Last year was one like no other and is certainly one that the majority of us will be keen to say goodbye too. That said, it’s been an interesting one for businesses as we’ve adapted and completely transformed the way in which we communicate.
Here, Tony Hughes, CEO of global negotiation, sales and communication specialists, Huthwaite International, highlights the top five key communication lessons from 2020 that we should take on board in 2021.
1) Be mindful of your online behaviours
One thing that many of us realised quite quickly is that there are a number of behaviours that can be instantly irritating to people during conversations that take place online. Virtual communications themselves provide multiple barriers such as poor connections and technology issues, this means without even having a conversation – the experience can be quite irritating. Therefore, with virtual communications not disappearing from the agenda anytime soon, it’s crucial that verbal behaviours do not further irritate those you are talking to.
Self-praising declarations are one of these irritators. Using the words ‘fair’ and ‘reasonable’ when talking to people can cause tension as they can undermine the person you’re speaking to and may cause lasting damage to your relationship. There are also other ways of communicating that can indicate a lack of sincerity. Verbal behaviours such as telling someone you’re ‘being honest with them’ or ‘that you’re trying to be frank’, can indicate that you may not have been completely honest in the past, or that you may be suggesting your counterpart is being intentionally dishonest. Leave this use of language where it belongs – back in 2020!
2) Active listening is essential
Listening is what separates skilled communicators from unskilled and using active listening is key to ensuring the conversation goes well. We demonstrate active listening by acknowledging statements. Acknowledging is not the same as supporting, by acknowledging we show we are listening but do not necessarily show agreement. Using phrases such as ‘I understand’, or paraphrasing statements show that we are aware of their opinion and their thoughts without necessarily agreeing with them.
Taking care to allow people to fully express themselves, especially if they are agitated or excited, is key to defusing a highly emotional or tense conversation. If we must disagree, we should take care to make a positive statement before and after the disagreement. This means saying things like ‘I fully understand what you’re saying, and will do my best to help. However, I will need some time to investigate the situation. Let me come back to you in X time’. Implementing active listening into your communications during 2021 will lead to much more effective and less confrontational conversations.
3) Remember to show emotion
Perhaps surprisingly, skilled communicators show their emotions and indicate how they are feeling towards a situation more than the average communicator. This skill is particularly important when dealing with a difficult online conversation. For example, phrases including ‘I am pleased we are making progress’ or ‘I’m worried that this won’t work out’, can be used as a substitute for an outright agreement or disagreement as it’s difficult to argue with someone else’s emotions. This verbal behaviour also reveals something personal, which is likely to encourage trust within a conversation. If someone expresses that they’re concerned a deadline won’t be achieved – it’s then difficult to retort with ‘no you’re not.’ When used in the right context, showing emotion is a highly effective way of deescalating confrontation.
It can also be difficult to observe someone’s body language over a virtual camera call so tone of voice is more easily interpreted and allows to show empathy. Listen carefully for clues to how the conversation is going from their tone and note that nerves tend to make the voice higher and this can be very noticeable – a warm drink may help to relax your vocal cords and deepen your voice. Smiling when you speak (if appropriate) will also help to relax you, and the other person. If you need to get it all right first time, practice makes perfect. Practicing with a friend of colleague can help to produce the relaxed tone of voice necessary to sound sympathetic or authentic.
4) Dealing with extreme levels of reaction
People who have an unusually high or low reaction level present characteristic problems, and how you deal with these high or low reactors is a whole communication skill in itself. We’ve all experienced talking faster or drying up I’m sure, when dealing with a ‘low reactor’ or perhaps giving away too much information or exaggerating? It’s important to stay focused and factual if people appear unresponsive – don’t try and fill the communication gap! Similarly, you need to look out for feedback from high reactors who may be too quick to support and or disagree over issues. In a meeting scenario, ensure you check on the views and contributions of ALL participants.
5) Don’t allow discussions to lead to a breakdown in communication
A strong indicator of an effective meeting is how well people respond to one another’s ideas and proposals. When a meeting is working well, people react positively or at least constructively, to what others say. When a meeting is ineffective, the opposite can occur and tensions can rise leading to a potential communication breakdown. An extremely negative discussion can lead to what Huthwaite refer to as ‘Defend/Attack’ behaviours where opinions are expressed more strongly and more directly which can lead to people feeling exposed and becoming overly defensive. Defend/Attack usually involves value judgements and contains emotional overtones.
Avoid these behaviours by responding positively and appropriately and most of all, try to actively listen to what is being said. Really take the time to understand a differing point of view and respect their position before jumping in with a response. Taking the time to listen will give you time and space to fully consider other opinions. If you decide you do disagree with what they’re saying, active listening will leave space around the discussion which offers the opportunity to react in a constructive, rather than an emotional manner.
THE EFFECTS OF JOB HOPPING ON YOUR RETIREMENT OUTCOME
By Neli Mbara, Certified Financial Planner at Alexander Forbes
Job hopping – defined as spending less than two years in one position – is a very controversial subject. It can be an easy path to a higher salary but can also be a red flag to prospective employers, not to mention your future financial goals if you are cashing in your retirement fund every time you make a move.
When changing jobs, whether it be once a year or once every decade, one has to make decisions regarding career growth and retirement plans which affect one’s long term financial plans. One of these decisions is ‘what to do with my retirement fund?’
For many people, the first thing that comes to mind is using their pension money to pay off their debt. Alexander Forbes Member Watch statistics show that 91% of members do not preserve their retirement savings when changing jobs. As we are living in times where most household income is used to finance debt, most people use job hopping to gain access to their retirement funds, and use this money to pay off debt. However, a quick fix and instant gratification comes at a price, which in this case could be a delay in your retirement plan.
Your retirement savings are simply for that, your retirement, to pay you an income once you stop working.
Early access of your retirement fund can result in:
- Not having enough money at retirement – this is simply because most of us are already not saving enough for retirement
- Robbing yourself off the compound interest you could have potentially earned from the investment.
- Never making make up for the lost benefit
- Creating a bad habit that will delay you from achieving your retirement plan and desired income at retirement
It is easy to cash in your money from a retirement fund at resignation but it is much harder to make up for the lost benefit (capital cashed in plus interest). Calculations show that for you to make up the lost benefit depending on your retirement age and investment time horizon, you will likely need to invest more than double your contributions towards a retirement fund.
Since only 6% of the South African population are reported to have accumulated enough to retire comfortably, without having to sacrifice their standard of living, you will most likely have to invest much more towards your retirement fund to make up for the lost savings.
Therefore, leaving your retirement fund invested and preserved in a preservation fund is the recommended option when changing jobs, as this keeps you committed to your retirement plan.
Changing jobs is a life-changing event, and it is therefore important that you seek advice from a professional financial adviser who will guide you in your retirement planning ensuring that your retirement needs are taken care of, by providing solutions that help you to ensure your financial wellbeing.
DISRUPT TO SURVIVE IN FINANCIAL SERVICES, BUT BEWARE: YOUR TEAM MUST BE IN SHAPE FIRST
Michael Chalmers, MD EMEA at Contino
COVID is forcing extraordinary change in the financial services industry. It’s happening fast, already uprooting insurance, transforming payments and changing the way we interact with our customers across the industry.
But for the 4000 UK financial services providers who are at critical risk due to COVID-19, these tales of success should come with a warning. Disruption in the industry certainly won’t come overnight.
Only the most interconnected web of people, technology and culture can produce effective disruption at this critical time. Discover below the key trends we’re seeing in financial services, and how to upskill, empower and equip teams in order to create the organisational impetus for this transformation and disruption, in an industry known for its monolithic ways of working.
Top Technology Trends in Financial Services for 2021
As we enter another year of uncertainty, financial services organisations–and their customers–are looking for technology solutions that promise above all, flexibility.
Partnerships between retailers and payments companies that can deliver greater flexibility for consumers as well as increased reliability for retailers will boom in 2021. Even before the pandemic, we saw the flourishing of partnerships between retailers and Klarna, the ‘buy-now-pay-later’ online payment processing firm. With the impact of the downturn likely to continue well into 2021, add-on services that offer more options to support merchant resilience will be essential.
Many companies have embraced ‘fluid’ payment ecosystems capable of handling multiple digital payment solutions but only those capable of capturing data insights to drive their product innovation and sales strategies will reap the full benefits. Real-time user profiles, fraud anomaly detection and personalisation, are all enabling marginal gains for payment providers that will differentiate them from competitors in 2021.
But don’t run before you can walk
Before businesses can jump on new technology trends however, it’s critical to ensure they have an innovative culture in place. This will form the foundation for effective disruption. Here are my four tips for building a solid foundation.
1) Focus on data, with the customer at the centre
Customer experience is the central element to all disruption in the financial services today. Respond in real-time to customer queries. Better still, anticipate the customers’ next need before they’re even aware of it. All of this is made possible through a connected view of data.
Businesses should continue to embrace technologies such as AI and ML to harness customer insights and respond to customer needs–whether that’s approving a loan or recommend a new offer.
From answering customer queries and personalising banking experiences to revenue accounting and trade settlement dashboards, advanced data capabilities will continue to be critical.
2) Be realistic about what your team can achieve–and up-skill if need be
In my own work, I’ve seen that digital transformation is most effective when it factors in the abilities of the existing team–but that doesn’t mean leaving them on their own.
First, collaboration is key. IT and data teams must form internal partnerships in order to get plugged into the business side of things. Critically, they must be present in the boardroom. For many years, those with technical skills have been left out of planning meetings. But their knowledge is absolutely critical, especially when it comes to choosing the right tech stack to enable innovation.
If it becomes apparent that the team is lacking in the necessary tech capabilities, outsourcing is extremely valuable. But beware: it is essential to focus on building up internal capability in order to create long-lasting change–and scrimping on the upskilling for cost reasons will only result in greater expense. Bring in fully trained teams to both implement tech and upskill to foster stronger teams internally.
3) Enable innovation in a worry-free environment
In order to remain competitive in the modern marketplace, and to ensure long-term survivability, financial services organisations must transform their business models to focus on digital innovation and customer expectations.
It’s no secret that the cloud enables organisations to innovate at speed and scale. However, before teams can get stuck in, it’s crucial to ensure they have safe cloud environments in which to explore and innovate.
Developers must be given the freedom to evaluate new technologies and to make any necessary changes to enable rapid creation of business value. Having this flexibility and foresight when implementing and rolling out your public cloud solutions means that ideas can truly come from anywhere in the organisation.
4) Don’t just get the cloud, get the cloud right
The adoption of cloud is now widespread, but those who can optimise it will be reaping the rewards in speed, efficiency and, ultimately, customer satisfaction. Cloud shouldn’t just be a platform to build in–it should help to inform decisions and facilitate new ways of working, ultimately producing something greater than the sum of its parts. Building out cloud-native engineering, culture and operating models will future proof the capability of financial services organisations.
Finally, cloud capabilities should be rolled out right across the organisation. Contino research shows that, while 77% of organisations have adopted the public cloud, only a tiny proportion have actually scaled this out across the organisation. To do so means you’re able to share data across every department, to every person, creating a data-driven culture which will hugely benefit all decision-making going forward.
Prepare the ground and seeds will grow
Disruption is achievable for every financial service organisation in the UK market today – yes, even legacy brands. But the saving grace for those that are struggling at the moment needn’t be the debut of an exciting new product or pipping a competitor to the post with a partnership. It will be the construction of a collaborative and creative culture from which innovative ideas can grow – without being choked by unavailable data, the fear of upsetting day-to-day operations, or restrictive team structures. Innovation is what will pick today’s struggling financial services providers up and get them out of danger.
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