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.”
“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.
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?
I’m enjoying the new series of short books (long essays really) put out by the TED group. These are single topic books that you can buy for your kindle for approx $10-$15 Canadian. I’ve enjoyed all that I’ve read including this first one called “Beyond Measure.” The book is a good and easy read but I’d welcome a longer treatment of the topic – it’s an important one.
The thesis on this one is that great teams are made by something difficult to measure and this is a strong work culture. The author calls it the secret sauce of organizational life. Culture is comprised of small actions and though often beyond our control as managers, it is happily non-linear in its spread.
You can create a strong work culture by building trust in an environment that generates the best ideas.
Unhelpfully. our brains like efficiency and search for matches including in hiring when we tend to hire mirrors of our selves not people who will help us be windows to the outside world. This means we don’t get the best ideas.
To generate a stronger team culture where new ideas are introduced including ones that will run against the grain, we need courageous leadership. This is a culture that will see people calmly raise issues and concerns. Unanimity is a sign that participation isn’t really whole-hearted. (She uses harrowing examples of plane crashes caused by bad work cultures and lack of communication, to illustrate this point).
She makes a good point there is often more give in most systems than we’d expect for raising new ideas. The challenge is to solicit discomforting data which will help us elaborate what we’d see if we were wrong. She uses a great example of US intelligence sniffing out the end of the cold war in her text. Basically, the top gun had been told that the cold war was in full force but when he stated probing if contrary data was available he found it. (meat being stolen from trains with no state recourse).
Hearteningly, she tells us what it takes to get collective intelligence in a team: ensuring each person speaks an equal amount of time, getting a group that is socially sensitive (to needs of others, group dynamics) and groups that include more women (this is thought to be linked to the second element).
The higher the social capital of a group, the better it can deal with conflict. The capital is created through a culture of trust and the ability to build on good ideas to make them even better.
Finally she cites “Project Oxygen” the study Google did on what makes a good manager. Subject matter expertise was found at the bottom of the list which was a surprise to many. At the top, good managers were ones who believe in and care about their staff and take an interest in their lives and allow employees to sort things out by asking them questions instead of giving direction.
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.
A thoughtful piece written in light of the recent tragedy with the Germanwings flight.
I most appreciated the author explaining how her own career trajectory was marked by recognizing that her depression was brought on by high stress environments. She’s made trade offs and she misses some aspects of her former high flying life but she’s made choices that make sense.
The article also contains some good reminders of how risky it can be to disclose a mental illness and how costly it can be to get treatment.
Lastly, I appreciated the author laying out that formal accommodation is the base but what we really should strive for is a culture of understanding where we can express open support for employees with mental health issues.
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.
Some good tips here on managing stress on the spot.
– Identify your stress signals so you can react appropriately.
– Re-frame stress as an occasion to focus on something important that matters to you.
They also mention taking three deep breaths before you respond. What I’ve found is that I may have time for just one but it is the equivalent of when we say “3-2-1, pause” at the end of a tutoring session. One deep breath is often enough time to think instead of react.
I’ve also found the benefit of doing a quick check to see if a decision or feedback is really required on the spot or not. If not, no harm in asking to pend a decision when you’ve had more time to think on it.
An excellent article from the Harvard Business Review.
They discuss strategies for disagreeing with your boss that range from contracting upfront to disagree (when emotions are at neutral) and then later on, asking for and getting permission to disagree.
Most helpful to me was the nugget taken from the negotiation discipline to discuss intent and shared purpose in the context of a perceived disagreement:
“Discuss intent before content. When the boss gets defensive, it’s for one of two reasons. The first is because she believes your dissent is a threat to her goals. Defenses are far less often provoked by actual content than they are by perceived intent. You can be far more candid about your view if you frame it in the context of a mutual purpose that the boss already cares about. If you fail to do this, the boss may believe your disagreement signals a lack of commitment to her interests.”
This is a fantastic article – I couldn’t say it better myself. The only thing that I would add is the reminder of how awful it feels when you know you are not performing well at your job and how much worse that it will feel if you feel that you have been “written off” in the work world.
During workshops and talks I’m often asked about what to do when you’ve hired someone who just isn’t measuring up.
Sometimes people actually tell me the person they hired is an idiot.
I tell people don’t be so hard on yourself. They get a bit of a surprised look on their face because they didn’t intend to be hard on themselves. They intended to point out that in their wisdom they, apparently for some reason, purposefully hired an idiot.
The first problem of course is thinking that one of your people is an idiot. Once one of your people knows your low opinion of them they are unlikely to exceed your low expectations. Never ask or expect less from your people than you need or want them to deliver.
I believe that leadership comes with certain responsibilities. If you actually have the audacity and courage to accept the mantle of…