Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How to Restore Personal Peacefulness

In a People Skills class, a participant asked, “How can you work with someone if your values don’t match theirs?”

This is a situation that can engender a lot of conflict, whether it is out in the open or not. You may have internal stress and tension when trying to reconcile the fact that your values differ yet you need to work together. (Or, spend the holidays together.)

It’s helpful to step back, take a breath, and consider: Is it in fact your values that are different or how your values are played out? Or do you hold the same value but prioritize it differently? Then search for where you have common ground. Find that common ground, appreciate that there is any, and remark upon it out loud - to yourself, to others, to the other party involved.

This is where change happens: when you give up resisting what you perceive to be against you and your values, and focus instead on where there is agreement, where there is no tension, and where there are commonalities. Start from there, and as you focus in on the common ground, build on it. Spend as much time thinking about those commonalities as you did the differences that irritated you. Then spend more time on it.

The amount of common ground will expand, and if you acknowledge it, will start to include positive differences – differences that you can appreciate. You will find ways to communicate with that person from a new perspective, rather than from the perspective that causes you tension. Resistance only gives birth to continued resistance. If you focus only on the parts of someone that you dislike, even more examples and reasons to dislike the person will occur to you. There is no peace, no resolution from this perspective.

In People Skills we teach that if you push on someone’s behavior, they will naturally push back. If, however, you focus on changing perceptions and beliefs, behavior will change naturally. If your perceptions and beliefs about a person or situation are causing you stress and conflict, start with yourself. A change in your own perception or belief can dissolve or at the least, reduce, the resistance you feel about someone else. It will allow you to approach the person with a positive attitude, which will prevent the other party from getting defensive. And once you put someone on the defensive, all communication breaks down.

The next time you are faced with a dilemma or conflict over values, move toward common ground with that individual and your working relationship will become less work and more peaceful.

Wishing you peace during this holiday season!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How To Master the Office Dragon

"It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him."
~ J. R. R. Tolkein (1892-1973), British author and philologist, The Hobbit

If you have to get things done in your office, (and why are you there if you don’t?) you have to take into account how to get what you need from those who may not want to give you the time of day. There may be those who don’t like you and/or your project, who are jealous of you, who don’t understand the importance of what you are doing, who are insecure, or who are just too busy to accommodate you. Your request for information or participation seems to be an opportunity for them to block your progress.

Like a dragon, they may choose to hoard valuable information and spend much of their time guarding precious resources and making sure others - like you - don’t get their hands on it.

Whatever the reason for their obstructionist behavior, it causes you stress, frustration and anger. How can you get what you want without going down that dark path?

It may be that you can’t avoid it altogether, but you can try. You can plan ahead. Know who is supportive and who isn’t, for whatever reason. The reason may not matter in the short run. What matters is getting your results in a timely and successful manner.

Time was when the only real performance expectation was “gets the results expected without generating a hostile environment.” That still is the bottom line. Here are some tactics that you can use to accomplish this when you have a dragon in your way:

1. Go around the dragon. Whenever possible, get what you need from friendly sources. Avoid rousing the dragon by cultivating alliances in other areas. However, if you choose to go over the dragon’s head, you may incite the ire of the dragon. Going around is good, going over is dangerous. Be very, very careful if you choose that route.

2. Feed and flatter the dragon. They may be feeling a little insecure about their work. Or, they could be one of those narcissistic dragons who only respond when it is all about them. Let them know what they do is noticed: “John is really taking a good look at the project you are doing…it’s possible that a bigger opportunity could result from your work.” Support their efforts and appreciate their ideas in public and they may start taking a second look at you and what you want. Because if you weren’t around, maybe they wouldn’t be getting any strokes or tidbits at all.

3. Offer the dragon a trade. Is there something the dragon wants from you? Maybe there is something you have that would benefit the dragon and they don’t even realize it. A morsel of information? A computer tip that helps them organize their files more efficiently? An introduction to another influential colleague? A good deal on a smart phone? Find out what they could use by asking or observing and offer a trade.

4. Distract the dragon. Perhaps the dragon can be tricked into giving you what you need with a little bit of distraction. Chat up the dragon about something of interest to him. How about those Rams? Love your car. Those shoes are fabulous. Where’d you find them? Once you’ve got the dragon in a good mood, ask for what you need. They will be in a more responsive frame of mind and more inclined to be accommodating. Just be sure you pick the right time to chat them up – don’t interrupt them when they are in the middle of their work flow.

Fighting, banishing, or slaying the dragon are only for extreme circumstances. We all wish the dragon would just disappear. But there will always be another dragon. Learn how to live with your dragon, work with your dragon, train your dragon. Become a dragon master and you will be the hero in your office.

Here are some dragon-training tips you may be able to adapt to your office dragon.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What Can You Do About Your Blind Spots?

We all have blind spots, those areas about ourselves that we don’t realize are hindering our progress – perhaps obstructing our ability to influence, to communicate clearly, or to form trusting relationships. Sometimes our blind spots are just our strengths overused to such an extent that they cross over, as I like to say, to the dark side.

A client who was a senior manager in a technical role told me that he was good with people. He knew when to empathize, and when to give “tough love”. He communicated well to his employees, colleagues and customers and everyone appreciated his affable yet strong leadership style. He was fair, honest, and looked out for his employees. In his 360 assessment, this was all confirmed. What was also confirmed was that he had a problem with his boss. When we discussed this, it came out that he resented his new boss for inserting himself into his operation, however minimally. It was his operation, and he knew it inside and out. His new boss didn’t know or understand his customers’ temperaments and concerns.

This client’s blind spot was his need for control. For the most part, he knew how to wield it fairly and lightly with his own team – he had been doing so for years, and his leadership style had worked well. But when it came to sharing his turf with his new boss – who was not overstepping or micromanaging by my client’s own admission – he balked. His attitude was souring his relationship with his new manager. He really wanted to ignore the fact that he had a boss at all.

Exploring this need for control revealed that because he had worked with the same group of people for a decade or more, he trusted them implicitly. He could ease up on his natural tendency to be in control, and had learned over the years that being transparent, sharing information, and delegating was a more productive and easier way to lead than the alternative. However when there were new customers, new projects, or in this case, a new boss, his need to be in control would reassert itself and he would tighten up his oversight at least for a while. This tendency didn’t work well to establish a trusting relationship with his new boss.

In a Wall Street Journal article last week entitled Bosses Overestimate Their Managing Skills, survey results from Development Dimensions International (DDI) revealed that managers didn’t equate their weak skills – which they identified as coaching, delegating, and gaining commitment - as areas of development. "It doesn't matter what industry you're in. People have blind spots about where they're weak," says Scott Erker, a senior vice president at DDI.

By definition, we are not cognizant of our own blind spots. Even if, through coaching, feedback, or a 360 degree assessment, we are aware of our blind spots, we will still often unknowingly repeat that undesirable behavior.

Last week’s post was about how to gracefully ask for and accept feedback. That’s an essential skill for any leader. But in order to successfully act on that feedback you may need an ally: someone who can give you a signal, a code word, or just a blatant reminder when you revert back to your old behavior.

Anyone who has attempted to change their own or others’ behavior knows that it takes time and effort. We have built up these behaviors and ways of thinking over time and burnt them deep into our neural pathways. In a sense we really are in a rut that requires motivated, consistent behavior changes over a period of time to forge new habits. That’s why trusted allies can be valuable help. Being humble enough to count on your own employees to be those allies goes a long way toward showing the type of leader you are.

We all have blind spots. Understanding ourselves deeply is essential to being an extraordinary leader. Knowing that our personality type, experiences, philosophies, and values can drive our behavior, and understanding how they drive it, awakens us to our own strengths, opportunities for development, and potential pitfalls. Knowing yourself as well as you can – taking off blinders, realizing your impact and how you are reflected in others’ eyes – allows you to realistically assess how to leverage your strengths, and adjust for your weaknesses.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Model How to Ask For and Receive Feedback Gracefully

When I became a parent, I suddenly became very conscious of my table manners. I religiously buckled my seat belt. I watched my mouth. Being a parent is a lot like being a leader: you are under constant observation. You are a role model and your behavior is the best illustration of how you want others to behave. You aren’t perfect, so acknowledging that by asking and acting on feedback goes a very long way toward building trust and respect on your team.

Observing leaders welcome and act on feedback is inspiring to those around them. One of the skills you can model to your employees is how to ask for and receive feedback. Three simple questions should be the standard for your discussions with your employees, both one-to-one and in team meetings:

1. What I can do differently that will help you (us) succeed?
2. What can I stop doing that will increase your (our) chances of success?
3. What can I start doing that I haven’t been doing that will make you (us) more successful?

Ask these questions during their performance reviews, before starting projects, when debriefing projects, and at least twice a year to each employee.

When you get their feedback, model how to receive it. Simply say, “Thank you. I appreciate your honesty and thoughtfulness.” You don’t have to make promises that you will change. You don’t have to say you will think about what they have said. The best way to respond is by your actions. Do make sure you understand the feedback and ask for clarity or examples if you don’t. Then next time you sit down with them let them know what you have been doing differently in response to their feedback. That lets them know that you listen well, take what they have to say seriously, and are committed to personal and professional development. And as a result they will be more likely to be honest in their feedback to you.

By showing that you welcome constructive feedback, modeling how to receive it in a non-defensive manner, and then acting on it, your team members will be more open to it too. They will learn how to ask for and expect feedback from their colleagues as well as you. And that makes for a more productive team.