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.

What’s Your Narrative?

Narrative

“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.

Contact us at any time.

What is your Resilience Strategy?

Resilience

“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.

Contact us at any time.

Do Your Colleagues Know You Care?

Untitled_Artwork

“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?

Contact us at any time.

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 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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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.

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Emotions are Contagious

Emotions

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?

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.