How Are You Being Perceived?

Recently, several of my executive coaching and OASIS Conversations workshop clients have complained that they are being unfairly perceived.  In each of the cases, their boss said something like “we need to clear up the Jake and Jerry problem” where Jake was the name of the person who felt wrongly accused. How could his boss and others not see that he is the one who was “right” and did not deserve to be included in the negative perception. However, the more he complained about being accused and blamed the other person the more the negative perception stuck.

For one of the situations, I was quite surprised, like my client. He is collaborative and it did appear that the other person was not up for the job. Still, his boss held him accountable and expected him to take care of the problem. The negative perceptions hurt and sucked a lot of energy and time.

 What did I advise?  First, it is useful to normalize this experience. I have coached many effective leaders who have been caught in such a conflict even when they did not seek it.  Second, it is useful to consider your part in such a tangle. How have you tried to reach out to the other person? Have you had a conversation with the other person and talked about how the conflict and negative perceptions are hurting both of you? Have you sought out a third party to support such a conversation?  Be sure to first get empathy and be in an open place when you begin the conversation. Be sure to give empathy and work to understand the other person’s perspective as well as share your view. Look for where there is common ground and shared purpose. Make sure you identify a solid agreement and how you will follow up. After a conversation or several, be sure to check-in to ensure you stay on track.

One of my clients had such a conversation with a colleague that she had avoided for quite a long time and did not like. She was quite upset when their mutual boss, the head of the organization, insisted they come to a truce rather than continue to complain and blame each other.  With preparation and some anxiety, she had the conversation. She discovered that her colleague was angry that she failed to include him in what he thought was pertinent information in order to be successful. She avoided him and had failed to see the impact of her behavior.  In turn, she was able to ask him to stop saying negative things about her staff. They agreed to hold regular meetings to share information. They both were relieved when their boss agreed that things were running more smoothly. Years later they continue to be close colleagues and the organization is much more effective and their lives are filled with less stress and anxiety.

Be aware of how you are being perceived in your interactions. Engage in conversations to create agreements.

There are Many Ways

Recently I was searching for an exercise routine for strength training.  As I reviewed different videos and books, I found that there were many options and not just one “right” routine. This may seem obvious but we often have a predilection for identifying a “right” way, as I was when I began my search. Truthfully, we are each unique and need to find the best routine for ourselves.

In a similar way, research by Jeffry Martin on fundamental wellbeing concludes that there are many routes to personal wellbeing. In fact, his studies show that it is useful to try many forms of meditation, positive psychology exercises and other activities.  Over time, we may find new routines are needed as we grow and develop.

It would be great if we could remember that there are many ways to live and be and that each person will experiment with options that work best for them. It does not mean that our way is “wrong” or “right”– just different. We spend too much energy making ourselves and others wrong. Polarization is rampant. 

Try adapting an experimental mindset and try new ideas and ways of being. Allow others to also explore and grow. We are in a new time in our world and adapting an open mindset will serve us well.

Where is Your Blind Spot?

A leader in my OASIS Conversation Course assumed that a member of his team was not a team player and was lazy. He was not updating his boss on the status of projects. The frustrated leader talked about letting his staff member go. However, he was able to notice his judgment and worked to stop his reaction and engage in a conversation with his team member. After the conversation, he reported to our class that his view of this team member totally changed.

In fact, the team member had been actively helping the other team members and was successfully completing his projects. In the conversation, the leader learned that the team member did not realize that he was expected to be sharing his progress. He felt confident and did not want to bother his manager. This leader was glad that he noticed his judgment and blind spot and was able to cool down and engage in a positive and productive conversation. The leader was able to see that he had not clarified his expectations and he realized that he had unfairly written off a productive staff member. He was grateful that he learned the skills for such a conversation and that he approached the team member with an open mind. This conversation supported the whole team.

Our brains are overloaded with millions of pieces of information and we can only process a small number at a time. We are always using our past experiences to make short cut decisions. Without awareness, we are making choices about people and situations. We are constantly making assumptions about whom we can trust and who belongs. Blind spots are a part of being human.

We naturally have stereotypes that impact our interactions. In addition, we experience confirmation bias where we ignore, avoid and devalue information that contradicts our beliefs. One study showed that people spend over 36% more time reading articles that confirm their beliefs. This can impact innovation.

While we can make quick decisions, our assumptions and blinds spots can create challenges in our interactions. Conductors added 20% more women musicians when they started conducting interviews where they could not see the candidates. Most of us don’t intend to be biased and we think we are open-minded. However, we naturally have blind spots.

We need to commit to being open and challenge ourselves to stop and consider other explanations—especially when we sense we are “right”. It is important to not let one interaction or experience color your point of view. Separate observable data from assumptions.

Notice and slow down your reactions and be thoughtful in your responses to differences and judgments. Pay particular attention to when you “know” you are “right.” Be curious and seek other perspectives.

Where is Your Blind Spot?

A leader in my OASIS Conversation Course assumed that a member of his team was not a team player and was lazy. He was not updating his boss on the status of projects.  The frustrated leader talked about letting his staff member go. However, he was able to notice his judgment and worked to stop his reaction and engage in a conversation with his team member. After the conversation, he reported to our class that his view of this team member totally changed.

In fact, the team member had been actively helping the other team members and was successfully completing his projects. In the conversation, the leader learned that the team member did not realize that he was expected to be sharing his progress. He felt confident and did not want to bother his manager. This leader was glad that he noticed his judgment and blind spot and was able to cool down and engage in a positive and productive conversation.  The leader was able to see that he had not clarified his expectations and he realized that he had unfairly written off a productive staff member. He was grateful that he learned the skills for such a conversation and that he approached the team member with an open mind. This conversation supported the whole team.

Our brains are overloaded with millions of pieces of information and we can only process a small number at a time. We are always using our past experiences to make short cut decisions. Without awareness, we are making choices about people and situations. We are constantly making assumptions about whom we can trust and who belongs.  Blind spots are a part of being human.

We naturally have stereotypes that impact our interactions. In addition, we experience confirmation bias where we ignore, avoid and devalue information that contradicts our beliefs.  One study showed that people spend over 36% more time reading articles that confirm their beliefs.  This can impact innovation.

While we can make quick decisions, our assumptions and blinds spots can create challenges in our interactions. Conductors added 20% more women musicians when they started conducting interviews where they could not see the candidates. Most of us don’t intend to be biased and we think we are open-minded. However, we naturally have blind spots.

We need to commit to being open and challenge ourselves to stop and consider other explanations—especially when we sense we are “right”.   It is important to not let one interaction or experience color your point of view. Separate observable data from assumptions.

Notice and slow down your reactions and be thoughtful in your responses to differences and judgments. Pay particular attention to when you “know” you are “right.”  Be curious and seek other perspectives.

“I completely understand, it’s okay.” How Are You Showing Respect Amidst Uncertainty?

We all have different levels of comfort these days. Will you be going back to the office soon? This is a time of uncertainty and there are not easy decisions.

Recently a colleague asked me to join her for lunch. She noted that she had been visiting many restaurants and other services and was not sure the coronavirus was that big a deal. She did not know of anyone who had been affected. It was just when things started opening up and I had not ventured out in a while. I agreed to meet. However, when I mentioned it to my family I was surprised at their reaction and hesitation. I felt a bit nervous, but called my colleague to postpone the in-person meeting. I was grateful that she said, “I completely understand, it’s okay.” 

This may be a good response to remember. Even though I knew that she had a different level of risk tolerance she did not shame me or make me feel uncomfortable. In fact, I appreciated her response and it enhanced our connection.

Unfortunately, quite a few people have called me to share similar worries. For example, a manager shared that he considers himself an A player and is already feeling concerned with pressure to return to his office. While he does not feel comfortable going into the office, he does not want to say no to his boss who believes people should return. A school teacher is stressed about going back and doesn’t feel she has a real choice. Another person said she is feeling pressured to participate in a local meeting in person and does not know how to respond to the shaming. She doesn’t want to let her colleague down and is upset that the person is telling her there is no potential for harm when a large group will be assembled in a small space.

Some of my clients are choosing not to reopen their offices for some time and as many as 70% of employees in some companies have said they prefer to work from home now that they have experienced the benefits. This is a time for leaders to show they care about the wellbeing of their staff and to create dialogue for open conversations about needs and concerns.

This is a time to remember that each person is having a different experience, has a unique level of risk tolerance and may have health issues themselves or those they live with may be vulnerable. The most important thing is to notice your judgment and remember to stop, step back, cool down and shift to being open and understanding. Be careful not to shame others and to appreciate their honesty. Each person needs to evaluate the situation and make their choices.

Remember to respect differences and appreciate that each of us needs to make our own decisions and we need to be flexible and supportive of one another. “I completely understand, it’s okay.”

Are You Being Emotionally Intelligent During This Time of Uncertainty?

You may notice that you are experiencing a range of emotions these days. After a news report you may feel worried about contracting coronavirus and be angry at a family member for taking the risk of meeting a friend or colleague. You may notice that you are feeling tired with all of the decisions you need to make for your business and family. You may be worried about the future of your job and the current state of the world. Many of these emotions are uncomfortable. We each have different strategies for managing what we may consider as painful or negative emotions. Most of us retreat to our heads and do a lot of thinking and worrying. We also may tend to judge ourselves and recount our inadequacies or we can blame others and highlight their faults. We can also distract ourselves with things like more work, more television, news and other addictions. Essentially, we tend to suppress, repress or express our emotions.

Another option is to befriend our emotions and recognize that they are giving us a message. Most of us ideally choose to be attentive parents and seek to understand the needs of a child with compassion. For example, the cry of a young child could mean the child is hungry, lonely or desires to play. As parents we take responsibility for listening to our child’s pain and learning about their needs. We can do the same thing for ourselves. We can make the intention to be open to learning from our emotions.

Our concern about the dangers of coronavirus can support us in following the social distancing and mask wearing guidelines. Our sense of being tired may call for planning a break. We can listen to what our emotions are implying and then we can assess how true the underlying belief may be. For example, if we are worried because we are trying to be a perfectionist. It may be that the report we are working on is good enough.

This is where self-awareness comes in. We all have conditioned beliefs that may have once served us but may not do so now. It may have helped you to strive to be a perfectionist in your family or school where you received praise for such attention to detail. However, your report is not being graded and you will be better off not editing it for the tenth time.

Part of being emotionally intelligent and successful during this time of uncertainty is being open to becoming aware of your emotions and assessing how true or realistic the underlying beliefs are for you at this time. This process takes some practice and is quite useful during this journey.

Try an experiment of noticing and listening to your emotions and related beliefs. Then choose kind actions to support yourself.

What Are You Learning During This Challenging Time?

This is clearly a unique time in our world for us as individuals and our organizations. If ever we need to use our resilience skills it is now.

I have been focusing on being open. It is natural to want security, safety and to feel a sense of control during times of uncertainty. We naturally contract, make judgments about how people and things “should” be and it is easy to blame or to try to distract ourselves when we feel stressed. I have been asking myself, “Are You Open?” Then I stop and pay attention. If I feel grounded, present and optimistic about what is possible, I am gratefully open. If I am pessimistic and contracted, I sense that I am closed. I then pay attention to my emotions and the stories I am telling myself. Are things really as difficult as I am imagining? How can I reframe this as a challenge and opportunity for learning? I then work to cool down and to shift into a more open state where I pay attention to the possibilities and potential actions. We each need to identify our strategies for cooling down. There are lots of opportunities to strengthen the muscle of being open and resilient.

Leaders need to encourage team members to adapt an open mindset and to be open to what is possible during this time. A client of mine, the president of a large organization, has made changes that would have taken years to make that are putting the company in a stronger competitive position. More is required than just cost cutting. His leadership team has worked to be aligned and engage in open conversations. They are collectively imagining a new future together and taking bold actions. They recognize that there will be no returning to “normal.”

This can be a time of significant change. In the face of such challenges we have the opportunity to reinvent ourselves and our organizations. It takes awareness, being open and real dialogue to collectively agree on and make such transformational changes.  

It is useful to remember that hardships are powerful learning opportunities for both leaders and teams. We can gain deeper self-awareness, compassion, curiosity and courage.  Leadership research demonstrates that dealing with hardships is a critical experience for developing impactful leaders. While success cannot be guaranteed there is much to learn during this time of the global COVID crisis, financial strains, structural bias tension as well as climate change challenges. This is a unique time for leadership teams to identify and align around a compelling vision and to gain commitment.  It requires agility and collective action. It is not easy and success is not guaranteed. However, learning can be. I hope you will remember to be open and take care of yourself and your team amidst this experience.

What will you say that you learned during this time?  How will you have grown in your leadership and life journey? How will your team and organization characterize this time?

Have You Told People How They are Making a Difference?

The purpose of life is to make a positive difference—Peter Drucker

I had the good fortune to attend the retirement celebration for a former client and friend. The event took place via Zoom and many of her colleagues, friends, family and community members attended. It was amazing to have so many people share how G. had made a difference in the major health care system she had been a part of for almost two decades. It became clear that she has been integral in creating a welcoming environment. She focused on continuous improvement and was integral to significant cultural change efforts.

Person after person confirmed her assets of being authentic, empathetic, supportive and committed to making a difference. Clearly, she has contributed and personally impacted many people. I hope she could take in how much she is valued, her contribution and legacy. She has built a community and has many positive relationships. People also shared that she enjoys travel, music and theatre and has built fun into her life. From this perspective I thought: that is a good and worthwhile life. I hope she feels valued and can appreciate what she has done.

I wonder how often we affirm people and let them know the contribution they are making. It would make all of our lives more meaningful if we did so. Often in organizations and in life we are running to the next activity. Sometimes it is hard to see impact until after the dust settles.

Ironically, G. wrote me an email to thank me and confirm the difference my work had made in her life and the organization. I am grateful for her thoughtfulness.

Who can you thank for their contribution and how they have made a difference in your life and organization? Can you appreciate how you are making a difference now?

We Can Support Each Other

Clearly so much is happening in our world these days. It is easy to feel challenged in the face of so many needed systemic changes. We can each do our part to make life better for others.

I recently have been hosting Leadership Conversation Circles with the goal of leaders supporting each other.  In small groups one person shares a challenge they are facing and the kind of support that would be useful. For example, one person talked about the fact that people are not being trained for jobs and there will be a shortage of workers for some positions. He asked fellow leaders for suggestions on how he can communicate his concern more and help communities educate workers for the needed roles. It will take companies, chambers of commerce and others to join together.  After he shared his concern and request, others asked questions, brainstormed and offered suggestions. The leader left with a clearer view of his question as well as an introduction to a leader in another city that had organized such a program as well as an introduction to someone at the Board of Education who is responsible for this issue.  

Another leader shared her overwhelm with the organization of her home office during this period of working from home. She asked for different perspectives on her challenge. She learned that she was not alone with such disorganization and that made her feel less judgmental toward herself. In addition, it became clear that she had tried various systems on the market and she really needed someone to support her in working with the way her mind works. Another person in the group knew of a coach in her area who had also had training in how to organize. She left feeling understood with a perfect connection.

A third person focused on a personal challenge that she was having with colleagues and her frustration with interactions. She left the meeting with a whole new understanding of how her colleagues may be experiencing the situation. She felt understood by the group and had a new way of engaging with her colleagues. 

Each leader brought a different challenge to the group and each left with greater understanding. All of the participants gained a deeper understanding of how they can effectively lead. Most importantly, the leaders were open and shared their concerns and were grateful to support one another and to be supported. We are interconnected and we need each other.

Many of the participants followed up with each other and made lasting connections. Participants said the experience was “transformational”, “enlightening”, “fulfilling” and “uplifting.”

We need to create opportunities to listen to one another, ask powerful questions and to genuinely support one another. We all benefit from the experience.

Will We Commit to Transformation?

I have had a lot of conversations recently about systemic inequities and racism. I have supported many organizations in creating more inclusive cultures and have conducted hundreds of focus groups around race, gender and other differences. I have coached many leaders and teams around these issues. It is from this work that I developed the OASIS Conversations process. I could see that we are not skilled in talking with each other about these challenging issues and creating environments of respect. It is easy to feel misunderstood or blamed. It is hard to admit that there are inequities that each of us has contributed to. We are each conditioned by our background experiences. While most of us don’t intend to be biased, we are often unaware of the impact of our statements and actions. The OASIS process supports us in noticing our judgments and reactions and shifting to being open and understanding to co-create shared solutions.

There is a great cost to individuals, organizations and communities for a lack of inclusion and inequity. We are at a unique time in our history where, while there is uncertainty in many arenas, there is also significant opportunity. We need to make changes within ourselves, in our organizations and in society. Will we commit to transformation? We need to be more open to one another.

I continue to be committed to learning, making a difference and contributing to the solution. And the solution is not easy or readily apparent. It is going to take each of us to make the commitment for increasing our understanding, engaging in conversations and taking action.

First, it is valuable to educate ourselves. We can’t pretend to understand the experience of others. Do we know what it is like to not be able to catch a cab because of the color of our skin or the fear a mother has when her black son is driving? There are a lot of resources to study to educate ourselves. When we understand the history of our country and the experiences of others that will help us to be more empathetic. We have all been impacted by our conditioning.

Then we need to be emotionally intelligent. We need to recognize that we are each having different experiences and that we are literally paying attention to different observable data. What is apparent to one person is literally not visible to another. We are each making different assumptions and experiencing different emotions and judgments.

We can learn to be more open and curious and truly listen to one another. We can become more self-aware and shift to being open-minded and open-hearted. 

As we truly listen to one another and empathize with compassion, the solutions will naturally emerge.

We need to have these conversations in our families, workplaces and in our communities.

We need to also change processes and structures to ensure equity.  We need to elect politicians who can change larger policies and we can change practices in organizations and communities.

I appreciate that leaders in organizations are coming forth with commitments to invest energy and resources in creating more inclusive and collaborative cultures. Many are committing to donate to organizations that are working on addressing systemic bias.

We can each make a commitment to action. I will be facilitating groups where people support each other in being open-minded and taking actions to make a difference. We know that transformation will take time, effort and discomfort. This time of uncertainty may be the perfect time to create more open and collaborative organizations and communities.

Commit to one action today to be a part of the collective solution where people know that they matter and to collectively make the world better for all.