The World is Better, but You Don’t Think So

I’ve been writing this blog for eight years (yeah!) and there have been times when I have used a metaphor that seems completely insensitive. I write these pieces sometimes weeks in advance and I never know what even might happen between writing the piece and its actual publication. For example, I’ve written about a course correction of an airplane only to realize that an airplane had recently gone missing. Find a new metaphor. It can feel like the world is in constant disarray and we are on a collision course with the sun.

adolfo-felix-572763-unsplash

My oldest brother Dave mentioned to me last year that we were safer in the world than a century ago. My immediate thought was, No way, we have to be less safe. There were airport bombings and 9/11 in recent memory. There were mass shootings and terrorists. This thought prompted me to read Hans Rosling’s Factfulness this past month. It’s a well written book that helps you reframe the way you look at the world. He looks at poverty, health, safety and economic progress and the news is good. The problem is, as Rosling points out, most of us believe we are worse off.

Here are the misconceptions most of us believe:

Negativity bias

Negative information holds more weight with us. When my boyfriend asks about my day, I think back to my daughter injuring her back, my dad being in the hospital, or not taking a walk as promised. Folks at work refer to coworkers by the name “Nancy”, as in Negative Nancy. I end up dwelling on what went wrong instead of what went right; the bumps in the road. I had ancestors that were good at seeing danger like a saber tooth tiger, so therefore, I am here. We are all here because our ancestors were good at paying attention to the negative. In today’s day and age, this makes us come off as Nancys. It keeps us focused on what is going wrong instead of what is going right. We decide that every trend line is going down instead of up. The negativity bias skews the way we see the world.

The gap instinct

I think of my parents telling me to eat all the food on my plate because there are people starving in Albania. I was brought up thinking there was a huge gap. Seeing the favelas in Rio de Janeiro and Caracas some thirty plus years ago, helped keep that gap wide open in my mind. As Rosling wrote, “Human beings have a strong dramatic instinct toward binary thinking, a basic urge to divide things into two distinct groups, with nothing but an empty gap in between. We love to dichotomize. Good versus bad. Heroes versus villains. My country versus the rest. Dividing the world into two distinct sides is simple and intuitive, and also dramatic because it implies conflict, and we do it without thinking, all the time.” In reality, we are all on a continuum. There is no gap. We are not divided. It’s not us versus them.

If it bleeds, it leads

The media needs to sell news. It needs you and me to click on a link. It needs to get our attention. They do that through headlines that focuse on the unique, the frightening, and the outliers. As Rosling wrote, “Here’s the paradox: the image of a dangerous world has never been broadcast more effectively than it is now, while the world has never been less violent and more safe.” The media is myopic in that it focuses on the sensational. Rosling espoused, “Forming your worldview by relying on the media would be like forming your view about me by looking only at a picture of my foot.” This is, in large part, why I try and stay away from news. Its focus is on just a small part of what is really going on day-to-day. So much so, that we aren’t even aware that things are getting better.

Outdated information

Similar to the starving Albanians from my childhood, we never update our data files. I still thought that extreme poverty was continuing to grow. As Rosling wrote, “How much has your world changed? A lot? A little? Well, this is how much the world has changed: just 20 years ago, 29 percent of the world population lived in extreme poverty. Now that number is 9 percent.” So, while I was working, rearing my children and focusing on my tiny corner of the world, extreme poverty has dramatically improved. I didn’t know that. I need to update my database. Less of the world is living off one dollar a day. The textbook from my 8th grade World History class is way out of date. Most of us are basing our thinking on outdated information.

Single perspective

Rosling wrote, “Factfulness is … recognizing that a single perspective can limit your imagination, and remembering that it is better to look at problems from many angles to get a more accurate understanding and find practical solutions. To control the single perspective instinct, get a toolbox, not a hammer. Test your ideas. Don’t only collect examples that show how excellent your favorite ideas are. Have people who disagree with you test your ideas and find their weaknesses.” Rosling’s antidote is to travel. I agree. Most of my travel has been to South America but it’s still another perspective. I can remember traveling to Santa Marta, Colombia and staying in a cinderblock house without running water or windows. But the people that lived there were happy and healthy. Seeing other perspectives creates a quilt of experience to reframe your world view. As Max Rosen of Oxford University wrote, “We live in a much more peaceful and inclusive world than our ancestors of the past.” He says, “The news is very much focused on singular events. All of these trends that I’m looking at are slow changes that happen over decades, or sometimes even centuries. These developments never have a ‘now’ moment that would make them interesting for news that is following current events.” Take that in. We are on the upward trend and the world is better off than one hundred years ago. Isn’t that great? Find information that challenges your instincts or take a look at this link my friend Susannah sent to back this up. What is skewing your perspective?

You Are The Architect of Your Reality

There is an accident on the way to that critical meeting. You will never make it in time. Well, that deal is lost. Your coworker called in sick. Ugh. That project is stalled yet again. Can we never make a deadline? Your son is not returning your text. He must have been in a car accident. Or abducted by aliens. Or in jail. The one constant in all these situations is your negative bias in the interpretation of events. It’s stressing you out. Believe it or not, you oversee how you view these events. But Cathy! How can I possibly view these things in a different light?

drew-coffman-100873

I just started reading Shawn Achor’s book Before Happiness. Shawn suggests that success is based on being a positive genius. A positive genius is someone who can change their brain patterns to view the world in a positive light; to take in  information and put a positive spin on it rather than wallowing in negativity. Seems hard, doesn’t it? So much easier to succumb to the negativity bias that our brains are seemly hardwired for. You can change it, though. You can overcome your predisposition to view information in a negative light. You can. Really. Imagine all the worry and stress you can let go of if you choose to be the architect of your reality.

Here are Shawn’s three main points in choosing the most valuable reality:

  • Recognize the existence of multiple realities by simply changing the details your brain chooses to focus on. This reminds me of Byron Katie’s The Work. The first question in The Work is “Is it the truth?” I want to look at my son not returning a text as, “He doesn’t love me.” I can ask myself, “Is it the truth?” Let’s see. He drove 13 hours at Christmas to be home with me. He’s been really supportive with recent issues with my house. He sent me flowers for Mother’s Day. Nope. It’s not true. Of course, he loves me. So I need to realize that there are many interpretations of the information I have. So what if it’s been twenty minutes since I texted him. Maybe his phone is dead. Maybe he is working out. Maybe he is sleeping in. Focus on the details in a more positive light. As Mike Dooley says, “Thoughts become things. Choose the good ones.” There are multiple realities at any given time. Decide on which reality to focus on.

 

  • See a greater range of realities by training your brain to see vantage points and see the world from a broader perspective. Shawn quotes a study where a group of people were asked to draw a coffee cup and saucer. EVERY person drew the cup from a side perspective. EVERY LAST ONE. I have to admit, if I am asked to draw a coffee cup or a house (for that matter), I will draw it from the side perspective. But can’t you draw it from a bird’s eye perspective? Are both true?Don’t you look down at your coffee cup in the morning? Isn’t that the perspective you usually see? There are hundreds of vantage points. It’s so easy to get caught up with our status quo perspective. We don’t typically re-frame it. There is a whole range of views. If my coworker is sick and the project might be delayed, maybe there are more resources I haven’t thought about. Maybe this is my chance to step up and own the spotlight. Maybe we need more data before proceeding. Open up your perspective to see more points of view.

 

  • Select the most valuable reality that is both positive and true, using a simple formula called the positive ratio. This is not creating a panacea. Choose data that is true and the most positive. If you constantly seek positive data, the outcomes are better. In companies, a Losada ratio of 3 positives to one negative indicates a more profitable business. So, when you get a seemingly negative data point, look for something positive. Rethink it – the car accident on the way to work, not a big deal? If you had been five minutes earlier that could have been you in that accident. At least you are still on your way to your destination. Be grateful for not being involved in an accident and still on your way. As Achor has advised, “Go out of your way to build employee strengths instead of routinely correcting weaknesses. When you dip below the Losada line, performance quickly suffers.” Look for the good and it will appear.

 

I’ve been trying to live by this over the last week or so. I look to interpret the current reality in a positive light. I’m not saying that my negativity bias doesn’t creep in from time to time, but I am slowly changing my default to looking at what’s right, rather than what’s wrong. Be a positive genius.

How to Reset Your Happiness Set Point.

I wrote a post a few weeks ago about perfectionism. In the post, I brought up Hedonic Adaptation which involves a happiness “set point”, whereby humans generally maintain a constant level of happiness throughout their lives, despite events that occur in their environment. So whether it’s buying a new Mercedes or crashing your new Mercedes, your level of happiness resets to the same pre-event level. A reader asked that I expound on how I have tried to reset my happiness set point. Reset Your Happiness Set Point

So I’ve tried to reset my “set point” and it turns out there is some science behind it. I think I first became aware of this by reading “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin. In the book, she chronicles twelve months of changing her approach and raising her happiness set point. By the end of the year she felt like she had a sustained increase in her happiness. In another article called “Making Happiness Last” by Katherine Jacobs Bao and Sonja Lyubomirsky, they posit it is possible to reverse the effects of the hedonic adaptation. So here is some advice:

  •      Gratitude. Start a gratitude journal. All the authors recommended this and studies have shown that this has a positive effect. I have had a gratitude journal for over 5 years. I have varied it from writing actual paragraphs, to four bullets to my current style which is just to list events and names that had a positive impact on me or I had a positive impact on them. I don’t have a limited number but generally it’s somewhere between 4 and 12. I’m not a big fan of rules, so I just go with what works for me. Count your blessings.
  •      Kindness. Perform random acts of kindness. Apparently it matters if the acts of kindness are varied. It makes sense. If I always buy my team a dozen donuts every Friday, after a while, it has diminishing returns. So you need to shake it up. Buy a stranger a cup of coffee, offer to help the mother with the toddler and infant at the airport, compliment the cashier on her earrings, volunteer at the local triathlon, or bring the mail to your elderly neighbor. I have done all of these. If it becomes rote, it’s not the same impact. Spread kindness.
  •      Intrinsic. The things you do for intrinsic reasons have a much greater impact than those for extrinsic reasons. So I write this blog to inspire others. It brings me joy. If I was writing this blog just to make money, it would not bring me joy. It would be drudgery. Find things that line up with your soul. Paint, sing, play the banjo, run a half marathon, write, cook, bake, raise chickens. Find something that feeds your soul and do it.
  •      Friend. If you can find some way to make your activities social, it will add to your happiness. I have to say that when I walk my dog instead of walking alone, I feel much better. Cooking with my son is more fun than cooking solo. Finding or making a friend while volunteering at a triathlon will multiply the results and the impact is tremendous. All these measures stave off the hedonic adaptation and keep your set point higher.
  •      Perspective. It’s important to remember where you started. Gretchen Rubin had a checklist where she kept track of what she did and didn’t do every day. I tried this but I just couldn’t work it into my routine. But I do remember where I started. Three years ago when I started this blog, I felt self-conscious, overwhelmed and resentful. Working on resetting my set point has made me happier and, I think, helped me live in the present. If you just look back a week, there may not be a big difference but when you look back to where you started, you will be able to see that your set point has changed and is much higher. So start now. Record or journal where you are today. A year from now, look back and see how far you have come.
  •      Self. It’s important that you are doing this for yourself. So don’t go pick up some paint and an easel because I or anyone else told you to. It won’t have the same effect. What is missing in your life? What’s not there right now that you want to have there? Only you can answer that. Maybe you want to raise goldfish or have always wanted to make homemade gnocchi or want to write a book or play the oboe. Whatever it is. Go do it. For you and you alone.
  •     Aware. You need to be aware of the strides you have made. I have the evidence of 154 blog posts (wow that’s a lot!). Studies have shown that if you can appreciate the changes you’ve made, you are keeping Hedonic adaptation at bay or keeping your set point higher. I know that in general, I have a more optimistic view of life. I know that stress and conflict roll off me more easily. I appreciate that my happiness set point is higher. Acknowledge the changes you have made.
  •     Help. Sometimes this is a great opportunity to get help. I think the biggest advantage a coach or therapist brings is the space to reflect and create insight. To see where you have come from and all that is possible. We get so caught up in striving that having someone give you the space to just stop and think is such a relief. You may be able to find this in a friend or partner but having an outside, unattached, viewpoint can be life changing.

Happiness can seem elusive if you have had a recent catastrophic event. But even these downward resets in happiness can be overcome with time. Hedonic adaptation eventually will buoy you up. The secret is to keep moving it up or at least maintaining at a new set point

6 Steps to Slaying the Clutter Monster

One of the biggest attention suckers is clutter – Physical clutter.  I’m sorry, all you pack rats out there; it’s time to purge.  A post in the unclutterer states that “scientists find physical clutter negatively affects your ability to focus & process information.Basically, visual clutter grabs your attention so that you can’t focus on the process, decision or project at hand.  Might be time to clean up all those nick-knacks or piles of newspapers, huh?

I’m a chronic pillow straightener.  I can’t leave the house unless the pillows are in their place.  In fact, this causes both my dog and husband to deliberately knock pillows off the couch.  Because they know it will get under my skin.  I can hear my husband chuckling in the other room as I walk in and sigh from exasperation when I see the chaos.  Now I know why – they are messing with my visual cortex!  Lay off my visual cortex, will ya?  I want to get something done today.

Not my actual living room.
Not my actual living room.

I bet you know someone in your office that is a clutter monster.   You know, someone whose desk looks similar to Andy Rooney when he was on 60 minutes.  No wonder his pieces were only 5 minutes each week, his visual cortex was holding him hostage.  I’ve walked into a colleague’s office and, often wondered, “How do they get anything done in here?”  They don’t.  They are being held hostage by their clutter monster.

So how do you slay the clutter monster? Here are a few suggestions:

1.  Commit.  I know we’ve all watched at least one episode of “Hoarders”.  These poor people basically bury themselves in objects.  Even with therapy, most of them can’t commit to keeping clutter at bay.  You’re going to need to commit or there is no point in entering the ring to fight the monster.  Your best work, project or masterpiece is under that load of visual clutter and you are going to need to make up your mind that it needs to surface and the clutter has got to go.

2. Plan.  It can be overwhelming to decide to declutter your entire office or home in one day.  Make a plan and break it up into parts that can be accomplished in 15 or 30 minute chunks.  Such as: top two book shelves, bottom two book shelves, right bathroom cabinet, left bathroom cabinet, etc.  Then schedule it on your calendar.  Maybe every Saturday morning you work for 30 minutes or Mondays and Wednesdays at 5 PM for 15 minutes.  Plan it out.  It will help eliminate the overwhelming need to run out of the house screaming as well as procrastination.

3. Prepare.  You might want to agree to some rules  such as, if I haven’t worn it in the last year, two years, decade (scratch that…if you haven’t worn it in a decade, it’s out of style) then out it goes.  If your last paramour gave it to you, probably bad mojo;  let it go.  That’s a whole other kind of mind clutter.  Is it worth donating?  Is it trash? Is it worth saving?  I went through cookbooks not that long ago and those that were of sentimental value are in a box in the attic, otherwise, I’m either using them or they were donated.

4. Dig in.  Grab two garbage bags and get started.  How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.  It’s either a donation or trash.  If that blouse has a stain on it that you couldn’t get out – neither can Goodwill.  It’s trash.  If you wore those pants thirty pounds ago – someone at Goodwill can wear it now.  It’s a donation.  If you aren’t sure if you want to keep it, put it somewhere that would take some effort to get to.  A box under the bed, the basement, the attic, or your Mom’s house and give it three months.  If you haven’t thought about it, time to purge.

5. Containers.  You’re going to feel tempted to run out and go crazy at the Container Store before Step #1.  Don’t.  You’ve got to start untangling first before you can start organizing.  You won’t know what you need until you’ve started digging in.  Purchasing 50 – 20 gallon fluorescent pink tubs might seem like the right fix but once you’ve unpacked all your kitchenware, you figure out that the cupboard will work just fine.  Do you really need a coffee mug from your old bank in California?  Sometimes an old basket will find a new purpose.  And sometimes, one 20 gallon fluorescent pink tub will work just fine.

6. Rinse and Repeat.  Clutter monsters seem to grow back like kudzu along southern freeways.  Set up a reminder to go back through your office in six months.  On the second pass, you might finally get rid of that conference binder from 6 years ago on employment law. Might be time to refresh the pictures on the credenza (your son gave up soccer 5 years ago).  You still haven’t found a pair of shoes to wear with that dress – time for it to go.  As Christine Kane says “If it’s not an Absolute Yes, it’s a No.  You’ll need to say No as you move forward to continue to keep the monster under control.

If you buy a new dress, pair of shoes, coffee mug or stapler, swap it in kind with an old dress, pair of shoes, coffee mug or stapler.  Starve your monster, your visual cortex will appreciate it.

What would you do?

Interesting but Not Useful

I’m not sure this is a tenet of the NeuroLeadership Group or if master facilitator Paul McGinniss coined this phrase.  Heck, it may have been Albert Einstein who said it first.  Regardless, it’s a great concept.  I was working with my coach, Steven Starkey, this week and he corrected himself by saying “interesting but not useful”. It caught me off-guard.  Wow do I spend a lot of time on interesting but not useful.  It really cuts out the fluff and drama in daily life if you focus on the useful. interesting but not useful

Imagine focusing on what is useful in your daily conversations.  You know – if you stayed on track and didn’t go meandering into all the juicy details so you could raise your coworker’s eyebrows and if you stayed on message instead of whispering all the sensationalized (perhaps exaggerated) tidbits.  We wouldn’t need a water cooler anymore.  Going to work could be less Soap Opera and more DIY. What is the use in gossip if we are staying focused on solutions? Seems daunting, doesn’t it?

Here are some tips on focusing on the useful and steering clear of the interesting:

1. Solutions. Keep focused on solutions.  As espoused by the NeuroLeadership Group, staying solution-focused keeps the conversation out of the drama and details and moving forward. It’s good for your limbic system.  If you can keep it from lighting up, you are going to move mountains.  Fear shuts people down.  Reward or positive energy keeps people motivated.  Keep it solution based.

2. Listen. William Shakespeare said “Listen to many, speak to a few”.   Being present and listening will bring you a wealth of information.  Granted, there will be a lot of drama and details in that information.  But it will help you cull through to find the useful.  When you do the lion’s share of the speaking, it’s easy to go off track into the interesting and not useful.  Practice listening.

3. Silence. Be comfortable with silence.  I had a coaching client yesterday who really needed to digest and think.  I sat there in silence.  Listening to the clock tick.  Counting to 20 in my head.  Biting my tongue.  He had a breakthrough.  If I had interrupted to “fill the silence”, he wouldn’t have had the breakthrough to find the useful.  Accept and embrace silence.

4. Generous.  Be generous with your attention.  It’s always about them.  Them as in, your boss, your assistant, your coworker, your spouse, your child, your client.  Focus on what is useful for them.  The greatest gift you can give is your attention.  Give your attention generously.

5. No judgment.  Unless you are in court, and behind the bench, don’t judge.  Take some time today to listen to how often you hear judgmental statements.  “Can you believe?”, “I don’t understand why?”, “Did you hear…”.  Or worse yet when people put themselves down or limit themselves.  “I’m horrible at this”, “I’ll never be able to…”, “I can’t…”  Judgment is negativity in disguise.  Optimism is the road to the useful.

6. Bless his heart.  When you hear this in the Southern United States, run.  Whatever is coming next is not going to be positive.  This is the southern, gentile way of saying, “I’m about to run the bus over someone.” This makes whoever is saying it feel superior to whoever they are blessing.  It’s apologizing before you put someone down.  Stand clear.

I’m not suggesting that it’s not fun to do interesting but not useful things.  I was an avid Sudoku player for a while and I am an Anthony Bourdain addict, although I doubt I’ll be eating at a roadside stand in Myanmar anytime soon.  The point is that if you want to get something done and have more productive conversations, focus on the useful instead of the interesting.

Do You Need to be Right?

In the workplace, in sports and in relationships there is a high priority placed on who is right. I had the great pleasure of seeing Edward G. Hochuli speak last year at a conference.  He is a NFL referee and has been for some 20 plus years.  He studies the rules of the game every day…all year.   Yes; every day. This is a guy who has to get it right or he’ll receive thousands of emails, bad press and public ridicule.  How about you? Edward Houchali

I think this illustrates the importance that is placed on rules and, in turn, who is right.  The problem is this can be counterproductive in the workplace.  Having the last word and being right has the potential to be really damaging to the relationships around you.  Even Dr. Phil, whether you like him or not, refers to Right-fighters.  It’s the perfect term for those who are mono-focused on winning their point at all costs.

Think about it for a moment.  Who was the last know it all that you enjoyed being around, or collaborating with, or, worst of all, reporting to.  I’d like to suggest that maybe we should try to just let that ego attachment go.  This can be quite a challenge especially for any of us baby boomers out there who had to line up for recess, cross the street at the cross walk and never raised their hand in class unless they were positive they had the right answer. 

I think that Dale Carnegie got it right when, in his principles for “Win People to Your Way of Thinking”, he said “Show respect for the other person’s opinions.  Never say, “You’re wrong.” 

So you’re probably wondering how to you bite your tongue when our culture and workplace have placed such a high priority on being right

Here are 5 ways to find peace and do that:

1. Listen.  Figure out if there is something you can find agreement on.  You might disagree with the direction of the project at hand but you might be able to agree that you’ve got the right team assembled and that you will not all agree but you all need to listen and respect others opinions.  There must be that acknowledgement that you’re all trying to get to completion and benefit from the process.  Listen for agreement.

2. Reflect.  Reflect on the impact.  How important is it to put someone in their place?  What will you gain from it in the end?  What will this do to the value of your “stock”?  In, other words, who else is going to want to work with you or value your opinion if you are constantly pointing out that you are right….and therefore, everyone else, is wrong.  Reflect before you start pointing your finger.

3. Patience.  Is this the time and place to “put this person in their place”? If this is your direct report, a peer or, worse yet, your boss…think long and hard about how this might damage your relationship.  At least find a more opportune time (i.e. less embarrassing) to sit down and listen to their reasoning and talk it out so that you come to a common understanding.  Swallow your pride and be patient.

4. Check in.  What is your own ego saying to you?  Are you really that dependent on being right to feel good…to have self-respect?  Is this the measure of your self-worth?  Do you really want to be known as that Right Person at the expense of all else? Check in to keep your ego at bay.

5. Silence.  It’s golden.  In this world of bombarding news, marketing and media; sometimes silence is the most powerful message you can have and share with others.  Just keep your mouth shut and embrace silence.

Several of my coaching clients keep track of when they try to make a personal change.  They will record every time they change their perspective on a situation and the way they changed their reaction.  See if you can give up on the almighty rightness and find peace.

It’s good to ask yourself on a fairly regular basis – When was the last time you “fell on the sword” and let someone else be right? Leave a comment below so we can all learn.

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.

Falling on the Sword

I was recently at a Peer-to-Peer Human Resource group at Elinvar in Raleigh, NC.  They had an interesting speaker, Santo Costa, Esq., who spoke to the group about workplace integrity.  The surprising observation he made was that integrity in an organization can be determined by how a manager handles mistakes.  He brought up the example of General McChrystal  stepping down after comments some of his staff made to a New York Times reporter and contrasted that with Janet Reno saying she was “taking full responsibility” for the Waco Siege but went back to her office and kept her job.  I think any political example can be fraught with misinformation (press versus one party versus another party) but it does illustrate that the person who takes the bullet for his staff can dictate the culture of the organization.

Fall on the Sword
Fall on the Sword

In most organizations that I have worked in, if the leader isn’t willing to take the heat for his direct reports mistakes, there is inevitably a lack of trust.  If the leader is constantly throwing their reports under the bus for every error and misstep, it will be a culture of CYA squared (covering your butt).  If you want to build a culture of trust and integrity in work or your life, you’ll need to fall on the sword whether it’s for a direct report or your child or your spouse.

Here are some ideas on how to boost your integrity:

1. Consistent. Show up in your relationships in a consistent manner.  The ability to control one’s emotions is a basic tenet of Emotion Intelligence.  Being a hot head or moody, can put people in your life on edge.  “Hmmm.  I wonder if Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde is showing up for this budget meeting?”  Working towards authenticity involves people’s expectations being met in that they can be confident that you won’t overreact or fall off the deep end.  They know what to expect when you interact with them. Consistency is important to building trust.

2.  Humility.  Being humble in front of the team is important.  No one likes working for the leader who is constantly tooting their own horn.  The leader who does so is much less approachable. The humble leader makes sure their entire team gets credit for the project and makes sure the organization knows it. The humble leader is not trying to build their resume.  They are building everyone else’s resume.

3. Rationale.  Sharing the rationale with the folks around you builds integrity.  If you are looking at new software to make the transaction process easier, make sure the folks that will be impacted by the new software, understand the rationale.  There won’t be any buy-in if you don’t communicate the rationale.  More likely, there will be dissent and mistrust and folks might try to thwart the process.  Share the rationale.

4. Punches.  Don’t pull punches.  If there is bad news, craft the message and deliver it.  Don’t drag your feet.  Having information in limbo causes everyone to be in limbo.  The gossip mill will certainly get a tidbit of information and turn it into catastrophic conclusions in the blink of an eye.  Grab the tiger by the tail before it gets loose.  Don’t pull punches.

5. Private.  When someone makes a mistake, talk to them in private.  Figure out what went wrong; maintain their self esteem and move on to some solutions.  Don’t call someone on the carpet in front of the team.  The best practice for a leader is to critique in private.

6. Public.  When someone or the team gets something right, celebrate in public.  It’s so important to identify milestones in a project or when you finally attain the millionth customer that you celebrate.  Let everyone bath in the glory.  They will seek more of it. Others will want to be on your team.  Make sure you celebrate success in public.

7. Monkeys.  Once you have delegated a monkey (a task or project), don’t take the monkey back.  If you have assigned a monkey and the person has gotten off to a rocky start; don’t take the monkey back.  You want to check in on the monkey (make sure it’s being fed and scratched), just don’t take it back.  If people are unsure if they will keep the monkey they are much more likely to fail.  Keep the monkeys where they belong.

Building trust and creating an authentic relationship is a long process.  This cannot be created overnight.  Take responsibility for those that work for and with you.  There are times when you will need to fall on the sword but your team will be there to support you and you will create a culture of integrity.

Listen up

I recently read Daniel Pink‘s book “To Sell is Human.”  His premise is that everyone is selling; that we are all trying to move people.  So teachers are trying to get students to do their homework.  Doctors are trying to get people to take their medicine.  We are all trying to move someone to do something.  The most interesting chapter was on improvising and a company called “Performance of a Lifetime” created by Cathy Salit. In this class executives are taught how to improvise which involves an intense amount of listening.  If you think about it, we can’t improvise without listening.  We can’t move people without listening.  We can’t sell without listening. images 6

My son and I share a love of listening to stories.  One of the things I look forward to on a long car trip with him is that he is always game to listen to Story Corps, Radio Lab or The Moth podcasts.  These are all documentary type radio shows where people share their stories.  They can be deeply personal, a guy recounting how he met his fiancé who later died in 9-11, or a story about how some people see more colors than others (could it be me?) or mad cap drug induced adventures in Morocco.  The thing is, if you aren’t good at listening, you will miss the meaning of the story.  And it takes practice.

So what could you be missing?  Here are some tips into how to improve your listening skills:

1.  Pause. Daniel Pink and Michael Segovia, an outstanding MBTI instructor, both recommend that you pause. Dan Pink recommends 5 seconds and Michael recommends 10 seconds. In Michael’s case, every time he asks a group of participants if they have any questions, he would count to 10 in his head.  This seems like an eternity. But for those people who prefer introversion, they need that time to reflect. Dan, on the other hand, pauses at the end of someone else talking.  It lets you reflect on what they said. Pause, digest and truly listen.

2. Eye to eye. If you are physically in the room with someone, make eye contact.  Hold their gaze when they are talking.  Be in the moment. If they are on the phone, cut all the technology. Don’t be reading emails, texts, messages, Facebook updates or playing Soduko. Imagine them being in front of you and making eye contact. Can’t you always tell when you are speaking to someone over the phone and they are distracted? We all can. Tune in and turn off the clatter!

3. Understand.   Stephen Covey said “Seek first to understand and not to respond.” If you’re busy planning your response (re: argument, counter point, brilliant repartee) you are not listening.  Ask questions that help you understand their point of view.  “What do you think your boss meant by that comment?” “How is your relationship with your Mother?” “I can see you feel hurt, what do you want to do about it?” Do a deep dive into their story. Don’t give advice. Just seek to understand.

4. Mirror. In one of the exercises that Dan Pink did in Cathy Salit’s class was to mirror someone else’s movements.  Now this type of mimicry would be over the top in real life, and cause a fist fight between my brothers and I when we were kids in the back seat of our Country Squire station wagon.  But subtly copying someone else’s stance can create some symbiosis. They lean back in the chair, you lean back. They lean in, you lean in.  This creates a sense of connection. Mirror others to build confidence.

5. Generosity. Listening is about being generous. Selfless. As a great facilitator from Inscape Publishing once said “It’s all about them.” As in your audience.  It’s time to hang up your one-ups-manship.  Your friend is talking about their trip to Hawaii? There’s no point in butting in to talk about your honeymoon in Maui.  Your co-worker just finished a year long project? Now is not the time for a diatribe on the messy project you are in the middle of that just got delayed….again.  Your spouse had a horrible day yesterday? Now is not the time to bring up the Honey Do List. Give them the gift of being the center of your attention. Completely with no strings attached.  Be generous.

6. Yes, and.  One of the exercises from Cathy Salit’s workshop is something I have experience in one of my classes while earning my Masters.  In the class, we had to plan a fictitious class reunion.  First, we were instructed to say “Yes, but.” When that played out, the energy in the room diminished.  None of the ideas had any traction. Everyone was a wet blanket suffocating inspiration.  In the next round, we were instructed to say “Yes, and.” One word changed, and we all had possibilities. We were intently listening to everyone’s ideas and building on them. Next thing you know we were holding the reunion in Rio with limos, samba lessons and caipirinhas.  Try it. It’s inspiring.

Listening is a way to be present and take in the person, loved one or group interaction around you.  It can be a gift to yourself and others to just show up and “be there”. One of the most effective ways to do that is to LISTEN.

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.”