Be Your Own Best Friend – Mental Health Tips for Communicators

How can communications professionals look after their mental health? IABC UK&I recently hosted a panel of expert speakers to share practical tips and advice to help you, your colleagues and your audiences. We heard from…

  • Amy Charlotte KingCo-Founder, CEO at People Matter Technology Limited
  • Andy ElwoodOnline Mental Health First Aid trainer, speaker, and Community Ambassador for Movember
  • Dr. Varalakshmi SHead of the Department of Mass Media Jai Hind College, University of Mumbai
  • Tom CrawfordMental Health striver; Consultant & Founder at The Brain Miner; Hysterionics podcast

Screenshot of event attendees on Zoom

You can check out our future events here, and we’ll be uploading the event recording to our YouTube channel soon.

Thank you again to all our speakers and attendees for the great conversation during this recent event. We will be continuing the conversation with you on Twitter and LinkedIn. #IABCforMH

 

We’re also continuing the conversation with further tips from trainer, speaker and Movember Ambassador Andy Elwood, who wanted to share some advice with us on Being Your Own Best Friend.

Have you ever noticed how you talk to yourself in a way you’d never talk to your friends? 

Or how you’ll run around saying yes to everyone else, doing favours for others and putting their needs above your own?

Chances are, you’ve said yes to at least one of those questions. That’s because you’re human and most of us tend to behave that way. 

Here are Andy’s top tips for how to be your own best friend – you can read the full article here.

  1. Dare to press Pause
  2. Assess what’s in your stress container
  3. Five-a-day positive mental health
  4. RAIN technique for emotions: Recognise, Acknowledge, Investigate, Non-Identify.
  5. How to question unhelpful thinking habits

 

A badge of assurance: Why we took the SCMP® exam

A blog by Simon Monger, SCMP®, IABC UK&I Board Member

 

Like a lot of people, I’m asked on a regular basis to “do my comms magic” on a project or piece of writing. Now, I don’t really mind this – after all, what we as communication professionals do does indeed have a little magic to it – and it’s far better than being asked to make something “look pretty” (more common than you’d hope). But for me, it’s important that I am valued as a professional – just like accountants, lawyers, and the other subject matter experts.

 

So, in 2020, I decided to sit the senior-level Strategic Communication Management Professional (SCMP®) certification exam, run by the Global Communication Certification Council (GCCC®) in association with the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). The SCMP®, as explained on the GCCC® website, is ‘for highly-skilled business communicators practiced in providing strategic communication advice and counselling to an organisation’s leadership’.

 

There is also a Communication Management Professional (CMP®) certification ‘for generalist, specialist and other business communicators established in their careers as managers and looking to demonstrate their competence. The CMP® is an ANSI-Accredited Personnel Certification Program – Accreditation #1259 – proving the prestige and value of this certification on an international scale.’

 

I’ve already thought that I was operating as a strategic communication professional on a daily basis, but I wanted to attain some formal recognition. So, in early December, I found myself in a room on a rainy Regent Street in Central London, sitting the three-hour exam with fellow communication professional Andrew Morrison (spoiler alert, now also an SCMP®), ably proctored by IABC Fellow, Neil Griffiths. I sat down with Andrew to reflect on the process – and perhaps share a nugget or two of wisdom for anyone considering sitting a certification.

 

Simon Monger, SCMP®: So Andrew, I found the process to be incredibly rigorous – from the application through to the three-hour exam. I don’t know about you, but I hadn’t sat an exam that long since I was sitting my GCSEs! How was it for you?

 

Andrew Morrison, SCMP®: I’d encourage anyone who feels ready to have a crack at either the CMP® or the SCMP® exam. You need to feel like you ‘know your stuff’ and there’s a 75% pass mark for the SCMP®. The application form checks your eligibility to sit the exam.  The SCMP® is designed for communicators with at least 10-15 years’ experience, compared with the CMP®, which is aimed at those with six to eight years’ experience. There’s a fee to pay, too, and you’re expected to tick quite a few boxes to ensure you’re ready to sit the exam, including proof of mentoring or any pro bono work you’ve done. Fortunately, the administration of the exam is all pretty swift and smooth and being accepted to sit the SCMP® was the first hurdle over.

“I found the process to be incredibly rigorous – from the application through to the three-hour exam”, says Simon

SM: When it came to preparing for the exam itself, what did you do? I’m an all-or-nothing reviser, so I bought a hard copy of the IABC Handbook of Organizational Communication (Tamara L Gillis), which I read from cover to cover, as well as studying the Job Task Analysis and the IABC Code of Ethics. As I’m an internal communication and change professional through-and-through, I found it quite interesting to read up on the other areas, like public relations and marketing. How did you approach preparing for the exam?

 

AM: Wow, Simon, you’re far more rigorous than I was! I definitely remember hitting a few questions in the exam, where I thought – gosh, I wish I’d read up on that topic! Fortunately, I’ve had a very broad corporate and marketing communications career, so I felt familiar with a lot of areas, but I wish I had read Catalyst magazine and the IABC bulletins more regularly, or listened to the IABC Circle of Fellows monthly podcast to ensure I was keeping up with the latest communications thinking and research. There is help available for candidates on the GCCC® website, with a dedicated webinar (I joined one with IABC Fellow Brad Whitworth) and sign-posting towards the main themes which will be covered in the exam. For the SCMP® exam, these cover: ‘Advising and Leading’; ‘Management’, ‘Strategy Development’, ‘Innovation’, ‘Ethics’ and ‘Reputation Management’. So, you need to look at these topics and figure out where you feel confident, or where you might need to do some more research or thinking before you walk into the exam room.

“There is help available for candidates.”

SM: Top tips, Andrew. I really found Brad’s webinar on the exams to be helpful, too. Now, as I already mentioned, the last time I sat a three-hour exam it was for Business Studies at GCSE. And I did really, really badly. I had to sit it twice! Thankfully not for the SCMP®, but it was certainly a challenge. I remember you finished a bit earlier than I did, but I needed the three hours to go through everything thoroughly, answer the questions I knew immediately, and then revisit the ones I was less sure about. What was the experience like for you?

 

AM: In some ways, I was glad that it was a multiple choice exam – so you get the context for the question, rather than staring at a blank sheet of paper. However, there is time pressure – you have three hours to answer 100 questions – so that’s about a minute and a half per question. You need to have good time management. If you don’t instinctively feel like you know the answer, move on to the next question. I laugh about it now, but I was actually stumped by the very first question! I thought ‘oh no!’, I have no idea what the answer is and there’s 99 more questions to go!

 

SM: I’m glad that wasn’t just me!

 

AM: Fortunately, I was able to answer the second question and come back to the first question and others I’d missed out in the final 30 minutes. You should definitely leave time to check those answers you’re not sure about, but overall you should go with your gut feel.  And always read the question twice to make sure you’re not missing something obvious. After I’d got the first few questions under my belt, I was ‘in the zone’ and felt more confident about having a crack at the dozen or so questions I was struggling with. There are four possible answers to each question, with one or two that are obviously wrong, leaving you a couple of options – with one being more ‘right’ than the other.

 

SM: The SCMP® is an investment, especially if you’re paying for the certification yourself and don’t have a company paying for you. It costs $400 to sit the exam, plus $100 to apply if you’re an IABC member, or $400 to apply if you aren’t. Then there’s the $100 renewal fee each year to maintain the qualification, where you need to provide evidence that you’re working to ensure you remain at the level of your certification. So, now that you’ve done it, do you think it was worthwhile? Would you recommend others to follow in our footsteps and sit either the CMP® or SCMP® exams?

 

AM: Oh absolutely. Frankly, it rescued my year from COVID gloom! It has given me renewed self-belief in my abilities as a communications director, especially as I’m currently looking for a new role. (I’d welcome any leads from our readers!) In summary, to have the SCMP® letters after my name on my LinkedIn profile and CV feels like a badge of honour and somewhat exclusive too, since it is still a fairly new qualification, only being around for a couple of years. However, the number of fellow SCMP®-holders is growing and I’d certainly invite other communication professionals to have a crack at the CMP® or SCMP® – let’s grow our alumni network!

 

SM: I feel like we need an official club! And I definitely agree with you. For me as a consultant, it’s a globally-recognised badge of assurance to all my clients that they are getting what they’re paying for. I would absolutely recommend that anyone get either the CMP® or SCMP® certification, depending on where you are in your careers. If you want to find out more about the GCCC® certifications, you can visit the website: gcccouncil.org. Or contact either me or Andrew – we’d be happy to have a chat!

Who’s listening? From Measurement to Meaning. An Update on the Report

Howard Krais, Mike Pounsford, and Dr Kevin Ruck
Spring 2021

The Listening Project, and this third ‘Who’s Listening?’ report, is about how organisations listen to their employees. It is not about listening as an interpersonal communication skill. We are not suggesting this is not important, it is just that our focus is on helping organisations to get the maximum benefits from listening to their people. Individual listening skills play a part in this, but we are concerned with the practices, processes and outcomes that distinguish great listening within organisations.

Our previous reports explored a number of issues about why and how organisations listen to their people, and we highlighted practices from businesses with a track record of listening excellence. We identified core themes around listening processes, psychological safety and social justice, and principles that underpin good listening.

Now, we have extended our research to gather input from organisations across the world delving deeper not just into how organisations listen but also to the outcomes they achieve as a result of the way they listen.

This report explores the findings and the implications. Our thanks go to more than 500 participants who mostly work in or with large organisations. They represent every region with a majority in the UK. Their responses provided hard data and extensive written comments that provide the backbone to support the insights reported here. (See the appendix for a breakdown of the respondents.)

We conducted this work during the COVID pandemic. Organisations were forced into rapidly adopting new working practices during this period of great uncertainty. It meant businesses needed to provide regular information on progress, and it also increased the need to listen to how people were coping. While this has flavoured the feedback, we think the insights are timeless. The data provides some hard-hitting conclusions about the need for many organisations to rethink how they listen if they want to improve the way they manage change and develop new working practices.

 

Download the report here:

Listening Report 3

Autism Aware Communication

World Autism Awareness Day is a good time to review your communication plans and to consider whether they meet the needs of colleagues and clients with disabilities and neurodiverse conditions, such as autism.

The events of the last year have affected how we all communicate. Lockdown and social distancing measures have limited face to face communication and made us more reliant on online forms of communication.

For some, communicating more online will have brought benefits. For others, it will have presented challenges. For people with conditions, such as autism, being offered only limited communication options will have been a particular challenge.

Understanding autism

1 in 100 people in the UK have autism. This means that you may work with or know someone who has autism, and it is very likely that your organisation has clients or customers with autism.

Autism is a spectrum condition. This means that it affects each person differently, but it often impacts how a person understands and processes information about their surroundings. It can also affect how a person communicates and their social interactions.

Many people with autism have learnt ways to adapt to the world around them. This may include developing standard responses to questions that they may find confusing. This includes open-ended pleasantries, such as ‘how are you?’ Or they may simply put up with stressful interruptions in their workday, which could be avoided if colleagues just understood their preference for email communication rather than an unplanned phone call.

Why it is important

But having your communication preferences ignored does not make for effective communication, nor should it be up to the person with autism to adapt to the communication preferences of non-autistic people. Under the Equality Act (2010), there is a duty on all organisations to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people. This includes adjustments around communication and information.

But the legal duty aside, accessible, and inclusive communication simply makes good sense, resulting in greater productivity and better engagement with customers and colleagues.

In 2020, Business Disability Forum launched two toolkits on neurodiversity and on inclusive communication. The toolkits are aimed at helping businesses, which are Business Disability Forum Members, meet the needs of disabled and neurodiverse employees and customers, including people with autism. There has been a lot of interest in the topic and Business Disability Forum has since launched a dedicated network for communication professionals to share best practice and to encourage debate around accessible and inclusive communication.

Developing autism aware communication

Where to start is a question that is often asked. So, here are some points to consider when reviewing your own communications. These have been adapted from Business Disability Forum’s toolkits.

  • Never assume

We all have preferred ways that we like to communicate. For some people, having a disability or a neurodiverse condition may affect the way that they communicate, receive and process information. It is always best to ask, if you are unsure about a customer or colleague’s particular communication needs. Remember that the responsibility is on you to make sure the information you provide can be understood. Thinking about the diverse ways people communicate, receive and process information, early on, will save you time and resources later.

  • Communication channels

Make sure that you always offer people a choice in how they receive information and communicate with you and your organisation. Written information can be useful as it allows people to digest and respond at their own pace. But blocks of dense text can be overwhelming for people with communication disabilities and neurodiverse conditions. Think about how you can use visuals to support your message and offer information in other formats, such as video.

  • Language

Metaphorical or idiomatic phrases, such as ‘piece of cake’ or ‘the ship has sailed’ can be confusing for people with autism who may interpret them literally. If you are communicating with an international audience then these sort of phrases present additional language and cultural barriers.

Ambiguity should also be avoided. If you are non-autistic person, communicating in a direct way may seem rude. It is tempting to add in extra words to appear polite. I have a habit of using ‘perhaps’, for example, when I want to suggest something but don’t want to come across as pushy. My use of ‘perhaps’, however, creates a sense of uncertainty, which can be confusing for colleagues with autism. Removing vague terms like ‘perhaps’, ‘maybe’, or ‘sometime’ makes your communication easier to understand and more effective.

  • Verbal communication

Some people with autism find verbal communication, whether face-to-face or over the telephone, stressful. Meetings, where several people are talking, can be particularly difficult for people to follow and to participate in.

Make sure you offer different ways for people to communicate information and to express their opinion. If it is an online meeting, for example, someone may prefer to participate with their camera off or to post their views via a chat function, rather than verbally.

Having a clear agenda will help participants to know what to expect. But it is important that you stick to the timings in the agenda and schedule in breaks if it is a longer meeting. Asking people to contribute in turn allows everyone to take part and will help people know when they are expected to speak. But never force someone to participate.

Send out the agenda and any supporting documents in advance to allow everyone time to prepare. Offer other ways for people to feedback. Some people may prefer to listen to a recording of the meeting and send in their comments via email, after the meeting, for example.

  • Social ‘rules’

People with autism can find social situations confusing. They may find it difficult to pick up on non-verbal social cues or to maintain eye contact during a conversation. In a work situation, a person may not be aware of unwritten workplace ‘rules’ such as offering your co-workers a cup of tea when going to the kitchen or saying goodbye at the end of the day. People can be made to feel rude or unwelcome if they don’t adhere to such ‘rules’, even though this was never their intention.

It some situations it may be appropriate to explain certain social constructs if it is causing the person concern. But often it is better to consider adapting your own response rather than insisting that someone else adapts theirs.

Finding out more

Sarah Bartlett is a freelance media and communication specialist. She recently worked with Business Disability Forum to research and write their Inclusive Communication Toolkit. She has worked in the disability sector for over 15 years.

One year on – Ann-Marie Blake reflects on Women in Communications

Back in April 2020, IABC UK&I hosted our successful “Women in Communications” event, with five incredible speakers and over 50 guests discussing tips and practical advice on how to navigate a career in comms, with a particular focus on the challenges faced by women.

One year on, our speakers share their takeaways from the event, reflect on what has changed since then, and share an update on their work.

 

Ann-Marie Blake 

@ACHOOGIRL

 

IABC UK & Ireland Board Member

Ann-Marie is a business communicator with over 20 years’ experience and IABC International Executive Board Member. She has worked across various disciplines including marketing, corporate affairs, media relations, change and internal communications. A keen mentor and executive coach she’s passionate about helping others to build their confidence so they can reach their full potential.

 

Ann-Marie’s Book recommendations

  • Who Moved my Cheese, by Spencer Johnson
  • Year of Yes, by Shonda Rhimes
  • Emotional Intelligence: Why it can Matter more than IQ, by Daniel Goleman

 

Key takeaways from 2020 Women in Communications event:

 

1) Performance is ‘table stakes’. You need to do more than a good job to succeed.

2) Be proactive about managing your image – if you’re not doing this someone else is doing it for you.  Don’t be shy about sharing things you’ve done well.

3) Network network network.

 

One Year on – and what a year it’s been!

 

Over the past year  I’ve been keeping busy trying to effect real change in the industry. The PRCA census shows that we still have much to do in the space of diversity so I joined with like-minded professionals and co-founded the PRCA Race, Ethnicity & Equity Board. Our aim is  to achieve both immediate and long-term proportional racial equity in the communications industry. 

An early delivery has been the  Ethnicity Pay Gap guide. It’s  packed with practical tips for employers on how to track and act on ethnicity pay gaps. Being in lockdown hasn’t stopped me, and networking at the IABC UK & I monthly virtual drinks has helped me keep in touch with my friends from the association. 

I’m also trying out Clubhouse, the audio-only social network. I’ve met some wonderful people and am part of a Female Marketers group who are really generous about sharing insights and experiences about running an agency.   

 

In terms of book recommendations, Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey was one of my 2020 highlights. It’s an autobiography, but full of exceptional insights about life. One of my favourites “Be less impressed, get more involved”.

 

Our event Women in Communication – Pathways to Success was held in April 2020 and was free  for IABC UK & Ireland members. Interested in becoming a member to join more events like this? Visit our website at www.iabc.com to join today. Use the code IABC20 at checkout when you join or renew through 18 April 2021 and you’ll receive a 20% discount on international dues.