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.

Monday, 05 November 2012 11:40

You need skill and luck

Did you have any lucky breaks this year? Did lady luck smile on you? Have you been tempted to blame things that haven’t gone well on bad luck rather than on your own incompetence?

Most business leaders believe that capability, skill and hard work, rather than luck, are the keys to their success and that in many ways they create their own luck.  Gary Player is often quoted as saying ‘The more I practice the luckier I get’. But sometimes, unexpectedly and out of the blue, good things happen. Sometimes bad ones do too.

You can think of luck from three perspectives, each of which brings different meaning to the idea.

There’s the kind of luck you make for yourself through being skilful, working hard and persevering. Your good fortune is predictable, leading inevitably from the efforts you have put in.

There’s the luck of being in the right place at the right time; alert and with the courage and resources to take advantage of whatever serendipitous opportunities present themselves. This is the luck that entrepreneurs capitalize on when they seize an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage.

Finally there is the good old fashioned kind of luck that brings good fortune – or catastrophe – with no apparent effort or input on your part.

What’s undeniable is that staying on top takes skill, hard work, and some luck. Here’s hoping that you’ve capitalised on all three this year…and been rewarded accordingly.

Monday, 08 October 2012 19:35

Guidelines for paying bonuses

The end of year signals are appearing: holiday plans, exam preparation, shop displays and an increase in frenetic busy-ness. At work, it’s also bonus time. In difficult business conditions when it’s unlikely that there will be enough to go around to ensure everyone is happy, tough decisions are involved.

Whether you are making bonus decisions or are on the receiving end of those decisions, here are some considerations.

Are goals and targets fair? Bonus schemes fall into disrepute when targets are set so that they are easier for one team to achieve than another, or when a team or individual has to depend on the efforts of another to achieve a target.

Are bonuses awarded consistently? Is the history of bonus payments in the firm monitored so that bias, whether racial, gender or functional, is identified and corrected? Does the bonus scheme favour ‘hard’ skills at the expense of ‘soft’ skills?

Who is included in the scheme? Part-time and contract workers are often left out of bonus schemes, either unwittingly on the basis of assumptions about their commitment: or by formal exclusion because targets are set in ways that make them impossible for part timers to achieve. If the part-timers are predominately female there could also be a gender bias in the bonus scheme.

Is your bonus scheme transparent? The schemes most likely to cause dissatisfaction are both complex and poorly communicated. A transparent system avoids uncertainty and perceptions of unfairness.

Are bonus decisions made on sound data? Performance on both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ issues should be tracked through the year so that end of year decisions are based on more than the most recent evidence of performance.

It makes business sense and is good for labour relations when employees understand why and how they are paid. It is also good risk management, should you ever find your decisions challenged.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012 10:41

Be sure your efforts lead to results

Spring - the season of energy and renewal. We tidy cupboards, spring-clean houses and sort out garages. In the garden we prune away shoots and branches that are taking up too much space or are weak and diseased, so trees and plants can grow strongly.

Seasons and life cycles apply to products, businesses and even relationships just as they do to gardens. We ignore them at our peril. Entrepreneurs who don't realise that a start-up is a season can kill a business that matures and needs leadership skills different from their own. Product lines need to be shut down when their season is over. Friends, according to the old adage, are for reasons and seasons too. Where are you holding on when you should be letting go?

At work and in our personal lives we are busy and getting busier. When you remove the clutter that uses up energy and resources, you can put effort into things that produce better results. At work you can weed out your client list so you focus on fewer high quality customers; or cut back on strategic initiatives to get better results from a few priority areas. Friends, both real and electronic, can create clutter that prevents you build deep trusting relationships with people who are important to you.

Then there are some people and situations that are not going to change, no matter how much effort you put into them. Your life will be better when you recognize the times to cut your losses; to accept that a business will never be successful, an employee will never perform competently, or a marriage will never be happy.

When you accept that life sometimes has to be pruned, that endings are necessary, you can let go more easily and move on.


Friday, 31 August 2012 14:53

About Straight Talk

The conversations we hold with family and friends, colleagues and life partners do much to predict our success at work and the happiness and satisfaction we experience in our personal lives.

Some of our conversations help build stronger and deeper relationships, but others damage and destroy them. When we hold differing opinions and feel strongly about the issues, when we argue about rights and wrongs, and when the stakes are high; the skill with which we hold these conversations determines whether we come out stronger and closer or whether people get hurt and relationships suffer.

  • Talking to your mother-in-law about her interference in your marriage
  • Speaking up to a toxic boss who is verbally abusive to you
  • Saying no to a friend who takes advantage of you
  • Confronting someone about their negative and depressing attitude 

In conversations like these, when we should be on our best behaviour, emotions take over and we’re often on our worst. We blame and accuse, instead of listening and considering. We do a lot of talking but do little to solve the problems.

You’d think that if conversations are so important we’d learn how to do them better. We’d take time to plan, choose our words carefully and handle them with care. But we don’t.

When we think that a conversation is going to be sensitive and difficult most of us start by avoiding it for as long as possible, hoping the problem will go away on its own. It never does, so we try dropping hints, or we use humour and sarcasm. If we do raise the issue, it will be so sugar coated that the other person has no idea what we’re talking about!

And we continue to bite our tongues...until one day, when we can no longer control our emotions, we explode with frustration, anger, accusation, blame, often tears, and sometimes violence. Straight Talk skills help you manage your emotions and plan conversations so you can talk about almost anything to almost anyone, and build better, healthier relationships. You can use the skills of Straight Talk in many situations...

  • In performance appraisal when you give feedback on poor performance or bad attitude
  • To confront the inconsiderate, incompetent or toxic people whose behaviour creates conflict in the workplace
  • In improving communication with interfering in-laws and difficult family members
  • To form healthier relationships when you negotiate about boundaries and unacceptable behaviour
  • To speak up to people who don’t live up to their promises, or your expectations
  • To help you analyse when you are over-reacting, or are causing the problem yourself

When it’s safe to talk you can talk about almost anything. Your office door is open. But how many people come to you with new ideas or critical feedback? Does anyone use you as a sounding board? People only feel safe to speak up when they feel you are truly listening to them, when you acknowledge what they say, and when they believe that you have their best interests at heart. When they don’t feel safe, you seldom get to know.

Tuesday, 01 November 2005 14:38

Difficult Conversations

If you want results you have to learn to talk to people! Sometimes the only way out is through. You’re stuck. People are missing deadlines. Relationships are strained. Projects are delayed. When you’re not getting the results you want, it’s likely there’s a difficult conversation you’re not having. The best results come from open, honest conversations that say it like it is without damaging relationships.

If you would like to receive straight talk tips on a monthly basis, email us!

Saturday, 01 March 2008 14:38

"If you do that one more time…"

It's interesting how the conversations that people bring to Straight Talk workshops change from year to year. Recently, it seems like everyone is moving office, or more accurately, moving from an office into an open plan environment: often, with much trepidation!

Tuesday, 01 April 2008 14:38

Show me you care

Most of us claim to live by the value of caring for others. We forget that on a day to day basis we are judged, not on our words but on our actions , and that often these do not live up to our declared ideals. Here are three ways you can show caring, and let your actions speak for themselves.

Thursday, 01 May 2008 14:38

Rush! Rush! Rush!

It's four months into the year and most of us haven't stopped for breath since it started! Deadlines are shorter, budgets are tighter. It's all about getting the job done. We give instructions. We expect results. But as tempers become more uneven, communication becomes more strained… and obtaining results becomes more and more difficult.

Sunday, 01 June 2008 14:38

That's not a conversation!

There's someone driving you crazy. It could be a colleague, a friend, family member, neighbour or employee. It could also be your boss. There are many ways that people drive us crazy and most of us use similar behaviour patterns in coping with them.