Have You Experienced Peer Coaching?

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Some of my most meaningful learning has come from groups of peers who provide real feedback and support. I have had the fortune of being in such groups and facilitating peer learning groups throughout my career.  For example, I have facilitated groups of CEOs of companies, people responsible for changing organization cultures, change agents, various professionals, managers, students and coaches.

Peer coaching allows participants to receive support on a strategic challenge, opportunity or learning goal they are facing in a positive environment. Participants gain valuable input in an efficient, effective and enjoyable way. The impact goes beyond the individual to be a positive force for an organization or community.

While there are many formats for peer learning groups, a central theme is creating a safe space for reflection, learning and sharing perspectives. It is valuable to hear multiple views, receive real-time feedback and to explore how to be effective with peers. We realize that we are all learning and “we don’t know what we don’t know.” Participants receive “ just in time” challenge and support. In addition to creating awareness, the peer group provides a sense of accountability that supports taking action and results.

I actually started peer coaching in my high school many years ago. I saw that students were more open to learning from peers and gained the benefit of being a part of a community. I believe that peer coaching supports progress on various content issues as well as strengthens emotional, social and collective intelligence. Peers gain a deeper appreciation for what others are facing and enhance their communication and coaching skills.

I am using peer coaching in companies to enable managers and others to practice conversation skills and adopting an open mindset. Participants learn coaching principles. It is a way of changing an organization’s culture and supporting people in building habits and extends the benefit of training. Engagement is enhanced and it supports creating the desired organizational culture. Participants value the relationships formed and it supports them in being more productive. Given our increasingly volatile environment, peer coaching creates the space for innovative collaboration.

I recall one peer coaching group that was comprised of directors of various functions of a major organization. One particular leader was aggressive and difficult for peers. He perceived that he knew more than others and had a reputation of being uncooperative.  He received support and feedback and dramatically shifted his way of communicating. He became more open and supportive. He said that the experience changed how he interacted with staff and others in his personal life. The bonds formed supported the leaders and allowed the company to make significant changes that did not seem possible beforehand. The company became dramatically more profitable.

I recently participated in a peer coaching summit and more organizations and coaches are creating peer coaching experiences. Peer coaching is being used in leadership and management development programs, for problem solving, to support culture change, for embedding and integrating learning, to support transitions, for achieving goals and networking and for professional and personal development.

Research shows emotions are contagious and we are influenced greatly by those we interact with. Creating a positive, growth-oriented experience with other peers may be what we all need these days when faced with multiple challenges and fewer resources and less time. Many participants say that peer coaching is one of their best learning experiences and that many of the relationships formed last a long time. The best way to evaluate the power of peer coaching is to experience it.

Of course, there is still a need for executive and other coaching. Peer coaching is one way to expand some of the clear benefits of coaching including listening with curiosity, creating awareness and determining action and accountability to a wider group.

What kind of peer coaching experiences are you a part of and what has been their impact? Contact us at any time.

Are You Creating Psychological Safety with your Team?

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“Psychological safety describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.”  — Amy Edmondson

A manager said angrily to her staff member, “This work is not up to par. Don’t you know how to put together a decent presentation?” Clearly, she was agitated that she did not receive a draft that would serve her needs and she had several other pressing deadlines. However, her tone and manner of giving feedback demeaned her team member and caused the team member to feel uncertain. The two did not have a real conversation. At first the team member tried to defend her work. “This is what you said you wanted.”

While she knew that her manager often seemed to change her mind, she felt humiliated and angry and as a result, did not really hear the changes her manager suggested. She was too flooded with stress and she lost her sense of confidence. Instead, she talked about her boss to colleagues. She was looking for empathy and understanding. Instead, they shared their own stories of receiving negative feedback. In a short while the atmosphere of the team became negative. The next version of the presentation that the colleague gave to her manager did not meet her boss’ expectations. Now the boss was complaining about the inadequacies of the team member to her colleagues and other members of the team. The spiral was in place and continued to go downhill.

In this situation, the staff member began complaining about her boss to others outside the department and word filtered back to HR and the boss. Emotions are contagious and the climate of the team declined. Eventually the team member sought out a different role. This team lacked psychological safety. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon situation. The manager and the team member did not intend to be difficult or cause harm and both were skilled and worked hard. Both manager and the team member reacted to stress and both regretted the energy required to deal with the aftermath.  Both would benefit from knowing how to manage their reactions and being able to successfully engage in an open-minded conversation to give and receive feedback. Being open-minded and able to manage ourselves and engage in conversations are critical for success these days.

Google conducted a comprehensive study of 180 teams to analyze the critical ingredients of high performing teams. The study identified psychological safety as the most important factor. If team members felt comfortable asking for constructive feedback and exploring divergent views with one another, they experienced a greater sense of trust and openness. These teams were more productive too.

It is critical to take steps to ensure that your teams are experiencing psychological safety. You can do so by adapting an open mindset and having meaningful conversations with each other. You can agree on norms for how the team will operate. For example, how you will handle disagreements and create a positive climate.  It is important to assume positive intent and respect that people generally desire to do well. Yet we each have different strengths and different views of what is important. When we make assumptions without testing them, we invariably create a negative spiral without our desired results.

What steps are you taking today to create more psychological safety in your teams?

Contact us at any time at www.Potentials.com.

Should You Send an Email or Call?

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“The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things.  Information is giving out; communication is getting through.” —Sydney J. Harris

An executive I work with shared with me the frustration he was experiencing over a colleague. He learned that she was criticizing him and telling people that he was “out to get her”. He was frustrated and angry during our discussion. He had been working on being collaborative and this accusation of hers which she broadcasted to others seemed to come out of nowhere.  

As we worked to understand the circumstances, he reviewed the details. The last email he sent to his colleague was meant to give her a “heads up” that an issue falling under her responsibility was going to be addressed at an upcoming Executive Leadership Team (ELT) meeting. He had written in his email, “I want to make perfectly clear that I am trying to let you know what I heard…”  He thought he was being a good citizen to let her know. When she received the email, she reacted in a way he didn’t expect. She was defensive about what her team had accomplished, blamed my client, and copied many people. Then he started hearing from people that she believed he was out to get her. She did not want the issue that he identified to be addressed at the next ELT meeting. She didn’t feel ready to do so and assumed my client put it on the agenda (which he did not). So where did my client go wrong?  

Well, we found a few places. The week before, he had learned that the budget he had anticipated had not been approved. And what’s more, he felt that his colleague’s team should give up some of her budget or a person from her team to compensate for a new role he needed filled that would benefit both of them. So he complained about the situation to her boss and to his own boss. She heard about the complaint (of course!) and she was angry and felt, “He is trying to throw me under the bus.” My client heard that she was upset, and so he chose to send the troublesome email assuming he was helping her. From her end, when she received his email, she read it with the perception that he was against her, even though it was not the case.

What to do?  My client needed to vent his disappointment and anger about losing resources. He then needed to speak with his colleague. Instead, they were conveying messages to each other through others rather than talking directly to one another.  Once he calmed down, he was able to speak with her, give her empathy and recognize that it was not her fault that he did not receive the budget he wanted. He explained that he was actually trying to let her know that an issue important to her was going to be addressed at the ELT meeting and that he had not proposed the agenda item. They were able to communicate effectively and resume their positive relationship. As it turned out, they each were focused on different issues and had different views of their team’s responsibilities. As a result of their conversation, they were able to clarify and reconnect. They also came up with a solution to the budget and staff issue.

When you know there is some disruption in a relationship, consider calling or talking in-person (when possible) before sending an email. It is so easy to read the tone of emails differently depending on our mood. It is useful to recognize our own mistakes, too. It may seem efficient to send an email and document. However, many issues have been cleared up with an open-minded conversation. In addition, relationships can be strengthened.

Where would a call or a visit serve you today rather than sending an email? What lessons have you learned about communicating via email?

Contact us at any time at www.Potentials.com.

Look for Humor Amidst Polarization

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“I think the next best thing to solving a problem is finding some humor in it.”— Frank A. Clark

A client told me how angry he was with his long-time business partner. “How can he be so stupid?”  The partners were disagreeing again about something they heard in the news. One assured the other that President Obama did not wire-tap the Trump Tower in New York. The other partner as vehemently stated that it was true. Neither actually knew the truth at the time. Both felt agitated by the news and were confident that they were “right.”  

The challenge for these long-time business partners is that because they began to assert their view and consider the other wrong and unintelligent, they began to experience their trust disintegrating.  My client was stressed and talked to me and others about his incredulity. Their disagreement drained their energy. What’s more, they also began to see division in their organization, as staff members began to take sides. A lot of energy was wasted around this simple disagreement.  

What could they do?  I empathized with my client and supported him in cooling down. He did not want the political divide and polarization taking place in Washington to hurt his business and his stress level and health. While he felt that he was “right” on this issue and many related issues, he practiced breathing and recalling that his partner did indeed have many positive characteristics.  Even more important, he valued their relationship. He appreciated our discussion about how our background experiences color our perception and have each person paying attention to different data. As a result, everyone comes to a slightly different (or vastly different) conclusion.  My client wanted to remain open to his partner. He remembered to “assume positive intent.” We concluded that using humor would be a viable option. He agreed that he wanted “success” with his partner more than being “right”.

So my client began to look at the humor of the situation. Here they were arguing over things that were out of their circle of influence.  Isn’t it amazing how people can see things so differently? My client was able to perceive future differences with a lighter attitude and was not so committed to being “right”. He imagined a dog letting go of a coveted bone. He joked about how his old problem of being “right” was emerging, like his old knee injury from high-school sports. Most importantly, my client laughed at himself for becoming so committed to being right when it really didn’t matter that much to him.

I also encouraged my client to recall what he liked about his business partner and longtime colleague.  He was able to identify many strengths including his ability to attract clients and manage staff and he was fun to be with (most of the time).

Look for ways you can be open-minded when you face a colleague with a different view. See the humor in your polarization and laugh first at yourself for your desire to be “right” and the costs associated.  It is useful to look at the bigger picture and the common ground. In this case, my client and his partner both wanted their business to succeed as well as their friendship.

Let me know how it goes for you. Contact us at www.Potentials.com.

Experience Gratitude

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Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.”—William Arthur Ward

By now you are likely to have heard of the many benefits of being grateful. You will experience more inner ease, notice more good moments and be able to connect more easily to others. Not bad.

However, it is not enough to have a gratitude journal or casually identify what you are thankful for. Ideally, you build the habit and neural pathway of noticing and expressing gratitude.  You will benefit from actually experiencing gratitude in your body.  For example, you will feel warmth in your chest or heart area as you are grateful for a child or friend or a job.  Too often, we focus on what we don’t have, or what could go wrong and we experience more fear and anxiety.

We need to build the habit of experiencing gratitude. This is especially important during these periods of unprecedented disruption and change. This means continually noticing and appreciating the good around us. Our emotions are contagious.  As leaders, we need to positively influence and support others.

I will never forget waking up one night and experiencing gratitude for my life rather than my old pattern of worry and fretting about what I need to do and what I don’t have. I developed the habit of being grateful and it made a big difference for me and those around me.

Try an experiment of loving your life and being grateful for all you have. We forget to appreciate the abundance. This becomes clear to us when we see others who do not have enough food, friends, money or a home.

Really allow yourself to focus on what you do have and experience gratefulness.  Let me know how it goes.

Contact us at www.Potentials.com.

Guard Trust By Engaging in Open-Minded Conversations

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“When people honor each other, there is a trust established that leads to synergy, interdependence, and deep respect. Both parties make decisions and choices based on what is right, what is best, what is valued most highly.”—Blaine Lee

We cannot underestimate the value of trust. Research consistently shows that we are naturally seeking safety. In the “Aristotle Study”, Google found that the key differentiator between teams that were high performing and those that were less so (with all factors of intelligence, education, commitment etc. being equal) was that greater safety and trust was established in the high-performing ones.  

Trust is easily broken and difficult to repair. A client of mine lost trust when one of her key team members shifted to working in another part of their organization. Why was her trust lost? He hadn’t discussed the opportunity with her until he had already accepted the other position. As a result, my client felt betrayed and that he did not honor their relationship or appreciate all she had done for him. From her perspective, he had failed to consider his mentor and broke their relationship.

Most likely, he was nervous about changing positions and may have been uncomfortable broaching the topic with her. However, they both failed to discuss the impact of the situation. While they were polite on the surface, my client’s demeanor became cold and distrusting. To make things worse, she was also angry at her colleague who hired him without first discussing it with her. Ultimately, the bad blood created hurt my client. They did not rebuild their trust, and he began to speak negatively about her. It took a lot of effort to rebuild the relationship and for my client to improve her reputation. This situation resulted in a lack of an open-minded conversation. It’s regrettable that the lack of trust took a lot of energy. Yet it is not uncommon.

Often there are systemic issues that contribute to a lack of trust. For example, there are different assumptions and expectations regarding roles and responsibilities.  The sales group is expecting more support from product development and speaks negatively about the group. Again a conversation is needed about roles and expectations and norms. We so easily make assumptions and believe our view is correct.

Notice when you begin to lose trust with a colleague, neighbor or family member and give empathy to yourself and the other and work to repair the relationship with an open-minded conversation.

With whom would you like to repair distrust and rebuild a relationship?

Contact us to let us know.

We All Want to be Respected

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“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.”—Bryant H. McGill

We each assume we know what respect is, based on our personal experiences. Caregivers and teachers spend a lot of time emphasizing signs of respect. I often encourage my young daughter to say “Good morning!” and “Please” and “Thank you.” I remind her about holding doors open for others, letting others help themselves first at a meal or get on the elevator first, telling people what she appreciates about them, and writing thank-you notes. Others reinforce my teachings by praising my daughter for her polite and respectful behavior. She experiences the benefit of being respectful. I’m confident that she will continue such behavior as she becomes an adult. She may also teach her children similar acts of respect.

However, not every child learns the same behaviors. Different actions are emphasized in different households and neighborhoods, depending on what seems most important—time and energy permitting. We need to appreciate that different forms of respect are emphasized in different families, communities, and cultures. For example, Nisha, who is from India, always brings a gift when visiting.

The golden rule has been taught in our schools and churches: “Treat others how you want to be treated.” Actually, we need to “treat others how they want to be treated.” I remember when a friend was very excited about the gift he had bought his wife for a holiday. He told me it was a set of car tires! That, by the way, was the very thing he had said he would love to receive. Reports were that she was not as excited about the tires as he was.

To respect another person, first have the intent to be respectful. We need to make an effort to see the person as a unique individual. Then we need to consider what is most important and what would best meet the other’s needs. We can gather this information from observation or asking that person or others close to him or her. After taking action, we need to pay attention and observe whether the person receives it as a sign of respect, as we intended. If not, we can have an open-minded conversation to learn more and determine what to do next.

Contact us at www.Potentials.com to tell us what respect means for you.

Are You Experiencing Positive Emotions?

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“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.” —Zig Ziglar

It’s one thing to understand that compassion, gratitude and other positive states will benefit us in our interactions and another thing to actually access these experiences when we need them.  Because of our natural negativity bias which we use to protect ourselves, we tend to pass over the positive states.

Once we decide we want to be more grateful, like any skill, we need to develop the habit of actually being more grateful. Fortunately, we know now about the neuroplasticity of the brain and that we can learn and develop in a relatively quick time (with intention).  It is not enough to meditate or think about gratitude.  We need to reflect on what we are grateful for. For example, one of my executive coaching clients began to devote five minutes at the start of his day to call to mind his team members and recount what he appreciates about each person. This was not a rote counting of their strengths; rather, he allowed himself to experience real gratefulness and noticed that he felt warmth in his chest as he did so.

Rick Hanson, a well-regarded neuropsychologist shares that it is not enough to experience activation of gratitude. We need to actually enjoy it and stay with it and extend the state for a few moments. He emphasizes that savoring the experience supports us in building or installing the neural pathways, so that we can develop the habit of accessing positive states that will serve us and our relationships.  

My executive client found his five minute ritual of experiencing gratefulness for his team members to be transformational. He became much more aware of how happy he was with the team and he became calmer and actually started giving more recognition to team members.  His intention and reflection and savoring actually shifted the entire culture of his team and it spread outwards and influenced the larger organization as well

Make it your intention to experience gratitude. Notice your sensations and bodily experience as you do. Savor the experience in order to build the neural pathway of the emotion. Make it a practice to remind yourself of your intention.  

Contact us and tell us what you are presently feeling grateful for and how you practice feeling so.

The Power of Awareness

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“The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.”—Nathaniel Branden

We have each adapted habitual patterns. Researchers estimate that 95% of our behaviors are, in fact, habits.  The benefit is that we take actions without expending a lot of mental energy for decision-making.  Many of our habitual patterns serve us; however, some are no longer useful.  The challenge is becoming aware of our patterns and making choices about what will support us in achieving our goals.  It is useful to appreciate that we each have blind spots.  I often coach executives who do not see that some of their behaviors are causing them to fall short of achieving their goals and even derail in their careers. Often, when under stress, leaders exert more of their habitual patterns that are hurting them such as not listening, criticizing, ignoring or becoming defensive.  

It is useful to make it a practice of noticing your thoughts.  You may find that you are constantly criticizing someone or yourself, complaining about too much to do and feeling stressed about a situation.  One of my clients realized that she felt overwhelmed by the need for a reorganization in her department and having a new boss. Under such stress, she buckled down to work and developed the reorganization plan without consulting or including others.  She also failed to inform her manager about the changes she was making. There was a lot of resistance from the staff, and her manager did not support her since he was excluded from her planning, as well. The disruption cost her on many fronts.  

Upon reflection, she realized that her habitual pattern when under stress is to hunker down and do the work herself. This pattern served her in childhood and college, as well as when she had an analyst role earlier in her career. However, the habitual pattern of doing the work herself did not work in a managerial role.  

Another executive found that he was extremely hard on himself.  He would take on very difficult and visible projects and did not appreciate his contribution and success. Despite his accomplishments, he did not feel confident.  He realized that he had a habitual pattern of immediately starting new projects and had an inner voice saying “don’t show-off” that served him in his humble family.  By becoming aware and consciously appreciating his contributions, he was able to be more relaxed and confident.  Because we had created a safe place to explore their habitual patterns, each of these leaders became aware of what triggered their behavior and explored and chose new options that supported them in their goals.

While it is not easy, it is useful to stop and reflect. You can ask for feedback and often people will be glad to share if they sense you are open to learning.  You can ask others to collect perceptions and engage in a formal coaching process to learn more.  A key for success for leaders and anyone is to become self-aware and then make choices that support your goals.

What are some of your habitual patterns that you can bring to awareness and subsequently be at freedom to choose what will best serve you in your current situation?

Contact us at any time with your thoughts.

Build rapport to meaningfully connect with others

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Have the intention of connecting with people by building rapport and finding common ground with them. Build rapport before launching into giving feedback or stating a need. People who are socially adept find this process easy and natural. Others say that they don’t find what they may call “small talk” easy.

Building rapport helps the person you are talking with to feel at ease and open to you and the conversation. By smiling and showing some interest, you help others feel safe and understand that you are not likely to hurt them. Inquire about or share information about something you have in common. Topics could be the weather, the commute, sports, children, vacations, something happening in the news, a company development, or health.

In workshops, I ask people to share something about themselves with the group. As we share about ourselves, we are a bit vulnerable. Invariably, in these brief conversations, participants begin to build rapport and feel connected. We often feel alone or feel that others don’t connect with what we do. When we build rapport, we feel less alone and more connected with others. It is human nature to feel connected when we have shared a similar experience.

One participant felt connected with someone who went to his high school, even though they had never met and went at different times. They felt they shared similar experiences. We want to be understood. Even on small issues, having some shared experiences helps us feel understood and see another as more of a friend than a foe.

We look for these connections naturally. When we first meet someone, we look for common ground. For instance, when we learn we both have young children, we relax a bit since we feel more understood by this stranger. Strangers can easily talk about the weather since both are experiencing it. Even a brief comment about how nice it is finally to see the arrival of spring creates a sense of connection in an elevator conversation.

Find something you have in common with others. The following conversation openers will help:

  • Do you come from a large family?
  • Do you like action movies?
  • Did you see the television show last night; can you believe the news?
  • How about that player and sports team?
  • I understand from Joe that you love photography, too.
  • It sounds like your children have the same musical interest as mine.
  • I see from the bag you’re carrying that you also go shopping at….
  • Do you like my shoes?

You don’t always have to build rapport immediately before an OASIS Conversation. If you make the effort to talk with a person and connect with her regularly, then when it is time for your conversation, the other person will already know you are friendly. If a power differential exists between you—you are the person’s manager, for example—remember to show interest in the other person. You will appear more human and show respect for the other person. People notice managers who show no interest in them and only see staff members as tools for getting work done; then they have less energy for supporting the manager.

How do you determine how much small talk is useful? Pay attention to the other person’s behavior. Some people only like a little small talk before they will start to squirm or switch the subject to work matters. Follow their cue. Others will not seem relaxed and need more conversation to build rapport. Notice when a shift in energy occurs; then it is okay to shift subjects. This skill can be learned by carefully observing others.

This excerpt was taken from my book OASIS Conversations.

Questions on the OASIS process and on building rapport? Contact us at www.Potentials.com