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Balancing your emotional bank accounts – practical activities for managers and leaders

In our previous blog we explained what an emotional bank account is and why managers need to care about building them . To quickly recap, an emotional bank account is a metaphor coined by Stephen Covey in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It describes the amount of trust that’s been built up in a relationship, and when trust is high, communication is easy and effective. Every time a manager says something supportive, shows respect, helps somebody with a difficult situation, etc., they make a deposit in that person’s emotional bank account.  Every time they criticize, blame, lie, intimidate, etc., they make a withdrawal.  Over time, the effects of these deposits will help transform that relationship. This post goes deeper into how to build your emotional bank accounts.

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How do you build a healthy emotional bank account with your team?

Every manager and team are different, and culture can play a part, but at the end of the day it comes back to our relationships and how we behave. Covey identified six ways to make deposits (or reduce withdrawals):

1) Understand the individual

You need to know what the individual wants and what constitutes a deposit and withdrawal for them.  Whereas one employee might be exhilarated by presenting their project results to the board another may prefer to be in the background and their contribution acknowledged privately.  Ask yourself what drives them? How do they want recognition? What makes their eyes light up?

2) Keeping commitments

We have all broken a promise and let somebody down, and when we do this, we are making a withdrawal.  Keeping commitments is about doing what we say we’ll do, keeping our promises, delivering what we said we’d deliver, being on time, being where we should be, fulfilling our promises. If you consistently keep your commitments, you build healthy emotional bank accounts with people.

3) Clarifying expectations

Each of us have different backgrounds, experiences and expectations. We see the world differently.  Clarifying understanding and expectations is essential if you’d like to minimize misunderstanding and wrong assumptions. By proactively investing time in clarifying expectations and building a  mutual understanding of what you need, don’t need, want, don’t want etc you can minimize the “ I thought that..”, “I’d assumed ..”, “To me it was obvious that …”.  And keep in mind that if you are leading people and teams virtually, then the risk of false assumptions and misunderstanding does increase, and formalizing things with communication charters does help.

4) Attending to the little things

Relationships aren’t only built by big moments but by the little things too. These are the smiles in the corridor, holding the door open, short thank you emails, remembering their daughter has just started school, not heading straight to your office but spending a moment walking through the open office to be seen. Kind words, smiles, courtesies, warmth. Human interest, and taking time when you don’t have to.

5) Showing personal integrity

Relationships are built on trust and integrity. What does integrity mean? The word “integrity” comes from the Latin integritatem, meaning “soundness” or “wholeness.”  Integrity is not situational –  it is a state of mind.  In Covey’s words…

 

 

“ Integrity is conforming reality to our words … keeping promises and fulfilling expectations.”

 

 

What does this look like in practice? Here are 7 musts to start with…
  1. Do the right thing for the right reasons and because it’s the right thing to do – even if it is going to be unpopular with some people.
  2. Face the truth and talk about it. This is the reality principle of “seeing the world as it really is, and not as you wish it is”.
  3. Be upfront in your communication. People want to know where they stand and what is going on. People won’t always like what they hear but they will value the adult-adult relationship.
  4. Know you are sometimes wrong and that you sometimes make mistakes – and admit this.
  5. Take responsibility for what you do and don’t do.
  6. Put the needs of others before your own.
  7. Be loyal to those not present – confront gossiping, complaining and bad mouthing about people who aren’t in the room.

6) Apologizing when we make a withdrawal

we are all human, and we all make mistakes and get things wrong. Know when you’ve made a mistake, admit it and apologize with sincerity. Admitting you’ve made a mistake doesn’t necessarily mean it is acceptable but it’s a start, and can be healing to a relationship.  Avoid the temptation of wanting to discuss why you made it before you discuss and show understanding of the impact it had on others.  And understand that if you are continually making the same type of withdrawal, trust will erode. It’s the smaller things that kill relationships in the long run. Finally, don’t try and lighten withdrawals with banter, humour or a “shit sandwich”– this is rarely appreciated.

To add to the list above , tolerance and forgiveness are also powerful deposits, as is appreciative inquiry and holding back judgment and sweeping statements.

A 10-minute practical activity for managers

  1. Write down the names of 5 team members that are important to your team’s success.
  2. Now look back at your calendar over the last 2 weeks and use this, plus your memory, to find evidence of deposits and withdrawals.  A meeting went poorly and they left frustrated – that’s a withdrawal. They bent your ear and you listened and gave them your attention – a deposit. Build a simple balance sheet (name at the top, left column is deposits, right column is withdrawals.
  3. Now put the paper down / close the document and go and do something.
  4. A few hours later (or even the next day) come back and for each of the 5 team members write down what you believe motivates and drives them?  What gives them energy and what takes it? How do they like to communicate? And what do they see as recognition?
  5. Almost there … now
    1. Look at your evidence of deposit and withdrawals (step 2) and ask yourself hwo you feel about the balance
    2. Look at the types of deposits and withdrawals and ask yourself does this tie in with what they need? Not everyone will see public recognition as a deposit And not everyone will see direct feedback and getting straight to it as a withdrawal. Deposits and withdrawals are personal.
  6. And now the final step. Ask yourself what can you do in the coming month differently?  If possible, plan them into your calendar by finding tangible moments e.g.. You can’t enter “Tuesday 14:00-14:30 listen” but you can set up a meeting to discuss a project and make a conscious effort to listen first.  https://www.targettraining.eu/listening-skills-10-areas-to-improve/ @brenda – was there an ALF download ??
  7. And if you are keen to make more deposits then why not use a regular catch up meeting or a chat over lunch to learn from them more about what is actually important to them, what would increase their trust in you and your relationship , and what you could do more/less of.

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Why managers should care about their emotional bank accounts

In our Practical Toolbox for managers training program, we often hear that the time spent on giving feedback is one of the highlights, and implementing DESC frequently makes it onto the manager’s transfer plan. One of the key points they take away is that the success of your feedback/feedforward rests upon your broader relationship with your partner. Put simply, if you have invested in them as a human being then feedback conversations are far more likely to go well.  To look at it from the other side, if you haven’t invested in somebody, if you haven’t built trust, and if you haven’t built a meaningful professional relationship with them … well don’t be surprised when thing go pear-shaped.  If you are managing others, you need your emotional bank account with your staff to be healthy.
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What is an “emotional bank account”?

The term “emotional bank account” appears in Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In Covey’s own words:

An emotional bank account is a metaphor that describes the amount of trust that’s been built up in a relationship.  It’s the feeling of safeness you have with another human being.  When the trust account is high, communication is easy, instant, and effective.”.

Covey made the term popular, but the concept behind the “emotional bank account” is not new.  When we take more than we give from a relationship over the long-term, then we shouldn’t be surprised if the relationship suffers.  This holds true in all our relationships, from those with our partners, kids, friends, colleagues, clients, and suppliers.

The metaphor took off within the business training world because it is immediately understandable. You make deposits, save up money, and when you need that money later, you withdraw it. An emotional bank account is an account of trust instead of money. We all know how a bank account works … plus bank account sounds more business-like which helps a certain time of person accept the idea.

Every time a manager says something supportive, shows respect, invests in somebody as an individual, helps somebody with a difficult situation, makes time for them etc they make a deposit in that person’s emotional bank account.  Over time, the effects of these deposits will help to transform that relationship. And conversely, every time they criticize, blame, defend, ignore, lie, intimidate, threaten, etc they make a withdrawal.

We are all human and there are times when we are making more withdrawals than deposits.  Just like a bank, we can go in the red and then come out of it. The trick is to be in in the healthy green zone over the longer term.

Why should managers care about emotional bank accounts?

It is rare to hear managers dismissing the concept.  Almost all managers we work with in our management and leadership solutions want positive, productive, rewarding, trust-based relationships with their staff and teams. Concepts such as authenticity, credibility and trust are valued by the vast majority of organizations, and books such as “Servant leadership in Action”  and Goffee & Jones’“Why should anyone be led by you?”  and have captured this.

A personal sense of self-worth and respect is important, but meaningful and strong relationships in the workplace also lead directly to tangible results.  As a manager, your success is largely is dependent on your staff. Leaders who build strong and meaningful relationships within and beyond their organization give their business a competitive advantage. Emotional bank accounts are not just about the “soft stuff”. They are about delivering results through performance.

Healthy emotional bank accounts play a role in practically all of a manager’s day-to-day tasks.  When a manager tasks, delegates, motivates, influences, leads meetings, communicates, reviews, resolves conflicts, gives feedback, navigates difficult discussions etc., the relationships impact the success. All of these are moments where a manager can deposit or withdraw, and each of them has a range of potential for success or failure.

To summarize: If a manager cares about their emotional bank accounts they are more likely to succeed in the short, medium and long-term. If a manager doesn’t take care of relationships and withdraws more than they deposit, then they can’t expect to see a highly motivated team delivering outstanding results.

Check your emotional bank accounts – a practical activity for managers

  1. Write down the names of 3+ people that are important to your team’s success. Ideally try and identify a range e.g. team member, manager in another department, customer, supplier etc …
  2. Then ask them if they have time for a meeting to reflect on your working relationship. Make sure they understand that this is truly the reason, that nothing is wrong per se, that there isn’t a second goal to the conversation.
  3. Start the meeting by reiterating that you would like to strengthen the relationship. Ask them to share things that you have done/not done which will/can/would build trust.
  4. Listen and ask exploratory questions to understand. Do not reframe what they say into what you wish they had said. Do not defend. Just listen.
  5. Thank them and let things settle.
  6. Finally, identify specifics and patterns amongst the people you’ve spoken too, and identify next steps.

More about emotional bank accounts

In our next blog post we’ll go deeper into the behaviours related to  “how you build emotional bank accounts” and share another practical exercise.

Practical rules and resources for writing quality emails

This might be difficult to imagine if you are under 35, but when I started my career in finance there was no email. All written communication was by letter, and if something was really urgent you might send a telex or a fax. Written communication was an investment – an investment in time and in labour.  The process of sending a letter was a slow one; dictating it, the secretary/typist typing it, checking it, finally signing it, putting it in an envelope and posting it. There was no word processing software – if you wanted to make changes to the content, you returned it to the typist who would retype it.  Again, this may be difficult to imagine, but in some ways this wasn’t such a bad thing and there was a plus side to the writer and the reader. Exactly because it was so time consuming and labour intensive, you thought carefully about what you wanted to say and how you were going to say it. You invested in the quality of your written communication.

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Today email communication, combined with documents being available online, has replaced the letter. Email beats snail mail letters. Approximately 280 billion emails are sent every day, and the average number of business emails sent each day is around 125 billion. In a recent workshop on Managing conflict in virtual teams one purchaser shared he had received 68 from a single person in one day!

Writing emails requires little effort and little thought– and obviously this is not always a good thing. Take a look at your inbox and ask yourself how many of these emails are unclear, unnecessary or simply unwanted. So why do we send so many? The simple answer is because we can. The process is simple, quick and easy. The challenge organizations face today is keeping the good stuff (quick, easy, simple) while eliminating the down sides.  This is made harder by our convictions that our writing is clear and understandable despite research showing we often overestimate this.

So if you want your mails to be clear, necessary and wanted then start with these 3 practical rules.

Write clear and understandable subject lines

It’s very likely that your reader is busy and that they have a lot of pulls on their time. Regardless of whether they are using a laptop, tablet or phone they will see your name/email address and your subject line. A clear and understandable subject line helps them prioritize your email, shows respect for their time, and builds trust. A clear subject line can also help catch your recipient’s attention and encourage them to deal with your mail quickly. Consider using BLUF (bottom line up front) in your subject line and also at the very start of your email.  Another simple tip that many virtual teams adopt is to  agree with your team members on a selection of limited key words (e.g Info, Action, Decision).  For more simple and practical advice plus a training activity on effective subject lines check out this post.
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Write it how you’d say it

Many of us (and I am guilty of this) use a different style when writing.  Some people opt for different words, more complicated expressions and generally take longer to say something in writing than we would face to face.

For example…. “It has been brought to my attention that the complexities of the user interface are making life difficult for some of our users. I’d like to suggest we discuss this together”. Flipping it around some people also write emails in note form, or an overly casual style e.g. “Heard user interface difficult 4 user. Talk?” Writing as you speak would give you  “Some of our users are finding the user interface difficult to use. Can we talk about this together?”

Writing in a clear and direct style definitely helps clarity.  Pay attention to tone, and as a reader try to give the writer the benefit of the doubt when you feel the tone is odd.

Take a moment before you hit send

In the days when we sent letters we took a lot of time to think about what we were writing. We planned and drafted and there were many opportunities to change what we wanted to say or how we wanted to say it. You could read your letter through before signing it and at that moment decide if you really wanted to send it.
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Today these inbuilt pauses don’t exist. You quickly read a mail, write the response and hit send. It is often done on the move and squeezed between other tasks, conversations etc.  That is generally OK for short, routine communications but for those that are longer, complicated or sensitive, type once but look twice is a good rule to follow.  Write your email, don’t add the address and put it in your drafts folder (or email it to yourself). Read it later and if it’s clear, understandable and unemotional – send it. For more help on writing emotionally neutral emails, see here.

 

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.

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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.

The Four Horsemen: criticism, blame and defensiveness in the workplace

Healthy working relationships are a must if you want an effective, efficient and enjoyable workplace. In our last blog post I introduced John Gottmann’s work on the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse ; criticizing & blaming, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling. We explored why tackling these 4 toxic behaviours is essential if you want to drive performance and deliver results. This blog post will dive deeper into the first 2 toxic behaviours. We’ll look at criticising & blame AND the defensiveness it creates. We’ll then explore why they happen, their impact and how both parties can change things for the better. Finally, we’ll look at what you as a manager can do when you run into these behaviours between team members.

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How to detoxify criticism & blaming in the workplace

As every manager knows, when things go seriously wrong it is important to discuss “What happened?” and to ask “How can thing be done differently next time?”. Being able to do this in a transparent, open and constructive manner is hugely powerful.  Jim Collins explores this with the “autopsy without blame” behaviour in his excellent bestseller Good to Great. For “autopsy without blame” to work, you need people to feel safe – you need to detoxify criticism & blaming in the workplace.

First of all, it is important to understand the difference between complaining and criticizing. A complaint addresses a specific failed action. A criticism includes a negative judgement about the other’s personality or character. Blaming is when you are abdicating responsibility and laying all fault and consequences at the other person’s feet. For example …

  • Complaint“Thierry, we are now behind schedule with the FAT.  I’m in a really difficult position with the client.”
  • Criticism“We are behind schedule with the FAT because you forgot again to update Max. You’re so disorganized.  Now I’m in a really difficult position with the client, Thierry.”
  • Blaming“This is all your fault … and now yet again we are behind schedule with the FAT. You didn’t update Max like you should have, and now I have to solve things and deal with the client … what do you think about that? This is all on you Thierry.”

Clearly criticizing and blaming aren’t helpful or productive behaviours – but if we are honest with ourselves we have all displayed them at some point.

Why do we do blame and/or criticize others?

We have made up our mind about what happened and want to either hold somebody responsible or change somebody else’s behaviour. We tell ourselves we are just “giving feedback”, “holding others accountable” or “saying it how it is”.

What happens when we do this?

The typical (and often unintended) impact is that the receiver becomes defensive (the second of the 4 Horsemen) and constructive communication stops. The receiver will probably be less open about what actually happened as they don’t feel safe – and possibly even become dishonest, holding information back or reframing things. Alternatively, the receiver feels threatened and fights back with criticism or blame. None of this is very productive or beneficial for a healthy professional relationship.

So, what can the “blamer” do differently?

To best avoid the above, you as the potential “blamer” need to…

  • take responsibility for your own feelings – and don’t lay them on the “receiver”.
  • be open and curious about what happened. Look to understand first.
  • turn your “complaint” into a request. Concentrate on finding solutions to the problem and how you can avoid it in the future rather than focusing on the past e.g. Instead of saying “You didn’t tell me about the review meeting”, say “I really don’t want to miss another one of those review meetings, could you send me the dates for the rest of the year?”
  • use “I” language and not “you” language e.g. “I have the impression that… / To me this comes across as…”.
  • examine how you can actively contribute to a solution – it is unlikely you are completely powerless, and you will feel better if you are aware of what you can change and control regardless of what the other does.
  • be future-oriented. Again, look to understand so things can be better in the future. Mapping out on a piece of paper what happened and contributing factors can be a powerful and safe tool.
  • apologize when appropriate – did you intend to “attack”? It could be you do not feel you were being critical or had a different intent, but what matters is how the other experienced it.
  • and at all costs avoid trying to hurt the other with sweeping personal attacks such as “What is wrong with you?” or “What exactly is your problem?”

What can the “blamed” do to limit the toxic impact?

And if you find yourself being criticized or blamed try to…

  • assume their intentions are good. They are not intentionally trying to hurt you, nor do they want you to “feel useless”. They just aren’t doing a very good job of communicating.
  • listen and try to find a reasonable request embedded in their “complaint”.
  • focus on your relationship. If they are “blaming”, what are their needs?
  • resist the urge to fight back – don’t get stuck in a “who is doing what to who” spiral.
  • stay calm, assertive and openly empathic.
  • try to refocus the discussion on the future. As above, mapping out what happened and contributing factors helps.
  • help them to refocus on your relationship.

How to detoxify defensiveness in the workplace

The toxic behaviour of “defensiveness” often follows feeling criticized or blamed. It is a natural fight/flight response and, just like criticism & blaming, defending is very much about the past rather than the future.  Defending can look like excuses, denying responsibility, or even blaming the other (“I’m not the problem here – you’re the problem!”). Defensiveness rarely helps move things forward.

Why do we do defend ourselves?

We defend to preserve our own sense of self.  We want to preserve our self-identity, our sense of integrity and of being right/fair/committed/competent etc.  We are protecting our ego from criticism and can swiftly start to behave like the “victim”.

What happens when we do this?

The unintended impact is that conflict either festers or escalates.  Either way, the relationship suffers. Being defensive also prevents the autopsy and understanding of the problem, which in turn prevents finding sustainable and realistic solutions.

So, what can the “defender” do differently?

  • Really listen …. really, really listen. Shut out unhelpful self-talk and use active listening skills.
  • Connected to the above, look to clarify what you think you are hearing.
  • Now look for the “10%” of truth. It is incredibly unlikely that the other person is making everything up. Ignore the criticism and focus on the issue that is being raised. Even if you disagree with what they are saying and how they are saying it, there is probably some truth in there somewhere which connects to you and your part in the situation.
  • And once you have considered your contribution to the problem, accept and embrace your personal responsibility for the problem. Everybody is wrong sometimes.
  • Acknowledge the impact that you contributed to. Apologize when appropriate. And to quote an overused cliché, own your mistake. You’ll be surprised how powerful and effective saying “I’ve listened to what you said and after thinking it over … you are right. This is my mistake.” can be. Sometimes tackling a situation head on can also quickly change the dynamics e.g. “I’ve listened to what you are saying [criticizer braces them self for denial and prepares to continue attack] and I completely agree with you.  I didn’t do this in the right or best way [criticizer surprised and silent]. Let’s talk and see what you and I need me to do differently next time [criticizer pulled into future orientated discussion].”

 And what can the “attacker” do to limit the toxic impact of defensiveness?

  • Explicitly and authentically clarify your intention. Work to help them understand that your intention is not to hurt them. You just want to have a tough conversation because this is important to you.
  • Make them feel safe if you can.
  • Again, really listen … talk less and listen more.
  • Clarify what is being heard by the other person.
  • Use “I” language and not “you” language.
  • Show respect.
  • And reassure them that their image or reputation is not at stake. You are focusing on this situation and not everything in the past, present and future.
  • Reconnect to trust (past and future).

What can a manager do when they see criticism, blame and defensiveness within their team?

To criticize and blame is human. We have all done it.  All of us have also been unhelpfully defensive. Differentiate between a team member who displays this behaviour now an again (which is human) and one who displays a pattern on an ongoing basis

  1. Create a safe environment and build trust by sharing personal experiences of being on both ends – focus on the immediate and longer-term impact of the behaviour on individuals, team and results. Be careful not to lecture, and instead share your perceptions and experiences.
  2. Refocus the team on what happens next time (and reinforce this future-orientation when somebody starts using past tenses).
  3. When you run into a pattern where an individual is regularly criticizing and blaming others, don’t be afraid to assert your power as a manager and deliver feedback on the destructive behaviour you are seeing. Then, keep an eye out for this behaviour continuing under the surface or transforming into contempt.

In the 3rd and final part of this series we’ll look at how you can tackle and overcome the remaining 2 “horsemen” – stonewalling and contempt.

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!

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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.

Virtual training v. face-to-face training: How does it compare?

James Culver is a partner at Target Training Gmbh and has 25 years of experience in delivering customized training solutions. His career has encompassed being a HR Training Manager, a Major in the US Army National Guard and a lecturer at the International School of Management. He’s also a talented percussionist and storyteller. In the final part of this series of blog posts on Virtual Training delivery, he answered the following questions…

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You have 25 years’ experience in training delivery. When did you start delivering virtual training?

James Since the 90s. In the United States we started very early with virtual delivery in the community college system. We often had remote sites of small groups of students who still wanted to take advantage of the kinds of courses that we would offer on the main campus, so we started delivering virtual training . When I started working with virtual training it was extremely expensive to do some of this work. Our system was basically a camera set-up and the professor or the trainer was just speaking to the camera. There was very little interaction available with the other sites and it was like TV school.

How would you say that virtual delivery compares with face-to-face delivery?

James There are probably two things to think about. One is the content that one delivers and the other is the context. By context I mean everything that surrounds the content. How things are being done, who is interacting with whom and how they are interacting – the richness of the communication. As far as content is concerned, the topic that’s covered, the information that’s shared, I’d say virtual delivery and face-to-face delivery compare quite favourably. In fact, the virtual platforms that we use at Target Training are tailor made for delivering lots of content in interesting ways. It’s very easy to add videos, recordings, to have whiteboards etc. For example, if we have content that is pre-prepared on a slide and made available to people, they can annotate it, they can put questions there etc. That’s really, really easy on a virtual platform.

What is harder most of the time is everything that we get from being in the same room as someone. Facial expression change, body language changes. We often don’t see or get that in a virtual environment, even with the market-leading systems. The challenge as a trainer is that we risk missing  a large chunk of the information that we would get from participants in a classic face-to-face training session. That is a major challenge. As a trainer in face-to-face training I have a feel for how things are going because I’m in the room. It’s much more difficult to have a feel for how things are going, when you’re in a virtual environment. And you need that “feel” so you can adjust and give the participants the best possible learning experience.

What are your workaround strategies for that?

James There are workaround strategies and through external and internal training and on-the-job experience our  trainers use them. One strategy is that you have to ask a lot of open and closed ‘check questions.’ Questions like “Are you with me?”, “Is that clear?”, “So what are the key points you’re taking from this?”, “What are your questions so far?” Experienced virtual trainers will ask those kinds of questions every 2 to 3 minutes.  Essentially, as a trainer you have a 2 to 3 minute time limit for your input before you ask a check question, and the check questions should be both open to the group and targeted at an individual too.

Which training themes lend themselves best to virtual delivery and which don’t?

James The themes that lend themselves best to virtual delivery are those that are more content focused – for example classic presentation skills training or presentations delivered virtually.  These types of training solutions focus on input, tips, do’s and don’ts, best practice sharing and then practice-feedback -practice – feedback etc.

Another theme that works very well for us when delivered virtually is virtual team training, whether it be working in virtual teams or leading virtual teams. By their very nature, virtual teams are dispersed so the virtual delivery format fits naturally. Plus, you are training them using the tools they need to master themselves. And of course, another benefit is if the training is for a specific virtual team the shared training experience strengthens the team itself.

The types of training solutions that are more challenging when delivered virtually are those where we are trying to change ourselves or others. Topics such as assertiveness or self-efficiency need to be thought through and developed carefully if they are going to be more than an information dump. Here the coaching aspect is far more important.

Finally, and perhaps surprisingly, management and leadership training can work really well when done virtually. Our Driving Performance solution is a good example of this. The secret here is to emphasize the bite-sized learning, provide additional resources outside the session e.g. flipped classrooms with relevant videos and articles, and provide opportunities for one-on-one conversations too.

More on virtual delivery

Please see the posts below, or start here.

 

Resolving conflicts – putting the 3 questions practice

Conflict is an inevitable part of any relationship and in a recent post I shared 3 questions to ask yourself when you find yourself in a conflict situation. I appreciate that life isn’t as linear as a blog post and “3 questions” can come across as overly simplistic.  So, based on a personal example, in this post I’d like to share what the questions look like in the real world.

The big (free) eBook of negotiations language

 

The background and the situation

I work as a conflict mediator for a major EU institution and recently I was asked to travel to an African country. I was asked to mediate between a governmental body on one side and a large group of individuals from a very poor community on the other side. I’d travelled all the way from Luxembourg and when I arrived I called a meeting with all the individuals from this local community. I wanted to find out what was going on, what was the conflict about and learn much more about the history behind this conflict, the peoples’ interests etc. In other words, I wanted to find out Q1. What was actually going on, right in this moment?

It was Tuesday morning, I’d travelled a long way and was quite tired.  I was not exactly used to living or even being in such an area like this – slums would be the word many westerners would use,  police and army check points with machine guns pointing my way, sitting in a hot taxi, being asked for bribes. Together all of these things were making me nervous. I was definitely on unfamiliar ground and slightly tense … and there was NO-ONE at the meeting. Well, there were two people, but I had expected a hundred plus! My thoughts were “Come on, you were the ones who brought this HUGE conflict to me and my organisation’s attention. You said you wished it solved so we came, and now you are not even here! If this lethargy is typical of the community, how can I be that surprised by the destructive behaviours from the local authorities?!”

I started to get irritated, angry, and I could feel it growing. So I consciously took a deep breath, tried to clear my head and ask myself two questions – Q1 What was going on?  and Q2 How did I feel?

Understanding yourself is the basis for resolving conflicts

The first thing that came to my mind was: “If I return to Europe and we have made no progress at all to try to solve this conflict my reputation and possibly my career will be in danger.”  In other words, I was experiencing fear. The second thing that went through my mind is “I am quite angry. I spent time coming down here, and you are not even here! What sort of respect, or lack of, is that?”

I felt I had answered the first and the second question but knew something was missing. How did I really feel about it? Well, in this moment I did fear for my personal career AND I thought I felt angry because I felt the locals were disrespecting me and my efforts. I asked myself the question again and tried to look more closely into myself.  Angry was how I was acting but when I thought things through more I realised the actual emotion for me, in this situation, was more like disappointment. I wanted to help and had expected more.

BUT, did the above reflections and emotions really give me a picture of what that little ‘meeting conflict’ was about? No, It didn’t!

The role of culture in conflicts

I looked again at what was going on… A meeting had been called. People were late, but then again, it’s Africa! They were running on ‘African time’ and I was running on ‘European time’.  So it wasn’t personal nor was it a sign or rejection towards the mediation. We were just from two different cultures, with different expectations when it comes to time and punctuality. As for the risk of my career. Well, that is a systemic risk. It is always there, but it has nothing to do with the punctuality conflict at hand. I had 2 people out of a 100 for a meeting. That was a conflict, because 2 out of a 100 wouldn’t be able to give me a viable and  complete picture of the conflict, nor could they be seen as representative of the local community which was required for the mediation to be effective. This conflict was however not at all related to a systemic risk back at home. As for the potential behaviour of the local authorities, that also wasn’t related to the conflict going on at this very moment. This was the norm.

My brain seemed to be working again …

Managing your 3 brains so they work together

Simply put our brain is split in three parts, the Neocortex (the reflective and analytical  part and also the newest part), the Limbic System  (the emotional part, experienced through our emotions) and the Brainstem (sometimes called the reptilian part which governs flight or flight instincts). By forcing myself to ask and re-ask the 2 questions (What is it actually going on, right in this moment?, and How do you feel in this moment?) I had effectively de-escalated myself. I had helped my struggling brain to work as a whole and not get stuck in the lower brain parts. I could calm myself down so I could engage effectively in the meeting … when it finally started.

By the way people did actually turn up. After one and a half hours!

That just left me with the last question … How was I going to turn the conflict?

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.

 

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 …
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 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.

The power of putting yourself in their shoes when influencing people

 

When we run seminars on influencing skills we typically start off by exploring a couple of fundamental questions – one of them being how do people feel about the idea of influencing others and being influenced?  Over the years we’ve had a surprising range of responses including “If I’m the manager why must I influence -people should just do what I say” to “influencing is manipulating” to “I’m open to new ideas and approaches – but our colleagues in the order management department aren’t!”. As a trainer these are always great places to start – opinions are on the table and we can openly discuss them. When we dig deeper these opinions often link into personal experiences of how people have influenced (or not). So how do people influence each other?

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The two influencing styles – pushing and pulling

Broadly speaking there are two approaches to influencing people – to push and to pull. When we “push” we are directive. We know what we want to see happen, where we want to go, what needs to be different etc. And when we “pull” we are looking for a joint agreement, for collaboration, discussion, commitment.  There are different pushing styles and pulling styles, plus strategies, tactics and skills to learn BUT neither approach is inherently wrong. Influencing and manipulating draw on the same skills but with different intents.  They both have pros and cons– and neither approach work without considering other key factors too.

Factors to consider when seeking to influence somebody

When we try to influence somebody it helps to take a step back and reflect on what we know.  What is the environment, the situation, the relationship and most importantly – what do you know about who you are trying to influence? How successful you’ll be always depends upon what you know about the other person. Examples of practical questions to ask yourself when trying to influence somebody include:

  • how do they see things?
  • what is their context?
  • how they communicate?
  • how do they like to be communicated with?
  • how do they take in information and make decisions?
  • what are their experiences – with me, with change, with the theme I’m talking about
  • what turns then on? What turns them off??
  • what do they want to happen, not want to happen and why?
  • what are their hopes and fears?
  • Who else has an influence upon them? and does this influence help or hinder?
  • What is in it for them? their colleagues? Their organization?

First seek to understand the other person – a transcultural truth

The more you understand the person you are seeking to influence the more effectively you can influence them. As dale Carnegie said in How to win friends and influence people “I love strawberries. But whenever I go fishing I bait my hook with worms. This is because fish like worms – not strawberries.”

In English we have expression like put yourself in their shoes, put yourself in their place, see the world through their eyes and walk a mile in their shoes.  And of course the idea of putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes is transcultural!  Germans say eine Meile in seinen Schuhen gehen, Italians mettersi nei miei panni, French se mettre à la place de quelqu’un … All cultures- whether it be Europe, the Americas, Africa or Asia and the Pacific have similar expressions.

Put simply, if you want to influence somebody then seek to understand where they are and who they are.  Start by understanding their situation, use your emotional and social intelligence and then adapt.

And if, like me, you’ve got the song “Walk a mile in my shoes” going around in your head now .. here it is.

 

Key tips and English phrases for your next “lessons learned” meeting

Life is about continuously learning. We sometimes learn from our mistakes, and we can also learn from our successes. This was first brought to my attention early on in my career. After the successful completion of a tough project, we had a meeting with our team leader where we were questioned on both what had we done well and how could the project have gone smoother. Today, in the international automotive company where I work as an InCorporate Trainer training business English, Lessons Learned meetings are an integral part of any project.

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What happens in a “lessons learned” meeting?

Like my team leader a long time ago, the project managers I train are convinced that, after any project, it is important to reflect on what could be learned from the experience. Annette, a manager who regularly uses me for on-the-job training explained that “For us the lessons learned meeting is especially important if the project was deemed to be a success. In this way, best practices are identified and flow into subsequent projects. And feelings of complacency can be avoided. At the same time, it is important to understand what stood in the way of a project being even more successful. It doesn’t really matter how successful a project is, there is always room for improvement.”

She then went on to explain how her project team has time to consider their performance as well as that of the team as a whole, And that in new teams, or established teams with new members, this was typically tough the first few times “I do see pushback from new colleagues for various reasons, despite how obviously important these meetings may be. Some people feel there is no reason to speak about the past since we cannot go back and change things. Other times people may feel that it isn’t good to talk too much about the past but to focus on the future. My goal as the team’s leader is to show that being open about one’s mistakes allows others to learn from them! In German this is not easy but when we all do it in English we see that things are harder ”

Use we to be tough on the mistakes, but not on the individuals

Most of us don’t enjoy talking about our mistakes, and when discussing mistakes it is important to be both accurate and respectful. One way to do this is by asking questions using the collective “we” rather than assigning specific blame. After all, you are a team!

For example:

  • If we hadn’t worked overtime, we wouldn’t have finished within the deadline.
  • We should have received that information earlier.
  • If we had known that from the beginning, we would have done things much differently
  • We wouldn’t have had so many problems if we had communicated better.
  • We could have saved a lot of money if we had identified the problem earlier.

Ask the right questions to ensure future improvement

Another way of discussing mistakes is to use hypotheticals. These sentences help to make things less personal and more abstract. With this style of question, a hypothetical cause and effect in the past is identified and applied to future situations; a “What if…” style of identifying areas for potential improvement.

  • What if we made some adjustments in our future labor projections?
  • What if we ensured more timely delivery for our next project? How could we fulfill such a promise?
  • What if we were informed sooner? How would that have affected the delivery date?
  • What if we could improve our internal communication structure? How are some ways we could do this?
  • What would have been the outcome if we had identified the problem sooner?

Use success as a driver for learning

As mentioned above, we can also learn from our successes. So what questions could we and should we be asking ourselves to ensure our successes continue on to future projects? Here are some useful examples for your next “lessons learned” meeting…

  • Was our success unique to this project, or is it something we could replicate for future projects?
  • What surprises did our team handle well, and how could we build off of that to prepare for other unexpected outcomes in the future?
  • How could we re-formulate our achieved goals to really push the team to perform better?
  • What value did our individual team members bring to the project?
  • How can we increase our level of commitment and urgency?

To summarize

Implementing lessons learned meetings into your projects leads to team members growing in confidence, and an increase in performance and outcomes. Being aware of the impact language can have will help, as can facilitation skills , and building trust and a willingness to allow constructive conflicts in your team. Finally, there’s an excellent lessons learned template on Brad Egeland’s blog. Cornell University has a good overview of approaches and questions to use,  and the University of Pennsylvania offers a lessons-learned checklists to help lead discussions.

If you have any recommendations or would like to tell us about your experiences with lessons learned meetings, please feel free to do so below in the comments section.

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DEEP accountability conversations – How to hold your colleagues accountable

According to Shelly Setzer of the Table Group, peer-to-peer accountability is “probably the toughest behavior to master on a team”. And as cross functional, matrix and virtual teams are becoming the norm, holding each other accountable to team goals and commitments is becoming even more challenging.. As a team member, you aren’t “the boss”, which means you don’t have the levers of reward and coercion and in some cases, your team may just be one among many for your team members. So how exactly do you approach conversations with colleagues who aren’t doing what they said they would do, without the benefit of formal power ? This is where the DEEP model comes in. The DEEP model is designed to help you have a clear approach to tough accountability conversations. It helps you and your team focus on solutions when accountability problems arise. These kinds of conversations are rarely easy, but with DEEP you can approach them with confidence.


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Requirements for the DEEP approach

You need clear commitments with the team (not tacit, unconfirmed agreements). Your colleagues need to trust your intentions and believe you have their and the projects interest at heart.  You need to foster a climate of creative conflict so everyone can be heard and see themselves reflected in team decisions. AND most of all, you need the courage to have what is often a tough conversation. Tough conversations are … tough. There are no tricks or techniques that make them less so, but here are 3 fundamentals to consider:

  • Turn up – Be present in the conversation, shut out unhelpful self-talk, keep control of yourself and focus on the conversation and the outcome.
  • Stay there – Show you are committed to the conversation. Don’t cut it short when things get awkward.
  • Speak out – say what you think and feel and take responsibility for your words.

The DEEP model, step by step

Step 1 – Describe the situation – What happened as I see it

This is a review of the commitment and shortfall without judgment.  Stick with “I” statements rather than “you” statements and try to describe the process that led to the commitment. If you can’t bring up the shortfall without becoming too emotional and judging your conversation partner, then ask yourself 2 questions:

  • Is the timing right?
  • Am I the right person to have this accountability conversation?

Step 2 – Explain the consequences – The result of what happened

The consequences of the shortfall you mention here should be concrete and observable. What actually happened because they didn’t meet their commitment is far more important than what could happen. Finding consequences your partner already cares about adds impact.

Step 3 -Explore options – What we can do about it

Generate at least three options when considering what to do. The “at least three” is very important – is helps you to avoid binary thinking and unnecessarily taking a position.  Brainstorming options together is critical.  The together points you both in the same direction, reaffirms the “team” and ensures you are on the same page before assessing your options, Make it a distinct step with a marker e.g. “Ok, together let’s now brainstorm what we can do” – this moves your conversation forward.

Step 4 – Problem solve together – What we will do about it

Decide and commit to new behaviors. It can be important to find ways you too can commit to the correction of the shortfall and the development of your relationship. Accountability for behaviors is tough so why should only one person carry the weight? Finding ways to help each other will not only help you to implement a solution, it will also help you to increase your level of trust.

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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

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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”.

 

Establishing effective email etiquette in your virtual teams

Email is still one of the most common communication channels within virtual teams – and it can cause friction.  Proactively tackling potential problems is key to successfully launching a virtual team – so during our face-to-face and online seminars with virtual team leaders we discuss expectations.  Naturally communication comes into this and time spent constructing a communication plan is always time well spent. As Jochen, a German project manager shared “It sounds so obvious we didn’t think about doing it – and now that we have I can already tell that we solved some real obstacles”.

Building a communication plan when you kick off your virtual team

A communication plan outlines which communication tools you’ll use and how you’ll use them.  For example “we’ll use Webex for our brainstorming and problem solving, we’ll use Hipster for chatting and sharing links, and we’ll use email for …”

Building the plan involves discussing approaches and expectations – and by talking through these expectations you can uncover and deal with different attitudes.  An example we often run into when working with multicultural virtual teams is whereas one team member may expect people to write back a polite “thank you for the mail” another may find this a waste of time – and even annoying!  And because email is still so pervasive we’ve seen that the majority of frustrations come from how people use (or don’t use) email. To get you started with your discussions, we’re sharing below a list of email commitments one of our clients agreed to (with their permission of course).

Email commitments from a software development team working virtually across 3 countries

  1. We’ll check our email at least every 3 hours.
  2. We don’t check emails when we are in meetings.
  3. We’ll use the phone and leave a message if something is truly time critical.
  4. We’ll write email subject lines that immediately explain what the email is about.
  5. We’ll use keywords like Action by XX or FYI in the titles
  6. We assume that if somebody is copied (cc) into an email they don’t need to respond.
  7. We will avoid using the “reply to all” unless everyone absolutely needs the information
  8. We’ll pick up the phone after 3 emails on one topic.
  9. We accept that emails sent from phones occasionally have typos.
  10. We expect that larger emails are well written.
  11. We don’t use CAPITALS and we don’t normally use colours unless something is critically important.
  12. We use bold to help people scan key information
  13. We always give people the benefit of the doubt if something can be understood in two ways.
  14. When we write an email in an emotional state we all agree we will save it – and come back to it the next day. And anyway a phone call is preferred by everyone.
  15. If we’re having interpersonal problems, we don’t use email – we’ll pick up the phone or use Skype for Business.
  16. We will review this list every 4th Skype meeting and remind ourselves that we all want to follow it.

The above list is strong and clear. It was built over the course of a facilitated 30 minute discussion and it works. We’re not advocating that you take it word for word  – but why not use this a as springboard for discussing your own team’s behaviours? Building common understanding up front will help your virtual team communicate smoothly and confidently.

And if you want to read more

Here’s a useful document with tips and language for effective communication across cultures.

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?

 

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.

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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!

Tools for teams

High-performing teams do not spring into existence simply by giving a bunch of people a common goal. Putting together a team is easy, but making them perform to the best of their abilities is something else altogether. Having a successful team is not something that will ‘fall into place’ either – no, not even if you really, really want it to… It takes time, dedication and understanding to build an effective team, and probably a few more things besides that. 

With that said, let’s look at some tools for teams…

Go to the eBook

Meet ARCI

You’ve heard of ARCI, right? There can be a slight affirmative murmur in the training room at this point, or no sound at all. Like so many other tools, ARCI can be implemented in a variety of business scenarios. ARCI can handle large scale scenarios, as well as the smallest process. By taking a structured approach like ARCI to role assignment, you can identify who’ll be doing what and what not on each team task. If done (and followed) correctly, it minimizes the risk of overlaps and confusions. Without further ado, ARCI identifies who is:

  • Accountable – this person is the “owner” of the work. He or she must sign off or approve when the task, objective or decision is complete. This person must make sure that responsibilities are assigned in the ARCI matrix for all related activities. There is only one person accountable.
  • Responsible – these people are the “doers” of the work. They must complete the task or objective or make the decision. Several people can be jointly responsible.
  • Consulted – these are the people who need to give input before the work can be done and signed-off on. These people are “in the loop” and active participants in a task.
  • Informed – these people need updates on progress or decision, but they do not need to be formally consulted, nor do they contribute directly to the task or decision.

Here’s an example.

ROLE AROLE BROLE CROLE D
TASK 1ARCI
TASK 2ARIC
TASK 3CIAR

ARCI is one of a mountain of tools that helps you define your team. But there are others…

What type of learner are you?

Do you colour code and highlight your way through documents, or do you write notations and questions as you read? Do you prefer graphics and visuals to reinforce learning? Or do you prefer to use tunes or rhymes as mnemonic devices to remember information? Do you learn more effectively via self-study, or via group activity?

The answers to these questions matter greatly in a training environment but they are also relevant in successful teams. Long instructional emails or manuals are difficult to digest for an auditory or visual learner. Or, consider the differences between someone who learns by trial and error and someone who learns from detailed how-to examples.

What type of team member are you?

Belbin Team Type Inventory

An interesting place to start learning more how each team member can contribute to the team, is by looking at the Belbin team type inventory. The Belbin identifies nine different team roles. Each role has strengths and weaknesses, and, keeping personal preferences in mind, tasks can be distributed according to the preferred team role rather than by company hierarchy, technical skills, position or experience.

Here’s a short overview of Belbin’s 9 team roles. For a more complete description, including the typical strengths and weaknesses of each role, see here.

Resource investigator

They provide inside knowledge on the opposition and made sure that the team’s idea will carry to the outside world.

Teamworker

Helps the team to gel, using their versatility to identify the work required and complete it on behalf of the team.

Co-ordinator

Needed to focus on the team’s objectives, draw out team members and delegate work appropriately

Plant

Tends to be highly creative and good at solving problems in unconventional ways.

Monitor Evaluator

Provides a logical eye, making impartial judgements where required and weighs up the team’s options in a dispassionate way.

Specialist

Brings in-depth knowledge of a key area to the team.

Shaper

Provides the necessary drive to ensure that the team keep moving and do not lose focus or momentum.

Implementer

Needed to plan a workable strategy and carry it out as efficiently as possible.

Completer Finisher

Most effectively used at the end of tasks to polish and scrutinise the work for errors, subjecting it to the highest standards of quality control.

Read more about Belbin here.

What is your team’s type?

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Years and years of study and research went into the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). I will not be able to do it justice with this short summary. (Start here, if you want to learn more about MBTI. If you are interested in creating an MBTI profile, keep in mind that the MBTI is a three step process, and should be performed by a certified MBTI practitioner.)

“If people differ systematically in what they perceive and in how they reach conclusions, then it is only reasonable for them to differ correspondingly in their interests, reactions, values, motivations, and skills.”

C. G. Jung

The combined individual profiles of team members can be translated into a team type indicator. Here’s an example of a team with the team identity ESTJ. The first graphic explains the combined strengths of the team members – these are the behaviours that come naturally to them.

MBTIteamprofile

 

And then there’s the flipside. The same team identifies as being INFP. This graphic shows the areas this team needs to be aware of because its team members don’t naturally exhibit them.

MBTIteamprofileflipside

Whereas Belbin’s focus is on the balance of team roles and tasking, the MBTI profile is about raising awareness of each other’s preferences and understanding their preferred way of working and communicating. The emphasis is on preferred. Many factors can influence someone’s behaviour in business. It’s not as simple as placing someone in a box of type, or finding the right balance of different types in your team. There is no right balance of type. Every team can work, if you’re interested in knowing who you’re working with.

A short personal disclaimer

I’m not certified in Belbin or MBTI, but some of my colleagues are. They can tell you much, much more, if the mighty Internet doesn’t give you all the answers. I’m not an expert on any of these tools, but I have found them very useful in the various teams I have worked in.

 

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.

The elements of effective teams

In order to be effective your team needs a number of key elements to be present. Elements such as clarity of purpose, shared awareness of roles and constructive communication. These elements are not difficult to achieve but they do take focus and effort. Take a moment and ask yourself two simple questions – How many teams are you currently part of?  And how effective are these teams?  The first question is easy, but the second? Working in teams is so common for many of us that we just don’t take the time to reflect on how effectively we are actually performing – and so we miss an opportunity to develop ourselves, our team and our impact on our organization’s goals. Researchers have shown over and over again, that these elements are essential for effective teams. Businesses which recognize their importance and work at maintaining them, are rewarded with teams that consistently perform and achieve their targets. Ignoring them leads to unachieved goals, wasted potential and demotivated staff.

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What does an effective team look like?

Here’s a simple tool we use when running workshops with existing teams. Some of these questions are hopefully familiar, but too often we see goal-oriented teams typically neglect the softer aspects explored by questions 8-10. Select one team of which you are currently a member.  Now ask yourself the following questions, rating on a 1 to 5 scale, with 1 being low and 5 being high:

  1. Do we have a clearly defined purpose?
  2. Are our roles and responsibilities well-defined, understood and followed?
  3. Do we have the tools and resources we need to achieve our objectives?
  4. Do we listen to each other?
  5. Do we all actively participate in problem solving?
  6. Do we work constructively through conflict?
  7. Does our team leader approve of our work, providing relevant and specific feedback on whether we are meeting expectations?
  8. Do we work and learn together?
  9. Do we take time out to assess our progress?
  10. Would we work together on another team?

Your score

Effective teams should be expecting to score 40+.  Outstanding teams score 45+.  What did you score? And what are you going to do now? Why not check out Target Training’s seminar on building effective teams?  Click here for more information.

Working with Chinese colleagues and suppliers

Yes is one of the most simple words to understand in the English language. Or is it?

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VT posterYes is generally perceived as a positive response, and when you’re asking for something in business it’s normally the answer you’re hoping for. My father thought this when he started an importing company in China. On his first few trips to the country he returned having already mentally calculated the profits he was set to make from the customized, high quality parts they had supposedly agreed to put together within weeks for him. The only problem was he didn’t understand the word ‘yes’ like the Chinese did.

Fast forward to now, years later, and he knows that ‘yes’ means something very different in China. When saying ‘yes’, Chinese colleagues only mean that they are listening to you, rather than that your request will be fulfilled or that you have been completely understood. Many problems stemmed from this simple misunderstanding and while now there is a good business relationship between my father and his suppliers, much time was wasted getting to such a point. Artist Yang Liu summed up many of the big differences between Chinese and German cultures in her artwork of the two against one another, from little things like attitudes to standing in a line to how the counterparts view their bosses.

As an inhouse business English trainer in Stuttgart I provide on-the-job support to my client, a department of global purchasers. During the last months , I have come across many participants having to learn the hard way how to get around countless misunderstandings. From our sessions on cultural competence in China, my purchasing participants have shared experiences and identified five common lessons which speed up the process of making a business relationship with a Chinese colleague prosperous.

The group comes first

Chinese colleagues are not interested in individual gains nearly as much as helping the community around them. It’s what the culture is built on and giving individual gains for doing work will not be as effective as creating a positive and motivating team.

The importance of the leader

The boss is highly valued in China, much more so than in Germany. When a problem is getting to a point where it doesn’t seem possible to solve it, get your superior involved a lot earlier than if you were dealing with a colleague from the same culture or at least bring up the possibility in discussions.

They don’t solve problems like you

Whether it’s struggling to say no when they can’t do something, or insisting that everything is ok when it’s not, the Chinese don’t like to directly discuss and deal with a problem or talk about their shortcomings. Learning some ways to politely ask what the problem is, or getting them to take you through their schedule and deciding for yourself if there is a problem, will give better results than simply asking ‘is everything ok?’.

They don’t challenge, they listen

Chinese colleagues will often treat meetings as more of a lecture than a chance to swap ideas and air their grievances, particularly if the boss is present. On a recent trip to China, a translator summed it up well for me in her comparison of our school systems. “For us, we are told what to know and we don’t question it. For you, discussion is encouraged and you are taught to challenge.” Push them to express themselves and know that they’re not entirely comfortable doing it.

They value pleasantries

The Germans are known for seeing small talk as inefficient, but if you want a Chinese colleague to do you a favour you would be a lot better off adding some polite phrasing and extra niceties. It makes them feel as if the workplace is more harmonious and while being direct is more efficient, when they give excuses rather than results such efficiency is out the window.

Phrases for dealing with the Chinese culture

Direct English

English that is better for Chinese dealings
I think you did this wrong. Perhaps next time we could try it like this instead?
You need to do this by Wednesday. If you could do this by next Wednesday, the team can achieve their results.
I will have to get the boss involved if you don’t agree to a solution. Is this a problem that we can solve ourselves or do you think our superiors should give us assistance?
Do you understand? Could you summarise for me what you need to do (to make sure we’re on the same page)?
Are there any problems with this? Please let me know if there are any ways that you can do this more efficiently, because that would really help the team.
Did you get everything finished today? What did you finish today?

Do you want to learn more about the Chinese culture?

If you have any tips or comments on dealing with the Chinese, I’d love to hear them (and so would my participants). Please leave your comments below.