Welcome All!

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

Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Step-by-Step Framework for Candid Conversations

The why and whereto of candid conversations have been covered in some of my previous blog posts. Today I focus on the how-to:

1.    Tell the person you have something difficult to say.

2.    Optional: Warn the person that she/he might be upset with your message.

3.    Say it immediately. Say it straight. Say it brief. Say it clearly. (which means no beating around the bush, no sugar coating, no packaging between niceties.

4.    State it as your opinion or suggestions and not as ‘the’ truth since there is no one truth.

5.    Clarify that you care for the person, hence your candor and the risk that comes with this candor.

6.    Be prepared for a wide range of emotions and responses. Be prepared for push back.

7.    Realize that candor is a two-way street. Be ready to receive candor and straight talk and actively ask for it. Listen, ask clarifying questions, and consider and learn rather than interrupt and counter-argue.

When things go wrong

No matter how well you prepare and train, things can go wrong. Always. Here are tips to deal with such situations:

1. Be brave enough to be vulnerable and fallible
2. Know that very few mistakes are final and fatal – we’re talking communication and leadership here, not medicine and surgery.
3. Be present in the here-and-now. Use your awareness to sense when it turns bad and make it the topic of conversation.
4. Ask for feedback, suggestions, impressions. And listen.
5. Clarify again, your intentions and style.
6. Repeat your care and concern for the person, team or topic.
7. Apologize for the unintended impact but stick to the message if that is still what you believe.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happiness and Gratitude

Happiness studies are popular these days, but the obsession with happiness dates back to philosophers thousands of years ago. People have always been obsessed with happiness and how to increase it. If I take you back in time more than 2000 years, we find Aristotle – one of the prominent philosophers on the topic of happiness. Aristotle stated that happiness is a central purpose of human life and a goal in itself. I have often quoted him on the topic and am happy to do it again: 

“Happiness depends on ourselves”.

This brief statement is very profound. It ties into my belief that we have a free will, that we choose our own response to situations, and that it is our thinking and our interpreting that creates our emotions and well-being, not specific things, people, or situations. Epictetus said it long ago: “We are not disturbed by men or by events, but by the view which we take of them.” Austrian psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl added that no one can take away your last freedom, which is the freedom to choose your own response, to any situation, no matter the circumstances. Who doesn’t like control over their own level of happiness? I have to acknowledge, however, that research is not completely on our side.

There is an increasing group of thinkers and researchers who claim that your happiness is determined by three factors. Your ‘set point’ (accounting for 50% of your happiness), circumstances (only 10%) and intentional activity, accounting for 40% of your happiness. Circumstances are an obvious but smaller factor than many people like to think and I am not sorry for the victim-thinkers out there. Circumstances only make up 10% of our happiness pie, despite the fact that most of us love to blame circumstances for the situation we’re in and for our misfortunes and our level of happiness. 

When I first read about this three-piece pie some time ago, I was even more surprised by the 50% called the ‘set point’.  That does not fit my need for control nor my belief in free will and in the power of my thinking and choosing. Apparently, an individual’s chronic happiness level is 50% determined by her or his set point. This set point is the expected value within the person’s set range. It is genetically determined and assumed to be fixed, stable over time, and immune to influence or control. Results of twin studies and long-term panel studies support this point. They all indicate substantial long-term stability in happiness. But the good news is that you still have considerable control through intentional activity, which determines your level of happiness for 40%.  How you choose to act, how you choose to think and judge, who you choose to interact with, what you choose to do, where you choose to put your time and energy, they all influence your level of happiness.

One of the many known examples of intentional activity that can increase your well-being and happiness is regular exercise, even though we often don’t act on it. Other ways to increase your happiness are certain types of cognitive activity, such as reframing situations in a more positive light or pausing to count your blessings and striving for important personal goals. Yet another one, possibly less known, is being kind to others and expressing gratitude.

The word gratitude is derived from the Latin root gratia, meaning grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. All derivatives from this Latin root have to do with kindness, generousness, gifts, the beauty of giving and receiving, or getting something for nothing. Gratitude has been conceptualized as many different things: an emotion, an attitude, a moral virtue, a habit, a personality trait, or a coping response. Call it what you want, quite a few studies show that expressing gratitude can have profound effects on both the gratitude provider and the gratitude recipient. There is good reason why expressing gratitude is making it’s way into addiction treatment, mental health therapy, school activities, corporate coaching and other fields.

This Thanksgiving Weekend I am grateful for many things, often small things, often the things that I almost take for granted. I won’t bore you with my list, but I do wish to leave you with this: If you look inside, if you look around you, if you practice being aware, if you live in the moment and if you know how to take on different perspectives in life, what else can be the result than gratitude? Just leaves you to express it, abundantly and authentically. Go do it.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Straight-Talk – From Stress and Struggle to Success

To my relief, candor, transparency, and straight talk increasingly show up in articles and discussions. It is much needed. As much as many workplace and other conversations benefit from subtlety and nuance, at least as many conversations are in great need of honest, sincere expression, of forthrightness, and of frankness in responding.

My business is called HardTalk and clients call me the Candor Coach. At the same time many think I’m on a crazy endeavor. Introducing more candor in communication and in leadership, regardless of the culture and the setting, is generally looked at as opening a can of worms. 

The reason? We are fueled by our fears! You are fueled by your fears and by your tendency to avoid risks. Think of your need for approval (your fear for disapproval), your need for praise (your fear for criticism and disapproval), or your need to be liked (your fear for rejection). For too many people, the desire – or obsession? – to prevent conflict is especially strong. Conflict is often perceived as bad and unpredictable.

To make things a little worse, in addition to being guided by your fears you are misguided by erroneous beliefs, and the two are obviously related. If you believe:
- That tensions and negative feelings should be avoided in conversations
- That showing respect is synonymous with withholding what might be painful, and
- That your need to be liked and accepted justifies indirectness and half truths… YOU ARE WRONG

You do everyone, including yourself, a great disservice by sugar-coating the message, by beating around the bush and by delaying or withholding your opinion. Your customers, your employees, your loved ones – every one loses. They might like the conversation or you better in that very moment, but how about trust, helping each other grow, and showing respect through honesty and straight talk?

Candor with yourself and others decreases blind spots and self-deception, improves communication and collaboration, and it increases trust and accountability. As simple as that. And remember, in a trusting and transparent relationship people can handle confrontations and the, sometimes brutal truth, even if they don’t like it.

Now what? How to start? First, start thinking past the roadblocks and
-       Amend your beliefs on kindness, assertiveness, candor, and conflict.
-       Know and learn to handle your needs and fears.
-       Practice having candid conversations. And practice. And practice.

My next post will cover a step-by-step framework on the ‘how-to’ of candid conversations.