Perceptual Filters – a question and a story

First the question:
What colour are your glasses – the perceptual filters you wear every day?

Before answering, let me share a story with you. It is a true story, as told by my friend Ron. His business is training financial services professionals to pass their Canadian licensing exams.

Ron’s office is located in downtown Toronto and for many years he would walk over to city hall for his favorite lunch – a hotdog fresh from the cart of a very special street vendor.

Not only was this vendor an immigrant like many in our multicultural city, he also had the reputation of being a successful entrepreneur.

The local newspapers had even written about him.  How he arrived in Canada with only a few dollars in his pocket. Found his first job running a hotdog cart for another, quickly building up a legion of loyal customers. Friends really. He knew many of them on a first name basis. They shared news and stories about their families.

His customers were mostly executives working in highly stressful jobs ‘on the street’ in Toronto’s financial district.

They came to ‘Sammy’ as much for his good humor and stories as for the ‘dogs’ he served piping hot from the cart. The opening greeting was always the same from each customer.

“So how is business Sammy?” To which Sammy would reply “Terrific! Couldn’t be better!” And then he’d regale his customers with all the reasons why life was great and business was better.

It seemed no matter how down the spirits of his customers, they headed back to their desks with their mood brightened and feeling good about opportunities they could see more clearly. (Stay with me now … there is a purpose.)

‘Sammy’ was soon able to buy his own cart and it seemed like overnight he was a thriving entrepreneur with four carts and his own employees. And a son who he’d put through university – a first in his family. Life was good for a vendor of hotdogs. People even wrote about him!

And then something happened. A new customer stopped by his cart. Someone important, a man with a big reputation ‘on the street.’

“Sammy” he asked, “why are you so optimistic? Don’t you know the markets are on a rollercoaster. The world is uncertain and the future is looking gloomy.  Why are you so upbeat and positive?”

Well that set ‘Sammy’ back on his heels, gave him something to think about. He went home that evening and started looking for facts that supported this great man’s words. And sure enough he found them – the pessimists, the bad news bears – and he pondered their words.  

He began to ask his customers (friends by now) what they thought. “What about this?” he’d say pulling up all the negative news of the day. Soon these loyal customers drifted away.  Instead of feeling buoyed and ready to win the world after their noontime fix of hotdog and good conversation with ‘Sammy’, they felt heavy after their lunch, like the weight of the world was resting on their shoulders.

Within one short year Sammy was down to a single cart and his business was as depressed as he was. He declared he was days away from being bankrupt! And so he retired, to spend his days wondering how the good life had all gotten away from him. A sad story but true.

So what colour are your glasses? Consider this research:

People Who Wear Rose Coloured Glasses See More
“OUR STUDY shows that when in a positive mood, our visual cortex takes in  more information, while negative moods result in tunnel vision. The up side of this (positive moods) is that we can see things from a more global, or integrative perspective.”
Taylor Schmitz, 2009 University of Toronto Study

People who see through rose coloured glasses do see more – and in a positive light. They see opportunities in every economic market!

There are always new businesses, new managers, new players coming onto the scene. Growing and thriving in spite of the trends and the naysayers.  Who are these people in your business, your market? How can you recognize them?

What questions can you ask your customers and prospects that will help them discover opportunities waiting in their own backyard?  Because if they don’t, someone else will.

Something worth thinking about, don’t you think?

Wauneen McMonagle

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Beliefs Affect Results

No matter how tough an economic environment, look around and you will see people who thrive. They innovate, create and persist in achieving their goals.

So what is the critical difference? What predicts success? Beliefs!

Beliefs act as self-fulfilling prophecies. Our experience of life is literally created by our assumptions about the nature of reality. In technical terms, we delete and distort sensory cues for evidence of what we believe to be true. We create ‘proof’ that reality operates the way we think it does. Beliefs are the filtering processes that cause some people to miss the opportunities others see.

Do your beliefs support success or are they holding you back? Monitor your self-talk. When you think about goals or mentally rehearse conversations with others, are the words positive and encouraging, or critical – of you, the situation or others?

Here’s a quick way to test this out. Pick someone you are having a conflict with. For the next week, whenever you think about this person, make a point of switching your internal dialogue. Imagine this person giving you positive feedback and hear yourself appreciating them in return. Use this before sensitive meetings. We call it ‘acting as if’ and the results can be amazing.

For beliefs about self-concept and beliefs limiting your performance Innergize offers the Breakthrough Coaching process.

Your Emotions … Your Perception

They are linked so be aware …

“ONE WHO fears the future, who fears failure, limits his activities. Failure is only the opportunity more intelligently to begin again. Fear blocks every avenue of business – it makes man afraid of competition, of changing his methods, of doing anything which might change his condition. Henry Ford 

  1.  Acknowledge emotions – they permeate every business.
  2. See emotions as a caution sign rather than a call to action.
  3. Deconstruct the situation, reappraise it: What does it mean, how did I decide that, and what else could it mean?”  
  4. Reframe it: Anything less than totally perfect offers the possibility of learning from mistakes. How is this an opportunity for developing resiliency, flexibility and a sense of humor? 

“OUR STUDY shows that when in a positive mood, our visual cortex takes in more information, while negative moods result in tunnel vision. The up side of this (positive moods) is that we can see things from a more global, or integrative perspective. Taylor Schmitz, University of Toronto Study ‘People Who Wear Rose Coloured Glasses See More,’ 2009

Making 2010 your best year yet

There is still time.  So what has to happen?  The last post focused on recognizing  hidden opportunities. This one follows up with a thought provoking question.  Questions can be a powerful tool for activating your internal GPS, your Global Positioning System for achieving success.

  • The first question sets your destination. 
  • The rest lock-in the most direct path, providing detailed directions,
  • and just like using the GPS in your vehicle, questions provide ongoing feedback, a way of checking and adjusting your course from time to time.

So the question is …
What has to happen for 2010 to be your best year yet?

When was the last time you asked yourself a question like that and then thought deeply about your answer?

We may set goals, measure certain activities, even block time for specific tasks. Yet few of us take the time for deep thought about what it will take to get there. (Deep thought is the hallmark of experts.)

If you can, take a minute now and think about how you would answer the question. What comes to mind?  Write your answer down. Seeing it on paper is often an easier way of discovering the deeper meaning behind your words.

  • Is what has to happen something you’ll do, an activity or behaviour?
  • Is it a feeling or quality, like having more confidence, more energy or less stress?
  • Is there a hidden belief in what you wrote? About yourself, the people in your life or your business environment?
  • Is what has to happen within your own control? Something you can ‘do, or not do’ as Yoda would say.
  • If not, can you break it into smaller bites or contributing elements that you can control.
  • When and where will this be happening? How often? Is it something you’ll do every day? Once or twice a week? Monthly?

When you think about it logically and rationally, you probably already have the knowledge, skills and experience required. You know what to do and how to do it, right? And you may even know people who’ve achieved the results you want with less knowledge, fewer skills?

So … what are your sticking points?
What could possibly prevent you from doing what you know?

  • Distractions, lack of focus?
  • Lack of confidence during critical activities?
  • Competing priorities and time pressures?
  • Feeling overwhelmed?

‘Sticking points’ whatever you call them, drain your energy.

It’s like driving with one foot on the accelerator and one foot on the brake.  It can feel like you’re spinning your wheels, working longer and harder just to stay in place.

So the question is, what can you do starting now, that will begin moving you through those sticking points and towards your best year yet?

You can clear some sticking points using conscious, logical left brain thinking. For more see the note below.1

What about your deeper power?
There is another option, a quicker and some would say easier way of clear sticking points – by harnessing the power of your unconscious mind and right brain processing.

It’s also more fun. Because your unconscious mind is a wizard at handling competing priorities, reducing stress and handling hot button situations that can hijack your emotions and behaviour.

So if the idea of harnessing the power of your own mind sounds interesting, check out the NLP trainers in your area or look for someone offering Performance Breakthrough Coaching process. 

1 Neuroscience has demonstrated that as much as 95% of our decisions, our emotions and what we do, is controlled by the unconscious mind,  that we simply use our conscious mind to justify decisions made outside of conscious awareness.

A thought from that perennial font of wisdom …
“The road to success is dotted with many tempting parking places.” Anon

And one more …
“It has taken a long time for us to reach the understanding that much of what we do is not under conscious control, even though we thought that it was.”
Michael Gazzaniga, neuroscientist and author of Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Different

Recognizing Hidden Opportunities

Some people say ‘luck is opportunity meeting a prepared mind.’

So how do you prepare your mind?

What are people who experience more of life’s lucky breaks doing differently? ‘Lucky breaks’ like synchronicity, being in the right place at the right time, bumping into the right people.

How are they thinking and behaving that sets them apart?  

Results from long term studies¹ show they share the following behaviour patterns. (Brain-based science explains how these behaviours work together. Let me know if you’d like more on the research.)

1. Connecting with people

  • Even during casual encounters like sharing an elevator, waiting in lineups, ‘lucky break’ people are more likely to exhibit non-verbal cues others read as being responsive and approachable.
  • They smile and initiate conversations, use gestures and physiology perceived as open – palms up, legs and arms uncrossed – and maintain twice as much eye contact.
  • Because of these behaviours, they build more successful, long lasting, trusting relationships. 

Steps you can take
Think you’re more comfortable with goals, tasks and data, than relating to people? Or you’ve been an introvert from birth? Does this mean you’re out of luck? No!

With a little practice and coaching in the basics of non-verbal communications, you’ll be surprised by how comfortable you can be … connecting with others whenever and wherever you chose.

You will need hands-on practice for this so take a workshop if at all possible. The benefits will impact all areas of your life.

 If you have NLP training
 Practice the A-R-T of rapport; use pacing and leading.

 Bonus
 Research on consumer behaviour² shows: the non-verbal sensory cues people experience during business and social interactions are mostly unconscious, yet they create the feelings people have about their experience. Those feelings have more influence on future (buying) decisions than facts or product features.

 2. Expect the best

Once you set your outcome, believe in it. Always expect the best, even when a goal is a stretch. At the very least, you’ll get valuable feedback. Plus you’ve heard those stories about overnight success … usually preceded by years of collecting feedback.

There is a wealth of research demonstrating the power of expectations, like the placebo effect in medicine, and studies on the expectations of teachers affecting the results of their students.

Steps you can take

  • Be curious. Examine the unexpected.
  • Use quirky humor (brains hate being bored.)
  • Use questions that help you see from different perspectives. For example, many NLP techniques were developed by changing perspectives on problems. By saying: “This is cool!” and “What else can I use it for?”

Other questions you can play with:

  • “What did I expect to happen?” “What really happened?” “What can I learn from this?”
  • “What if ….?” “What else can this mean?” “What question haven’t I asked yet?”

We can all learn from the processing pattern called dyslexia. People with dyslexia naturally see from many perspectives. It’s like their mind’s eye moves around seeing things from all sides.

  • Take an object you can hold in your hand and check it out from all sides. Now add a second object. Shut your eyes and imagine moving around the two objects so you can view them from both sides, top and bottom. Next think about your situation and view it from different perspectives by adding different elements and actions.

Many people with dyslexia have used this talent to innovate and lead brilliant careers. (Today there are also ways to harness dyslexia and make school easier as well.)

If you have NLP training
 Use Perceptual positions, Reframing, Chunking Up then lateral and down, Anchor creativity and solution states, neutralize stress with Time Based techniques.

 ¹Richard Wiseman and the Perrott-Warrick Research Unit, Hertfordshire University in the UK. 10 year study on luck;
 Kashdan, Rose and Fincham, 2004, Curiosity and exploration–facilitation positive subjective experiences and personal growth opportunities; K Anders Ericsson, Florida State U., 30 years research on expertise, various fields. 

²Consumer Behaviour Research (neuro-science)

  1. When asked about product choices, if people don’t know consciously, they will make up salient, plausible and socially acceptable reasons for what they do.¹
    In other words, customers will tell you what they think they should want, based on social influences – a tendency that has led to some costly miss-takes in consumer research.
  2. While features and benefits supply the rational reasons to justify a decision once it is made, the unconscious sensory elements of an experience have a far greater influence (positive or negative) on emotions, buying decisions and customer loyalty.¹
  3. Non-verbal cues and linguistic markers provide the most accurate information about what people want and intend to do, because they are largely unconscious. ²

¹ J. Le Doux, Center for Neural Science, NYU, Your Emotional Brain 1989
² J. Kagan, Harvard Mind:Brain:Behavior Initiative, 2002

Spring Cleaning For Your Mind

Long winter?
Lots of slush, salt and grime splattering around too. Real and metaphorical. Enough to keep anyone’s windshield washers busy.

Now the spring urge for clean has arrived. Shining surfaces, clear windows, whether it’s your home or the vehicle you drive. Things just seem to run better after a good cleaning.

So what about your mind?
A quick couple of minutes checking out your mental vision could be time well spent. Are you clear and focused? Enjoying what you see?

A quick self-test
Grab a piece of paper and you can put it to the test. Jot down three things in your life that are important for you right now.

That done, you can easily check for sludge and slush that could be blurring your thinking, impacting your decisions. Do this by looking at your beliefs about the relationships you have with the important things/people in your life. 

Take your career.  You have a relationship with your company, with your coworkers and with your clients. You also have a relationship with the actual work you do. Which ones are most important for you?

What about family and personal relationships. Or your health? Again, jot down the most important – with your spouse, your children, your friends. 

What do you believe about those relationships? Are they getting better? Are you spending enough time with those people? What is true for you?

Once you see those beliefs in black and white, you can decide if they are useful or not. If they have a negative aspect, they are probably hindering your progress.  And if they are not moving you forward, challenge them!

Removing you own roadblocks
Now that you’ve identified the beliefs you’d like to challenge, can you take a minute and play? Run one of those beliefs through the following questions. (One belief at a time works best.) 

  • What are you focusing on when you believe that? What image comes to mind? Are you focusing on a task, a person, number or result?
  • Begin noticing what else is in that picture? Who else?
  • Now ask yourself, what is happening that you were not noticing? As you bring that ‘something else’ into focus how does it begin shifting that belief?
  • What about time? Are you focused on the short term? Then switch to the long term.
  • Ask yourself what you have learned from the feedback you’re getting – what will you do differently the next time? 
  • Now go ahead and imagine the future – one, three, even five years have passed – and you’ve been using what you learned.
  • How valuable has that feedback become over time? How much better off will you be now because of what you learned? Think about that for a minute.

Thanks for taking time to play.  Because a simple shift in perception is often enough to dissolve the sludge from our mental vision … so you can see clearly when opportunities call, and they will. 

 I’d love hearing about any ‘aha!’ discoveries you made, just don’t expect them immediately. It can take a day or two before you begin noticing you have more clarity around important issues.

And if you have a few stubborn smudge spots left, perhaps you’re ready for Performance Breakthrough Coaching, an investment in yourself!

If you have questions about the process, you can contact me at 416-492-3200,  or visit the Innergize website.

More Questions for Managers

Do your days feel like one meeting after another … and another? And have you noticed how often people get bogged down in the same issues you talked about the last time you got together? And asked yourself “why are we going over the same ground again and again?”

 

Staying on track and positive
Somewhere between the positive intentions people start with and consensus on the best path forward, it’s easy to be sucked into an unproductive swamp that drains energy and time. 

 

It’s probably true that ‘he who asks the questions controls the conversation.’  Though it seems equally true that ‘if people get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about their answers.’

 

Keeping your feet dry
Asking the wrong questions can lead everyone into a quagmire of justification and finger pointing. We’ve all been there. So how can you keep meetings positive and focused on the outcome?

 

When you hear yourself asking a ‘why question’ like …
“Why did you do it this way?”
“Why didn’t they ask for help?”
“Why can’t marketing follow instructions?”
“Why don’t you _____?”
STOP!!

While those questions may explain how you got where you are, they also cause people to dig in and defend their positions, rather than finding a path forward.

Replace ‘why’ with ‘how’ or ‘what’ questions.
“How did you decide that?”
“How is that working for you?”
“What led you to that conclusion?”

You can soften any question by inserting “I’m curious,” “I’m wondering” or “Do you mind if I ask” as in “Do you mind if I ask how you decided to …?”

Answering a question with a question
What if you’re the target of a ‘why’ question?
Neutralize or redirect ‘why’ questions with a question of your own.
Ask:
“How does answering that move us forward?” or
“Is this where we want to put our energy and attention?”

Searching for common ground
The more you challenge the validity of someones position, the more they will defend it. So use your questions as a ladder to something you can both agree on. Work on details only after you have identified a higher purpose, or a shared value.

First, acknowledge the other person’s position by pacing. Repeat back their words, beliefs and emotions.
“I sense you feel very strongly about ____________.”
“You believe that ___________.”
“So it’s important for you that we ________”

Then shift the focus from the specifics of a situation to a bigger picture of what they want to achieve. The value or purpose behind their position will generally be a more inclusive outcome.

“How is that important for you?”
“What is important for you about that?”
“What will this do for you?”
“What is your intention?”
“How does that move us towards our outcome to ____?”

 

When you’re in a swamp stop digging
If you find yourself sinking, you can cut your losses with questions like these.

“What do we have to do to make things more the way we want them to be?”
“Is there anything we can do about _____ right now?”
“If so, what is the first step we will take?”

“If not, how can we accept/make peace with what we cannot change?”
“If we have to go through this anyway, what can we learn/get out of it?”
“What are we willing to stop doing/give up in order to get ____ more the way we want it?”

Remember the power of expectations
If people think a solution is unreachable, their efforts will reflect it!
Create positive expectations using ‘so far’ and ‘yet.’

As in ‘we haven’t figured it out yet’ or ‘so far we haven’t found the solution.’

Heads up – memory is imperfect
People do forget, delete or distort information. And sometimes the players change. So it’s a good idea to keep a record of commitments to close the gap. Use a flip chart and record rshared information and commitments. 

“We can _____ if you _____ by this date.”
Keep the chart visible and current with the dates commitments were actually met and use when players change and/or delete or distort the facts.

Leaders We Need

It’s been a busy few months and while the blog has taken a back seat to business, there is one thing I always manage to squeeze into the day. Reading for 30 to 40 minutes every morning – something that ‘nurishes the brain and educates the mind’ as Brian Tracy would say.

I’m currently reading THE LEADERS WE NEED And What Makes Us Follow, by Michael Maccobey.  If you read the previous posts on Strategic Leadership, you already know I’m a Maccobey fan, and I’ll probably share ideas from the book later. After only 50 pages, I’m already using some insights and testing others in my work. 

Yet my purpose today is to share a couple of links.

The first does tie in with Maccobey’s earlier work on narcissistic personalities and how they affect organizations. Positively and negatively. Seems to me we could all benefit from being better at recognizing behavioural clues signaling sociopathic tendencies. Especially in our leaders. And they are clear.

Does your boss fit the profile? Check out the Quiz and the disclaimer, then take a look at this Fast Company  article from December 2007. You may find yourself skipping quickly over the first three pages, but stop half way down page four and take a minute to really read.  Enough said.

Strategic Intelligence – Motivating and Partnering

Five core elements
For Michael MacCoby, ‘strategic intelligence’ requires foresight, systems thinking, visioning, motivating and partnering. (See the first three under Strategic Intelligence And Visionary Leadership.)

You might think of visioning as the pivotal element. Visioning combines foresight and systems thinking into a holistic view of the position you’re aiming for within the market place.  And then uses the last two elements, motivating and partnering, to make the vision happen.

Motivating
Engaging your team.  The ability to sell the Vision by understanding what combination of reasons, rewards, relationships and responsibilities will motivate the different people on your team. And …

  • Hiring people with the competence and values needed to achieve the vision.
  • Understanding what customers and other stakeholders value.

Partnering
Forming strategic alliances with those who share your values.

  • Building relationships inside and outside the organization, to further your own and others’ goals.
  • Requires trust, responsiveness, and a willingness to hear hard truths from partners.

Soft skills or real world skills?
Remember that MacCoby uses these terms – soft skills and real world skills – interchangeably. So you could be wondering why soft skills are so often left in the dust during uncertain or unstable times. Why so called hard skills are valued more than the ability to build relationships where trust and cooperation can flourish?
 

The missing link?
Studies by The Center for Creative Leadership found that leaders with soft skills were more able “to strike a balance between the bottom-line goals of the business and providing the support and direction that employees needed during periods of uncertainty.” 

And more, “Effective leaders seem better at blending the softer leadership skills – trust, empathy and genuine communication – with the tough skills needed to keep an organization afloat during difficult times.” More on the study

MacCoby reminds us that all of these skills can be acquired – either learned personally, or by forming a partnership with someone who will balance your own attributes and bring missing skills to the table.

In my own experience, many Innergize clients seek out coaching and attend NLP programs because they are looking for ways to strengthen those real world skills. 
 

More About …
Michael MacCoby is an anthropologist, psychotherapist, coach, consultant and author of several books including The Gamesmen, Why We Work and The Productive Narcissist. Over the years he has advised and studied CEOs at numerous organizations including SAS, Harmon Industries, AT&T, CP, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Asea Brown Boveri (ABB), Southwest Air, Volvo, Swedbank and The World Bank.

A Good News Story – Dophin Rescues Whales

In case you missed it …
Here’s a link to a March 13 event – Dolphin rescues beached whales. A wonderful example of inter-species empathy and cooperation. It flashed by in the news and I would have missed it but for a friend.  Seems to me, positive news is in short supply, so I thought I’d share. Do you have a story of empathy and cooperation?   


In a similar vain
The same friend mentioned his all time favorite movie, A Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy (somehow I missed that too!) About dolphins and other animals sent to teach us … many things. I’ll probably have more to say after I catch the movie and book.  Stay tuned.