Pay Attention to the Emotional Climate You are Swimming in


“You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.”—Rabindranath Tagore

“I am not looking forward to the team dialogue session. Some people in this organization are sharks; they only care about themselves and are biased.”  “I just want to do my job and keep my head down.” This was the sentiment of some of the participants I spoke with before facilitating a retreat with a team focused on building connection and aligning the team to achieve a shared vision.  Some felt like they were alone in dangerous waters rather than engaged in vibrant waters.

At the team retreat, a long-time employee shared the pain she experienced when she was not able to answer client questions because she had not been made aware of developments. People were shocked since they assumed she did not need to know given her position and quite frankly thought she did not care.  Her abruptness was a reaction to feeling not included and disrespected. Some realized that they had made assumptions about her and had isolated her. Others shared what they needed to feel respected and most realized they were making assumptions about one another and not having meaningful conversations.  The negative emotional environment had limited people in appreciating the exciting vision they shared and the synergy that was possible.  By assuming positive intent and engaging in a productive conversation, the tone began to change for this team.  A long-time foe even asked the person to lunchsomething that had not occurred in their long tenure together.  In fact, several commented that they believed this was the first time they had a genuine conversation.  Open-minded conversations can be quite powerful.

Attending to and creating a respectful climate that the team is “swimming in” and having productive conversations are two essential skills needed for success these days.

In a recent New York Times Op Ed, David Brooks argues that a warrior ethos has reduced politics to friend/enemy or zero-sum conflicts.  He recounts that in the 90’s people adapted an unconscious abundance mindset where there was a climate of confidence in the future and a more welcoming environment. Today, there is a feeling of limited resources and a more win-lose mindset.  People have a “stick with my tribe” mentality.

Given the political environment, we are acutely aware of polarization and we feel the tension.  Often people see each other as less than human. The philosopher Martin Buber call this an “I-It” perspective rather than an “I-thou” view. Some argue that the fast pace and drive for short term results, the challenge of incorporating new technology and globalization are requiring us to be inattentive to those around us and the environments we create.

I see this kind of polarization in organizations across many areas: functions, roles, age, gender, race, people from one part of a merger or those new to the organization and those with longer tenure.  These divisions and conflicts often seem insurmountable.  They take people’s time and attention and suck energy out of a system.

When people don’t feel respected they often shut down and disengage, or become angry and fight either directly or act out in more subtle ways. Too much energy is wasted that could have been devoted to collaboration, innovation and results. People feel drained and often report a sense of toxicity.

It is useful to check on your environments and ask how you are contributing to creating a positive and safe oasis.  A key ingredient of an effective team is psychological safety.  We can each have the intention of being respectful of those around us. The challenge is that we each have different definitions of respect. It takes paying attention and an open and kind stance to ensure that others do indeed feel respected and valued.

We can make a difference in our teams and organizations and in our neighborhoods by committing to connecting with others. Notice people and see themreally work to see them. Look beyond our first labels and recognize that we are all suffering and experiencing life’s challenges in some way. We often don’t see that people have challenges with their family members and kids or are maybe struggling with technical, financial or health issues.  Even if we don’t know the details, we can all benefit from empathy and compassion and caring.

We are swimming in an environment and we can each work to ensure that it is a pool of respect that is lively and vibrant rather than one where people feel isolated, not valued and disconnected with sharks nearby.

With an open mindset and commitment to respect we will be positioned to have meaningful conversations.  I am fortunate to witness the transformation in teams, organizations and families when we create an environment of respect and engage in productive conversations.

Make it a practice of paying attention to the atmosphere in your team, organization, family and community. Do you feel respected, included and engaged?  How do others feel? What can you do to create a positive environment?  Notice the impact.

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What kind of presence do you bring?


The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence.—Nhat Hanh

One of my executive clients shared that he was attending a company conference. He said he was looking forward to seeing some old friends. When I asked him about new acquaintances, it became clear that he had not focused on building new relationships. In fact, there were people that he clearly did not want to engage. He had negative views of some participants based on past history and he did not see the value of investing in others. In essence, he anticipated being open to a few he knew and closed to most others.

This is not uncommon. Most of us are busy and stressed these days and we make choices on how to spend our energy and where to invest in others.  We each have habitual patterns around how we interact in different settings.  Often, we fail to notice that we have options and can consciously choose how we show up.

It had not occurred to my client that as a senior leader, people would be paying attention to him and that how he interacts with them would make a difference in their motivation and how they perceived him and the company.

I gave my client an experiment. I suggested that he consciously work to be open to a wider group of people at the company conference. By setting the intention to be welcoming and curious, he found that he entered the meeting differently. He was not exclusive but included others, even those with whom he had a preconceived negative perception. It took a conscious intention for him to ask open-minded questions and then really listen to people.

My client was surprised at what he noticed with his new behaviors. He did indeed connect with more people than he expected. He learned about various perceptions and issues that helped him and his team to be more effective. Some people offered to support him. He felt more connected to his peers and the organization.

By choosing to be open, curious and generous in his welcoming stance, my client showed up as a leader. In addition to receiving positive feedback, he helped to create a positive environment at the meeting and in the company.

I believe that all of us can shift negative stressful environments by setting our intention to be open and creating a respectful, welcoming stance. When we engage in open-minded conversations and give others empathy we are positioned to find common ground and a shared vision. Emotions are contagious and it is hard to be innovative and creative when we don’t feel welcomed by others. Too much energy is diverted to protecting ourselves.

It is useful to examine our habitual patterns and experiment with new behaviors that support openness and respect. We read each other and know when someone is genuinely interested and when we are invisible.

Experiment with being more present, open and welcoming and notice the impact on you, others and the environment created.

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What do you win when you win?


“If you lose your temper, you lose!”—Richard Diaz

A senior executive, Leo, stopped by a colleague’s office to thank him for putting in long hours to resolve a significant organizational challenge. After acknowledging the thanks, Jerry, the colleague, began to complain about the organization and the leaders’ decisions. Jerry blamed the senior management team (of which Leo was a member) for cutting off funding for the project. He felt the design was sound and more funds should have been allocated. Leo worked hard to explain the reason further funds were not forthcoming. It made sense to Leo. There were other more pressing priorities and such business choices had to be made. Jerry continued to blame senior management for creating a problem. Leo began to focus on what Jerry could have done to make the project go more smoothly and worked harder to defend senior management’s choice. Jerry would not agree and continued to blame senior management. Leo lost his cool and said something all of us have thought at one time. “If you don’t like it here, you can always leave.” Who has not had such a thought toward a colleague, partner or friend.  Unfortunately, verbalizing the sentiment did not support Jerry in being positive toward Leo.

What happened here?  Both Leo and Jerry were each trying to influence the other and each were using logic from their point of view while they were experiencing strong emotions. Each believed that he was “right” and the other was “wrong”. Each argued their case and worked hard to “win.”

Each felt he “won” the argument and each thereafter shared their perspective with others who agreed. However, what did they win when they “won”?  Now there is negative energy between the two men and the negativity extends to others around them. Each felt drained and their anger persisted. They felt at a standstill and each probably hoped the other would disappear. More likely, they will spread the negative energy further to others in the organization. Future meetings will be uncomfortable. I have seen such negative interactions influence decisions between people for decades in some organizations. The negativity may go underground but influence future interactions and decisions.

Ironically, Leo had good intentions to connect with and show appreciation to Jerry. What could he have done differently? He could have noticed when he was becoming defensive and used a strategy such as consciously breathing and taking a moment to shift to a more open and curious state. He could catch his tendency to want to “win” and ask himself, “What do I win when I win?”  He could recall his intention to create positive and productive relationships. When he could manage to be open and curious, Leo could have given empathy to Jerry.  “It is upsetting to lose funding for a project that you feel could have been successful with more time and resources.”  “It is hard to understand and support some of the decisions made by senior management.” “It is frustrating when you believe senior management does not see the whole situation and the ramifications of some decisions.” Leo could give authentic understanding without meaning he is in agreement. He could even say, “I hear your frustration about the decision. What else should I be aware of?”

While our instinct is to use our intellect and other resources to win at all costs, we can tame that disposition when we reflect on “what do we win when we win?”  It is useful to recall our desire to influence through noticing and managing to be open and curious. Our openness and empathy will be contagious and support others in being open in return. It is helpful to also “assume positive intent.”

Like Leo, we all have become defensive and aggressive in our efforts to “win”. Forgive yourself and you may want to apologize and envision you both on the same side, winning together.

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Where Are You From?


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

“Where are you from?” asked Julie, a Caucasian woman, to Alysha, a woman from India at a community event. It was the first time they met and Julie intended to be respectful and friendly.  Alysha responded, “From Chicago.” Julie clarified, “I mean where are you really from?”  However, Alysha, a Chicago resident and US citizen for over 30 years, had been asked the question many times and interpreted the inquiry as being disrespectful. She felt defensive and tried to tell her new acquaintance that the question was disrespectful, particularly within the first few minutes of meeting each other. Julie became defensive and said she had positive intent and suggested that Alysha was projecting on her.  It did not feel like a positive welcoming environment. Each woman felt disrespected and misunderstood.

This kind of conversation and polarization is happening everywhere. Particularly these days when there is so much attention on immigration.

We all want to feel respected and included in workplaces and communities. We each come to interactions with history, conditioning and expectations. We each have beliefs about what constitutes respectful behavior and become irritated when people don’t behave in ways that we define as respectful. We have the same experience in our families and close relationships. I recently felt disrespected when a family member did not include me in a decision. Yet, the person did not have the need to be included when another similar decision was being made. We each have different histories and needs around inclusion and the larger context impacts our views.

The challenge is how to speak with each other about what we need to experience respect and feel safe. Too often we fume or act out rather than have a conversation when we feel disrespected. We expect that people should “know” since it is so obvious to us and our friends. At other times, we leave or cut off chances of communicating. Some of us try to have the conversation without adequate skills or success. Each option has repercussions.

Ideally, it is useful to assume that others have positive intent and understand that we each need to be respected and then become curious about what we and others need to be respected. Based on our experiences, we each have blind spots and biases that we are not conscious of. We have different experiences and interpret things differently. We can learn that some sentences are code words for bias to some. “I don’t see color when I see you.” “You are very articulate.” “Where are you really from?”  We need to manage our defensiveness and recognize that we are influenced by our background conditioning and that while our intentions may be positive, the impact could be damaging. Intent does not equate with impact.

By being curious and open to learn, we can understand what our colleagues and neighbors need to feel respected and share what is important to us. It is helpful to share what respect looks like to us and be curious about what’s important to others with whom we interact.

The more people feel respected, the more energy they have to be creative and work together for positive outcomes. Ideally, we learn how to have OASIS conversations in which we have insight and give empathy to each other and create agreements on how to be respectful and supportive of one another.

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Where Do You Find Challenge and Support to Achieve Goals?


“If I am through learning, I am through.”—John Wooden

Face it, we are all so busy these days. Our to-do lists are long and it takes a lot of energy to be a leader, manager or collaborative contributor.  When I ask leaders and those I coach, many report that they have little time for career development or meaningful friendships. Some indicate that they don’t find their workplaces to be respectful and that it is hard to trust colleagues and there are few avenues for real feedback. Often people are competing for positions and it is hard to find the space to be real or vulnerable.

One exception that I have experienced is peer coaching groups where people make the commitment to support and challenge one another to create successful outcomes and to develop their skills. I have facilitated many of these groups as part of a larger corporate leadership program or as stand-alone coaching groups for leaders or those responsible for an area such as diversity, project leaders or senior executives.

I recently facilitated such a group for organization development and coaching professionals. We met virtually each month as well as with individuals in between. The experience was dynamic with significant results. Participants described it as “magical” and each were astounded at the progress made on their projects.

We began the process with the clear intention of supporting one another as well as each person working on a specific goal or project. As part of the norms, participants agreed to confidentiality, an open-mindset, vulnerability, focused participation, respectful listening and sharing and having fun. Each person identified a goal and received suggestions and feedback from the others. We had pair coaching as well as work as a whole group. In between the group meetings, people worked on their projects as well as connected with one or two other members.

We began subsequent meetings sharing progress and agreeing on next steps. The accountability with the group supported people in making substantial progress. The supportive environment inspired people to take action. For example, one member created a new program, developed a website and offered his course and gained clients. Others also embarked on cultural change projects and started significant new endeavors. Participants received just-in-time coaching and enhanced awareness and actions. Depending on the need, we provided models and tools that fostered learning and skill development. For example, I shared my OASIS process for positive and productive conversations.

What made the experience valuable was the oasis-like environment we created in the coaching group. We created an open environment for learning and we freely supported one another. There was not hidden competition where people were posturing. It is not easy to find such an environment of openness and genuine feedback. Participants felt seen by others in the group and made real friends that will last beyond the formal meetings. People were generous in introducing people to others who would be useful. Most importantly participants felt valued by peers and positive about their outcomes.

When we shared the experience with other professionals they said they yearned for the same sense of community and progress on their projects and goals.

Where are you getting support and coaching for your personal and professional development? I encourage you to join a coaching group or create this opportunity for yourself where you make progress on your goals amidst the support and feedback of colleagues.

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Emotions are Contagious


Emotions are contagious. We’ve all known it experientially. You know after you have a really fun coffee with a friend, you feel good. When you have a rude clerk in a store, you walk away feeling bad.”—Daniel Goleman

“He’s saying all the right things, but I don’t trust him.” “Something’s not right.” “I feel on edge around him and I’m not sure why.”

These were comments made about a new senior leader of an organization. People told me he did thank others and seemed to involve people. His words were positive and supportive, but they felt uncomfortable and judged by him. In this environment of uncertainty, his colleagues felt nervous around him. Trying to manage their feelings of being judged and their lack of trust took a lot of energy away from creative innovation. Rather than speaking freely and brainstorming, people were more careful around this leader and then their worry became a self-fulfilling prophecy. The leader became more critical and harsh.

When I talked with the leader, he was indeed judging his team and he was frustrated with what he identified as “laziness and lack of insight.”  The new leader was worried about making progress and felt stressed with making changes. Yes, he was polite on the outside, but people sensed his real emotions, even when they were not exactly clear on what caused their discomfort. In reality, emotions are contagious and we are constantly picking up emotions and concerns.

I first understood the contagious nature of emotions when I was young. I had been bitten by a dog and was fearful of large dogs. Of course, every large stray dog zeroed in on me on the playground. How could the dogs sense my fear?

Animals and humans sense and share emotions easily. We think we are separate individuals and that our emotions are private. However, functional MRIs show that as we interact, others are absorbing our feelings continually and often without awareness. We are affected by the emotions we absorb and they influence our actions.

We are inducing emotions in others as we experience them and vice versa.  For example, when a parent is stressed or angry, children respond by being distrustful or anxious.

Emotional transfer works in two ways. First, we unconsciously mimic those around us. Have you ever noticed that your arms are crossed when the person you are interacting with also has crossed arms? We unconsciously mimic other people’s facial expressions and gestures automatically. If someone is experiencing stress or judgment, we naturally tighten our body too. Second, in addition to mimicry, we empathetically respond to other’s emotions. If someone is happy, we are more likely to feel positive. If someone’s face seems fearful, we are likely to experience fear, imagining there is something to fear. Recent research supports that our brains easily and quickly transmit emotions. This capability helps us to survive.

A study conducted by Mendes and colleagues brought mothers into her lab in San Francisco with their young children. They attached sensors to the mothers and babies and separated them. One group of mothers was asked to give a speech about their strengths and weaknesses in front of strongly judging raters and another group gave their speech to themselves in front of a mirror. The mothers with the judges picked up the emotions of the judgers and in turn their children adopted the same sense of fear and did not want to play with the researchers. On the other hand, the positive mothers transmitted their positive energy to their children who continued to be happy at the lab.

What does this contagious nature of emotions imply for leaders? A lot. First, leaders need to pay attention to their own emotional states. It is useful to name our emotions and then take actions to support positive emotions recognizing that others are picking up our emotional state and are likely to act from it.

I notice that my worry or stress impacts my child’s stress. When I am more positive and relaxed, I sense my child is too. The same is true when I work with teams. My positive, hopeful and expectant state is often mirrored to me by team members.

It is valuable to recognize that we are unconsciously influencing others. We can make it our intention to be mindful of our state and work to positively influence others. We can work to allow others to benefit from our hopeful states.

With some coaching and increased awareness the leader mentioned above was able to shift his judging and became more open and genuinely supportive of his team members. In turn, they became more comfortable and the team was better able to create a shared vision and pursue challenging goals together.

Pay attention to your emotional state and notice your impact as well as how you are influenced by the state of others. Given that emotions are contagious, how will you infect others today?  Ideally, you will experience an oasis and spread positivity.

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How Do You Influence?


“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.

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Invest in Building Relationships


“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.

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What kind of explorer are you?


“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 ( 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

What kind of an explorer and learner are you?

Are you Jumping to Solutions?


“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.

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