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Welcome to our interview with Steph Holloway. Steph is the founder of Elemental Potential and a Body Language and Communication Expert. She is also the Creator of Compassionate Assertiveness in Action™.
Steph is on a journey to make compassionate assertiveness and body language a native language for the masses. She uses a unique communication approach as a catalyst for transformation in personal or corporate life. Since founding Elemental Potential in 2011, over 10,000 people have been her students in public events and corporate development sessions.
She holds a total commitment to uncovering the secrets to exceptional communication and believes it is her calling in life. For the past 7 years, she has dedicated the first 30 minutes of each day researching all of the latest thoughts and evidence on communication and testing her theories.
Bill Fox: How can we create workplaces where every voice matters, people thrive and find meaning, and change and innovation happen naturally?
Steph Holloway: Of course, I love everything communication, so my answer is going to be through communication. It’s always communication. Communication is the key to everything.
Where I’m coming from, I’ve worked with over a thousand businesses and 10,000 people since founding Elemental Potential. Everything I’ve learned from that has taught me that not only are human beings complex, but we all have our own little quirks, learned behaviors, and idiosyncrasies. But one thing I often say in my workshops is that intelligence, IQ score or how articulate people speak, doesn’t actually mean that they’re a good communicator.
Most companies I go into have some issue with communication, that’s why I’m there. I often talk about the pure mechanics of communication. I see my aim as getting people back to basics. That’s why I call my business Elemental Potential. What I see is that people often forget they’ve got a real human being on the other end. Or in the heat of the moment, they appear to throw, fairness, reason and all those other things out of the window.
The model for compassionate assertiveness I designed came about to answer some of these issues. I found whether I was presenting to parents, couples, organizations, or corporates, it was invariably about people feeling stifled and unheard — at home, in a relationship, or at work. I knew there had to be a simple way to form a bridge back to people when communication had broken down. A way to re-introduce communication that was more meaningful and effective, and re-program ‘toxic’ behavior — both incoming and outgoing.
So how do we create workplaces where more voices matter?
For me, I encourage people to ask the right questions. Question one is always about self-analysis — flipping it back to people. “Is there a reason you’re doing this…?” “Why do you think that?” “What would you do Bob/Julie?” How do we create workplaces where more voices matter? I think in some businesses people aren’t used to being asked, they are used to being told. So, create an environment where people can ask the right questions.
How do we ensure people thrive and find meaning?
If you ask people how they want to work, not just tell them the outcome you need, that helps people thrive. I’ve only had a few jobs where I worked for somebody else, but one I remember went from a manager that was very good who let me run with things, to a manager who micro-managed, which resulted in me leaving within two months. The minute I started to get micro-managed, I switched off completely.
So how do people thrive? Ask people how they want to work. Don’t just tell them how you want them to work because some people like to work in very different ways.
Once I was interviewed by a man who asked me, “What would I need to do to ensure you are successful while working for me?” I thought it was a great question (still do) and answered, “You will need to leave me alone, trust me, and let me fly! Just know that I will never rip you off for time, money, or energy.” He took me at my word and during his management, the company thrived.
Change and innovation?
I think it will just happen naturally where you leave an open channel for it to happen —from the top to the bottom of your business. Often it’s not the people at the top who have the answer, it’s someone somewhere else in the business. What I would say about change and innovation is just see everyone as important (because they are of course) — not just your high flyers. Quite often it’s the people who are dealing with the after-effects of what’s not working who’ve got the answers.
Bill: What does it take to get an employee’s full attention and best performance?
Steph: This is an easy one because I work with so many people. It’s to feel recognized and valued as a person. Many people (including ones on this platform) have mentioned feeling valued as an employee. This is something different I am talking about — it’s feeling valued as a person!
The reason I say that is because a lot of my work is going into toxic workplaces and trying to detoxify them. In an age where narcissism and toxic behavior is rife, the reality is that many of the people I come into contact with in my work have lived with, are living with, have someone in their life, or have a boss, manager or someone else at work that communicates to them unreasonably or inappropriately.
To me, there is a really obvious answer to this question. Graciousness. Treat others as you would like to be treated. If you wouldn’t treat someone like that in front of your kids or mother because you’d be embarrassed about it, then don’t do it. What will people say about your communication style after you’ve gone?
Graciousness is at the heart of everything I do. It is the ultimate tool and benchmark for getting the absolute best out of people and their full attention. We notice those people. We feel inspired by them, and it is a learned behavior – not everyone is born with it.
If there’s a formula for graciousness it might be to create time and space and stay present. People who ‘run’ on busyness and think it’s clever struggle to be gracious to people or stay present. Take the time to be fully present. Ask opinions. Include people and watch in wonder as the results unfold before you.
Bill: What do people really lack and long for at work?
Steph: The biggest thing that I feel that they lack is transparency. Many employees in the businesses I work with talk about lack of transparency being the number one problem they have with the management. Rumors take over instead of facts. The toxic people have a field day spreading malicious gossip and management does nothing to stop it.
Of course, some things cannot be divulged to the workforce, but where many businesses fail in their communication is either no follow through in communication, or the knowledge is hoarded by one person and not filtered down. People then get frustrated and stop contributing all together knowing that whatever they say will never get actioned or heard or to the right person.
If ever I need proof that this is happening in a company the first question I ask (an employee not a manager) is how are your meetings run? Does everything get done before the next meeting, or are they just carried forward in future minutes or forgotten?
Bill: What is the most important question management should be asking employees?
Steph: What do you bring to the table that I don’t know about!
But due to managers who knowledge hog, they keep the knowledge to themselves. Sometimes it’s ineffective management that is top heavy, or sometimes it’s management that never gets to know your team. Quite often for me, it’s differing communication styles — there is a massive effect from this.
So often people feel undervalued, underutilized. and undermined. How frustrating to be sitting there with the solution and know that your boss – due to ego, dismissiveness, or lack of appreciation of your qualities and attributes — will never hear what you have to say.
Sometimes it’s about busyness. Bosses will say to me, “Who has time to get to know everyone when I have 140 emails a day to deal with and pressure etc., etc.?” My reply is, “Who has the time not to?” Because you could be missing out on a lot of things if you don’t ask them what they could bring to the table that you don’t know about.
And by the way, busy isn’t clever anymore. It probably means you are ineffective or defective in some way. Look into a leader or manager’s inbox further and within a few minutes, you can note signs of control, micro-management, and people below them who have gotten used to passing the questions uphill instead of sideways or down.
I hear this often from teams when I run a simple exercise called The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. That’s where everybody that’s present in the room gets a chance to say what’s the Good, what’s the Bad, and what’s the Ugly about working with that business. I find out by the end that many employees have ‘given up’ trying to have a voice. They just do what they are told – even if they at heart know that it won’t work. They just see it as “same old, same old”.
Invariably by the next time I inquire into that business, if they haven’t changed their ways or individuals haven’t addressed their behavior, a few more of their best people have moved on. They’ve moved on to somewhere that gave them a voice and enquired about how they can help the business succeed.
Bill: What is the most important question employees should be asking leaders or managers?
Steph: Is there a reason we do it in that way? Sometimes even managers have inherited practices, processes and procedures from other managers. That doesn’t make them right or mean they are the best fit for the business.
I think sometimes people just go along with things. Then the day becomes really boring or mundane or stressful or frustrating just because they don’t ask the question, “Is there a reason we do it that way?” I think some people just go along with the flow and turn up for work, take the paycheck. and never bother to ask.
Bill: What is the most important question we can ask ourselves?
Steph: If you’re not true to yourself and live a life that you want across all aspects of your life, then what people get is a lesser version of you. As a result, the most important question to ask yourself to me is, “Am I true to myself?”
What I mean by that is, do I speak my truth? Do I ask for the truth? Do I encourage others to be a better person by how I communicate with them and the questions that I ask? If not – then what everyone else gets is a lesser version of you. They will never have your full potential… and who knows what that would mean?
Part of Compassionate Assertiveness, my communication model, is based on a little mantra called, “See it, say it.” I’ve got businesses that have been working with me for three or four years now, and it’s transformed their business just by working with that saying. That means if you see it (or hear it) you deal with it there and then – don’t wait. If you do wait and address it later, it often sounds like ‘blame and shame’ by that time.
Bill: I’ve been enjoying reading your book, Ping Pong: Compassionate Assertiveness in Action. What is the book’s core message?
Steph: The core message about Compassionate Assertiveness in Action™ is that it’s all about getting to the truth as quickly as possible – so regrets, recriminations, and resentment doesn’t set in.
There are a few qualities you would need to have to call yourself compassionately assertive:
You would look for the win-win in situations rather than having to be the winner. Compassionately assertive people look for collaboration, inclusion, and cooperation, they check their ego at the door.
You would seek first to understand others, rather than be understood yourself first. So not just waiting for your turn to talk and subjecting others to your opinions and judgments – but staying present and really listening and observing.
You would talk in a low and slow tone, which aids conflict resolution and helps your body language to respond appropriately. When your tone of voice changes to aggressive/loud your body language steps in to ‘help you out’ and this means that your body language can become choppy, high, bigger, and can look oppressive.
If you ‘see it’ you will ‘say it’. Address issues and unacceptable behavior early, don’t enable it so you have to carry on dealing with it.
Have courageous conversations which ‘corrective coach’ unacceptable behavior. My model works on a simple premise of four stages – self-analysis, feelings, consequences, and choice/surrender.
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