Leadership

Posts

The Four Horsemen: contempt and stonewalling in the workplace

Healthy and respectful working relationships are a must if you want an effective and enjoyable workplace.  In the first post of this series, I introduced John Gottmann’s work on the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse. In the second post, we looked at what you can do to tackle the toxic behaviours of criticizing & blaming and defensiveness. This blog post will dive deeper into the last 2 toxic behaviours – and possibly the most damaging of the 4: stonewalling & contempt. We’ll explore why they happen, their impact and how both parties can change things for the better.  We’ll end with what a manger can do when they see these behaviours within their teams.

Writing emails that people read: Free eBook download

Contempt

Contempt is when somebody makes it clear that they feel somebody has no value and deserves no respect. As it has been built brick-by-brick over time, it is tough to dismantle, and is probably the most destructive behaviour amongst Gottman’s “Four Horsemen”.

Contempt can manifest itself as ongoing sarcasm, cynicism, insults and aggressive, belittling or mocking humour. It can be seen in small gestures (eye-rolling when a colleague starts talking in a meeting, snorting at the mention of a project, a smirk or a single “hah” when a  colleagues name is mentioned) to full on mocking and cruel statements e.g. “Wow, you’ve done better than I ever expected – even by your standards that’s truly great work Susanne. You must be exhausted after having made so many mistakes”.

When somebody shows contempt, they are actually communicating that they see themselves as better and worth more.

Why do we do show contempt?

Feelings of contempt are typically built up over time – negative experiences create their own story and, too often, nobody has tackled the situation effectively. This can leave a person feeling frustrated and angry and looking to establish some sort of “superiority”.  Contempt can also come from a sense of moral superiority based on class, cultural or religious differences. Peers can feed into it or enable it.

What happens when we show contempt?

Contempt destroys teams and relationships. It prevents trust and respect and makes it hard for any real human warmth. It is tangibly damaging, causes stress and can harm people emotionally, mentally and ultimately physically.

So, what can the person showing contempt do differently?

Truth be told, if you are showing contempt for others there is a good chance you no longer care about turning things around. However, if you have a high level of self-awareness and realise that you have become somebody you don’t want to be then this is already a great step. Going forward you can focus on redefining your relationship with your colleague through …

  • seeing the other person as a human being with equal value.
  • seeking a positive trait in them and acknowledge it first to yourself and then to the other.
  • finding something they do that you value – then tell them.
  • communicating your needs with “I” statements and not “you” statements e.g. “I feel…”, “I want…”
  • actively looking to find opportunities to make deposits in their “emotional bank account”.

And what can the person receiving contempt do to limit the toxic impact and turn things around?

  • Look after yourself and work to stay balanced and neutral when interacting with this person. Shut out the unhelpful “whatever I do will be seen as wrong” self- talk. Reward yourself for not feeding into a situation.
  • People don’t always realize that they are being offensive… or how offensive they are being. Raise awareness of behaviours in a neutral / inquiring tone e.g. “What would you like to achieve by saying that?”, “Why are you rolling your eyes?”
  • Ask questions about the other’s intent – especially if they are not communicating in their first language. e.g. “Are you aware that, when I hear you say … I feel …?” “
  • Reflect how the contemptuous behaviour is impacting you e.g. “I feel belittled when you roll your eyes when I talk. Is this intended?”
  • Say how you feel about what is going on and show your desire to make things right, e.g. “Can we take a step back and slow things down?” “Insulting me isn’t helping us to move forward and find a solution”, “ What is the best way to tackle this issue for both of us?”
  • Indicate that you are willing to move beyond the present and press the reset button e.g. “I feel we are struggling. How about we try and start again from the beginning and build a new working relationship?”
  • And when things get too much, don’t be afraid to seek support within your organization. When you do this focus on you and your feelings… and not what they said/did.
  • And finally, know where your limits are and seek support from your manager or HR if you feel these are being crossed.

Stonewalling                     

When somebody feels they are frequently and undeservedly being blamed or treated with contempt, they may choose to withdraw into themselves and give one-word answers or even refuse to participate at all. Discussion, healthy questioning and positive conflict are key elements of any successful team.  Stonewalling stops this from happening, and feeds contempt, defensiveness and blaming.

Why do we do stonewall?

By refusing to cooperate, engage, react or communicate we look to protect ourselves and ride it out. Beneath this we may be seeking to control or establish hierarchy e.g. “I don’t need to listen to you”.

What happens when we do this?

The impact is that communication stops. The other person may become increasingly frustrated, angry and then despondent. Communication collapses and relationships quickly collapse too. Other colleagues get pulled in to the toxic situation as they become impacted, and everything gets slower and tougher … meaning ultimately performance and results suffer.

So, what can the “stonewaller” do differently?

If you recognize this behaviour in yourself and want to change you can…

  • focus on who you choose to be – who am I really? How do I want to behave?  How do I behave when I am at my best?
  • ask for space if you need it, and commit to resume once things have calmed down.
  • find a way to calm your emotions. Is there a third party you can express your feelings to? Alternatively, verbalize them out loud to yourself (or write them down if you prefer).
  • work out why you have reached this point. Why are you so angry and reluctant to contribute? Answering these questions may help you to understand your feelings better and enable you to continue.
  • avoid righteous indignation e.g. “ I don’t have to take this anymore” or seeing yourself as an innocent victim

And what can the “stonewalled” do to limit the toxic impact?

  • Ask yourself why are they stonewalling? What are you doing/have you done that is making the other person not feel safe in expressing themselves?
  • Focus on building safety. Agree a fixed time, neutral and private location, confidentiality and help them come back into the conversation with simple exploratory open questions.
  • Accept that a break might be needed and press the “pause” button while communicating that you are committed to continuing the conversation later.
  • Really listen to what the other person is saying.

What can a manager do when they see contempt and stonewalling within their team?

The hard truth is that as a manager you probably won’t be able to do as much as you might like to.  Whereas a skilled manager can actively help team members get past criticizing, blaming and being defensive, contempt and stonewalling are far more difficult to deal with. In fact, any blog would struggle to explore the variables and options.  Here are some questions to ask yourself…

  • What is the impact of the behaviour on the team and our results?
  • What can I accept? What can’t I accept? Where is my line in the sand?
  • Where is the contempt or stonewalling coming from? e.g. why this person? this situation? this environment?
  • How willing am I to reflect back what I am seeing? The impact it is having? And the impact it may have later?
  • Am I prepared and committed to consistently confront contemptuous or stonewalling behaviors over the long-term?
  • To what extent can I ring-fence a person without impacting the team or passing more work and responsibility on to others?
  • Am I choosing to do nothing? Or am I afraid to do something?
  • Who else can help me in this situation?
  • To what extent has HR been involved so far? What can they do?
  • Under what circumstances am I prepared to let this person go?

Whether you are just moving into a management position, managing a conflict in your virtual team, or just want to get the very best from your staff and the teams you manage, being aware of Gottmann’s work on the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse is incredibly useful and practical. At the end of the day, results are delivered through people and people are complex. None of us are always at our best and we can all struggle in relationships.  Awareness of the 4 Horsemen is a start, followed by self-reflection and support.  An effective manager is neither a counsellor nor a buddy – but they do need to manage people as individuals – and this means managing knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours.

Meet the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” – and why they matter in your workplace

Since 2015 we’ve been heavily involved in a Management Development program for one of the big 4 accounting firms in Luxembourg. One of the many rewarding aspects of being involved in such large flagship projects, is the chance to co-train with other management trainers and learn from each other. In 2017, thanks to Alexandra D, I discovered John Gottman’s work and since then I’ve seen it help people in and out of work with the relationships that most matter to them. If (like me) you haven’t heard of him, John Gottman is a highly respected psychologist and relationship expert, who with his wife, Julie, leads The Gottman Institute [ https://www.gottman.com/]. Gottman studied relationships between spouses and couples for over two decades and discovered patterns of behaviour that he could use to predict which relationships would not survive with over 90% accuracy.  Although his research and calling focuses exclusively on couples, his thoughts and methods easily transfer to our professional lives and our workplace relationships too!

Go to the eBook

Meet the 4 Horsemen (or the 4 team toxins)

Gottman believes that there are 4 negative kinds of behaviour that can destroy relationships. This 2-minute video introduces them nicely.

The four destructive behaviours are:

  • blaming and criticism – attacking your partner’s character, behaviour or personality.
  • defensiveness – seeing yourself as the victim to pre-empt or ward off attacks and blaming others for your failures.
  • contempt – attacking your partner’s sense of self with sarcasm or cynicism to insult or abuse them.
  • stonewalling – withdrawing from the relationship and any meaningful connection.

Gottman calls these 4 destructive behaviours “the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”. I’ve also heard coaches and trainers rename them “The Four Team Toxins” in an effort to make them sound more business-relevant.

Why the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse matter in the workplace

And let us be honest – we have all probably displayed these 4 toxic behaviours and acted in a toxic way at one time or another. We are human. And whether you want to call them “the 4 horsemen” or “the 4 team toxins”, these behaviours matter in the workplace – and in a very tangible way.

These behaviours are toxic to an effective, respectful and rewarding workplace. If interpersonal relationships are breaking down, you can expect to see the quality of communication deteriorating.  Tasks and projects will take longer, work will be incomplete or below expected standards and, as the behaviours impact productivity, you can expect to see poor results.  Motivation, commitment and team spirit will all suffer, and destructive conflicts will increase. And at its worst you’ll see stress, illness and good people leaving because “They’ve just had enough”. If you want to drive performance, you need to tackle them head on.

So, what can managers do about the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

“Ok, some people aren’t as nice as others, that’s life … but as an Audit manager what should I do? I’m a manager not a counsellor.”

 – Marcel, Manager in Audit & Assurance

Every professional who cares about their relationships with others will benefit from exploring the 4 Horsemen by …

  • being able to recognize when you are behaving negatively.
  • learning to consciously shift your mindset when necessary.

Whether toxic behaviour is a common occurrence or a thankfully rare phenomenon, great managers need to …

  • be able to recognize when others are behaving negatively.
  • learn to help others understand their behaviours and the impact it may have.
  • be able to tackle difficult conversations with both individuals and teams.
  • learn to help others stop negative spirals and have a fighting chance of turning toxic relationships around.

In parts 2 and 3 of this blog we will explore how this can be achieved but to close, here are 5 practical tips to get you started…

  1. Take responsibility for your own feelings. This starts with you consistently building self-awareness and reflection into your actions. Focus on who you want to be and how you want to be … regardless of what the other person does or says. This is tough but immensely powerful.
  2. Practice curiosity – ask yourself “What is actually happening here?”, “What am I missing?”, “How have I contributed to this situation?” and “What will help us through this?”
  3. Do not make assumptions and openly check your findings. This will help increase others’ willingness to listen and engage in healthy conflict.
  4. Deposit into other people’s emotional bank accounts and feed positivity into your relationships: regularly have appreciative conversations and look to show recognition.
  5. And when you do see toxic behaviours between team members, tackle them.

When bulls collide – why senior managers need to master using influence instead of power

Over the past year we’ve been working on 3 leadership projects with plant managers across Europe and the US. These projects have involved coaching talented operational managers on the verge of promotion to a more strategic level. For many of these managers this is a surprisingly tough jump. They are now no longer the sole “go-to “decision maker for their teams. Now they need to get the buy-in of their superiors and peers as part of getting their job done. … they need to influence others.
New Call-to-action

Moving from a telling to an asking approach when influencing

For managers with a telling or “push” influencing style, this transition creates a particular challenge as they need to move from a “telling” to an “asking” approach when influencing others. Those used to telling others what to do are generally used to quick decisions and immediate actions. Until now they have relied on their “power”… and have been relatively successful so far in their careers!  Their power can come from:

  • organizational authority (“I’m the plant manager” )
  • expert status (“I’ve got 15 years of experience in this area”)
  • information power (“I was involved in this from the very beginning “)
  • or just sheer charisma (“I know you’ll follow me”)

Indeed, quite often the manager is so used to exercising power that they don’t know the difference between power and influencing. Part of our role in the training is to help them see the tangible differences between “I want you to do X and you do it. How you feel about it is secondary.” (power) and  “ I know you’ll do what needs to be done because you want to do it and believe it is the right thing to do.”  (influencing).

When bulls collide and why influencing by power stops being effective

Imagine two bulls colliding and locking horns. When two push-style leaders try to share the same operational space, problems can come up. During training and coaching we’ve heard this expressed as “He doesn’t listen to me”, “She discounts my expertise” and “It’s his way or no way”.  When we’ve dug deeper and asked them how they have tried to influence the others, we often find they are solely relying on a directive or persuasive style of influencing (push styles) – as opposed to a collaborative or visionary style (pull styles).

Why different influencing styles matter

As part of our influencing training we work with clients to help them understand and use different influencing styles. No style is better or worse than another – each has its strengths and weaknesses, and each has its place.  However, as Dale Carnegie so visually described in How to win friends and influence people applying one style to every situation is like “fishing with strawberries” … in other words ineffective and ultimately pointless.  As the managers move to a more strategic role and need to deliver results in cooperation with other senior managers they need to develop different influencing styles. They need to sometimes “ask” and not just “tell” – to “pull” and not just “push”, and to let go of getting things done through their “power” alone. So what to do?

Stop “telling” and start “asking” – 5 practical steps to influence other senior managers

As Marshall Goldsmith coined “What got you here, won’t get you there”. Relying on power alone won’t deliver the commitment needed for individual and organizational success. Senior managers need to master influencing as they climb.

  • Acknowledging that the style and methods you are used to using aren’t working is a first big step. This may feel uncomfortable and sometime this can take far longer than you might expect!
  • Being willing to try something different is the second. A simple tip is to always present more than one good option. If you are trying to influence somebody who is also a directive “push” influencer, keep in mind that (like you) they really dislike being boxed in with only one alternative. One alternative feels like an order. If you hear yourself saying “We have to…” or “Our only real option is…” it means you are probably still relying on your power.
  • Put yourself in their shoes and try to find out what is important to your counterpart and include it in your reasoning. Let the other person know that you are trying to use their frame of reference. If you don’t know their interests and what they value, it is important to find out. Let him know that his success matters to you too. This blog post offers questions to consider as you try to understand your counterpart.
  • Know what you can control, can influence and need to accept [https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/control-influence-accept.htm]. Expand your influencing zone by developing more influencing tools.
  • And then consider what you are going to say and how you will say it. This blog post on Linking and building to successfully influence others is worth your time.

If you would like to know more about how we have successfully provided influencing training in face-to-face and virtual delivery formats across Europe and beyond then don’t hesitate to contact us.

3 questions to ask when you find yourself in a conflict situation

It’s 11am Monday morning and you are halfway through your weekly team meeting … and you are caught. Two of your key team leaders just started arguing over the same old issues. Over and over again. You get irritated! Now what do you do? What are your personal conflict escalation or de-escalation patterns? Do you explode? e.g. “For once will you two just shut the !*@$ up!!!!”.  That is one way of dealing with it, though not a very constructive one. Will you play peacemaker e.g. “We are all on the same team and we should support each other, don’t you agree?”  As attractive as it sounds, this approach will actually escalate the conflict by trying to hide it away. Or do you push it away e.g. “Deal with that outside after we are finished, I will not tolerate that in here”. This is also not a “solution”, because it will come back and hit you like a boomerang, and next time probably in your back. You are part of the conflict whether you like it or not and this means you need to be part of the solution. Hera are 3 fundamental questions you need to ask yourself …
DOWNLOAD THE CAN-DO TOOLBOX

 What is it actually going on, right in this moment?

When you find yourself in a conflict situation it is important to ask yourself what is actually happening? What is the “phenomenon”? The search for the phenomenon is hugely important and it is not always easily found. What exactly is happening, right this moment?

  • Is it related to me, to my actions?
  • Is it related to the budget discussions we are having?
  • Is it related to old vendetta or a power battle between the two?

And this brings us to the second question …

How do you feel in this moment?

This question sounds simple enough but can be unexpectedly difficult to truthfully answer when we are in the conflict itself.  Work to get past the surface emotions and go deeper. How do you REALLY feel about what is happening? Answering these 2 questions alone significantly increase your chances of being part of the solution. They will help you solve the conflict constructively (de-escalate the situation); by forcing you to use the reflective part of your brain (the prefrontal cortex).

As much as my ego would love to say the reflective brain part is always dominant, IT AIN’T. For none of us. It is the newest part of the brain, and the least dominant one. There is normally a “highway” of connections between the three brain parts/layers, but the moment we are in conflict, this “highway” narrows down to a one-way lane, and that seriously impairs our conflict handling skills.

Now to return to our situation, the meeting situation with the team leaders, you are now standing there, and you have reflected and calmed your primitive part of the brain. It is time to ask the 3rd question.

What do you want to do?

Let’s say you realise it is actually about one team leader being frustrated by a lack of resources. He is disappointed with the situation (and not angry, though it might appear so). Bear in mind his perception is REAL to him. He feels the other department has got all the resources and all the recognition. He has constructed a story in his mind and is now caught in emotions that are not necessarily related to the situation.

OK, so what do you want to do about it? This is the third question. The third option. One way of deciding what to do, would be to focus on ‘choices of conflict strategy’ (problem-solving, forcing, avoiding, accommodation). Another could be to ask what ‘negotiation strategy’ will you use?

The 3 questions help you and your brain work to its full potential

By solving the first two questions the choice for the third one will become the more rational one, whatever it is you want to do. Whatever you choose to do, bear in mind that if you wish to reach these two individuals, with any message at all, you need to help the parts of their brain start communicating again (reopen their highways). You need to speak in short sentences and help them see what is actually going on (Q1) and how do they really feel at the moment (Q2). However you approach solving the conflict you can now see more clearly and can decide actively, with the conflict quickly analysed and you in control of your mind.

Perhaps you now see a need for the ongoing discussion. Perhaps it is linked to the company strategy and valuable with this conflict addressed. You might choose to give the man the recognition he longs for (‘I am aware that your department has been a lot under pressure’. ‘I am also aware that this has nothing to do with the other department’. ‘Let’s have a separate meeting and talk about it’).

Done SINCERELY, you have solved the problem for the moment. You do need to go back, as promised, and address it, but at least now the managers can hear you, and engage in the meeting at hand.

For more information

Target Training has been delivering a range of conflict-related training solutions for the last 15 years. This includes “Handling critical conflict situations” and “Managing conflicts in virtual teams” . We also offer individual and team coaching solutions.

 


About the author

Preben is a professional mediator and conflict manager. He focuses on human interactions, such as management and leadership, intercultural relationships and interpersonal communication. Until recently he was a welcomed part of Target Training and today works for a major European institution. In his private life he enjoys karate, hiking and climbing.

Watch, listen and learn: 3 great TEDx talks on listening

Many of our communication skills seminars involve practical listening activities, and occasionally we get requests solely for listening skills. But it’s arguably wrong to see listening as one of many “communication skills” – listening is so much more fundamental than that. Listening builds trust, strengthens relationships, and resolves conflicts. It’s fundamental in everything we do. In a HBR article “the discipline of listening”, Ram Charan shared what many of us already know: Not every manager is a great listener. Charan’s own “knowledge of corporate leaders’ 360-degree feedback indicates that one out of four leaders has a listening deficit, “the effects of which can paralyze cross-unit collaboration, sink careers, and if it’s the CEO with the deficit, derail the company.” Good managers need to know how to listen – and great managers know how to listen well. And because we know you’re busy we’ve taken the time to find 3 TEDx talks for you listen to.

New Call-to-actionThe power of listening with William Ury

William Ury is the co-author of “Getting to Yes”, the bestselling negotiation book in the world. This is a great video exploring what genuine listening really is, why it’s so important and how to take our first steps to improving our listening.  He explains why he feels that listening is “the golden key to opening doors to human relationships” and why the skill of listening needs to be actively practiced every day. Ury uses stories of conversations with presidents and business leaders to show the simple power of listening: how it helps us understand the other person, how it helps us connect and build rapport and trust, and how it makes it more likely that you’ll be listened to too.

 

The Power of Deliberate Listening with Ronnie Polaneczky

Grabbing our attention with the shocking story of an angry reader, journalist Ronnie Polaneczky expands on why we need to consciously and actively practice our “listening muscle”. By practicing deliberate listening and putting aside our own judgements we can discover things we don’t know that we don’t know.  She moves beyond the obvious “techniques” (e.g. look them in the eye, nod your head and repeat back what you’ve heard) and challenges us to think about letting go of positions (e.g. “I want to be right”) and embracing learning – letting go of our need to judge. She closes with the personal impact listening has – it doesn’t just change the person being listened to – it changes the listener.

A Case for Active Listening with Jason Chare

You may find this talk far removed from a business environment, but active listening skills are essential for those managers wanting to build a coaching approach. Jason Chare, a professional counselor, shares his experiences with an audience of teachers.  The second half (around the ninth minute) begins to look at specific strategies and attitudes – especially the importance of unconditional positive regard and listening with empathy.  Check out this article on “Three ways leaders can listen with more empathy” too!

More listening resources for you …

And if you’d like to know more about how you can further develop your or your team’s listening skills then please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’d love to listen to you.

How great training clients maximize the impact of their training budget

A common question I am asked in client meetings is ‘What makes a “great” training provider?’ and then of course I’m asked to show that we are one. There are a lot of factors involved in being a great training provider, from having the right trainers, to providing relevant training (that is easily transferred to the workplace), and from having the right processes right down to the flexibility and adaptability of the program, based on the changing business needs of the participants. In part, our greatness is achieved because of great clients and we are very lucky to have many of those across Europe ranging in size and spanning numerous industries. Like great training providers share common characteristics, so do great training clients. Below are are three of them.

eBook: The definitive checklist for qualifying training providers hbspt.cta.load(455190, ‘0377217d-6395-4d26-a5fc-d32a69e484a5’, {});

1. Great training clients really get the importance of buy-in on multiple levels

Training, whether it be Business English, soft skill or leadership programs, is most successful when there is buy-in across the board. HR and L&D are important, but it is the buy-in from operational and line managers that makes a real difference. Managers at all levels and team leaders all have a role to play. The managers of our “great clients” share the “why?” behind the training. They look to link it to strategy and decisions, and show that they are personally expecting commitment and engagement. This buy-in keeps the participants focused and aware of why they are training on certain topics.  This management buy-in also supports the work of HR and L&D, energizing their efforts and challenging them to challenge us when it comes to questions such as training design, transfer to the workplace, and continual improvements. So, if you have multiple levels of management, HR and participant buy-in, you will definitely see results tied to your company goals and get a lot more out of your training investment.

2. Great training clients give feedback when things are great and when things could be better

When we put our heart and soul into delivering training, we love hearing that we are doing a great job. Even when the training doesn’t fully meet the client’s expectations, we want to hear about it. Our best clients understand that we value what they have to say and tell us openly, on a regular basis. The more consistent clients are with feedback, the easier it is to address any issues that may arise. Being clear about communication needs, proactively collaborating on training goals, content and methods, and sharing the background to decisions work to build robust relationships creates a lot of trust and understanding that leads to productive, long-term and fun partnerships. Win-Win is remarkably easy when both sides genuinely care about the other.

3. Great training clients are open to new ideas and approaches

It is great when a client knows what they want. It can make our job as a training provider that much easier – after all you know your staff, your corporate culture and what works well.  AND, we also value the chance to apply our years and years of experience when the situation presents itself. Our best clients know that they can trust our expertise and, after exploring the whys and hows, are willing to give it a chance.  We understand we have to earn that trust, but need a chance to do so.  So, know what you want as a customer, challenge what your suppliers may suggest at times but also be open to new ideas as you may be pleasantly surprised what your supplier can do.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Managing high performers – the Miles Davis way

What does Miles Davis have to do with managing high performers in business? Good question. Miles Davis is rightfully acclaimed as an icon of jazz, but he didn’t make music alone.  Throughout his career as a bandleader, Miles worked with other iconic figures of jazz to create music that stands even today as among the highest forms of the genre. John Coltrane, Herbbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, “Philly” Joe Jones, Keith Jarrett, Ron Carter, Tony Williams and many others among the giants of jazz graduated from “Miles University”. Miles Davis, time and time again, brought together some of the most talented musicians in their own right to work with him in his musical exploration. How did he do it? This article will explore the lessons of Miles Davis in the art of leading the best to be their best. eBook: The definitive checklist for qualifying training providers

hbspt.cta.load(455190, ‘20407acd-ee86-4017-b4b3-d7bf14527aaa’, {});


Lesson 1: Be excellent, publicly

Miles Davis was able, on many occasions, to put together bands of some of the most talented musicians of their time throughout his career. Miles’ reputation clearly preceded him. Receiving a call from Miles was seen as having achieved a high level of musicianship. But that wasn’t the only reason so many musicians with promising solo careers agreed to support Miles. They believed they would learn something based on Miles’ excellence as a musician and band leader. Miles greatness was easy to see through his performances, compositions and recordings.

How easy is it for high performers to recognize your excellence? There is a tendency among many leaders not to “toot their own horns” about their own performance and accomplishments. While a leader may not need to sing his own praises, it is important that someone does it for him. A leader’s excellence will attract others who want to achieve the same level of competence, while increasing the leader’s  credibility and ability to guide, mentor and teach.

Lesson 2: Don’t hire a trumpet player

Miles’ great combos included players with different styles and tendencies. He hired players who would complement his playing and each other’s. He didn’t need anyone who sounded like him because he had that covered.

In business, it can be difficult to avoid the temptation to hire people who mirror our backgrounds, experiences, styles and tendencies. After all those competencies served us well in our careers. It is important to remember as a leader that our success is a reflection of the past while we are hiring for the future.  The pace of change doesn’t only require different technological skills it also requires new communication and leadership skills from those current leaders needed at earlier stages of their careers. Hiring teams with complementary but different skills and areas of expertise broadens the set of problems they can solve and increases their impact on the organization.

“It’s not about standing still and becoming safe. If anybody wants to keep creating they have to be about change.”
Miles Davis

Lesson 3: Play together and produce excellence

Miles’ bands grew into cohesive units through performances, not rehearsals. Each performance created a wealth of learning opportunities for Miles and his band mates. The urgency of the moment created a focus and intensity that would be very difficult if not impossible to reproduce in a rehearsal. By focusing on playing together and learning from the experience, Miles could correct on the spot, encourage and support his band to take risks, push themselves and reach new heights of excellence.

How often do you perform with your high performers? Finding opportunities to produce excellence together will give you more chances to learn from each other.

Lesson 4: Don’t tell them what to do, tell them what not to do

Related to lesson three, play together and produce excellence, is the style of debriefing and guidance Miles offered to his band mates following their performances.  Miles didn’t put a group together hearing the music he hoped they would produce in his mind, then correcting them to come as close as possible to his vision. Miles believed in an experimental approach to developing new music. When reflecting about what took place in performances, Miles would say what his band mates shouldn’t do but he wouldn’t tell them what to do. He hired them for their expertise on their individual instruments. He wanted them to bring their ideas to the table so they could take ownership of their performances and the product of the group.

The high performers in your organization reached a level of success before becoming members of your team. When managing high performers, take advantage of their creativity and input by channelling, not directing their contributions to the organization.

“If you don’t know what to play, play nothing.”
Miles Davis

Lesson 5: Listen to save the day

Deep listening is the art of hearing not only what is said but also what isn’t said. On stage, Miles had the opportunity to lay out and listen to what his band mates were playing.  There were times when while reaching for new forms of expression, the band lost its way. By listening to what wasn’t there, Miles could enter the fray at the right moment with the phrase that would bring the other players back together again, finding a groove that was satisfying to the musicians and the audience.

Look for your opportunities, especially in conflict, to find what isn’t being said and remind the participants in the argument that they are on the same team. Listen for agreement that the parties may be missing, summarize, and encourage them to listen deeply to each other when emotions run high. “What I am hearing is…” is a great way to interject.

“I’m always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up every morning… Every day I find something creative to do with my life.”
Miles Davis

Lesson 6: Talk about life, not music

With our busy lives it may be tempting to leave work at work and leave life at home.  We can get through our workdays without sharing with others the experiences that shaped us outside of the work environment. Miles believed knowing the personal histories of his band mates was crucial to being able to know them musically. He invested time in learning about the backgrounds of his band mates and he shared his own. This sharing created an environment of trust that helped his musicians to work with each other more closely.

Be willing to be more open when you are managing high performers as it can lead to more effective, trusting relationships. A deeper bond of respect can increase loyalty to you, and commitment to your organization and its goals.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

On leadership: Here are a  few blog posts on the topic.  If you are interested to learn more about our leadership skills seminars, please contact us, or take a look at the very popular seminar “A practical toolbox for managers”.

 

TED talks on motivation and leadership

This week’s post was meant to be about customer service skills. Once I had my initial ideas on virtual paper, I started searching online resources. Very quickly and inevitably I ended up on TED.com and almost an hour later, I was still watching videos, no longer anything to do with customer service. My post was about what customer service professionals can do to stay motivated, with an array of some not so nice customers contacting them. It was inspired by one of my not so very motivated participants. He said: I don’t care if they’re nice or not. I don’t care if they think I’m nice or not. I still get paid for taking the call. Being motivated to do a good job has very little to do with having ‘nice’ customers – ultimately. That was one of the points of my post. Perhaps I will finish the post, it was an interesting training session. This post is instead about everyday leadership, feeling good and staying motivated.
New Call-to-action

hbspt.cta.load(455190, ‘fb6190cd-7261-42f7-a8fd-cf6e754676d6’, {});

What makes us feel good about our work

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely starts his TED talk ‘What makes us feel good about our work‘ with a mountain climbing example. “…If you read books of people who climb mountains, difficult mountains, do you think that those books are full of moments of joy and happiness? No, they are full of misery. In fact, it’s all about frostbite and having difficulty walking, and difficulty breathing — cold, challenging circumstances. And if people were just trying to be happy, the moment they would get to the top, they would say, “This was a terrible mistake. I’ll never do it again.”

Everyday leadership

This very personal TED talk from Drew Dudley is easily transferable to a business context. ‘Everyday leadership‘ starts with a clear message. “…I’ve come to realize that we have made leadership into something bigger than us; something beyond us. We’ve made it about changing the world. We’ve taken this title of “leader” and treat it as something that one day we’re going to deserve. But to give it to ourselves right now means a level of arrogance or cockiness that we’re not comfortable with. And I worry sometimes that we spend so much time celebrating amazing things that hardly anybody can do, that we’ve convinced ourselves those are the only things worth celebrating. We start to devalue the things we can do every day. We take moments where we truly are a leader and we don’t let ourselves take credit for it, or feel good about it.”

The happy secret to better work

Shawn Achor’s very funny talk ‘The happy secret to better work‘ is definitely worth watching. “… One of the first things we teach people in economics, statistics, business and psychology courses is how, in a statistically valid way, do we eliminate the weirdos. How do we eliminate the outliers so we can find the line of best fit? Which is fantastic if I’m trying to find out how many Advil the average person should be taking — two. But if I’m interested in your potential, or for happiness or productivity or energy or creativity, we’re creating the cult of the average with science. If I asked a question like, “How fast can a child learn how to read in a classroom?” scientists change the answer to “How fast does the average child learn how to read in that classroom?” and we tailor the class towards the average. If you fall below the average, then psychologists get thrilled, because that means you’re depressed or have a disorder, or hopefully both.”

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Not bored of videos yet? This playlist contains 7 talks on loving what you do. Also recommended, here are a few customer service posts from our blog. Our new and very much improved Boost your Business English blog is online.

Dealing with change

Change management is an integral, complex and necessary part of business. Companies most likely to be successful in making changes are the ones that see change as a constant opportunity to evolve. But the word ‘change’ means and implies a lot of things to the people involved: uncertainty, different, unknown, uncomfortable, etc. The truth is that (most) people don’t like change. We are, after all, creatures of habit. Sure, we have the ability to change and adapt to new situations – we wouldn’t have come so far as a species without change – but our brains naturally resist.

 

“Change has a bad reputation in our society. But it isn’t all bad – not by any means. In fact, change is necessary in life – to keep us moving … to keep us growing … to keep us interested … Imagine life without change. It would be static … boring … dull.”

Dr. Dennis O’Grady

Go to the eBook

hbspt.cta.load(455190, ‘3c442819-7f59-4039-bc15-472ccbbefef5’, {});

The Satir Change Model

The Satir Change Model is a five-stage model (see below) that describes the effects each stage of the change has on feelings, thinking, performance, and physiology. It was developed by Virginia Satir. Although the model was initially developed for families, it is equally relevant for organisations.

changemodel2

Stage 1: Late Status Quo

We are at a familiar place. Our performance pattern is consistent. We’re comfortable here because we know know what to expect, how to react, and how to behave.

Stage 2: Resistance

A foreign element threatens the stability of our familiar structures. We’re not sure that this is where we want to be. Most of us resist it by denying its validity, avoiding the issue, or placing blame.

Stage 3: Chaos

We have entered the unknown. Our former actions and knowledge are no longer valid/effective. We don’t want to be here. Losing the Late Status Quo triggers our anxiousness and vulnerability. We have no idea what to expect, how to react, or how to behave.

Stage 4: Integration

Through a transforming idea, we’ve discovered how the foreign element can benefit us. We’re excited. With practice, our performance has improved rapidly. We’ve made new relationships and learned new behaviours.

Stage 5: New Status Quo

Our performance has stabilized at a higher level than in the Late Status Quo. We feel safe and excited. We encourage each other. We don’t feel threatened by foreign elements any more.

“Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.”

James Belasco and Ralph Stayer

Psychologist and author Daniel Kahneman writes in his book “Thinking, fast and slow” that most of us would rather be wrong than uncertain. Just consider, how many individual uncertainties could arise in any of the above stages for each of the people involved? Right, and that’s only for one change.

Communicating change

Communicating change successfully doesn’t automatically mean that you’ll achieve change successfully, because ultimately, the organizational capacity for change relies heavily on the individual’s capacity for change. In other words, some people will reach the New Status Quo much faster than others, others not at all. Some will have few problems, others a lot. But there’s no doubt about it, you need a communication plan/strategy to accompany the change.


A ‘one size fits all’ approach is not recommended because it’s quite possible that not everyone needs to know the same things about the change. Managers need to get buy-in from different stakeholders, engineers need to know this, procurement needs to know that. When communicating change, we have the opportunity to amplify certain messages. On top of that, a well thought through communication plan will enable people to better deal with the emotions of each of the 5 stages – It can invoke positive emotions/reactions and gives you the chance to help employees imagine a post-change future.

“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

Niccolo Machiavelli

Randy Pennington, author of “Make change work” says that there are 5 questions that employees are most interested in getting answers to when faced with change.

From what to what?

Explain the specifics of the change. What will be different in how we must think, act, and perform?

What does this change mean for what I do and how I operate?

A personal extension of the first question. Everyone involved in the change will ask themselves: What’s the impact of the change for me?

Will this make a difference?

How will the change help the business or the team, or is this change for compliance reasons?

How will success be measured?

How will you know that there has been a return on our effort and investment?

What is the support level for this change?

Is this change a mandate or do you truly believe in this change?

Repeat and reinforce

Use multiple message formats and repeat important concepts to drive and reinforce the change. At the beginning of the change process, it’s necessary to communicate to answer initial fears and concerns. As the change advances, people will have new questions, and new understandings of the intermediate and final stages will be developed. Throughout the stages of change, people have to be kept up-to-date with actual and future states, and answers given to their questions.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

“Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.” Dan Gilbert shares recent research on a phenomenon he calls the “end of history illusion,” where we somehow imagine that the person we are right now is the person we’ll be for the rest of time. Hint: that’s not the case.

 

Giving feedback using the DESC model

Everybody understands that performance feedback should be constructive, focused and to the point. Effective feedback can resolve conflicts, overcome problems and improve individual and team morale. It doesn’t really need mentioning that ineffective feedback often accomplishes the opposite. Or that if you are skilled at giving effective feedback, your team will be more motivated, which leads to better performance.




Go to the eBook

hbspt.cta.load(455190, ‘720a6967-cb73-4d07-9ce8-4b78cd7111ac’, {});



“While feedback should focus on behaviour, performance feedback is still a personal conversation between people about people. Emotions always play a part in interpersonal communication. Effective feedback is as much about bringing the right message(s) across as it is about how your message is interpreted.”

Scott Levey

Some feedback facts*

  • 98% of employees will fail to be engaged when managers give little or no feedback
  • 69% of employees say they would work harder if they felt their efforts were better recognized
  • 78% of employees said being recognized motivates them in their job

*(source)

Giving positive feedback is easy

No matter how skilled the feedback giver is, if the receiver isn’t interested in hearing or taking the feedback, nothing will get through. The more difficult the feedback, the more the giver needs to consider the the emotional impact of the feedback. Giving positive feedback is easy.

What is and isn’t feedback?

In an interpersonal environment, feedback is communication about a person’s performance and how their efforts contribute to reaching goals. Feedback is not criticism. Criticism is evaluative; feedback is descriptive. Effective feedback is goal-referenced and tangible, actionable, personalized, timely, ongoing and consistent. As a leader, giving feedback is a task you perform again and again, to let people know where they are and where to go next in terms of individual, team, and company goals.

Giving feedback is a touchy thing. Think back over feedback you have received in the past. Chances are you’ve been given feedback that helped you develop. And, unfortunately, chances are somewhere in your career you’ve been given feedback that made you feel defensive, resistant or unmotivated. By putting yourself back in your old shoes, and thinking about how they actually gave you the feedback, you can improve your own feedback skills.

Common mistakes people make when giving feedback

  1. Avoiding giving feedback
  2. Focusing on the person and not the performance
  3. Giving feedback on what is going wrong, and never on what is going right
  4. Coming  across as judgmental
  5. Doing all the talking, and none of the listening
  6. Giving the feedback without any context
  7. Making generalized, vague statements
  8. Avoiding responsibility for what they are saying by referring to others
  9. Getting defensive if they don’t understand you, or you don’t understand them

“We can’t let our own success, education and advancement ride on whether the person giving us feedback happens to be talented or caring. We have to learn to learn from everyone around us, including people who are lousy at giving feedback, or who don’t have the time to do it thoughtfully. Our individual success depends on it, and so does the collective success of the organization.

The DESC model

In our skills-based Leadership training, we use the simple 4-step model DESC for structuring feedback. Participants in our “Practical Toolbox for Managers” seminars often highlight DESC as one of the most valuable tools they take away. This model is designed to help you to get your message clear and it can even take the stress out of the feedback conversation for those of us that weren’t born with effective feedback-giving skills.

DESCRIPTION

Give an objective and concrete description of what you have observed using “I” statements.

EFFECT

Explain the effect or impact it had on your business, the team or its members. If the effect was an emotion, name it. Your body language and tone of voice will already be showing your elation or frustration – putting them out in the open can help you move things forward.

SOLUTION

Build the solution through a directive (“What I would like you to do next time is …”) or a participative approach (“What do you think we can do to avoid this next time?”).

CONCLUSION

Build a “contract of commitment”. Check your understanding of what has been agreed, and get commitment for the future.

Further Leadership resources:

When is praise an insult?

During a recent presentation skills seminar for a French organization, I observed participants as they presented. I offered only feedback on the positive behaviors I saw. As we went through the round, the managing director of the group of participants couldn’t wait any longer and interrupted the feedback session by asking where was the criticism? It was obvious that the presenters were doing things that would get in the way of their presentation goals, (from audible pauses to nervous movement), and I was doing them a disservice by not pointing out the negatives. He did give me the cultural excuse of being a positive, American trainer. Yet his message was clear, the group needed correction more than praise to develop. For the record, I think both praise and correction are appropriate (and it’s true that unspecific praise can feel condescending and counterproductive, as if the recipient is too immature to take correction as a way to improve).

Praise is a complex concept that crosses many cross cultural communication styles and its effectiveness is personal as well. For example: The German culture offers the view of a foundation of trust in the working relationship. You have a job because the company feels you can do it. This general level of trust is positive enough to not require reinforcement through praise. In fact, praising someone for just “doing his job” can be insulting as if the expectations of performance are low.

How praise gets delivered is also of importance to judgements of its sincerity. In some work cultures, being singled out for enthusiastic praise if front of a group would be gratifying to the person receiving it while cultures that use more restrained emotional styles might find expressive, public praise embarrassing and impersonal. Groups using collectivist approaches would recognize team accomplishments over individual ones. Groups using individualist approaches would do the opposite.

Our brand will come from what we are very good at doing, not from correcting mistakes to an acceptable level.

James Culver

How to get it right? Praise helps us know the right way to do things so we can recognize and track behaviors we want to develop. Praise lets others know your priorities, the organization’s focus and their path forward. Done well, praise is an important tool in developing focus and innovation. Observational praise also enhances the credibility of the observer, as praise is specifically tied to authentic, recognizable behaviors the recipient and observer can agree happened.

Observe. How do people in your organization know they are on the right track? Mirror the praise behaviors in your organization and expand that style with your own approach. Note how the recipient is meeting your high standards. Let that stand for a while so it is credible.

 

  1. State why you are complimenting the employee

Sentences:

* We have thoroughly enjoyed our relationship with your company, especially because your customer service representative, John Doe, has been so helpful.
* Your representative, Jane Doe, is to be commended for her outstanding work on your last project.
* We want you to know how impressed we were with the way Jane Doe handled the delinquent accounts.
* During a recent internal audit, John Doe found a rather large discrepancy in our financial records. Had he not found that error, our corporation could have faced heavy legal fees.
* I want to tell you how pleased I am with the landscaping plan your new intern prepared for me.

Phrases:

* a very helpful attitude
* among the finest I’ve seen
* by your co-workers
* commendations and congratulations
* convey my appreciation to
* exceptional work done by
* express my appreciation for
* has been extremely helpful
* have thoroughly enjoyed
* have been deeply impressed
* have come to admire
* how pleased we have been
* how impressed we were
* how highly we think of his efforts
* how much we appreciate
* how pleased I am
* is to be commended for
* please accept
* received exceptional service
* want to let you know
* with the services of

 

  1. Acknowledge the employee’s qualities that made the contribution worthwhile

Sentences:

* His attention to detail helped our work move smoothly, without a single legal snag.
* His broad knowledge of the machinery has helped our trouble shooters keep the assembly line moving during the periods of heaviest demand.
* Her public relations skills helped us collect on most of the accounts that others had given up on. We hope she will be available for future cooperation.
* We commend his attention to detail. He is the most thorough accountant we have had work on our books.
* She has a good sense for balance, with the right mix of colors and textures.

Phrases:

* a pleasure to work with
* an excellent sense of
* attention to detail
* broad knowledge of
* consistently gone out of her way to
* courteous, well-trained staff
* dependable and thoughtful
* diligence and skill
* efficiently and with good humor
* going the extra mile
* has helped us to
* intelligent and cooperative
* made sure everything ran smoothly
* never-failing professionalism
* one of your company’s greatest assets
* particularly astute in
* professional and courteous
* public relations skills
* stays calm under pressure
* the time and thought he put into
* took care of all the details
* took the trouble to
* went out of his way to
* willingness to help

 

  1. Express appreciation and wishes for continued success

Sentences:

* Thanks again for assigning him to work with us. Best wishes for the future.
* We send our warm regards and wish you continued success.
* We wish you similar successes with your other clients.
* Please convey our appreciation to Jane for a job well done. We hope we can work together again.
* May your future endeavors be as successful as this one has been.
* You are fortunate to have Jane as an employee. Best wishes to her and the rest of you at Doe Corporation.

Phrases:

* are looking forward to
* best wishes for
* congratulations on your
* continue your tradition of
* convey my compliments to
* how much we appreciate
* keep up the good work
* one of your greatest assets
* our sincere thanks and appreciation
* our warmest regards
* please let everyone involved know
* please pass my appreciation on to
* please thank him for us
* thank you for
* thanks to the efficiency of
* want you to know
* will assure the continued success of
* wish you continued success
* working together again
* would like to thank her for

 

Don’t sweat it – everybody’s wrong sometimes, even your boss

In this video, Kathryn Schultz tells us that by the time we’re nine years old, we have already learned that the best way to succeed in life is to never be wrong. You should watch the video if you want to know how she came to that conclusion and a few others – when you have ten minutes.

Everybody’s wrong sometimes

Some of Kathryn’s words (if you don’t have time to watch it right now), and main points are:

  • Realizing you’re wrong can make you feel embarrassed or stupid, but being wrong itself doesn’t feel like anything.
  • The first thing we usually do when someone disagrees with us is we just assume they’re ignorant.
  • The second is that they’re idiots.
  • Then we move on to a third assumption: they know the truth, and they are deliberately distorting it for their own malevolent purposes.

There’s nothing wrong with being wrong

Assuming that Kathryn’s assumptions are correct, you can see why telling someone that they’re wrong could prove to be the biggest mistake you’ve ever made – all depending on who is on the receiving end of course. Now, let’s say that person is your boss, your teamleader, or anyone in your company with more authority. Speaking for myself and my conflict avoiding personality – Difficult conversations always have a moment or two where I say completely the wrong thing. To others, determining to even speak to the boss about being wrong is enough to bring on sleepless nights.

Before you do decide to confront the person who was wrong, consider this:

Don’t pick the wrong battles

To speak up or not to speak up about it? I don’t know, is it worth it and/or important?

Don’t talk about the wrong thing at the wrong time

Stick to the topic, make the time to have a proper conversation (in private) and give your boss time to prepare.

Don’t say the wrong things

It’s just not the right time to say things like “I told you so” or “I knew this would happen” and to place blame. It’s already done, who cares? How can we fix it?

The DESC model

Once you’re ready to have the conversation, you can use the DESC model to structure your message – positively. This assertiveness model is perfect for giving negative feedback or criticism. It’s simple and it works. It’s for this reason that participants in our “Practical Toolbox for Managers” seminars often highlight DESC as one of the most valuable tools they take away.

Description – In a private setting, start by describing what you have observed. It’s important to be objective and concrete at this stage. Take responsibility for the feedback by using “I” statements.

Effect / emotion – Once you have described what you observed, move on to the effect or impact this has had. If the effect was an emotion, share this openly. Feedback is always personal in the sense that it is between people about people. Emotions play a part in interpersonal relationships and by naming them and getting them out into the open, you can deal with them in an professional manner.

Solution – Now move on to what you like to see happen. This could be directive e.g. “What I would like you to do next time is …”. Even better, build the solution together using a participative approach e.g. “What do you think we can do to avoid this next time?”.

Conclusion (commitments and contract) – End your feedback conversation by building a “contract of commitment”. Check you have a mutually common understanding of what has been agreed, and get commitment for the future. Then conclude looking forward.

The 6 most horrific bosses of all time

I did some Googling on this topic. With any luck, your boss is nothing like these bosses were...so go ahead and have your conversation – you have nothing to loose. And finally, here are 10 things a good boss would never say. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

Practical questions for analysing and resolving conflict at work

A study in Europe, the US and Brazil revealed that 67% of employees avoided colleagues due to bad feelings lingering from conflicts and that 27% of employees have witnessed workplace conflicts turning into personal attacks.

Over the years working with project managers on resolving conflicts, I’ve developed simple and practical approach to handling conflicts at work. The dictionary defines conflict as ‘a serious disagreement or argument, typically a protracted one’. A conflict at work is more than just a difference of opinion with a colleague. There is an emotional component and you feel a tightness in your guts, a knot in your stomach.

The 4 main causes of conflict

“What triggered the conflict?” is the most important place to start. Here are the 4 largest causes of conflicts in the workplace.

  • Goals The cause of the conflict is mainly about goals. Imagine a strategy discussion where one manager wants to focus on client relationships, the other on improving on the website.
  • Resources Here we are talking about resources, often people and budget. Manager “A” wants people for a project team, Manager “B” does not want to release anyone. Or this budget increases, whilst another is cut.
  • Processes It’s not unusual the managers will often disagree on methods and procedures. One manager wants to run the project on Prince2 principles, the other on the principle of whatever works, works.
  • People This is about people and relationships. If you have a good working relationship with the other party, you probably do not have a conflict. If you disrespect or dislike the other party, you will have conflict. And this problem isn’t necessarily resolved – even when agreement on goals, resources and processes is possible.

Using a practical format for analysing conflicts

Here’s a simple preparation format for analysing a conflict and preparing for the discussion. In other words, you buy time before addressing the issue and “the other party”.

Consider the following questions:

  1. What’s it all about and how did it happen? (History)
  2. Who is involved and affected, apart from you and the other party? (Stakeholders)
  3. How far has the conflict gone? (Escalation)
  4. What triggered the conflict? (Causes)
  5. Has anything been done to settle the issue? (Potential solutions)
  6. What do you (and the other party) want to achieve? (Goals)
  7. Do you have any ideas for approaching the other party? (Strategy)

Solving conflicts starts with reflecting and analysing…

Solving conflicts is tough and draining for everyone. Managing conflicts is a concrete and valuable skill – and one which you can develop. Analysing a conflict may help you see that it is more a difference of opinion and judgement, not necessarily a conflict. But it can also make you see discussing resources and procedures is a smoke screen and a diversion from the root conflict, your relationship to the other party.

…and it finishes with engaging, listening and resolving

Practical issues are more easily addressed; relationship issues are trickier to talk about. The above analysis questions will always clarify where the conflict is coming from and therefore make it easier to generate solutions. It will often indicate that the root cause is personal, i.e. resentment, envy, or even chemistry. So can you put your emotions on the back burner and seek a common solution that benefits your organisation? Are you prepared to talk frankly with the other party and clear the air?

 

5 simple assertiveness strategies (for teddy bears and tortoises)

We all know the feeling. You come out of a meeting, negotiation or a conflict discussion with a difficult team member, and say to yourself, “If I had only said or done this.” Or “Was I too hard on my report?” For whatever reason, you aren’t asserting yourself and addressing the issue.

What do we mean by assertiveness?

listening skills target trainingBefore going any further we ought to agree and be clear what “being assertive” is. We have all experienced managers, experts who have the ability to set people on the right course, give negative feedback without breaking the relationship, or make a tough point without being offensive or hurtful. They handle substance and people equally well …and that is true assertiveness. These people have good communication skills, are blessed with social and emotional intelligence and have reached the fourth level of “conscious competence”.

Free Download

Very quickly, here’s the fourth level, explained in more detail:

Level 4 – unconscious competence*

  • the skill becomes so practised that it enters the unconscious parts of the brain – it becomes ‘second nature’
  • common examples are driving, sports activities, typing, manual dexterity tasks, listening and communicating
  • it becomes possible for certain skills to be performed while doing something else, for example, knitting while reading a book
  • the person might now be able to teach others in the skill concerned, although after some time of being unconsciously competent the person might actually have difficulty in explaining exactly how they do it – the skill has become largely instinctual
  • this arguably gives rise to the need for long-standing unconscious competence to be checked periodically against new standards

*Taken from http://www.businessballs.com/consciouscompetencelearningmodel.htm

But this takes time, experience and maybe innate ability. So what about us mere mortals lower down the food chain who struggle with the substance/people balance?

Assertiveness starts with knowing our rights and responsibilities

In the world of learning and development we understand that being assertive is being aware we have rights and responsibilities. In other words, we have the right to assert our position, but (especially as a manager) we have the responsibility to be fair and to respect our reports and colleagues. This easier said than done. Furthermore it is often those who tend to play the teddy bear (accommodate), or the tortoise (avoid conflict) who need most support and coaching. People who tend to be pushy, or even aggressive (the sharks), normally feel quite good about themselves. So here are 5 strategies for teddy bears and tortoises.

5 communication strategies that work

Scripting

If you have a difficult discussion coming up, then write down your key arguments, how you can best convince the other party. Script how you address the issue, how you formulate what you want, how you word criticism and other sensitive issues. Unless you are very experienced, just relying on intuition and ‘seeing where the moment will take you’ can be costly.

SPIN

When you want something out of the ordinary from a team member or colleague, then script using the SPIN formula: Situation – Problem – Impact (of the problem on the business) – Need. In other words involve the report by briefly describing the context. Involve them and treat them as adults.

Saying no

As a manager you have the right to say no. If you want to say “No”, then say it but give a reason and maybe provide an alternative. If you want to say “Yes”, then say that too. We have all come across people who appear to say “No” on principle. This might be useful in a negotiation, but counterproductive when dealing with staff.

Broken Record

Sometimes your opposite number just refuses to take “no” for an answer. Provided you are 100% clear on your position, then it’s time to play broken record. Like the old-fashioned vinyl LPs with a deep scratch, you simply repeat yourself, NO plus reason, always using the same wording: e.g: “As I said I cannot give you a pay rise, as there is a freeze on salaries.”, then “I understand your position but as I said ……” and so on. Using this strategy takes courage and should be used sparingly and only with difficult people. Even the most obstinate will get your point after three rounds.

Buy Time

People are not stupid. If they want a favour or a concession, they will approach you when you are under pressure, with no time. This can mean you are unprepared and certainly unscripted. So if you are at all unsure about your response, then buy time: “Let me get back to you when I have finished this.” You will come to regret shooting from the hip and start kicking yourself, “Why on earth did I say that?”

Most of us cannot be assertive on command

Our behaviour is determined by our fight, flee or freeze instincts. Assertiveness is a conscious way of thinking and acting. These five simple strategies will help you develop your assertiveness. But, as with nearly everything, it takes practice.

Building authentic intercultural business relationships – part 3

The 7 dimensions of culture, and how does intercultural theory actually help you in business?

Why is the contract often seen as the end to a negotiation to Germans yet viewed as part of the negotiation process in China? If you are presenting, where do you put your summary? Sounds obvious – but is it? Why should you put your summary at the front when presenting to Americans (bottom line up front) And why would you start big picture and then summarize at the end if your audience was French?

Few things are as complex as human behaviour, and understanding cultures beyond a superficial level is never easy. This is where a little practical theory comes in.  If you know that specific cultures like to get to the specifics quickly via an “executive summary” (US, Dutch) and that more diffuse cultures want a holistic view, with a big picture (France, Japan) then you can structure your presentation to be successful, regardless of the nationality of your audience.

In this interview, Dr Fons Trompenaars, the best-selling author of Riding the Waves of Culture and one of the world’s leading management thinkers, explains how theory can concretely impact tangible business scenarios such as negotiating, presenting and leading others.

Effective intercultural training needs theoretical models which work hand in hand with practical exercises and activities – and this is where the 7 dimensions of culture adds real value. It can simplify complexity, and is easy to recall and explain. If you’d like to know more about the model check out mindtools.com, for a great explanation and practical advice.

And we’ll leave you with a final few words from Fons on how culture and communication are entwined.

Interview with Dr Trompenaars

Also online:

Building authentic intercultural business relationships – part 2

There’s a great English expression “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”.  I’ve found this to be a practical starting point when working with clients to build their intercultural competence. Why? Because not every problem comes back to cultural differences! So many other factors play a part in relationships.  The first step is to recognize is this actually a difference in culture? And if yes, how am I different to this culture?

How can the Intercultural Awareness Profiler (IAP) and the 4 R’s help you succeed globally?

This is where the IAP and the 4Rs model add tangible value. Developed by Dr Fons Trompenaars, the IAP does a great job of explaining what these steps need to look like, and why  “knowing” that Chinese culture value the group’s needs over the individual’s needs doesn’t necessarily translate into performance, commitment and results. During an interview with Dr Trompenaars we asked him to briefly explain the 4Rs model in his own words, and how he saw the Intercultural Awareness Profile tool within the context of the 4Rs.

To summarize…

Recognize

Can you recognize that you are dealing with differences in cultures? How do you as an individual differ from those cultures? For example, ss the different approach to decision making you’re struggling with a cultural dilemma? Or a question of personality? And most importantly – what is the dilemma?

Respect

Can you genuinely respect that the differing approaches are not better or worse – just a different way of operating. Do you respect that they are equally valid and legitimate?  For example, is coming to decisions through a consensus as valid as coming to decisions through the “expert” deciding, or by the “boss” deciding?

Reconcile

Now that you’ve recognized the difference and genuinely respect them how do you reconcile the dilemma facing you? What do you do?  How can you come to an agreement? How are you going to make decisions?

Root

How will you take what is working and make it part of your day to day modus operandi? Will you forge a team culture that is transcultural (bridges all cultures)?

Interview with Dr Trompenaars

Also online:

Building authentic intercultural business relationships – part 1

Doing business with another culture can be many things – exciting, intimidating, rewarding, challenging … and intercultural training should play a key role in helping your team to prepare to succeed globally. But what should you be asking for? And how can you evaluate the many many options out there? A recent coaching session showed the dilemma perfectly. Martin, a senior materials purchaser was about to start a relationship with an Indian supplier – and their very first question to us was “So, what should I do, and not do, when I’m in Mumbai?”.

A “does and don’ts” sort of approach can be useful if you are focussing on a single culture and in a real hurry. Starting from a position of concern and wanting to be aware of tricky situations make sense -but it brings with it a range of difficult questions. Intercultural training doesn’t stop with knowing the do’s and don’ts. Nor does it stop with just theory. But, who knows to say “I have to go to Mumbai in 2 week’s time. I’d like to learn about some theory and an intercultural model”.

The limits of a do’s and don’ts approach to intercultural training

SMALL TALKThink for a moment of your own culture. How easy would it be for you to tell someone how they should act when they come to your country? Do all of the people in your country act the same, react the same, or think the same? A list of do’s and don’ts doesn’t explain the reasons behind cultural behaviours, so would it really help you to do business in that country?

Now don’t get me wrong. Do’s and don’ts

  • can provide a sense of security,
  • are easy to engage with,
  • they simplify a challenging situation.

Download our free eBook

 

 

“Understanding one’s own cultural profile is key to enhancing job performance and bottom line business results when working with other cultures.”
Fons Trompenaars

How does the IAP differ from a do’s and don’t’s approach to intercultural skills building?

Dr Fons Trompenaars is the best-selling author of Riding the Waves of Culture and one of the world’s leading management thinkers. He is also the architect behind the Intercultural Awareness Profiler (IAP) – a self-assessment and diagnostic tool. The Intercultural Awareness Profile (IAP) is designed to assess the personal orientation and choices that individuals make when resolving intercultural business issues. We asked him “How does the IAP differ from a does and don’ts approach? “ , and this is what he said …

Building business relationships through understanding

The Intercultural Awareness Profiler (and the theory of the 7 dimensions of culture the IAP is based upon) offers you a robust basis to understand the dos and don’ts . Once you understand more about why people act a certain way, you can start to think about how you should act when e.g. presenting your product, managing staff, negotiating a framework agreement. The IAP provides a deeper level of understanding, meaning you don’t just recognize but also respect differences between cultures. Without that, how can you build authentic business relationships?

Interview with Dr Trompenaars

Also online:

4 TEDs on Increasing Work Productivity

When learning a foreign language, it’s definitely beneficial to vary techniques and shock the brain so that it becomes more alert and is more apt retain information such as new vocabulary. In this vein, listening to native speakers is one of the best ways to learn. The learner can hear how the language is used in a variety of situations as well as intonation and pronunciation. This technique works best when the learner has interest in the topic being discussed; otherwise, the learner loses interest and stops listening. TED Talks are a great place to find interesting topics. TED means Technology, Entertainment and Design, but the talks now cover just about any topic you can think of. One great thing about the videos is that you can choose subtitles (English, please!) or follow along with the interactive transcript if you want. These are helpful tools for understanding an unknown word. I recently perused the website and found a few videos of varying length on the topic of increasing office productivity that I would like to share.

Free Download

How sweet are your emails?

writing emails free ebook

How to save the world (or at least yourself) from bad meetings

David Grady shares with us his ideas on How to save the world (or at least yourself) from bad meetings in his talk where he uses the analogy of office furniture theft to explain how and why the listener can and should bring order back to their daily work schedules by avoiding unnecessary meetings. After watching, you can learn how to avoid MAS, too!

Why work doesn’t happen at work

Jason Fried details three suggestions on how to improve productivity in the workplace in his talk on Why work doesn’t happen at work. In it, he explores where people feel more productive and what causes involuntary distractions at the workplace. He compares work to sleep phases where you need long stretches of uninterrupted time to get work done. What is the longest you can go at work without getting interrupted by managers or meetings?

Got a meeting? Take a walk

In her short talk, Nilofer Merchant advises the listener Got a meeting? Take a walk. Not only is this idea good for the health, it also allows you to get out of the office and see things a bit differently. As she says, fresh air drives fresh thinking!

As work gets more complex, 6 steps to simplify

Sometimes work gets unnecessarily a bit too complicated. Yves Morieux has thought about this and came up with six ways towards streamlining in his talk As work gets more complex, 6 steps to simplify. He looks to answer the questions why productivity is so disappointing, why there is so little engagement at work and what this has to do with the increasing complexities faced by businesses today. His answers just might surprise you!

If you found these talks interesting, I suggest you explore other TED talks on a topic that intrigues you. There are many compelling talks available, and the more engaged you are with the topic, the more likely you are to retain any new vocabulary you pick up whilst listening. Not only that, but you can also use the talks to train your ear for understanding foreign accents such as Yves’ wonderful French accent. Let us know what interesting talks you discover!

Powerful Communication – The Power of the Purpose Pyramid

listening skills target trainingThe purpose pyramid is one of the simplest and yet effective communication models for introducing a presentation, opening a meeting or organizing your thoughts that there is. It is so simple, in fact, that no one seems to take credit for it though you will find it in the work of many communications gurus. The four questions in the pyramid aren’t special by themselves, but together they offer a powerful way to connect what you want to do with the goals and needs of your organization, no matter what business you are in or function you perform. Why? + What? + How? + Who? = Alignment. The Purpose Pyramid makes it easy for you to structure your communication – in any situation.

Free Download

pyramid

Why?

Why is where you share or remind your team about the deeper meaning and purpose of the organization. This is the reason that energizes you and your colleagues as well as your customers. What’s your why? Your purpose is best when it brings the energy of your team together and they can all see themselves in it. It should also attract internal and external customers to your work.

A band plays music, by definition – but wouldn’t you rather see a band whose purpose is to give you high energy and a memorable musical experience?

At a more nuts and bolts level, you can also apply the why to day-to-day interactions and situations. An example could be to state the purpose (why) of a meeting on the agenda for everyone to see. If there is a question about being on track, the team can refer to the mutually agreed purpose of the team.

What?

What refers to the tasks you and your team need to get done to contribute to making your purpose a reality. At their best these tasks are things you can track and observe easily so all can know when it is accomplished. For example, to have better meetings is not a clear task. Having everyone contribute to the meeting is a clear task. The SMART principle is a great model to use, just remember they should in some way contribute to achieving your purpose.

An example could be to make task identification a two-step process. Instead of automatically identifying who should complete a task at the same time as identifying the task, outline just the tasks first. Going through the how before identifying who will help team members to know what they are committing to.

How?

How is where you turn to your method, approach or process, How will you get your tasks accomplished? For example, sticking with the “better meetings” example, if my task is to have everyone contribute to a meeting, I could tell the team members I expect them to contribute and hope for the best or I could use a polling technique in the meeting to give each attendee the space to speak uninterrupted.

If a task is complex, the “how” could be a process or procedure that helps to complete the task effectively and efficiently. If you have standard operating procedures in place, this is the time to stress their use.

An example could be to identify the resources and process necessary to complete a task before asking who will do it. Leaders get a chance to offer support to the team and may encourage team members to accept a stretch task because they know how they will be supported.

Who?

Who refers to the individual and collective commitments or expectations that match your team to the tasks at hand. In most meetings the who stage tells how well we’ve done the other stages. If team members recognize and connect with their purpose, the necessity of a task and the process and resources to get it done, it’s a lot easier to agree to do them. With the clarity you’ve built earlier, it is easier for you to ask for what you want while committing to do what is necessary to support your team. A great question at the end of a meeting is “what have we agreed to do?” to check agreements without sounding like a task master.

Browse our blog for more tips and tricks

And/or let me know of any other useful communication tools that always work for you. I look forward to hearing from you!

8 great books for busy managers you may have missed in 2015

It seems as though 2016 has only just started, but it’s February already! We know you’re really busy, so we thought we’d help out by reviewing 8 of the best management books from 2015 for you. If any of the summaries grab you, why not read the whole book?

1001meetingsphraseslargeThis (Target) eBook

1001 Meetings phrases is a useful toolkit of phrases for the most typical meeting situations you find yourself in…

 

Team Genius: The New Science of High-Performing Organizations (13 Aug 2015)

Rich Karlgaard and Michael S. Malone

Did you know that actually the right team size is usually one fewer that most managers think they need? And that “chemistry” doesn’t equate to team success? Can you spot the right moment when one team needs to be dissolved to create another very different team? And are your teams really leveraging multicultural values as a strength?

Written for today’s managers, Team Genius reviews and explains the latest scientific research into how teams behave and perform and uses simple case studies and examples to bring it to life in a way that any manager can relate to.. It shows that much of the accepted wisdom about teams just doesn’t hold true – and then goes on to outline “new truths” and how to achieve them.

Stronger: Develop the Resilience You Need to Succeed (1 Sept 2015)

George Everly Jr, Douglas Strouse and Dennis McCormack

If you get turned off when you see the author is a “great business school professor”, “world-famous CEO” or “top management thinker” then this might be the book for you. Everly, Jr.is an expert in disaster mental health, and McCommack is a former Army psychologist and was one of the first original Navy Seals.

Drawing heavily on the psychology employed by US Navy Seals plus other examples from all walks of life, this book focuses on how we can each build our resilience and be “stronger” when everything seems to be falling apart. More importantly the book outlines how we need to practice building up our resilience (psychological body armor) before we actually need it. The five key factors the book explores are

  • Active optimism
  • Decisive action
  • Moral compass
  • Relentless tenacity
  • Interpersonal support

Each area is outlined in detail with case studies and research. A quick warning though – being written by 3 psychologists, it’s not an airport quick-read.

Leadership: Essential Writings by Our Greatest Thinkers (9 Oct 2015)

Elizabeth D. Samet (editor)

When you think about it, it’s amazing that this book hasn’t been complied sooner – management and leadership books aren’t a 20th century creation. General fiction, biographies, great literature etc have reflected core management and leadership questions for centuries.

This anthology draws our attention to 102 stunningly diverse extracts from fiction, speeches, anthropology, letters, songs, and even the odd occasional poem! The extracts from Machiavelli, Macbeth, Ghandi, Didion, Ovid, Melville, Mandela, Lao Tzu, Orwell plus many many more all invites us to step back and think about leadership. Excellent reading for just before you take the dog for a long walk.

Bridging the Soft Skills Gap: How to Teach the Missing Basics to Today’s Young Talent (7 Oct 2015)

Bruce Tulgan 

“They just don′t know how to behave professionally.”, “They know how to text but they don′t know how to write a memo.”, “They don′t know how to think, learn, or communicate without checking a device.”

Today′s new young workforce (also known as Millenials or generation Z,) has so much to offer – new technical skills, new ideas, new perspectives, new energy. All great stuff- but Tulgan also argues that research shows that employers across industries feel that too many Milennials have weak soft skills. As a few of the many case studies outline “they only want to do what they want to do” and ”his technical knowledge far surpassed anyone else in the firm … but his communication made him seem so immature”.

Renowned expert on the Millennial workforce Bruce Tulgan offers concrete solutions to help managers and HRD professionals alike teach the missing basics of professionalism, critical thinking, and followership. The book includes 92 step–by–step “lesson plans” designed for managers to use, and these include “take home” exercises, one-on-one discussion frameworks and training room activities.

In a nutshell, I can’t imagine a more complete or practical book than this.

Leading Across New Borders: How to Succeed as the Center Shifts (21 Sept 2015)

Ernest Gundling and Christi Caldwell 

Leading a global organization is no longer just a big businesses challenge.  Even small company owners can be leading a virtual team that includes people from all over the world – and just yesterday we spoke with a HR manager with 60 employees in 11 countries and 23 cities.

This books aims to guide you through this new business environment. It features stories from people in critical roles around the world, advice based on practical experience, and shares new research which outlines the distinctive challenges of leading in a virtual and multicultural environment … and cultural awareness isn’t enough! Happily the book also includes strategies, tools and tips for working across cultures, leading virtual teams, running a matrix team, integrating an acquisition and developing the agility needed to innovate in such an environment. Personally I found it aimed more at larger mature organizations, but still worth a read … and we integrate many of the elements into our Working in Virtual teams training.

Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead (2 April 2015)

Laszlo Bock

Despite receiving 1,5000,000 job applicants every year, Google spends twice as much on recruiting as comparable companies. Why? Because top performers are usually doing very well where they are and not looking to move. So Google works to identify these performers and cultivate their interest. But while Google spends considerably more on recruitment than most companies it also spends considerably less on training, believing top performers need less training.

Laszlo Bock, Head of People Operations, joined Google when it had just 6000 “googlers”, and in this book he shares the different recruiting and talent management practices Google use and have used. Although sometimes bordering on self-congratulation, the book is very much-action oriented with each chapter outlining a clear to do – Become a founder, Don’t trust your gut, Why everyone hates performance management and what we decided to do about it, Pay unfairly.

Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts – Becoming the Person You Want to Be (19 May 2015)

Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter

Have you ever wondered why you become so irritated around a specific colleague? Or questioned why your communication skills fall apart when presenting to a certain team? Goldsmith is an executive coach, and in this book he examines the triggers that can derail us – and how we can become the person we want to be and stay on track.

Perhaps common sense, but our reactions don’t occur in a vacuum. They are usually the result of triggers in our environment—whether this be specific person, situation or environment. .But how do we actually change ourselves? Knowing what to do doesn’t mean we actually do it, right? This book outlines how we can overcome the trigger points in our lives, and actually change to become the person we want to be, Drawing on executive coaching experience the authors use a simple “silver bullet” approach – daily self-monitoring, using active questions which focus on the our effort (and not the outcomes).

Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader (20 Jan 2015)

Herminia Ibarra

Do you wish you actually had the time and the space to be the manager and leader you know how to be? Introducing the idea of “outsights”, Herminia Ibarra, -an expert on professional leadership and development at INSEAD — shows how managers and executives at all levels can make an impact by making small but crucial changes in their jobs, their networks, and themselves. She argues that managers and leaders need to act first then to think – and to use the “outsights” resulting from the experience as a basis for meaningful individual growth and enabling of people and organizations. Joe Kaeser, CEO of Siemens AG. summed it up nicely as “transforming by doing”

The book is full of engaging self-assessments and plenty of practical advice so you can actually build a plan of action. It can be a bit heavy going but stick with it.