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.”


“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.


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.

Give and Take

(c) Julia

A read a lot of business books and this one had the fantastic dual effect of both affirming thinking I’d hoped could be supported with research and expanding my thinking in this area.

I found that this interview with the author with Adam Grant does a decent job of hitting the highlights of the book.

Here is what made the strongest impression on me:

The gist of the thinking is that people are givers, matchers or takers.  You might be a different sort at work than at home.  Work settings can feel harder to navigate because you don’t want to be taken advantage of so you may want to adapt a normally generous style at work to a more matching style.

Givers have the potential to do the best and the worst in work settings.  When they do the best, they succeed at understanding their clients to serve them well and reap the benefits.  They are generous with their time and with information and they are willing to invest in the development of employees/students etc. to mentor them.   This creates a generative cycle.  Having built trust though their investments in others, others are willing to be generous to them.

Grant also gives practical suggestions on how to communicate in a way that isn’t aligned with being a “taker” of information.  He coins the term “powerless communication” and gives a great example of someone in a difficult negotiation on a job offer in a different city who, instead of presenting a demand list, finally asked for HR’s advice on how to proceed noting the considerations with which they were struggling.  They were presented with an ideal solution for their situation.

At worst however, givers can overdo it and burn out.  They do this by failing to look after their own needs and those needs may include neglect of work-related goals crucial to success.  The book also contains interesting information on volunteering.  Apparently 100 hours a year is the ideal for many which is good news for the creative Timeraiser initiative (though the number may decrease for seniors).   Also interesting was that that the research shows that you’d generate more benefits from your volunteering if you did it in large chunks of time rather than small bit of time over many days.  Something for me to aspire to.

I loved that this book affirmed my own commitment to be generous with my own resources with good reminders of the needs to draw boundaries on the levels of contribution.  The book is great at outlining how we must be discerning with our time and it’ll be fine to devote our time to people who will give to others rather than those who are just interested in taking for themselves.

It turns out that when I say “use your judgement,” I don’t mean that…


(c) Piers Nye

So I have been unwittingly lying for many years when I have been asking people to use their judgement to wend their way out of difficult situations.

It turns out that I didn’t mean that but rather I meant, use my judgement or better yet the judgement of someone who gets paid more than me to figure it out.

I landed on this after dutifully studying some competency definitions of judgement to try and get a handle on how to explain this slippery concept.

To be fair, the definitions of judgement that you can find will likely be helpful in a job interview setting.  They generally counsel you to:

  • act on fact and not emotion
  • weigh the various bits of information available
  • look at long term consequences

All fair enough and job interview answers that show you’ve considered a range of factors and have subsequently found a reasonable way forward will often suffice in those scenarios.

Day to day however, I find this much less instructive.  You can do all this and consistently be considered to miss the mark on judgment if you miss out on one key overlay – your boss’s definition of good judgement.

I landed on the missing link recently after some reflection that was confirmed by a dinner with a very strategic friend.

When I say use your judgement I really mean ask yourself what the boss seems to value in the working environment and use that as your lens for a decision.

What relationships are important?

What is their history on this file and what outcome to they want?

What optics are important to them?

Even more tricky will be that it may be hard to sleuth out what any boss might do in the early days of relationship.

So, what can you do?

First thing is that you can reliably predict that you will one day be in a spot where you can’t ask for direction and must go it alone with your own instincts.  So, when you can, spin out a couple of “what if” scenarios with your boss (“Can this go out while you are on vacation or do you want another look?”) and better yet, extrapolate to more generic learnings that you can confirm with your boss when time allows.  For instance, “If I understand correctly, you’d want me to get the blessing from communications and research before I send things out for consult at the working level?”

Less fun but no less necessary is doing the work to extrapolate the general boundaries after a difficult exchange.  Ideal is to try to tease out the “why” behind a negative reaction to a course taken.  Since ultimately it isn’t helpful to say “That was bad judgement.”

Behind every complaint…

(c) findyoursearch

Behind many complaints there is a request or a commitment.

I was reviewing some materials produced by the National Managers’ Community for a course I was hoping to take before I was felled by a bad cold.  No matter, as preparation, I got a chance to revisit some coaching techniques that I have learned before to bring them back to front of mind.  I realized that there is a certain magic to remembering that we have the power to reframe behaviours we find difficult in the workplace.  Taken from the guide available to all Coaching Practices for Managers, we can listen for both requests and commitments that are obscured behind complaints.

For example:

A complaint that someone has too many different files or doesn’t want to work on a certain file, may be a commitment to being a credible expert on the material.  It may also be a request to reframe expectations around handling multiple files.

A complaint that insufficient numbers of documents are getting vetted by key partners may be a request for commitment to adequate consultation.  It may also just be a request for an update on what consults were done and why.

A complaint against late meeting starts or rambling updates may be a commitment to protecting people’s time and ensuring that key agenda items get the air time they need.

More generally, this practice helped me remember that I can always ask “what else is going on here?” faced by a situation that I find challenging.  Instead of making assumptions about why something is occurring, I can ask “What is the unmet need that is prompting this request?” or  when I feel that my requests to my team/boss are going unmet, I can ask “What need of my own have I have failed to express to my team?”

The Coaching Practices booklet contains a few other practices which are worth a look as well.

What do you value?

VinothChandar / Travel Photos / CC BY

I have a continuing interest in how we can connect to values more closely as we navigate the workplace.  In my coaching course, I loved the values module the most. It was encapsulated by the question “Why is this important to you?”

This piece teases out the benefits of taking time out to deliberately think about and confirm your values.

Being clear on your values will help diminish your level of stress and strengthen your willpower as well as help you be more objective.

How to Perform in a Clutch | TIME.com.

The call to lead | SmartBlogs SmartBlogs

(c) Sean MacEntee

The call to lead | SmartBlogs SmartBlogs.

A great piece on when to decide to heed the call to take a leadership position including the very honest reflection that often your first answer will be a huge “no” because of the demands it may represent.

The author lists four elements to consider as you decide about taking a leadership position.  These  resonated with me in my experience to seek the position of middle manager champion in my Department.

I can see returning to this list again for help in making crucial decisions on adding new leadership roles to my plate.

The mission is aligned with your head and heart.

You are the right person at the right time.

You see a better future. 

After thinking it over, you know it’s the right thing to do.