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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Davies

Just Ask

Yesterday I returned home after a trip to Gloucester to work with a new client in delivering a workshop I've designed on advanced communication and presentation skills. This was the first of seven such workshops we'll be delivering across their business and so there's always some trepidation as to how the event will flow, whether the timings for each section are realistic, etc. Thankfully, it all went well and although I made copious notes during breakouts and on the flight home to help refine and iterate, the day was a success!

It was a really engaged, fun group to work with which makes all the difference. When a cohort are curious, willing to keep an open mind and are happy to immerse themselves in the experience, it helps not only improve the experience for the facilitator, but gives a far greater chance that the delegates leave with some things that they can use to make a material difference to how they work.

It also came with an added benefit of allowing me to catch up with family who live nearby and whom I don't see much of. My Auntie and Uncle live just outside Gloucester and my cousins are in Cheltenham. In my childhood, our family used to drive down every summer to see them, and our Nana who also lived in Cheltenham before she passed away. Despite seeing them at a few family weddings, haven't been to their house in over 15 years, and yet as the taxi took me from Gloucester train station, the roads became more and more familiar until I felt I could have taken over from the cabbie and driven myself the rest of the way! It never ceases to amaze me how much you retain as a child, even when you don't realise it's all soaking in.

We had a lovely family meal and the whole trip was a nice reminder to reach out. None of that side of the family have ever met Harper, and she's seven years old now! A family trip down there is definitely on the cards for 2023.

The work also brought me back to a theme that has come to me time and time again throughout the summer. I've travelled more in the last year than I did in almost 15 years of corporate life and the opportunities have been a blessing. As well as interesting work, in cool places, with fun, passionate people, it's given me lots of travel time to think. When you're making a 25,000 mile round trip to Melbourne, for example, it gives you A LOT of time on planes and in airports, on your own, for the mind to wander. I liken my brain during this time to a cow. Cows take in lots of grass, then regurgitate it and add saliva, chewing it over to aid digestion. similarly, in the whistle stop summer I've had, I've been exposed to lots of places and people and ideas, all tucked away in my mind, to then be brought out in those quieter moments to reflect upon and chew over.

The cud that I was chewing over, was the theme of leadership and building stakeholder relationships by asking questions. It's remarkable to me how often the challenges that delegates bring or present for discussion in sessions can be broken down and resolved, simply by them asking questions. How do I motivate my team? I don't know what drives them! Just ask! How do I make sure that the stakeholder relationships I'm building are strong? I don't know what they want from me! Just ask! How can I grow my career and deliver things that my bosses want? Just ask!

Of course, we need to ask the right questions to the right people, in the right way, at the right times - but simply by asking about how people like to work together at the outset of relationships, or by asking how these relationships are going from the perspective of the other party once we've worked together for a while, we can dramatically increase our chances of the relationships being productive and effective!

It's a solution that's staring us all in the face, every day and yet, in my experience, many people are slow to reach for it. So no matter where I go, it becomes a conversation point and an action which people take away to implement - and the feedback when they do is excellent!

I've long fancied writing a book and in New York this summer, sitting in the park sipping a Mountain Dew, this struck me as the perfect topic! So now that I've put this out into the world, it creates a bit of accountability for me and by the end of 2023 I'd like to have my first book written! Maybe not yet published, but certainly in a state that I can present to publishers to gauge their interest. Nice to have a target in place - keep me honest and watch this space for activity!

And today's blog has a very specific takeaway for you all. Think of one relationship that's important to you - this could be professionally or it could be personally. Take a few minutes to plan out how you'll do it, and then reach out to the other person and ask how the relationship is going for them. What's working and what isn't? What are you doing that's helpful and what isn't? What more could you do to make the relationship even stronger?

And then let me know how you get on - you'll be amazed by the results!

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