Risk a Conversation

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 “I believe we can change the world if we just start talking to one another again.”—Margaret Wheatley

“I am looking for another position.” A client told me that he planned to transfer or leave his job. I was surprised since he had seemed to be enjoying his work and his recent presentation to his company was positively received.

He was hurt and disappointed that his team members had not attended his company presentation. While some had wished him well and even said they looked forward to his presentation, they were not in the auditorium.  My client assumed that his colleagues did not, in fact, support him. He was sad, hurt and felt disrespected. He wanted to leave as soon as possible.

He was aware of the OASIS Conversation process and after a few weeks of suffering, and some encouragement, he decided to have a conversation with a team member about the event. After all, he had little to lose since he would be leaving anyway.

He began, “I was surprised that most of the team did not show up for my presentation. I assume people are not comfortable with my leadership and I am disappointed.” His colleague was dumbfounded. In fact, the opposite was the case. On the day of my client’s presentation, there had been a bit of a crisis with their program, and all of his team had banded together to address it. They had not told their leader since they knew of his big presentation in front of the company and they did not want to disturb him. His colleagues had stayed behind and handled the issue. They listened to his talk virtually or viewed the video. No one thought to tell my client about the crisis since it had been diverted.  

My client’s assumption that his team did not support him was absolutely wrong. He suffered for weeks and almost left his position. He was grateful that he had risked the conversation.

Notice your assumptions. What conversation can you risk engaging in?

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What’s Your Narrative?

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“With awareness, we can make conscious choices, instead of letting our habitual thoughts and patterns run the show.”—Tamara Levitt

I often feel like I have a bird on my shoulder commenting on how things are progressing.  Do you also? Most of us have that inner voice speaking to us all day. It is noting what is wrong and what may go wrong and even what is working—sometimes.  Often, we think that voice is us. I know that I experience suffering when I repeatedly hear things like, “You are not getting enough done.” Or “Things are not going the way they should.”

While we tend to identify with these voices, they are actually habitual patterns that we have learned though our life experiences and conditioning. I find with executive coaching clients and myself that we can become so used to these voices that we think they are the truth and we don’t see or even look for other perspectives. However, when we step back, we can begin to notice patterns that may not be serving us. It did serve me to tell myself that I am not getting enough done when I was a student with a heavy load. The voice served me and kept me focused. In fact, most of our habitual patterns did serve us at some point and may not be as valuable at this point.  

By being kind to ourselves and self-compassionate, we can notice and explore the value of our habitual patterns. We can begin to experiment with new narratives.

Rather than feel like a victim and complain, one client noticed her pattern and began to trust that her teen was learning and growing in a challenging situation and expected him to succeed.   This shift in narrative helped her to refrain from constant yelling and did indeed give her son space to thrive.

A client noted his worry about a colleague’s productivity. His instinct was to see what is wrong first. This was a learned habit that has helped him to pay attention to details and require others to do so too. However, his habitual pattern of expecting the worse did not endear him to his colleague.

He worked to change his internal narrative. He practiced noticing when he was being negative and to then look for what the person was doing well. This simple shift of noticing and looking for what he appreciates changed his relationship with his colleague and himself.  

Like any habit, it is simple but not easy to make such shifts. However, with intention and practice, my client changed his narrative and changed the way he internally felt. In addition, his relationship with his team benefited since emotions are contagious.  

Notice a predominant narrative and reflect on how the habitual pattern may be serving you. If it is not, begin to shift your internal conversation and experiment with a new narrative.

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What is your Resilience Strategy?

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“She stood in the storm and when the wind did not blow her away, she adjusted her sails.”—Elizabeth Edwards

The head of Learning and Development of a large organization asked, “Are your other clients experiencing the same level of stress as our leaders?” Her organization, like most these days, is experiencing significant disruption. Most feel overwhelmed as they try to keep up with the current workload, create a new direction, and respond to changing market conditions and the introduction of new technology while supporting others.

Many leaders are stressed and overwhelmed. They are working long hours and don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. Some are opting to leave stressful environments. Others are building their resilience strategies and are positively influencing others.

We all face challenges and setbacks in the workplace and in other dimensions of our lives.  Resilience is our capacity to respond to these pressures and disappointments effectively.

It is important to reflect and reframe your mindset regarding the stressful time and to develop some habits that keep you present and grounded to see what needs to be done and what can be let go. (I find that often leaders fail to consider what not do.)

Each of my clients develops their own ritual or practice. For example, you can start your day visualizing positive and productive interactions rather than focusing on how hard things are. You can ground yourself by noticing your feet and taking some long deep breaths to feel centered. Then remind yourself that “things are working out”and if things don’t go exactly as you want, you will learn and make things work. It is useful to remember that life is a growth opportunity and that we learn the most when we face such challenges. You can also be grateful that you have a job, home, health etc.

It is also important to check in with yourself and make sure you are taking care of yourself. The basics are vital—getting enough sleep, eating nourishing food, moving and connecting with friends and engaging in real conversations. Giving and receiving empathy and being vulnerable creates community and lightens our load.

Take time to identify what fortifies you and eases your stress and follow your resilience strategy.  Engage a friend to track your progress and learning. I wish you ease.

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Do Your Colleagues Know You Care?

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“Caring about the happiness of others, we find our own.”—Plato

A highly successful manager told me she was disappointed. She had devoted many years of long days and nights to her organization and felt like she was disposable and not cared for by her boss.  Another person told me that his boss said he could not save his job in a corporate downsizing. He did not feel valued and appreciated for his contribution. Another high achiever does not feel recognized for her extraordinary impact and feels her boss does not really know or care about her.

Unfortunately, these are not isolated events.  I hear complaints from people at all levels saying they don’t feel valued. This lack of genuine care results in frustration and disengagement.  You have heard the statistics by Gallop that employee engagement is less than 35%. They define engagement as “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to the work and workplace.”

So much energy is wasted when people don’t feel personally valued or cared about.  When we feel we are not valued or seen as an individual, we lose motivation and trust.  Managers can become so focused and pressured for results that it is easy to forget to demonstrate care for colleagues.  We can fail to show we care about family members and friends too.

Reflect on your past bosses.  How was it different for you when you knew your boss cared for you?  A colleague told me he is so much happier and more productive with his new boss who takes a personal interest in who he is and what he wants.  

When people know we care about them a sense of trust and safety evolves. When people know we care about them, we are better positioned to give them direct feedback and we are better positioned to create results together.

How can you demonstrate care?  First make the conscious decision to be caring. Visualize demonstrating care to each person on your team or in your family. It is likely to look different depending on individual styles and needs.  Ask your colleague or family member about how they are doing and show interest in their lives both in the workplace and outside. Be sure to give empathy and work to understand their perspectives. Be vulnerable yourself and share your perspective and share developments that are happening in the organization. Be candid and open yourself.  Take time to connect. 

Reflect on your colleagues and others. How are you showing you care?

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Illuminate Possibility

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“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?

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“…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.

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Are You Open to Being Influenced?

Influence

“Let go of your attachment to being right, and suddenly your mind is more open. You’re able to benefit from the unique viewpoints of others, without being crippled by your own judgment.”—Ralph Marston

T., an executive coaching client, was clearly an expert in his field. He was recognized both inside and outside his organization as being very bright. The company valued his contribution and considered him a key player.  He received awards and recognition for his innovative ideas and programs.

T. was asked to work with an executive coach to round out his leadership style.  After I interviewed peers, colleagues and clients, it became clear that while T. had strong leadership skills and influenced how things were done and interpreted, he was not open to being influenced.

Many people complained that T. did not listen and always thought that he was “right.”  The challenge is that he felt he was the most knowledgeable person in the room or the team.  T. tended to cut people off and left people with the sense that he felt he was better than most.  He was able to use his quick wit and fast mind to his benefit most of the time. However, as he progressed in more senior roles, his overly confident style and lack of openness began to hurt him.

T. could not understand why so many people complained about him to HR. He felt justified in telling people that they did not have the answers needed.  The company struggled with how to keep his talent without his challenging style. These days, no matter how bright or capable an individual is, no one has all the answers.  We will only succeed by being open to new ideas and ways of doing things.

Fortunately, in this case, T. learned that effective leaders not only influence others, but are also open to being influenced. As he practiced listening more, giving empathy and reflecting what he heard, he developed an entirely new relationship with colleagues and clients. His new mindset of openness became contagious. People became more open to sharing their ideas as well as supporting his efforts.

T. had not thought about the power of being open-minded and listening to others.  When he practiced being open he became a much more effective leader and continued to be valuable and progress in his career.  The biggest surprise for him was the deeper connections and more trusting environment he fostered. To his delight, he and his team excelled at an even higher level than he dreamed possible.  Energy was shifted from complaining and stress to more positive avenues.

T. and his company were fortunate. I recall a similar experience where people advocated that a company keep a leader due to his knowledge and expertise.  People put up with his abrupt style. He was not open to feedback or input. People did not trust him and felt he was not open to other’s ideas. However, after a few years and after strong people left the organization because they did not want to work with him, he was finally asked to leave.  It was a loss for him and the organization. However, without the ability to listen and be open to others and create a trusting environment, this leader could not be effective.

Ask yourself, “Am I open to being influenced as much as I am focused on influencing?”  Envision a see-saw. How balanced is the ride?

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Be Grounded

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“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.

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What kind of presence do you bring?

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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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Where Are You From?

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“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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