Listen to Connect Not Correct

Drawing by Ann Van Eron

What is he thinking? What a terrible idea! Does he see how he is going to hurt the staff and the company?” This is what Trish told me she was thinking as her boss shared a new idea that he thought would save money and address a big problem.

Trish had immediately told her boss why the idea would not work. She was surprised that he could not see the foolishness of his solution.  Unfortunately, Trish was not successful in influencing her boss to consider other options and in addition, their relationship soured.

What happened? Trish immediately identified what she believed was wrong with her manager’s idea and began arguing her point of view. She did what we all do often. We focus on correcting or rejecting an idea before we ensure that we are listening fully and connecting with the person speaking. We need to manage ourselves and make sure we understand that the other person is saying and also identify how they are feeling by providing empathy. For example, Trish could have said, “You are concerned about the problem and believe this solution will address the challenge and address the budget deficit too.”  Her boss would have felt heard and been more open to a conversation. Because he felt judged he became closed to a genuine conversation of exploring options and also became closed to Trish.

Notice your response when you hear ideas you don’t agree with (give yourself empathy) and stop and shift to being curious and open. Focus on listening more intently, share what you have heard, give empathy and be open to learning more.

Be an Ally

Artwork by Ann Van Eron

Jenny excitedly told me how happy she was about a meeting she participated in. She was a bit intimidated by the caliber of participants and was a bit hesitant to speak up, particularly since she is an introvert. We have all had that feeling of hesitancy. She took the risk and suggested a unique idea. The ideas continued to flow from people and no one commented on hers. Then, a colleague said, “I would like to comment on Jenny’s brilliant suggestion….”

Her colleague did a number of things: she gave credit to Jenny for her idea by noting it and appreciated the contribution. Then she built on the idea. This supported Jenny in feeling a part of the group and it created an environment for all to contribute and take such risks.

Jenny actually wrote a note of thanks to her colleague who then confessed that she felt intimidated in the meeting and that she would always “have her back.” Trust was enhanced and the two are on their way to a friendship of supporting each other.

Can you take the simple step of noticing and calling out someone’s idea that contributes to the team and then appreciate such allies who are supportive?

Are You Willing for It to be Easy?

Many of us these days are overwhelmed. Organizations are going through multiple changes. The technology keeps requiring more learning even when its purpose is to make things go more smoothly and efficiently. We feel we have more and more things to do to keep up.

I recall working with a group trying to solve a challenge and someone asked, “What if it were easy?”  Everyone stopped. This option had not been considered. In fact, there was a simple solution and a lot of effort could be eliminated.

We are creatures of habit and it is hard to stop doing things that we think “should” be done.  When I ask teams to consider what to stop doing, there are often blank faces. Of course, sometimes people are worried about job security and other times we don’t consider other options. One team I worked with was able to reduce over 50 major projects the company was working on down to six. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief at the end of the meeting. The leadership team was aligned and had a process to monitor 6 initiatives. They had more confidence and increased market share after making it easier.

A small business owner was spending a lot of time and money trying to market the company’s offerings. They had multiple ways of marketing. When they considered how to make it easy, they realized that most of their work was coming from referrals. By focusing on communicating with a small number of people, they saved time and energy and had greater results. In fact, it became easy.

Ask yourself, “Am I willing for it to be easy?”  Then expect an easier option. Examine your current “should” and look for what you can reduce or change to make things easier.

Are You Really Listening?

It is easy to ask questions of people without waiting for a response. I know I have done this when I am in a hurry. “Hi. How are you? How is your ill mother? Are you traveling this holiday?”  Sometimes we are asking questions just as a way of saying hello as we are passing by without really looking for a response. However, we need to be aware of our impact and provide space for a response.

Mary told me that a client “sucks the energy out of the room.”  When I inquired further, it became clear that her client asked many questions without pausing to really listen. Mary feels that the client does not really care about her and she braces herself when interacting with the client.  I suspect that her client is not aware of the lack of real connection. Perhaps she is genuinely interested but feels rushed inside and has not learned to slow down and give Mary full attention.

Notice your pattern. Do you pepper people with questions without leaving space for a response or are you genuinely interested and give people attention to hear their response?

Ask Questions for Which You Don’t Have Answers

To grow the creativity and curiosity muscle it is useful to ask questions and then listen fully. Sarah practices this regularly. When she meets someone new she is really interested in learning more about them and their background. She asks many questions. “Where did you grow up?” “What do you do for fun?” “What kind of challenges have you faced?” “What do you hope to accomplish?” “What holds you back?” “What supports you?” After a conversation with Sarah, the other person feels connected with her and often learns something about themselves as they reflect and share. Sarah often acquires a new friend. Because of her curiosity and the ability to give space for a person to speak, people are often vulnerable, share themselves, and experience a sense of connection.

It takes intention and skill to be open-minded and curious about another person and to ask questions where the answers are not known.  Then it takes intention to engage by fully listening.

When we ask questions in which we are curious and don’t know the answers a sense of space is created for discovery and possibilities.

I encourage you to consciously try asking questions where you don’t know the answers. Be open and curious to learn and see what evolves and what you discover. Enjoy the process too.

The Transformational Power of Alignment

Alignment

“We don’t talk with each other.”  “The leaders each have their own fiefdom.” “Our stock price is tanking and we are fighting each other.” “We have too many priorities.”  “Nothing is being done well.” “What are we trying to do?”

It is not uncommon to find leaders each operating with their own assumptions in an effort to create success. However, given their different backgrounds and experiences each focuses on what he or she deems is most important.  Often energy is wasted and the price of misalignment is high. It is costly for the leaders and even more so for those reporting to them.

I assume you have experienced the frustration, decreased energy and commitment drain when you have worked in a system where you believe the leaders are misaligned, not listening and the direction is unclear.  On the other hand, there is increased creativity and innovation and success seems to flow when there is open-mindedness and alignment.

What can you do? I suggest three steps:

  • Schedule a transformational retreat
  • Collect perspectives
  • Engage in dialogue for alignment
  1.     Schedule a transformational retreat

Devoting time for dialogue and connection is useful when a team or an organization is newly formed.  It is great to define expectations and agreements and support a positive beginning. When changes are going to be introduced, it is helpful to ensure that leaders are on the same page and speaking the same language. A merger, reorganization or a new leader or a significant change, each create uncertainty and the need for alignment and dialogue.  While it can be challenging to find a date, it is useful to announce the intention to create a positive environment for dialogue and alignment.

  1.     Collect perspectives

As part of my work facilitating a leadership team retreat I speak with each member of the team and other key stakeholders before we all meet. It is amazing how different the perspectives are on what is happening and what should be done. Each person is seeing the environment and the situation from their vantage point. The marketing person shares her concern about how the competition is gaining market share and poaching key people and emphasizes the need to invest in facilities and promotion. The finance person talks about market share and the need to reduce expenses. The technology leader believes that the company can be transformed by investing in new processes.  The business line heads may hope to acquire other businesses or grow their business.

Often each person also complains about what others are doing or not doing and what the leader should do.  Each believes that he or she is right. And it is clear that they don’t all see the whole situation.

Most of the time the leaders are busy with their function or business lines and have not had the space or support to genuinely step back and assess the best direction for the enterprise given changing conditions.  The value of a retreat is that all the views can be put on the table in an open atmosphere. Leaders can collectively step back from their own day-to-day challenges and look at the larger picture together. In the process, they get to know one another more and learn skills.

As a team and executive coach, I use the interviews before the retreat as an opportunity to coach and challenge leaders to try new behaviors and explore other perspectives.

  1.     Engage in dialogue for alignment

With the support of a facilitator/coach the various views can be surfaced and explored in the context of developing a shared strategy.  Engaging in open-minded dialogue strengthens the team by enhancing trust.

I like to jumpstart retreats by sharing the multiple perspectives regarding the business and how the team is working. I share that it is natural that participants have different perspectives and encourage the group not to make each other wrong. Participants want the organization to succeed and need to see that they rise and fall together in the same boat.  By sharing the findings from interviews upfront, people know that the issues are on the table and they can get to work to clarify their vision and priorities. I also work with teams to clarify their criteria for decision- making and what they will postpone or not do. This can be one of the most challenging conversations. In addition to aligning on the strategy and priorities, the team focuses on being open-minded and how to engage in positive and productive conversations.  Participants listen and give empathy to one another. They experience a new way of interacting and co-creating agreements. I teach participants the OASIS Conversations process that supports them in being open-minded and curious and creating understanding and agreements. Participants agree on the kind of culture they will inspire together.

The transformational experience is unforgettable. When people come together to work on a shared goal and support one another, it is exciting and worthwhile. Leaders realize that they can achieve goals and make a difference together.

When team members leave a meeting aligned on their vision, strategy, priorities, processes and values they are prepared to lead together. They agree on structures and practices to ensure sustainable success. The alignment is palpably experienced by others and can be communicated across the organization.

How aligned is your team and are they engaged in open-minded conversations?

How to create alignment is one of the topics we discuss in Use Your Next Leadership Retreat to Launch a Transformation: Learn the Process September 24 from 12 – 4:30 at the Catalyst Ranch in Chicago. Learn more here.

Jackie Sloane and Ann Van Eron are seasoned executive coaches, and work together with leaders to create transformational interventions and retreats for public sector, corporate, privately-held and not-for-profit entities.

Embodied Decision Making

 

Stop_Decisions“I don’t know what direction to pursue.” “Should I change jobs or start a business or stay with my current role?” “Should we have a baby?” “Should I apply?” “Should I say yes?” Often coaching clients are stressed over important decisions and even less important ones. We have so many choices and each has consequences.  When we say yes to one road we are losing out on the other. Sometimes we do have to make a choice rather than try to do it all.

We can write a list of pros and cons for each choice and even then the ideal solution is not apparent. Sometimes we are trying to make a decision using our analytical skills without listening to what our body is revealing.

We each have a set of unique values of what is important to us. When we are honoring these values we generally feel at ease and choices are smoother.  For example, a client was deciding if he should take a job offer. We reviewed what was most important to him. These included time with family, a challenge, financial security and critically important was space for creativity to address big issues without being second-guessed. When he has this freedom, he feels most respected, alive and on top of his game. He immediately felt assured in his choice after visiting how the options satisfied his values. He knew not just intellectually, but he felt his body relax and felt at ease with his decision.  Before checking-in he was not comfortable with the choices.

Sometimes we need a longer time to listen to our body and get a “felt-sense” of what course we will choose. A client was questioning whether to have a child. The challenge was that each time she thought of having a child, she immediately thought of reasons not to.  In this case, I asked her to experiment with imagining having a child for a week and notice her reactions and then she spent a week imagining not having a baby. She became aware of concerns and also excitement about the possibilities. Sometimes we need to give ourselves permission to try on different options and pay attention to what we notice or sense. She eventually decided to have a child and most importantly, her head/analytical and body and intuition were congruent with the decision.

Trust the clues your body is giving you when you have reservations about a decision and then respectfully listen and learn. You may practice this more easily for simple decisions like what to order in a restaurant. You can build the muscle of listening to make embodied decisions.

Having the intention and practicing to listen within is a key competency of emotional intelligence.  Make it your intention to pause and check-in with yourself. What do you sense?

Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”—Aristotle

Contact us at any time.

We’re in this Together: Begin a Conversation

Juggling

Our task is to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.   —Albert Einstein

It’s not hard to notice that we are becoming more and more polarized and engaging in less conversations as we experience more disruption. We are plagued by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.  No doubt, globalization, technological changes, diversity (including four generations in the workplace), political and environmental developments and the rapid speed of change is creating fear and worry for many. 

Neuroscience research is showing that we are reacting to changes and that our emotions of fear and distrust are contagious. The lack of trust and worry pervades communities, workplaces and homes. It is easy to blame others. There is a need for respect and hopefulness. The challenge is that we all perceive respect differently and we need dialogue to understand what people need to feel safe, valued and creative.

There are solutions available. If we adapt an open mindset and have the skills and courage to engage in conversations we can collectively create solutions that will benefit all.

When working with an organization, managers and others can easily focus on what they perceive is wrong with their peers and resort to conflict and resistance. However, when an environment is created for listening, empathy and understanding the team embraces their common goals and are able to work collectively together for a larger vision. I believe that we can each be leaders by noticing our reactions and shifting to being open and looking for creative possibilities. I think of this as creating an oasis-like environment where we are appreciative of what is working and what is possible.

Organizations and individuals generally want many of the same things. However, without real conversations it is easy to assume negative intent of others. Instead, when choosing to assume positive intent and being open to listen, transformation is possible. None of us can see the whole picture or have all the answers.  We need each other and we are in this together.

Conservatives want to conserve what is working and good in a system and progressives want to make things work and be effective. There is common ground. However, when people become fundamental and assume that only their way is right, there is little room for understanding and effectiveness. And so much energy is wasted that could have been devoted to bettering the system for all.

You may wonder, “What can I do? I am just one person.”  However, we can each contribute to a better workplace, community or family.  We can choose to be open to others who may appear to have different perspectives. We can engage in conversations and simple acts of kindness. Take the step of listening and supporting another person today.

For example, we can choose to engage with someone from a different group who may look or seem different. A manager can be open to someone he or she rarely engages with. People with different philosophies can speak with one another about what is working and what is possible.  If we each choose to take small steps we will feel less polarized and see more potential. We will feel like we are doing something constructive rather than feeling out of control and helpless. Many of us engaging in open-minded conversations with a commitment for positive action for the benefit of all will make a difference.

This can be a time of opportunity. Notice your emotions, breathe, focus on possibilities. Engage with someone who has a different perspective. Listen and expect new options to emerge.

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.

Transformational Team Conversations

Teams

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”—African Proverb

Two organizations merged and Maggie became the leader of a critical function. Some of the managers from the other organization who now worked under her mostly ignored her. While she asked to be kept up to date about team progress, she continued to learn about things that she felt she should have been made aware.  She felt disrespected and began to speak negatively about the long-time managers.

I was asked to facilitate a team dialogue session. As part of the process, I spoke with each of the leaders and their teams.  As I heard the different perspectives, I could see that team members were operating with very different assumptions based on their experiences and they were not aligned.  They disagreed on where resources should be focused and how things should be done.

When I spoke with the managers and others in the function, they shared that they felt the leader was disrespectful. Her negative comments were relayed to them and they felt she did not understand the business.

The sense of disrespect and disdain spread to those who reported to the leader and managers. The team atmosphere was negative and people felt unmotivated and uncertain about the future. The leader identified whom she felt should be let go.  At the same time, the managers were campaigning against the new leader.

While this dynamic persisted much was being asked of this function that was critical to the success of the entire organization.

A big challenge for this team, and many I coach, is that there were no real engaging conversations. At a retreat, I created a safe and positive environment to enable all involved to respectfully hear the varied perspectives. Naturally, given their different backgrounds and assumptions, team members were not aligned.  Once we showed people how to assume positive intent and be open and curious, they were able to view the multiple perspectives without making each other wrong and being defensive. They were able to understand the current situation and what was needed. By then shifting to what was possible, the team was able to create a shared compelling vision.  Alignment on a shared direction, goals and agreements made a tremendous difference. We identified synergies and designed a concrete plan with accountabilities for success.

In addition to creating an action plan to move forward, the team members felt more connected as a team and trust was enhanced.

The power of positive and open-minded conversations for any team cannot be overestimated. This team was able to move forward together and actually enjoy working together.  So much energy was saved and mobilized for positive results.

A retreat or team dialogue workshop offers the opportunity for impactful conversations that enable alignment around a shared vision, mutual understanding on roles and responsibilities, clarity around processes and appreciation of strengths and solid agreements. Transformational change involves meaningful conversations that result in shifted mindsets and new behaviors.

Engage your team in open-minded dialogue to create a positive and productive climate with unparalleled results. You won’t believe the difference.

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 25th. Register for the workshop hereWe are also offering an information about the retreat to be offered on June 12th. Register for the webinar here.