Three tips for creating understanding

Communication is a vital part of any successful business, not just for the business but also to ensure an amicable working environment.

At its heart communication is the understanding of a message by multiple individuals. However, while the message itself might appear to be straightforward, the variety of the receivers and their understanding of said message is incalculable.

Which is why communication is such an important skill to master. There are numerous studies which are now showing how important it is for a company to have strong internal relationships before they even attempt building relationships with outside stakeholders. The standard thinking is, if your team is strong, your message, values and ethics are too.

One of my favourite people to listen to about modern work place issues and relationships is Simon Sinek (@simonsinek) and you should really have a look at some of his TEDTalks (www.ted.com, @TEDTalks). You will definitely find something inspirational.

People want to connect with other people, and we would do well to remember that in business and in our social lives. Here are three tips to help create understanding.

1. Just be polite

It may seem an easy thing for some, but talking to colleagues can be daunting for others.

Yes, you’re all there to work for a common goal, but people and their individual personalities can be tricky to determine.

If there’s one piece of advice that I often give my students and even my daughter, it’s just to be polite.

It doesn’t cost anything and it doesn’t take much to greet someone, but, it makes the world of difference. Try it and you will see instant results.

2. Keep a record

Whatever you do at work should be documented. Write it down, keep a diary, make notes in a book, whichever method suits you best.

If you’ve written it down, you always have something to refer to. That way, you avoid any kind of “he said, she said” situation and you have evidence to back you up.

3. Say what you do, do what you say

It really is difficult for some people to tell others what it is they do in a day. For others, they can talk about themselves for hours on end.

However, it is crucial to tell people what you do, and even more important to do what you said you would do. In that way, we build and maintain accountability and integrity.

In the modern world of communication, the integrity of our business is what separates us from the rest. However, we can’t say that we have integrity as a business if we don’t practice it ourselves.

By Keshina Thaver

Escaping spam marketing

Daily we are bombarded with in-your-face marketing and advertising from unsolicited calls from telemarketers to pop-up advertising and people adding us to Whatsapp and Facebook groups.

I read on https://compareguru.co.za/news/spam-scam-opt-good that South Africa has the fifth highest number of spam calls monthly in the world. The article says “only 1% of our intrusive calls are marked as scam calls. 39% of them come from telemarketing, 24% financial and 13% from insurance companies. Debt collectors, surprisingly, only made up 3%”.

I don’t know about you but I am sick and tired of it!

I have been polite to sales people calling me after hours, requesting that they remove me from their database (which doesn’t happen) and I have had my share of rants at these poor souls who are only doing their job.

Earlier this year my frustration reached a peak when my father passed away. On the day of his funeral I received a sales call from a well-known insurance company, when I realised the nature of the call I cut it off.

Five minutes later another sales person from the same company was on the line reciting the same sales pitch. I lost it completely! I’m sure that poor sales person must still be undergoing therapy for what I unleashed on her.

Since that day I decided that I’m having it my way (pun intended). I have started a conscious audit of the communication I receive. I no longer just accept it by ignoring/ deleting spam and being polite/ranting to telemarketers.

Here are my 5 tips on what you can do to escape the spam:

  1. Register on the Direct Marketing Association of South Africa (DMASA) National Opt Out Database https://www.nationaloptout.org/. This only works for members of DMASA and you have to re-register every year.
  2. Install Truecaller on your mobile phone to identify and block spam calls. Visit the website https://www.truecaller.co.za/ for more information or download the app from the google play store for android at https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.truecaller or for iphone from the app store https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/truecaller/id448142450?mt=8
  3. When friends, family or business associates add you to Whatsapp groups without requesting your permission it is not rude to leave the group. I do, however, suggest that you send them a polite message as well.
  4. Unfortunately Facebook allows your friends to add you to groups so watch for this and leave the group if it is not relevant information you are interested in. You can set your privacy settings so that friends can’t post directly onto your timeline and you can decide to allow to add to timeline or not.
  5. My final tip is simple because none of the other tips really work – don’t give out your contact information!

 

We have a right to OPT OUT. The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) 68 of 2008 says it is illegal for companies to make and send unsolicited marketing calls and messages to consumers who have “opted out”.

The new Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI), which will hopefully come into effect by the end of 2018, will further clarify the law on direct marketing do’s and don’ts.

Marketers will be required to offer an “opt out” for existing clients and new clients will be able to give consent or deny consent for their contact information to be used for direct marketing. Implementation of this act cannot come quick enough!

As a marketing manager, I’m all for marketing and advertising that offers me valuable information or entertains me, but please get it right.

Great marketing will often have me buying something I don’t need, but poor marketing will ensure that as much as I want or need a product, I will not buy it on principle.

I hope you enjoy our blogs and don’t “opt out”!

By Donné Gierke

 

 

Moving on to better things

This past month has been really difficult for me. My brother and his family have emigrated to the United States for the next three years, at least.

My heart especially broke at the thought of my nieces leaving. They are still young, aged seven and one and a half, and so we will miss the greater part of their childhood.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m overjoyed at the opportunities and the wonderful new experiences they will have. But that’s the heartbreak. I’m so happy for them but I want cuddles too!

Their moving happened so fast, none of us have had time to catch our breath. My brother told me when he had gone for an interview and I was excited for him. That was three months ago, and now they have gone already!

I don’t think people realise what It means to move your entire life, household and family to another country. The biggest problem was trying to get rid of all their things!

You don’t fully realise how much stuff you accumulate over a short period of time, and when you have small children, the stuff accumulates exponentially.

As much as their moving needs and the logistics were taken care of by the company, when moving day arrived and the actual container arrived, it was a big shock, and even more things had to be left behind.

Minor things became big problems. Because they are moving to the US and the voltage is different, they could not take any of their electrical appliances. There was no space for beds or linens either.

So when they arrived, they had to live in an empty house for a week, until they could get a social security number which would enable them to make large purchases.

New work, new school, new climate, everyone getting sick, it was all a bit much. And all the while, the rest of us at home are left worrying and frustrated because we can’t help.

Then there is the customs experience. Whether it is Home Affairs or the US Embassy, dealing with government officials and having your children in tow is draining and time consuming.

To have to deal with the emotional stress of them leaving is one thing, but the legalities that we have to sort out on their behalf, finalising the sale of goods and vehicles, lease agreements and transfers are also very stressful for everyone on both sides of the Atlantic.

The rushed nature of their emigration meant that if my brother wasn’t organised with paperwork and legal documents, a lot of important financial and legal arrangements could not have been seen to by us after they left.

I’m just grateful that after all the upheaval, we can still keep in contact. Thanks to apps like WhatsApp and Skype the distance doesn’t seem so far and we can still talk to each other frequently.

I still want my cuddles though and it looks like I will have to start planning a visit as soon as I can face all the paperwork again!

By Keshina Thaver

BSO_Email_image

Email etiquette

I was watching a kid’s TV show with my daughter and the storyline was that all the main actors had to go back in time to 1989 to prevent a disaster.

The lead characters numerous and very funny attempts to access the internet, which did not even exist in 1989, was a stark reminder how far we’ve advanced in technology and how we take so many things for granted.

For example, writing an email. Did you even know that email is short for ‘electronic mail’ and is modelled on formal letter writing?

Letter writing used to be an art. I remember writing to a friend who changed schools and we took so much care over our words. We wrote neatly, explained what we meant, were polite and most importantly, paid attention to our spelling!

I think that because we’re all so used to using emails and being able to access them from virtually anywhere that we almost take them for granted.

This can be very dangerous. Emails are legally binding, just like letters are, so you need to be very mindful of how you express yourself and ensure that your meaning is clear.

If you are writing emails for work purposes, there is no point where slang, swear words or discriminatory language is acceptable. Ever.

Even if you have emailed someone and you two have been corresponding for a while, there is no call to become overly familiar.

Just in case no one told you, capital letters or bold text are unnecessary and off-putting. Quite frankly, you come off as rude and demanding, and no one wants to deal with anyone like that.

And worst of all, highlighting text or using red text to engage with someone you hope to assist you, is just wrong.

The point of any communication is to share information in order to get a desired result that benefits all the parties involved.

Very often, emails are the first and only point of contact for people, so it is important to remain polite at all times.

When we are inundated by technology all day long and are using the same device to communicate with family and friends, co-workers and business partners, the lines can easily become blurred.

Reading a well-written email is very much like dealing with a well-mannered person in that the experience is a pleasant one. However, you will definitely notice when you are interacting with an ill-mannered, rude person. Remember that when you are composing your next email and see how your communication changes for the better.

By Keshina Thaver

Be smart

I’m a busy person, I like being busy, it keeps me out of trouble. However, being busy and being productive are two very different things. In the beginning when I started being very busy (three jobs, masters study, mom duties) my very organised partner said that I needed to be smart if I wanted to keep my sanity.

All manner of smart responses crossed my mind, none of which were remotely connected to what he meant. But he soon explained himself, you see, smart is actually an acronym for a goal setting technique that helps you to be productive and focus your time and energy.

S – Be Specific

M – Measurable

A – Actionable                       = S.M.A.R.T.

R – Realistic

T – Timely

Each of the letters is a trigger for you to remember what you need to do.

S

Make a specific goal, choose one and be clear about what it is you want to achieve. You can use the following questions to help you decide:
  • What do I want to accomplish?
  • Why is this goal important?
  • Who is involved?
  • Where is it going to take place?
  • Which resources do I need?

M

Having measurable goals is important because it helps you to stay focussed and keep track of your goals. When identifying measurable goals, you should ask questions such as:
  • Is this goal in my control?
  • How will I know when I have succeeded

A

Goals that are achievable are realistic and you feel that you can take action. So as much as they are a challenge, they are still possible to reach. The questions you need to ask are:
  • What do I need to do to achieve this goal?
  • How realistic is this goal, based on the constraints I have?

R

Set realistic goals that are relevant to you and that align with other goals you may have. As much as you need help and support in achieving your goals, you must be able to achieve them on your own. The type of questions you need to ask are:
  • Is now the right time to do this?
  • Am I the right person for this task?

T

Time frames help you focus on a deadline and give you something to work towards. Setting up a schedule helps to plan and organise your tasks in manageable loads. Questions you need to ask are:
  • When is the deadline?
  • What can I do today?
  • What can I do this week/month etc?

And that is how you teach yourself to work smart. Look, all organisational tools involve a process, and somethings you will find more useful than others. The key to this whole exercise lies in how it breaks down your goals so that you don’t feel overwhelmed and so that you have a solid framework you can work around.

For a detailed description of the S.M.A.R.T technique, visit: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/smart-goals.htm

By Keshina Thaver

Organise your life

I wish I was one of those organised women.  You know who I mean, those women who plan everything, from the colour of their toenails and what they’re going to accessorise with for the day, to their shopping lists and the activities their children are going to participate in after school.

I am not naturally one of those people, so I have had to learn in a hurry. Ever had one of those life-flashing-before-your-eyes/where-did-the-time-go moments? I have had numerous of those moments, especially since I started studying while working, trying to maintain a household and manage my tween’s life too.

So, in order manage our family’s lives, I have had to teach myself how to schedule our lives. Diaries don’t work for me. I’ve tried using them to plan, but more often than not, I end up journaling or minuting meetings than for organising. However, there are a few different tools you can use to make your life easier.

 

Kit yourself 

There are countless online tools you can use. I found the most useful apps to be ones for my cell phone, because let’s face it, we carry our phones everywhere.

My partner, who is playing the role of live-in IT guy at the moment, introduced me to Doit.im and SimpleMind, which are both available in the App Store and Google Play. Both of these are free and you can use Doit to create lists of tasks and allocate them to projects. SimpleMind is a mind mapping app so you can create images of the tasks you need to complete.

If using the technology confuses you, then consider a project board for the home. My partner also introduced me to the Kanban project management system, and I must admit, this is the one I use the most to manage my tasks.

Kanban can become quite involved, but I find using a simple three board system works best. The first board is allocated to tasks “to do”, the second to tasks you are “doing” and the third to tasks “done”. Learn more here: https://leankit.com/learn/kanban/what-is-kanban/

Now before you say “That’s too much effort,” or “I’m not putting up three boards in my living room”, I was at an art gallery once admiring the paintings, when a family walked in to fetch their specially framed Kanban boards.

I like talking to people so I asked them why they were putting up these Kanban boards in their dining room—didn’t it make their home look a bit like a factory?

The dad actually explained that they have four children going through high school, both he and his wife have high level jobs and if they wanted to be successful, be in charge of their lives, and teach their children good coping methods, then sacrificing a little wall space for a few years was nothing.

For some people having a visual aid that shows them what to do, and more importantly what to expect, makes all the difference, and that is what is key to organisational skills. Once you know what you need to do and what to expect, you automatically feel prepared and confident about completing your tasks.

By Keshina Thaver

Protect your children

Just last week, there were three attempted abductions in the area around my daughter’s school. Suddenly there were a flurry of WhatsApp messages, Facebook posts and inboxes about being extra viglilant with your children.

It made me feel like my behaviour has been justified. You see, I’m an overprotective mom. I know I am. I’ve been called paranoid to my face, I’ve been told I’m over-reacting when it comes to my child’s safety and that I need to calm down. I’ve been told that by legal professionals and by other parents.

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been a journalist for so long and have had to bear witness to so many stories about children who are abused over the years, or whether it’s because I have had to play counselor to some of my female students who have been abused and raped, but I have a constant fear about my daughter’s safety.

My studies on gender have not helped allay my fears either, in fact, the more people I speak to, the more horrified I become at what people are capable of doing to each other.

We live in an unsafe time. Perhaps in the past these abuses against children did not happen, perhaps they did and people just did not speak about them. One thing is for certain, just 10 years ago people did not have access to information the way we do now. That is why old notions, such as “children need to be seen and not heard,” need to change immediately.

Technology has radically changed the way in which we share information, and just as easy as it is for you to search for the latest news, someone else can search for images of your child. Add just a little bit of technological savvy and you have someone who can gain access to your personal information at the click of a button.

There have also been letters from the police, from schools, as well as online videos warning of children being snatched while the parents are holding on to them.

It’s not rocket science, it really isn’t. Know where your children are and keep them close to you at all times. Make sure they know who is safe to collect them from school and if they aren’t sure, they need to have a safe word. If you can put a password on your phone, you can teach your child to use a password with strangers too.

His holiness the 14th Dalai Lama said that much of our problems today are because we have begun to place value on things instead of people. He is a very insightful man and I tend to agree with him on this one. A recent investigation by Carte Blanche showed how easily children can be stolen, for a meagre R5000 payment, only to be abused, enslaved and drugged so adults can make money off of them.

As parents we have one responsibility to our children; to ensure they have a safe space where they can learn to become the best people they can be. There are going to be times when we can’t protect them, but every day is an opportunity to ensure that we do our best to try to keep them safe.

If you live in the Border-Kei area and have any concerns regarding your child, need advice or just someone to talk to, contact the Masimanyane Women’s Support Centre on 043 743 9169. You don’t have to be a woman to get help, and they can direct you to legal aid as well as counselling and support services.

By Keshina Thaver

BSO_Retirement_image

Take control of your future

One of the first conversations my father had with me (after the BIG girl talk) was about financial freedom. He told me very clearly that no matter what happens in my life, I must try to save as much as I can so that I can be financially independent.

“Don’t worry about having things,” he said, “make sure that you never have to rely on anyone for your security”. I will never forget those words, and throughout all the upheaval I have experienced in my life, I am so grateful that I listened to him.

Sadly, a lot of women do not receive the same kind of advice, and instead rely on the hope of good fortune in the future, or live in the hope that their husbands or children will take care of them.

There is no certainty that your family will be able to take of you when you retire. There are horrifying stories of women who have been abandoned by their husbands, children or extended families.

That stokvel you’ve been religiously contributing to, isn’t very secure either. There are countless stories of people making off with the collections, leaving the women in the group destitute.

I have known women who haven’t followed up on the financial arrangements in their marriage, only to find themselves saddled with crippling debt once their husbands pass away.

There are examples of women who have been completely written out of wills, who have handed over their wealth to family for safekeeping, only to be left destitute.

While this is also a form of financial abuse many women have to deal with, it is one that can be rectifed fairly easily. All it takes is a visit to the HR department at your workplace, a bank, or a financial planner to discuss what you can afford to put away.

One woman I spoke to calls it her Get Out Fund. She is happily married, her husband is devoted to her and the children and takes care of them very well, and she is involved in planning for their retirement and death.

However, she still has a secret stash that she does not touch and that her husband does not know about. Every month she puts away R10 or R1000 depending on what she can afford at the time.

“I love my family. We really are blessed to have been together for so long and to be so happy. But I still put that money away come rain or shine. It just makes me feel safe,” she said.

All of us need to take control of our finances. As much as the idea of lucrative future windfall is appealing, you cannot leave your comfort and peace of mind during your retirement to chance.

It can be very daunting. I know. I find it very difficult to have extra cash just lying about, it tempts me to spend it on something I don’t need. So, I have arranged for it to go off my account like a debit order. I don’t have to think about it every month, but it’s there waiting for me when I retire. You really can’t buy that sense of peace and freedom.

If there’s one thing I would like to urge you to do, is to take control of your financial independence. There are even insurance companies and financial services that cater specifically to women’s needs. All you need to do is take that step.

By Keshina Thaver

Sexual harassment at work

‘Sexual harassment’ is one of the most feared terms in the workspace. The other is ‘audit’. But while there are a number of checks and balances in place to deal with audits, there are very few guidelines on how to deal with sexual harassment.

Usually it’s only the people in HR who know how to deal with any harassment issues, and even then, they’re only called into play when someone feels it necessary to report any issues.

Having experienced harassment myself and having spoken to an alarming number of men and women who have experience harassment during the course of my studies on gender bias in the workplace, the number one reason people do not report harassment is because they’re so shocked that they don’t know what to do. The second reason is that they don’t want to cause any trouble.

There is an underlying sense of shame and embarrassment around ‘making a fuss’ and being labelled as a spoil sport or being overly sensitive. One of the males I spoke to said the constant jokes about being gay started to wear him down, and while there was nothing overtly antagonistic or aggressive with the comments, they were made at inappropriate times and led to him feeling like the quality of his work was being overlooked because of his sexuality.

Comments are one thing, but physical harassment becomes quite damaging to the person who has to endure it. A woman, who now runs quite a successful business, shared her experiences of being molested as an intern by the person who was supposed to be mentoring her. In her youth and naivety, she kept quiet and suffered the indignity of having to work with her abuser before she was forced to resign due to the stress it caused.

This is an all too common occurrence in the workplace and while very often the victims are young and new to the office environment, harassment knows no age limit or gender preference. There is also the fear of offending colleagues whom you could be working with for many years to come. We also have an exceptionally high unemployment rate in SA, and the pressure to hold a consistent job is immense.

Very importantly too, work spaces are largely multicultural and therefore what one person thinks is harmless fun, could be deeply offensive to another. For some, cultural norms dictate that it is unacceptable to be rude to elders or seniors, and so instead of making a fuss and in fear of reprisal, most remain quiet.

The Protection from Harassment Act No 17 of 2011 clearly states that “sexual harassment” means any:

(a) unwelcome sexual attention from a person who knows or ought reasonably to know that such attention is unwelcome;

(b) unwelcome explicit or implicit behaviour, suggestions, messages or remarks of a sexual nature that have the effect of offending, intimidating or humiliating the complainant or a related person in circumstances, which a reasonable person having regard to all the circumstances would have anticipated that the complainant or related person would be offended, humiliated or intimidated;

(c) implied or expressed promise of reward for complying with a sexually oriented request; or;

(d) implied or expressed threat of reprisal or actual reprisal for refusal to comply with a sexually oriented request.

Each work place should have very clear processes in place on how to deal with instances of sexual harassment. And if your company doesn’t have one, then it’s high time that you start the process of developing one.

It is very important to familiarise yourself with your business’ harassment policy. You might not need it, but you can always help someone who does.

However, if the victim feels like their rights are being further abused by the internal processes of the company, they may approach the Department of Labour, the police or the court of law.

Besides following process, the first and most important step is to speak about it. Tell someone, anyone, but don’t keep it bottled up inside. I believe very strongly that most of the ills in our society stem from the fact that people are afraid to talk openly about sensitive issues.

That is why from a very early age, I have already started having talks with my daughter about inappropriate behaviour. Now that she is 10 years old, we speak about abuse and rape. Forewarned is fore-armed as the saying goes. with a woman in this country being raped every four minutes, I’m not taking any chances.

Knowledge is power, and sadly, we might not be physically strong enough to overcome abuse, but we don’t have to allow the abuse to continue, there are ways to empower ourselves. We all have the right to live and work with dignity.

By Keshina Thaver

Challenging gender perceptions

Every time Woman’s Day rolls around, I’m filled with hope and admiration for what women have achieved for their emancipation, how women are driving changes in their personal spaces and within communities, how they are making inroads into the powerful positions in government and business.

I become so hopeful that attitudes towards women have changed and that we are finally moving towards a truly egalitarian society where everyone is appreciated and valued for the unique skills they have to offer. I feel proud to be a woman and proud that I am raising a young woman in a world such as this.

But then I read the news and it’s like a ton of bricks have come crashing down on my spirit. The stories are almost too horrifying to list, rape, abuse of women and children, molestation, HIV – the cycle of violence and abuse seems never ending.

And then you get someone like Manglin Pillay, CEO of the South African Institute of Civil Engineers, whose comments in the media recently have left me dumbfounded at the mysogyny that continues to plague our society.

Here is an individual who is in one of the top senior business positions in the country, who has influence over how his profession is perceived and will grow in the future, and yet, he feels free to make gross generalisations about women and what women want, as well as make dangerous assumptions about what roles women should play in business and society.

Pillay and the men like him who have a mysogynistic, patriarchal mindset, really don’t see the problem with relegating women to nurturing, child-bearing, housekeeping and other more subservient roles because those attitudes towards women are accepted and perpetrated within our society daily.

One only has to turn on the news for examples of what I am talking about. According to Crime Statistics South Africa, 49445 rapes were reported to the police in 2017. Those are just the reported cases. No one reports the unsolicited cat calls and groping, the name calling and belittling attitudes.
No one goes to the police to report a family member forcing them to do the cooking and wash dishes because they are a female, and no one goes to the police because their boss told them to make the coffee or take meeting minutes because they are a woman.

The call for parity is not just for attitudes towards women to change, but also for equal work opportunities and equal pay. The Global Gender Gap report of 2015 stated that it will take another 118 years for women to earn the same as men. Women make up half the world’s population and yet they are still not included in businesses future plans.

And therein lies the problem. It is because we force people into roles that they do not necessarily identify with that we have issues of conflict and discrimination. Who is to say that a man would not prefer staying at home and looking after the children? Why is it an automatic assumption that all women want to have children? What does being a woman or being pregnant have to do with the ability to do a job?

These are the types of questions we should be asking instead of turning back towards the dark ages and trying to disenfranchise women by basing decisions on whether the individual has a uterus or not.

It all boils down to cultivating an attitude of mutual respect. Men really need to ask themselves that if the roles were reversed and women treated men the way men treated women, would they tolerate it?

All it takes is a little bit of mindfulness about people’s roles. Imagine if we perceived peoples roles as collaborative instead of subservient, regardless of the responsibility – that’s the stuff of revolutions.

Women’s Day should be an opportunity for all of us to challenge our perceptions about gender discrimination and make a conscientious effort to improve gender awareness in our personal, professional and business life.

By Keshina Thaver