Category: Meetings

Q&A with Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor, Part II

Last week, Kim Scott joined us for a Q&A. She’s not only the author of Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss without Losing your Humanity, but also co-founder and CEO of Candor, Inc. To read the first part of this interview, click here. 
Paul: With more and more employees preferring to get home as quickly as possible, after-hours connecting is less available. How can we master the art of socializing at work?
Kim: After-hours connecting is not a good way to build the boss-employee relationship—it’s just a way to destroy work-life balance.
The best way to build a good relationship with your employees is to remember to care personally and challenge directly in the way you give, get, and encourage feedback; in the way you build the team and assign roles and projects; in the way you work with the team to set goals and achieve results. A great way to get to know your employees is to have “career conversations” during your regularly scheduled 1:1 time once a year. Remember, your employees really don’t want to go out drinking with you; they’d rather be with their friends or family.
Sometimes people like to socialize at work, and an occasional office party is not a bad thing. Just remember that it can feel mandatory and like a waste of time to people if you organize it, so let others take the lead there. The best thing you can do to keep these events fun is to provide budget and make sure people can opt out—that everyone understands these are voluntary, not required, events. Also, limit the alcohol consumption at work social events. I’ve seen so many disasters there.
Paul: Kim, I like your work on getting things done without telling people what to do. It seems to fit perfectly with the notion of “less domination—more connecting.” Can you expand on your thinking here, including the importance of listening?
Kim: I think this excerpt from the book provides that answer:
The art of getting stuff done without telling people what to do
Both Google and Apple achieved spectacular results without a purely autocratic style. This leads to important questions: How did everyone in the company decide what to do? How did strategy and goals get set? How did the cultures at these two companies, so strong and so different, develop? How did tens of thousands of people come to understand the mission? It played out very differently at both companies—more orderly at Apple, more chaotic at Google—but at a high level, the process was the same.
The process, which I call the Get Stuff Done “GSD” wheel, is relatively straightforward. But the key, often ignored by people who think of themselves as “Get Stuff Done” people, is to avoid the impulse to dive right in…. Instead, you have to first lay the groundwork for collaboration.
When run effectively, the GSD wheel will enable your team to achieve more collectively than anyone could ever dream of achieving individually—to burst the bounds of your brain. First, you have to listen to the ideas that people on your team have and create a culture in which they listen to each other. Next, you have to create space in which ideas can be sharpened and clarified, to make sure these ideas don’t get crushed before everyone fully understands their potential usefulness. But just because an idea is easy to understand doesn’t mean it’s a good one. Next, you have to debate ideas, to test them more rigorously. Then you need to decide—quickly, but not too quickly. Since not everyone will have been involved in the listen-clarify-debate-decide part of the cycle for every idea, the next step is to bring the broader team along. You have to persuade those who weren’t involved in a decision that it was a good one, so that everyone can execute it effectively. Then, having executed, you have to learn from the results, whether or not you did the right thing, and start the whole process over again.
That’s a lot of steps. Remember, they are designed to be cycled through quickly. Not skipping a step and not getting stuck on one are equally important. If you skip a step, you’ll waste time in the end. If you allow any part of the process to drag out, working on your team will feel like paying a collaboration tax, not making a collaboration investment.
You may very well be in a situation where your boss is skipping steps and just telling you what to do. Does that mean you have to do the same with your team? No, of course not! You can put these ideas into practice with the people who report to you even if your boss doesn’t subscribe to this method of getting things done. When your boss sees the results, things may change. But, if they don’t, you may have to change jobs. When more people insist on a positive working environment, not only will results for your company improve, your happiness will.
 
Paul: What would you tell project leaders about building teams?
Kim: Your job in building a team is to understand not only who is good at what, but also who is motivated by what. Your job is to know each person well enough to know what gives work meaning for them. Your job is not to “provide purpose.” A great technique for doing this is Career Conversations, described in the Radical Candor podcast (www.radicalcandor.com/blog/podcast-episode-5), and on our website, www.radicalcandor.com/blog/problem-career-conversations.
Paul: I’m thinking that sincerity trumps polish when it comes to speaking or conversation. What is your take on sincerity?
Kim: Polish really doesn’t matter that much, and too much focus on it is a sure-fire path to manipulative insincerity. Focus on saying what you think, but also on being attentive to how the person reacts. Your goal is to say it clearly—not clearly from your perspective, but in a way that is easy for the other person to understand. If you say it too harshly, you may make it impossible for the other person to hear you because they are so sad/mad/defensive. If you say it so gently that they don’t hear you at all (the more common problem), you’ve just wasted your breath and confused them.
Paul: What can you tell us about empathy?
Kim: Empathy, like intelligence or beauty or any other human attribute, can be enormously helpful, but it can also be abused. Sometimes we can even be the victim of our own empathy. If you see a person drowning and feel the panic just as acutely as the drowning person, you may not be able to help that person. I have seen people be so paralyzed by their empathy for how others feel that they fail to say things that need to be said. I have seen really empathetic people use their skills at understanding how others feel to be unnecessarily cruel. Sometimes people use their empathy to manipulate others. Empathy is a wonderful attribute if used wisely.
Paul: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned while living a life full of candor?
Kim: Our instincts around candor are wrong. More often than not people really appreciate it, and it’s the path to building better relationships. However, we are so afraid of a possible negative emotional reaction (which does sometimes happen) that we fail to be candid. This is a big mistake.
Paul: And finally, what are your thoughts about valuing technology but not allowing it to undermine our ability to be attentive or focus?
Kim: The worst thing about technology is that we spend so much time in email, on Facebook, on our phones that we fail to care personally about the person sitting right next to us. In my family, we have a strict no phones at the table, no phones/computers in the bedrooms.
At work, I try hard not to look at my email/phone when I’m meeting with people. I often fail and I’m deeply ashamed of it. Rather than caring personally, I’m indicating that I care more about whatever is on my screen than the person I’m sitting in the room with. That is a terrible thing.
Furthermore, we often use technology to say what we think in a way that is obnoxiously aggressive, not radically candid. The reason is that it’s so easy to hide from emotions or just to be unaware of them when you’re sending an email, a text, a tweet. It’s hard to remember there are other living, breathing human beings on the other side of those messages.
Another danger of technology is that we often present a happy, rosy picture on it that is not real—it can move us toward manipulative insincerity. You often see this on Facebook. People rarely share their most vulnerable screw ups there.
I recommend taking 24 hours a week and not turning on your computer or your phone. If you find it impossible to do, you know you have a problem! There’s nothing you can do that will improve your relationships at work—and in all aspects of your life—more than learning to master your devices, rather than letting them master you.

Q&A with Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor, Part I

 
You would be surprised at how many questions and emails I get each week on the topic of difficult conversations – giving and getting feedback and the general discomfort that goes along with being candid with employees, teams, and family members. 
That’s why I am so happy to have Kim Scott here this week for a Q&A. She’s not only the author of Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss without Losing your Humanity, but also co-founder and CEO of Candor, Inc.
Let’s dive in!
Paul: Why did you choose the title Radical Candor for your book and what are intending to communicate with it?
Kim: Radical Candor is the ability to care personally at the same time that you challenge directly. That doesn’t sound so radical, does it?
And yet it is. I chose the word “radical” because so many of us are conditioned to avoid saying what we really think. This is partially adaptive social behavior; it helps us avoid conflict or embarrassment. But when you’re trying to have a difficult conversation or give a boss, a peer, or an employee feedback, that kind of avoidance is disastrous.
Why “candor?” The key to getting everyone used to being direct when challenging each other (and you!) is emphasizing that it’s necessary to communicate clearly enough so that there’s no room for interpretation, but also humbly. I chose “candor” instead of “honesty” because there’s not much humility in believing that you know the truth. Implicit with candor is that you’re simply offering your view of what’s going on but that you expect people to offer theirs. If it turns out that in fact you’re the one who got it wrong, you want to know.
Paul: One phrase that struck me seems to be a foundation for everything else—Care Personally.   Will you expand on this idea for us?
Kim: It seems obvious that good bosses must care personally about the people who report directly to them. Very few people start out their careers thinking, I don’t give a damn about people, so I think I’ll be a great boss. And yet, it happens all too often that employees feel they’re being treated as pawns on a chessboard, or as inferiors—not just in a corporate hierarchy but on a fundamental human level.
Part of the reason people fail to “care personally” is the injunction to “keep it professional.” That phrase denies something essential. We are all human beings, with human feelings, and, even at work, we need to be seen as such. When it doesn’t happen, when we feel we must repress who we really are to earn a living, we become alienated. That makes us hate going to work. To most bosses, being professional means: show up at work on time, do your job, don’t show feelings (unless engaged in “motivation” or some such end-driven effort). The result is that nobody feels comfortable being who they really are at work.
Fred Kofman, my coach at Google, had a mantra that contradicted the “just professional” approach so destructive to so many managers: “Bring your whole self to work.” This saying has become a meme; Google it and you’ll get more than eight million results. Sheryl Sandberg referred to it in her 2012 commencement address at Harvard; author Mike Robbins devoted a TEDx talk to it in 2016; and Stewart Butterfield, Slack’s CEO, has made it a priority for his company. Bringing your whole self to work is one of those concepts that’s hard to define precisely, but you develop a feel for it when you start to open up to it. This often means modeling the behavior yourself by showing some vulnerability to the people who report to you—or just admitting when you’re having a bad day—and creating a safe space for others to do the same.
In addition to the obsessive devotion to “professionalism,” there’s another, less virtuous reason people fail to “care personally.” When they become a boss, some people consciously or unconsciously begin to feel they’re better or smarter than the people who work for them. That attitude makes it impossible to be a kick-ass boss; it just makes people want to kick your ass. There are few things more damaging to human relationships than a sense of superiority. That’s why I detest the word “superior” as a synonym for “boss.” I also avoid the word “employee.” Of course, if you are a boss, there is some hierarchy involved. There’s no use pretending otherwise. Just remember that being a boss is a job, not a value judgment.
Caring personally is the antidote to both robotic professionalism and managerial arrogance. Why do I say “caring personally” instead of just “caring”? Because it’s not enough to care about the person’s work or the person’s career. Only when you actually care about the whole person with your whole self can you build a relationship.
Caring personally is not about memorizing birthdays and names of family members. Nor is it about sharing the sordid details of one’s personal life, or forced chitchat at social events you’d rather not attend. Caring personally is about doing things you already know how to do. It’s about acknowledging that we are all people with lives and aspirations that extend beyond those related to our shared work. It’s about finding time for real conversations; about getting to know each other at a human level; about learning what’s important to people; about sharing with one another what makes us want to get out of bed in the morning and go to work—and what has the opposite effect.
It isn’t simply a matter of allowing your approach to your responsibilities show that you care, however; you must also care deeply about people while being prepared to be hated in return.
The movie Miracle, which is centered around the head coach of the 1980 U.S. men’s Olympic ice hockey team, depicts this really well. Head coach Herb Brooks unifies his team by pushing them so hard that he becomes the common enemy. In the movie it’s clear how much he cares about each player, and it’s painful to watch how long it takes the players to see it. Being the boss can feel like a lonely one-way street at times—especially at first. That is OK. If you can absorb the blows, the members of your team are more likely to be good bosses to their employees, when they have them. Once people know what it feels like to have a good boss, it’s more natural for them to want to be a good boss. They may never repay you, but they are likely to pay it forward. The rewards of watching people you care about flourish and then help others flourish are enormous.
Paul: What are the two principles that a great boss follows when approaching relationships with employees? 
Kim: Care Personally and Challenge Directly. The best bosses apply these principles as they build a relationship with each employee, and also in the way they conduct their three responsibilities as managers: create a culture of feedback, build a cohesive team, and achieve results collaboratively.
Paul: I love the notion of asking for public feedback from your team. It seems like a wonderful way to demonstrate that you care about feedback and that it’s safe to have these conversations. Would you share your thinking about this?
Kim: When you ask for public criticism (you’re not fishing for compliments here), it does three things for you.
Most importantly, it gives you the opportunity to model how to respond to feedback. No matter how hostile the question may feel, remember this is NOT the time to criticize the criticism you get. It’s the time to show how to master one’s natural defensive reactions and to treat feedback like a gift.
Also, inviting public criticism makes it more likely you’ll hear it. As a manager it’s easy to get so busy that it’s hard for people to get on your calendar. That’s why the “criticize in private” mantra doesn’t always apply to you.
Finally, it saves you time. When you are a leader, you usually have more than one direct report, and sometimes hundreds or even thousands or tens of thousands. Usually a lot of people have the same feedback for you, and it’s faster/more efficient to hear it and respond once than it is to respond lots of times.
 
Tune in next week for Part II.

Q&A with David Burkus, author of Under New Management

David Burkus is a best-selling author, an award-winning podcaster, and associate professor of management at Oral Roberts University. His latest book, Under New Management, challenges the traditional and widely accepted principles of business management and proves that they are outdated, outmoded, or simply don’t work — and reveals what does.
Read on for David’s insights on creativity, technology and how to be a popular boss.
Paul: Thank you, David, for you time and for your insights. In your book, The Myths of Creativity, you outline a practical approach for everyone to find new ideas. Would you share the essence of this approach with us?
David: Myths are stories we develop as a society or culture to explain mysterious things about the world or to reinforce shared beliefs. We’ve done the same thing with creativity. There are a lot of misconceptions about where it comes from or how it’s supposed to work that stand in the way of reaching our true creative potential. When we rewrite the myths about how creativity works, everybody benefits. For example, the Eureka Myth suggests that creative moments just appear suddenly rather than being the product of hard work.
Paul: Distraction and technology seem to be eroding our time alone – what do you think the consequences of this will be and what we can do that might impact this trend.
David: I’m both excited and terrified by connective technology. On the one hand, connectivity is going to enhance the amount of information we have access to and hence the raw material we can use to generate new ideas. On the other, as a temptation for distraction, that same technology can be a huge productivity killer. Everything in moderation – technology too.
Paul: You feature many influential authors and thinkers – like Daniel Pink and Nancy Duarte – on your podcast. Can you name four or five ideas that have come out of your of interviews that have somehow changed who you are or how you live your life?
David: I’m not sure I could narrow it down to four or five ideas, but I can mention a theme I’ve noticed with lots of people: time. Spectacular achievement, more than luck or talent, seems to be the result of putting in the time and continuing to work and improve. I realize that sounds like a cliché or something you’d see in a photo on Facebook, but at the same time, the reverse implication is fascinating. If you’re working hard on making a dent in the universe, you need to give yourself time and not get so frustrated that you haven’t “arrived” yet. It takes time.
Paul: You interviewed Anders Ericsson. How can we apply the idea of deliberate practice in everyday life even when we don’t have ten thousand hours or the desire to be the world’s best?
David: It takes a coach. When I interviewed him, he emphasized the role of feedback and spending time practicing what is hard over and over again until it’s not so hard. It’s not about the number of hours you rack up…it’s about how well spent those hours are. And without a coach or a guide, those hours likely won’t be used to their full potential.
Paul: What advice do you have for first-time supervisors who aspire to be a popular boss that everyone respects?
David: When people read my book Under New Management, they usually have one of two questions. Either they ask how to get started, or they ask what they can do if they’re not the CEO. Ironically, both are the same. Whether you’re sitting in the top seat, or you’re a brand-new manager, figure out what is blocking your people from doing their best work and find a way to eliminate it or shield them from it. Most people want to make a positive contribution, and many times the bureaucracy gets in the way. Your goal is to innovate the organization so that you can set talent free.

Q&A with Dr. Liane Davey

Dr. Liane Davey is a psychologist, business strategist, author and speaker. The co-founder of 3COze, she works daily to take healthy teams to the next level of performance and to rehabilitate teams that have become unproductive and toxic.
She does this by combining her expertise in strategy with her deep insight into group dynamics – and because of this, she is sought out by some of North America’s leading financial services, high-tech and healthcare organizations.
If you like what she has to say below about meetings, networking and workplace relationships, please be sure to check out her two books: Leadership Solutions and You First.
 
Paul: As you know, a lot of my work centers around conversations in the workplace and meetings in particular. I love your take on the best way to decline a meeting invitation – can you share it with my readers?
Liane: When you receive a meeting invitation, it’s important to think about whether or not it’s a good use of your time to attend the meeting. Don’t just “accept” as a reflex.

First, consider whether the meeting is set up for success. Is the topic timely? Are the right people invited to ensure you can make the required decisions? If the meeting isn’t set up for success, suggest ways to make it more effective or recommend that it be canceled or postponed.
If the meeting seems like a good one, next you should ask yourself whether you’re the right person to attend. Are you the right person from your team? Does the issue need someone more senior? Is it an opportunity to delegate to someone more junior? Is there unique value you can add above and beyond the others who will be in attendance? If you’re not the right person to attend, it’s appropriate to decline and possibly suggest someone else in your stead.
Finally, even if it’s an important meeting and you can add value to the discussion, it might not be the most important thing for you to be doing at this particular time. Think hard about the opportunity cost of attending the meeting and make a call based on what’s most important for you to pay attention to. If you have something to contribute but can’t afford to attend, ask to contribute in advance or to attend for only parts of the meeting.

If you’ve decided at any one of these three points that you should decline the meeting, be polite and helpful. Regardless of which option is best for you, be deliberate and thoughtful about which meetings you attend and be forthcoming about your rationale for declining an invite.
 
Paul: Also in the workplace, you make a distinction between venting and gossip. In your opinion, what’s the difference between the two and how should both be handled?
Liane: Venting is when someone uses another person as an outlet for a buildup of negative emotions. They bluster away with a litany of issues and you have no room to get a word in edgewise. For the most part, venting is not aimed at anyone in particular and after a few minutes, the person feels better and carries on. Gossip is a more personal attack on an individual who isn’t there to defend himself. Gossip is insidious and quickly destroys trust in a workplace. If you’re on the receiving end of office gossip, there are a few things you can do. If you believe there is some truth to what the person is saying, you can channel the frustration into a forum where it can be addressed. For example, if your coworker is complaining that Sally was rude to him during the meeting and his ideas got short shrift, you can suggest that he ask to have the issue put back on the agenda. If you don’t believe there is merit to your coworker’s complaints, it’s important to say so. Where possible, take the third party out of the conversation and insert yourself instead. “Frank, I thought Sally was very polite, and she only asked to move along once we had spent 30 minutes on the topic. I don’t think you had enough data to support changing our approach. I’m happy to give you my thoughts on what it would take to reverse the decision.” Regardless of whether you think the gossiper has a legitimate point or not, the idea is to make it very uncomfortable for him to whisper about the issues rather than raise them in an appropriate forum. If every time your coworker gossips to you, you force her to have a grown up conversation, you’ll probably hear a lot less gossip!
 
Paul: What’s the most impactful way to help out a coworker who is stressed out?
Liane: First, although stress isn’t contagious in the traditional sense, it is common to pick up on the emotional states of others. Be careful when you’re helping a teammate who is stressed out not to take on their stress yourself. With that said, there are a few things you can do to be helpful. First, help reduce the stress that comes from isolation by listening and being empathetic. If you notice that their verbal or non-verbal behavior is concerning, just point it out. “I’ve heard a few big sighs coming from your direction. What’s up?” As you get the person talking, help them figure out the root cause of the problem and suggest some ways they might make things better. If the workload is too high, help them prioritize or solicit some help. If they aren’t sure how to accomplish a task, help break it down into more manageable steps. Even if you can’t help to reduce the stressors, you can probably help reduce the toll that stress is taking on your coworker. If you notice your coworker skipping lunch, grab her a bite to eat at her desk or encourage other healthy habits, like going for a quick walk or watching a funny video on the web. Don’t just ignore a coworker who’s stressed out. Take a moment to help them become more self-aware and to problem solve about how to get out from under the wave.
 
Paul: In Harvard Business Review, you’ve written about the two sides of networking – instrumental and psychological – with most people not understanding the importance of the latter. Can you expand on why this part of networking seems to be missing for most people?
Liane: Networks (just like mentors) can provide both instrumental (job- or goal-related) and psychosocial (emotional) support. Many people rely on their network for one, but not the other. If you’re the type of person who is great at getting job leads, competitive intelligence, or new business opportunities from your network, great! But are you also finding folks to talk to about the more personal aspects of succeeding at work? Networks can provide great support in helping you manage stress, think about work-life balance, and deal with difficult bosses or coworkers. These are very valuable contributions from a network and shouldn’t be neglected. On the other hand, many people do the opposite with their network: they over-index on the psychosocial support and forget to reach out when then need on-the-job help. Don’t feel sheepish about asking for assistance on a job hunt or in finding new clients. Your support network can be a great career-booster, too!
 
Paul: Can you tell us a bit more about speaking with impact and writing powerfully?
Liane: I’m really passionate about good communication. Unfortunately, it’s very rare these days. Too much communication is unidirectional and just blasted into the world with little thought about its intent or impact. If you’re sending a message, start by thinking about the impact you want to have. Obviously, think about the information you have to transmit, but don’t stop there. Once you’re clear what people need to know after reading your message, clarify what you want them to think, how you want them to feel, and what you want them to do after reading. Then write your message with those outcomes in mind. If you want people to do a certain thing, have you infused your message with the right facts and emotions to spur action? If not, go back and revise the message until it creates the desired effect. Once you’ve got the content right, make sure your writing is clear and doesn’t get in the way of the message you’re trying to convey. Take out the fancy words and simplify your language. Clean up your grammar and make sure verb tenses all match (especially if you’re using bullet points). You’ll know that you’ve written a strong communication if the words don’t get in the way of what you want people to think, feel, and do!
 
Paul: Would you share what you are currently working on or other ideas that you have been exploring?
Liane: I’m spending considerable time and energy devoted to improving the use of conflict in the workplace. I’m really concerned that we’ve become conflict avoidant and we’re paying the price in reduced innovation, poor risk mitigation, and eroding trust. I’m trying to change people’s mindsets to understand the value of conflict and then to build the skills to have productive conflict. It’s such an important topic, but one many people are reluctant to talk about.

HIGH-PERFORMING TEAMS PART I: CREATING SPACE WHERE EVERYONE FEELS SAFE

A group of researchers at Google completed an intensive two-year study of more than 180 teams looking for the key characteristics of their high-performing teams. The New York Times article on the study is worth your time.
Two elements stood out:
1. Psychological safety—people felt safe to talk.
2. Broad participation—all team members have equal opportunity to contribute to the group conversation.
There was nothing Google did in advance to help create the high-performing teams. The researchers were simply curious to see if they could discover the distinguishing factors that might be able to guide other teams to better performance.
Let’s explore the notion of psychological safety. What allows people to be self-expressed in groups?
This is a broad question, and there are many possible factors. Therefore, it’s always good to put the question to your own group and find out what they need in order to feel it’s safe to say or ask anything.
Asking the question is the beginning of your group’s exploration, which is the most direct approach, but I’ll offer my top candidates for increasing the psychological safety in your group:
• Take the time to get to know each other.
• Make listening and attentiveness the norm.
• Don’t make negative comments—be less judgmental.
• Work to understand defensive tendencies—taking things personally.
Take the time to get to know each other—don’t wait for team building.
To get the real power out of your team meetings, it’s imperative to get to know each other in a way that gives you permission to say or ask anything—in a way that makes challenging, back-and-forth conversation accessible. It may seem as if you know each other, but you probably don’t—at least not in terms of what is possible.
You can deepen your relationships without waiting for special team-building events. Working on relationships requires deciding to make time for it. It’s simple, but not easy. It means making a commitment, then shifting priorities to allow the time for making connections. You are busy—perhaps busier than you would like to be. Still, part of working in an organization demands that you find time to create and maintain the relationships you need to be successful.
As Tom Scheuermann at Oregon State University puts it, “It’s either pay now or pay later. If we ‘pay’ with spending a little time building relationships, we will avoid ‘paying’ later with having to re-explain things, deal with bruised egos, or handle confusion or colleagues who don’t seem to care enough to deliver on time.”
In the face of this reality, make spending time with your colleagues a priority. Making this small adjustment in your priorities can involve only a couple of hours a month, yet still make a real difference. The benefits of deeper relationships, while perhaps not immediately apparent, will allow for more effective communication and reciprocal support.
In meetings, you can put this perspective into action when you:
• acknowledge people when they enter the room.
• check in with people a few minutes before and after the meeting.
• give people your complete attention when they speak during the meeting.
• acknowledge when someone’s comments add to your thinking.
• speak respectfully when you disagree.
• notice who hasn’t spoken yet and invite them into the conversation.
Make attention and listening the norm in your meetings.
Consider that there is a way of listening that allows people to speak authentically.  A wonderful book by Michael Nichols, TheLost Art of Listening, makes the point that people typically listen to comprehend or to follow along in a conversation rather than to participate nonverbally in a way that lets the person speaking know you “got” what they said.
Nichols says that just listening without adding to or changing the conversation is what is important. Reassuring someone isn’t listening. Trying to solve the problem isn’t listening. Just listening is listening. And when people feel we are interested and paying attention, they will speak about the things that matter to them.
Yet we don’t listen very often, at least not in a way that is magical. We interrupt. We finish other people’s sentences. We pretend to listen. Sometimes we don’t even pretend.
Attention and caring are tightly connected. If you pay attention to someone who is speaking in a meeting or you pay attention to your small kids when they want to talk, they will interpret that you care. On the other hand, if you engage in side conversations or multitask with other work while people speak, they will make up that you are not interested. This will erode the safety and permission that exists in the meeting.
Always remember that your attention is a gift.
Don’t make negative comments—be less judgmental.
This is a tough one because the human mind is wired to continually assess and make judgments. The mind is fast—very fast, but American psychologist Carl Rogers, in his book On Becoming a Person, noted how this capacity to assess and judge can interfere with true communication:
The major barrier to interpersonal communication lies in the very natural tendency to judge—to approve or disapprove of the statements of the other person . . . Our first reaction to most of the statements which we hear from people is an immediate evaluation, or judgment, rather than an understanding of it. When someone expresses some feeling or attitude or belief, our tendency is, almost immediately, to feel “that’s right,” or “that’s stupid,” “that’s reasonable,” “that’s incorrect.” Very rarely do we permit ourselves to understand precisely what the meaning of the statement is to him.
Given the hardwired nature of this tendency to assess and judge, it isn’t productive to try to stop doing it. Still, because it can get in the way of your ability to understand and support others, there are ways to keep this judgmental mechanism at bay:
• Be curious.
• Remind yourself that the other person’s views are as legitimate as yours.
• Give the person speaking the benefit of the doubt; assume positive intent.
• When negative thoughts do occur, notice them and then set them aside and intentionally refocus on listening for clarity, understanding, and value.
Understand defensive tendencies—taking things personally.
“If you’re a person, then it’s personal.”—Denzel Washington, The Preacher’s Wife
One of my mentors consistently reminded managers: “Everyone is a little bit scared and a whole lot proud. And if you remember this, you’ll be better with people.”
You’ve also heard the phrase, “It’s nothing personal—it’s just business.” The only problem with this phrase is that, if there is a person involved, it is personal.
People sometimes set up criticism or disagreement or feedback with comments along the lines of “This isn’t personal … ” or “Don’t take this personally, but … ” From their point of view, perhaps it isn’t personal. Still, why did they say it? Because they know that it will feel as if it is personal. And they’re trying to avoid a defensive response, which is a deeply instinctive strategy to avoid being hurt.
“There is no sport in hurting me. It’s so easy.” —Alais, The Lion in Winter
Clearly, we’ve got work to do on both sides of the equation. We should do everything we can to avoid putting people on the defensive, embarrassing them, or teasing or discounting them. And we should resist the impulse to take offense and give ourselves time to put things into perspective so we can be the kind of person we want to be when we respond.
“Try not to offend, and give up your right to be offended.” —Ron Adams, Oregon State University
The capacity to work intelligently together depends in part on our realization that we are human beings and thus hardwired to be defensive when we think we’re being attacked. This is especially true during difficult situations or when collaborating across organizations or working virtually. In circumstances like these, where there’s less opportunity to deepen relationships, putting attention on being more thoughtful is essential.
One final thought: Good relationships are possible when people are comfortable with one another. How easy are you to be around?
You can learn more about personal effectiveness, conversation, relationships and meetings here.
Thank you for reading.
Regards,
Paul
Originally published on LinkedIn September 14, 2016

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