Maureen Collins

Maureen Collins

Maureen Collins has a B Sc degree in Psychology from Edinburgh University and over 20 years of management and consulting experience in the African corporate world. She started her career in the mining industry with Anglo American in Zambia before coming to South Africa in 1976 to join AECI. She then worked for Afrox and the Barlow’s Group before joining the FSA Contact consulting group in1985. From 1995 to 2006 she was an Associate of Gateways Business Consultants. She now consults independently as Straight Talk.

Maureen has consulted extensively in the chemical and manufacturing sectors and in other organisations such as Telkom, SARS, Harmony Gold Mining Company and TFMC. Her current clients include Wesbank, Safmarine, Rand Air, Aberdare Cables, Ovations, Johannesburg Securities Exchange, Nedbank, Development Bank of South Africa, Gauteng Department of Health, and Multichoice.

Maureen’s experience is in management and leadership training; team building, and handling change and transition. She has trained managers extensively in performance management. The challenge of improving the quality of performance feedback given by managers to their employees lead to her interest in the field of emotional intelligence as a means of improving communication in the corporate world.

In designing the Straight Talk material she has drawn on her own experience and a broad range of resources to help people improve their communication skills in the difficult conversations they encounter in their professional and personal lives.

Click here for feedback on the Wise Talk Breakfast held on 5 February.

Our next breakfast will be on 20 June 2014 .

Monday, 11 November 2013 11:11

Assess your company culture

Change starts from here. Where is here in your organisation?




1. Information overload 


attention deficit


2. Always on


no time for reflection



3. Everyone’s informed 


rampant gossip


4. Assertive employees 

leaders lose credibility



5. Leaders model poor behaviours 


are accused of double standards



6. Leaders are flexible and responsive


are accused of being inconsistent


7. Next generation leaders are coming through


more focus on short term goals


8. Poor performance


unequal distribution of responsibility


9. Lack of skills and experience

unequal distribution of responsibility



10. High turnover amongst young people


unequal distribution of responsibility


11. Awful attitudes 


de-energised teams


12. Underuse of talent 


disengaged employees


13. Flexi-time, telecommuting


poor relationships


14. Physically distanced 

poor relationships



15. Knowledge specialisation


prima donnas


16. New technology




17. Social media 


confusion and distraction


18. Regulatory and compliance environment


confusion and distraction


19. Diversity; culture, age, gender


confusion and distraction


20. Fear that targets will not be met


competition and game play between teams


21. Fear of job loss


competition and game play between employees


22. No time to fix anything




Monday, 11 November 2013 11:05

What does here look like

The culture of an organisation is what we make it. Some of us have more influence than others, but everyone shares responsibility for the final mix.

There aren’t many healthy, empowering cultures around. Some are so toxic that if they were chemical sludge there would be nasty green vapour rising from them and we would stay well away. Instead, we adapt. But there’s a lot to adapt to.
Always-on smart phones and I-pads are largely res

ponsible for the information overload that characterizes our workspaces. Attention deficit disease is pandemic. We’re constantly in immediate response mode without time for reflection or creative thought. And because everyone is ‘the first to know’, gossip runs rampant.

The increasing numbers of 20 and 30 somethings in the workforce challenge old fashioned, authoritative leadership style. Young people are critical of double standards and demanding of competence and credibility.

While the pressure for productivity has never been higher, performance standards are generally low. Poor management-employee relationships, high turnover coupled with lack of skills and experience, and underuse of talented people mean that there is an unequal spread of workload, responsibility… and stress.

Meanwhile, there’s constant pressure to get smarter in our own fields, learn new technologies, keep up with social media and comply with environmental and regulatory requirements.
It’s no wonder we’re tired…and scared. By now everyone is familiar with the euphemisms of streamlining, rightsizing and restructuring.

In fact our problems are more manageable than we think. At both an individual and corporate level we can choose to take ownership for the culture we are creating and start to move it in a planned, constructive direction.

The change has to start from here. What does here look like in your organisation?

Use this checklist find your answers.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013 14:31


Do your children use any of these behaviours?

  • They whinge, whine and negotiate until they get what they want
  • They leave toys and clothes lying around knowing that you will clear up after them
  • They agree to rules of the household and then break them constantly
  • They lie around watching TV while you cook and wash up

Do you realise that you have taught them to behave like this?

It works like this. If your child experiences a positive result from something they do, they are likely to behave that way in future. If they see no result from their behaviour, or if there is a negative consequence, then they are less likely to behave that way again.

In practice this means that if your children get what they want by whining until you give in, they learn that this behaviour is successful. There is a positive consequence. So they use it again and again. They also get better at it!

If, on the other hand they find that dinner is not put on the table until they leave the TV and help in its preparation, they learn that TV watching has a negative consequence. It may take a little time, but eventually they will learn that helping with supper gets it on the table sooner.

Notice I use the word ‘eventually’. If your children have learned behaviours that you now wish to change, it can take a while and a great deal of determination and consistency on your part to influence a change.

The lesson for you is obvious. From the very beginning, the behaviours that you allow and reward your children for doing are the behaviours that you teach them to do.

Be careful what you teach!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013 14:29

Giving Praise

It saddens me to see how so many adults have poor self-esteem and low self-confidence. By the time you are in your twenties, thirties and beyond, life patterns are in place that are hard to change. It would be so much easier if we had not acquired those negative perceptions of ourselves in the first place!

While many factors go to make up our children’s perception of themselves, there is one element that, as a parent, you can do much to influence.

You can praise your children. You can reward them when they do well. You can catch them doing things right and acknowledge them for it. So long as you are sincere and specific in what you say, you can’t overdo positive feedback.

Positive feedback is what helps build confidence and self-esteem.

There are two simple steps to giving positive feedback. Describe what your child did in a little detail. Then tell him or her how you feel about it.

‘Thank you for putting away every single one of your toys.
You’ve really helped. It will be easy for me to tidy up later before our friends arrive.’

Then stop!

In reality, we are usually more ready to find fault than to praise. But too much fault finding produces children, and then adults, who are anxious, unsure of their own abilities and insecure.

Focus on the positive things that your children do. While there are many aspects of their lives that you cannot control or even influence, you can always tell them when you think they do good. So do it.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013 14:27


You know what it’s like to play Supermum: the one who’s there for everyone, who remembers everything, who takes care of the details and sorts out the problems long after everyone else has collapsed in a heap.

The smartest Supermums also know how to keep themselves in a good space so they can continue being Supermums. They have learned how to say ‘No’ without sound uncaring, unwilling or just plain grumpy - not good Supermum behaviours!

The steps below will help you CARE for yourself.

Start by being Clear on exactly what the other person wants from you. Ask for the details of what, when, who, why and how much. You need to be aware of exactly what you are getting into, or the basis on which you will say ‘No’.

Then Acknowledge the request. Be sure the other person knows you have heard and understood their request – not thoughtlessly refused it without listening.

Before you make a decision, Recognise your own needs, resources, constraints and priorities. Take a moment to think through your personal capabilities. If you don’t say ‘No’ you could be the one who gets stressed!

Lastly, think through the Effect of your decision in both the short and long term. Is the request a minor one or could it have major implications for a relationship or career?

If you decide to say ‘No’ to a request be sure to explain your reasons first. That way the other person can understand and appreciate how you arrived at your decision.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013 07:13

On thin ice

Writing about emotional intelligence feels like treading on thin ice, at a time when the pressure to achieve business goals is paramount and even less attention than usual is being given to so-called soft skills.

But there is overwhelming evidence that there’s nothing soft about emotional intelligence and that it’s a need to have, not a nice to have. Lack of emotional intelligence is more often the reason for the break-up of teams and partnerships, and the de-railing of careers, than anything else.

Two of its major components are self- awareness and self-control.

The Delphi Oracle put it succinctly. ‘Know thyself’. You’ll recognise it in people who assess themselves realistically, are aware of their strengths and limitations, and have a thirst for constructive feedback. They have the confidence to admit failure, and to ask for help when necessary. They speak with candour about how they feel.

In some quarters they risk being side-lined as wimpish and not tough enough to be leaders, but nothing could be further from the truth. Most people respect others who are realistic, speak plainly and are respectful of feelings.

We all have the same biological impulses driving our emotions. But self-aware people manage theirs. They don’t let a bad mood destroy the day or the self-esteem of others; and they don’t sulk or pound tables and scream when things go wrong. A fiery temperament might be mistaken for charisma, but at the top, a lack of control can work against you.

Leaders who regulate their emotions behave reasonably. They model integrity and build environments of fairness and trust in which infighting and company politics are minimized. Fewer bad moods at the top mean fewer throughout a team or organisation.
Emotional intelligence is a set of skills that can be learned. It just takes time and commitment.

Sir Isaac Newton said it elegantly in his Third Law of Motion over 300 years ago.

When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction to that of the first body.
In simpler language it means that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Today it’s called trending.

There has been a fear amongst many people that texting, tweets, and U-tube clips will replace our need for face to face communication, and that internet friends will overtake our need – or time – for personal interactions with real people.

Trend-spotters see something different.

Baby Boomers would be the first to admit that they prefer the smell and feel of a real book rather than that of a Kindle; and the face to face interaction with a mentor or teacher rather than an on-line webinar. But despite the fact that today’s young adults were born into cyberspace and their smart phones are an extension of their fingers, there is growing evidence of a general trend identified as ‘de-teching.’

As our dependency on technology rises, so too it seems does our need to step away from it from time to time. Even as we buy more apps, e-books and downloads, and interface with the world on digital screens, our nostalgia for simpler times and physical experiences increases. Real books, board games and artisanal cooking are increasing in popularity: the value of real world shopping and face to face interactions with personal trainers is being appreciated.

You might have expected that as our interactions in the virtual world become more widespread, the value of real encounters would have shrunk. But the reverse seems to be the case and personal communication is becoming more noteworthy and more valuable.

Intuitively, it makes sense that a job application presented as a beautifully crafted cv on heavy notepaper will stand out from a crowd of emailed and photocopied applications.

Lucy Kellaway, writing in the Financial Times recently, made the case that praise or compliments received face to face from real people have for most of us, far more impact than the adulation of a faceless host of Twitter followers. Imagine how you would feel if complete strangers stopped to tell you about the wonderful customer service they had received from your shop or service.

Yet if praise delivered in person by strangers is powerful, criticism delivered face to face by a real person is even more so, and has far more impact than anything amassed from market research, social networks or other sources of ‘big data’. The more bewildered we become by the virtual world, the more we seem to be drawn to real world evidence, no matter how subjective it is.

Think about it. You’re at a dinner party with trusted friends when one of them says, ‘By the way, that new product you launched…I bought one and it’s not working for me at all. I really don’t like it. You see it’s…’ You can imagine that driving to work the next morning you’ll be talking to your production manager, (on your hands free of course) giving him details of your friend’s complaint.
It’s possible that extreme reliance on digital communication and virtual friends and followers might damage our ability to communicate in real space and time with real people. But trends tend to be cyclical. As one ebbs, another flows. It will probably even out in the long term.

Discussion paper from the Wise Talk Breakfast held on 23 October.

Our next breakfast will be on 5 February 2014 . We’ll talk about how one can develop the personal resourcefulness to survive and thrive in difficult circumstances. Click here to join us

Tuesday, 17 September 2013 14:11

Timing is everything

When it comes to conversations it’s all about timing.

Sometimes the right time to speak up is now. If someone has made a mistake, let you down or behaved outrageously, the best time to deal with it is now, before the incident is forgotten, or worse, becomes a habitual pattern of behaviour. If you’re in a boiling rage, pause for as long as it takes to get your breath back and your act together before you speak.

Other conversations need homework and careful planning. You may need to wait for the right moment to broach a touchy subject or deal with a sensitive ego. When it’s in a relationship where talking things through is important but not urgent, choosing the right time and place can be critical.

You need to choose your battles, recognising there are some conversations you really don’t need to have at all. A careless mistake, a minor slight or an occasional oversight, is often best overlooked in the to and fro of an otherwise good relationship. There are also the battles best not even contemplated because they are sure to do more harm than good.

If you don’t distinguish between the different kinds of conversations so that the ones you do have are effective, the consequences can be disastrous. You find yourself surrounded by people who are incompetent or who behave badly: you have toxic relationships where the outrageous becomes the norm: and you face disciplinary action, industrial unrest or divorce.

As the saying goes, when diplomacy fails, you go to war. Best you learn to talk.

Join us for a morning of Straight Talk that will lead to Wise thinking with top HR professionals and Managers. It will be your opportunity to share thoughts, gain perspective and receive the support you need to move your organisation toward conversations that are honest, authentic, and challenge the status quo. Click here to book