Tuesday 17 October 2017

Holidays are a perfect time to relax, refresh - and roll out effective communications techniques

'Use your body to help clear your mind, folks.' (Stock picture)
'Use your body to help clear your mind, folks.' (Stock picture)

Gina London

'Summer time and the livin' is easy." Or as many of us working parents with children about to launch from dependable school routines may be thinking, "the livin' is about to get really complicated".

I have scrambled around and am happy to report I finally lined up plenty of camps for my nine-year-old. But first, I am even happier to report, we're about to go to Italy for a well-deserved holiday.

Whether you go by plane to a distant land or stay somewhere close to home, vacation time is a perfect time to relax, refresh and roll out effective communications techniques.

Really! Think about it. Before you find yourself at the souvenir shop debating whether to try on that floppy beach hat, here are my tips to consider.

1 Communicate well before you go

Proper communications involves proper preparation before you start your holiday. Did you give your boss, colleagues and clients enough thoughtful notice? Have you made sure to wrap up or hand off any timely projects? If you won't be checking email regularly, make sure to add an out-of-office alert to your email. I find those standard, "I'm on annual leave" announcements perfunctory and boring. If your organisation allows it, try to personalise your message by saying, or hinting at, where you'll be going. "I'm off to the beach…" It could prompt a rapport-enriching conversation when you return. It's also good to let business contacts know to whom they can turn in your absence. Leaving a client or colleague dangling while you're on leave will obviously not do you any communications favours. You'll need to do more than bring them back a bottle of limoncello.

2 Practise more deliberate communications with your family

If you're like me, you're taking your family with you on holiday. This might mean standing together in long queues for airport security, driving on unfamiliar roads, asking for information in a different language or any other number of potentially stressful situations. If you are working on becoming a more patient or encouraging communicator with your colleagues, do not forget to practise with those you ­- are supposed to anyway - love. Friends with teenaged children tell me traveling can sometimes be a harrowing experience. Nothing is cool or exciting enough for them. Especially you, the parent. I shudder to remember how I once implored my mom to maintain a walking distance of about 10 feet away at all times so I wouldn't be thought to be with her. Nice. (Thankfully, she's forgiven me and we're very close despite the fact we're now an ocean's distance apart since she lives back in the States.) You know your own triggers. If you find yourself becoming impatient or irritated with your children, or dare I suggest it, your partner, close your eyes. Breathe through your nose. Find a way to disrupt your frustration. Smiling broadly, even when you're not happy, tells your brain to send out calming endorphins. Use your body to help clear your mind, folks. You can't control everyone else, but you've got the power to take control of yourself.

3 Try out positive new communications techniques with strangers

Just as we sometimes become attached to a particular image of ourselves, people who know us also become attached to a particular image of us. You might feel self-conscious to debut a new technique in front of co-workers. That can make it hard to change. Our mind is exerting pressure on us to stay the same because the brain has evolved to prevent us from getting into dangerous or uncomfortable situations. It resists change.

But if we're resistant to change, it can limit us, can't it? When on holiday, you're out of the office. Minus your travel companions, you're surrounded by strangers who don't know the "real" you. So, this can be a great time for trying on a new dimension of you.

I once had a client who was working to overcome some negative speaking habits. He generally looked away from the person he was addressing and was routinely sarcastic and flip. He described himself as a cynic, but he was willing to try to change. So, before he left for a family vacation, we practiced warmly handshaking, smiling and gazing at the bridge of the other person's nose as a start in the right direction.

He was to introduce himself and ask everyone's name. We also wrote three affirming phrases he would substitute for his go-to caustic comments.

He greeted the restaurant hosts with a handshake and asked them their name. He asked the museum ticket counter lady to recommend a must-see artefact. He asked the chartered boat captain to tell a favourite story about catching a fish.

He practised caring communications and kept a journal about his experiences. The striking thing for him was how surprised he was at the delight he felt when the other person lit up and began to share.

He didn't have a single negative experience besides his two sons asking: "Who stole Dad?". The largely positive emotional responses to his deliberate acts prompted a change in his own emotions. He returned from his vacation with a practiced new skill. Taking interest in others.

Nothing beats changing your perspective than travel. You're already out of your comfort zone. So why not refresh your communications style while you refresh your spirit?

Go ahead, try it. Buy it. That new beach hat looks great on you! Buon viaggio!

What's your holiday hell or heaven story? I'll bet it involves something lost - or found - in translation. Email me in care of Sundaybusiness@independent.ie and I'll share the best! Gina London is a former CNN anchor and international campaign strategist who is now a director with Fuzion Communications. She serves as media commentator, emcee and corporate consultant. @TheGinaLondon

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