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.

Thursday, 07 March 2013 08:19

Difficult conversations

I’ve just received a mail on some interesting research from the authors of Crucial Conversations: (Patterson, Grenny et al, McGraw Hill 2002)

Based on an online survey of 549 people in USA, the research team found that 25 % of people put in between four and six extra hours of work each week because of colleagues who are slacking off.

93% of the respondents say they have at least one co-worker who is not performing as well as they should; and 80% of people say that the quality of their own work declines when they pick up work that should be done by others.

Giving constructive feedback on non-performance can be difficult under any circumstances and employees are understandably reluctant to give performance feedback to each other. Only 10% say they do.

Others cite five reasons for not speaking up. They feel that nothing they say will make a difference: they don’t want to undermine the working relationship: they feel it’s not their place to speak up; and if they do, they may face retaliation. They also don’t know how to approach difficult conversations such as these.

While these are valid reasons for not speaking up, they don’t take into account the consequences on team performance when people don’t speak up: low productivity, lost revenue and strained relationships.

For more on the skills involved in speaking up and giving effective feedback click here.

Friday, 01 March 2013 15:40


Straight Talk articles featured in Dainfern's magazine

Friday, 01 March 2013 15:31

Fourways Gardens

Straight Talk articles featured in Fourways Garden's magazine

Wednesday, 13 February 2013 11:20

Do you have what it takes?

President Barack Obama recently awarded former Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha with the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest honor for courage.

In 2009 Ramesha and about 50 American soldiers faced more than 300 Taliban forces at Combat Outpost Keating in Afghanistan. Outpost Keating had been built at the bottom of three steep mountains, providing the enemy with a tactical advantage. The Taliban assault was from 360 degrees and the higher ground. Romesha's leadership was crucial in regaining control of the camp after it was overrun by the Taliban.

Romesha himself is humble and laconic, still haunted by the deaths of the soldiers he could not save. In an interview with CNN he says ‘When you tell someone you're going to do something, you do it… your actions are what make you.' He went on to say that they had the tools and the training; the spirit and the support. So they did what had to be done: few words, strong deeds.

Corporations aren’t often short on either tools or training, and you probably have plenty of both to do your job. 

The spirit in Romesha’s team and the support he had from his men speaks to the calibre of his leadership. His fellow troops say they wonder if they would have survived without his fierce determination. One said ‘There are few people I would follow to hell and back; he is one of them.’ 

Your corporate leadership challenges may not be as raw and life threatening as they are in the military, but the principles are the same.

Do you measure up?

Wednesday, 13 February 2013 11:18

Keep It Simple, Stupid

K.I.S.S. We all know the old acronym. Why then are so many people drowning in complexity and chaos?  The life you lead is the one you choose. Here are four tips for making choices that keep to the K.I.S.S. principle

Fix your focus

Decide what will make most impact on moving you in the direction you want to go. Focus on it, get it done. Then tackle the next step. If you make everything a priority, then you have no priorities. It’s now well known that multi-tasking merely produces poorer quality work that overall, takes longer.

Confirm commitment

Much of what we do requires input of some kind from others. Take time to get their commitment up front, check they have the skills to get the job done and agree on how obstacles will be handled. Commitment to plans pre-empts chaos.

Rules and routines

Too many rules can become restrictive, but when some ground rules and routines are agreed, work (and families) function more smoothly. Less time need be spent on repetitive decisions; everyone understands how things operate; life becomes simpler.

Clear the clutter

Your in-box has 900 mails; the file you need urgently is somewhere in the piles on your desk; the important phone number you put away safely is lost forever, and your car keys are missing again. When your life is physically cluttered, irritation and frustration are inevitable. Clear the clutter so you can clear your head.


Judging by the number of really tough conversations I have encountered amongst friends and colleagues since the year began; life is complicated. Many of these conversations are pivotal to our jobs and relationships. It’s tough to handle them constructively. 

  • Do any of them sound familiar?
  • Young woman who needs to ask her manager to clarify her job responsibilities: but fears she might sound stupid or without initiative.
  • How do you tell a friend that the unhappy relationship she is in will, in your opinion, never be any better? Or do you say anything at all?
  • A team leader whose staff member continues to ignore the rules about calling in when she can’t come to work on time. Warning her for insubordination seems heavy handed but blatant bad behaviour can’t be allowed to continue.
  • Young man who feels left out of the decision making process in his team. Is he over-reacting or is he missing something?
  • To a friend with such a negative, pessimistic attitude that she’s dragging down everyone around her. Who’s going to confront her?
  • An HR person has been asked to give feedback on personal behaviour to a senior manager. Is this her responsibility? Does she have enough first hand data? How does she make the conversation safe?
  • How do you get through to a person with a highly inflated opinion of their competence and a defensive attitude to go along with it?
  • A new manager wants to hold to account someone who has been allowed to do his own thing for years and explicitly declares he has no intention of changing his ways.
  • You’re in a relationship that you have drifted into and allowed to continue, even though it causes you constant stress and unhappiness. Can you fix it? Should you accept it? Or should you speak up and end it?
  • How are you going to tell your boss that you can see no way to meet the new sales target you have been given? You were not asked for any input when it was set.
  • Who is going to speak up to a family member who hogs the airspace in every conversation? What’s the alternative?

Click here to learn how to manage difficult conversations with Straight Talk.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013 09:22

Soft skills matter

A recent article in the Bloomberg Business Week emphasises – again – that it’s soft skills which determine your long term career success. 

Roxanne Hori, the associate dean of corporate partnerships at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management advises students planning their MBA classes to take as many soft skills subjects as they do hard skills such as finance, strategy and operations.

Without doubt, hard skills are fundamental to getting onto the right career ladder. But having strong team skills and knowing how to build and manage relationships are just as important. 

They become even more so in more senior positions when everyone even being considered as a candidate has the hard or technical skills under their belts. The competencies that make the difference between one candidate and another are the soft ones.

Hori’s advice to young people starting off in their careers is to pay as much attention to skills in leading and managing teams, negotiating and managing power in organisations, and in building productive relationships.

It’s good advice.

Join the discussion on the Bloomberg Businessweek Business School Forum

Tuesday, 29 January 2013 09:21

Maybe you should be back at school

I’ve been watching school children this morning on their way to the first day of term, thinking of all the things they’ll learn and all the questions they’ll ask as they grow up.

We ask them questions.

‘What did you do today?’

‘What did you learn today?’

’What do you want to be when you grow up?’

Have you asked yourself the same questions recently?

What will you do today that will make a difference and contribute something valuable to your employer or your clients?

Will you learn anything new today, or are you coasting along on the basis of previously learned skills and experience – which may or may not still be relevant.

Are you on the way to achieving your potential in your career or are you stuck, bored and frustrated?

First day back at school for kids: it’s a good time to think about whether you need to get back to school.

Monday, 14 January 2013 19:48

Are you a planner or an improvisor?

Some people have lives that are organised and structured. They decide what must be done and consistently do it, with carefully considered plans. Their schedules and To Do lists are full.

Others, by contrast, take a more spontaneous and open minded view of life. They have a live and let live attitude. They can improvise plans and change them as conditions change.

People who are well balanced have the perception to understand which style is most appropriate at any given time, but each of us has a preference for one or the other.

Do you chart every step ahead or do you improvise with whatever life deals you? Which description in the questions below most closely describes the style with which you are most comfortable?

1. A friend is late picking you up for dinner.

a.    You’re upset. You can’t stand unreliability.
b.    It’s not a problem. It gives you more time to get ready.

2. You have a busy work and social life.

a.    You spend Sunday evenings planning your week into your diary, scheduling time with friends, exercise and cultural activities with the same care that you give to work.
b.    There’s no point in planning. Things change all the time. You’ll improvise as things come along.

3. Some friends invite you for an impromptu weekend in the bush.

a.    You decline. You always have things to do at weekends. Your trips away are booked for the year.
b.    You’ve said you’ll get back to them. You’ll think about it. There will  be some new people in the group and it might be fun.

4. You see a missed call on your phone from a number you don’t recognise.

a.    You return the call as a matter of course to find out what it is about.
b.    You don’t bother with missed calls. If someone wants you, they’ll call back.

5. You have a big birthday coming up.

a.    You’ve booked a venue and planned all the details months in advance.
b.    You’ll see what you feel like on the day. Maybe there’ll be a surprise party.

6. A vacancy is circulated at work.

a.    You immediately checked your cv, you keep it updated; and took it along to HR to find out the steps in the process.
b.    You need to find out more about the job. Maybe your boss will put your name forward.

7. Some overseas friends are coming to stay.

a.    You’ve been planning for months. You’ve re-organised the house, planned outings, stocked the kitchen shelves. You’re looking forward to telling them what they’ll be doing.
b.    You’ve thought of lots of things you can do together. You’re looking forward to talking when they arrive. They might have some other interesting ideas.

8. You’ve come back from a wonderful holiday with your family.

a.    You made the plans for next year before you left. It’s your annual family holiday destination.
b.    You haven’t thought about next year. Something interesting will come along during the year.

9. You have two weeks leave coming up.
a.    The airfares are booked and you have a detailed itinerary for the whole trip.
b.    You haven’t decided yet. You might explore along the coast, stopping where your fancy takes you.

10. You have a best friend you’ve known for years.
a.    You have regular things you do together. You never drop in on each other unannounced.
b.    You love her company but you can go for ages without getting together or speaking.

11. There’s a problem. Something has gone wrong.

a. You’ve done everything you could. Someone else must be at fault.
b. No need to stress. Life happens.

12. You have a belief that guides your life.

a.    It’s best to take charge so you know things will work out properly.
b.    Don’t worry – be happy!

How did you do?

If you answered mostly (a)s, you are full of energy and drive. You’re always reliable and most comfortable planning, organising and telling others what do. Be careful though that you don’t miss out on interesting and unexpected things; or that you aren’t unduly upset when plans don’t work out as you expected.

Too many (a)s and you could become a control freak…try backing off occasionally.

If you answered mostly (b)s, you are easy going and relaxed about the future. You’re interesting and fun to be around but you are at risk of being overwhelmed by problems that you have not anticipated or planned for.

Instead of blaming others, consider how a little more order in your life would help you achieve goals that are important to you.

Monday, 14 January 2013 12:17

You really gotta wanna

It’s resolution time: lose weight, get fit, stop smoking, reduce stress, play more golf, spend more family time, read more. At work it’s about strategizing, setting goals and targets, making plans: to become more innovative, launch new products, increase sales, reduce headcount, improve customer service.
What all these grand intentions have in common is the need for change in our behaviour. You can’t get different outcomes from the same old inputs. And there’s the rub. Skills and competencies aren’t so impossible to change. With some effort you’ll learn the new computer system; and your golf will improve – a little.  
But often the behaviour you need to change is part of your customary way of life or is regulated by the policies and procedures of the organisation. It might be linked to deeply held personal beliefs and values or is entrenched in a culture. Maybe it’s a pattern of living and working ingrained over a lifetime.
Change at these levels isn’t easy. You really gotta wanna. It’s the strength of the want that fuels your energy, creativity and perseverance. And it’s what keeps you going when you’re scared: scared that you might fail – or that you might succeed.
What do you really really want to achieve this year? Nothing will change until you can answer that question with conviction.