How Culture Impacts Perception

Re-published by request.

Clear-thinking people everywhere acknowledge that it's easy for two people to see the same situation very differently. 

In a world where we increasingly work across time zones and cultures, this would have even greater meaning if perceptions were influenced by one's culture. While those of us who work globally may have experienced--and thought about-- the inherent reality of these perceptive differences, Canadian and Japanese researchers  have confirmed some very specific distinctions.

EastWest When East Doesn't Meet West

According to the study:

Researchers showed Japanese and North American participants images, each of which consisted of one center model and four background models in each image. The researchers manipulated the facial emotion (happy, angry, sad) in the center or background models and asked the participants to determine the dominant emotion of the center figure.

The outcome?

The majority of Japanese participants (72%) reported that their judgments of the center person's emotions were influenced by the emotions of the background figures, while most North Americans (also 72%) reported they were not influenced by the background figures at all.

Takahiko Masuda, a Psychology professor from the University of Alberta, noted:

"Our results demonstrate that when North Americans are trying to figure out how a person is feeling, they selectively focus on that particular person's facial expression, whereas Japanese consider the emotions of the other people in the situation."

This may be because Japanese attention is not concentrated on the individual, but includes everyone in the group, says Masuda.

Why Is This Important for Business?

1. It has always baffled me when I've watched Western corporations decide to indiscriminately import programs and processes that  work well in the East. Looking for a "quick fix" or a "magic pill" is a very North American business characteristic. At the same time, there is no reason not to examine the principles behind things that work elsewhere; then, figure out what might be applicable and how to make it work,

When corporate meeting rooms ring with the cry, "Perception is reality," then Masuda's study should be a caution that global reality can't be driven by local perceptions.

2. Even more specifically, definitions of "team" hugely influence what happens across cultures. North American "teams" are made up of individuals who see themselves as individuals participating in a group with a common purpose for some finite period of time (my observation and experience). Eastern team members honor the group as the important entity to be served, not as a vehicle to one's individual career aspirations.

While time and exposure have somewhat altered instances of the above in the minds of some, Masuda's study should be taken seriously by organizations involved in East-West business and collaboration.

This is one instance where perception can be grounded in reality--for the good of all concerned.

 

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Consistency and Trust

"Who you are speaks so loudly I can't hear what you say."

ConsistencyThat line was spoken by an associate to a speaker at a recent business business event we attended. The interaction between the speaker and the audience was totally out of sync with what he was professing. The result: Great words, no credibility. A few attendees even referred to him later as a "liar."

Not good for his business.

Consistency

We communicate through our actions, not just our words. Which policies you decide to enforce or ignore, what you say and don't say, what you reward and what you punish, what you fund and what you don't fund--all tell the truth of your heart. Every instance of consistency builds credibility; a single instance of inconsistency can begin to build doubt about your trustworthiness. 

It's a lot more difficult to regain trust than it is to build it. 

Where will you show consistency today?

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How To Measure Relationships

“It’s only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away.”
 --Maurice, Robin, & Barry Gibb, The Bee Gees: “Words”


Listen to the Lyrics

Do you want to know a way to check the depth of how someone is relating to you at a given moment? Just listen and check out their language. You’ll be fascinated at how revealing it will be. Here’s what I mean:

  • When people operate at a surface level, they often share catch-phrases or clichés: “Well, the new design isn’t moving along too fast. But hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day. I’ll hang in and hunker down; it’s all about ‘getting more efficient and effective’.”Bee_gees_words
  • Move a step deeper and folks will offer some facts: “I want to improve the quality by 10%.” “Jessica said she’ll give us three people from her team when the software project gets approval.”
  • More intimate: You’ll notice that you hear people offer personal judgments, opinions, and thoughts: “I’ve been watching your progress and I think you could use some help with the engineering. We’ve been getting some comments from the design folks who are concerned about the execution. Let’s see if we can get to the heart of this and make sure you get the results you want.”  “If the new talent development program isn’t in full swing by November, I believe we’re going to lose some people to our main competitor. They’re hiring.”
  • Most intimate: Listen for people to actually express how they feel. “I’m fed up with trying to launch this program. It’s been a drain on me since I’m not getting the financial support we need. I’m even sorry that I took it on. Even my friends tell me my demeanor has changed. I need some help about what to do next.”


One more thought. You’ll be able to tell, over time, when others view their relationship with you more deeply. They’ll start using first-person pronouns more frequently: I, You, We, Us.

What cues have you become conscious of over the years?

photo attribution: Picture Sleeve and Album Art Museum 

What kinds of other cues do people send at work and what is "acceptable?" 

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Reconcile Your Relational Banking

Reconcile: 1 a : to restore to friendship or harmony <reconciled the factions> b : settleresolve <reconcile differences> 2 : to make consistent or congruous <reconcile an ideal with reality. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2010.

You and I wouldn't think about going through life without reconciling our bank accounts, ensuring that  posits, withdrawals, and balances are accurate. We know that unreconciled accounts can lead to overdraft charges and painful penalties. So we do our best to sit down, sort through the facts and figures, and when we see an error we do what it takes to reconcile the account. The longer we hold off, the more we risk creating a financial deficit.

 Workplace Reconciliation

Balance Relational AccountsThe same dynamic holds true for on-the-job accounts: relationships. We talk about the importance of credibility, integrity, influence, and trust. But do we take the time to sit down and reconcile real and perceived wrongs with the people whose trust we need and value?

I'm seeing a couple of workplace phenomena that demand relational reconciliation in order to move ahead free, unencumbered, and "in relationship":

1. The protracted economic recession/depression, along with its uncertainty (we want control) and attendant downsizing, is prompting normally relaxed people at all levels to lose their cool. Things are being said and done "in the moment" that are leading to disciplinary action and strained relations between people who have to work closely together to "get it done." Intervening to stop "it" and take disciplinary action is the right thing to do. However, although it stops the undesirable behavior, it doesn't re-start the relationship in a satisfying way to all those involved.

2. 360 Feedback. The Merriam-Webster definition #2 above mentions reconciling an ideal with a reality. That's what 360 Feedback is all about: surfacing any differences between intentions and actual impact. If you've ever been on the receiving end of a stack of 360 comments that were a total (negative) surprise, it's easy to feel "put upon" and defensive. It's equally easy to want to go on the offensive and even to make a biting remark or two about the results. 

What To Do

Both instances demand a follow-up session, albeit a bit different for each.

In example 1, someone did something offensive. That means, when things cool down, it's important for the individual to sit down with any others involved and:

a. Admit the error in judgment and the ensuing behavior

b. Apologize 

c. Ask for forgiveness

Those who were impacted need to:

a. Acknowledge that it was hurtful, and how, without belaboring the point. (The worst thing that can happen is saying nothing at all or "Oh, that's ok; it wasn't that bad." It was, or you wouldn't be there.

b. Thank the person for caring enough to take time to reconcile the relationship.

Both parties then need to express (if truthful) the wish to move on together and restore a mutually respectful working relationship.

Example 2 is a bit different, yet still requires a conversation. When people take time to offer feedback, especially the kind that requires numerical ratings and narratives, they've made an investment. Like corporate surveys, participants want to know the outcome and what, if anything, is likely to change.

For the sake of example, let's say a manager has received in-depth feedback from direct reports. A follow-up session would have this kind of framework:

a. Thank the people for their willingness to invest in his/her development.

b. Share the over-arching themes--not the details--of the data.

c. Acknowledge that there are clearly areas for development. Ask for any needed clarification and suggestions for specific changes that would lead to improved performance. 

d. At the next regularly scheduled meeting, take time at the outset to let the direct reports know what the focus of the changes will be, after considering their suggestions. Ask for verbal reinforcement  when a change is seen. Likewise, if something isn't happening as it should, invite continued reminders, especially "in the moment."

Healthy workplaces require healthy relationships. What's happening in your working world where reconciliation could move people, and the organization, toward a better place?

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What, Why, and How: Feedback

Why Is Feedback Important?

Feedback started as a term used to describe the signals sent from a rocket back to earth in order to determine the accuracy of the rocket's course. By tracking speed and trajectory, ground crews could determine when and where to make corrections.

At some point in time, the term Feedback was incorporated into business language as a way to talk about performance. And, as in rocket flight, it has been determined that the best way for a person to stay "on course" is to assess where one stands at any given moment in relation to the task or goal at hand.

Here's the really important point: The chances of impacting performance increase with frequency and timeliness of feedback. That implies the need for ongoing "How are we doing?" conversations. It's our best chance at knowing whether we're on track or not.

Feedback

What Gets In The Way of Giving Feedback?

1. Let's face it: few of us enjoy hearing about those areas of work life where we're coming up short. It's human nature. The flip side is that managers are people, too, and they have the same thoughts and feelings. So it's not exactly a peak experience being the proverbial "messenger" even though it comes with the job.

2. The term "feedback" has morphed into "Here's what you need to correct" instead of "Here's how I think we're doing."

3. Feedback has been institutionalized to the point where it is often done at yearly or semi-annual performance reviews. That's usually too far away from the actual performance for a person to make the kind of changes that will alter an outcome. So it's almost like a "Gotcha!"

4. It takes a relationship built on trust to have meaningful conversations about performance.

Trust comes from a series of interactions where people have made agreements, talked about how things were going, and then lived up to what they said they would do. And if something goes wrong, one person points that out to the other. They talk about what to do differently. And they learn that, even if something does go wrong, they care enough to bring it up and do something about it. I've said this before: The people you trust the most are the people who tell you the truth--good and bad. If it's good, they offer encouragement. If it's bad, they offer ways to work with you to sort things out.

5. Lack of ongoing, natural conversation about work life gets in the way of building relationships that breed the level of trust we need to have ongoing, natural conversations. It's circular.

What Can You Do About This?

1. Managers: Start the conversation from Day 1.

Set the tone for the future early on by asking, "How are things going with project x?" What didn't we anticipate? What's going well? What isn't going well, so we can find out how to get it on track?

Then make sure that both of you do what you say you'll do.

2. Employees: If there isn't a conversation, start one. Turn the questions in #1 into statements. For example, "Here's how project x is going." "Here's what we didn't anticipate."

Sure, maybe your boss doesn't like bad news. Here's a secret: Surprises are worse than bad news.

If you start the conversation, you have a better chance of putting your boss at ease with the whole idea of "How are we doing?"

3. Keep talking about having conversations, not feedback.

Language conveys feeling. The whole notion of feedback has degenerated to the point where the word contains more negative connotations than positive. Why? Maybe because it was never meant to be associated with the human condition in the first place.

From the time we're kids we have conversations. We talk about "What's going on" and "How are things going?"

Start having ongoing "How are we doing?" conversations. Start now. 

I absolutely guarantee you that two people of goodwill can increase their combined performance and reduce their stress-inducing baggage by having regular, honest talks about their progress and the factors impacting it. These kinds of talks are the foundation of every good relationship, on and off the job.

Bonus Thought: The longer you wait, the larger the "negative" becomes and the more difficult it is to discuss. Regular, frequent conversations mean that the problem areas will be smaller and easier to talk about!

 

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The Business of Forgiveness

Downsizing. Corruption. Bullying. Harassment. "Do more with less." Reduced benefits. Add to that list some of the people with whom you have to work every day (see Bob Sutton's No Asshole Rule). 

There's a lot of opportunity for anger and hurt on the job.

Where you find anger, you find the need for forgiveness. 

Why?

It's good for you. For your physical and mental health. For your relationships. For your ability to move on peacefully and productively.

Forgivenesslogo

Why forgiveness instead of revenge?

Christina M. Puchalski, M.D. is the Founder and Director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health and Assistant Professor of Medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine. She says:

"On a personal level, forgiveness of self can help us achieve an inner peace as well as peace with others and with God. Wrongdoing against others and ourselves can result in guilt and resentment.  This can then lead to self-recrimination and self-loathing; it also can create a distance or disconnect from self and others. Resentment can give away to hate and intolerance. Forgiveness is the first stage of self-love and acceptance. It is also the basic building block of loving relationships with others."

It's not the offense. It's your response to it.

I confess, I'm not always a quick-to-forgive person once I've felt "wronged". I give people a very long leash and a long time to "get their act together" if things aren't going well. But there is some point at which I just say "that's it" and cut them off from my life. It is very infrequent, but the pattern is always the same. I decide that the differences are irreconcilable. So, the relationship in its present form is finished.

Does that serve me well? 

Only if I genuinely forgive. It is both possible and imperative to do that and, at the same time, acknowledge that the nature of the relationship may not be productive. This is the harder part, I think. It begs the nagging question, "If I can forgive, why can't I just continue?"

Sometimes it's possible. More often, it becomes apparent that I wasn't seeing clearly to begin with and that continuing the relationship--without changing expectations--would not be peaceful or productive for either of us.

Dr. Frederic Luskin specializes in Learning to Forgive. He explains that:

"The practice of forgiveness has been shown to reduce anger, hurt depression and stress and leads to greater feelings of hope, peace, compassion and self confidence. Practicing forgiveness leads to healthy relationships as well as physical health."

Dr. Luskin's 9 Steps to Forgiveness

1. Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not OK. Then, tell a trusted couple of people about your experience.

2. Make a commitment to yourself to do what you have to do to feel better. Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else.

3. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that hurt you, or condoning their action. What you are after is to find peace. Forgiveness can be defined as the "peace and understanding that come from blaming that which has hurt you less, taking the life experience less personally, and changing your grievance story."

4. Get the right perspective on what is happening. Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts and physical upset you are suffering now, not what offended you or hurt you two minutes--or ten years ago. Forgiveness helps to heal those hurt feelings.

5. At the moment you feel upset practice a simple stress management technique to soothe your body's fight or flight response.

6. Give up expecting things from other people, or your life, that they do not choose to give you. Recognize that "unenforceable rules" you have for your health or how you or other people must behave. Remind yourself that you can hope for health, love, peace and prosperity and work hard to get them.

7. Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met than through the experience that has hurt you. Instead of mentally replaying your hurt seek out new ways to get what you want.

8. Remember that a life well lived is your best revenge. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving the person who caused you pain power over you, learn to look for the love, beauty and kindness around you. 

9. Amend your grievance story to remind you of the heroic choice to forgive.

Your workplace is a web of relationships. Being at peace with them can only make your own life a lot more satisfying, allowing you to have a positive impact on those around you.

photo attribution: www.thirdway.com 

Note: A version of this post appeared a few years ago here at ATW. After watching what can only be described as intentionally hostile, in-your-face "discussions" masquerading as "discourse" in the various media, I thought it might be useful to suggest ways of living life other than holding on to past sins, imagined sins, manufactured faux sins, and as-yet-committed sins. 

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Leaders: Its About Competence, Not Dominance

Communication Alert: When it comes to leadership, do what is valued: build solid rapport with workers.

Everyone needs to brush up on actions that imply ability and competence (called "task cues" in the psych trade) and play down their dominance cues (actions that Kids_playing-2 imply control and threat), reports a team of psychologists headed by James E. Driskell, Ph.D.

In one study, 159 college students, male and female, listened to the pitches of task-oriented speakers and the same arguments from dominance-oriented speakers, male and female. Almost everyone thought men and women who exhibited task cues were more competent, group-oriented, and likable. Those showing dominance cues were thought of as self-oriented and disliked.

For a corporate decision-making group sitting around a table in a board meeting, poise, attitude, and approach matter more than most people realize.

Here's the rundown on which behaviors they say will earn you respect and which won't:


Task Cues

  • Rapid speech rate
  • Eye contact
  • Verbal fluency
  • Choosing the head of the table
  • Fluid gestures
  • Well-moderated voice tone

Dominance Cues

  • Loud voice
  • Angry tone
  • Finger pointing
  • Lowering eyebrows
  • Stiff posture
  • Forceful gestures

What will you do differently today?

Suggestion: If you found this helpful, I think you will learn from The Value of

 

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3 Tips For Reducing Conflict

"My idea of an agreeable person is one who agrees with me."--Samuel Johnson

One of the fascinating things about conflict is that it can result from great work or poor work, from good behavior to bad behavior, and from good intentions to nasty ones.

Angermanagementcoupleconflict

Here are three areas of potential conflict and a tip for handling each:

Focus on the Goal, Not the Barrier

Both sides tend to lose sight of what they have in common when conflict starts to slip into a situation. The commonality may be business profitability, teamwork, or maintaining a solid relationship, or the welfare of a group: family, friends, colleagues. 

When you feel conflict creeping in, stop and focus on the goal--not what's getting in the way.

Dealing With A Power Play?

Flight attendants and waitresses have this one down pat. When they get a totally obnoxious customer, they simply ignore the person's demands. Do the same. Inattention is the easiest weapon in your arsenal against power plays--and it conserves your own energy.

Stick to One Issue

When things get heated it's easy to start rattling off a lifetime of sins. Even if past experiences and details are somehow related to the issue at hand, the other person is going to become overwhelmed, confused, and defensive. A valid response is almost impossible for the person to provide you.

Have one conversion about one issue. 




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Handle Objections With Questions

You and I come up with some pretty wonderful ideas, which--for some strange reason--aren't immediately embraced by those around us.

So what's our natural response? It's usually to start making statements in defense of our position, which then leads to "I'm going to win!"

Not a good posture. 

Questions
 

Ask Questions

When you keep announcing the righteousness of your position, the problem defines you. When you respond with a question, both of you begin defining the problem and looking for solutions. Which do you want?j

Here are four model questions that will help you stay above the fray:

  • "If this doesn't meet your requirements (criteria, needs), what can be done to ensure that it does?"
  • "If you like the idea but not the related cost, what can we do about the budget constraints?"
  • "If we can't start the project now, when do you think it would be a good time to get it going?"
  • "If you don't want to change anything and think the procedures are fine the way they are, what is it that you like about how they work now?"

You get the idea. The first part of the question acknowledges that you heard the issue;  the second invites action from the other person. That way, you stay out "argument" mode and create mutual make the responsibility for a solution.

If this sounds reasonable, what would you need to try it?

Bonus read: For another look into conflict and collaboration, check out Conflict At Work?

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Advice? Find Out What "They" Want

Be careful when you give advice--somebody might take it." Anonymous.

Most of us enjoy giving advice. If you're a manager, it may even make you feel a lot more managerial. And let's be honest, advice is a lot more fun than criticism.

What Kind of Advice Is Desired?

Advice1 Counselors know that when someone arrives for a first visit, the story that unfolds is usually the "presenting" problem. It's not necessarily a matter of deception. We may not feel comfortable "putting it all out there" quite yet. Or, we may not even be clear about what the real issue is, which is why we want to talk it through in the first place.

Advice & The Workplace

If you can't tell what your employee or boss wants by how a subject is introduced, ask a few questions. Does the person want:

  • To hear critical information and facts?
  • To know your opinion on an issue?
  • To get help with generating alternatives to a situation?
  • To know how you went about doing something?
  • To check out his or her reasoning on a decision?

It's easy to fall into the instant response trap; we all want to be helpful. Sometimes that kind of help isn't helpful at all.

Ask specifically what the other person wants. It will save you both a lot of time and lead to more satisfying results.

_________________________________

Note: I've been traveling, speaking, and delivering leadership workshops since Talent: Strengths or Weaknesses?Yes. and  Are We Educating For The Right Jobs? I want to take some time this evening to read through the comments again and jump back into the conversation. Thanks to everyone for keeping it rolling. If you haven't yet joined in, have a look; some good thinking going on there.

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Influence Through Agreements

There's a misconception about influence that gets people into trouble. It's the idea that influence is a matter of "positional negotiation": one side lays out a case while the other counters with a stronger argument on a different position.

This is actually a kind of competition that most often ends in conflict. The one with the most power wins while the loser walks away filled with resentment.

How Start Thinking "Partnership"

Influence has its roots in agreements. In order to genuinely persuade someone to pursue a certain course of action, there needs to be an agreement about what is to be done and by whom. When agreements serve the interests of both parties the chances of success multiply. Why? Because there is increased commitment, and commitment leads to the laying of  the strongest foundation of influence--relationship.

Six Self-Assessment Questions

The best place to start being influential is with yourself. The clearer you are about what's important, the easier it will be to work through an agreement, especially the parts where you need to explain calmly and clearly why you don't want to do certain things. You can start by asking yourself these before entering a situation:

  • What do I want to achieve through this partnership?
  • What does (s)he want from our relationship and especially from this situation?
  • How can I meld these in some way to begin to create a framework for mutual satisfaction?
  • What can I give up, if needed, that will not do anything to sacrifice my overall goal?
  • What can (s)he offer that may not be obvious?
  • What new options or solutions could serve our common purpose?

Finally, when you get together, do these:

  • Look for shared interests
  • Listen to each others' ideas, synthesize mutual goals 
  • Work together and stay in touch to make sure you're both satisfied with how things are going. If not, start talking about what you can do differently to reach your mutual targets.


Which of these do you need to start doing to become more influential in your world?

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Meet Commitments. Build Trust. Say No.

Who do you trust?

Trust-me Probably those who you determine are reliable. So, those who don't keep their promises quickly lose the trust of their friends and colleagues.

Before you commit to a new project or obligation, be sure you can fulfill it. If you really aren't certain, then say so. It's better to simply disappoint someone now than show up empty-handed on the day of your big promise. If, despite your best effort, you think you'll miss a deadline or milestone, then contact the other person and explain what has happened. We've all been in similar situations and again: disappointment is a lot different than "I can' trust you."

5 Ways To Become Reliable

1. Before you agree to a new obligation, check that you have enough time--then keep your promise. 

2. Say "no" to demands that may stretch you past your capacity. This means being honest with yourself, about yourself, first.

3. Be honest and realistic about the scope of work and related deadlines.

4. Quickly alert people when you know there will be a delay.

Note: Thanks to a comment and reminder from "Lean" afficionado Jamie Flinchbaugh, this isn't a matter of "Oh, I'm going to be late." It may very well be the beginning of a renegotiation of the project. If the boss tells you "that's the date," you'll need to lay out everything else that's on your calendar and re-prioritize together. FYI: I have seen more than one boss say, "You committed to it, I announced it would be done, do it regardless of the other 'stuff'." Which underscores the point: Be thoughtful and careful about your commitments.

5. Meet deadlines and create trust.

____________________________________

Speaking of reliablity: How about a reliable source for those of you who are thinking about a business start-up?

My online friend and serial entrepreneur, GL Hoffman, has written a small book called Startup: 100 Tips To Get Your Business Going. There are over 100 short paragraph answers in the book, such as:

1.  Should you jump in and save every sales situation?  Number 59.  This answer makes you a leader.
2.  Do you have to know everything that's happening?  Number 39.
3.  What is the one thing that makes people join  your new company? Number 38.
4.  Is having fun at work over-rated?  Number 6.
5.  Why is firing someone at your startup extra hard?  Number 7.
6.  Why do you have to be an energy-creator?  Number 96.
7.  Why you don't want your people to worry like you are worrying.  Number 82.
8.  Why the "new guy" could be doing more harm than good.  Number 66.
9.  Why you shouldn't trust those who say they can help you raise money.  Number 67
10. What is the biggest sign of a culture that is developing badly?  Number 54.
11. Are your customers always right in a startup?  Number 47.
12.  On the priority list for a startup, where does SALES rank?  Number 30.
13.  What one thing can you do to motivate yourself? Number 23.

Darned good deal from a guy who has started and sold a lifetime-worth of companies.

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Reconcile Your Relational Accounts

Reconcile: 1 a : to restore to friendship or harmony <reconciled the factions> b : settle, resolve <reconcile differences> 2 : to make consistent or congruous <reconcile an ideal with reality. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2010.

You and I wouldn't think about going through life without reconciling our bank accounts, ensuring that   Reconcile_CC deposits, withdrawals, and balances are accurate. We know that unreconciled accounts can lead to overdraft charges and painful penalties. So we do our best to sit down, sort through the facts and figures, and when we see an error we do what it takes to reconcile the account. The longer we hold off, the more we risk creating a financial deficit.

 Workplace Reconciliation

The same dynamic holds true for on-the-job accounts: relationships. We talk about the importance of credibility, integrity, influence, and trust. But do we take the time to sit down and reconcile real and perceived wrongs with the people whose trust we need and value?

I'm seeing a couple of workplace phenomena that demand relational reconciliation in order to move ahead free, unencumbered, and "in relationship":

1. The protracted economic situation, along with its uncertainty (we want control) and attendant downsizing, is prompting normally relaxed people at all levels to lose their cool. Things are being said and done "in the moment" that are leading to disciplinary action and strained relations between people who have to work closely together to "get it done." Intervening to stop "it" and take disciplinary action is the right thing to do. However, although it stops the undesirable behavior, it doesn't re-start the relationship in a satisfying way to all those involved.

2. 360 Feedback. The Merriam-Webster definition #2 above mentions reconciling an ideal with a reality. That's what 360 Feedback is all about: surfacing any differences between intentions and actual impact. If you've ever been on the receiving end of a stack of 360 comments that were a total (negative) surprise, it's easy to feel "put upon" and defensive. It's equally easy to want to go on the offensive and even to make a biting remark or two about the results.

What To Do

Both instances demand a follow-up session, albeit a bit different for each.

In example 1, someone did something offensive. That means, when things cool down, it's important for the individual to sit down with any others involved and:

a. Admit the error in judgment and the ensuing behavior

b. Apologize

c. Ask for forgivenessReconciliation

Those who were impacted need to:

a. Acknowledge that it was hurtful, and how, without belaboring the point. (The worst thing that can happen is saying nothing at all or "Oh, that's ok; it wasn't that bad." It was, or you wouldn't be there.

b. Thank the person for caring enough to take time to reconcile the relationship.

Both parties then need to express (if truthful) the wish to move on together and restore a mutually respectful working relationship.

Example 2 is a bit different, yet still requires a conversation. When people take time to offer feedback, especially the kind that requires numerical ratings and narratives, they've made an investment. Like corporate surveys, participants want to know the outcome and what, if anything, is likely to change.

For the sake of example, let's say a manager has received in-depth feedback from direct reports. A follow-up session would have this kind of framework:

a. Thank the people for their willingness to invest in his/her development.

b. Share the over-arching themes--not the details--of the data.

c. Acknowledge that there are clearly areas for development. Ask for any needed clarification and suggestions for specific changes that would lead to improved performance.

d. At the next regularly scheduled meeting, take time at the outset to let the direct reports know what the focus of the changes will be, after considering their suggestions. Ask for verbal reinforcement  when a change is seen. Likewise, if something isn't happening as it should, invite continued reminders, especially "in the moment."

Healthy workplaces require healthy relationships. What's happening in your working world where reconciliation could move people, and the organization, toward a better place?






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The Business of Forgiveness

This originally appeared here in July, 2008. Since the human condition hasn't changed since then, I thought it might prompt some much-needed and quiet reflection at a time of year that epitomizes the hopefulness of reconciliation.

Downsizing. Corruption. Bullying. Harassment. "Do more with less." Reduced benefits. Add to that list some of the people with whom you have to work every day.

There's a lot of opportunity for anger and hurt on the job.

Where you find anger, you find the need for forgiveness.

Why?

It's good for you. For your physical and mental health. For your relationships. For your ability to move on peacefully and productively.

Forgivenesslogo Why forgiveness instead of revenge?

Christina M. Puchalski, M.D. is the Founder and Director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health and Assistant Professor of Medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine. She says:

"On a personal level, forgiveness of self can help us achieve an inner peace as well as peace with others and with God. Wrongdoing against others and ourselves can result in guilt and resentment.  This can then lead to self-recrimination and self-loathing; it also can create a distance or disconnect from self and others. Resentment can give away to hate and intolerance. Forgiveness is the first stage of self-love and acceptance. It is also the basic building block of loving relationships with others."

It's not the offense. It's your response to it.

I confess, I'm not always a quick-to-forgive person once I've felt "wronged". I give people a very long leash and a long time to "get their act together" if things aren't going well. But there is some point at which I just say "that's it" and cut them off from my life. It is very infrequent, but the pattern is always the same. I decide that the differences are irreconcilable. So, the relationship in its present form is finished.

Does that serve me well?

Only if I genuinely forgive. It is both possible and imperative to do that and, at the same time, acknowledge that the nature of the relationship may not be productive. This is the harder part, I think. It begs the nagging question, "If I can forgive, why can't I just continue?"

Sometimes it's possible. More often, it becomes apparent that I wasn't seeing clearly to begin with and that continuing the relationship--without changing expectations--would not be peaceful or productive for either of us.

Dr. Frederic Luskin specializes in Learning to Forgive. He explains that:

"The practice of forgiveness has been shown to reduce anger, hurt depression and stress and leads to greater feelings of hope, peace, compassion and self confidence. Practicing forgiveness leads to healthy relationships as well as physical health."

Dr. Luskin's 9 Steps to Forgiveness

1. Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not OK. Then, tell a trusted couple of people about your experience.

2. Make a commitment to yourself to do what you have to do to feel better. Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else.

3. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that hurt you, or condoning their action. What you are after is to find peace. Forgiveness can be defined as the "peace and understanding that come from blaming that which has hurt you less, taking the life experience less personally, and changing your grievance story."

4. Get the right perspective on what is happening. Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts and physical upset you are suffering now, not what offended you or hurt you two minutes--or ten years ago. Forgiveness helps to heal those hurt feelings.

5. At the moment you feel upset practice a simple stress management technique to soothe your body's fight or flight response.

6. Give up expecting things from other people, or your life, that they do not choose to give you. Recognize that "unenforceable rules" you have for your health or how you or other people must behave. Remind yourself that you can hope for health, love, peace and prosperity and work hard to get them.

7. Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met than through the experience that has hurt you. Instead of mentally replaying your hurt seek out new ways to get what you want.

8. Remember that a life well lived is your best revenge. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving the person who caused you pain power over you, learn to look for the love, beauty and kindness around you.

9. Amend your grievance story to remind you of the heroic choice to forgive.

If you would like to explore other resources, check out The Forgiveness Web  and Forgiveness Net.

Think about this today: Your workplace is a web of relationships. Being at peace with them can only make your own life a lot more satisfying.

photo attribution: www.thirdway.com 

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Conflict: Integrity, Reruns, and Focus

We humans have mastered countless ways to start or extend conflicts, at work and at home. Here are three ways to help keep the air out of those 'conflict balloons:'

 1. Integrity: Don't Question It

We can handle a comment like, "You should have completed that marketing plan on the 15th, as agreed, with the data available at the time." But, we don't want to hear: "You didn't think I was paying attention so you were trying to sneak past the deadline, weren't you?"

The first is descriptive; the second impugns integrity,  is accusatory, and will stir up a tsunami of anger and denial.

Focus

2. Reruns are for TV

Watching reruns on TV can be fun and a nostalgic way to kill some time. Not so when you're wrestling with conflict.

Things that happened in the past do have some impact on you now. But this isn't the time to offer them as re-reruns. It will get you worse than nowhere. Sure, you'll feel a sense of smug satisfaction which will then add to the situation.

Memories are fallible; ask any detective. What to do?:

Stay current. Focus on now, not then.

3. Stick to One Issue

Fine, so you've been ticked off since the Y2K thing didn't happen. Don't start barfing up a bag full of wrongs into one conversation; you'll never get to the heart of the issue. Past sins and experiences--even if they're relevant in some way--will only cause more confusion. And, it's next to impossible for the other person to respond to everything in addition to feeling as if they are being arraigned in court.

One conversation. One issue.

________________________________

If this is a topic that hits home right now, I think you'll also be helped by:

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Just Pay Attention To Me

In the 1920s, physiologist Elton Mayo conducted experiments at the Hawthorne Electrical Works in Chicago.

Mayo He was trying to confirm his theory that better lighting led to greater productivity. So, he had the lights on the factory floor turned up. Voila! As he expected, production levels increased, too. Done deal?

As an afterthought he decided to turn the lights down just to see what would happen. Production went up again. In fact, he found that whatever he did with the lighting, production increased.

Novel thought: Mayo discussed his findings with the workers who were involved. They told him that the interest Mayo and his researchers showed toward them made them feel more valued. They were accustomed to being ignored.

While the increased lighting no doubt made things brighter and healthier, it was the increase in morale that most impacted improvement in productivity. This became known as the Hawthorne Effect

Most people schooled in management & organization development are well aware of the studies.  However, I'm finding more and more business folks who haven't been exposed to them; I thought it might be a good idea to revisit what is the beginning of the "human relations"  movement in management.

While scientists and pseudo-scientists have argued everything from methodology to the number of toilet breaks employees of that era received, the simple learning is this: When you pay attention to people, tell them what you are doing, and ask their opinion about things, the response--all else being equal--is a boost in morale and productivity. I dare say that Elton had stumbled upon Employee Engagement long before the term became popular.

I'm wondering: after 80+ years, why isn't this fundamental learning a part of every organization's modus operandi?

photo source: www.library.hbs.edu

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How To Gauge Other People's Concerns

Employees at all levels are giving high priority to the issue of respect in the workplace. As a result, "emotional intelligence" and empathy at work have catapulted to importance in the management/leadership realm. And, for good reason: mis-reading or totally missing someone else's "stuff" can create sticky situations and bad blood. On the other hand, the ability to pick up on cues and accurately follow through is a hallmark of relation-building and something that we all value from managers and co-workers. For sales people, it can mean the difference between no client or a huge bonus.

Empathy: Get Some

Look, I know that empathy is one of those "soft skill" things. Fine. But absent any degree of it, you'll spend your life being an individual contributor with yourself as the only customer. That's just not a good income-generating plan.

What is empathy?

Empathy is the ability to read or sense someone else's responses by imagining yourself in his or her place.

Some folks are born with a predisposition toward, and a sensitivity to, the feelings of other people. They often develop their intuition in this area as they mature. Even so, they also learn to ask questions along the way to clarify issues and confirm (or disaffirm) their intuition. 

Note: Part of being empathetic is not telling someone else exactly how they are feeling without checking it out first.

Learntolisten

How to Boost Your Empathy Quotient

When you're watching or listening to someone:

  • Use your imagination and similar past situations to give you clues about what the other person is feeling and experiencing.
  • Imagine that you are the other person. What might your needs be?

When people talk with you about what's on their minds it's common to hear them talk around the topic instead of getting to the heart of the matter. (Often, they don't know the heart of the matter; they just know how they are feeling).

So, here are Four Questions that will make you genuinely helpful:

  1. "Can you explain three things that really concern you about this issue?"
  2. "If you had the choice, what would you most like to have happen now?
  3. "What do you think is the single thing that would help you most?"
  4. "What are some other aspects of this that are also worrying you?"

Once you've picked up some solid information, summarize what you think you've understood. Then, pause and ask: "What do you think would be most useful to do next?"

Most people actually do think of a next step.

Remember this: Employees and colleagues aren't looking for you to know answers. They're looking for someone to ask good questions and listen in ways that help clarify the situation and alternatives.

That's the kind of respect that leads to solid relationships and professional growth.

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Holidays At Work: Reduce Stress, Increase Joy

If you are experiencing stress at the very time you are expecting joy, you aren't alone.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports that:

  • 40% of workers report their job is "very or extremely stressful".
  • 26% of workers report they are "often or very often burned out or stressed" by their work.
  • 29% of workers report they feel "quite a bit or extremely stressed at work".

Stress Levels Rise During the Holidays

Why do stress levels rise?

Joy The statistics show that 40% are already stressed out before the holidays arrive. In a poll of 600 full-time employees, Accenture’s HR Services found that 66% of the respondents reported additional stress at work during the holidays.

Let's face it. During the holidays you're faced with gift-buying in the midst of an already-stretched financial life; trying to shop while meeting job deadlines and other responsibilities; and thinking about the family dynamics that get played out each year.

I think there's one more big reason as well:

Unrealistic Expectations

For some reason, year after year, we cling to the hope of a perfect holiday, a perfectly loving family, and the perfect balance of work and life during the season. We're surrounded by images of happy families, ads that tell us how much we should be giving, and that joy will reign.

Yet the reality is that work and its deadlines remain (and are often shortened due to the holiday schedule); families continue to be families with all of their inherent challenges; our bank accounts don't allow us to give our spouses new cars or diamonds; and the gap between what we're told to expect and what is actually happening drains the joy from our hearts.

What Can You Do?

Individually:

1. Know that your family and friends don't care if everything is perfect. What they want is a relaxed atmosphere, according to the Harvard Medical School.

2. Money --and therefore, gifts--don't buy happiness. Yeah, I know you've heard that before.  Different studies suggest that, although poverty and low pay can cause unhappiness, once a certain level of compensation is reached, there is not a “significant relationship between how much money a person earns and whether he or she feels good about life” (Easterbrook 2005).

3. Supportive family and friends, on the other hand, appear to be crucial. This comes from Drs. Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania and his colleague Martin Diener at the University of Illinois. Both are heavily involved in the study of happiness.. When Seligman and Diener studied a group of students, they found that the happier ones tended to socialize more. “It is important to work on. . .close interpersonal ties and social support in order to be happy,” says Diener. It's all about relationships.

Organizationally:

1. Provide employees with a more flexible schedule to accommodate added demands outside the office. The Accenture study found that 54% of the surveyed workers said that flexible hours during the holidays would help reduce workplace stress. Twenty-six percent said they would like to telecommute once in a while until the seasonal rush is finished.

2. How about a shopping day? Some employers provide one day between Thanksgiving and Christmas to give people a chance to do just that. And they say it reduces angst and is appreciated by the employees.

3. Provide an online shopping catalog and allow online shopping. Plenty of companies offer hard-copy versions produced by firms who specialize in such programs. Why not do it online and save people time?

A Final Thought

Dr. Seligman, arguably the premier researcher and proponent of the psychology of happiness, says that happiness has three essential components:

First: the ability to savor life’s pleasures.

Second: there’s a true engagement with one’s work, avocations, and loved ones.

Third: the sense that one is serving a larger purpose beyond one’s self (“Reflective,” 2005; Wallis 2005).

I think it's the third that we need to attend to.

Whenever we focus on something greater than ourselves--especially the well-being of others--our sense of satisfaction and peace grows exponentially.

So give yourself this year. Your stress and anxiety will begin to melt away. And for once, the people around you will actually get what they want.

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Men and Achievement: More Romantic Than Engaged?

Bizrelations Eureka, I've found it!

Business-related research that finally allows the kind of cheesy headline to attract readers from all genres while losing my core group in the process.

Please say you'll still love me in the morning.

The headline in Science Daily reads:

Men Choose Romance Over Success

Men may be more willing than women to sacrifice achievement goals for a romantic relationship.

This according to a new study by Catherine Mosher of Duke Medical Center and Sharon Danoff-Burg from the University of Albany.

The findings challenge preconceptions that women are more likely to prioritize people and relationships while men are more focused on themselves and their achievements.

Both groups wanted achievement and relational intimacy. But the men were more likely to give romance the priority if faced with a choice between a relationship and career, education, and travel.

Hmm. Here's a deep "guy" life question:

Shall I spend the day working my tail off, getting up early for a lecture, and standing in line at the airport?

OR,

Do I spend the day making out with my girlfriend? (Please note my totally unapologetic and obviously un-evolved male bias toward a definition of romance and relationship).

The men and women in the study were college students who, as we know, are deeply committed to distinguishing the difference between romance, relationships, and achievement.

Interestingly, the researchers posit that the women in the study may be more strongly committed to career achievement and less likely to sacrifice it for a relationship.

What If It Proves to be True?

Would that change the dynamic when it comes to hiring, promotion, and making assumptions about employee engagement based on demographics?

For a fascinating look at a historical example of the relationship between romance and success, do read "Would You Rather Be Right or Romantic?"  
________________________________________________

This is a post I wrote a couple of years ago, but it never seems to go out of style:-) I'll be heading back Wednesday night from the engagement at Corporate University Week in Florida with new information about what's happening with learning in organizations.

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Are You Grateful Enough To Be Happy?

What do you do when surprised with a gift?

And what if it's at work?

Yesterday I was getting a tour of a corporate university when my hostess, the VP of Learning, was approached by a group of 5 employees. The next thing I knew, one of the guys was reading a short, heartfelt note of thanks from the group for her learning leadership, followed by the presentation of a small gift.

I moved back a few steps so they could savor the moment together. It was clearly a total surprise to the VP. What surprised me was how quickly and deeply she expressed her gratitude, and how articulate she was. It was also more than I think I could offer, given the same set of circumstances. After the group left she continued to beam and openly, but humbly, verbalize her feelings.

Gratitude and Gender

Gratitude--the emotion of joy and thankfulness when responding to receiving a gift--turns out to be one of the foundational ingredients for a good life. This comes from Todd Kashdan, associate professor of psychology at George Mason University. In a recent issue of Journal of Personality, Kashdan noted  the research revealed gender plays a role. Apparently, men are much less likely to feel and express (my italics) gratitude than women. 

No doubt women everywhere are now going, "We already did that research."

In one study, Kashdan interviewed both college-aged students and older adults. He asked them to describe, then evaluate, a recent instance in which they received a gift.

Thank-you What did he find?

Compared with men, women reported feeling less of an obligation and higher levels of gratitude when presented with a gift. Additionally, older men reported greater negative emotions when the gift-giver was another man.

Kashdan: “The way that we are socialized as children affects what we do with our emotions as adults. Since men are generally taught to control and conceal their softer emotions, this may be limiting their well-being.”

He also says that if he had to cite three factors that are essential for creating happiness and meaning in life they would be meaningful relationships, gratitude, and living in the present moment with an attitude of openness and curiosity.

What Does This Mean At Work?

Surveys consistently show that employees often say they don't receive any kind of recognition for a job well done. In many instances, survey data show that some bosses take the posture: "Why would I "recognize" you? That's why you get a paycheck."

Maybe there's more to this than just a lack of gratitude. If we follow the research, we're looking at a large portion of the population that may not even feel it to begin with. If this is true, then "a job well-done" is one more thing on the intellectual "checklist-of-life" and not something that will prompt recognition, even though that's all people may really need to get buzzed about their jobs.

So guys, the next time your wife or girl friend tells you what an ungrateful slug you are, at least you can respond with: "Yes, I understand the research indicates you are correct."

Let me know how that one goes.

If you enjoyed this, I think you might also like:

And, if you'd like to learn more about the research above, Professor Kashdan has written a book titled “Curious?,” which outlines ways people can enhance and maintain the various aspects of well-being.


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One More Time: What Do People Want At Work?

Getting the very best (or most) from employees has become the holy grail of business. Millions of  dollars are spent to determine how to achieve a state where workers function at high levels of productivity and, supposedly, satisfaction. 

Every employee survey I've seen over the past 30 years shows the same results as this, conducted in 2007 by Towers Perrin. The survey population was 90,000 employees, worldwide.

What do Employees Want? 

The #1 element on a global level was an employee's belief that senior management was interested in his or her well-being.

Approved 300x300 Imagine.

Employee's relate their success on the job to feeling cared for and about. Not money, not flex time, but feeling that people above them care about their well-being.

For years, employers have focused on perks and incentives: pay raises, performance bonuses, extra vacation time; less-inspired employers have their own method of inspiration in the form of threats of "downsizing". Or, if they are really euphemistically astute, "Right"-sizing. This means that the "right" size is minus you.

These aren't necessarily bad ideas--with the exception of threats--but they're all short-term and  inevitably lead to an eventual drop off in performance again. How "motivating" is a bonus check or vacation that’s ten months away? Three decades of research tells us that hanging the carrot out there doesn't create sustained productivity, commitment, and satisfaction. Despite all the effort to bring quantifiable science into the realm of employee effectiveness, we discover what we've known for thousands of years: people respond to be treated like humans--not like numbers.

We've Done The Work For You

It's only a bit more involved and systematic than I've described. After reviewing volumes of research in  performance, productivity, effectiveness, and change, we've boiled down the findings into five categories of what employees say they want in order to "be their best":

1. Employees want to have a "good fit" in the organization, one that matches their skills and interests at a given time.

2. Employees want to be clear about their job: what is really expected and how it will be measured.

3. Employees want managers and organizations who support what they're doing and get roadblocks out of the way.

4. Employees want to feel valued for who they are and what they bring that is unique.

5. Employees want to be part of something that inspires them. There are lots of ways to earn money. But over the long-term, they (we) want to be part of something that lifts us up because there is something personally meaningful about it.

So, how do you develop sustained performance and satisfaction?

Scratch the survey. Sit down and talk with your people about these five things and how each one is going. Then listen. Then, figure out together how to move things along the great curve of life. 

Management by Truman

When asked his formula for leadership success, former U.S. President Harry Truman responded:

"I find out what people want and then help them get it."

Duh.

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Team Leaders: Do You Do This?

Where Have You Experienced This?

When one person leaves or enters a group, the dynamics--and group effectiveness--change.

Why?

Groups--no matter how large or small--are about equilibrium. That equilibrium comes from a balance of power. Over time, we all learn where we "fit" in a group given the topic, our role, and how things operate. When someone comes or goes, our sense of influence changes. That's because new relationships and alliances begin form in order to establish a new balance of power.

 Note: When someone new joins a group, most of us at least recognize the importance of acknowledging the person and talking about the new role. However, a single person leaving a group will create the same disequilibrium and requires the same kind of acknowledgment and discussion. (That phenomenon is the rule rather than the exception right now). So. . .

Equilibrium What To Do?

1. Stop action.

2. Read the paragraph above to the group.

3. Re-visit why the group exists, make any necessary modifications, and ask for agreement from each person on

4. Clarify each person's role in light of the new situation. Whether someone leaves or someone new arrives, there has to be a change in responsibilities and how things will get done. If you talk about it now, you won't have to resolve the conflict about it later.

Groups and organizations are systems. Systems work the same way as our bodies (systems). If you pinch one place, you'll get a referent "ouch" someplace else.

The next time something is about to change in your group, go through the four steps above. You'll minimize the ouches and get back to equilibrium and productivity because you've taken good care of your system.

What About You?

You no doubt have made plenty of changes in your own life. 

What stories or insights do you have about organizational/personal change that could help another reader?

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What To Do When People Avoid Conflict?

When we talked about Conflict At Work?, management authorities Jamie Notter and Wally Bock extended the discussion as a result of their experiences with conflict.

But there's another side to the dynamic: Some people on your team or in your family will have a tough time expressing--or even acknowledging--anything related to "negative" feelings. These folks want to keep the peace at any cost and are skilled at pretending that everything is fine. The ironic result:  underlying resentments that grow and eventually destroy relationships on and off the job.

Five Ways To Be Helpful and Effective

What do you do when you find yourself in a relationship with someone who totally avoids disagreement?

Conflict_resolution Here are some thoughts that will help you encourage those who are uncomfortable to work with you toward healthy problem solving. The goal: Get some honest conversation rolling before small irritations morph into significant issues that harm productive relationships.

1. Create opportunities for give and take.

By definition, people who avoid conflict really won't take the initiative to come to you about things that are bothering them. What to do? Create regular, scheduled times for discussion in which you invite the airing of issues, pro and con.

2. Emphasize how helpful accurate information and feedback--even the critical type--is to you.

Let's face it: folks who shun disagreement are often “nice” people and want to be seen that way. Take a moment to show them  that critical feedback is a way of helping you and that it's something you value highly.

Something along these lines could get it going: “One thing that helps me is to have someone who sees my ideas from a different point of view. That way,  I can refine the way I think about things and be more effective. Would you be willing to help me with that?"

3. Watch non verbals.

We have the human tendency, through unconscious body language, to show that something is bothering us even though we remain silent. So, those who avoid conflict verbally will still give off a signal--even if it is total silence--that something is going on "inside". This may also come in the form of a change in normal behavior or habits.

Let's say that a colleague has been completely engaged in a discussion, then becomes strangely quiet.

You can use this objective observation to non-threateningly dig a little deeper. “Meaghan, I’ve noticed that you became very quiet in the meeting yesterday and haven’t talked much with me since then. Is that would be helpful to talk about?”

4. Make conflict normal.

When starting off meetings and discussions, consistently set the norm with: “We all have ideas and ways in which we disagree at times. That keeps things interesting. What really matters is how we respond to these differences to discover what's really there and what there is to learn."

5. When someone tasks a risk, respond with support.

Understand that people who don't like conflict are taking a risk when they do speak out. Acknowledge the comment or suggestion and thank them. 

What else do you do to help people engage rather than "drop out" when there are conflicting views?


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Conflict at Work?

Conflict is bugging people.

When I check out the search terms that have landed people here, I see an increasing number of "conflict" and "conflict at work" searches.

I've met people who claim that they like conflict. I really don't think so. They might like competition; they might like winning; but the idea of liking conflict in and of itself seems unhealthy at best and perhaps evil at worst. And since none of these people I know is particularly fond of "losing"--(a possible outcome of conflict)--I think that they are exhibiting a bit of competitive bravado. Which, of course, could be a major source of conflict.

Conflict What Is Conflict?

Well, we know it when we feel it, don't we?

Wikipedia has a lot of entires, info, and resources. They also offer here what I believe are good definitions and discernment of different types of conflict:

Definition: "When two or more parties, with perceived incompatible goals, seek to undermine each other's goal-seeking capability".

One should not confuse the distinction between the presence and absence of conflict with the difference between competition and co-operation. In competitive situations, the two or more parties each have mutually inconsistent goals, so that when either party tries to reach their goal it will undermine the attempts of the other to reach theirs. Therefore, competitive situations will by their nature cause conflict. However, conflict can also occur in cooperative situations where two or more parties have consistent goals. Why? Because the manner in which one party tries to reach their goal can still undermine the other.

A clash of interests, values, actions or directions often sparks a conflict. Conflicts refer to the existence of that clash. Psychologically, a conflict exists when the reduction of one motivating stimulus involves an increase in another, so that a new adjustment is demanded. The word is applicable from the instant that the clash occurs. Even when we say that there is a potential conflict we are implying that there is already a conflict of direction even though a clash may not yet have occurred.

What Does This Mean In Real Life?

Let's look at it this way:

1. Competitive conflict. We are at odds about the "what" question. "What" we want to do will diminish the other person's chance of success if we succeed.

2. Cooperative conflict. Now there's an oxymoron. This one is about the "how" question. "How" you want to do something conflicts with how I want to do it, or think it should be done.

These are classic because they reflect the ongoing tension between goals (what) and process (how).

3. Values conflict. An action or direction violates  "who" we are at our core.

What Can You Do?

(The examples below assume that those involved are people of good will).

Competitive conflict calls for the possibility of re-defining each others' goals. This is the notion of "win-win." It requires honesty about why you are trying to achieve something. Until you understand each other's "why" the "what" will seem conflicting and self-serving.  It calls for a willingness to have a conversation that exposes each person's vulnerabilities.  Someone has to go first.  If your conflict is about the "what," then why not go first? Heck, you're already in conflict anyway. What do you have to lose?

Cooperative conflict. This is where the control freak managers lurk in organizations.

Stay with me here.

I can't state this strongly enough. Job satisfaction and personal motivation are closely tied to one's ability to bring one's uniqueness to the task or team. When we sign on for a job, we implicitly  are saying that  we pretty much agree with the goals of the organization. What we want to do is  "ply our craft."  And that uniqueness comes in "how" we are allowed to perform the job to achieve the goals. A manager who has gotten commitment to the "what" and then wants to be involved in everyone's "how" is killing his  people's spirit and undermining the talent that they offer. (Note: certain jobs focused on safety and security do not leave room for personal creativity. I have often hoped that the pilot flying my plane was not feeling in a very creative mood that day).

What to do? Gotta have another conversation. Explain that the over-management is doing two things:

a. It is taking time away from you actually doing the job.

b. It is getting in the way of your ability to stay committed to what your boss wants to accomplish.

Then ask about your results. If you have a wrong perception of how you are doing, this is the time to get it on the table. If your boss tells you your results are good, then your boss will hopefully have an Aha! moment regarding your contributions.

The worst that can happen? You'll find out sooner, rather than later, that this isn't a place you want to be over the long run.

3. Values conflict. When asked to do something that violates your beliefs, you're about to experience a personal growth moment. Do you know why you believe what you believe? If you aren't sure, this is a primo time to find out.

Did you find out that your value wasn't really a value at all, or not in the way that you thought? Then maybe you can re-consider the request.

Your value is rock-solid? Then "no" is the only answer of integrity.

Conflict and Forgiveness

You may not be able to resolve the conflict, whatever it is. But how you respond will determine your peace of mind and ability to move forward. The act of forgiving following a conflict is important to your well-being.

Bitterness and self-justification will kill you from the inside out. You can't live well and help others if you are filled with bitterness. Life isn't fair. But it's a wonderful life if you choose to live it that way. And that means emptying yourself of real and perceived wrongs.

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Do You Know Your Conversation Catalysts?

Do you want to spread your message for a product, service, or maybe an important organizational change?

Here's a question to answer: "Who are your Conversation Catalysts?"

In the midst of working with a client on a new marketing approach, I was reminded of an article that conversation and connection maven Valeria Maltoni  wrote a while back about a Keller Fay Group research study showing that 15% of the population to be  Conversation Catalysts.

Conversations "These influencers tend to recommend brands and products more often at the tune of 149 times a week vs. 79 for the average population. They also tend to have more conversations -- 184 vs. 114 -- and talk more about brands than others."

Valeria then did a nice job of highlighting the level of various media influences and, ultimately, what this means for the importance of a company website.

But the take away for us is this: Conversation catalysts talk to a whole lot more people and will be happy to share their experiences with them -- good, bad, or indifferent.

Let's connect the dots to make this work for you now

1. Who are the 15% in your customer base or organization? Find out and reach out.

2. What do you want them to say, think, and feel about you and your product or message?

3. How can you make that happen? For real. Genuinely. Authentically.

Hint: The answer involves first reaching that critical 15% in the most effective way (you may want to go back and look at the media research).

Note: If you try to fool the 15% with your puff-piece equivalent of Flash technology, remember that they have the power to reveal you as a fraud.

The takeaway for today

Your customers are going to talk about you. If you are a manager, your employees are going to talk about you.

Regardless of the audience, are you influencing the conversation with the right people at the right time in the right way in order to create the right conversations for success?

Think about this: They now have the ability to create a repuTweetion for you in 140 characters or less.

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Leadership: You'll Know Them When They Know You

Do people at work know who you really are?

Do you see the people around you clearly enough to know who they really are?

Whoareyou? I was thinking about the things an executive coach and advisor really does--or should be doing. One of the most important is this: Seeing people for who they are, realizing what they can be, and helping to take them there.

If that doesn't sound very "business-like," it probably isn't in the traditional sense of "business-like."

And therein lies the issue. Organizations of all kinds hire the best people they can find. Those folks look at the "people are our most important asset" blurbs in the corporate recruiting brochures.Then they sign on with high hopes.

But what happens down the road that causes discontent, retention issues, and the need to search for "talent?" Weren't those people talented when they were hired?

This Is What I See

I see highly motivated people getting performance appraisals that are designed to force rankings on a curve so they never accurately portray an individual's contribution and worth. I see employees at all levels  getting feedback on the gaps in their performance--and then receiving orders to "close the gaps." I see the same people then coming to workshops and seminars, hearing theoretical--but good--teaching, only to go back to work and say "what do I actually do with that?"

In nearly 30 years of managing, consulting, and coaching, I can count on one hand the number of people I've seen fired for technical incompetence. They get released for issues of character, the inability to relate well with other people, or not being able to "close the gap."

Here are my thoughts as a result:

1. The character issue
can be discerned during the hiring process. Discernment should be a highly- valued talent possessed by those interviewing.  If not, get an objective third party to help with that element. Someone who sees others clearly and quickly for who they are.

2. Relating well with other people. You can send people to class to learn skills. But does the day-to-day interaction at work encourage and reward healthy relationships? A manager with a coaching/relational approach can set the tone for how things get done and how people are expected to interact in the process

3. Workshops and Education. Two things I enjoy with a passion. Neither immediately changes my own behavior very much. But I learn ways to think differently and more clearly. Then, when presented with an opportunity to actually do what was taught, the education leads to application. People have the most chance of bumping up their game when given a chance to discuss and apply new knowledge right away.

Manager As Coach

Managers can coach effectively when they see their people clearly because they've built relationships that let them know who their folks really are. If they don't have the time or inclination, then they need to get some help to build the talent that seems, at times, to be hiding. It's probably not hiding. It might just be invisible to the naked eye.

What to Do:

If you want your talent to be valued, you've got to let people know who you really are. Make it impossible for them not to see you clearly.

If you are a manager, be intentional about "seeing clearly." If it's a little difficult for you, get some help.

You and I wouldn't build a house in the dark. We need light to see in order to build. And unless your a truffle, you need a lot of light in order to grow and use your talent to perform.

As always: weigh in. Share your thoughts on clarity, talent, and building people by seeing  yourself--and them- clearly. Let the community learn from what you've learned. Click on Comments and join the discussion.

How about related reading? Thought you'd never ask.

  • Hmm. "Who Do You Love?" has Mike Henry, Sr. exploring who companies really put first.



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Who Packs Your Parachute?

Charles Plumb was a Navy pilot. On his seventy-fifth combat mission, he was shot down and parachuted into enemy territory. Plum was captured and spent six years in prison. He survived and now lectures on the lessons he learned from his experiences.

Parachute One day Plumb and his wife were in a restaurant and approached by a man who asked, "Are you Plumb the navy pilot?"

"Yes, how did you know?" asked Plumb.

"I packed your parachute," the man replied.

Plumb was amazed - and grateful: "If the chute you packed hadn't worked I wouldn't be here today..."

Plumb refers to this in his lectures: he realized that the anonymous sailors who packed the parachutes held the pilots' lives in their hands, and yet the pilots never gave these sailors a second thought; never even said 'hello', let alone said 'thanks'.

Now Plumb asks his audiences, "Who packs your parachutes?..... Who helps you through your life?.... Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually? . . .

Who packs your parachute?  At work and at home, thank them today.


Photo attribution: http://tinyurl.com/kk5mh9

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Purge The Victims and Villains Syndrome

You've seen it, I've seen it, and maybe we've all participated in it.

For me, it happens during a consulting engagement. Others may experience it as water cooler conversation, a team meeting, or as part of survey feedback.

Villain Here it is:

People talk, authoritatively, about what a villain a certain manager is. 

"Our Director never listens to anyone." "Ashley makes micromanagers look like big picture thinkers." "You can't trust our Controller."

The fascinating thing I've noticed is that this "feedback" isn't usually about a direct boss, but often about someone a few levels up in the hierarchy. Hmm. How do folks know these things to be true if they don't have much direct contact with the accused?

Because their manager is telling them. There are a lot of ways
to say, "I don't trust our Controller" without using the words. Employees listen closely to subtle cues and innuendo. After a while it all adds up.

Managers get paid to buffer a lot of the "jerk" stuff from above and can erode confidence by criticizing company leadership.   Even if we think our observations are true, it's not really helpful to share it.

What Managers Can Do

1. Deal directly.  If your boss really is a poor listener, tell her. Telling your team does nothing to fix the problem and, quite frankly, makes you look a bit less trustworthy yourself ("What is he saying about me that he won't say to me?). 

2. If you've had the conversation from #1 and there's really no change, figure out how you will manage that reality.

3. In order to be a victim there has to be a villain. Think about your task: to manage a high performing group of people. The more villains you create, the more victims you develop in your team. Do you want to build up your people or ultimately be a counselor to an "ain't it awful" pity party that you created?

In fact, your bosses may be jerks in many ways. Heck, we all are.

What a great opportunity to differentiate your personal brand.
__________________________________________

( "All Things Workplace" has been selected as one of the 10 finalists for the 2009 Best of Leadership Blogs competition hosted by the Kevin Eikenberry Group. It's an honor to be selected. If you are interested in voting for your favorite, please vote at Best Leadership Blog 2009 by July 31st.)

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The Act of Noticing

While everyone is blogging, Twittering or tweeting, linking in, booking their faces, and coming up with other digital ways to "connect", it would be good to ask: "Am I too busy to notice?"

I bookmarked an article last week that included solid research about the bulk of the population preferring to buy goods and services through face-to-face contact. Now I can't find it because I was so darned connected online I didn't actually pay attention to the title or where I filed it.

This leads into the video below. I was reminded of Emotional Intelligence pioneer Daniel Goleman's TED talk a couple of years ago. If you want to know the connectedness between emotions, business, and "noticing", this will be time very well spent. Close your door. Now. Tell you're boss you are doing professional development. You are.

( "All Things Workplace" has been selected as one of the 10 finalists for the 2009 Best of Leadership Blogs competition hosted by the Kevin Eikenberry Group. It's an honor to be selected. If you are interested in voting for your favorite, please vote at Best Leadership Blog 2009 by July 31st.)

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Leadership, Happiness, and Satisfaction

Every so often I check the statistics here to discover what search engine queries bring people to All Things Workplace. I figured that the keywords were going to be mostly "leadership" or "management".

Wrong.

"Job Satisfaction"..."Happiness at Work"..."Where Can I Find the Best Job?"..."Strengths and Weaknesses"..."How Can I Find A Job Where the Boss Listens to Me?"...those are the themes. Career issues--sometimes disguised as communications--turned up on a second page of searches.

Post 07.09

(Click on image to enlarge)

Make no mistake. People are searching for how to feel good at work. We want to do well...and we want to feel good in the process.

But these are leadership and management issues. What people are saying is: "We want to be in a place where the "orchestration of work" allows us to contribute our talent. There are times when we need direction and times when we need to improvise our own riffs."

Think about two variables

There's a relationship between how much people enjoy their jobs and how well they perform. That's not a mystery. But there is a dynamic you need to know about in order to manage yourself and others:

1. Some people have to feel good about their job and their workplace before they can get busy and perform at their max.

2. Others have to have to first achieve super results in order to feel good about their jobs.

It's a "Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?" phenomenon. I picked up on this during a stretch where I was diagnosing "performance issues" for a client.

My conclusion: Managers hadn't caught onto the validity of the two approaches to performance. Naturally, the "feel good first" people were perceived as weenie-like non-performers. However, they actually had a huge commitment to doing well. They just needed something else to help them be able to get there.

What was it? They wanted the managers to understand who they were and what made them tick. That went along way to having the "right feeling" about the job.

The second category of people wanted a scorecard. They weren't about to "feel" good until they checked off their tasks and accomplishments.

Target yourself and your people

1. Which approach most naturally fits you? Figure out what that means to the way you work and the way your work is managed. Then talk with your manager about your desire to excel and how you might use this natural preference to make that happen.

2. Managers: The next time you're in a meeting (or one-on-one), have an informal conversation about the two approaches. Let people talk about what comes first for them. You'll learn a lot about how to manage each person; and they'll get more of what they need in order to hit the top of the job satisfaction/high performance curve.

Punchline: First, know yourself and your own preference. Only then will you have a solid point of reference for understanding the distinctions of the people around you.

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Change How You Deal With Difficult People

I've been presenting a program for clients on "How To Deal With Difficult People" for more than 20 years.

It sounds kind of grim but is really a lot of fun. Why?

Because everyone has someone who "bugs" them. And, when they think long and hard about it, what bothers people most is actually something they really don't like about themselves. There are lots of ways to have fun with this and learn a lot at the same time without navel-gazing.

What I like best about the approach we've developed is that it isn't about coping with jerks. Why settle for coping? It doesn't really change anything.

Difficultpeople Do You Want To Change Something?

Good. Then here's a little synopsis that I hope will help.

1. What really drives your blood pressure north?

Identify the triggers are that push your buttons by thinking about past experiences in which your "favorite"  person finally got to you.

What did they do?  That’s different than why it bothered you. Simply identify their actual behavior.  Was it the way they approached you? Looked at you?  How did they look at you?
Maybe it was a certain voice quality or tone of voice?

2. How did you react?

Do you immediately blame them for how you feel?  Do you act distracted or quickly find a distraction? Disavow what’s really going on? When they do their "special" thing, what do you do in response?


3. What do you want from yourself? 

What’s the very best you can bring to the situation? Regardless of what they did, what would you do to be delighted with yourself after the interaction?

4.  What do you really want from them? 

Yeah, I know: "Stop that stuff!"

Not going to happen. So, think about this relationship the way the Cheerios people do on their nutrition label. "What is the MDR (minimum daily requirement) of behavior you can hope for and accept?
Then start expecting nothing more. (it's quite free-ing, really).

5.  Has someone else learned a way to deal with this person?

 How do they do it?  Who might know how to do it?  Describe your situation in a way that combines "behavior-then-how-I-feel." No need to dump on the offender; besides, it makes you less attractive and less of a good candidate for help.

When you've reached a point where you have an approach, use it. We train our muscle memories to play tennis, golf, and other sports in ways that become unconscious.  You can train your nervous system in the same way. Think about this: if you do just one thing differently you may change the entire pattern.

Most importantly: Life is not what happens to us. It's how we respond to what happens to us.

And you are in charge of your responses.

Go for it!

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Non Verbals Across Cultures: Start Teaching It

It's easy to misunderstand someone from a culture different than your own--especially when it comes to non-verbals. 

Despite this, there's not much intentional training on nonverbal behavior in global corporations. Perhaps there should be. I recall my initiation into this special "world" as a new  management trainer in Saudi Arabia in 1979. Since then, the whole idea of cross-cultural teams and travel has become the norm. I'm not so sure that the same is true with purposeful understanding. Here's my Day One experience; perhaps you've had a similar one:

Nonverbal Real Life

Our support staff was made up entirely of Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and Thai folks. When addressing the group about an administrative problem, the silent responses ranged from a head shake (Indian) to downward stares (Pakistani and Bangladeshi) to a bright smile from our Thai guy. I took this to mean lack of concern or a misunderstanding--perhaps I wasn't speaking clearly. I finally left the discussion puzzled by what appeared to be a collective lack of concern.

By the end of the day the situation was, without fanfare, totally resolved. Huh?

It was only later that another native English-speaking manager with considerably more experience sat me down and gave me a million-dollar lesson in cultural non-verbals. He shared that the Thai smile signaled an apology; the Indian head-shake wasn't a "No" (a U.S non-verbal) but in fact a "Yes, I understand." The other two fellows were from cultures that didn't value constant eye contact while being engaged--but they were listening carefully and clearly engaged.

Teaching and Learning, Explicit or Implicit?

So: is non-verbal behavior something that can accurately be picked up by informal exposure to other people or does it need to be specifically taught?

A study by  Damnet & Borland (2007) (don't seem to be able to access this any longer) suggests it may be better to teach nonverbal behavior explicitly.

This study examined Thai university students learning English as a foreign language.

One group saw videos of native English speakers along with being taught the meaning of the words. While they were not explicitly taught the nonverbal communication, they were implicitly exposed to it.

A second group was purposefully taught about nonverbal communication in addition to learning the grammar and vocabulary. It was this second group that showed the best understanding of nonverbal communication.

In Organizations, It Matters

It can be tough enough during meetings and normal interactions to interpret the nonverbal cues from our own culture . Add the global nature of doing business and one would have to ask: Wouldn't it make sense to simply put this out there as a training program? It could be a lot of fun as well as highly educational in a way that would reduce unnecessary misunderstandings.

Add your own examples to the comments. It would be a big help to readers everywhere.

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Recognize the Seven Universal Emotions

This is useful to everyone, especially in a career world that is so overwhelmingly global.

You'll find "experts" on body language and rants about the meaning of this gesture or that one. Much of this is true, with one huge caveat: you have to be patient and carefully synthesize the totality of the gestures and mannerisms in order to develop some degree of accuracy.

If you are making a presentation, running a meeting, or in a management discussion, it may be more helpful to know what emotions are universal. This gives you a better chance at narrowing the possibilities of what kinds of responses you are really seeing. So, here goes.

The Seven "Universal" Emotions

These are common throughout all people and cultures:

  • anger     
  • contempt
  • disgust
  • fear
  • happiness
  • sadness
  • surprise

Gestures Here's where it gets tricky:

There are 10,000 different facial expressions. About 3000 of these facial expressions are relevant to emotion and most people use only 50-60 in normal conversation. Those 50-60 do relate to the seven universal emotions.

These expressions can be "macro" expressions which last 1-3 seconds or even longer. An example would be a smile. The question: "Is the smile real or fake?" If fake, what does that mean? (Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar; people simply want to be polite).

We also make micro expressions that give up our more hidden feelings. These are like reflexes, because it's very difficult to stop them from happening since they are part of our brain's hard-wiring. That's why we get a "feeling" when we watch small discrepancies between someone's words and their expression.

These expressions last only 1/25th of a second. (That is faster than an eye-blink). Most people can't pick up micro expressions consciously. When viewed on film and played as slower speeds, these expressions look just like macro expressions. Many homicide detectives do this. If you don't happen to be looking for a serial killer, it's still a great way to watch what signals you give off when you are speaking or running a meeting.

How to Use This

The seven universal emotions are the ones that are most important to you. You want to know whether someone is angry, happy, etc., with your interaction. Memorize the list (or carry a cheat sheet) and increase your awareness of these.

Do: When you think you have enough visual information to believe that the person--or people--are, say, "surprised", don't make the assumption that you are correct. Instead, matter-of-factly state your observation: "You know, I'm watching the response to this slide and am getting the sense that maybe you are a bit surprised. Is that so?" This will lead to affirmation or will yield other responses that will help you--and them--stay or get on track. 

Don't: Try to be magically clever and tell them  you know how they feel. The last time you did that with your spouse or significant other, how'd that work for you?

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Change and Generational Differences

Is it more difficult to make changes after the age of 30?

The answer is "yes" according to some new research.

The Scientific American Mind ran an interesting article on why change is hard and suggest that most of us experience reduced "openness" after our twenties.  The article is currently available for review here

Here is a quote:

"Once a family and career are in place, novelty may no longer be as welcome. New experiences may bring innovation and awakening but also chaos and insecurity. And so most people dream of novelty but hold fast to the familiar. Over time we become creatures of habit: enjoying the same dishes when we eat out, vacationing in favorite spots and falling into daily routines."


I'm not sure this is a revelation but I do think it's well-stated and to the point. We all gravitate toward anchors of stability in life-- people and places with whom we feel secure. The research implies that through our twenties we're sort of roaming and looking for experiences. What we're also doing is taking in those experiences and making sense out of life...which then moves us toward a chosen "lifestyle" and  increased stability.

What this also implies is that, like all preceding generations, Gen Z will no doubt look at Gen Y as "the traditionalists".

What Does This Mean for the Workplace?

Read the italics carefully. Although we become creatures of habit the research says that "novelty may no longer be as welcome" and that most people still "dream of novelty."

That's why we need to spend time with, and listen to, the newest generation in the workplace. They are the ones who will ignite the dreams and bring the novelty into our lives and businesses. Instead of saying, "We can't do that here" replace it with, "How would you do that?"

Then sit back and listen.



The article by Nikolas Westerhoff was published in the December 2008 edition of Scientific American Mind.

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Help and How to Ask For It

We all need help: managers delegate (it's really about help), team members collaborate, and it would be great if our kids would take the trash out for us.

Yet asking for help seems to be unbelievably difficult for many. To some it's embarrassing; others see it as a sign of weakness; and there are those who fear the sense of rejection that comes from "no".

If you think about it you'll realize that most people are willing to help most of the time. After all, aren't you?

Help A Helping Hand

Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology  shows that we vastly underestimate just how willing others are to lend a hand.

In a series of studies Francis Flynn and Vanessa Lake of Columbia University tested people's estimates of how likely others were to help. They recruited people to ask others to fill out questionnaires, borrow cell phones and even escort them to the gym.

The result: people underestimated how likely others were to help them by as much as 100%.

So, what's going on?

It's embarrassing to say "'no"

We find it difficult to understand what others think and feel because we are kind of stuck inside ourselves. We may not like to think of ourselves as egocentric, but we all are to varying degrees.

The researchers say it's more than that. We also underestimate just how much social pressure there is on other people to say "yes". In effect, when you ask someone to help you it's a lot more awkward for them to say "no" than you might imagine.

Two Practical Tips For You

1. When you want help, just ask. People are much more likely to help than you think (especially if the request is relatively small). Most people gain pleasure in helping others who have a need.

2. Make it easy for people to say "no". Here's the flip side: most of us don't realize just how hard it is to say "no" to a request for help. People feel more pressure to say "yes" than we realize. If what you are asking for really may be a burden, think of ways to make it easier for the person to say "no".

Note: In the workplace, goals and deadlines may not be negotiable. If you are a manager you need to look at what you are delegating, the totality of activities an employee has to do, and set priorities. It's popular to parrot, "Do more with less."  In this case, the "less" is time. Can your employee or team achieve the standard of performance by doing more with less time? Get clear about what's most important.

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5 Tips to Ethical & Successful Influence

I was just asked how I built our speaking/consulting/coaching practice over the years (we incorporated and began it part-time in 1977).

Here is the answer:

I didn't know what I was doing. So I just did whatever I knew.

Looking back, the answer is clear:

a. I wanted to use my expertise to help people.

b. I had to do 'a' for money.

c. In order to do 'a' and 'b', people had to know me, trust me, and believe me/experience the results.

It would be easy to wax poetic about a structured business plan (didn't have one), raising capital (got a $5,000 loan on a handshake with the president of the local bank), or the drop-dead marketing plan (I just wanted to do what I wanted to do).

5 There are only five things that have been consistent and that I find haven't--and shouldn't--be changed.

1. First impressions are made within about four seconds but  can last a lifetime. Create first class relationships, presentation materials, and now a top-notch online identity. Only hire primo individuals as employees or contractors; they are who your clients will use to judge your business.

2. Stand for something unique. Differentiate in a way that resonates with your community without being whacko-trendy. (Unless, of course, your product or service is "whacko-trendy").

3. Network and do business through referrals. Your introduction to an opportunity changes how you are perceived and treated. Too many coaches, consultants, and training people cold call the world instead of networking with targeted groups of individuals who can be both informative and valuable connectors.

4. Let clients experience your performance. If they take your services for a test drive they will likely want more of you down the road.

5. Don't sell your services; build friendships. People do business with those who they consider their friends. Most people attribute positive attributes to all aspects of a person's abilities if they first approve of that person's character and personality. Pay attention to the depth of your character; your personality will reflect it.

Whether you are starting a retail business, a consulting practice, or interviewing for your first job, invest yourself in these five activities. No matter what is happening around you continue to hold fast to them. They have proven faithful for 32 years as long as I remain faithful to them.

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Even More: Honesty, Boldness, and Sins of Omission

It's clear that people do want to deal with truth, not a sanitized version of it.

Honesty, Boldness, and Sins of Omission generated comments that went below the surface to address, well, some truths.

Wally Bock and Dan Erwin weighed in with workplace and personal examples. I'm going to use both to hopefully shine even more light on the issues.

Dr. Peter Vajda  works with local business professionals in the Atlanta area on these issues quite frequently. Here is what Peter adds:

Honesty Few People Know How

My experience says few folks know how to have a conversation that may be uncomfortable...at work, at home, at play or in relationship...most avoid difficult conversations...the major reason being they never felt comfortable around conflict growing up..or learned how to "be" with conflict...and now as an adult, this "child-ish" reaction leaks out when the idea of conflict arises...leading to avoidance, excuse-making for not broaching it, or coming across like a sledge hammer....all defensive mechanisms.

What To Do that Is Helpful

1. Be conscious of any type of "history" (bad blood, resentment, jealousy, etc.) between you and the person with whom you want to have this conversation. If there is history, creating a container of safety will be challenging. Building that container will take time and it's wise to do so before having the "conversation." You'll need to create a bridge of trust and respect before having that conversation.

2. If you have behaved inappropriately or have contributed to any aspect of the issue, then you need to own that.

3. It's important that your motives are pure and heart-felt. If you make this a right-wrong, me vs. you, win/lose type of experience, it won't work. So, you might ask three questions: (a) what do I want for me? (b) what do I want for the other person? (c) what do I want for our relationship? All responses should have some degree of mutual coming-together "for the good of the order" perspective. Else, just more conflict or misunderstanding and mistrust.

4. Speak about specific measurable and observable behaviors...not attitudes or personalities.

5. Use a "soft" start-up. John Gottman, in "The Seven Principles that Make Marriage Work" (tools and principles that can apply as much to the workplace as home) speaks about the soft start up. Beginning a conversation without any flavor of: contempt, criticism, defensiveness or stonewalling. A "harsh start-up, on the other hand leads to emotional reactivity, emotional flooding and only creates distance between those involved. So, it's not about being "diplomatic". It's about NOT being critical or expressing contempt, even in a masked or subtle manner. No subtle or overt attacking - making the other feel "bad" or "wrong."

6. Most conversations that deal with conflict end the same way they start. So, if they start "softly", they'll most likely end that way...ditto, "harshly."

7. There's a way to complain, without being critical, without blaming, evaluating or judging. John Gottman's book as well as "Non-Violent Communication" and "Crucial Conversations" (Google, if interested) deal with this.

8. Do it now. Storing things up only serves to create cortisol and leads to stress and most probably a less-then-pleasant interchange.

Thanks, Peter.

What are your experiences with honesty and discussions?

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Honesty, Boldness, and Sins of Omission

Do you ever think back on a situation and ask yourself, "Why didn't I say_______?"

We humans have a tendency to want to make things "nice". So we rationalize by committing a sin of omission: not telling the whole truth.

How does this happen?I

There are certain people in our lives who make us feel like being completely honest would harm the relationship with them.  So we smile and hold back the tougher parts of the truth. Then we walk away having to live with a sense of nagging  disappointment.

But it can have even greater consequences.

Truthconsequences Why?

Because people are looking for boldness. (Aren't you?). We look for people who put a stake in the ground  and say, "This is the way it is." People want the truth because they actually can deal with it.  Heck, it's easier than dealing with a lie, isn't it?

I know what you are thinking: "If I tell (fill in the blank) what I really think, she won't like me anymore."

1. How do you know for sure?

2. Do you want to spend your time with colleagues, a boss, or others who want you to be someone else so that they can be comfortable? (It will drain you and make you unbelievably ineffective).

3. How long will it be before the entire truthfulness of the issues emerges and you look like the one who was untruthful?!

When you have a less than "real" relationship with someone who has a lot of power over you, the idea of putting that relationship at risk is scary. So it's important to deliver the truth with respect for the other person involved.

What You Can Do

Here are three sentences that model some ways to do this:

"I have some real concerns about our working relationship..."

"I sensed your frustration in that meeting, and here's how it impacted me. It may have impacted others in the same way"

"Let me tell you something that you may not have heard before..."

Honest relationships are energizing; hedging your bets will drain you.

The next time an opportunity comes up to be bold with the truth, remember that you have a choice.

That choice will live with you for a long time.  

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Speaking Out About Silence At Work

"How many meanings can silence have? Let me count the ways.'
--Arnold Shakespeare, little-known descendant of The Bard

Silence Is Not Golden Unless You Are A New Parent looked at the danger of assuming--or wanting to assume agreement--in a meeting room filled with silence. Then, we rattled off a number of meanings we think are important for workplace dwellers to understand.

Naturally, my list was incomplete. So, the reader community chimed in with other reasons that are important to tuck away in your mental messenger bag. (Hey, we could have said briefcase but we are sooo 2.0).

No_talking Readers Say This About Silence

Chris Witt: "People disagree with what you've said and they don't know how or don't feel safe to voice their disagreement. Some people equate disagreement with conflict, and hate conflict."

Higher ups ask for feedback/questions when they really don't want it. (My paraphrase): People are accused of being disrespectful or not being team players . The crime? They put the boss on the spot by asking (unwanted) questions during a public meeting.

Higher ups blame poor communication on subordinates. One such case was the result of a president complaining about poor presentations. Yet he constantly interrupted the speakers, asked questions they couldn't possibly answer, and was rude and intimidating. Who would want to talk to him?

Dr. Peter Vajda: "Then there are those who feel emotionally lacking, deficient or insufficient as a result of some invidious comparison they are making between themselves and the speaker as a result of what they've heard or what they've seen. They may feel jealous, insecure, angry at themselves (depressed) for being 'stupid'."

Wally Bock: "This is aggravated by the concept taught in many sales training programs that 'silence means consent'." 

Hayli at Transition Concierge: My sales training was similar. . .Essentially, make your proposal and then wait for the silence to force the prospective customer into starting a conversation. We were taught that he who talks first "loses".

HR Jobs: "People may have lost interest and don't want to speak as they think it will look like a sign of interest."

Rodney Johnson: "Too often silence becomes a Silent Problem. When unleashed without warning, it screams."

What To Take Away?

We don't know the meaning of silence at a given moment, because there are as many reasons as there are individuals in the room.

What to do?

I'll repeat the advice from the previous article: Simply ask. Tell the person--or group--that you want to understand correctly rather than make an error in judgment. Then be quiet until someone speaks up. I find it useful to silently count to 10 or even 15. 

Bonus Tomorrow!

Kindred spirit Mary Jo Asmus looks at the flip side of silence with her guest post "When Silence Is Golden". Be sure to stop by.

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Feedback: Whose Motives?

Managers who are good coaches are like good journalists: they listen first and investigate the who, what, when, where, why, and how.

Remember that the real task is to stimulate thinking and help the person across the table gain clarity about some issue of concern. No matter how much we know, we can't stuff it into the other person's heart and mind. When we're on the other side of the table, what do we want?

A sounding board and a mirror.

Conversation What to do?

 Listen for gaps in logic, wandering thoughts, missing information, and lurking dangers that seem unknown. Help the person expand upon the answers to your questions, rethink the answers, or find even better ones.

Whose Motives?

We humans love to give advice. Why?

To use and show off our knowledge; boost our own sense of self; "prove" something; reduce someone else's learning curve and the pain that goes with it; or to show genuine empathy and support.

Some of these reasons are honorable while others are really "all about us." Pausing to check our own motives can help us head off the temptation to offer "help" that isn't really helpful.

Being asked for feedback is a sign of respect. Staying focused on the other person's needs is the way to respond in kind.

Be careful when you give advice--someone is liable to take it.

___________________________

It's natural to think about feedback in the context of your company's performance management "systems" and the always-agonizing annual performance review. Check out John Ingham's Improving and Innovating Performance Management.

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Silence Is Not Golden Unless You Are A New Parent

If you make a statement that is met with silence, the last thing you want to believe is that you have agreement.

It's easy to want to assume agreement because it allows us to move on and quickly avoid the potential for dis-agreement, conflict and, unfortunately, the truth about what people are really thinking and feeling.

Silence-is-mountain-lions

Here are just some of the meanings that may lurk behind silence:

  • People are too angry to speak.
  • People are confused but don't want to appear "stupid" by asking a question. Why? Because as they look around, no one else is asking a question and each is assuming that all the rest are silent as a result of understanding.
  • People are reflecting on what you said and haven't yet processed it completely.
  • People who are counterdependent are actually rebuking you and protecting themselves with silence.
  • Those who really weren't listening anyway don't want to do anything that will cause them to be asked a question. They may even nod slightly in the hope that you will "go away".
  • People are, in fact, in total agreement with you and thinking more about your conversation/presentation.

(How many more can you add? Do send in your cards and letters via comments).

Think about this: the person in a relationship who maintains silence grabs the power. It's not healthy but it's a fact.

When you encounter silence, name it and neutralize it by saying something like this: "We just spent 45 minutes discussing Project Q. I gave you my take, but what you are thinking--pro and con--is important. Let's discuss it." Then, sit there and wait for the discomfort of prolonged silence to force the conversation to begin.

It will.

For more about the dynamics of talking and silence, check out Nothing Happens Until People Talk plus Employee Needs, Silent Communication, and What To Do.

BTW: I gave you my take, but what are you thinking?



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Caution: Your Self, Your Systems , and Quaker Parrots

You and I may have something in common (in addition to work).

Anytime I come across a parrot, I try to strike up a conversation to see if the bird will talk back. Don't you? For some reason, it's perfectly acceptable for humans to be seen in public attempting to talk with parrots. And if they talk back, it's a treat.

At least for a while.

The problem that arises is this: the darned bird has no idea what it's saying or why it's saying it. Parrots aren't into context. Which is why they, uh, "parrot" things.

Quakerparrot_train What does this have to do with you and systems?

Workplaces are all about systems, and rightfully so. Without systems we would waste time doing the same task differently at each attempt. Makes no sense.

So systems are good. Excellent, in fact. Learning what works and replicating it is a wise thing to do. All of you 5S, GTD, SAP, and PDQ Bach people know that.

So why is "Caution" up there in the headline?

There is a distinct difference between replicating successful systems and trying to mindlessly copy the behavior of managers or management "techniques" that have worked before. 

Take  inspiration from your mentors and models, but become a person who manages upon a foundation of guiding principles. Learn and understand why something worked in the past, taking into account the context in which it worked. That context will help you build a set of principles on which to base your management, your organizational life, and your career.

Use the best models out there to gain a better understanding of management and why you do what you do.

The caution?… None of your people really wants to speak with a managerial parrot.

Oh, why Quaker Parrots? According to this, they are "charming (with)comical personalities and a willingness to learn human speech; the Quaker Parrot is an excellent choice for those who want all the fun of a large parrot in a smaller package. They adapt well to living in a "human flock" setting, and enjoy spending time with their owners."

Could be better than having the teenagers around.

Bonus Alert: Dan McCarthy will get you TORC-ed up about what's most important to your career as well as a related hiring process. This is a primo post.

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Four Ways To Spot Reduced Trust

We're all looking for trusting relationships to build a strong foundation for our businesses, careers, or favorite cause.

When things don't "feel" right at a gut level it's easy to say, "Let's do a survey and find out if something is going on with our customer/employee/donor relationships." That's both expensive and time consuming. By the time you get the results, here's what has happened:

1. The fact that people have participated in a survey automatically raises the expectation that something different is going to happen as a result. If nothing different happens, then trust diminishes.

2. People expect to at least hear the results. Again: if the results aren't shared, people wonder why they spent their time and energy trying to be helpful. And, they wonder what was so horrendous that it couldn't be discussed. A double-dip of trust reduction.

3. Unless you do a survey quickly and then respond quickly with the results, enough time will have passed that the issues impacting the survey may no longer be relevant.

Trust: Diagnose This!

It's helpful to learn to recognize for yourself the signs that things aren't quite right in the "trust" department. You can do an accurate diagnosis as the first step to getting back on track with your relationships--on and off the job.

Gauge Hedging Their Bets

Hedging is placing a bet elsewhere so that if a current proposal or situation fails, people have other alternatives. That certainly makes sense on the surface. The problem is that hedging becomes a distraction. It takes a lot of time for people to develop a Plan B. If you think about such instances in your own life, the alternative can start to look more interesting than the current assignment. The result:  You begin to see people putting less effort into the work at hand.

Lesson: When you see people talking more about options that protect themselves vs. actions that achieve the communal goal, you are seeing a lack of confidence and trust. 

Emotional Distance

Confession: When I don't trust someone, the easiest thing to do is to minimize my contact with them. The payoff is this: I reduce the risk of betrayal, hurt, or other consequences of failed trust.

When a person distances one's self themselves from their  work relationships, they aren't fully engaged. They may be occupied in task-oriented work 100% of time but they aren't contributing with their full potential.

Lesson: If you are a manager and see someone operating in this way, it's time for a quiet talk. That means: Listen. Start off by relating what you see and asking what could be getting in the way of the potential that you've seen demonstrated in the past. Be prepared: It may be you. Listen and hear what is being said. Whatever the issue, thank the person and allow that you need some time to ponder what was said so that it can be addressed in the most helpful way. Then, be sure to follow through.

I'm Outta Here

Leaving might mean finding another job within the company or even leaving the company for seemingly greener pastures. It's also a kind of retribution. "I'll leave you without my skills; then, your lack of trustworthiness will be laid bare for all to see."

Lesson: If one person does a disappearing act yet all is (genuinely) well with everyone else, it may be best to close the book and move on. But when you start to see the resumes hit the street, it's time to talk with each person and determine the underlying issues.

Alliances

When people don't trust someone, it's common for a group to gang up with others who share those sentiments: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend!"  When this happens, you get groups who start hedging and distancing themselves as entire teams or departments. This magnifies the negative impact of those behaviors on the situation.

Lesson: If there's a party and you are the only one not invited, congratulations:  it's probably about you. It's time for a sit-down that may very well call for a great deal of humility on your part and lots of mutual forgiveness to get things back on track.

Note: When you sense any of the above beginning to surface, sit down with people and describe what you are sensing. You may find out you are wrong and that nothing--or something totally different--is happening.

Experience has shown me that good diagnostic skills are the lifeblood of managers everywhere. So is action.

Don't wait until you've confirmed your diagnosis in a thousand different ways. Holding out for perfection may prove you correct but you'll show up just in time for the autopsy.

Gotta lay off of those CSI reruns.

Bonus: Apparently the folks at Forbes.com are hot on the trail of the trust thing as well.

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Wisdom and Business

Seven_wise_men_lxv

Wisdom and Business? The Thought Exists.

Beginning in 1917, Forbes Magazine set aside its last page for "Thoughts on the Business of Life". It was B.C. Forbes' hope that wise words and reflections by sages and thinkers throughout the centuries would "inspire a philosophic mode of life, broad sympathies, charity to all."

His vision was one of thoughtful reflection, a wide range of understanding, and reaching out to others.

Today it's common to see posters, desk ornaments, appointment books, and presentation slides showing inspirational, wise, and motivational maxims. At some level--as business people--we acknowledge the importance of wisdom. We have to wonder, then, what is happening in daily practice when we see the onslaught of blog posts, newspaper articles, and scandals that reflect frustration with a lack of managerial wisdom, personal integrity, and basic kindness toward others.

What is happening that causes managers, employees, and organizations who acknowledge the importance of wisdom and integrity to then struggle in their ability to live that way?

First:  It's Personal Before It's Organizational.

Organizations are collections of individuals. The only place an organization exists as an entity is on its papers of incorporation and stock certificate. Past that, the organization is a community of people. Each person brings values, aspirations, talent, and one's overall "self" to the business. As a result, if you want an organization of wise people that act with integrity, the individuals within have to possess those attributes. In the words of B.C. Forbes, they would possess a "philosophic mode of life."

In practical terms, that means that they see themselves as learners and an incomplete work. Companies would be wise to invest extra time and energy in validating whether a new hire or candidate for promotion has a passion for personal growth--not just a passion for learning. Personal growth implies depth, not just breadth. If I were to complete 3 different doctoral programs but gain no deeper understanding of myself in relation to those around me, what have I gained that will improve the nature of my organization and my life?

And Yes, It Is About You

Before embarking on a hiring campaign, expanding your leadership skills, or seeking a promotion, understand that the integrity of that process begins with your own integrity. The extent to which you are clear about what is honestly important to you; what is honestly important to your business; and what you can honestly present or offer to another will influence your success.

Why?

In addition to the common definition "honesty and incorruptibility," integrity is the "quality or state of being complete or undivided."

Here's what that means in real terms. It means that unless you are undivided about who you are--and who you are not--you lack integrity. The building in which you work has a certificate of occupancy that was only granted after it was tested for structural integrity.

If you were tested right now on how clear and undivided you are about who you are, would you get a certificate of occupancy?

Here's what I really hope will be a useful tip if you want to be a person of integrity:

I struggled for a long time in getting focused--getting honest--about what I wanted for the future scope of my practice. Every time I tried to define it I thought of all of the consulting, coaching, and speaking projects and engagements I had done over the years. I thought of all the things I hoped to do and wanted to be. It led to nothing but long lists and wasted energy. One morning I awoke fresh and this question came to mind:

1. "What are all of the things you are not?"

2. "What are all of the things you do not want to be?"

3. "Are you telling yourself the truth?"

It catapulted the process into the ozone. Try it. It is easy to list all of the things you don't want to become. It is an exercise in honesty to list all of the things that you are not. And, quite frankly, you'll know right away whether you are lying to yourself or not. And if you think you can't see something accurately, ask a friend, colleague, coach...

We are used to equating additive processes with success. But that only creates more "stuff."  Getting rid of what you don't want is like cleaning your storage room. After tossing out what is obviously junk, you can clearly and more accurately see what is left and what you value enough to keep.

(Try it. Really. And let me know via email or a comment how it goes).

So, for organizational wisdom: start with personal integrity and clarity. If we don't know who we are, we can't see clearly who others are. Our discernment is distorted. The images that we see are being reflected from an internal mirror that is made of frosted glass. Only a clear, smooth coating will do.

Note: If you truly have been honest with yourself--then take a job that you know is not a fit, but you must earn some money --understand what you have done. Should your colleagues or boss behave in ways that are inconsistent with your defined values, it is not their problem. You have made a short-term decision to violate your integrity. This will probably present a terrific opportunity to gain wisdom, should you choose.

And Next, It's Organizational

I'm sure many of us have been involved in vision, mission, values activities at work. But that phenomenon seems to have lost steam. What was an attempt to get organizations to "dig deep" in determining what they were really about has morphed into wall plaques, sound bites, and the headings of annual reports. What was designed to offer purpose-driven and moral guidance has, for many, become another exercise-du-jour. (There are also many companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Minerals Technologies who work at living out their guiding principles. I have consulted often with both and have been impressed by their consistency).

What is the answer, then?

If companies and countries want to hire, elect, and retain the best, they need to re-visit their values and "who we are" in deeply clear and meaningful ways. There is no way to discern "best fit" without understanding "who we are" and "what we hold dear." To send an HR person or manager into the "talent wars"  without those is akin to sending them into battle unarmed. They may come back with a warm body, but it will be a prisoner and not a contributor. 

Wisdom, Discernment, Integrity, and Speed

Every major religion has a principle that addresses the relationship between stillness, sound decisions, and wisdom. I'm not naive to the inner workings of profit-making organizations. Heck. I am a profit making organization (regardless of what my accountant says).

If you and your organization truly want to do the wise thing, genuinely want to discern what is true and what is not, and create organizational integrity (both honesty and structure); then allow the time needed to do so. Clarity doesn't exist in the midst of a blur. Wisdom isn't acquired from reading quotations; it is acquired as a result of taking time to be quotable yourself. And  personal wholeness and structural soundness aren't built on rapidly shifting values and foundational quicksand.

Become the wise, discerning, person of integrity that you want your organization to be.

Someone has to go first. Someone who values the wisdom of that decision. Why not you?

 

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Wisdom, Discernment, Integrity and Decisions

How often do you hear the terms wisdom, discernment, and integrity used during the business day?

What are organizations looking for when hiring, promoting, and thinking about future decision-makers?

We hear words like intelligent, problem-solver, action-oriented, results-driven, and good decision-making ability.

Star But what good are any of those if they aren't carried out with wisdom, discernment, and integrity? It's possible to be action-oriented and still take a lot of wrong actions.

Does intelligence guarantee sound leadership?  History reveals that many leaders with intelligence that was clearly "above average" have oppressed their people, ruined their economies and committed genocide.

What Are We Dealing With Here?

First, some slightly paraphrased definitions from Merriam-Webster Online.

Wisdom: ability to discern inner qualities and relationships : (insight) c : good sense : (judgment).

Discernment: the power to distinguish and select what is true or appropriate or excellent; the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure.

Integrity: firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values : (incorruptibility); the quality or state of being complete or undivided : (completeness).

Why Do They Make a Difference?

Let's start with integrity. It's probably the easiest to deal with and something that we do talk about on the job, at least when it is violated.

Integrity makes a difference because it's an outward indication of our internal character. If we say we have a set of "corporate" values and then live by them--even if it means sacrificing extra revenue--then we are known as having integrity. When we live up to our word, we have integrity. Most of all, integrity is what allows a person or a company to be trusted.

When you possess wisdom, you are able to make judgments that go beneath the surface issue or decision being presented. My observation and experience show that those possessing wisdom have actually learned from their previous experiences and mistakes; have confronted their own part in them; and now are able to see more clearly what is happening within other people and other situations. Maturity--not age alone--is necessary for wisdom.

Discernment is probably the least-used word in business. It implies a well-honed wisdom that allows one to accurately "read between the lines" when dealing with people and situations and see what is true. You and I know lots of people who say "I know how to 'read' people. However, I don't really know lots of people who discern the truth very well at all.

What Happens in The Absence of Those Three ?

When we hire and promote based upon education, experience, and behavioral traits, we're still working on the surface. To get "keepers" we need to dig one level deeper.

At a business luncheon meeting a few years ago our well-educated, high-level executive speaker spent his entire block of time talking about his accomplishments, what he was going to achieve in the coming year, and the plan to get there. When he asked for questions, the guy next to me said something gutsy. He paraphrased William James:

"I'm sorry. Who you are spoke so loudly that I wasn't able to hear what you had to say."

My neighbor had discerned the self-centered character of the presenter. The speaker had not discerned the values, maturity and character of his audience. As a result, his accomplishments couldn't overcome the low regard in which his peers began to hold him as a result of his bravado. It was a defining moment that impacted his career mobility.

When we're hiring, promoting, and making leadership decisions of any kind, wouldn't it be worthwhile to accurately discern who we're getting?

It will ultimately determine what we get.

There's a lot of blind faith attached to the perceived attribute of "intelligece."  Have a look at Jim Stroup's piece on Blind Faith at Managing Leadership.  Another take from an HR perspective is Sharlyn Lauby's Truth and Transparency.

And do take a moment to subscribe by RSS or email using the links on the  sidebar!

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Perfect or Perfectly Boring: There's a Better Way

Perfection causes stress. Stress is toxic. For that reason alone, trying to attain perfection in your presentation is self-defeating from the outset. Let go of it now. 

The human ability to sense another's nervous discomfort is not only exceedingly keen--it is contagious and stretches an audience's tension level like a taut rubber band.

If no perfection, what do people look for  during a "presentation?"

Perfectionist Connection and  engagement that allows them to experience the meaning useful information. The first two require humanity, which includes a degree of imperfection and vulnerability that prompts listeners to think, "Hey, (s)he's kind of like me!"

We want real people because we've come to understand that emotionless, perfection-emitting talking heads aren't connected  with our reality. When we sit through a flawless data dump of any sort--financial, research, engineering--we wonder why the speaker didn't simply send us a White Paper and call it a day.

Where Does The Perfection Thing Come From?

Let's be fair. If you are educated in the sciences, finance, or engineering, your college grades and professional performance appraisals relate directly to your ability to be precise. In fact, you are valued and rewarded  for precision. Discovery research, accounting and financial projections, aerospace engineering and quality control of all sorts contribute to the growth, safety, and stability of every aspect of life. 

So, it's only natural for many to extend that kind of well-rewarded precision and analysis to the  speaking platform. The problem? Lengthy, detailed, here's-everything-I-know-about-this-topic presentations that bore instead of score. 

But perfection isn't limited to the precise. It extends to an entire range of psyches seeking to avoid embarrassment, be seen as "the best", or believing that anything less than perfect will be punished. The causes for that kind of thinking are numerous and varied but the results are the same: unhealthy stress that touches everyone involved. 

OK, Steve, What's the Solution?

Find out what the person or audience wants to know about your topic.  Make a few phone calls, drop into a cubicle or two, and say: "I've been charged with talking about The Widget Launch. What do you need to know?"

1. Your audience will give you the content.

2. You'll feel confident about being on target because you'll know you are fulfilling an already-expressed need.

3. The "presentation" will feel like the continuation of a conversation instead of a stand-up routine.

4. Those in the room will start off on your side because you've already developed a relationship with them. 

5. "Perfect" loses its power when "meeting needs" replaces "knowing it all."

Let me know how it goes. . .






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Why Even Think About "Global" Presentations?

If you've ever made one, you know the answer.

We are all, naturally, "creatures of our cultures. " When it comes to communicating in global business we often find:

1. Different expectations about how information is delivered and discussed (or not).

2. Different expectations about and reactions to energy level, formality, and informality.

3. The issue of literal vs. figurative interpretation of phrases as people attempt difficult translations into their native languages.

4. A certain sensitivity on the part of the speaker:  "Am I really making myself understood?"

When I started out many years ago, the bulk of my coaching and training work was with U.S.-based companies who were doing  work internationally. I had lived and worked in Europe, Africa and the Middle East for a number of years so the engagements were a good match and rewarding. That kind of expertise has continued to keep me outside of the U.S. for 30% or so of each year.

Now, the dynamic has shifted somewhat. Organizations outside of the U.S. are finding that communicating with U.S. teams carries its own set of challenges:

    ▪    While U.S. companies genuinely promote teams and teamwork, there is still an underlyingYouthnet_meeting_ethnic_standing element of individuality that is not present in many other cultures. This can become confusing during the decision and discussion phases of a presentation or meeting.

    ▪    There is a much higher tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity amongst Americans. While planning and procedures are valued, "options and alternatives" are seen as good things.  Other cultures can experience such uncertainty differently and  choose to avoid it. Rules, structure, and hierarchy are seen as valuable ways to reduce the discomfort that comes from ambiguity.

    ▪    Acceptance of power and hierarchy. Presenting one's ideas and arguing one's  point regardless of organizational title  is usually a valued sign of assertiveness in American companies.  However, earlier this year  I received a mobile call from a client who was cooling her heels outside of the office of a CEO in Portugal. It seems that she was two levels below him in her organization and he was unwilling to see her alone even though the meeting had been arranged. The solution? We got a friendly local CEO known to us to physically intervene, make the proper introduction, hang around the proper amount of time, and then ride off into the sunset when he sensed all was well.

The world is, indeed, getting smaller. And from my experience, most people want to reach out and help their global colleagues. Often they don't know how because they don't know why a certain dynamic is in play.

Learning about these kinds of connections--and becoming comfortable with them--is, and will be, a highly-valued attribute within successful global companies.

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Influence and Knowing the Norms

So, you've got a sense of the culture in your organization? Good.

Then it's time to go one level deeper and begin to see clearly the norms that come together to create that culture. If norms influence the culture, then you need to be aware of how to influence the norms.

Norms are rules that a group uses to define its appropriate and inappropriate values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. The catch: Those rules may be explicit or implicit.
And those unspoken norms will bite you every time if you don't find out what they are.

Norms are so important that a failure to stick to the rules can result in severe punishment, the most feared of which is exclusion from the group. A common rule is that some norms must frequently be displayed; neutrality is seldom an option. Think about what "business casual" means in your company. Khakis and a golf shirt? Logo shirt? Jacket without a tie?Rules

Your Norm Checklist

To help you and your colleagues identify norms, here are five very specific categories:

1. Explicit Norms are written or spoken openly.

2. Personal Norms: Standards we hold regarding our own actions.

3. Injunctive Norms: Behaviors perceived as being approved of by other people.

4.
Subjective Norms: Expectations that "valued others" hold as to how we will behave.

5. Implicit Norms: Not stated openly; however, you'll find out quickly when you break one!

Norms can be conveyed  by non-verbal behavior such as silence or 'dirty looks' in response to an unspoken norm having been broken. They may also be passed along through stories, rituals and role-model behavior. In Japan, new employees are assigned a mentor who, over time, passes along the company's norms by sharing stories about people, situations, and the outcomes. No employee manual needed here; simply the storytelling of a more experienced employee.

What to Do

  • Identify the rules you put on other people  as a condition for being in your group. Are these productive or convenient?

  • What rules have the group put on you? Are they productive or convenient? Are there any which are particularly bothersome and unproductive?


What would happen if you made the implicit explicit? 

Bonus read: Consistent with yesterday's Like-ability post, GL Hoffman offers up  Ten Tips On What You Can Do Today .

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Does Like-Ability Mean Pleasing Everyone?

Rachel Esterline, blogging gurette at A Step Ahead, picked up on the like-ability factor in Are You Focused on The Right Thing? 

Rachel notes that she catches flak from some people who just don't "get" the time she spends blogging. Yet, her blog has opened doors to her and she loves to write and connect in this way.

Does that mean that she should do something differently to silence her critics?

I hope not.

Like-ability, Integrity, and Relational Longevity

The idea of expecting everyone to like you is unreasonable, somewhat narcissistic, and will cause you to make yourself into something you are not. It’s sort of like “Who do I have to be at this moment so ____will find me likeable?” That’s pretty darned ingenuine and would, therefore, make one totally Truth unlikeable once people catch on to the scam.

The issue is this: We all enjoy connecting with people who listen to us, acknowledge us, and honor the fact that our viewpoint on a given issue may be different. Those who can hold fast to their values without dragging someone else into the mud in order to “make their point” appear to achieve two things:

1. A wide range of friendships and connections

2. Longevity with those in #1

Note: I didn’t consider my writing and speaking successful until people starting arguing vehemently and asking me to substantiate my position. When I factually or experientially substantiate my position, I do it and let the chips fall where they may. Anything less lacks integrity on my part, puts me in Wuss-land, and diminishes my professional stature. Likewise, if I find that I’m wrong in some way, it’s equally important to acknowledge the error as well as the contribution of the “adversary”.

Punchline: My observation is that intelligent, emotionally stable people simply want honesty. I may not like what I hear but I will certainly respect the person who delivers the truth.

Do you want to be flattered by a liar or told the truth by a person of integrity?

Perhaps genuine like-ability also has a time and truth equation included. Which is why we should beware the inclination to fawn over charismatic figures in all areas of life whose only real attribute seems to create a good "feeling"  in the moment.

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Are You Focused On The Right Thing?

More knowledge, more certifications, more degrees, more credentials.

Technical wizards, scientists, and other professionals seem to believe that more skill leads to successful careers. The goal: become an expert in your chosen field. 

While education and expertise are important, research studies show that people respond positively to Cute those they like. The highest levels of achievement and recognition come to those who mix expertise with like-ability. People prefer to do business with and buy products from people they like.  Mitch Anthony, author of Selling with Emotional Intelligence, says straight out: “Like-ability is as important as ability.” 

While you may not be in sales, your like-ability impacts your credibility and your credibility impacts how influential you become.  

Think on these:

  • Accept the fact that developing like-ability is an important success strategy.

  • Take time to discover and mention--without expecting anything in return--the connections and similarities you may have with others.

  • Initiate small courtesies and expressions of appreciation regardless of the other person’s organizational status.     

  • Keep gossip and unkind remarks unsaid.

A Quick and Simple Like-ability Inventory

Let's leave the Deltas and statistical probabilities out of this. Your answers to these can give you a darned good idea of where you may be in your like-ability journey:

  • Do you like people?
  • Do people like you?
  • Are you a good listener?
  • Do people confide in you?
  • Do you compliment others easily?
  • Do you smile often?
  • Do others seem genuinely happy to see you?
  • Do you look on the bright side of things?
  • Are you happy with yourself?

Whether you are getting ready for a presentation, a job interview, or a sales call, these diagnostic questions will provide personal insight and remind you where to increase your focus.

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Steve Roesler, Principal & Founder
The Steve Roesler Group
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Mobile: 856.275.4002

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