5 Reasons to Cut Your Employees Some Slack.

Remember the first time you were in charge?

Someone promoted you to supervisor or lead or manager or Chief French Fry Cooker. You were then Chief PooPaw and everyone had to bow to your desires. You promised to make sure that everyone on your watch had their nose to the grindstone! And you, the Chief, would squeeze your direct reports to death to make sure you had the greatest productivity.

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Not so fast.

There is recent evidence that holding the reigns too tightly on your employees might be the worst thing you can do for their productivity. Happy employees make for more productive employees and, in turn, more profitable businesses. I’m not suggesting you have a daily corn hole tournament but cutting your employees some slack might just get you that next promotion. Validation and empowerment are the secret sauce to success. Don’t you want to be acknowledged for your efforts and know that you can make a difference? So do your employees.

So what are the reasons? Here they are:

1. Short breaks actually rejuvenate employees to be more productive. This was found in a study at Baylor University. Emily Hunter and Cindy Wu looked for ways to enhance breaks. The employees who were studied who completely left their work (i.e. not multi-tasking) and were permitted to use their time to engage in activities like social networking or meeting with friends’, experience greater recovery. I knew a manager who unilaterally I outlawed breaks. Anecdotally, I found that her employees were less productive, called in sick more and generally had lower morale. Make sure your employees have time for breaks.

2. Give employees autonomy. This is one of the main drivers from Daniel Pinks’ book, Drive. From the age of two, you exercised the right to say “No.” Your employees have the same need. They want to be able to choose. And being able to choose means being able to say, “Yes or No.” I’m not talking about insubordination. I’m saying that if your assistant wants to do the report in Access versus Excel, give him the autonomy to decide. When your employee decides on the best avenue for success, they will have been brought in and make sure it’s a success.

3. Stay away from working lunches. Employees are most restored when they actually get out of the building. Staying at one’s desk and plodding through some project will invariably lead to poor quality. Even thirty minutes outside of work can help you focus better when you return. Some employees may feel like they have to work at their desk during lunch from a work culture standpoint. Be the manager who is making sure that Jane has left her desk for lunch. As a consequence, you will get better quality end products from Jane.

4. Give your employees the tools to be more productive. I have facilitated Franklin Covey’s 5 Choices to Extraordinary Productivity. After learning how to fully utilize Microsoft Outlook in the class, employees reported being 50% more productive and the main reason was how they used Microsoft Outlook. With a clear understanding of how to use the Outlook tools (there are hundreds), I can tell you that when they reported back to me sequentially after 5 weeks, 2 months and 4 months they were much less stressed out. Who do you think is more productive? A stressed out employee or a knowledgeable, trained employee? Right.

5. Understanding the SCARF model. As developed by David Rock, the SCARF (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness) model shows that when an employee is in the same room as their boss, they immediately have a fear reaction. Fear is not good when it comes to productivity. Your employee is in the back of their head or in their “lizard” brain as it is frequently referred to. You want to make sure that you have your employee working in the front of their brain or the prefrontal cortex. This means you need to make clear instructions and then get out of the way. The more you pester or micromanage, the worse your employee will do.

I have found in my career as a manager that, the most difficult thing is to get your manager to loosen the reigns on employees. I hear manager’s say that “if you want it done right, do it yourself”. Not delegating in the long run is a career killer. Empowered employees end up making you look good. Loosen the reigns and watch everyone grow. What has been your experience?

Autonomy. The Ultimate Gift to Everyone in Your Life.

Have you been a helicopter boss? Helicopter parent? Helicopter friend? I have. Constantly restricting the flow of information so only you make the decisions. You make sure all procedures are followed to the letter….or else. You set unrealistic goals so that your direct report will certainly fail. You keep a tight grip on someone else’s autonomy so you can feel in control.

Have you been on the receiving end of this deal? This takes me back to my first husband who had a motorcycle. We went to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco so he could show me how to drive the bike. Well. When I got on the bike and started to push the throttle, he held onto the back of the bike and it practically tipped over. No injuries but he just couldn’t let go. End of bike lesson. I have never driven a motorcycle since.

autonomySo how do you give the gift of autonomy?

Here are some ideas.

Let them fail. Yep. You read that right. You need to be able to let the people in your life either at work or at home, fail. I know I just made some parents out there wince. What? Let Johnnie flunk out? Let Suzy lose her job for being tardy all the time? As Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. From failure comes immense learning and innovation. Autonomy is about letting them fail.

Quit expecting perfection. This is why managers don’t delegate. They want everything to be perfect. I have news for you. You never get to perfect. The perfect job, the perfect size, the perfect presentation. It is not attainable and paralyzes those around you. Acceptance of imperfection is where it’s at. People work harder if they know that you will be fair in your assessment and not point out every missed period or exclamation point :-)he he…

Ongoing and going and going positive feedback. If you did not get ongoing feedback from your mother, you would never have walked. So even if you fell down, she didn’t sit on the couch reading a newspaper. She gave you constant and ongoing feedback. So think about that the next time you delegate an important task. Dr. Marcial Losada created and studied this ratio of positive to negative messages within relationships and organizations. What he found was that organizations that have 2.9 or more positive messages over negative messages thrive. Those that fall below fail. In a marriage, it’s got to be 5.0 or better (thanks for emptying the garbage, Honey). Give positive feedback.

Don’t focus on problems. Focus on best outcomes. Ask your friend about what his best outcome would be. Focus on The What that he’s interested in. So Joe, “What would you like to see happen with this project?” “What can you control in this situation?” “What would make you feel like you accomplished something?” As David Rock espouses, focus on solutions (and stay clear of the problems). Keep it outcome based.

Don’t always have the answer. I am completely and utterly guilty of this. I am the Answerer in Chief. Life is one giant Jeopardy game and I’ll take Potpourri for $1000. Autonomy is all about your co-workers figuring things out on their own. If you always are giving the answers, they will never learn to “do” or “think”for themselves; they will merely mimic you. Autonomy is all about folks doing their own thinking. Let them make the connections. Teachers don’t give exams and sit there and give all the answers….right?

Mindset, talent and skills are not fixed. Embrace the growth mindset. As Carol Dweck defines it,

“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

Autonomy involves having the growth mindset. Don’t look at what they can’t do, look at the possibility of what they can do.

So there you have it. How to encourage those in your life to have more autonomy. One of the three parts of motivation in his book Drive as written by Daniel Pink – autonomy, mastery and purpose. Pink says “Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.” Imagine what we all could achieve with more autonomy. So give it away starting today.

Originally published on Change Your Thoughts on September 26, 2015

7 Steps to Conquering Stage Fright.

I was presenting to a group for the first time last week and while the slide said “Relationships – How to Be a Real Success”, I said something like, “Sex is real important in relationships” (I don’t know what I actually said because the embarrassment basically erased my memory). And the crowd erupted.  I went three shades of red.  We were all laughing, especially me.  It was easy from there.  Isn’t that crazy?  Somehow I connected to the audience because of my blunder.  I became a human in everyone else’s eyes.

I’m a big Zoe Keating fan (a fabulous avaunt-garde cellist).  She apparently has suffered from performance anxiety and was written about in an article by Therese J. Borchard in World of Psychology called Conquering Performance Anxiety: A Primer for All Phobias.  What is interesting is that she conquered her fear by not performing in front of a group of people that she knew but by “busking” (street performing) at a BART station in San Francisco.  She conquered her fear by playing for an uncaring audience because once they started leaving some money and showing appreciation for her playing, she was emboldened.  Even if she made mistakes, they still thanked her for her playing.  Being a parent of a musician, I can tell you that you don’t notice mistakes as the listener, but as a musician, it’s all you pay attention to.

I received some helpful advice in a training course for DiSC by Inscape Publishing several years ago which was, “It’s all about them.”  When you focus on the audience and your only intention is to bring knowledge, skills or a new awareness to the group in front of you, the fear is damped down.  Squashed like a grape.

So how can you squash your fears and minimize your stage fright?  Here are a couple of ideas.

1.  Meditate.  Even 5 minutes a day can improve your focus.  It builds the gray matter in your brain and keeps the “stage” clear in your prefrontal cortex.  When you can focus, you are keeping your lizard brain at bay.  The more you practice meditation, the better the benefits.  You don’t see the Dalai Lama stressing out and having performance anxiety.

2. Beliefs.  My daughter told me the other day that she was nervous about midterms.  She said, “I’m bad at taking tests”.  If you believe that you are “bad” at taking tests, you will be.  If you believe that you are going to be nervous when you speak in front your Rotary club, you will be.  As Byron Katie prescribes, do the turn around.  Say to yourself that you are awesome at taking tests, inspiring at speaking in front of an audience, or that you’re going to rock this interview.  You gotta believe.

3. ReappraisalDavid Rock promotes this in his book Your Brain At Work. When you go on high alert because you feel a lack of control and uncertainty (such as getting on stage in front of a group or taking the SATs), try and re-frame your thinking.   I remember being given the advice that you should imagine that everyone is naked…really?  Now that is scary.  Try and reframe by saying to yourself, “Everyone is excited about what I’m going to say” or “I am really prepared for this test and I’m going to give it my best”.  When you can reflect and re-frame, you dampen down the fear response.

4. Transparent.   The audience cannot see inside your head.  Taylor Clark wrote in his book Nerve about the “illusions of transparency” bias. Put simply, we tend to believe that our internal emotional states are more obvious to others than they truly are. Outside of blushing and nervous twitches, the audience has no idea if you are calm and confident or shaking in your boots.  Assume the former and move on.

5. Move.  If you sit in the wings of the stage gnashing your teeth, you will raise your heart rate and stress level.  Take a ten-minute walk and get the blood flowing to your gray matter.  In fact, put your iPod on and listen to some uplifting music while you take that walk.

6. Alcohol and Caffeine. Your adrenaline is high enough.  There is no reason to pump up your system so lay off the Mountain Dew, espresso and dark chocolate.  You don’t want to be a jittery mess.  A shot of tequila or glass of Merlot is a not good route either.  You want to be on top of your game, so keep your gray matter in top form.

7. Prepare.  Run through your materials.  Don’t over think it but make sure you feel comfortable.  I find that I am always better the second time I give a training or speech.  I know where the lulls are, what questions come up and what material to throw out.  It’s the same when you take an exam for the second time in a class. You know what the professor is looking for the second time around.

Try one or two of these the next time your stage fright shows up.  Build from there. You can tame your fear with a little practice.

How do you conquer stage fright?

Multitasking. The Big Lie.

In addition to being a recovering interrupter, I am also a recovering multitasker.  There was a time, about 15 years ago, when I was a commuter in Northern California, in which I would apply makeup, drink a Venti Mocha, talk on my cell phone AND drive my car between Windsor and Petaluma.   Not too good.  I was under the delusion that I was getting so much accomplished – that I was Super Woman.

As technology exploded in the 90s, there was the imperative to keep 10 balls in the air at one time, and it hasn’t stopped. Dr. David Rock has busted the multitasking myth with his book “Your Brain at Work.” In the book he compares your frontal cortex which is the size of a postage stamp and where you make all your decisions, to a stage in a theater.  And this stage is not the size of Madison Square Garden or even Carnegie Hall.  It’s more like a puppet theater with room for about three hand puppets max.  In Dr. Rock’s analogy, your frontal cortex is being bombarded with actors trying to get on stage.  And the more actors you have on stage, the more your decision-making diminishes.  My husband takes this analogy literally.  I ask, “why were you up at 4 AM?”.  He replies, “all the actors rushed the stage”. For each additional task (actor) on stage, the more your performance drops.

Christine Rosen, who wrote the article “The Myth of Multitasking,” agrees with Dr. Rock and says that the result of multitasking is a 10-point drop in IQ or twice the drop as for marijuana users. And we all know that multitasking while driving (you know, like applying make up and talking on your cell phone) is worse than drunk driving.  Tsk, Tsk.

So here are a few steps to bring us back on the road to monotasking:

1. Clear. As in clear all the clutter. I have been letting my magazine subscriptions lapse.  I don’t get the local newspaper anymore.  Set the timer and take 10 minutes to clean out your kitchen junk drawer, your closet or your car.  De-cluttered means less distractions.

2. List.  Close your office door and make a list.  Do a brain dump of everything you want or might want to get done takes a lot of actors out the mix and off your “stage.” If I’m in class and just remembered I need shampoo from the store, that bottle of shampoo is going to sit on my stage (maybe) and trip up my other actors.  Do a brain dump to get it off the stage.  Or better yet, get Wunderlist (a wonderful free app for making and organizing task lists) and put it on your grocery list.

3. Focus. This is the hard part.  Pay attention to the task at hand.  If you are on a conference call and start going through your email; you are not listening.  You are reading email.  If reading email is more important, then hang up the phone.  If the conference call is more important, then shut down the email.  You are going to have to start making choices.  So choose.

4. No.  You’re going to have to do it.  Turn off the TV.  Send it to voice mail.  Don’t go to the conference.  Get off the committee.  I can see you rolling your eyes but it’s true.  Just because you can check email 24/7 doesn’t mean you have to.  The world will still be there tomorrow.  Just say NO.

5. Imperfection.  Do it imperfectly at first.  It’s OK.  It’s fine if you back slide a little.  Small messy steps are more important than no steps.  There is going to be that phone call you were waiting for as you’re driving north on 101.  Maybe you can pull over and take it.  Maybe you can explain and call them back later.  Don’t beat yourself up.

6. Meditation. Taking just a few minutes a day to meditate can make a huge difference in your ability to focus.  Lydia Dishman writes in a article for Fast Company, “It takes only five minutes a day and plays to a common theme in our information-deluged culture. Start by picturing a TV screen with a news ticker running along the bottom”.  Find some ways to fit meditation into your schedule and your ability to focus or laser in on one task will improve.

The fact that you’re aware and trying will help you make more effective and smarter decisions.  Sometimes a shampoo bottle will come rolling onto the stage.  It’s OK.

Are you putting your best cast on the stage or is it full of shampoo bottles?

Is This Your Brain on Venting?

So it turns out that venting is bad for your brain.  Is nothing sacred? I like to complain once in a while; unload all of my jabs and retorts in a long diatribe on how I’ve been wronged by a coworker or whomever.  Just ask my husband.  I’m really good at rehashing every dirty detail.  But you know what? You are embedding your neuro-pathways with bad messages.  You are reinforcing the way you see the world and entrenching a poor mindset. This-is-Your-Brain-on-Venting

During the Results Based Coaching training by the NeuroLeadership Group, the facilitator, Paul McGinniss said “Venting is like pouring gasoline on the problem”.  That’s a powerful metaphor.  If you think about it, aren’t you just reliving the emotional roller coaster and rehashing the same problem.  In David Rock‘s book, Quiet Leadership, he writes, “Unfortunately, drama is a place where many people in organizations are stuck and find it hard to get out of on their own”. You’re in a closed loop and running over the same territory.  This will not help you take a step forward or start building new connections.  You will not find solutions while venting.  

So here are some ideas on how to move off the venting loop and onto a more solutions based focus:          

1. Empathy.  Respond to the complaint with empathy.  This is a key principle from DDI, “listen and respond with empathy.”  The minute you label the feeling someone is conveying to you, let them know your heard them and that it’s time to move on.  “I hear you are frustrated because you didn’t get the raise you wanted” or “I understand you’re disappointed because your boss didn’t use your idea”.  End of loop.  The complainer has been heard.  To move on – Use Empathy.

2. Example.  Set the example.  If you sit around pissing and moaning all day, so will your coworkers, family members and friends.  So stop.  If you must complain that there is a thunderstorm in the middle of your outdoor wedding; say you are upset with the weather and move on.  Dwelling on it isn’t going to change the weather.  Be the optimist and set the example.

3. Ideas. Ask for some ideas.  Become solution focused.  So when your coworker is angry at their boss because she didn’t include him on the safety committee, ask “What do you want to do about that?”  If you are dealing with a chronic whiner, they will end the conversation and seek out other chronic whiners.  If they are willing to look for solutions; you have just helped them move on to new pathways.  You’ve helped break the loop.  Help people find some new ideas.

4. New club.  This might mean joining a new club.  The complainers club is enormous and omnipresent in the world of work.  You might need to hang out with a more optimistic bunch and the pickings might be slim.  The glass half full folks are probably smiling and approachable.  The half empty folks are gossiping and driving the bus over all their co-workers when their back is turned.  You know if they talk about everyone else, they are talking about you.  Stay away and join a new club

5. Silence.  When folks start their complaining and look for reassurance, keep silent.  Complainers aren’t really happy unless you are chiming in with agreement.  Don’t add fuel to the fire.  Let them build their own fires and walk away.  If you aren’t willing to be sucked into their drama, they will find someone else who is more willing.  According to an article by Melinda Zetlin called Listening to Complainers is Bad for Your Brain, “Research shows that exposure to 30 minutes or more of negativity–including viewing such material on TV–actually peels away neurons in the brain’s hippocampus.”  That’s the part of your brain you need for problem solving,” Trevor Blake says. “Basically, it turns your brain to mush.” Keep silent and walk away.

6. Bite. You’re going to need to bite your tongue.  If you start down the road of complaining, take a different direction.  So what if your team just lost?  It happens.  Don’t complain about the blind ref or the guy who cheated, try “gee wasn’t the weather just great” or “we had really good seats”.  Take the high road.  Over time, you’ll start having folks in your club.  People are attracted to optimism.  They might just want to build some of their brain cells with you.  Share the wealth and bite your tongue on negativity.

This post was difficult to write because my husband is likely to hold me accountable for this information.  I hope I can live up to his expectations and look forward to giving up my venting and to start building those brain cells.

Why Fear Doesn’t Work

I just got back from a conference by the NeuroLeadership Group on Results Based Coaching developed by David Rock and all I can say is, “Wow”.  Intimidation and fear have no place in the workplace; or in healthy relationships.  This may seem obvious but aren’t we all guilty of using ultimatums (eat your peas or else I’ll….)? I know I am.  We have this notion that we have to drive performance with the “whip”; much like the slave driver in the movie “The Ten Commandments”.  As Dan Pink has illustrated in his book “Drive”, unless it’s really the type of straight forward, non-thinking kind of work; threat will not drive performance. hebrew slaves building Rameses city_thumb

Paul McGinniss, an outstanding trainer for the NeuroLeadership Group, illustrated this in the training by suggesting that if the leader says “create or else”, you aren’t going to drive performance.  He also said that it takes five “towards or reward” feedback to counteract one “away or threat” responses.  So every time you criticize your employee or your child, it’s going to take five (yes, five) positive responses to get the limbic system back to equilibrium.  And you want that equilibrium.  If the brain of your direct report or spouse is in “fear” mode (when the limbic system is lit up), there ain’t no productive thinking happening.   When was the last time you made a meaningful decision when you were under stress or fear?  Yeah. right – I thought so.  Fear is not going to drive performance.

Here are some ideas on how to diminish fear in those around you:

1. Presence.  Are you aware of how your direct report is reacting or acting at this moment?  Is he tapping his foot with a furrowed brow?  He’s under stress.  If your spouse looks preoccupied; they probably are.  When your child is on the phone and takes a moment or two to reply or to answer a simple question; they might be in the “away” state.   You can’t move on.  We can’t move on, when one of us is in fear, preoccupied or as my husband says, “too many people on my stage” (the prefrontal cortex).  Being present makes you aware.

2. Esteem check.  It’s a good idea to maintain or boost other’s self-esteem (one of the Key Principles from DDI).   Criticizing and nit picking will not enhance performance.  Your teammate will not start picking up the pace or lend you a hand when they are on the defense.  Nagging your partner about mowing the lawn or asking your daughter if she’s gained weight; will not enhance either’s performance.  A thank you or specific positive feedback, on the other hand, will help bring them back to equilibrium.  If you want enhanced performance, make sure you are boosting self-esteem.

3. Steady.  Being steady or consistent is a tenet of emotional intelligence.  Be the same boss, mother, brother or team mate on Monday as on Friday.  Try to keep the team on a steady course as well.  If you are constantly changing directions or “flip flop” on decisions, you will have the team on the back of their heels waiting for the next shoe to drop.  There are times when this is impossible, and that’s OK, just remember that it isn’t the best time to introduce a new project or expect a breakthrough with the team.  Their limbic system is lit up and they are sitting in threat mode.  Wait till the storm passes and keep a steady course.

4. Justice. Hand in hand with being consistent is handing out equal justice.  The same way you need to show up and be the same person day to day, you need to treat Sam, Suzy and Old Joe the same as well.  I’m not suggesting you be a robot but handling situations with an even hand will build respect with the team.  Your family is likely to call foul on this immediately.  If I let my son take a car alone on a weekend trip and didn’t let my daughter (this actually almost happened), your child will educate you on the discrepancy.  Trust me.  Your teammates may not.  Reflect on the manner in which you dole out punishments, rewards and delegation.  Make sure you are using equal justice.

5. Let go the reins.  Let your children, your direct reports or your teammates call their own shots.  Keep your fingers out of the pie.  As I’ve written before, delegate the monkey and let the receiver of the monkey take it from there.  Self-mastery isn’t built under the direction of micro managers.  Delegate the project, figure out the available resources and let them loose.  At some point, you have to allow that 16 year old behind the wheel and Let. Them. Go.

6. Human.  People want to be recognized as human beings.  As Patrick Lencioni wrote in “3 Signs of a Miserable Job“, “People cannot be fulfilled in their work if they are not known”.  This is one of the signs of a miserable job, anonymity.  Know your teammates children’s names, if they play a sport, where their spouse works, what their hobbies are.  You don’t need to know what they had for dinner last night or when their last dental cleaning was, just be able to stay connected.  Make sure they know they are human; that they matter.

There is no need to get wrapped up in perfection with these ideas.  Don’t worry about conquering all 6 by Monday.  Try one out a week and see if you don’t get better performance around you.  One or two tweaks in your approach can go a long way.

My Boss Doesn’t Listen to Me

You probably consider yourself to be an excellent employee, student, contributor or active participant in your life but there still may be one area you’ve overlooked.my boss doesn't listen to me

Listening is an art that starts with you.  It’s ironic but actually true. Be a good listener first; they will follow.  I know sounds counter-intuitive but if you just shut up and listen…I mean really listen… you will end up with followers.  So you want to lead by example; listen by example.

So you’re in the staff meeting and have a brilliant idea on how to address the revenue short fall.   Or your boss is unloading on you about the operations manager from the plant in Detroit.  You probably want to stand on the conference table and get everyone’s attention- bad idea.  Frequently it is just best to bite your tongue and do nothing.  We’ve all worked with the “someone” who constantly interrupts, who has to have the last word, who just can’t let a topic, an argument or really anything go.  Don’t be that person.  Be the listener and they will follow.

Here are the 6 steps to being a better and active listener:

1. Seek first to understand.  If you focus on understanding (instead of your rebuttal), you will be much more engaged with what is being said.  As David Rock writes in “Quiet Leadership”, listen for potential.  Ask questions to expand on your boss’ ideas.  Help her gain insight. She’ll appreciate the space to develop ideas.  I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to vent, merely vent about a work situation and my husband jumped to give me advice. I just wanted someone to vent to; someone to understand.

2. Don’t drift.  If you are thinking about your grocery list or if you forgot to record American Idol – You.Are.Not.Engaged.In.Listening.  Turn off your cell notifications. Put your technology away.   Be in the moment and just listen.  And if you find yourself drifting; ask a clarifying question.  Apologize and say you were preoccupied for a moment and get back into the listening mode.

3. Let there be silence.  It’s amazing how we all feel obligated to fill space up with the sound of our voice.  Let there be an awkward silence.  There is power in silence and more importantly time to reflect and understand (refer to #1).  In fact, those who prefer introversion will appreciate the time to reflect.  Don’t drive the bus over someone’s time to reflect; be comfortable with the silence.

4. Reflect.  Ask questions to expound on your boss’ ideas.  Seek clarity.  Is there something you don’t understand?  Do you really understand the rationale? “So what I hear you saying is that we need to make some difficult cuts and you’re not completely sure where to make them.   How much time do we have to make the decision?”  Reflecting keeps you in the present.

5. Check assumptions.  It is amazing how quickly our mind works and how our internal dialogue will immediately jump to the worst-case scenario.  Like “yeah…this idea will never work.  Last time we did this it was an epic fail”…meanwhile we are smiling and nodding.  Or we immediately discount someone’s ideas, “Nah, tequila shots for lunch is a horrible idea.” Yes, this is a bad idea, just don’t say it and shut down the idea machine.  “tequila shots…OK, what else….” Check your assumptions to stop your inner dictator from running its mouth; and killing the idea before it ever gets launched.

6. Don’t interrupt.  If you are interrupting, you are not listening.  You just put your agenda first.  You just shut the other person down and basically said…”my idea is way better than yours so shut up”.   Your boss’ idea, your partner’s idea, your child’s idea….are all the best ideas, because they own it.  They will see it through. Your idea? Not so much.  Interrupting stops your boss from finding insight.

Full disclosure.  I’ve been working on this for years and it’s not easy.  It won’t happen overnight but if you keep this at the forefront with every interaction you have, you will improve and others, including your boss, will start to follow.

Pointing Fingers

I’d love to know how much time and energy gets wasted pointing fingers.  We seem to be constantly searching for Fault, who to blame – The fall guy. We feel so vindicated once that football coach is fired, that worthless sales guy is let go or your daughter finally drops that no good boyfriend. Now it will all be better. But it isn’t.  Pointing fingers can be….er, pointless.

I’m not trying to assert that root cause analysis isn’t important. It certainly has its place when figuring out what went wrong with a plane crash. I’m just saying it’s not very productive in everyday life.  If the stakes aren’t high, what is the point of all this finger pointing?  It creates camps of co-workers on one side or the other; it creates division.  The assumption mill goes crazy along with the gossip mill and, worst of all, the complaint mill.images

I recently joined a peer to peer group and one of the rules of engagement is to not ask “why”. Well that seemed a little unorthodox, my Human Resource filter is always looking for the “why” but what was astutely pointed out by our leader is that “why” is all about blame. We are in the group for solutions and that is all about “what, how and where”. Makes you think doesn’t it.

So how do we get off the blame train? Here are some ideas:

1. You. It starts with you. Forgive yourself.  Calm down your inner critic.  I’ve seen co-workers blame themselves and then beat themselves up for months. I’ve seen managers bring up the doofus they hired ten years ago and waited two years to fire. This is not going to instill confidence in yourself…or anybody else. Don’t live in blame mode.

2. Debrief with compassion.  The team should certainly review what went right and what went wrong at an event. Be careful not to attach anyone to the failures. “Well it was Joe’s decision to get the dancing Elephant, what an idiot!”  Don’t start driving the bus over anyone.  Learn from the failures and successes and move on. No corpses left behind. The team won’t be afraid of the debrief going forward.

3. Potential. Dr. David Rock advocates “listening for potential” in his book “Quiet Leadership”. It engages you as a listener. Instead of thinking for ways to respond or problem solve, you listen with the intent for the speaker to find their own potential. It’s so much more proactive.  It’s difficult to point the finger if you are looking for potential.

4. Stop judging. Half the time, people are pointing the finger because they want the spotlight off themselves. If they start judging others and their actions, they feel better. Put someone else down and then, by default, you raise yourself up. This may work for a while but eventually you will find yourself alone. No one hangs out with guy who is driving the bus over folks.

5. Commitment. There are going to be times when you hold your child accountable for failing grades, your assistant for the botched report or your dog for the “accident” on the carpet.  Keep it as confidential as possible, maintain their self esteem and show them confidence and commitment that we can move forward from here.

It’s easy to fall into finger pointing and this isn’t going to end anytime soon. Start in your corner of the world and see what effect it has on others. As Bob Marley said, “who are you to judge the life I live? I know I’m not perfect and I don’t live to be, but before you start pointing fingers make sure your hands are clean.”

Seeing the Forest through the Trees

Have you ever wondered why some people seem to develop great outcomes almost without effort?  As if they are omniscient? They see the big picture while the rest of us are slogging through the brush trying to find the path.  Dr. David Rock talks about “the clarity of distance” in his book Quiet Leadership.  He suggests that by “listening for potential” in those around you, you will be much more effective if you keep your distance or stay away from your own agenda, filter, too much detail or hot spots.

We all walk around with our own filters; sometimes we don’t even use them knowingly.  I run into this when I am coaching clients and a Human Resource situation comes up.  Say, the client talks about a situation that involves a co-worker potentially being harassed.  My human resource filter can easily turn on.  Suddenly, I’m not engaged in listening; I’m trying to resolve the harassment issue instead of trying to understand the client. images 3

Analysis paralysis is another solution killer.  In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink, more data does not make for a better decision.  In fact, he says, “There can be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational analysis.” I’m not suggesting you send off the space shuttle without some engineering but when it comes to many decisions or solutions at hand, staying out of the details can be a real advantage.

So how can you start seeing the forest through the trees?  Here are some tips:

1. Step Back.  It’s much easier to make a great decision if you step back from the situation.  If you are too invested in the outcome or the person making the decision, you can definitely derail the decision making process.  My son is applying to colleges and recently decided to apply to my alma mater’s arch rival.  I’m not going to be a good listener or have his best interest in mind if I’m worried about him rooting against the Big Red.  If you can’t step away; at least bite your tongue.

2. Paralysis.  Don’t end up in analysis paralysis.  If you are helping someone make a decision, don’t create endless delays waiting for more facts and information.  I don’t suffer from this but I know a lot of people that do.  I remember an episode of  “This American Life” called Cat and Mouse where a man had been searching for over 20 years for the perfect couch.  It was a huge decision but he just kept gathering more data.  As of the airing of the episode, he STILL did not have a couch.  He’s in the forest and buried in a gigantic pile of leaves.

3. Taboos.  Acknowledge that there are areas where you just can’t be of any help and remain unbiased.  These are things that hold some emotional charge normally.  My husband can’t watch a movie that has adultery.  Therefore, he is not a good person to be a sounding board for someone deciding if they should stay with a cheating spouse. He cannot be unbiased…let alone control his emotions. Make sure you have the self awareness to know your taboos. You don’t want to be a part of the problem or to become the problem.

4. Lens check. When a team is trying to create solutions, everyone at the table has a different “lens”. Finance is trying to figure out how to fund it, Information Services is trying to figure out how to automate it and Sales is trying to figure out how to sell it. You’ve spent years of laying neuroplasty down in your head through education, work experience and making decisions based on that lens. It can be a unique perspective or completely out of your element.  Having Maintenance on the 401(k) Committee may not make a lot of sense. Yes, the perspective might be unique but duct tape isn’t going to help in most investment decisions. Make sure you know your own lens in order to see the forest.

5. Close Agendas. Depending on the situation, we all have agendas.  I speak some Spanish. If my daughter is researching study abroad programs, I’m going to push for Spain over China.  My son has a seafood allergy; he’s not going to be on board with a sushi restaurant.  My colleague’s friend owns a BBQ restaurant.  We end up with a lot of BBQ for catered events.  This is not a problem in a lot of situations but you want to be aware of your agendas if you are selected to be on the committee to decide the menu for the Annual Holiday Party.  If my son and colleague are on the committee, we’ll end up with BBQ. If you want to see the forest, make sure you are staying off the same old path through the trees.

To bring perspective to any situation, we need to make sure we know ourselves. Keeping our biases in check and knowing that, if we can’t, maybe we can bring our perspective at another time, in order to help see the forest through the trees.

Minimizing Stage Fright

I was presenting to a group for the first time last week and while the slide said “Relationships – How to Be a Real Success”, I said something like, “Sex is real important in relationships” (I don’t know what I actually said because the embarrassment basically erased my memory). And the crowd erupted.  I went three shades of red.  We were all laughing, especially me.  It was easy from there.  Isn’t that crazy?  Somehow I connected to the audience because of my blunder.  I became a human in everyone else’s eyes.

I’m a big Zoe Keating fan (a fabulous avaunt-garde cellist).  She apparently has suffered from performance anxiety and was written about in an article by Therese J. Borchard in World of Psychology called Conquering Performance Anxiety: A Primer for All Phobias.  What is interesting is that she conquered her fear by not performing in front of a group of people that she knew but by “busking” (street performing) at a BART station in San Francisco.  She conquered her fear by playing for an uncaring audience because once they started leaving some money and showing appreciation for her playing, she was emboldened.  Even if she made mistakes, they still thanked her for her playing.  Being a parent of a musician, I can tell you that you don’t notice mistakes as the listener, but as a musician, it’s all you pay attention to.

I received some helpful advice in a training course for DiSC by Inscape Publishing several years ago which was, “It’s all about them.”  When you focus on the audience and your only intention is to bring knowledge, skills or a new awareness to the group in front of you, the fear is damped down.  Squashed like a grape.

So how can you squash your fears and minimize your stage fright?  Here are a couple of ideas.

1.  Meditate.  Even 5 minutes a day can improve your focus.  It builds the gray matter in your brain and keeps the “stage” clear in your prefrontal cortex.  When you can focus, you are keeping your lizard brain at bay.  The more you practice meditation, the better the benefits.  You don’t see the Dalai Lama stressing out and having performance anxiety.

2. Beliefs.  My daughter told me the other day that she was nervous about midterms.  She said, “I’m bad at taking tests”.  If you believe that you are “bad” at taking tests, you will be.  If you believe that you are going to be nervous when you speak in front your Rotary club, you will be.  As Byron Katie prescribes, do the turn around.  Say to yourself that you are awesome at taking tests, inspiring at speaking in front of an audience, or that you’re going to rock this interview.  You gotta believe.

3. ReappraisalDavid Rock promotes this in his book Your Brain At Work. When you go on high alert because you feel a lack of control and uncertainty (such as getting on stage in front of a group or taking the SATs), try and re-frame your thinking.   I remember being given the advice that you should imagine that everyone is naked…really?  Now that is scary.  Try and reframe by saying to yourself, “Everyone is excited about what I’m going to say” or “I am really prepared for this test and I’m going to give it my best”.  When you can reflect and re-frame, you dampen down the fear response.

4. Transparent.   The audience cannot see inside your head.  Taylor Clark wrote in his book Nerve about the “illusions of transparency” bias. Put simply, we tend to believe that our internal emotional states are more obvious to others than they truly are. Outside of blushing and nervous twitches, the audience has no idea if you are calm and confident or shaking in your boots.  Assume the former and move on.

5. Move.  If you sit in the wings of the stage gnashing your teeth, you will raise your heart rate and stress level.  Take a ten-minute walk and get the blood flowing to your gray matter.  In fact, put your iPod on and listen to some uplifting music while you take that walk.

6. Alcohol and Caffeine. Your adrenaline is high enough.  There is no reason to pump up your system so lay off the Mountain Dew, espresso and dark chocolate.  You don’t want to be a jittery mess.  A shot of tequila or glass of Merlot is a not good route either.  You want to be on top of your game, so keep your gray matter in top form.

7. Prepare.  Run through your materials.  Don’t over think it but make sure you feel comfortable.  I find that I am always better the second time I give a training or speech.  I know where the lulls are, what questions come up and what material to throw out.  It’s the same when you take an exam for the second time in a class. You know what the professor is looking for the second time around.

Try one or two of these the next time your stage fright shows up.  Build from there. You can tame your fear with a little practice.

How do you conquer stage fright?