Monday, November 30, 2009

Implementing Change Strategies.

Post 377 - Talking about healthcare over the weekend, I was moved to hope that Congress gives up on the current bills, all of which are disasters, then drafts a new one and implements it considering the following guidelines. All the effort and energy expended in developing and approving a strategy for change is to no avail if the results aren’t implemented effectively. Experience suggests using the following guidelines:

• If possible, introduce changes on a small prototype scale first, with the understanding they’ll be expanded later on. The intent is not to “see if they work” but rather to learn how to make them work effectively.

• Sites for prototypes should be chosen to provide the best opportunities for learning, rather than presenting the greatest challenge to the concepts involved.

• Treat mistakes as opportunities for learning, not as experiences to punish or ignore. Make sure the learning loop gets closed quickly while the experiences are still fresh in people’s minds.

• Deal with emerging issues promptly. Don’t allow dissatisfaction and frustration to reign unchecked. Some frustration is helpful as a prelude to learning, but it's easily overdone.

• Provide formal training on an “as needed“ basis during the implementation phase, rather than trying to get it over with all at once in the beginning. Skills and concepts can be acquired more effectively when there’s some previous context in which to assess their usefulness.

• Design the training around specific, identified needs rather than using existing pre-packaged programs. The focus of the training should be developmental rather than remedial, as people tend to embrace the former while resisting the latter.

• When replacing people who leave, retire or are promoted, look to appoint or hire those who possess the personal philosophies and capabilities called for by the change initiative.

• Provide constant high-visibility feedback on what’s going right. Avoid publicizing only problems and failures. Create special events to celebrate specific achievements.

• Evaluate progress from the beginning of the implementation and don’t be afraid to introduce corrections if change elements aren't working out as planned.

• Don’t over-structure the details of implementation since doing so limits opportunities for initiative and learning by those involved. It also incorrectly presupposes that every detail can be planned in advance.

• If the change moves too quickly, many people will be left behind. As a result, they’ll be unsure about the purpose and detail of what’s likely to be implemented and unable to frame appropriate questions to express their concerns.

• People are, at times, resistors as well as initiators of change. They’re involved on both sides of the process of adjusting to change. Resistance by itself is neither good nor bad. It may be based on good reasons or it may not. Resistance, like pain, doesn’t tell what’s wrong, only that something is probably wrong. It’s always a signal that further inquiry is advisable.

• Try to reframe “I don’t want to change…” into, “It won’t work for me because…”

A final thought from Sarah Ban Breatnach: “Lasting change doesn’t happen overnight. Lasting change happens in infinitesimal increments; a day, an hour, a minute, a heartbeat at a time.”

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Starfish, a poem by Eleanor Lerman.

Post 376 - This is a very short week with Thanksgiving just about upon us. I wish you all a very safe and very happy holiday. I'm taking some time off to give thanks with my family and this blog will resume posting on Monday next.

Eleanor Lerman was raised in the Bronx, and has lived in New York City all her life. Her first book of poetry, Armed Love, was published in 1973 when she was twenty-one and was nominated for a National Book Award. Reacting to the backlash against that book, which looked very frankly at sexuality and popular culture, she didn't write another book of poems for 25 years. When she finally published Our Post-Soviet History Unfolds, it was awarded the 2006 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets for the year's most outstanding book of poetry.

Commenting on her own work, Lerman says, "I can't stop writing. But it's a lot less crazy than it was when I was younger. I used to feel that if I didn't write every day, I was falling down on the job. And I never edited anything - I just spewed it out, and there it was. Good or bad, it was finished as soon as it was written. I'm more thoughtful now - I hope! - about what I'm doing, and I've become - again, there's a big element of hope here - a good editor of my own work. I don't think that because I wrote something, it's just fine as is. Now, writing a poem or a story is the beginning of the process; there's usually some work to be done to fine-tune the piece."

Starfish by Eleanor Lerman.

This is what life does. It lets you walk up to
the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a
stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have
your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman
down beside you at the counter who say, Last night,
the channel was full of starfish. And you wonder,
is this a message, finally, or just another day?

Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the
pond, where whole generations of biological
processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds
speak to you of the natural world: they whisper,
they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old
enough to appreciate the moment? Too old?
There is movement beneath the water, but it
may be nothing. There may be nothing going on.

And then life suggests that you remember the
years you ran around, the years you developed
a shocking lifestyle, advocated careless abandon,
owned a chilly heart. Upon reflection, you are
genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have
become. And then life lets you go home to think
about all this. Which you do, for quite a long time.

Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that
you are lucky. (It won’t give you smart or brave,
so you’ll have to settle for lucky.) Because you
were born at a good time. Because you were able
to listen when people spoke to you. Because you
stopped when you should have and started again.

So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And
then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland,
while outside, the starfish drift through the channel,
with smiles on their starry faces as they head
out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Creating a family philosophy, continued.

Post 375 - Continuing on with the family philosophy posted yesterday, we as a family also agreed on some guidelines for several areas that were increasingly contentious about that time. I personally found this quite helpful as I hadn't previously developed a rational argument for why I didn't agree with some of the practices and preferences that were beginning to show up in our lives. As a result, I tended to adopt the Princess Leia approach to setting limits - "... from now on you'll do as I say, okay?" which wasn't always terribly effective.

So we developed these agreements about how activities and behaviors in the following three areas should conform to the guidelines and limits listed below:

• Television.

Viewing should, in general, not exceed two hours at a time, otherwise undue mental fatigue can result. In addition, prolonged exposure to a passive media discourages personal interaction with others, and lessens individual initiative. The discontinuous and fragmented format of most network programming weakens the ability to concentrate without distraction for extended periods of time.

Programs that reflect an undue preoccupation with physical violence should be avoided as regular viewing material. Repeated exposure to violence desensitizes the viewer, making higher levels of violence more acceptable in the future. It also distorts perceptions about opportunities for resolving conflict in ways that treat people's differences with dignity and respect.

• Clothes and Appearance.

How we dress reflects not only our own sense of style and individuality, but also indicates how we see ourselves in relation to other individuals and groups in our society. Our choice of clothing, coiffure and adornment are very personal ways of expressing who we are and how we feel. However, extreme or exaggerated forms of personal appearance, which give offense to others, should be avoided. Clothing and appearance should always be clean, modest, and in good taste.

• Shared Activities.

Since each individual member of the family has their own friends and interests, they will frequently be engaged with others in events that do not directly involve other family members. These events should be scheduled, however, taking into account the need for members of the family to spend time together engaged in joint activities.

Sharing common interests and activities allows us to deepen our knowledge and respect for one another, thus helping us grow together in love and mutual understanding. By exposing our strengths and weaknesses in an atmosphere of trust and respect, we help each other define who we are. This self-knowledge leads to an inner confidence that is essential if we are to develop and sustain healthy lasting relationships with other people.

I'm not saying that we always lived up to these value and agreements, but we did try more diligently after we developed and discussed the ideas illustrated above. Perhaps Marcus Aurelius was right many years ago when he wrote, "The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts … take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and a reasonable nature."

Monday, November 23, 2009

How to create a family philosophy.

Post 374 - While clearing out old files over the weekend, I found some "guiding principles" we developed as a family when the kids were about 10 and 12 years old.
I was doing a lot of consulting work about that time helping startups get off the ground successfully. A key part of this involved working with top management groups to create a set of guidelines for how they'd set up, organize and run their businesses. So, I though why not introduce these same ideas to developing our family! I think, in retrospect, it had quite a powerful impact on our lives by bringing us all closer together and providing a rationale for clarifying our aspirations and defining our accountabilities. So, I share it here to inform others who see value in trying something similar. It started with a list of key aspirational behaviors:

We want members of our family to be:
- Honest and Trustworthy
- Industrious and Hard Working
- Civilized and Mannered
- Considerate and Compassionate
- Disciplined and Responsible
- Religious and Respectful
- Loving and Giving.

If we all try to live according to these values, we'll be healthy, growing, confident members of society, proud of ourselves and able to provide leadership to others.

For this to happen, I believe we must treat each other in a way that's consistent with the following guidelines:

• We must openly share our experiences and feelings with each other..

• We must acknowledge our uniqueness, respecting our separate needs and aspirations.

• We must make the effort to really listen to one another, and provide helpful and supportive feedback rather than just criticism and blame.

• We must react to problem situations with humor rather than anger.

• We must "take a hike" whenever people "short-circuit."

• We must share equally the responsibilities of managing how we live together.

More tomorrow.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A love poem by Christopher Brennan

Post 373 - John Christopher Brennan was born in Sydney, NSW, in 1870 and educated in the classics at the University of Sydney. Having spent time in Berlin on a traveling scholarship, he returned home to become a library cataloger and a part time lecturer. He was appointed an associate professor of German and comparative literature at the University of Sydney in 1920. He was dismissed from this post in 1925 following a divorce, because of increasing drunkenness and his unconventional life-style. He then lived in poverty for some years before his death from cancer in 1932.

Brennan's highly personal verse was never very popular with the Australian public but was highly regarded by critics and fellow poets for its vitality and sincerity. For many years, much of his work was virtually unobtainable, having originally been produced in small editions or circulated privately. A collected edition in 1958 helped rescue his reputation from obscurity. In remembrance, the Fellowship of Australian Writers in 1976 established the Christopher Brennan Award (formerly known as the Robert Frost Prize) in the form of a bronze plaque which is presented annually to an Australian poet recognizing a lifetime achievement in poetry of "sustained quality and distinction."

Because She Would Ask Me Why I Love Her by Christopher Brennan.

If questioning would make us wise
No eyes would ever gaze in eyes;
If all our tale were told in speech
No mouths would wander each to each.

Were spirits free from mortal mesh
And love not bound in hearts of flesh
No aching breasts would yearn to meet
And find their ecstasy complete.

For who is there that lives and knows
The secret powers by which he grows?
Were knowledge all, what were our need
To thrill and faint and sweetly bleed?

Then seek not, sweet, the "If" and "Why"
I love you now until I die.
For I must love because I live
And life in me is what you give.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

How to Stay Close to Your Significant Other.

Post 372 - "Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, "You owe me." Look what happens with a love like that, it lights the whole sky." ~ Hafez, (the most celebrated of the Persian poets - he lived from 1315 to 1390).

Having a spouse, a partner or a significant other is one of the most important relationships most of us ever have in life. Yet it's easy to grow apart, even when you’re living together. Here are some tips from the experts to help you stay close:

- Listen.
Listening, really listening, increases trust and decreases conflict, resulting in a more satisfying partnership. While this may sound simple, it requires more than being in the same room while your significant other is talking to you. Show that you care by making eye contact, turning off the television, giving your undivided attention, and following up on what you hear. This is especially important if your partner is upset. When you listen carefully, you’re more likely to understand what the issue is and then be able to find a way to help.

- Keep focusing on the positive.
When you first meet, you pay attention to all the things you like about the other person. As time goes on, however, you begin to take them for granted and your focus shifts instead to the things that bother you. If the relationship becomes more negative than positive, you’ll end up breaking up. The solution is to make a conscious effort to stay focused on the things you like. Every partner has many good qualities, as well as things that drive you crazy. So pay attention to the positives and learn to appreciate them. Even write them down occasionally so you won’t forget them.

- Don’t be a nag.
Nagging only creates tension, plus it usually gets you nowhere because your partner will tune you out. If someone isn't giving you what you want, think about what you’re doing instead. Have a dialogue where instead of saying what you don't like, say what you’d prefer. Suggest some alternatives. And always balance your criticisms with lots of positive feedback. That way, you take the edge off your remarks as you express appreciation for your partner's good qualities.

- Spend more time together.
Put "couples time" on your calendar to reinforce your sense of dedication and commitment to each other. Make these private times special by not including others. But don't just limit your interaction to designated couples time. Make time to enjoy each other's company first thing in the morning, at the end of the workday, and just before you go to bed. Use those times to talk about positive things. Make a special effort to greet each other at the end of the day. If you're home first, stop what you're doing when your partner arrives and spend a few moments together. Act like the other person is really important to you, and don’t just treat them like they’re the postman delivering the mail.

- Touch each other often.
In any deep relationship, physical communication is as important as emotional communication. It helps to relieve tension and shows your partner that you care. Go out of your way to show affection, and always sleep in the same bed together. Just assume you're going to have sex every night. It's really hard to fight if you're looking forward to having great sex!

- Own your relationship.
This means accepting responsibility for creating your own experience. You choose the attitudes that you bring into the relationship, and you choose how you act and how you react to your partner in the relationship.

- Accept your partner.
The need for acceptance is so profound that that most issues that cause conflict in a relationship ultimately come down to one or both partners feeling rejected - and, in turn, wanting to feel accepted.

- Promote their self-esteem.
Show your significant other that they’re loved and accepted simply because they exist. Everyone needs to get the message that they’re worthy of love (even if they sometimes behave badly) from the most important person in their life,

So, to summarize all of the above:
- give love with no strings attached,
- show acceptance through your daily expressions of affection, care and concern,
- spend time playing, working and relaxing together,
- tell them often, "I like what you did / said," and "I love you."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How to maintain a healthy relationship.

Post 371 - According to relationship guru, Denis Waitley, “It’s not what I think that counts, nor is it what you think that counts. It’s what I think you think and what you think I think that really counts.”

When you disagree with someone close to you, it doesn’t have to mean you don’t like them. A healthy relationship doesn't require being in total agreement. Rather, it means agreeing to look in the same direction together. If you both take care to fight fair, you'll replace emotional shouting matches with caring problem-solving conversations. Here are some tips about how to proceed:

- Healthy relationships mean accepting people as they are and not trying to change them. Keep your expectations realistic. No one can be everything you might want them to be all the time.

- When you have a problem, agree on a time to talk about it together. Ask, "When is a good time to talk with you about something that's bothering me?" And avoid having tough conversations when you're feeling angry or tired.

- Talk with each other. This means making the time to do this and really being there when you do. Don’t plan what to say next while you’re listening. And don’t interrupt. Listen with your heart as well as your ears, so you pick up any emotional messages. Ask friendly and appropriate questions if you think you've missed the point. Show your interest by asking for opinions as well.

- Attack the problem, not the other person. Open sensitive conversations with "I" statements; talk about how you're struggling with the problem. Don’t open with "you" statements; avoid blaming the other person for your thoughts and feelings. Don’t criticize. Blame has no place in a healthy relationship.

- Let others speak for themselves - don’t assign feelings or motives to what they say. Healthy relationships recognize each person’s right to explain themselves.

- Don’t use your current concern as a reason to jump into everything else that's bothering you. Stay focused and on topic. Don’t use ammunition from the past to add fuel to the fire that you're now trying to put out.

- Be generous in sharing information about yourself, but don’t overwhelm the other person with too much, too soon.

- Be prepared to say "I’m sorry" when you’re wrong. This usually goes a long way toward making things right again. People in healthy relationships are willing to admit their mistakes.

- Don’t assume things. When you feel close to someone, it’s easy to think you know how they think and feel. However, in my experience, you never know why things are the way they are. Healthy relationships check things out. Never assume that what’s obvious to you is obvious to others. And to assume you know what’s best for another is insulting.

- Don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Talk with someone you trust who can help you find resolution — like your close friends, your family, your minister, or even your parents.

- A totally happy ending for everyone may not always be possible. Be prepared to compromise or to disagree about some things. Healthy relationships don’t demand conformity or perfect agreement. Be flexible.

- Don’t hold grudges - they just drain your energy. Studies show that the more you see the best in others, the healthier your relationships become. So, let go of past hurts and misunderstandings.

- The challenge is to make everyone a winner. Relationships with winners and losers don’t last. Healthy relationships are between winners who are prepared to work at solving their problems together.

- Healthy relationships are trustworthy, so make sure you're dependable. If you make plans with someone, follow through as agreed. If you've agreed to an assignment deadline, meet it. If you take on a responsibility, complete it.

- You can always leave a relationship. While loyalty is very important, healthy relationships focus on the now, not some hoped-for future development.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

When and how to talk tough to others.

Post 370 - Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen in Difficult Conversations point out that every conversation includes facts - the date you were born, how much you pay for your mortgage - that have clear, right and wrong answers. Questions where information on these facts is easily available seldom cause difficult exchanges. Tough conversations are much more likely about issues where people can have different values, preferences, judgments and interpretations. When this is the case, strong feelings and identity issues are easily triggered.

For example, you probably won’t have a tough conversation about how much you actually pay for life insurance. But things can get more complicated in a hurry when you discuss whether you have “enough” insurance coverage. Reasonable people have different comfort levels with risk and different values around responsibility. Each party feels that there’s a right answer to this, but in reality there isn’t.

Whenever a question with a right or wrong answer comes up in a tough conversation, the real issue is almost always something else that has to do with meaning, feelings or identity. Just insisting that you’re right won’t get you very far when others with differing opinions believe they’re right as well. Instead, try understanding why they think the way they do while explaining as clearly as you can why you believe what you believe and why you feel what you feel. You can be committed to your own perspective while working to understand that of others. Understanding and conviction aren’t mutually exclusive,

Sometimes, people really can have bad intentions towards you. They’re trying to harass you, or steal your job, or your spouse, or whatever. Even if you suspect this is true, start by giving them the benefit of the doubt, “I don’t know whether you know this, but I felt very frustrated when you took all the credit for ---- in today’s meeting. I expected you to say we both contributed equally.” If they’ve made a mistake, now you’ve brought it to their attention without accusing them. They can then change their behavior to make everything OK.

However, if they are actually out to get you, they now know that you’re aware of this. So if they do it again, you can call them on it right away, “I wonder if you’re doing this on purpose? If that’s the case, we have a real problem here that we need to resolve right away.”

Save your tough conversations for issues or relationships that are important to you. This doesn’t mean you have to like the other party. It may just mean your relationship with them has a big impact on your well-being - you need to have a good working relationship with your ex for the sake of the kids - or the relationship is important to someone else you care about - such as when your wife feels it’s important that you get along with her mother.

And always consider you’re relationship with yourself as well. Your self-esteem and identity depend on how diligent you are in speaking up for yourself.

For those of you in relationships with children, I recommend the following two books to help you learn to become better parents:

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk,
by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish


Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too,
also by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish.

Monday, November 16, 2009

How to have more productive conversations.

Post 369 - The key to having more productive conversations is not what the other person does as much as what you do differently yourself. You're the one who has to take the initiative to improve. By acting differently, you'll begin to change the patterns of communication with the other party and provoke different responses in them as well. Over time, you'll both end up changing how you deal with each other, in the process, develop a more resilient relationship.

Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen in their excellent book, Difficult Conversations; How to discuss what matters most, point out that there are often three conversations going on at the same time. It helps to understand what they are so you can then decouple and manage them.

First, there’s the What Happened Conversation.
Here, we often get stuck because we think our story is "right" while their story is "wrong." In practice, there's almost always some reasonable basis for both sides' stories. So it makes more sense to explore each other's stories instead of attacking theirs and defending ours.

We also often demonize the intentions of others while sanitizing our own. If they did something that hurt me, it was because they meant to. If I did something that hurt them, it was an unintended consequence because I had good intentions, etc. So, try to separate intent and impact.

With a few exceptions, it's rarely helpful to blame each other for whatever went wrong. It's more helpful to explore what each party contributed to the issue at hand.

Secondly, there’s the Feeling Conversation.
Our feelings often tend to leak into our conversations in unproductive ways. So to lessen the negative effects this produces, make an effort to have both parties identify, acknowledge and discuss how they feel.

Thirdly, there’s the Identity Conversation.
Sometimes, conversations are difficult because they threaten some aspect of our identity. We see ourselves as truthful, generous and fair, so anything that challenges that picture upsets us. Here, we need to revisit what's at stake for us and broaden our picture of who we are.

The real challenge in all this is to create a conversation where both parties can share, understand, learn and move on. Here are some helpful reminders:

- Start by describing what happened in a way that includes the other person, such as, “I’ve noticed we have a recurring argument where I see things this way and you see them that way. I’d like to talk about why that happens.” Use this to invite them to have a conversation with you.

- Pay attention to the old maxim: Listen first to understand, then to be understood. Look to find the pieces of the puzzle that you don’t have.

- Speak for yourself. Don’t speak for the other party or assume you know what they’re thinking or feeling.

- Take the lead in problem solving. Name troublesome dynamics in the conversation as they happen. Suggest better ways of talking to each other. Move to problem solving together after you’ve learned about their story. Remember it said together - don’t impose this on the other person.

More tomorrow.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Please Fire Me, a poem by Deborah Garrison.

Post 36- - Deborah Garrison was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1965. She earned her bachelor's degree in creative writing from Brown University and subsequently earned her master's degree in Literature from New York University. In 1986, she joined the staff of The New Yorker where she worked for the next fifteen years, ultimately becoming the senior non-fiction editor. She's currently the poetry editor at Alfred A. Knopf and a senior editor at Pantheon Books. She lives in Montclair, New Jersey.

Garrison says, “I have a nine-year old, a six-year old and an almost-five-year old, and I just can't convince myself it's a priority to close myself off from them and spend time alone in a room, which is what I need in order to write. I'm just a person living her life, and once in a while I'm struck by something - a detail, a moment - and this might become a poem. Sometimes while I'm commuting into the city, I scribble ideas or images in a notebook. I also keep a notebook by my bed, and occasionally I jot something down just before I fall asleep or when I wake up in the middle of the night and have an idea. These notes develop into poems eventually, but I write so infrequently that it might be a couple of months before this happens. I'm someone who is seduced by life, and my life is very full. Writing poetry fits into the interstices. One of the great things about poetry, though, is that there’s no pressure to make a living from it. So I'm really in no hurry to write.”

Please Fire Me by Deborah Garrison

Here comes another alpha male,
and all the other alphas
are snorting and pawing,
kicking up puffs of acrid dust

while the silly little hens
clatter back and forth
on quivering claws and raise
a titter about the fuss.

Here comes another alpha male --
a man's man, a dealmaker,
holds tanks of liquor,
charms them pantsless at lunch:

I've never been sicker.
Do I have to stare into his eyes
and sympathize? If I want my job
I do. Well I think I'm through

with the working world,
through with warming eggs
and being Zenlike in my detachment
from all things Ego.

I'd like to go
somewhere else entirely,
and I don't mean

Thursday, November 12, 2009

How to deal with difficult people.

Post 367 - Relations at work often involve dealing with "difficult people." When this happens, start by reframing the issue: It's not the difficult person that's the problem - it's their difficult behavior.

Remember, it takes two to tango: If you stay away from blaming someone who's being difficult, you can take control of the situation. What happens after the "first shot" will be determined by your reaction to it. If people are difficult, it's usually because they're rewarded for it. So let's look at where the reward comes from.

Many of the things difficult people do are intended to control their situation and to get other people's attention. Being difficult and creating problems allows them to manipulate, control, and influence others, even if the reactions are negative. Their reward and reinforcement comes from creating those reactions. It's like parents and children. Once children know what the parents don't want them to do, they have the exact information they need to get the parents' attention.

Difficult interpersonal behavior often shows up when people have an almost compulsive need to show others that they're worth something. It isn't that they're evil or intentionally unpleasant. Rather, it's that they're often insecure and desperate. Some people act out in difficult ways because of their biology. The truth is they can't help it. So add a dash of compassion to your negative reactions.

It's important not to give difficult people the emotional reaction they want. If you keep the reasons for their behavior in perspective, you're less likely to reward their bad behavior.

Here's a checklist to bear in mind when dealing with difficult employees:

- Always remain positive.

- Be direct, descriptive and non-judgmental.

- Be prepared with facts, not gossip or rumors.

- Address the problem, don't attack the person.

- Maintain eye contact and be aware of your body language.

- Watch your tone of voice and timing.

- Focus on the message, restating it as appropriate and as necessary.

- Realize that their behavior is often predictable. Look for patterns.

- Expect that their behavior will impact others.

- Try to discover the root causes of their problem so it can be addressed most appropriately, either by yourself or by other professionals.

- Don't try to provoke them into quitting or getting fired. Most employees are worth saving with some coaching to help them change or accept help.

- Always deal with the issue of their performance rather than criticizing them personally.

If you want to read more about this topic, I suggest you try Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How to use your personal power.

Post 366 - Power by itself is neither good nor bad; rather, it’s an inevitable part of all human relationships. Power is the ability to get your own way and politics is the use of power to advocate or protect your own interests. Managing in even small to medium-sized businesses is a sophisticated game of influence which quickly becomes quite political in nature.

Our political skill becomes evident in how we deal with others, especially those who have doubts about our actions, or who propose alternative courses of action. Usually, politics isn’t because of conflict about the company’s goals, but comes from conflict among people’s personal visions. Political activity becomes more intense when the old order threatens to change and a new one begins to emerge.

Our political behavior usually comes from our dependent relationships growing up, living in a family of frowning others who said what was right or wrong for us. It entails how we went about getting what we wanted from our parents and others who had power over us, As children, we often used manipulation to get our way and we tend to repeat that strategy in other relationships for the rest of our lives.

Manipulation means trying to control people without telling them what you’re doing or why. Negative politics uses manipulation to get your way by, for example, saying yes when you mean no, dropping people’s names to influence others, underestimating or padding demands, presenting benefits without stating doubts and liabilities, or using language that minimizes problems. This kind of manipulation is often justified in the name of expediency and pragmatism.

Choosing a personal vision is the beginning of every political strategy. When we commit to this vision, it gives meaning to what we do, regardless of external influences. It lets us function using an internal gyroscope, so we're less dependent on others. People with such high self-esteem act as if they’re operating from an optimistic, powerful position. They know the most politically powerful way to change a culture is to be a living example of the culture they advocate.

Sources of power in organizations are:
- competence and expertise
- control of information
- personal linkages and relationships
- the ability to get sponsorship and support
- stature and credibility based on personal characteristics
- control of resources
- group cohesiveness

Reward power, coercive power and authority come with the position and can be delegated.

Expert power, informal power and personal attractiveness power are conferred or withheld by others.

Personal power comes from expertise, attractiveness, track record and effort.

Position power comes from formal authority, relevance to the organization’s objectives, influence in key networks, autonomy and visibility.

Strategies to advance your cause include expanding your power base, managing your image, and developing powerful support networks that support the cause you want to advance rather than blocking it. Start by evaluating how much power you currently have, and if you don’t have enough, begin to explore how you can get more.

Political dynamics frequently center around the person who first introduces an issue. So, success involves getting support for yourself as an advocate of that issue.

In real life, formal authority wins most power struggles. But experience shows that formal authority or coercive power is most effective when it’s not used very often. Hierarchy confers less power today than in the past as companies, in an effort to be fast and flexible, give people at all levels more power to make judgment calls on their own. In a flat organization, you depend on many other people over whom you have no authority. In network organizations, where leadership is constantly shifting, all you have to depend on is trust and influence.

While expertise can move people into positions of power, it can’t keep them there. The power that comes from being able to outthink or outsmart other people actually diminishes the higher up you move in a company’s hierarchy. In senior management jobs, people skills – listening, networking, influencing, engaging in positive politics - are what really matter most.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Stages of Healthy Conflict Resolution.

Post 365 - Start by identifying the problem or the issue together with the preferred outcomes.

• In this initial stage, you say what you want and you listen to what the other person wants so everyone understands what's at stake. When you speak, use “I messages” and avoid the “blaming” messages. Also use active listening when paying attention to the other person’s point of view.

• The next brainstorming stage is to generate several possible solutions. Drawing on the things you both agree on and your shared goals and interests, look for several possible alternatives that might resolve the disagreement. Avoid evaluating and judging until it looks like no more ideas are forthcoming.

• Then evaluate each suggested solution and eliminate those that aren't acceptable to either party. Keep narrowing them down until you have just one or two that seem to best fit the situation. During this stage, both parties must be totally honest with each other and willing to say things like, "I wouldn’t be happy with that," or "I don’t think that would be fair for me."

• Now, select the alternative that's mutually acceptable to both of you. Make certain there's a mutual commitment to this decision.

• It's one thing to arrive at a decision, but it's another thing to carry it out. So it's important to talk about how it's going to be implemented, specifying who's responsible to do what and by when.

• Not all mutually agreed upon solutions turn out to be as good as initially expected. Arrange for the parties involved to routinely evaluate how the solution is working and how they feel about it. Something unexpected may have occurred or something may have been overlooked or misjudged. From the beginning, help both parties understand that decisions are always open for revision, but modifications have to be mutually agreed on in the same manner as the initial decision.

Here are some common mistakes:

- Not discussing with the other person the method used to resolve the conflicts.

- Discovering too late that more information was needed.

- Being too focused on getting your own way, or making extreme demands, and therefore not being flexible enough to be fair with others.

- Forgetting that there are usually several ways to do something. Your own reality isn’t the only reality. You’ll be much more effective if you’re willing to see the other person’s point of view.

- Focusing too much on what you could lose and not enough on what you both could gain.

- Believing the other person must lose for you to win.

- Bringing up additional issues before resolving the one that got you started.

If you both stay true to each other and true to yourselves, working together to resolve your disagreements will help you maintain a healthy relationship.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Managing conflict for healthy relationships.

Post 364 - "We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out," according to Winston Churchill. This is especially true in situations of disagreement. And there’s no such thing as a relationship without conflict. It's just a normal part of life and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, a relationship with no apparent conflict may be less healthy than one with frequent conflict.

Conflicts don't age gracefully. They can weaken or strengthen a relationship. They can be productive, creating deeper understanding, closeness and respect, or they can be destructive, causing resentment, hostility and separation. How the conflicts get resolved, not how often they occur, is the critical factor in determining whether a relationship will be healthy or unhealthy, mutually satisfying or unsatisfying, friendly or unfriendly, deep or shallow, intimate or cold. Conflicts run all the way from minor unimportant differences to critical fights. There are conflicts of needs, wants, preferences, interests, opinions, beliefs and values.

We usually try to resolve conflicts by:

- Avoiding or denying the existence of the conflict.

- Giving in rather than struggling and working through the conflict.

- Getting mad and blaming the other party.

- Competing and winning, using power and influence to get our way.

- Appearing to compromise, but instead subtly manipulating events in an attempt to win.

However, some people learn to control their angry, competitive, I-give-up, self-serving feelings and to genuinely seek a solution that's fair and optimal for both parties. This is a healthy and integrative approach. Here are three types of healthy solutions:

- Win-win.
Most conflicts are in areas that have more than two alternatives. If you don’t like the choice the other person favors, and they don’t like your choice, with a little more effort you might find another alternative that you both like and want.

- No lose.
When you can’t find an alternative that you both want, look for an option that’s at least acceptable to both parties, or negotiate an agreeable compromise. Neither gets everything they wanted, but each gets enough to be satisfied.

- Win-lose equally.
When the conflict is over an issue that has only two choices, one person will get what they want and the other won't. You'll end up with a winner and a loser. If you’re fair with each other and generally half-the-time each gets their own way, it'll be easier for everyone when they don’t. The loser will trust that next time, or the time after that, they'll end up the winner.

All this is easy to understand intellectually, but not so easy to apply and use consistently. For a start, both parties must view their conflict as a problem they want to solve together. It isn’t about just getting the best deal for 'me,' it’s finding the best solution for 'us.' This requires a joint commitment to being actively involved together in finding a fair and acceptable solution.

If you disregard, minimize or invalidate the other person’s position, or if you must always get your way, you'll invariably damage the relationship. Your lack of sensitivity, consideration and respect will cause hurt and smoldering resentment.

If you use fear and power to win, the relationship usually ends up mortally wounded.

If you’re just a willing giver, constantly trying to keep the other person happy by satisfying their needs and avoiding conflict, you’ll also damage the relationship. You’ll inadvertently teach the other party to be insensitive to your needs and self-serving at your expense. Your self-esteem and self-worth will deteriorate, and resentment will fester, thus poisoning the relationship.

Tomorrow I'll describe the stages and steps in healthy conflict resolution.

Friday, November 6, 2009

I Dream a World, a poem by Langston Hughes.

Post 363 - Born in Joplin, Missouri, in 1902, James Langston Hughes was the great-great-grandson of Charles Henry Langston who was the brother of John Mercer Langston, the first Black American to be elected to public office. He attended Central High School in Cleveland, and began writing poetry in the eighth grade. He entered Columbia University in the fall of 1921 but stayed in school there for only a year. He later received a scholarship to Lincoln University, in Pennsylvania, where he received his B.A. degree in 1929. In 1943, he was awarded an honorary Lit.D by his alma mater; a Guggenheim Fellowship followed in 1935 and a Rosenwald Fellowship in 1940.

His father discouraged him from pursuing writing as a career, in favour of something 'more practical.' However, Hughes turned out to be a prolific writer. In the forty-odd years between his first book and his death, he devoted his life to writing and lecturing. He wrote sixteen books of poems, two novels, three collections of short stories, four volumes of "editorial" and "documentary" fiction, twenty plays, children's poetry, musicals and operas, three autobiographies, a dozen radio and television scripts, and dozens of magazine articles. In addition, he edited seven anthologies.

Langston Hughes was, in his later years, deemed the "Poet Laureate of the Negro Race," a title he encouraged. He died of cancer in 1967. After he died, his residence at 20 East 127th Street in Harlem was given landmark status by the New York City Preservation Commission and his block of East 127th Street was renamed "Langston Hughes Place." He once said that, "When people care for you and cry for you, they can straighten out your soul."

I Dream a World by Langton Hughes.

I dream a world where man
No other man will scorn,
Where love will bless the earth
And peace its paths adorn.
I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom's way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free,
Where wretchedness will hang its head
And joy, like a pearl,
Attends the needs of all mankind--
Of such I dream, my world!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

How to communicate your feelings.

Post 362 - Use “I Messages” to communicate with others when feelings are involved. They’re called I messages because the focus is on you, and the message is about yourself. When using I messages, you take responsibility for your own feelings, rather than accusing another person of making you feel a certain way.

There are four parts to an “I message” -

1. "When ..."
Describe the person’s behavior you’re reacting to in an objective, non-blaming and non-judgmental way.

2. "The effects are ..."
Describe the concrete or tangible effects of that behavior. Your reaction is the most important part for the other person to understand.

3. "I feel ..."
Say how the behavior makes you feel. This is important to prevent a buildup of feelings.

4. "I’d prefer ..."
Say what you want or what you'd prefer the other person do. (You can sometimes omit this part if it’s very obvious).

Here are some examples:

"When you take company time for your personal affairs and then don’t have time to finish the urgent work I give you, I get furious. I want you to finish the company’s work before you spend time on your personal affairs."

"It’s very hard for me to keep our place neat and clean when you leave your clothes and other stuff laying around. It creates a lot more work for me and it takes a lot longer, and I get resentful about it. I’d prefer that you put your clothes away and put your trash in the basket."

Common mistakes are:

- Not expressing a feeling, but expressing a belief or judgment instead.

- Only expressing negative feelings.

- When your nonverbal body language contradicts the words. For example, smiling when irritated.

Here are some guidelines to consider when expressing your feelings:

- Be specific rather than general about how you feel. Consistently using only one or two words to say how you’re feeling, such as bad or upset, is too vague and general. What kind of bad or upset? (specify irritated, mad, anxious, afraid, hurt, lonely, etc.).

- Specify the degree of the feelings, and you’ll reduce the chances of being misunderstood. For example, some people may think when you say, "I’m angry," it means you’re extremely angry, when you actually mean you’re just a little irritated.

- When expressing anger or irritation, first describe the specific behavior you don’t like, then your feelings. This helps to prevent the other person from immediately becoming defensive or intimidated. When the first words they hear are, "I'm angry with you," they may miss the rest of the message.

- If you have mixed feelings, say so, and express each feeling and explain what each feeling is about. For example: "I’ve got mixed feelings about what you just did. I’m glad and thankful that you helped me, but I didn’t like the comment about being stupid. I thought it was disrespectful and unnecessary and I found it irritating."

- Whenever you tell someone they’re wrong and you’re angry at the same time, you’ll probably make an enemy. Anytime negative emotion enters into a conversation, the conversation continues but communication stops.

- To get better information, ask “What,” not “Why” questions.

- “What” questions are fact oriented (“What was in your mind when you did that?”).

- “Why” questions trigger emotional responses. (“Why did you do that?”)

- Don't argue - listen instead. It’s physically impossible to say something wrong if you’re listening. And you may just learn something about the other person’s point of view. Then test and summarize – “Are you saying that this is what’s important to you?”

And last but not least, be careful of the words you use:

- Avoid the word “but.” Everything said before that word is window dressing and is ignored once you’ve said it.

- The word “try” (“I’ll try to get that done on time”) usually means it’s not going to happen. When someone says “try,” ask more questions. In many cases, they don’t know how to do what they’re being asked to do. They need help and they’re not planning to ask for it.

- Use people’s names when you talk with them. You get more attention from people when you address them by their name.

- Using variety when speaking. Talk fast and then talk more slowly.

- Avoid sarcasm, condescension and negativity. It’s easy for smart people to rip others to shreds in a clever, articulate and funny way. Such “put downs” are never helpful in building meaningful relationships.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

How to engage in active listening.

Post 361 – I’ve learned a lot about active listening from many years spent coaching senior executives. These are people who often have no one they can talk with openly about important personal and business decisions they need to deal with. Usually, they don't expect instant answers to their problems and challenges. Rather, they want me to listen with them to their thought processes and to search with them for flaws in their reasoning. You don't really know what you believe until you hear yourself saying it out loud.

It's very important that these executives experience that I'm really listening to them intently, with no judgment or distraction. This makes our time together quantifiably different from all of their other interactions. I’ve learned that you can actually 'listen' people into making decisions and engaging in actions that people would ignore if you just told them what you thought they should do. I’ve also found that:

- It helps people spot the flaws in their reasoning when they hear it played back without judgment or criticism.

- Sometimes people just needs to be heard and acknowledged before they’re willing to consider an alternative or to soften their position.

- It’s often easier for someone to listen to and consider another position when they know the other party is listening to and is considering their own position.

- It helps identify areas of agreement so that areas of disagreement are put in perspective and are thus diminished rather than magnified.

- Reflecting back what we hear each other say gives each party a chance to become aware of the different levels that are going on beneath the surface. This helps to bring things into the open where they can be more readily resolved.

- If we accurately understand someone's point of view, we can be more effective in helping them see the flaws in their position. If we listen so we accurately understand another point of view, we can also be more effective in discovering the flaws in our own position.

Here are some other listening tips:

- Usually it’s important to use your own words in paraphrasing your understanding of what you hear. Parroting back someone’s words verbatim is annoying and doesn’t convey an accurate understanding of the message.

- Don’t respond to just the meaning of the words - look for the feelings or intent behind the words. The dictionary or surface meaning usually doesn’t convey the full message.

- Don’t follow your impulse and answer questions immediately they're asked. Sometimes when people ask questions, they really just want to express themselves and aren’t open to hearing an answer.

- Don’t use active listening to hide and avoid revealing your own position.

- Know when to stop using active listening. Once you accurately understand the sender’s message, it's time to respond with your own message.

- If you’re confused and think you don’t understand, tell the person you don’t understand and ask them to say it another way. Alternatively, use your best guess. If you’re wrong, the other party will usually try to correct your misunderstanding.

- Active listening is a very effective first response to someone who's angry, hurt or expressing difficult feelings toward you, especially in important relationships.

- Use eye contact and be aware of your body language. Avoid looking at your watch, or at other people, or at other activities going on nearby. Face the speaker, lean forward toward them and nod your head when it’s appropriate. Be careful about crossing your arms as this makes you appear closed or critical.

- Be empathic and nonjudgmental. You can be accepting and respectful of the person and their feelings and beliefs without invalidating or giving up your own position, or without agreeing with the accuracy and validity of their point of view.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

How to communicate more effectively.

Post 360 - To build or maintain a relationship requires that you communicate honestly and reveal yourself to someone else. People naturally hold back until they’re aware of the intentions of others. Recurring and stable reciprocity is the building block of trust. The more we trust someone, the more deeply we can communicate with them.

Recent studies suggest that over 90% of all communication is non-verbal. Attitude, spirit and body language are all factors in the communication process. Understandings or misunderstandings in verbal communication come through the interpretation of three things:

1. about 7% of our interpretation is based on the words used.
2. about 33% of our interpretation is based on the tones used.
3. about 60% of our interpretation is based on body language.

Tone is a more significant factor in communication than the words or body language used. A person can say “have a nice day,” but by their tone make it clear that they wish the opposite.

So, there’s a lot more to communicating than talking. Listening is also important. "We were given two ears but only one mouth, because listening is twice as hard as talking."

• Here are some tips on effective listening:

Expressing our wants, feelings, thoughts and opinions clearly and effectively is only half of the communication process. The other half is listening and understanding what others communicate to us. When a person decides to communicate with another person, he or she wants something, feels discomfort, or has feelings or thoughts about something. When deciding to communicate, the person selects the method or code which he or she believes will effectively deliver the message. The code used to send the message can be either verbal or nonverbal. When the other person receives the coded message, they go through the process of decoding or interpreting it into understanding and meaning. Effective communication exists between two people when the receiver interprets and understands the sender’s message in the same way the sender intended it.

• Sources of difficulty by the speaker:

- Voice too soft to be heard.

- Making the message too complex, either by including too many unnecessary details or too many issues.

- Getting lost, forgetting the point or the purpose of the interaction.

- Body language or nonverbal elements contradicting or interfering with the verbal message, such as smiling when anger or hurt is being expressed.

- Paying too much attention to how the other person is taking the message, or how the person might react.

- Using a very unique code or unconventional method for delivering the message.

• Sources of difficulty by the listener:

- Being preoccupied and not listening.

- Being so interested in what you have to say that you listen mainly to find an opening to get the floor.

- Formulating and listening to your own rebuttal to what the speaker is saying.

- Listening to your own personal beliefs about what is being said.

- Evaluating and making judgments about the speaker or the message.

- Not asking for clarification when you know that you don't understand.

There are three basic listening modes:

1. Competitive or Combative Listening; We’re more interested in promoting our own point of view than in understanding or exploring someone else’s view. We either listen for openings to take the floor, or for flaws or weak points we can attack. As we pretend to pay attention, we're impatiently waiting for an opening, or internally formulating our rebuttal and planning our devastating comeback that will destroy their argument and make us the victor.

2. In Passive or Attentive Listening, we’re genuinely interested in hearing and understanding the other person’s point of view. We’re attentive and assume that we heard and understand correctly, but we don’t verify it.

3. Active or Reflective Listening is the single most useful and important listening skill. In active listening, we’re genuinely interested in understanding what the other person is thinking, feeling, wanting or what the message means, but we’re active in checking out our understanding before we respond with our own new message. We restate or paraphrase our understanding of their message and reflect it back to the sender for verification.

Monday, November 2, 2009

How to create healthy relationships.

Post 359 - Last week's posts explored the connections between happiness, joy and love. All of these depend on having a healthy relationship with yourself and with others.
Each of us enters into these relationships with ideas and expectations about what we want based on a variety of factors, such as how we were raised, what we see in the media, how our friends behave, and our own previous experiences. Holding on to unrealistic expectations can cause our relationships to be unsatisfying and to eventually fail. Getting close to others, and sharing our joys, sorrows, needs, wants, affections, and excitements is a risky business and some of the common fears that can stop people from getting close to each other are:

• Fear of becoming known as we really are.
Opening ourselves up to others and their reactions isn't only difficult for us, but it puts a demand on others to do likewise.

• Fear of pain and dissapointment.
Hurt, pain, dissapointment, and loneliness aren't comfortable feelings, but they're human. Without the risk of experiencing them, we can never experience loving and being loved.

• Fear of losing our freedom.
Can you risk giving up some of your freedom to care about someone without them wanting to take it all away? How can you be both close to and separate from someone at the same time?

• Fear of being a taker as well as a giver.
It's difficult for many of us to be receivers. Yet if we don't, nobody else can experience the joy of giving to us.

• Fear of judgement.
People are reluctant to disclose themselves because they fear the moral judgement of their friends, family, colleagues, and even the law.

• Fear that showing love and affection isn't a proper thing to do.
This is especially true for men, but it's not restricted just to them. Some people are convinced that this is a sign of weakness rather than a sign of courage.

However, there are many rewards when we learn to communicate effectively with others and can risk sharing our own feelings while respecting theirs:

- We learn how to get close to other people. Getting close means we can need someone else and they can need us as well. When we feel discouraged or upset, someone is there to comfort and care about us, and we can do likewise.

- We learn to have faith in ourselves, to have faith in others, and how to be faithful to others. This lets us live fully in the present and to have meaning and purpose for our own existence.

- We become more sensitive to ourselves, and can make conscious choices about how, when, and where we wish to share our feelings. We know when we're experiencing love, joy, anger, etc.

When people are asked what's the most important ingredient in a relationship, communication is almost always at the top of the list. I remember my father telling me many years ago that in marriage, communication isn't about the relationship, it is the relationship. Yet we're rarely taught how to communicate effectively. Communication normally boils down to either expressing ourselves or responding to others, and each of these is quite different. I'll explore them tomorrow.