want anyone else to feel the way I used to, so I’ve sought out and collated what I think are the best techniques used by the most enlightened companies. I hope adopting these methods makes me a better manager, and also fosters a culture in which my colleagues feel able to give me open and honest feedback. In that way, hopefully, everyone continues to develop and improve. Isn’t that, after all, the whole point of appraisals? And, what’s more, it’s good for business.

Here are the results of my research:


  1. Don’t wait all year (or even half a year) to give and ask for feedback. It’s never pleasant to be caught unawares with comments about things that happened months before. Equally, waiting until the formal appraisal to give praise feels like a wasted opportunity to capitalise on goodwill and momentum.
  2. Don’t measure people on a bell curve. Putting everyone into one basket for the sake of ease of processing does nothing for motivation or commitment.  Instead, it pitches people against each other, knowing that a good review depends on manipulating the system to cherry pick and reward those destined for great heights.
  3. Don’t become a slave to numeric Key Performance Indicators. Yes, objectives are important, but numbers never tell the whole story.  Instead, focus on the narrative and heed words rather than numbers.


  1. Do instil a culture of openness and non-judgment in the team. This encourages people to share feedback with each other frequently and grow not only closer as a team but also as individuals.
  2. If you’re a manager, do encourage open feedback on your own performance at the end of each project. Embrace feedback as a form of well-intentioned learning points rather than a personal affront and learn to take yourself less seriously – we all have room for improvement, even as leaders.
  3. Consider introducing individual development plans – objectives that are based on the strengths of the individual performer, setting goals that continue to develop them as a professional, regardless of how they compare to others in the team. This will ensure the team continues to improve and work together.

Many organisations have already shifted to systems that acknowledge individual performance and development needs. The only thing remaining now is to cultivate a work culture that supports these behaviours – it’s no good if it’s all just a paper exercise. An inclusive culture of mutual respect: a team culture that values our individual differences and experiences and encourages us to utilise them as part of our working lives will make assessment and giving and receiving criticism a routine matter. We need to take the fear out of feedback.


That was the month… October

Rebecca Dalton

by Rebecca Dalton

As the days grew shorter this month, the list of men accused of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape, grew longer. As did their excuses and denials – their ‘vigorous,’ ‘repeated’ and ‘absolute’ denials according to the reports. But so too did the sound of fury and outrage from women across the world, and behind that the whisper of yet more women: women who haven’t spoken out or marched in public, but who listened to the radio, watched the television, scrolled through social media feeds, and made their own minds up.

Whatever the legal system decides, the parade of male bad behaviour on show was as unsurprising as it was depressing.

Then, like a shaft of golden autumn sunlight through rusted leaves, the good news began to filter through: Donna Strickland became the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 55 years, Frances Arnold, along with two male colleagues, was recognised for Chemistry. Finally, perhaps most poignantly, and possibly with the most impact, the peace prize went to Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.

And, as a bonus, Zoe Ball got the Breakfast Show job on Radio 2, the first woman to do so, nearly 20 years after she became the first female presenter of the Radio 1 Breakfast Show.

It all gave me some hope that it’s not Winter that’s coming, but Spring.

Remote not isolated: our tips for running a flexible workforce 

‘Where are you based?’ I’m sometimes asked. Well, there is no ‘Voice HQ’, we’re a virtual business. This makes sense: we run our workshops and courses in other people’s businesses; mainly in the UK, but also in Ireland and the rest of Europe. However, thanks to modern technology our associates, coaches and other members of the Voice team are in constant contact with both me and each other. We also make sure we do meet face to face. We have one of our routine ‘awaydays’ next week to discuss strategy and objectives for the next quarter, and two weekends ago the team assembled for one of our regular social events.

So, members of the Voice team don’t ‘work from home’: they just work. I’d like to see that mindset spread to more traditionally organised businesses. It would help remove the stigma of flexible working – take it away from being associated with ‘the mummy track.’

In fact, one of the most common things we hear when this subject comes up in our work with clients is an appeal for flexible working to be applied consistently throughout an organisation and for managers to ensure it’s available for everyone, not just parents.

If you’re resisting it in your team, here are some more ideas that might help.

There are numerous benefits to promoting flexible working, not least the ability to recruit and retain the most talented employees, as well as a reduction in staff turnover with its associated cost benefits. It might require some creative thinking, but offering options such as job sharing, ‘shift swapper’ pools , flex time, and compressed work weeks can bring benefits through increased staff loyalty and motivation.

The single biggest factor though is technology, which has already made so much remote working possible. As it continues to evolve so will the ways in which businesses organise themselves. In the meantime, says Karin Mueller, Voice’s resident leadership coach, make technology your friend and use all the tools that are out there: project management programmes, online meeting platforms, collaboration channels to name a few.

Karin, who runs several virtual coaching programmes, says: ‘In addition to relying on technology, leaders need to work hard to make sure everyone still feels engaged and connected, and to foster a culture of trust. We are all human and at the end of the day it’s relationships that make the world go round.’

This culture of trust extends to individual line managers trusting their subordinates and not mentally substituting ‘working from home’ with ‘a day off.’ A very senior manager of my acquaintance was extremely resistant to, as he saw it, ‘setting a precedent’ of flexible working within his teams. The many hours he spent away from the office was ‘work travel,’ but requests to work from home were not the same. It took one of his most valued young female bankers to threaten to resign before he gave in. Perhaps a mindset of ‘when in doubt, try it out’ might have worked better for him, and given him less ground to make up in winning back the confidence of one of his best and brightest team members.

And here’s a head up: expect a huge buzz around this whole topic when the Government’s Flexible Working Taskforce reports next year. For have no doubt, the future is flexible.

Conversation We All Hate

Janet Tarasofsky

by Janet Tarasofsky

Have you ever wanted to speak up at work but weren’t sure how?  Perhaps you were worried that you would be reprimanded or make the situation even worse.  We have all been there. Many of us will have lost opportunities because of that avoidance of the awkward. Personally, my inability to speak in uncomfortable situations resulted in two events I have always regretted: first the ending of a close friendship, and second, having to deal with a bully-boss for too long. It is now my mission to help leaders safely challenge the norm, so that my daughter (currently 13) doesn’t have to enter the same type of workplace as I did – one ruled by fear and control. Considering its centuries old business model, this is not an easy task. I have found two different strategies. They are very different, but equally effective.

The first is my Courageous Conversation course.

Here I try to encourage people to see a difficult, but necessary conversation as an opportunity – a rare moment to change an old mindset and create new habits.

The second is perhaps unusual for a white, middle aged, middle class mum: I write and perform rap songs.

No, that is not a typo – I do mean actual rhyming rap tunes. The music genre offers me a unique way to express myself without needing to conform to social etiquettes. If you are doubting me, ask yourself: have you ever met an insecure rapper?

First, the course:

a challenging conversation (or the anticipation of it) often lowers our boundaries and helps people think differently. We are more willing to experiment with new ways of thinking and explore different tactics that could help us get through an uncomfortable encounter. In the course I seize this opportunity, recognising it as a rare moment to change an old mindset and create new habits One of the techniques that I share in my course is a unique four-step DARE (Diagnose, Acknowledge, Research and Execute) strategy, which blends user-friendly techniques including behavioural and diagnostic models and neuro-scientific studies. Very simply, it goes like this:

Step 1 – Diagnose the need: the first step to having a courageous conversation is to understand what needs to move forward and how to address the barriers.

Step 2 – Acknowledge: by layering several personality models, we can see common habits within a work environment. We focus on the best way to respond.

Step 3 – Research and Prepare: with a focus on objectives, this step allows the participant to be prepared for potential reactions and outcomes.

Step 4 – Execute: using role play or/and simulated scenarios, we test different catalysts to begin a courageous conversation.

But what if that doesn’t work straightaway?

Sometimes we need more than just a plan, we also need a dose of courage to tackle this difficult conversation or we will continue to sit idly and discuss the weather. How can you get that dose exactly when needed? This is where the rap comes in. It’s unconventional, but it works for me. It may work for you, or you may find a different creative outlet has a similar effect. My interest in the genre has developed to such an extent that I also now make videos and have a respectable following on You Tube (have a look at my latest one here). Rap allows me to release my fears, anger and worries authentically. When I read it or recite it back to myself, I sound confident and cool, even if I do not feel it underneath. Please note that I do not walk around rapping to my business clients (unless they’ve asked), I use and develop this skill for my own confidence and charisma.

I now study with Rappers in the UK. As I started writing and delivering my own lyrics, without initially making the connection between this new hobby and my career, my leadership style began to transform, client numbers grew, and business became more rewarding. The best part is that it didn’t end with business, my self-confidence grew exponentially and most importantly, it helped me connect with my daughter by offering advice that she could hear (and without prompting the customary eye roll.)

I believe that we need to keep thinking of new accessible ways to improve our confidence at work, keep challenging the norm and find new ways to change the landscape so that our children, no matter what their gender, have an equal chance at success.

Janet is our resident expert on challenging conversations.  If you would like to learn more about her Courageous Conversations workshop, please get in touch.


“I’m not racist but…” Is unconscious bias just human nature?

by Rebecca Dalton

A friend of mine, recently back from a holiday in Yorkshire, commented on how the break had been extra enjoyable because of the friendliness of the locals. I was surprised: ‘Ooh aren’t they all a bit dour up there?’ I said. And then I thought of all the people from Yorkshire I knew or had ever known: warm and friendly every single one. Yet, despite this real life evidence, my ingrained viewpoint had persisted. My next thought was relief that this classic unconscious bias had never caused me to treat anybody from that particular part of the North-East differently from anyone else. But then I had to call myself out again, as I wasn’t even aware I had this prejudice, how can I be sure it hasn’t affected my actions?

Perhaps everyone is convinced they are clever enough to be immune to their own personal prejudices. I have been shocked by my own capacity for self-delusion. Becoming ‘woke’ to the attributes of those from God’s Own Country made me want to explore the wider issue of unconscious bias – is it possible to be completely fair and neutral, or is bias an intrinsic part of human nature?

Professor of Psychology at University College London, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, argues that it’s evolutionarily advantageous for us to be biased: mental shortcuts help us to function in a complex world and have done for millennia. He says ‘thinking slow’ may help avoid knee-jerk reactions but can also backfire: making someone ultra-aware of something could make it even harder for them not to notice it. For instance, Chamorro-Premuzic says: ‘The louder a person’s inner voice tells him he should not pay attention to a [job] candidate’s gender, the more he will focus on the candidate’s gender.’

But Rina Goldenberg Lynch, founder and CEO of Voice At The Table, says being mindful of possible double standards is helpful. In the case of gender bias, for instance, she suggests: ‘Ask yourself, if this were a man behaving in the same or similar fashion, how would I perceive him. Would I think he was being aggressive or uncaring. Or would I internally use the less pejorative adjective ‘assertive’? Would I commend his leadership skills?’

And one Black-British woman of Caribbean descent, says while it may not be possible to eradicate it completely, it’s vital to acknowledge that unconscious bias exists. As a secondary school teacher, she feels she’s developed a ‘gut instinct’ as to when cultural bias may be coming into play. She says sometimes asking a non-confrontational question can allow someone to ‘process their views’ without being embarrassed; like the time a colleague assumed a challenging pupil’s mother ‘was probably a single parent.’ She says: ‘I felt [the colleague] had good intentions as they were trying to look past the student’s behaviour and more to the root cause… once they realised there was no fact to their comment they began to look sheepish and I left it there. I think every day things, such as actively mixing with people from differing backgrounds and groups, and thinking more before making a judgement, go a long way.’

Chamorro-Premuzic argues that if behaviour comes first, thinking may follow. So, a person may have ‘horrible internal biases’ but if they behave in an unbiased way, they (and their company) will develop a reputation for being unbiased, ‘what matters is what other people think,’ he says. Chamorro-Premuzic acknowledges this goes against the trend for authenticity and may sound superficial – or even Machiavellian, but it could start a virtuous circle of increasing diversity and inclusion, whether that’s the recruiter’s intention or not. He believes what’s important is what happens, not what people think.

For me, I think that becoming aware of my bias is essential to changing my internal narrative. In addition, from what I’ve heard so far, a two-pronged approach seems right; training for those who are open to it, and then a system for encouraging, or nudging – or forcing? –  people to behave, while society waits for their thinking to catch up. But I want to continue to explore the different viewpoints on unconscious bias. It’s such a complex issue that this article can only be part of the story – or perhaps the beginning of the story.


Technology: the generational divide. Or is it?

Conventional wisdom would have it that introducing new technologies into a working environment enriched by up to 5 generations, with all the attendant stresses and strains, is bound to add an extra layer of mis-understanding and tension to even the most laid-back office.

But when I see my 80-year old mum navigate her iPad for emails, news, and entertainment, I wonder whether technology needs to be a divider of generations or can act as a bridge between them. After all, I use Skype to communicate with her remotely. I send digital photos of the family.  I download audiobooks for her to listen to while she potters around the house, and I book all her holidays online.

Granted, at the office, the technological expectations of a 20-year old will be vastly different from someone in her 50’s. In fact, we know that 75% of millennials (roughly speaking, those born between 1979 and 1991) regard technology as an enabler across all areas of their lives, compared to only 31% of GenX’ers like myself (1964-1978) and 18% of Boomers (1954-1963).  So how can we use technology to enhance everyone’s workplace experience, and to draw out the strengths of each generation?

Here are some ideas:


Younger generations use their phones for most forms of contact, including taking notes at meetings (where older generations tend to prefer pen and paper) and instant messaging instead of email or face-to-face contact.  They also thrive on instant and consistent feedback, and this is where technology can help.  In a traditional setting, much experience is conveyed through mentoring relationships.  But today’s more  flexible working conditions can make this difficult. This difficulty could be addressed with ‘remote mentorship’ where the mentor is a person who likes to maintain an office presence, but the mentee prefers a more agile approach to work.  In this type of pairing, the mentor can pass on insights from on-site company meetings and convey the significance of personal relationships to the more physically-remote mentee.  Separately, technology makes it easier to adapt and compromise.  In the instance of a more traditional approach to mentoring, for example, the relationship can be taken to a more remote level after a few initial face-to-face meetings, thereby blending the communication between in-person meetings and online contact.

Generational Perceptions

As one executive puts it, “In a multi-generational workforce, there is potential for negative stereotyping. Older workers may perceive millennials as entitled, tech-obsessed or too eager to challenge norms while millennial employees could see previous generations as being ‘stuck in their ways’ and difficult to train. Organisations need to take steps to ensure managers overcome their unconscious bias,” (The challenges of managing a multigenerational workforce, Forbes 17 March 2016).

Could we use technology to diffuse stereotypes?  We could, for instance, let people tell their stories via short videos and let them upload these to a work portal, for everyone to see.  Technology can also be used to draw out the strengths of the various generations. For instance, the enthusiasm for innovation of younger workers can be tempered by the experience of more mature workers in understanding the costs and risks involved in innovative ideas.  Various analytical programmes, for instance, can be used to measure risk and cost of new ideas incubated through a company’s innovation centre.

Employee Engagement

The one thing all employees have in common, regardless of age, is the desire to be engaged at work. A number of companies have already started using HR software that allows them to develop and encourage each person individually, based on their own preferences, strengths, and experiences.  This allows managers to be more in-tune with individuals’ successes and developmental needs.  A more individualistic approach helps dispel stereotypes and rash unconscious judgments and, as a consequence, allows each person to contribute with their very best.

So, while our technological preferences appear to divide the way we live and work, in reality, technology offers many more solutions that allow us to focus on our united strengths and bridge those differences.

To join the discussion on this topic, join us on 4 October at our panel event Connecting Three Generations in the Workplace

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