How Do You Influence?

Ann

“People generally see what they look for and hear what they listen for.”—Harper Lee

Arun, a project leader could not understand why he was not able to convince colleagues of the urgency required to develop a new technology. In the same way, Jerry, another leader, was frustrated. Despite all the facts and data he provided making the case for a change in the procurement process, it seemed to go unnoticed.  Both of these leaders had years of experience at senior levels in organizations. They had strong track records in implementing goals. However, they were frustrated that they were not influential in garnering support for what they knew was “right” for their organizations. Colleagues shared that they appreciated the intelligence and ability to get things done of these leaders. However, they did not get high marks on their ability to influence or emotional intelligence. Arun and Jerry are not alone.  Implementing and influencing are different skills.

Often we try to convince people of our view by sharing research, data and statistics. You believe global warming is a problem, you share compelling facts with your colleague or friend and can’t understand why the person is not realistic and adheres to your view.  We see a lot of polarization in workplaces and families around myriad issues. The division takes energy that could be used for collective innovation and creativity.

It is becoming clear that we can’t change views by simply providing data and facts.  It is particularly challenging these days when we all have Google at our side and we can find data to support any view. Since we each gravitate and in essence are rewarded by information that supports our views, it is hard to influence others with facts and information. This confirmation bias limits our openness to different views.

When we take actions based on our beliefs, such as voting for a candidate, we become even more convinced that our perspective is right.  The more we believe we are “right” the harder it is for us to consider other views.

When trying to influence others, we need to first be aware of our view and recognize that we have biases and we could learn more. This openness and curiosity will have a profound effect on our interactions.  While we know it from experience, our emotions and energy are contagious.  If we believe we are right and that the other person “should” behave or comply, the other person senses our emotion and desire to “control” and naturally becomes defensive and gravitates even more strongly to their held view.

Anyone who has experience as a parent with a teen, or a manager will know the futility of telling another person to believe or do something.  However, when we are curious, empathetic and open, we create the space for understanding. Our emotional state of openness becomes contagious and the other person is often less resistant.  When we find common ground, the other person is less defensive and can become curious and open too. While we tend to focus on differences, we have a lot more common ground than we tend to realize.

Tali Sharot shares research in her book The Influential Mind that shows that as we interact with others our brain patterns become aligned.  When study participants were working together on a project to make financial decisions, their brain patterns were aligned when they shared common ground and they were more open to influence.  However, when pairs disagreed their brains became less sensitive to the information presented by the other.  The studies suggest that by focusing on common ground and creating an emotionally positive environment, people are more open to influence.

Sharot explains that scientists were not able to convince parents to vaccinate their children by just sharing data.  However, by emphasizing the common ground of care for children and the desire that they not suffer from horrible diseases, three times more people chose to vaccinate.

When we can catch our desire to tell or convince people and become open to listening and connecting emotionally and finding common ground, we are more likely to influence others.  We need to be open-minded and engage in conversations where we are empathetic, listening and seeking common ground.

Both Arun, the project leader and Jerry, the leader supporting a new procurement system, were able to alter their strategies of trying to convince and shifted to being open-minded, curious, empathetic and finding common ground.  They used the OASIS Conversations process and created a positive and productive environment and achieved their business goals.

Catch yourself when you are trying to control rather than influence others. Notice when you are not open and curious and resort to pushing and citing research without finding common ground and creating an open environment. Remember that emotions are contagious and you will benefit from being open yourself.

Contact us any time at Potentials.com.

Invest in Building Relationships

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“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.”—Pablo Picasso

I like to reflect at year-end and set goals for the following year. I set aspirations in many areas including: career, professional development, health, material, psychological, spiritual, family, community and creativity. At one time I had over 20 pages of goals. Now I try to make it simpler so I can be open to what emerges and not have to be so hard on myself. One area I am focusing on and encouraging my coaching clients to consider in goal setting is building relationships.

My executive clients often say they are too busy for building and maintaining relationships. They work long hours with big commitments and pressures. They barely have enough time for family and essentials. I certainly can relate. Given the volatility and uncertainty we face these days it feels like cultivating friendships and community can be last on the list. But should it be?

While we feel pressured, it is relationships that foster well-being and innovation.  Sebastian Junger in his book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, found that American soldiers in Afghanistan experienced a sense of well-being when living and working in community. The same soldiers experienced isolation after deployment. Many said they missed the connection.  Junger makes the case that humans lived and worked together in close-knit social groups or tribes for hundreds of thousands of years and we value and thrive with connections of support. In our modern society, we have fewer chances of helping one another and many feel divided and even depressed. These divisions have become even larger in recent years.

When there are disasters such as floods, fires and other calamities, we see that people come together and help and support one another. After 9/11, people in New York City reported feeling more connected. The murder rate actually went down. We as humans are wired for collaboration and supporting each other. Research shows that urban wealthy women in North America experience more isolation and depression than rural women in Nigeria.  While the women in Nigeria are poorer, they have more social support and connections.   

There are many research studies showing the health benefits of human connection.  At the end of our lives, we reflect more on our connections than other achievements.

One way I have built strong supportive relationships is joining groups of peers for reflection and support of one another. I have built lasting friendships with peers while we support one another in achieving goals.  We have learned a lot professionally and experienced the power of connection. I have facilitated peer learning and coaching groups across the globe and people always report that the relationships formed are meaningful and supportive.  In addition, because of the diverse experiences and backgrounds learning, innovation and creativity are a natural outcome.

I encourage you to make building relationships and connection a goal this year.

Contact us any time.

What kind of explorer are you?

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“The more that you learn, the more places you will go.”—Dr. Seuss

“I am still learning.”—Michelangelo at age 87


Many leaders and organizations are experiencing great uncertainty. The rules seem to be dramatically changing and people often report that it feels like the ground is shaking.

With the rapid introduction of technology, globalization and innovation, we each are called to be resilient and to continually reinvent ourselves. You are no doubt hearing reports that many jobs are changing with the emergence of artificial intelligence and other world changes. Futurists are predicting that we are approaching significantly more marked changes in the next decade.  A colleague suggested the analogy of being on a plane to a dramatically different land. We need to ask if we are prepared for what we will experience after landing. Rather than being jolted and alarmed, we need to be open and curious like an avid explorer and learner.

I have traveled a lot and seen travelers who are alarmed when faced with different ways and keep wanting things to be “right” as they are back home. Others enjoy experimenting with new ways and work to understand different perspectives and grow from the experience. 

We need to embrace the unknown and to commit to continuous learning and to be open to disruption. We also need to be kind to ourselves and to each other. Adapting is not a linear process and not easy either. Just like an avid traveler, we also need connection and support more than ever and at the same time we seem to be more isolated. In a more stable time the paradigm for change was to experience unfreezing and then refreezing and stability. Now, we need a different mindset. We need to be open for what we will find as we disembark from a plane ride to a distant land. We need to stay open, curious and embrace our love of learning without hoping for stability.

We also need to ensure that employees and students are continually learning. A report by the National Research Council suggests that a combination of cognitive, intrapersonal and interpersonal skills—flexibility, creativity, initiative, innovation, intellectual openness, collaboration, leadership, and conflict resolution—are essential for keeping up in the 21st century. More than preparing people for a specific role or career, people need to know how to learn, embrace change and be open-minded with strong conversational skills to work in complex global environments with diverse perspectives.  We each need to be flexible to learn new skills and continually change roles.

Ed Gordon, author of Future Jobs and of the Gordon Report (www.Imperialcorp.com) posits that just as adjustments were required as we shifted from the Industrial Age to the Computer Age, we are experiencing a similar disruption as we enter the Cyber-Mental Age with a focus on innovation and intelligent machines. The U.S. labor market suffers from a lack of workers with the education and career skills needed in the tech-driven advanced economy. At the same time, workers are looking for jobs. Organizations are realizing the need to provide training and workers are recognizing the need to learn new skills. Some communities are bringing together various stakeholders including businesses, community members and schools to provide training and learning opportunities in Regional Talent Innovation Networks.  Many organizations are feeling the pain of job vacancies and the lack of qualified workers and are expanding their training programs in order to have the talent they need. A challenge is that not all have mastered the critical skill of “learning to learn.”  With this skill, people will have the confidence that they can explore and adapt to work in new and different ways. We each will be called to be flexible and resilient as marketplace conditions change. It will be easier with the confidence of being able to learn and with an explorer mindset. As leaders, we need to help others to embrace “learning to learn” and being an open and curious explorer in unknown lands.

As we shift in significant ways, we will benefit from working together rather than perpetuating polarization across differences. We need to learn with and from each other. I believe that adopting an open mindset and having the skills to effectively converse with people across disciplines, roles, locations and perspectives is one of the best ways to thrive in our current and evolving environment.

What are you doing as a leader to adapt an open-mindset embracing the uncertainty and continuous learning? What kind of connections and communities are supporting you as you explore new lands?

You are welcome to listen to an interview I had with Ed Gordon about the changing workforce conditions, the job-skills gap and the need to “learn to learn”  at https://soundcloud.com/ann-van-eron/interview-with-ed-gordon

What kind of an explorer and learner are you?

Are you Jumping to Solutions?

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“It often happens that things are other than what they seem, and you can get yourself into trouble by jumping to conclusions.”—Paul Auster

I was talking with a colleague about a work situation. In the middle of the conversation, he asked me if a storefront near my place that had been vacant was occupied yet. I was a bit put off. Here I was, talking about something important to me and my colleague completely shifted the conversation. My first reaction was to feel hurt and disappointed that my friend was not interested in my challenge.  I began to close down and thought I would shift topics or leave, recognizing that he may not be capable of being a real listener or a real friend.

Instead of shutting down or making assumptions and judgments, I remembered what I teach. I suggest catching ourselves when we are making judgments and work to stay open and curious. I was able to cool down and ask with curiosity, ”What makes you ask about the open storefront?”  My friend thought it was obvious.  He said, “I was thinking that you could open a coffee shop and would not be faced with such complex challenges.”  He had jumped to a solution.  He quickly confessed that opening a small shop is his dream and his own fantasy solution.

A few things occurred in this short interaction. A common one is that when I brought up a challenge, my colleague jumped to a solution. This is a familiar reaction. When someone has an issue we want to solve it. It is often easy to see a solution when it is a situation that someone else is experiencing and we are not emotionally involved.  In addition, when there is an issue or problem, we want to get it resolved or off our plate.  It is useful to recognize our tendency to jump to solutions and work to refrain from immediately solving and focus on listening more intently to ensure understanding. If we listen with openness and curiosity and give empathy, often people solve their own issues or feel satisfied with just being heard. I was delighted to learn coaching skills and see the power of listening and giving space to another to reflect. When people are heard they develop their own solutions and are more committed to following through.

I jumped to a judgment about my colleague and moved to an habitual pattern of withdrawing and believing he was not interested. We all have habitual patterns that color how we see things and it is useful to learn ours and work to try new responses. In this case, I was fortunate to notice my assumptions and work to shift to being open and curious.  This takes some practice and I don’t know of too many more valuable skills to develop than being open.  When I caught myself and shifted to a more openor what I call an OASIS stateI was able to inquire about his question about the storefront.  I realized that my friend did care and had just jumped to what he thought was a good solution. Of course, I would have benefitted from more empathy and understanding.

I was glad that I asked him the question. We continued our conversation and he did listen more and I felt closer to him by engaging in an open-minded conversation than I would not have had if I had withdrawn or was negative toward him. What else could he have done? He could have shared his intention when he asked about the storefront. For example, he could have said, “I wish things were easier for you, I wonder if you would consider other career options such as opening a coffee shop?” Hearing his positive intentions would have gone a long way. I would have also had the opportunity to confirm my love of coaching and consulting.

While I just shared one small interaction, I often see the same pattern of jumping to solutions and people fighting or withdrawing in response to others not listening.  When assumptions are made and not tested there are continual misunderstandings. I have seen people be angry with colleagues and family members because of assumptions, judgments and jumping to conclusions too quickly all across the globe. It is natural for us to make assumptions and judgments and to jump to solutions. Yet with a few moves (catching ourselves, being open and curious and engaging in conversations) we can have more positive and productive interactions with greater results too.

We will all benefit from catching ourselves and shifting to being open to others (and ourselves).  Notice your tendency to jump to solutions.  Begin to notice your patterns and build new conversation habits. Kindly share what you are noticing.

Contact us anytime.

Leading with Aliveness

Leading with Aliveness

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who come alive.” —Howard Thurman

What supports you in experiencing aliveness?

So many of my executive clients, colleagues in organizations and others I meet report feeling stressed and disconnected these days. It is not surprising. Most organizations are experiencing disruption and change is a constant. Often companies are cutting resources yet more and more is required. There is a sense of unease and polarization both in organizations and everywhere.  Our daily news is filled with challenges and conflict.

People want to shift from feelings of scarcity and stress and to create more connection and possibility. Yet most don’t know how to do so. We are all influenced by our environments. How do we change cultures to allow more connection and innovation?

Leaders need to start with themselves. They need to make it their intention to create positive and productive environmentseven one interaction at a time.

It is worth the investment in paying attention to your experience and then recalling your commitment to create an innovative and inclusive environment. Yes, this does mean slowing down a bit to become aware and to really see your colleagues and to listen. It means catching yourself when you feel competitive and want to win over someone.  By being self-aware and making small shifts in our interactions, people start to feel heard and seen and more alive, and then they relax a bit too and are more apt to bring forth new and creative ideas.

Leaders can ask themselves, “Am I open to possibilities and experiencing aliveness?”  It is useful to develop a small practice or habit to keep focused on your intention. Perhaps you appreciate your situation and colleagues as you travel to work. You may take a walk, enjoy nature or a hobby, breathe deeply or listen to an inspiring podcast. You can share your goal to listen and create an open-minded atmosphere with a friend or a coach and reflect on your progress.

As we make the intention to be alive and open and engage in meaningful conversations the climate begins to change. Changing the culture involves supporting others in also being more open and addressing the systems and norms of the organization to be supportive and aligned.

Renew your intention of creating a positive and productive environment and start with noticing and nurturing aliveness in yourself.

Contact us anytime.

Applied Emotional Intelligence

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“If you want maximal productivity and you want work that gets the best results, you want the people doing the work to be in the optimal brain state for the work. You are a person who can evict them from the zone of optimal performance by slothfully handling your own interactions with them. So it is up to you to take responsibility for your impact on their ability to do their best.”—Daniel Goleman

Studies show that people with high levels of emotional intelligence experience greater job performance, stronger leadership skills, greater mental health and wellbeing and overall more success. Research supports that intellectual intelligence only accounts for about 20% of success and emotional intelligence is the significant differentiating factor. 

How do we be emotionally intelligent? It takes practice, the development of habits of self-awareness, and increased awareness in our interactions.  

Emotional intelligence involves becoming self-aware and honing the ability to manage our reactions. In addition, it involves being aware of others and successfully managing our relationships.  

I have worked with many leaders and organizations to share the key habits of emotional and social intelligence. It is useful to appreciate that emotions are contagious and that we are influencing others as our relationships influence us. We need to pay attention and take responsibility to create a positive and productive environment. I often ask myself if I am experiencing an oasis with others or more of the challenging experience of being in the arid desert heat. The metaphor helps me to pay attention and work to create an open environment in which I am listening and curious.

There are a few key OASIS moves of emotional intelligence. First, Observationnotice your environment, recognizing that we are each noticing different things based on our background conditioning. Next, Awarenessmake it a habit of checking in and noticing your assumptions, emotions and how your background influences your thoughts and emotions. We know that our thoughts are influencing our interactions and by noticing our thoughts we have more choices than just reacting. The key skill is recognizing when we are closed or in judgment and Shift to being open. It is the open, oasis state that supports others in being open to us and to possibilities. Then you can focus on understanding what is Important to you, another and both of you. Then you are positioned to explore options and create agreements and Solutions

Each of these moves can easily be learned and are concrete ways to be emotionally intelligent and create positive and productive interactions. We have opportunities to practice throughout our days at work and at home. For example, Ray, a manager,  became frustrated when he believed a team member did not complete a project.  He noticed tightness in his chest and his feeling of irritation. Here he recognized that he was not experiencing an oasis with the team member. He acknowledged his contraction and shifted to being open and curious about what happened. He remembered to “assume positive intent.”  He was able to say to this teammate, “I notice that I have not seen the report I expected today.” Since he was open, he was able to engage in a conversation and learn what was most important to his teammate. When he listened, it supported his teammate in being open and interested in his needs. After some open dialogue and empathy, they came to an agreement that the teammate had too much on his plate and had misjudged his capabilities. His teammate would be more forthright about his commitments to ease planning in the future. Now that the team member understood the importance of the report and the deadline, he shifted priorities and completed the report. The open dialogue and agreement on the solution and next steps supported the team member and enhanced their relationship. In addition to securing the report, Ray, the manager created a working environment of trust and openness. The investment Ray made in being emotionally intelligent benefitted him at work and at home. 

We can all learn to enhance our emotional intelligence. What have you found useful?

Contact us anytime at www.potentials.com.

Appreciative Leadership

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“Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart.”—Seneca

In my work with leaders, I emphasize the importance of creating an environment in which people feel a sense of openness and respect, where people can engage in meaningful conversations and can explore diverse perspectives and be innovative. Emotions are contagious and leaders benefit from being aware of their disposition and how they influence others. One of the simplest ways to create a positive and productive environment is to build the habit of gratitude.

During the holidays, people are more apt to recall what they are grateful for. Making it a daily practice is even more powerful. Most successful leaders are problem solvers and implementers of solutions and are quick to identify what is not working. It takes a different stance to embrace gratitude.

When we are able to reflect and actually experience the sensation of gratefulness, we encounter more openness to possibilities and others sense this energy.

Research shows that being grateful has multiple benefits.  People report greater well-being when they appreciate what they have.  There are clear physical and mental health benefits. Those who are grateful experience deeper relationships and less stress.  It’s hard to argue against building the habit of noticing and being grateful and showing appreciation.

People often suggest having a journal to collect what you are grateful for. I have adopted the simple habit of reflecting on what I am grateful for about my day as I go to sleep.  I have noticed that connecting with people seems to bring me my greatest joy. I have also noticed and appreciate how much I do have and how fortunate I am. It becomes a cycle. The more I am grateful, the more I seem to be grateful for.  This sure beats my old pattern of reflecting on all I had not done and all I needed to do.  Oh, by the way, research shows that people who adopt the habit of gratitude sleep better too.

Wishing you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving.

Me or We?

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“Challenges are what makes life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” — Joshua J. Marine

Most leaders and organizations are experiencing disruption these days. The external environment is rapidly changing with increased competition and the need to be flexible and to make significant changes for success.  Amidst the volatility, leaders and staff are experiencing stress. There is a great need to have meaningful conversations across functions and business lines to create agreements on strategies and collective action.  While most recognize this need, often leaders and staff fail to engage in real conversations. Too often leaders continue to be locked in conflict with colleagues rather than together focusing on the external challenges.

Leaders will benefit from noticing their language and saying “we” more than “I”.  It is useful to draw attention to the bigger collective goals.  I often draw a simple diagram to demonstrate the need to expand “we” to include others in our organization. When leaders expand the “we” to include their peers and other groups, staff are free to make changes, less energy is expended on internal disagreements and trust can be enhanced.

I have seen the damage of many power struggles.  I have also experienced the power of leaders joining together to face an external challenge. One company had lost market share to new competitors. However, when the heads of the businesses and other leaders stopped fighting each other, they were able to work together and gained significant market share. With a shared vision and commitment to work together, the leaders reported that it was one of their greatest experiences.  It can be a fun game working together. Often it requires someone stopping the internal competition and choosing to work together for the benefit of the organization.  It often takes someone making the first move.

Where is your focus as a leader? Are you willing to join with your peers in addressing external competition?  Are you having open-minded conversations? It will serve you and others in the organization to draw a bigger boundary.  It takes courage and can make a difference.

Contact us anytime.

Communicate your Intention

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People will judge you by your actions, not your intentions. Intent does not equal impact.

We each are seeing the world differently. It is hard for us to remember this.  Since things seem so obvious to us, we assume that others are “getting it.”  More times than we imagine—they are not.  We each have different experiences and thus our conditioning has us pay attention to different things. Millions of bits of sensory data are available every second and only a small portion can get through.  We are seeing and hearing different things than the person next to us.

A leader texted his team member, Jerry, that he didn’t need to attend a meeting. Jerry immediately assumed he had done something wrong and became anxious.  He felt it was rude of his boss to send such a note and not talk with him directly. Jerry told fellow team members that he did not feel valued. Jerry assumed the worst and experienced stress. Based on research called the fundamental attribution error, we are wired to assume negative motivations of others. This disposition along with our negativity bias helps us to be prepared in the face of potential danger. However the cost can be high for all involved. It turns out the leader thought he was being helpful to Jerry since he knew Jerry had a lot on his plate. The leader thought he was being kind by relieving Jerry of attending the meeting since he would be there.

This simple misunderstanding cost time, energy and good will of Jerry and his coworkers. The climate of the workplace had become fearful. The manager had no idea of the impact of his action until later when he had to deal with Jerry and the team’s negative engagement and decline in outcomes.

Unfortunately, these kinds of misunderstandings happen frequently and cost time, energy, good will and money.

Jerry would have benefited from checking out his assumptions by engaging in a conversation with his manager. His boss would have benefited by sharing his intention behind his request.

Make it a habit of sharing your positive intentions and check to make sure people are receiving your requests and comments in a positive way.  Try to engage in respectful conversations when possible.

Encourage Conversations

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“Conversation is food for the soul.”—Mexican Proverb

Julie, a staff member of an executive, complained that another business unit was not cooperating and satisfying corporate requirements. What would you do if you were Julie’s manager? Do you speak with your peer, the head of the other area, or do you support Julie in having a conversation with her peer?  Either or both could be appropriate depending on the issue and the greater context.

Somewhere a conversation is needed. Often, I find that challenges my clients are experiencing are because those above are not aligned and are not having open-minded conversations. I once facilitated an agreement meeting between heads of a corporate function and a key business unit. They had been fighting for a while and the business unit had actually duplicated the corporate function in many ways to avoid contact. However, they were stuck and not able to solve an important business problem.  After some work with them we were able to get to the core issue and resolve the technical issue and enhance their relationship. However, we discovered that their leaders were misaligned and there were many ramifications.  After I facilitated a conversation with the top leaders, they were able to make progress and gained significant market share.

While conversations need to happen at the senior-most levels, I believe a role of a leader is to encourage team members to have meaningful and open-minded conversations. After some coaching, Julie did have the conversation with her peer. She was able to resolve the issue at her level. This was more efficient for Julie and her boss and others in the organization.

Leadership is about conversations. All day long leaders need to engage in conversations to inspire others and support alignment toward a compelling vision. In addition, leaders need to give feedback and support and resolve issues.  Open-minded conversations are essential for success and like any skill require practice. Leaders need to create a culture where respectful conversations are the norm.

Are you engaging in open-minded conversations today and encouraging your team members to do the same?

Contact us anytime.