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.

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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.

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.

Beliefs, wishes and goals – part 2

Testing your goals – how committed are you?
You have plans for 2008, important goals you want achieved.  Yet have you given any thought to how much of your success will depend on what you believe? And the strengths of those beliefs? 

More important than the level of your skills
What you believe about your ability to go out and make those goals happen will impact your results. What you sort of believe doesnt count! Maybe doesn’t count! Only firm beliefs will give you the determination and conviction to keep going when you hit resistance. Or obstacles. Any goal worth achieving will have a few obstacles.

What self talk reveals …
Listen to the questions you ask yourself.  The questions that dominate your self-talk shape your future.  Are your questions loaded with why? Why did this happen, why didn’t that happen? 
Questions like …

  • Why didn’t I get that opportunity when I worked so hard for it?
  • Why did that person fail to recognize the value I offer?
  • Why do I always seem to lose my focus just when things are going well? 
  • Why do I find (fill in the blank) so intimidating?
  • Why did I make such a (fill in the blank) decision?

Why questions focus on the past – the one thing you can’t change! Better to focus on now and the future you want using what and how questions. 
Questions like …

  • What do I want to create? 
  • How am I going to do it? 
  • What do I already have going for me that I can build on? 
  • What is the best next step? And how can I accomplish that?
  • What positive outcome could that person be trying to achieve by doing that behaviour? And how can I help them to be more effective? 

Driving with one foot on the brake
Finally, if you’re feeling a little stuck when logically, rationally, you have everything you need to get going? Perhaps it’s time to consider a coach.  There are comfortable, quick and effective ways to get you moving when you’re ready.

Just a suggestion
A coach trained in neuro-linguistics can help you turn weak beliefs and wishes into conviction, share a nifty technique for handling competing priorities, and align the values driving your goals for maximum motivation.  However you do it, here’s a wish that you get your 2008 off on a running start and have a terrific year!
 

Beliefs, wishes and goals!

A new year, a fresh start …
And I’ve decided I’ll be a more consistent blogger. Perhaps not better. Practice doesn’t always make perfect, but it’s at least a step in the right direction. 

Have you decided where you’re headed this year?
So, do you have plans? Important goals for 2008? And are they really big enough? Because if you shoot for the stars and fall a little short, at least you’ll land on the moon.

Can you get there from here?
Will what you’re doing now move you forward fast enough and in the right direction? If not, what are you planning to do differently?  I have a friend who is fond of telling his team 
If things don’t change around here, we’re going to end up where we’re headed!” And he could be right. So be sure that where you’re headed is where you really want to go!

Do you really believe you can do it?
Believing you have the ability to make it happen is essential. Do you think you should be able to achieve your objective because others have done it, but you’re not absolutely sure? Then it’s a probably more like a wish than a belief.

Beliefs – a call to action
If it’s just a wish masquerading as a belief you’re unlikely to make the consistent effort needed to achieve your goals.  Action level is the true measure of the strength of your beliefs. Do you act as if they are true? 

Test yourself – belief or wish?
Ask yourself, if you truly believed your plans were going to come to fruition, what would you be doing right now?  What one idea can you begin to put into action now, that gets you started?

Next up
What your self talk can reveal about beliefs. Or is it only a wish? Coming soon (see opening paragraph.)

Unconscious Communication And Job Fit – Part 4

Would more clues be helpful?
I had a call from a friend asking for a few more clues for this series so I’m thinking it could be be useful for others as well. (See Parts One through Three)

First, you may be wondering … 
When this series first published it was called decoding ‘non-verbal’ communication. It has been renamed because the focus is clearly on the (unconscious) structure and process of language and behaviour.  The non-verbal aspect of language.   Think of it as the subtext of the words, what language communicates – without intention or awareness – about how people function in a given situation.

Their mental filters, blind spots and what it will take to motivate them. Literally how they’ll behave, what they’ll focus on, what they’ll delete and what types of assumptions they can be expected to make.

Recognizing a preference for process
Sam in this series uses a procedural approach or filter when working. This is revealed by the words he unconsciously selects when speaking about his career.  In situations or contexts where people are using a procedural filter, we can predict the following behaviours: 

  • They need structure and a process to work effectively. In fact, give them a task without a procedure, and they won’t know how to get started!
  • Once they understand the process they’ll follow it, no matter how often the task is done. Or whether it’s installing software, assembling equipment, writing a report or making sales calls. 
    And that’s critical when compliance standards and SOPs must be met.
  • They’ll actually read the instructions for new projects — before starting!
  • Once started on a process they’ll feel a compelling need to finish it.
  • If they seem to be dragging their feet, it means they don’t have a procedure to follow. So give them one.
  • They’re more efficient when they can complete one task at a time. If you interrupt them in the middle of doing something, they’ll probably lose their train of thought need to start over at the beginning.  They’ll find frequent interruptions stressful.
  • Because they are comfortable with process, they will listen to your (sales) presentation without interrupting.   
  • They will talk about processes and having to do the right things, the right way, and following sequential or step-by-step procedures.

Who do you work with who may be filtering for process? And what if you have a different way of getting things done on-the-job? See filtering for options (the other end of the continuum) and Roger’s pattern coming soon.

Unconscious Communication And Job Fit – Part 3

Did I mention this was Practitioner season? After the first of three ‘Thursday to Sunday’ Practitioner Certification weekends, followed by two Breakthrough Coaching Sessions, I went directly to toasted … totally toasted! 

So apologies if you’ve been looking for the follow-up to this decoding exercise and now … back to Sam and Roger. And while there is bound to be a little lost in my translation of their stories, there are enough clues and insights to make the exercise worthwhile. 

The words Sam and Roger used during our conversations provided enough unconscious clues to predict their default behaviours while working.

Sam speaks of being confused, struggling, hands on, concrete, stuck, frustrated; his comfort with things and tangible tasks; and discomfort with ambiguity. 

This language is a pretty good indication that he focuses on things rather than people or ideas, learns by doing and hands-on experience, and is currently in an unresourceful state (into his feelings) because of the absence of sensory based data. 

Sam also talks about managing processes, but not knowing how to get started, says show him what to do and he’ll do it. My notes from our conversation included “needing to see my development, progress, completion of a project.”

The subtext of these words indicates that Sam will be good at maintaining processes and procedures, but when an existing process stops working or a new procedure is called for, it’s unlikely he will be able to develop one on his own.

Rogertalks about being an idea man, creating opportunities and concepts, juggling totally different projects, language that indicates he will use his ability to create options and alternatives, is someone who will challenge the status quo, change the system, change his mind frequently and will resist following procedures.  

He also talks of being impatient with the detail needed to bring intangeble ideas into concrete form, preferring to have others guide that process.  And says he wants an assistant who is comfortable with ambiguities and can create and follow processes that will identify the best opportunities and move them forward.

What Roger is saying here, is the key to finding an assistant with the best fit for the job. This person must be flexible enough to see the big picture and deal with detail. As well, they will be good at developing procedures as needed, and managing multiple projects through an evaluation process. Then letting go … seeing the best turned over to others for execution.  

Roger
is brilliant at creating ideas and concepts. He will need an assistant who is equally brilliant at seeing the potential of his ideas and bringing order and process to the party so that those ideas are realized.

Unconscious Communications And Job Fit – Part 1

Right person wrong job
Several weeks ago I was asked if I could help a new employee and his boss work more effectively together.  What fell out of the coaching process was that the real issue was job-fit.  

We all want the satisfaction of feeling like we’re contributing, being appreciated and valued for our personal qualities. So when our default settings for how we function – approach tasks, process information, what we notice and focus on and how we interact with others – are unsuited to the job, motivation plummets along with our sense of self worth. Low productivity and high stress levels follow. 

In this case the employee and his boss were both doing all they could to make the relationship work.  Now you may be wondering what this has to do with decoding non-verbal communications, but stay with me and we’ll get to that. (The following details have been altered just enough to preserve the privacy of all parties.)   


Sam
had been in his new job less than three weeks, but there were already cracks showing in the relationship with his boss. It was decided I would observe a series of out of town meetings Sam and his boss Roger were attending. Managing sales teams for a number of years taught me how valuable ‘drive time’ can be for discussing sensitive issues, so I arranged to travel with Sam.

During the drive to the meetings it became clear that Sam was confused about what was expected of him and struggling to please the man he worked for. Not a pleasant place to be! The reasons for his discomfort also began to surface.

What unconscious communication revealed …
Sam came from a industry where the job focus was on producing products. A few questions revealed that he functions best with things, concrete facts and tangible results. He is not comfortable with concepts and ideas, intangibles and ambiguity.

While good at managing processes, Sam is not good at developing them. Show him what needs to be done and he’ll do it. Ask him to figure out a new way and chances are unless he has a previous frame of reference, he won’t know how to get started. He’ll literally be stuck. And frustrated. 

To function well, Sam needs to be able to see, hear and have tangible sensory experiences of the work he does. Sensory based evidence is how he knows what is working and what needs improvement. 

Sam’s boss, a man I’ll call Roger, was also feeling the strain of having to explain what he saw as a straight forward request several times. I already knew Roger quite well and his communication style is anything but straight forward. He has unique needs.   Up next, Roger’s needs and the decoding that resolved this relationship.

20 Coaching Questions for Managers

So …. I tried to post a link to a September 15 Globe and Mail article entitled ‘Managing Change, Don’t Boss Them Coach Them.’  Thought a list it included of 25 general coaching questions could be useful. But when I tested the link, no joy! 

So I decided to offer some of my own not so general coaching questions instead, because I’m still thrashing around the subject I really want to talk about – jop fit or as Yoda would say, “job not-fit!” 

Activating here and now motivation

  1. What’s important to you about doing or not doing (fill in the task/action?)
  2. And if there were one thing more?
  3. What do you want to achieve, or avoid?
  4. How else might you achieve/avoid that (answer to previous question?)
  5. What unintended consequences could you be faced with by continuing (the current action?)

Separating facts from interpretation

  1. What are you/we assuming about the situation?
  2. How did you decide that? Or … 
  3. I’m wondering, what evidence do you have for believing that? 
  4. What can we see/hear/what facts support this?
  5. What else could be true?

Antidotes for impossibility and non-accountability stories 
Great for handling “I am” +  a negative like stressed, frustrated” and “I can’t ” usually followed by “because … ”

  1. How do you know? (‘How did you decide that?’ works well too.)
  2. What prevents you?
  3. What would happen if you could?
  4. Has there ever been a time when you did?
  5. What was different then?

Handling overwhelm

  1. How is this a problem for you? (Great for issues expressed in long, vague, convoluted and all encompassing statements.)
  2. What is the best way you have handled a situation like this in the past?
  3. What are the moments of choice?
  4. What is the first step you can take?
  5. And the next?

Alternatively …  have the person write a list of everything they feel they must do.  (Rarely will people come up with more than 20 items.) Next, ask them to rank the list with A, B, C, D in order of priority. Finally ask ‘which would make the biggest shift/improvement’ if they got stared on it immediately. More on coaching skills for managers.

Questions A Key To Better Listening?

A couple of days ago I stumbled on some research about the use of questions. It seems 40% of all the questions people ask are really statements, and another 40% are actually judgments disguised as questions. (1)

I had to stop and think about that. On reflection, it makes sense, yet seeing the percentages in black and white was a little shocking. 

Those ‘don’t you think …’ questions
If 80% of our questions are just a way of stating the obvious or sliding in our own opinion, that means only 20% focus on hearing what the other person has to say! If you’d like to do a little research of your own, catch some of the interviews on cable news programs. Or listen to ….

Questions expose our intentions
They instantly give away whether we are in listening or telling mode. Stop for a minute and think of a conversation you had recently.  One that left you feeling the other person was holding back. Is it possible your questions discouraged their input? Accidentally implied you were not really ready to listen? Hum. Possible isn’t it?  
 

Listening requires content
Once you ask good questions you can begin really listening. Because good questions can uncover information people haven’t yet discover for themselves, they’ll need time to go inside and figure it out.  Time to pull up thoughts, feelings and perhaps even fears, about what really matters.  So after you ask, pause. Be willing to wait. It shows your intention is to listen.

And speaking of good questions … 
We weren’t, but it’s probably a good idea anyway.  As a general rule of thumb, good questions are how and what questions. Here are a few of my favorites.

  • What’s important to you about ….  ? Fill in the subject you’re discussing.  And then when they’ve finished telling you, asking with a meaningful look …‘if there were one thing more?’
  • You must have a good reason for saying that … do you mind if I ask what it is? Great for handling judgments and blanket objections.   
  • How is that working for you? Works well for those ‘we already have that covered’ occassions. Asking how sends people inside to evaluate.    

Let me know how these work for you, and if you have a sticky situation that needs a question, let me know that too.  Next, more ways to listen  

 

(1) William Isaacs of MIT, in Dialogue And The Art Of Thinking Together, 1999.