Welcome All!

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

Monday, August 13, 2018


“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.”

This is one of my favorite quotes by French writer, historian, and philosopher Voltaire. 

This past Thursday and Friday, Stephanie McGovern and I facilitated the two-day course ‘Fundamentals of Organization Development’ at the University of Minnesota. We do this three times a year and I feel fortunate. Stephanie is a richly experienced, wonderfully vibrant OD connoisseur with a passion for organizational and human dynamics and a contagious laugh. My luck doesn’t stop here though. Our group of 27 participants from a variety of industries was awesome: eager, curious, reflective, and very fun to work with. 

In the context of using ‘self as instrument’ and maximizing the OD consultant’s emotional intelligence, we talked about the importance of non-judgmental curiosity. Two skills that are intertwined with this kind of curiosity are asking questions and deep listening. Attendees of our course asked for resources on asking great questions, so here are three books, 1 article, and my own sample of questions. The questions listed here can help you connect, dig deeper, gain understanding, question your assumptions, bridge gaps, and calm the waters. 

Article and books:
The Art of Asking: Ask better Questions, get better Answers,Terry J. Fadem
Good Leaders Ask Great Question,John Maxwell
Asking Better Questions,Juliana Saxton

Before I give you a sampling of my favorite questions, please remember that our first and the most obvious questions are generally based on what we already know or think we know. They are based on assumptions that you may not have questioned and on interpretations that seem logical and true, to you. Different and better questions will help you explore issues in new ways. Below you find examples of questions that deepen your thought processes and those of others. Please share your favorite questions with me.
Am I/are we surrounding ourselves enough with people with diverse beliefs?
What elephant in the room could we be addressing at this very moment?
If we don’t change a thing, what will things look like next week, month?
How would things change if the opposite of what I believe were true?
How was I possibly involved even if I’m not causing the situation?
Am I listening to understand or am I listening to be understood?
What could be a completely different perspective on this issue?
What are different ways that I can be part of the conversation?
What might I have been neglecting or denying for some time?
Will what I am about to say or do help or harm the situation?
What could be dysfunctional that I am pretending to be fine?
What is something I should probably plan to do differently?
What may this person be fearing or trying to accomplish?
Are my assumptions valid?
If so, why?
If not, why not?

Am I showing up in critiquing or constructing mode?
What actions would I take if I were not afraid?
What is working and am I/are we utilizing it?
What if I am totally or partially wrong?
What is it that I’m holding on to?
How do I know that I am right?
How can I better support?
Am I protecting something?
Do I have enough data to freak out?
What influence may I/you not be using?
What are we afraid to admit and talk about?
What common ground may we be overlooking?
Is there anything we are not addressing right now?
What is in your way? What could move you forward?
What are we covering up for ourselves and for others?
I’d like to understand your worries, objectives, etc. better.
What truths may we not be telling each other around here?
What would be your suggestion for each of us to do differently?
What are the topics that are off limits in this team, organization?
How may things change if I/we flip the question or thought around?
Is this a good time for me to talk or should I invite someone to share?
What if I am missing, misinterpreting, over-emphasizing etc. something?
Would you have anything to add if you could speak your mind completely?
What style and person can counteract and complement my style right now?
What do you think I may be overlooking, exaggerating, misinterpreting etc.?
What would be your suggestion to improve our communication/collaboration?

Saving one of the best for last: 
How may I be in my own way right now with possible perfectionism, impatience, autobiographical listening, insecurity, or one of the many interpersonal allergies or cognitive biases that we all suffer from?

I wish you great questions for great conversations! As Einstein said: 

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

Monday, February 5, 2018

Trust building, collaborative phrases for your conversations

We all have those conversations and collaborations that seem challenging because intentions are misunderstood, parties rush to judgment, styles are clashing, or objectives are misaligned. Other relationships are strong and secure yet you may still experience an unexpected twist in the conversation, one you didn't see coming. And there are situations in which trust and credibility are harmed and you have to move forward together. For any of these scenarios, whether in a group setting or a personal meeting, the following sentences, from Covey's Trust Action Cards, I find very helpful. Give them a well-intentioned try and add your own examples - there are many more.

You see things differently from me. I want to learn more about your perspective.
When you do this, the impact on me (the team, the client) is …

Let me make sure I understand what you are trying to say.  

What are you not saying that needs to be voiced?

I respect you and I want to be candid with you.

What is it you'd like to see me do differently?

I’d like to share what I have observed.

This is what I feel strongly about ...

What is the ‘undiscussable’ here?
Where and how can I get better?

I need to listen before I respond.

I want to acknowledge you for …

How can I make this right?

From my perspective …

We need your opinion.

I was wrong about …

I apologize for …

My intent is…

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Plea for not-doing

We love to act, get on with things, and work on solutions. In school, in business, and in other contexts we are rewarded for being active and busy. Yet … have you ever heard of the expression ‘Too much of a good thing can turn into a bad thing?’ Our action bias is supposed to be in service of meaningful achievement, which it often accomplishes. Yet in a world in which everything and everyone is super connected, the pace is high, change is the new normal, and the environment is complex, it is wise to make time for slow thinking, reflection, and contemplation.

You highly likely know this. You highly likely don’t practice it enough.

Regular reflection practices ensure that you take deliberate pauses. These pauses can help you free some of your cluttered mind, adopt an open perspective, and facilitate deeper thinking. If you use reflection practices strategically, you will strengthen your capacity for metacognition, meaning you will become better at monitoring, understanding, and controlling your reasoning processes. So you basically improve your thinking about your thinking, which limits the effects of hasty conclusions, limited perspectives, and cognitive biases that too often lead to misreading people and situations.

So if you are one of the many people who find themselves busy fighting fires, moving from problem to problem, switching between a variety of events, with little time for thoughtful, quiet reflection, please try this:

1.  Journaling about experiences, thoughts, doubts, feelings, progress.
2. Asking reflection questions starting with whereto, what else, why not.
3. Actively inviting people who think differently for feedback and input.
4. Monthly reflection session with someone who guides the introspection.
5. Mindfulness training to which many books and websites are dedicated.

A little more on mindfulness or training the mind: It is an intervention in the neural networking of your brain and a simple way to become more present, focused, and effective in the moment. Mindfulness helps you to face people and events with an open mind, greater creativity and flexibility, and more freedom from your habitual thought pattern while experiencing less stress.

For examples of reflective questions think about questions such as:
- What do I/we really know?
- What if I am (partially) wrong?
- What may I be projecting onto others?
- Which are my assumptions in this situation?
- What is it that I/they a really need or fear right now?
- Which perspectives may I not be soliciting or entertaining?

You can also use the “What – So What – Now What” model. 
The ‘What?’ is descriptive and about facts, ‘So what?’ is a shift from descriptive to interpretive, what it all means, and involves feelings and lessons learned, and ‘Now what?’ helps you to see the situation in it’s context, to get a big-picture perspective, and to mine wisdom from experience to set future goals and create or adjust a plan.

Socrates may have said it best: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Strategic self-reflection can help you pause and contemplate, expand your viewpoint, acknowledge alternative beliefs, create a bridge between information and wisdom, and improve your decision-making capability. As stated in the Talmud, one of the central works of Rabbinic Judaism: “We do not see things as they are; but as we are.” So make sure you add other people’s perspectives, especially those of contrarians. Many people fail to look through the lens of opposing viewpoints. This limits the quality of your decisions since you are projecting your own thoughts, insights and experiences into a situation, without acknowledging alternative assumptions or angles.

In a January 2018 Harvard Business Review article called “Self-awareness can help leaders more than an MBA can” by Hougaard, Carter, and Afton, the authors take a very similar perspective on doing and awareness and reflection.

And this is the end of my plea for not-doing, at least for now.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Peer-to-peer accountability - How to Conduct an Accountability Conversation

Peer-to-peer accountability is a challenging task. You may work in a cross-functional team, a virtual team, a matrix situation, or in a more traditional, stable team setting. In each of these situations, holding each other accountable to team goals and commitments is challenging, especially since you are not the person’s boss. Even though these conversations may are difficult, below suggestions address how to conduct an accountability conversation with a team member in a structured, respectful, transparent and problem-solving manner.

Preparation for an accountability conversation – 5 tips

1.    Assess the level of safety for this conversation, defined as: Do we both perceive the relationship as respectful? Can we speak our minds freely without concern about damaging the relationship or other possible negative consequences? If not, you have trust building work to do.

2.    Assure that the timing of the conversation fits you both. Overly strong emotions and feeling time-pressured will most likely negatively impact the interaction. Be present there and then and be ready for anything, expected or not, that may come your way.

3.    Keep an open mind. First about how the conversation may develop and what the emotional intensity might be. Regardless of your preparation, positive intent, and approach, you never know nor control what’s going on at the other end of the table. Second, be open to the idea that you could be wrong. Ask yourself: What may I be missing or misinterpreting?

4.    Know your internal chatter. Ask: What story am I telling myself about this person, their intentions, and the circumstances? Is it a victim story, a villain story, a helplessness story etc. Where’s the proof? How do I know? Could I be totally wrong? Will this story help or hurt the conversation?

5.    Reflect on your own possible role in the present situation: What may I be not willing to address myself? How may I be contributing to the performance / delivery gap?

Execution of the accountability conversation – 5 tips

6.    Describe the situation: ‘What happened as I see it.’ Focus on the gap between expectation and reality as you see it. In this stage separate ‘What happened’ from ‘Why’ it happened. Refrain from speculation and judgment. Move away from blame and focus on understanding and analysis.

7.    Ask for the person’s response, for their version of what happened. Remain focused even if you are confronted with an emotional response. Respond empathetically yet keep focused on the facts. Be ready to listen intently and ask questions to clarify. Refrain from jumping to conclusions and from judgment – for many the hardest thing to do. Work towards agreement on where the stories align and where they do not.

8.    Identify impacts - Explain what you see as the consequences of not meeting expectations. What are the results of what happened or didn't happen and of what was not accomplished? Ask/address: What’s the impact? Ask/address: Why does this matter? Ask/address: What are some potential implications? Also consider which of these consequences may the person care about most?

9.    Explore the barriers – What is getting in the way of this person delivering and performing up to expectations?
a.    Content – Knowledge – Information
b.    Ability – Skills – Coaching
c.     Motivation – Drive – Values
d.    Relationships – Influence – Style
e.    Processes – Procedures – Resources – Tools

10.Collaboratively explore possible remedies and move to action:
a.    How can barriers be removed?
b.    What does the person need to improve?
c.     Who can help, support?
d.    Is the person truly committed to the changes?
e.    What is the time frame?
f.     How will you both know there’s improvement – success?
g.    How will you follow up? When?

Lastly, but actually firstly, a safe and transparent climate where fact finding outweighs fault finding, where learning from mistakes prevails covering up mistakes, is the only way for people to openly admit to and share near misses, small mistakes, and big failures.

This will be the topic of one of the upcoming blog posts.