Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Personal Development’

Thumbs Up! Thumbs Down!

“Could I give you some feedback?”

Just reading these words brings a rush of adrenaline.

Thumbs up. Thumbs down. We are continually assessed, evaluated, rated, offered feedback. It began at home: do this, don’t do that, “No!” And continued from kindergarten: 300 assignments, papers, and tests per year of school. And in debates at work over which process works best, how to analyze the data flood, and where to spend the shrinking budget. And don’t forget performance reviews: hundreds of hours are spent preparing and engaging in that annual process.

Our entire lives we’ve received feedback: how to do it better, change, improve, and grow. Sometimes the feedback is immediately useful. But at other times it is off base, poorly delivered, or offered without understanding of our situation. Done badly, feedback can leave us angry, demoralized, and unappreciated.

Why is receiving feedback hard? How can we use challenging and even crazy-making feedback to gain insight and succeed?

Our first reaction after hearing feedback is to identify why it is wrong. And there is likely something wrong about all feedback: lack of understanding you, the situation, or even flat-out incorrect: Telling me to mentor people when that is your goal, not mine. Critiquing my new plan for training while forgetting that your plan doesn’t include an online component or even require electricity. Suggesting that 2+2=7. Once we’ve identified the mistake, we stop listening.

The challenge is to recognize our defensiveness and choose a different path.

Begin with identifying what is being offered. Feedback is a word that wears different masks. Are you being offered appreciation that encourages and motivates? Coaching that increases knowledge, skills, and abilities with an opportunity for growth? Or, it is evaluation that describes expectations and where you stand in relationship? Even when we’ve identified what is being offered, it can still be hard to understand and easy to dismiss.

Feedback often falls into one of three categories: helping you, helping the person offering feedback and your relationship, or helping the organization or team. Here are three strategies for moving beyond defensiveness and toward discovery for each category: identify your reaction, make the pitfall shift, listen, and ask follow-up questions.

  1. Reaction: That’s not who I am! Or, that’s wrong!
    Pitfall shift: from You are wrong. to That statement is inaccurate.
    Listen for: information that I don’t have, the other person’s perspective, impacts that I am creating without being aware
    Ask: Do you have an example? What are you concerned about in this situation? How do my actions impact you or the organization?
  2. Reaction: Really – after all my hard work? Or,you are the problem here, not me!
    Pitfall shift: from This is not my fault. to I can see my part; let’s look at the bigger picture because there a multiple things at play here.
    Listen for: what the system issues are, for the relationship issues, including what each person is contributing or not contributing to the issues.
    Ask: Help me understand what you are saying; then, I’d like to discuss how/when/why you are offering this feedback and my concerns. How do you experience me contributing to this issue; what is most upsetting to you?
  3. Reaction: I always make mistakes and mess things up. I’m a failure, right?
    Pitfall shift: from I’m hopeless. to I’m surprised and would like time to think; could we meet later this afternoon or tomorrow to create a plan?
    Listen for: can I look for the coaching that is being offered and find an opportunity to grow, rather than focus on the judgment? How can I change the way I talk to myself so that I don’t automatically swing toward disliking myself?
    Ask: In your experience with others, what steps could I take that would help me improve and grow? What could I change that would matter most to you and the organization?

When receiving feedback, be your own champion. You don’t have to decide whether the feedback is fair or even correct. You don’t have to promise change. Practice understanding what kind of feedback you are being offered, identify your reaction, avoid the pitfall, listen, and ask good questions.

Attempt to use the feedback to create possibilities and generate options. Look for options that benefit you, the feedback giver, and the larger team or organization. Agree on the goal and the process for next steps, even if it is gathering additional information, inviting others into the conversation, looking for strategies for working around individual failures, preferences, or tempers, or simply taking two weeks to see how things develop. Be clear. Know where each person stands when the conversation ends.

Remember, feedback conversations are not one-time events. Most often they exist as part of an ongoing relationship, with multiple interactions over time. Understanding your own reaction, where you stand, and what the next step for you is will help both of you relate. In the end, you are the most important person. You are responsible for your reactions and for your willingness to learn and profit from feedback.

What questions do you ask when evaluating feedback?

multitasking or multiswitching?

“Wrong!” I want to shout every time I read that multitasking is a myth. I can write a blog post, answer email, keep an eye on my incoming text messages, and have a mid-morning snack.

What I’m doing is asking my brain to constantly make switches. Ready, set, go. Start writing. Switch, read email. Switch, take a drink. Switch, compose answer. Switch, take a bite. Switch, read a snippet from an article. Switch, write some more. Switch, quickly read and respond to a text message. Switch, … .

Our brains are amazing organs. Every time I automatically make a switch, my brain has to seek a stored memory and reaction, then re-route seeing, hearing, thinking, muscle action, and coordinate a response.

“See? I can multitask.” I want to believe that I am organized, quick, and efficient. I can do it all. But after years of multitasking, it is starting to sink in: I’m not multitasking – I’m “multiswitching.” The fact is, when I switch my attention, I become less organized, quick, and efficient. This is a hard lesson, one I didn’t want to believe in spite of a convincing, growing body of research: when we divide our attention we waste time and lower our work quality.

How did I learn this lesson? I sat in my reading chair one day and picked up a book. I’d been eagerly awaiting this book and had bought it in paper not as an e-book. I started reading. Less than three pages later I was answering a text message. Then my email “pinged,” and I was off to my desk. The next afternoon, I had to start over from the beginning. The same thing happened. I stared from my desk at my reading chair that is less than four feet away. Had I lost the ability to read a book? I looked at the pile of four books, all partly read. It was clear that the answer was, “Yes.”

I began an experiment. I set a timer for 10 minutes. Could I stay focused for 10 minutes on my book? I looked up many times, but I made it. 20 minutes? After several days, I found I could sit and read again, even become absorbed in my book.

I still “multiswitch” much of the time. But I continue to create experiments, working to regain my ability to focus on one person, one task, one thing at a time.

What experiment will you try to move beyond “multiswitching?”

*Image credit: Unknown creator, Shambhala Sun, May 2014

unexpected discoveries

One of the things I love to do is walk into a small bookstore with an uninterrupted hour at hand. I realize “love” isn’t usually used on an organization development blog, but I find my pulse quickening with anticipation when I discover a small, independent bookstore. I know an adventure is about to begin.

I love walking into a small bookstore. I observe the store lay out. I look at what’s kept closest to the check-out. I get a cup of coffee. And I listen. I listen to the kids playing in the children’s section, the clerk suggesting books, the three retirees rehearsing the morning’s golf game in the coffee shop, the baristas planning their evening escape.

And I read. I pick up random books, reading and browsing. There are some by local authors, fiction, history, photography. But the most exciting thing is encountering books by authors that don’t appear on my Barnes & Nobel or Amazon suggestion list. A random trip through the independent bookstore defeats the algorithm. Discovery begins.

I purchased two books: This is the Story of a Happy Marriage and Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect. In the first, Ann Patchett gathers essays on life, relationship, work, and art. Her writing flows, and the essays kept me asking myself about my own choices. In the second, Matthew Lieberman asks who we are as individuals and what drives our behaviors in relationships. His use of a mix of stories, examples, and research was interesting, but his writing style is what kept me reading: “fairness tastes like chocolate; our trojan horse selves; business brain.” I asked what this means for me and the people in the organizations I encounter.

I recommend both books. And, more importantly, I recommend seeking out an adventure this weekend.

What will you discover?

The photo is of my longtime favorite independent bookstore: Page and Palette in Fairhope, Alabama.
And my favorite local independent bookstore is Watermark Books in Wichita, Kansas.


Idea for reflection – 41

Intuition is not a single way of knowing – it’s our ability to hold space for uncertainty and our willingness to trust the many ways we’ve developed knowledge and insight, including instant, experience, faith, and reason.

– Brené Brown, from The Gifts of Imperfection

Idea for reflection – 40

Power Listening

Listening is a vital business skill. Listening can be the deciding factor between a cohesive or fractured team, profit or loss, or long or short job tenure. Bernard Ferrari’s book, Power Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of All, offers an overview of this powerful skill.

We all know people who are poor listeners. We may even exhibit some of these characteristics ourselves depending on the situation. Practicing self-awareness can alert us to when these crop up in our conversations. Ferrari identifies six types:

  • Opinionator: listens only to confirm his beliefs, never doubts, can be intimidating or squelch others’ ideas
  • Grouch: assumes nothing others say is valid, can be contemptuous
  • Preambler: goes down side trails, asks questions containing her preferred answer, a one-way communicator
  • Perseverator: talks on-and-on to sharpen his point and support his bias, self-serving
  • Answer Person: offers an instant solution, seeks to impress with quickness and brilliance, needs to “save the day”
  • Pretender: is not interested because he has reached a decision or is distracted

Ferrari goes on to suggest habits that we can practice to improve listening skills:

  • Plan: know what you hope to accomplish in a conversation before you begin.
  • Stay focused: set aside distractors and set a goal of keeping a running summary of the important points, seeking the right question to clarify as needed.
  • Be respectful: act in good faith, with honesty. It can help to say so at the start, “Talking with you helps me think through our options and risks.”
  • Be quiet most of the time: use the 80/20 rule – speak only 20% of the time. Keep your mouth shut; ask good questions. (Note: if there are two good listeners, it should be a short and effective conversation!)

While this is not groundbreaking information, I appreciated the first third of the book as a summary of types of listeners and listening habits. The remainder discusses listening skills for decision-making, improving performance, sorting information, and steering conversations. Ferrari offers examples of effective questions and uses stories throughout to reinforce his points.

The book is well-organized and comes with an index, which I find particularly useful. A reader who is looking for a review of listening habits and questioning tips will find a good summary and thoughtful ideas presented here.

As an introvert, I find the “be quiet most of the time” habit the easiest to practice. The challenge I continue to work on is keeping the summary of important points in memory, which lessens the distraction of writing down everything someone says in conversation.

What is your easiest habit to practice? How would you challenge yourself to improve?

Ferrari, B. T. (2012). Power listening: mastering the most critical business skill of all. Penguin Group, New York, NY.

Idea for reflection – 40

Mastery requires endurance. Mastery, a word we don’t use often, is not the equivalent of what we might consider its cognate— perfectionism— an inhuman aim motivated by a concern with how others view us. Mastery is also not the same as success— an event-based victory based on a peak point, a punctuated moment in time. Mastery is not merely a commitment to a goal, but to a curved-line, constant pursuit.

– Sarah Lewis, from The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery

Idea for reflection – 39

Idea for reflection – 39

You cannot be really first-rate at your work if your work is all you are.
– Anna Quindalen, from A Short Guide to a Happy Life

Idea for reflection – 38

driving with the brakes on

I pulled out into traffic, accelerated, and then – instinctively braked the car. The brake lights on the vehicle ahead had me reacting before my brain had fully processed the situation. Scanning the road and beyond, I realized there was no reason to be braking. And, in fact, the vehicle was traveling at normal highway speeds. They were, unaccountably, driving with their foot on the brakes.

I know leaders who drive with one foot on the brake and one on the accelerator. They sense the need for change, but find five ways a day to avoid it. And, the truth is, we all prefer the known to the unknown.

We are comfortable with our mediocre status quo. We deny what we see in front of us. We escape, getting far enough away from the issue that it doesn’t touch us directly. We distract ourselves with busyness and the tyranny of the immediate.

Oh how we hate change. Oh how we dislike endings. The messiness, frustration, anger, denial, disenchantment – the loss, all disturb our equilibrium. Yet, as Henry Cloud says, “Knowing the names of the streets is not a good reason to keep living in hell.” 1

If I said, “The building is on fire! Get out!” Change would happen quickly. If I told you that the store a mile from here is selling your favorite electronic device two-for-one this afternoon. Change would happen quickly. To create an ending requires fear of the negative consequences and the allure of the positive possibilities. How do we create necessary endings?

Start by playing the movie. This is the movie that shows what happens tomorrow, the month after that, and the following year. “Do you want to be having the same conversation with the same incompetent employee next month and the month after that?” Or, “Do you want to be unable to purchase the new equipment you need now a year from now because you haven’t fired the person who can’t get the billing done before the deadline?”

List your frustrations: someone who is performing poorly, someone who won’t listen; ineffective operation management that is producing financial problems, an ongoing pattern (yours or someone else’s) that doesn’t change, a strategy that doesn’t work. Stop the distractions. Tell yourself the truth. Play the movie. Smell the smoke. Make the change.

Enlist allies. Surround yourself with people who share your urgency. This creates heat from the requirement to be visibly responsible and accountable. It creates peer pressure from people and team members who are supporting and contributing energy. Heat plus pressure create energy to get unstuck and create forward motion. Turn up the heat. Make the change.

Make the vision visible. This line has begun to fall on deaf ears. And yet, our brains are designed to create what we imagine. It’s why basketball players envision the ball going through the hoop before they release it in the act of shooting. Make sure your actions support your imagined vision. You can’t make the shot if you don’t have the ball. You can’t make the shot if you don’t release the ball. Talk about it. Write it down. Post photos of the new reality. Make it real. Make the change.

Set a deadline. Deadlines force endings and change. Is April 15 near? The closer it is, the more likely your income taxes are complete. Deadlines create structure, organize energy, and direct focus. Be specific about your expectations. State the consequences. State the deadline. It works for the underperformer, the project, or initiating a process change. Light the fire. Make the change.

Be trustworthy. Endings and beginnings are not invisible. Living the change is a daily activity. Actions must match words. Intentions must be clear. Competence must be displayed. Results must be seen. And in the mist of change, intentionally connect with people in a meaningful way. Seek to understand their concerns and challenge them to consider what is possible if time and energy are properly invested. Act with integrity. Make the change.

Time and energy are our primary resources. Leaders use these resources to act and, sometimes, go where others are not so that others can follow. Leaders create necessary endings so that new beginnings are possible. “The truth is that there is no ending or better time coming unless we do something.” 2

Is it time to stop driving with the brakes on?

Further reading:

1Cloud, H. (2011). Necessary Endings. Harper Business: New York, NY.
2Kotter, J. (2008).  A Sense of Urgency. Harvard Business Press: Boston, MA.

I’m busier than you are!

Game on! “I’m busier than you are; I just worked five 24’s in a row; my budget is due on Monday; and I’m in training all day Saturday.”

We’re all “busy,” “buried,” “slammed,” … “tired.” We start our conversations by competing to see who has the most items on their calendar. Family engagement, work responsibilities, community activities – they all contribute to our experience of being overwhelmed.

The question: When is the last time you said, “No.”?

When I ask this question, people usually laugh – first in disbelief and again with a sigh. We all have the impulse to squeeze just one more thing into the day. Just one phone call. Just a last text. Just stopping by the store on the way home. Oh, it’s in the opposite direction? No problem.

We all have the impulse to agree to one more request. Just one meeting a quarter. Just a teleconference. Just a month-long project. Oh, it’s due at the end of this month? No problem.

And yet, at the end of the day, I ask myself, “What happened today?” And, I can often recall only two or three things, including, hopefully – what I ate for lunch! Life can seem like organized chaos and complexity.

There is a choice. It is the practice of saying, “No.” It is a difficult practice, perhaps harder than running a marathon for some of us. It is a voluntary practice where we each choose our level of participation. But it is an available choice.

“No” should be used carefully. I start by asking myself why I am saying it. Does the request fit in with my personal calling in the world? Do I have the energy and time to invest in making this successful? What impact will the request have on my time with my family and other commitments? Answers to these questions allow me to say an unqualified “yes” or a carefully considered “no.”

There is nothing passive about saying, “No.” The willingness to say, “No,” makes our choice to say, “Yes,” more meaningful and valuable. The practice is a part of managing ourselves first. It allows us to:

  • act from our guiding principles, keeping perspective on what matters most.
  • stay connected to family, friends, and co-workers, keeping important relationships close at hand rather than at the end of a cell phone text or call.
  • function with the most impact, neither under-functioning when we’ve added one-too-many things to the schedule nor over-functioning when we believe we have to do it all to be valued.
  • communicate our values, thinking, and decision making process, building capacity in those around us.

In the end, as leaders and managers, we don’t get to control everything in our schedules. But choosing our “yes” and “no” responses wisely, offers great freedom and the opportunity to discover that less may be more.

How would choosing “yes” and “no” more wisely create freedom and opportunity for you and your organization?

Originally published in the KEMSA Chronicle.

appreciation of horizons

Margins. Margins of screens. Margins of books. Margins of the sky.

How often have you looked up from the small screens that surround you? How often have you stopped looking at your calendar as you move from one meeting to the next? How often have you stepped away from the hundreds of details and small pieces of data that seem to make your world run?

Do you see the margins?

Do you see the horizon?

Remember the way you are all possibilities
you can see and how you live best
as an appreciator of horizons,
whether you reach them or not.
— David Whyte, Mameen

%d bloggers like this: