Welcome All!

If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

How to argue effectively

Sure, numerous conversations and meetings benefit from subtlety and agreement. Yet at least as many conversations and meetings require all involved to be able to argue effectively, to candidly speak out, to respectfully tell it as they see it, to challenge conventional wisdom without sugar-coating, and to openly call out mishaps, cowardice, ego-trouble, misguided intentions, or simply an opposing view or unlikely perspective.

So how do you do this thing called ‘arguing effectively’?

1.    Objectives must be shared, explained, and understood.
2.    Intentions must be constructive and trusted.
3.    Substantive debate must be everyone’s priority.
4.    Empathy and curiosity must accompany candor and persuasion.
5.    Participants must be willing to assume the other person’s position.
6.    Participants must distinguish between the person and their opinion.
7.    Respectful, straight-talk feedback must be given and received.
8.    Dominating, condemning, remaining locked in the past, and attacking someone’s character must not be tolerated.  

It is impossible and highly undesirably to eliminate all arguments from conversations and meetings. It is possible to argue respectfully and constructively so you can dive deeper into important topics and clear the air of otherwise suppressed, maybe even toxic thoughts and emotions. All involved need to realize that a lack of agreement does not have to equal conflict, and that deeper connections, smarter solutions, and stronger commitments result from expressing, respecting, and seriously considering a contrarian’s point of view.

Managing Up - TeamWomen Minnesota

Earlier this month I was fortunate to provide a professional development clinic for members of TeamWomen MN, a great group of women that share one goal: to inspire, encourage, and support each other in reaching their full potential. My talk was on women brains and behaviors, focusing on practical tips to better manage up, down, and sideways. There are six thoughts from this talk that I’d like to share with you:
1. How well you lead up is an indication of your potential to become a senior leader in your organization. Your ability to demonstrate initiative, persuasion, persistence, and passion in combination with your ability to overcome obstacles and promote resilience is a critical measure of senior leadership. You will need to be able to influence your boss and you want to give people a compelling reason to believe in what you stand for. 
2. High-potential women tend to be over-mentored and under-sponsored. Acquire and utilize high-positioned sponsors. These are people who will advocate for new roles and projects. They advocate for your promotion and help you plan your moves. They endorse your authority publicly.
3. It’s on your plate to learn to get your point across and to communicate persuasively with your superiors, your team members, and your peers.
4. Understand your leaders and your company: their strategic business objectives, their personal goals, needs, and fears, and their styles. Adjust your messages and style accordingly while remaining loyal to your core objectives and values. 

5. Assert yourself with tact and provide feedback with tact: Be clear and brief, focus on what’s relevant, what’s practical, and what’s helpful.

6. Establish trust by following through on commitments, by making yourself available, by demonstrating the ability to think and act for ‘the boss’, and by taking initiative, acting decisively, and sharing credit. 

As Michael Useem, professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania once said: “We might fear how our superior will respond, we might doubt our right to lead up, but we all carry a responsibility to do what we can when it will make a difference.” 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Ways to increase your social awareness

Social awareness is the third of four elements of emotional intelligence and consists of organizational awareness and understanding your environment. The latter requires a good dose of empathy in order to understand and relate to people. Below you find ways to strengthen your empathetic insights and skills:

1.   Be here, now, with this situation and with this person and their needs and emotions. Gently push aside your judgments, your thoughts about the thousand other things you have to attend to, and any other distractions that keep you from being here now.

2.   Use your own past experiences to understand the situation or person better, but be mindful not to interpret from your own frame of reference.

3.   Move away from your own agenda and ask yourself: What are the interests, needs, and possible fears of this person? What might their agenda be and above all: Why?

4.  Make sure you meet the people in your organization on their own grounds. Walk around, observe, and ask. Experience first hand what challenges, pressures, and risks they are dealing with and how they are succeeding or not.

5.  Ask people how they like to be supported. Discuss what they expect of you and listen with the intent to understand and learn. Stay away from autobiographical listening, jumping to conclusions and the like.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Beauty and the Danger of Patterns

Stuck in a rut. Blindsided. Tunnel vision. Blind spots.
I call them ‘siblings’ from the family of cognitive errors.

If I say that you are stuck in a rut I mean that you are fixed in your thinking and in the way you do things. It could be that you've been doing something the same way for too long. It could be that you over-use the otherwise very useful skill of pattern recognition and reliance on previous experience. If you do an online search for the meaning of ‘blindsided’ one of the examples you get is of a quarterback who was blindsided and had the ball knocked out of his hand. And then there is tunnel vision, blind spots ….

… you get the point I’m sure.

In our coaching and workshop conversations my clients and I regularly discuss the benefits and the ‘how-to’ of taking different perspectives, seeking dissenting views, and appreciating contrarians (ask my husband and our children and they’ll probably tell you that I fail at least as often as I succeed in putting this to practice myself).

Two weeks ago I was fortunate to attend the Global Change Management Conference by the Association for Change Management Professionals. Imagine 1500 people from 26 different countries sharing a wealth of knowledge, their experience, and a wide variety of perspectives during this three-day event in Dallas. Enriching, energizing, and fun!

Harvard happiness researcher Shawn Achor was the opening keynote speaker at the conference. Shawn mentioned the Tetris Effect, after the popular tile matching video game Tetris. The Tetris Effect occurs when you devote so much time and attention to an activity that it begins to pattern your thoughts, your mental images, and even your dreams. People who play Tetris for prolonged periods, don’t see ordinary boxes at the department store or ‘just’ buildings on Main Street. They see how the different shapes of these boxes and buildings can fit together as if they were playing the Tetris game.

So back to the ability of pattern recognition, which helps us all assess and solve problems and prevents us from inventing the wheel over and over again. In 1998 psychologist and researcher Robert L. Solso defined pattern recognition as the ability to abstract and integrate certain elements of a stimulus into an organized scheme for memory storage and retrieval. Sounds useful and it is useful! One of the many advantages of pattern recognition is that you can identify patterns and objects even when partly hidden, with incomplete and ambiguous information, and even better, you can recognize these patterns with ease and automaticity.

Our ability to recognize patterns is what gave humans their evolutionary edge over animals. It’s considered one of the hallmarks of intelligence if you define the latter as the ability to solve problems. We humans are amazing pattern-recognition machines. We have the ability to recognize many different types of patterns, transform them into concrete and actionable steps, and draw cause and effect conclusions. None of that I wish to throw out. Nor am I against the increasing possibility of machines to recognize patterns, such as Google’s driverless cars, which are able to recognize traffic and schedule changes faster than humans. Or think of the application of pattern recognition in the medical field. Diagnosing an illness is also the result of recognizing patterns, however my bacterial infection was misdiagnosed – which almost cost me my leg – as an acute rheumatoid attack due to the absence of a so-called must-be-present element in the ‘bacterial-infection-pattern’. IBM Watson is getting into medical diagnosis and in many ways, machines will be better at pattern recognition than humans due to their superior processing power, recognizing the right patterns faster than anyone else.

Yes, I hugely appreciate pattern recognition, whether done by man or machine, and at the same time I urge everyone to be watching out for over-reliance. Make sure you do not ‘see’ patterns that aren’t there (maybe they never were or maybe just not this time). Explore which relationships between events you may mistake for cause-and-effect patterns. Investigate which of your blind spots are based on so-called patterns and on expectations that haven’t been tested in a while. Know when you’re jumping to conclusions and clouding your perceptions and interpretations because you (think you) see a pattern. Focus instead on four C’s:

1. Be Curious – especially towards different views, thought processes, and choices.

2. Be Critical – particularly of your own pattern-based focus, interpretations, assumptions, and conclusions.

3. Be Creative – look for different ways of viewing a person, situation, or problem.

4. Be Candid – with yourself and with others, whenever you suspect the Tetris Effect or any of its siblings.

Four words that, if applied on your job and at home, can have a significant positive influence on your outcomes, relationships, and well-being.

Curious. Critical. Creative. Candid.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Questions to ask when faced with change

Change management is popular and there are numerous books, talks, blog posts and what not dedicated to this topic. In this post I choose to alert you to questions, that, when considered thoughtfully, will help you lead and manage change more successfully. Some of the questions you find below may seem obvious or strange. Regardless I ask you to reflect on them all and to ask others to reflect on them with you.

Note: Some of these questions stem from Wally Bock's blog, writing on Decision Making on March 17, 2016

Please ask yourself:
What’s the story of the problem?
Why do we want to solve the problem?
What do we know for sure?
How do we know this?
What are we assuming?
What purpose are our assumptions serving?
What is it that we are leaving un-discussed?
Why are we doing it this way?
What do we not know?
What’s a similar situation?
Who are the stakeholders and what are their needs?
What happens if we do nothing and things remain as they are?
What can be my first step to better deal with what is coming?
Are we often coming to the same kind of conclusions?
Who can I consult to get a completely different perspective?
Which excuses for underperformance make perfect sense to me?
What am I doing to give voice to unstated agendas, whispered concerns?
How can I best mine wisdom from previous experiences here or elsewhere?

Let me add a Jack Welch question:
What would I do differently if I had just been hired for the job?

In closing, a Charles Duhigg question:
Is how our organization or team functions truly the best course of action or did it develop simply because that’s the way it’s always been done?
(From his book The Power of Habit)

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Courage to Doubt

If you could take a ‘Courage and Doubt Test’ just like you can take an intelligent test like the WISC-IV or a personality test like the Myers Briggs, how would you score on this Courage and Doubt test? How would you score on items such as:

The courage to take risks and possibly make mistakes
The courage to choose and not choose something else
The courage to let go of total control
The courage to truly delegate
The courage to be vulnerable
The courage to doubt yourself and show it

Lets zoom in on the latter: your ability (and willingness!) to doubt yourself. What is your outlook on doubt? Is it a sign of weakness, a sign of strength, both, neither? Does it depend on your position with the company, on the setting that you’re operating in, or does it depend on whether you’re meeting with your own team or with the organization’s top management?

If you believe that doubt undermines your authority and influence, you probably go to great length to eliminate or suppress doubt. This can lead to dogmatism and intolerance towards people who raise concerns, towards team members voicing uncomfortable questions, and towards people who simply have a different perspective from yours.

What is your outlook on doubt? Maybe you believe that doubt is a useful third eye. Maybe you realize that doubt puts a brake on overreliance on set ways of thinking, deciding, and doing. If this is you, you will likely embrace doubting thoughts because you realize doubt helps you take a step back, it helps you look at a situation from a different perspective, and it makes you wonder what the devil’s advocate has to say. Doubting your assumptions and thinking patterns helps you reduce self-deception, cognitive bias, and fossilization of your thinking.

No, you do not want to be paralyzed by excessive and insistent doubt, yet giving doubt a voice keeps you open-minded, fresh, less judgmental, and flexible.