Embracing What’s Wrong to Get to What’s Right – Tony Schwartz – Harvard Business Review

Tony Schwartz describes CEOs as Chief Energy Officers and writes here about his experience of re-orienting a meeting where he was feeding the group many new ideas with enthusiasm, and not receiving the warm welcome he had hoped for.  Instead he was hearing about people’s stress and lack of recognition for the work done so far.

My two favourite points in his response:

“Because human beings have a strong “negativity bias,” we pay more attention to our bad feelings than to our good ones. It once clearly served our survival to be vigilant about what might go wrong and that instinct persists. Today, it may serve to buffer us from disappointment, but it also promotes disproportionate and destructive discontent. The simple question “What’s going right?” provides ballast in tough times.”

and

“The highest skill — whatever your role — is the willingness to embrace opposite feelings without choosing up sides. Acknowledging bad feelings is key to being able to address what’s causing them. Recognizing they’re only one part of the story frees us to notice what we feel good about and grateful for, which helps us to feel positive even in the face of ongoing challenges.”

I’d add a third observation from the first rate materials and training that I have received from the National Managers’ Community in the Government of Canada: Behind every complaint is a commitment.  Whereas in my early days as a manager my instincts might lead me to wonder why people were “just being oppositional” when work needed to get done,  when now I take the space for explorations of the values that people are indirectly expressing when they are  complaining, I have found important information that may provide a jumping off point to a better working relationship. The number one reason that people are complaining:  they want sufficient time and space to submit a good product.

via Embracing What’s Wrong to Get to What’s Right – Tony Schwartz – Harvard Business Review.

Two-Thirds of Managers Are Uncomfortable Communicating with Employees

We are in March madness for finishing our year end appraisals in the public service so this is timely.  I don’t think that it would be a surprise that giving feedback that may not be well received is stressful for anyone – managers or clients or friends.  It’s a skill I will be working on for the rest of my life.  And though I have benefitted greatly from this book on Difficult Conversations which I consider a management bible, I have likely gotten as much benefit from cross-discipline study on empathy and compassion.

I was more disheartened to see here that the issue could be framed as widely as communicating writ large and that giving credit or recognition were sources of significant difficulty for so many managers.

That said, I am a very introverted person by nature and I would suspect that there are many other introverted managers out there learning new communication patterns to align with this role.

What has helped me most was likely deliberate practice for all types of communications. Something greater than “just do it” though that is half the battle.

A former coach asked me to put a post-it on my computer to remind me to initiate more phone calls over emails – it was a good move.  I got so much more useful information at the margins of those conversations then I had ever planned that it became a habit.

For recognition, I have been influenced by this excellent book, and I now prepare so I can be very clear on why a person’s contribution is appreciated.  I’ve watched train wrecks where someone freestyles it and the wrong person is congratulated for something and soaring moments where significant and long-standing contribution is paid meaningful tribute.

For difficult conversations, I (over) prepare to try and understand the issue, the effect on the team and what my role is in the situation.  For these ones, the most difficult preparation is to remember to both stay on message and roll with the punches.  You may want to jump in at the deep end and be aware of your own reactions to stress so you can have strategies to moderate in advance.

And for any communication that I’d find a challenge, I try to create my own feedback loop as to what went well and what I can do better in future.  Lastly, I benefit from remembering  while I am learning that learning to receive feedback is its own skill.

Source: Two-Thirds of Managers Are Uncomfortable Communicating with Employees

Dealing with a venter or an over explainer? How to Listen When Your Communication Styles Don’t Match – Mark Goulston – Harvard Business Review

via How to Listen When Your Communication Styles Don’t Match – Mark Goulston – Harvard Business Review.

A very useful piece from the author of Just Listen – one of my favourite books for management reading of the past few years.  Some helpful strategies here on what to do when you are struggling to listen to a venter or an over-explainer.  Start from the premise that despite the lack of great communications skills, venters may have important things to tell you and that explainers may not be able to leave the belabouring space until they feel you have heard them.  For over-explainers in particular, they may be having trouble feeling heard in other parts of their life and the impatience of the listener may actually cause them to delve even deeper into over-explaining.

The advice is essentially the same for both: override your instinct to shut down and ensure that you stay present for their words.  The author even suggests that you focus on their left eye – which is connected to the right brain or the emotional brain.

Then when they are finished, say a variation of the following:

“I can see you’re really frustrated/had a lot to say. To make sure I don’t add to that,  and to make sure I don’t miss something, what was the most important thing I need to do in the long term, what’s the critical thing I need to do in the short term, and what do I need to get done ASAP?”

After they respond, say to them, “What you just said is way too important for me to have misunderstood a word, so I’m going to say it back to you to make sure I am on the same page with you. Here’s what I heard.” Then repeat exactly, word for word, what they said to you.  After you finish, say to them, “Did I get that right and if not, what did I miss?” Forcing them to listen to what you said they said, “because it was important,” will slow them down, will help you stay centered and in control, and will earn you their and your own respect.

Though this formula may not work for every setting, it’s a good starting off place – you clearly had something important to tell me, have I heard you?

Should authority figures hide their emotions?

 

(c) Rell DeShaw

An interesting exchange about expressing emotions generated as a result of our work.

The two examples are of a journalist breaking down during reports on the Paris attacks and a judge weeping during a trial.  We are all emotional beings and it is normal that we will be affected by our work.  That said, we may be in jobs where our expression of our own emotions about a situation might not be a helpful add-on to helping others understand what we are trying to convey.  As I’ve discussed before, if someone is enraged with you, a fear reaction can actually cause you to go temporarily deaf – you’ll miss most of what they’ve said (though you’ll get that they were really mad).

I’m more and more convinced that as I work with top notch professionals who are putting out their best every day, it’s enough to say “this didn’t quite hit the mark” to make your point in most cases.

I liked that the exchange in this article made it clear that though expressions of emotions can occur involuntarily or justifiably in  a work context the emotions don’t make the essential message any more true:

“…[W]hile a reporter’s emotions may pay testament to his humanity, they should not be mistaken for the path to a deeper truth.”

 

The Best Managers Are Boring Managers

A good article written in praise of the boring, emotionally-intelligent and even sometimes “faking it” manager:

“…[t]he more predictable, reliable, and, yes, boring, they are, the higher they’re rated on integrity, and the more morally they behave.”

Source: The Best Managers Are Boring Managers

Getting to yes with yourself and other worthy opponents

Getting to yes with yourself and other worthy opponents by William Ury

This is a review of a recent read billed as a prequel to Getting to Yes the famous negotiation text that focuses on finding solutions of mutual agreement. I liked it because it knitted together other books that have changed my thinking such as the Art of Possibility and texts on non-violent communication.  The book is about exploring how much of a negotiation is within your own control including attitudes and behaviours.   Most powerful for me were two bits: 1) the reminder that we can find ways to create shared value to overcome scarcity thinking (the win/win/win approach – where are winning for each party and the greater good).  For example a union/management dispute might focus on the customers and 2) the exploration about self care through mediation as a path to creating space for empathy for others.

The book is framed around six tenets and largely illustrated with a combination of stories from negotiation in high stakes conflicts and raising a daughter who has required 14 major surgeries. I think it might have been a slightly richer read of you had “Getting to Yes” fresh in your mind but is a stand alone book.

1) Put yourself in your shoes

This is about holding true to what you really need and remembering that only one person is needed to transform a relationship.

2) Think about your best alternative to a negotiated agreement.

This is about making an unconditional commitment to take care of your own needs no matter what other people do. This gives you confidence of an alternate plan and less dependent on others to meet your needs though the alternatives may not be obvious or easy

3) Reframe your picture

This is about seeing the world as a place of safety and saying “yes” to the world the way it is. If you see the world as hostile you will react differently than if you see the world as friendly.  With exceptions, we are generally more resilient than we’d imagine and significant events, good or bad will not have a lasting effect on our happiness (whether you lose both legs in an accident or win the lottery, researchers have found that people have the same level of happiness a year later). Most of our losses and worries are overblown. Some conflict is because we think that only another person can make us happy, especially through relinquishing when we have more capacity within our selves for making happiness.

4) Stay in the zone

This is about trying to put ourselves in a place where we can neutralize reactions and access our natural creativity. We want to try to be in a state of relaxed alertness so we can look for the present opportunity – we can see openings if we are in a place to see them.

We are trying to let go of our internal resistance that takes the form of resentments of the past and anxiety about the future. We need to trust the future and have confidence can meet challenges. Having trust is not a one time shift in attitude – we have to constantly choose between fear and trust. We are destined to lose many things so goal is to focus on what lasts and accept what passes

On a practical level, staying in the zone requires us to:
– observe the fear and release it
– take deep breaths
– use simple reality testing questions to determine if threats real or imagined?

5) Respect even if…

Respect and give positive positive attention without feeling the need to like a person or behaviour. We are saying yes to a basic humanity that exists in all of us. Having capacity to extend this respect is related to meeting our our own needs – meditation enhances our ability to see others and dissolves artificial social distinctions to increase elemental respect.

6) Give and receive

The biggest driver of win/lose thinking is scarcity thinking. It would be better to look at ways to expand the pie to sufficiency and even abundance before you divide it. Move from giving and taking (win/lose) to win/win/win thinking. Go from taking to giving and creating value for others.

Under stress a fear of scarcity can take over and we will only create value for ourselves and not others If we feel satisfaction and sufficiency we can address needs of others.

An attitude of giving is to:
– give for mutual gain, give for joy and meaning, give what you are here to give.

7 Habits Of People Who Are Happy At Work | Fast Company | Business + Innovation

7 Habits Of People Who Are Happy At Work | Fast Company | Business + Innovation.

A simple list but it works for me.

Things that make the grade:

– committing to improving as a lifetime goal

– not getting caught up in things beyond your control

–  helping others

– expressing gratitude

– managing emotions and having a sense of humour

Why People Cry at Work – HBR

Why People Cry at Work – HBR.

A useful addition to the literature on communications at work.

The author suggests that there are three general reasons for crying at work:

– a “formidable manager”

Inspiring fear or even respect through expressing power doesn’t form any part of my conscious management style (in fact, quite the opposite) but, sadly, I am not overly patient by nature and moments extreme frustration have brought out my most strident behaviour as a manager making people cry and I feel dreadful about this.

I have also been told that people have cried off site because a disconnect in the direction I was giving and what they needed from me.   In the latter case, I was able to eventually clarify that I had no further direction to give.  A part of high level competency in our world is advancing projects on generalized direction and creating products that no one has ever seen before.  Moving away from templates can make our otherwise often bureaucratic work invigorating though it can also be de-stablizing.  But, I don’t want people to feel destabilized and unsupported.  On this experience, I have now gotten better at saying, I given you all that I know, just put some ideas down and we’ll work through this together.

– the intersection between personal and professional

 As I have written before, I will now solicit and give general information on the goings on in personal lives to help understand how emotions might modulate over time and better understand that a bumpy patch does not mean that someone is fundamentally unsuited for a certain work environment.

– organizational culture and differences.

This includes personal management style and meeting people where they are.  I’ve just finished Bob Sutton’s book Good Boss, Bad Boss and he would counsel that it is OK to show flashes of anger to really get a point across.  I prefer the “pick a face” approach.  I find with high performing teams, their own desire to perform well will be sufficiently bruised by the most moderately presented feedback that there is no need for extreme emotion.  That said, I think it is true that as elaborated in the Talent Code, having a boss you respect enough to want to please and feel a bit intimidated into doing so, doesn’t harm but help.  You stay on your A-game and you work on being prepared to present.

Will we be able to utterly avoid ever crying at work as the author suggests, I doubt it.  I was informed of the sudden death of my father at work and I did want to know this as soon as possible but falling apart at work was a consequence.  People were lovely and supportive on that day and the days to follow.

Empathy is the key to great meetings – HBR

A good article that teases out the utility of empathy and emotional intelligence in meetings to tease out team dynamics.

It has a useful reminder that the emotions of the leader are contagious and they set the tone for the room telling us if we should we celebrate or go to fight or flight mode.

Where I’d like to read more is how to work with empathy as an inexact science.  We can never really know how people are feeling just through observation.  We can ask how people are feeling and why and we can get farther but limits remain depending on how good people are at articulating how they are feeling (I have been in workshops where they handed out lists of emotions to help people name them).

We are then also limited by trying to make a bridge between what is being expressed and our own life experiences to that we can be truly empathetic.   In my own work life, I can usually find a time that I have felt a similar emotion to what employees are expressing to get farther along the empathy continuum.  That said, even all of this works well, my first instinct will often be to offer how I might advance the situation given my own experience.   This may not be the most helpful use of empathy – maybe it is better to use this information with a certain discipline to create the space for employees to create their own way forward.

How to react when someone disappoints

One of those “couldn’t have said it better myself” pieces.

The crux of the advice is that as tempting as it is to vent (belittle, demean) and make yourself feel better in the guise of holding people accountable, it’d be better to focus on how to help the person perform better.

Where Bregman really hits the nail on the head for my money is the remind us that high performing employees already feel your disappointment acutely when you express that something hasn’t hit the mark. You don’t need to spend more time on the disappointment piece but rather on how to build confidence to hit the mark the next time out. This is through building trust that you can get across the finish line.  Best piece of simple advice, take four deep breaths before you react in the moment to figure out how to recalibrate to give your employees what they need to get over the next hurdle.