Advocate for Open-Minded Conversations at all Levels

 

Open-Minded_Conversations

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”—Helen Keller

A leader told me that he was excited about a big new initiative for his company. The board supported the new direction, which he believed would result in increased market share and exponential success for the company. He asked me to facilitate a team retreat to work on implementation.

In preparation for the meeting, I spoke with participants to learn about their views about the new initiative and what was needed to proceed. It became clear that not everyone was on board and that it would be a challenge to gain support from the various roles. This is not an unusual finding. Often, the senior team has been so involved planning a new initiative that they fail to realize the process for creating alignment. It cannot occur by broadcasting the change and expecting people to joyfully make the change. We know that approximately 70% of change initiatives fail. A primary reason cited is resistance to change. In reality, it is because people have not engaged in real open-minded conversations. Often people see the problems with new initiatives and are genuinely concerned about the well-being of clients, staff and the organization. People see things that the senior leaders do not. Senior executives forget that they have a different perspective and have been living with the challenge for some time.

To create real change people need to understand and embrace the new way. It is important to have meaningful conversations around the current state and to agree on the urgency for transformation. This is best done in an open and safe environment where people can share their views and genuinely listen to one another. Ideally, key people and groups collectively understand why a shift is needed now and the implications of doing nothing. Given the disruptions in the marketplace the need for transformation becomes compelling.

With the need for transformation established and the benefit of open-minded listening to the various stakeholders, the group is ready to establish a shared vision that can be the leverage for upcoming changes.

When people feel respected and that they are heard and aligned with a direction, the implementation flows more smoothly. Those impacted by the change have energy for developing and implementing change because they are involved in the conversation.

I have been fortunate to facilitate many leadership retreats and stakeholder conversations and experience the sense of magic and energy when people do engage in open-minded conversations and create a direction together. It is palpable to see the energy released for transformational change. Organizations embark on new endeavors and relationships are enhanced and become more productive. People learn to “assume positive intent” and not to make people wrong for their views. During these times of disruption, no one can create a real impact alone. We need each other’s strengths and diverse perspectives.

I encourage you to advocate for open-minded conversations at all levels—among leadership teams, across units, with clients and between colleagues. I introduce the OASIS Conversation process in organizations to foster meaningful dialogue.

A colleague and I are offering a workshop on how strategic use of a leadership retreat can launch transformational change for your department, business or organization and your career in Chicago on June 25. Find out more about the retreat here.

Illuminate Possibility

400

“We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize.”—Thich Nhat Hanh

“I’m so stressed, I will never get it all done.”  “We are never going to make our numbers.” “We have not gotten enough support.” “Why is the plane delayed again?” “You let me down.”

It is our nature to complain and see what is missing.  We have a negativity bias where we tend to see what is not working.  This served humans during the cave days when a more optimistic view could result in being eaten.  Most of us are not in such danger these days. However, Rick Hansen says that negativity is like Velcro, while positivity is like Teflon and easily slips away.  

We know that our mindset influences how we perceive the world and that influences our behavior which impacts others. We can each take responsibility to positively influence our workplaces, families and communities by our open mindset. We can be negative and create a draining environment or we can lead others to see what is possible by our example.

New research in the fields of positive psychology and neuroscience, cited by Michelle Gielan in her book Broadcasting Happiness, shows that shifts in how we reflect and communicate with others can have significant effects on business outcomes.  For example, studies show that positivity and optimism have resulted in “31 percent higher productivity, 25 percent greater performance ratings, 37 percent higher sales and 23 percent lower levels of stress.”

It takes effort to build the habit of appreciating what is working and seeing possibilities.  On a recent family trip it was easy to hear complaints about being tired, the disruptive weather, late planes and the packed schedule.  Yet, when I could notice my own tendency toward negativity and shift to the positivebeing  grateful we were together and appreciating the opportunity we had to fly and that we could be flexiblethis small shift made the trip more positive for me and thus for my family.

I am not saying it is easy to make these shifts and like any habit, it takes practice to build the muscle of noticing our instinct and shifting to our desired behavior.  Yet, the second-hand effect of being positive and seeing possibilities makes the effort worthwhile.

Work to notice negativity in yourself and others and develop the habit of noticing and radiating possibilities.

Contact us at any time at Potentials.com.

Are We too Dependent on Digital Communication?

unnamed

“…you cannot continuously improve interdependent systems and processes until you progressively perfect interdependent, interpersonal relationships.”—Stephen Covey

People often tell me that they are worried about their teens since they communicate mostly via text rather than through conversation and direct interpersonal interactions. Sometimes teens text one another while they are in the same room. Some of my executive clients share that they rarely speak to some of their team members and broader teams and communicate primarily through email. While the benefits of technology are amazing, some wonder if we are losing some of the power of real conversations.

Between 2010 and 2015, 33% more teens report feeling useless and joyless in national surveys. Teen suicides have surged by 31%.  In a paper recently published in Clinical Psychological Science, researchers argue that this surge in depression is likely due to use of smart phones and the decrease in interpersonal connections. Teens who report more time online and less time with friends in person are more likely to be depressed.

Putting prisoners in isolation is one of the most debilitating forms of punishment.  As humans, we need connection and engagement with others to thrive. The need to belong and interpersonal connection is recognized as being fundamental to motivation and productivity. When we lack interpersonal connections, our moods suffer. Positive face-to-face interactions where we receive empathy and connect with one another is highly correlated with human satisfaction. (Baumeister & Leary, 1995)

With the disruption in society and the isolation and fear that many are experiencing people report that they feel a lack of community. While we may sense we are with people on social media, we are not giving each other empathy and understanding and not experiencing the fruits of real connection.

Emotions are contagious and MRI studies show that while we believe we are separate individuals, our energy and the flow of information is influenced by others. When we are not communicating or trusting one another, we experience dissonance.  When we engage in real conversations and build relationships, we experience resonance and psychological safety and are positioned to be innovative and are better able to execute and achieve goals.

We can use Zoom and other forums to virtually have real conversations where we listen and understand each other.  I facilitate various groups of leaders and people report gaining new insights and increased energy and amazing results that they didn’t believe were possible. There is power in real conversations when we are open to listening, understanding and supporting one another.

I believe that we need to support teens, leaders and all of us in engaging in positive and productive interactions. We need to develop an open mindset and the skills for meaningful conversations to support well-being.  We will all benefit from the contagious nature of these positive interactions.

Choose to meet or call a colleague and engage in an open and respectful conversation. Notice the impact on your sense of well-being and the positive outcomes.

Contact us at any time.

Be Grounded

Be_grounded

“Get yourself grounded and you can navigate even the stormiest roads in peace.”—Steve Goodier

“I feel out of sorts.”  “I have to give negative feedback to one of my staff.” “I can’t believe what she did!”  “We are not making our numbers.”  “The new boss is difficult.  “I have too much on me.” “He is out to get me.” “My team members are fighting one another.” “We need to get all of the leaders on the same page.” “My elderly parent is sick.” “My teenager is depressed.” “There is not enough time.” “My position is uncertain.”

These are a few of the comments I have recently heard from executive coaching clients. We are all facing many challenges. The pace is high these days in the world and in organizations.  We need to be collaborative and innovative and execute effectively and efficiently amidst a diverse workforce. Deadlines loom and we seem to be working harder than ever with increased competition. Emotions are contagious and we pick up the uncertainty and polarization in our political system and the myriad challenges in our world.

Amidst the turmoil, we need leaders towell…be leaders. We all need to be leaders, too, even if we don’t have a formal title. Given that emotions are contagious, leaders are positioned to create positive and productive environments where people can reflect, engage in dialogue and create amazing results together.

Where should a leader start? One of the first things I recommend is to make the simple practice of being grounded. When your head is spinning with all that needs to be done, what is going wrong and all the pressure on you, it is hard to see possibilities and to be innovative.

What do I mean by being grounded? Literally, tap your feet on the ground and notice the sensations. You may imagine being like a tree with roots firmly uniting you with the sustenance of the ground. Then as you walk from one meeting to the next, let go of your worries and notice your steps on the floor. This simple practice allows you to take a break from your thoughts and to reconnect with your body. Ideally, you take a few breaths and center yourself. Recall that you are a leader and you can make a difference in your sphere of influence.

As you remain calm, you access a different part of the brain. You may even recall a place in nature or another time when you are more in a state of flow. I call this your oasis. When you access this state, a different part of your brain is activated and you can see more of the whole picture and more possibilities. You may even notice a bit of gratitude for the challenge before you and the opportunity. Sometimes it is helpful to say something like, “Things are working out.”

By making it a practice of becoming grounded between meetings and even in meetings, you will be able to quickly access this grounded oasis state. It gets easier with a little practice as you build this habit.

My clients report that this simple action does indeed make a difference in how they see things and how they are perceived. They report that they feel more confident and experience success on many fronts.

Practice bringing attention to your feet and feeling grounded. Remember to breathe and recall an oasis experience. Notice your impact.

Contact us at any time.

What kind of presence do you bring?

Dancing

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.

Contact us at any time.

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.

Communicate your Intention

pablo (96)

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.

Have You Experienced Peer Coaching?

pablo (76)

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.

Be Present and Focused

respect-energyExcerpted from: OASIS Conversations: Leading with and Open Mindset to Maximize Potential

With cell phone calls, e-mails, overbooked appointments on our calendars, and full personal lives, we are often multitasking. We try to squeeze more accomplishments into a limited time and may be left unsatisfied with their quality. This approach works for some of us, some of the time. Research conducted at Stanford University shows that our division of attention may cause stress and burnout. Even multitasking’s overall effectiveness is being questioned. The field of mindfulness and meditation is directed toward training us to keep attention on one thing at a time and to slow down our rapid pace.

The most impactful conversations generally require more devoted attention. Make sure you are paying attention to the other person as well as yourself. Continue reading