Welcome All!

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

Friday, July 28, 2017

Cultivate your Curiosity for increased professional effectiveness

“The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas
as in escaping from the old ones.” 
Economist Maynard Keynes

One definition of curiosity is ‘A strong desire to know or learn something.’ Sounds good right, and sounds like something that most educational institutions and organizations would support. That is unfortunately not always the case, on the contrary! Yet leaving the discussion of the how and why of this unfortunate situation for some other time, I will say that curiosity is stifled in many ways. It is stifled in subtle and brash ways, directly and indirectly, intentionally and unintentionally, and in many other ways. If only they and we would live according to Voltaire's wisdom:

“Judge a man by his questions, rather than his answers.”
French writer, historian, and philosopher Voltaire

If you wish to sign up for more curiosity, please do realize what you ask for. My coaching and workshop clients can be quick to say ‘Yes, of course I value curiosity.’ Yet curiosity has it’s challenges. So here’s my view on what it takes to cultivate and leverage your own and other people's curiosity.

If you want to cultivate curiosity, you have to be willing and ready

to be inquisitive.
to postpone judgment.
to shut up a little longer.
to ask and listen a little more.
to appreciate different perspectives.
to embrace ambiguity and the unknown.
to admit you don’t know it all or know it best.
to not see someone else’s curiosity as test or criticism.
to let others be heard, take the spotlight, and get credit.
to distance yourself from some of your long-held assumptions.
to let others explore, discover, experiment, and make mistakes.

Are you willing? Are you ready?

I'd like to remind you of Albert Einstein's wise words: “The important thing is to not stop questioning.”

Thursday, June 22, 2017

That darn difficult word called ‘Sorry’

Early June I was honored to provide a webinar for Xcel Energy on delivering an effective apology. I will restrain myself and not go into the timeliness of this topic, yet you have to admit, we know too many people in politics, business, or at home who could do a much better job at apologizing.

Some people apologize easily and well, of course, others not so much. You may under or over-apologize or just go through the motions with all form but no substance or sincerity, making matters worse. A sincere and well-received ‘I am sorry for…’ and in which you speak the person’s language can help you learn from your interactions, repair the relationship, and restore credibility. So how to do it well? The five main ingredients of an apology, based on Gary Chapman’s book on the topic are:
1.    Express sincere regret openly, so not for the person to read between the lines.
2.    Accept full responsibility, without any type of blaming or excuses thrown in the mix.
3.    Make restitution.
4.    Genuinely repent and
5.    Request forgiveness.

Keep in mind that the apology is about what you did or didn’t say or do yet it is also about the person’s apology needs and language. People show individual differences in what they consider a ‘decent apology’. For Cliff it may be crucial to hear that you understand how deeply you’ve hurt him while Angela wants you to accept full responsibility for what you did. If you speak a different apology-language, emphasize the ‘wrong thing’, the person may not be satisfied with your apology, despite your good intentions.

In addition to Chapman’s five languages of apology I suggest you consider my 5 C’s of an apology. Any apology needs to be courteous, concise, candid, caring, and clear and you want to avoid common pitfalls: blaming, justifications, ifs and buts, excuses, longwinded, repetitive, and reluctant.

Three more examples of ineffective apologies are the excessive apology, over-apologizing and the you-apology. An example of an excessive apology: “I’m so sorry! I feel so bad. I’m so sorry. Is there anything I can do? I feel so bad about this… I am really, really sorry!” Apologizing is meant to rectify a wrong and rebuild a damaged relationship. With excessive apologies you do no such thing because you draw attention to your own feelings, rather than to what you’ve done to another person. When you over-apologize you say “I’m sorry” for things that do not merit an apology. This is often rooted in upbringing and parental values on politeness and may reflect a tendency towards conflict-aversion and pre-emptive peace keeping. Regardless of how well intentioned, over-apologizing undermines confidence and credibility, it dilutes the power of the phrase when you do need it and it may be received as a way to seek re-assurance. Lastly, “I’m sorry you did not understand me” does NOT qualify as a true apology because you want to stay in the first person and refrain from any kind of accusing.

As cognitive psychologist Albert Ellis once said: “The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president.” Ellis passed away in 1997 and could not have predicted the many laughs and pained looks his quote elicits these days.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Advising clients in uncertain times

This Friday I had the honor and pleasure to return to one of the many conferences for lawyers in the Twin Cities. Grateful for being invited as the closing keynote speaker at the Health Law Institute, I wish to share a few practical suggestions from my talk “Advising clients in uncertain times.”

With the new administration in DC and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, much is in turmoil for hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, medical device companies, hospices, urgent care centers, and the many other health related organizations and their lawyers. There is more uncertainty, unpredictability, and complexity than ever it seems. Regardless of your field of expertise though, it may be equally descriptive of your industry. Below I share some tips on how to deal with uncertainty when advising clients. 

1.    Know your own responses to uncertainty and unpredictability:
a.     How does it affect your own moods, behavior, patience etc.
b.     How do you show your discomfort, in obvious and less obvious ways.
2.    Understand possible client feelings of confusion, dependence, anxiety, stress, frustration, and anger as ‘normal’, self-preserving responses to an ‘abnormal’ situation.
3. Know that one of the brain’s main functions is prediction and that it dislikes uncertainty. Our brain registers uncertainty as some kind of pain and danger that needs to be avoided, either by denying or fighting it. This triggers a threat and alert response in the amygdalae in our limbic system. The more resources are used by the limbic system, the fewer are left for the prefrontal cortex to do it’s work, which includes logical thinking, analyzing, problem-solving and the like. 
4. Focus even more on being trustworthy and dependable. This minimizes unnecessary uncertainty and stress and it increases the client's trust in you.
5. Assure that the content of your written and spoken communication is absolutely structured, consistent, logical, and repeated.
6. Own any mistakes you may make and amend them immediately to restore credibility. If you apologize while presenting the cure and displaying humble confidence, it does not make you look weak unless you keep making (the same) mistakes.
7. Anticipate individual variability in responses to uncertainty. Your client may stall necessary action, seek excessive reassurance, hear what they want to hear, and want to double check disproportionately where they wouldn’t in more certain times.
8. Find predictable elements of the situation, help focus on what matters most and on what can be controlled. 
9. Help the client create different scenarios and contingencies.
10. Provide certainty and clarity of process.
11. Focus even more on “extreme trust”. For that I refer to Stephen Covey’s 13 trust building behaviors (book The Speed of Trust):
- Talk straight
- Demonstrate respect
- Create transparency
- Right wrongs
- Show loyalty
- Deliver results
- Get better
- Confront reality
- Clarify expectations
- Practice accountability
- Extend trust 
- Keep commitment
- Listen first!

Lastly, if you have to think through complicated matter, remember to apply:
Metacognition: Think about your own thinking. Is it sound, diverse, critical
Reflection: Which cognitive biases and thinking errors may I be guilty of?
Consultation with contrarians. True teamwork depends on appreciating and utilizing real differences
Avoidance of emotional reasoning, personal (dis) likes and dislikes, and over- or under-simplification.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Answer 8 questions before accepting a (new) leadership position

In "The Art of War for Women - Sun Tzu's ultimate guide to winning without confrontation" by Chin-Ning Chu, a case is made for the importance of mental strength. As I assume we can all agree, mental strength is vital to your success at any level in any industry and in any culture. "If you cannot handle the pain of setbacks, don't take on a leadership role in the battlefield of either business or life." is one of the numerous thought provokers from this book.

On page 147 and 148, Chin-Ning Chu presents 8 questions that should be answered affirmatively before accepting a (new) leadership position: 

1. Do I posses the ability to be decisive?
2. Do I have the guts to complete the necessary tasks?
3. Am I willing to take calculated risks?
4. Do I have the stomach to handle the unpredictable setbacks?
5. Do I possess an uncrushable strength?
6. If my plan fails, am I resilient enough to bounce back?
7. Do I have the ability to bear humiliation? 
8. Can I endure trying times?

Which of these questions are relevant for you and how do you answer them? 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Managing your attention, energy, and technology

On April 5th I have the honor and pleasure of speaking at the Women’s Forum of the Risk Management Association in Minneapolis. The topic is “Managing your Attention, Energy, and Technology” of which I am sharing a preview in this post.

A little something on your brain:
       Your nervous system constantly processes and reconnects trillions of neural connections.
       Our brains are wired to pay attention to novelty. We are distracted every 3 to 5 minutes.
       A distraction is an alert that says “Put your attention here, now! This could be dangerous or important.” So a distraction generally feels great.
       You get an emotional high when you get a lot of things done at once.
       Distractions use oxygenated glucose, which leaves you with less for the next task. Less energy equals less capacity to notice, process, understand, memorize, recall, decide, and inhibit.

May I emphasize though, that a temptation or disruption turns into a distraction only if you allow it to?

Some of the many studies done on multi-tasking, which is really a myth:
·       Sussex University: High multi-taskers have less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex, so there’s impaired empathy and cognitive/emotional control.
·       Stanford University: Multitasking is less productive than doing 1 thing at a time. People bombarded with streams of electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory, or switch between jobs as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time.
·       London University: Multitasking during cognitive tasks results in IQ declines similar to being up all night or marijuana use.
·       McGill University: Switching between tasks comes with a biological cost. It leaves us more tired than when we sustain attention on one thing only.

May I emphasize that productive people take a 15 minutes break every few hours, one that allows for mind-wandering through walking, reading, listening to music etc.

Just a few of the suggestions to improve your attention and energy management:
1. Practice focusing when you don’t have to: Read in a noisy spot.
2. Wiggle your toes: It brings back drifting concentration.
3. Listen attentively to the sound of brushing your teeth and that sound only.
4. The one you’ll either love or hate hearing: Prioritize physical activity. It releases brain chemicals for learning and memory, it boosts the size of the hippocampus (University of British Columbia). From now on, decide to stretch, stand, and walk when others remain glued to their seats.

May I suggest you choose 2 actions to start right now and that you will hold yourself accountable for?

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Psychology behind Organization Development Work

This post is inspired by two days at the University of Minnesota – College of Continuing Education, packed with curious people bringing a rich diversity of work and life experiences to our Organization Development Course. Stephanie and I greatly enjoyed and appreciated working with you all!

When it comes to Organization Development (OD) work, there is so much to discuss. This post focuses solely on some of the psychology behind OD work. Lets start with things you don’t need in OD work:
1.    You don’t need to own the client’s problem.
2.    You don’t always need to be the smartest in the room.
3.    You don’t always need to be right.

Equally important of course is what you do need in order to be effective in any kind of OD work. Again, using a psychology lens, I’d start with:
-       Observing astutely
-       Asking powerful questions
-       Reflecting thoroughly
-       Listening just a little longer than you may want to
-       Understanding the influence of self
-       Thinking in alternatives and multiple perspectives

These six ingredients form the foundation of any success in OD work yet they are only the beginning of course. There are a myriad of other OD competencies, to mention just a few: knowledge of the business / industry / organization, research methods, management / organization theory, teamwork / collaboration, dealing with ambiguity, organization behavior, resource management, and project management. Enough to work on I’d say.

Returning to the psychology of OD work, I think there are six crucial C’s in any OD role in addition to understanding the system and the technicalities of your field. They are:

You want to apply all of the above with the right intention, timing, strength and focus in order to be effective. Ask yourself, which one of these comes natural to me and which ones do not? Which C’s may I be overusing in challenging situations, knowing that a strength that’s over-used easily turns into a liability? And which ones may I be neglecting or even shying away from and for what reasons?

As you very well know, much of OD work involves listening to people, influencing people, helping people understand their organizational, business, and personal challenges better and so on. It is ‘people-work’ so we also discussed some tempting pitfalls that are very human. They are nothing to be embarrassed or afraid about, yet tendencies to be very mindful of. Knowing and recognizing these pitfalls can take you from awareness and acknowledgement to accountability and action – my 4 A’s of personal and professional development. They will in some cases help you prevent these pitfalls from occurring, in other cases from continuing. Here they are:
-       Getting sucked into personal drama
-       Communicating by verbal ping pong
-       Focusing in who is wrong and who is right
-       Being oblivious to the box you are in
-       Complaining, blaming or wanting to fix others
-       Getting in your own (and your client’s) way by not acknowledging and managing your hot buttons

There is so much more to say about the psychology behind OD work, maybe some other time. I’ll leave you with some of the many helpful questions to ask yourself and to ask others to increase awareness and reflective thinking:

What may I/they be missing?
What may I/they be misinterpreting?
What may I/they be repeating from some other context?
What may I/they be really needing or protecting?
What can be different lenses to look at this situation?
What may I/they be seeing as a problem to be solved where it is really a polarity to be managed?

Wishing you success with awareness, acknowledgement, accountability, and action!