Tag: conversation

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.

Q&A with Chris Taylor of Actionable.co

Chris Taylor spends his days working to change the world of work – one conversation at a time – through his company’s flagship program, Actionable Conversations, as well as the book summaries and thought leader interviews at ActionableBooks.com.
Founded by Chris is 2008, Actionable.co started off as a passion project and has since turned into something much bigger. On his site, you will find access to over 1000 summaries of business books in bite-size format, all for free. Each summary consists of a brief overview of the book, one key message, and two ways you can easily integrate that message into your life in five minutes or less.
Below are Chris’s thoughts on the importance of building relationships in the workplace, getting the most value out of a book, and his takeaways from spending an entire year reading a book a week.
Enjoy!
 
Paul: You are a big advocate of relationships, especially at work, and say they are the #1 engagement factor. What are some best practices that you’ve learned over the years?
Chris: When we consider the fact that we spend more waking time with our colleagues than we do with our spouse on most given days, it’s wild to think how little time we spend proactively cultivating relationships at work. Beyond the transactional “I need this, you need that” interactions, one of the simplest things we can do to improve relationships is to engage in what my business partner refers to as “middle talk” – something that lives between the “small talk” about weekend activities and discussing the weather and the “big talk” about life purpose, deep desires, etc. Middle talk, then, is about the work we do, the impact we’re having (both with external stakeholders and our immediate working groups). Structuring in as little as one hour of “middle talk” conversation per month can help a team feel more connected and better heard, understood, and appreciated by their peers. This, in turn, drives employee engagement.
 
Paul: What is the best way to get people to value conversation and make it a priority?
Chris: Like most good habits (exercise, diet, sleep, etc.) the true value is experienced, not told. We recommend that clients make the first three conversations mandatory, with a conversation from the outset that engaging in these conversations will be a personal choice… after each person clearly understands the value (or lack thereof) that comes from the regular interaction. Frame it from the outset – we’re going to have three conversations over the next three months as a group… then we can decide (individually and as a group) if there’s value in continuing to have them. From what we’re seeing right now, 92 percent of teams decide to continue the conversations after those first three. The value of conversation is a fundamentally human need… we just need to be reminded of that sometimes.
 
Paul: In 2008, you decided to read one personal development book a week for an entire year. What were some unexpected outcomes of this project?
Chris: There were a couple major advantages for me in that project. First and foremost, I was amazed by how many other people gravitated to the idea. Not the idea of “reading” a book a week, per se (lots of people have done that or more), but in the act of applying one concept from each book to my life and/or business. We live in a time of information overload – there’s already, freely available, way more content than any one of us could consume in a lifetime. The value is not so much in knowledge collection so much as it is in knowledge application. Others saw value in the logic of consuming less but applying more and chose to engage in the conversation, which led to the business that is now Actionable.co.
The second outcome from the project was a natural connection to a world of thought leaders and passionate content experts. As I finished each book I would write the author, thanking them for their work and sharing a link to the Actionable Summary I had created with my key takeaway from their book. No ask. Just a connection and stated appreciation. As a result, I was fortunate enough to forge some great connections, many of which have expanded into deeper relationships and friendships today. Thinkers like Seth Godin, Dan Pink, Susan Cain, Sir Ken Robinson, Simon Sinek and more were gracious enough to invite me into their homes and professional circles. Those connections have heavily influenced my life and business practices.
 
Paul: One big takeaway I’ve read was that “ideas are only valuable when applied.” What made you come to this conclusion? And are Actionable Books reviews a product of this belief?
Chris: When I started the “book/week” project in 2008, I was a year off the heels of a failed business venture that had sent me down a pretty dark path. Over the course of 2007 I consumed business and personal development books at a voracious pace – three or four a week… but nothing was changing. I was learning a lot, but my life was the same as it had been at the beginning of the year. I realized (around September) that while reading might be fun/interesting/distracting (pick an adjective), unto itself it didn’t create value. It was only through the act of applying what I’d learned that I could make any difference in my life. So, on the dawn of 2008, I decided to change my strategy – (a) slow down the reading pace, (b) identify the key concept from each book that I wanted to practice, (c) build a clear test activity that I could repeat daily for the week, and (d) communicate the plan with a group of individuals who could hold me accountable to the exercise. Then I was able to proactively reinvent the way I interacted with the world.
 
Paul: What has been your favorite book to review?
Chris: Tough call. I’m a big believer that the right book at the right time for the right person has the power to unlock untold latent potential. So I’d be hesitant to recommend or comment on one specific book for the content’s sake. That said, I remember reading Steve Farber’s Greater Than Yourself shortly after meeting Steve at his home in San Diego. Live texting with him while I was reading the book was pretty memorable. It added a whole new dimension to the book.
 
Paul: Can you give us some advice on the best way to get value out of a book?
Chris: Don’t get caught up in trying to suck all the value from the book. A well-researched, well-written book will have 15+ gems that you could apply. But you won’t. Not all of them, at least. Better to focus on the one thing that you want to apply from the book. Write it down. Commit to a time frame and a new habit. Try it out and reflect. One idea applied well is infinitely more impactful than a lot of “maybe someday I’ll use that.”

Sharing memories, creating connection

Recently, grandson Reece asked if he could interview Cindy for a school project. He had chosen the subject of travel and began with this question: “Why did you decide to travel the world?” Ten questions later, Reece knew more than anyone else about his grandmother’s passion for seeing different places.
A couple of years before, granddaughter Haley interviewed Cindy about her early years—grade school through high school. It was fascinating to watch Cindy reflect back and find moments and stories she had not thought about or spoken about for a long time. It was also nice to watch Haley and Reece be leading the conversations thoughtfully and intentionally—so easy to forget what kids are capable of doing.
Look for opportunities to share
Kids don’t often ask about the past; it’s usually only as adults that we become curious about our parents and their childhoods.
Recently, I ran across some photographs of my father in India and Burma during WWII. It reminded me that there is a lot about my parents that I don’t know, such as how he got there and what that trip was like. And now it’s too late to ask.
I would love to be able ask my parents about what they did for fun, their first car, when they saw their first movie, their friends—even the tough times. It would be wonderful to go through all of the old black-and-white photos and ask for the stories behind each one.
Often a child’s interest in the past begins with a school project like Reece’s. Other times, however, something in the news, or perhaps their own interests or problems, will prompt a question.
Be ready for these questions. When one appears, stop, reflect on it thoughtfully, and then respond authentically from a viewpoint of sharing rather than teaching or influencing their thinking.
This is not a time for short answers!
I’m reminded of an e-mail that my daughter, Amy, sent me long ago. It was brief and to the point: “Dad, you need to share more.”
Ever since I received that note from Amy, I intentionally listen for opportunities to say more. For instance, one of the grandkids asked me about my new shotgun for pheasant hunting. So I told him about my relationship with my father, about my love of the outdoors, about our concern with having guns around the house. We probably talked for twenty minutes. That conversation reminded me that some conversations need us to focus on listening and others call for a focus on sharing.
Start a journal or collection of stories for later
We all have our own memories and stories that are prompted by familiar events of everyday life. Cindy and I were driving through a small town In Kansas, and as we passed a park, I was reminded of watching movies as a child on a big wooden board in the little city park where my grandparents lived. And that moment created a wonderful hour-long conversation about the small towns in each of our pasts.
Now that baseball season is upon us, I am reminded of Saturday afternoons of watching baseball on TV with my grandfather. The announcers were Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese, and Grandpa Pete had all kinds of superstitions. Never strike out the first batter because you’ll lose the game was one he truly believed in. He would go crazy if the Cardinal’s pitcher struck out the first batter. I’m sure the grandkids will love to hear about my grandfather.
The stories are there. The question is, Are you in touch with all the memories and stories from your past? If you are, you’ll find moments when they are wonderful additions to the conversations with family and friends.
Perhaps the most important reason of all for sharing our stories: Relationships are enhanced by having wonderful conversations about things that matter. People love stories, and when we share ours, we add depth to our relationships and broaden our points of connection.

Sharing Information at the Office — Are You Doing It Right?

When it comes to sharing information with colleagues or employees, American psychologist, Carol Gilligan, puts it best: “I’ve found that if I say what I’m really thinking and feeling, people are more likely to say what they really think and feel. The conversation becomes a real conversation.”
Truly, these real conversations can only happen in environments where an organization or company values openness, transparency, inclusion and alignment. It comes down to the fact that people – on every level – want to be included and they want to be informed.
From an organizational perspective, it is important to continually give people permission to “clear” – the chance to ask about anything. Without this freedom, they will be left listening to rumors or simply left in the dark. What’s worse, given a void in information, people will make something up to fill it. This can cause all sorts of havoc.
That said, consider these practices when it comes to sharing information. They can overcome cultural habits that discourage questions and complaints, or layers of management that obscure the view for most employees.

Ask your managers to put an agreement in place with their staff to encourage more questions. This is what I recommend as an agreement: If you are curious, wondering, anxious or concerned about anything, please ask. I promise to tell you the truth.
Share what you know. Don’t make people ask the perfect question to get access to all of the information you possess. Constantly think from the perspective: What else would they like to know but haven’t asked about?
Start meetings with a clear request for participation. Make it a standard practice to remind people that you would like them share their views, questions, and concerns on each topic. I often phrase it in this way: Sometimes, it might sound as if I don’t want questions, or we might be getting behind on our agenda, but please don’t let this stop you from asking for the clarity and understanding you need.
Build more time into your meetings. If people feel like the meeting is going to run late, they tend not to ask all of their questions. Reduce the number of topics on your agenda and add 15 minutes to ensure clarity and understanding. Slowing down in the short term will pay off in the long term as you create a culture where people realize that you do want to know what they think.
Consider those not present. Ask the people who are present if they can think of anyone who would like to know about what happened in the meeting. At the end of the meeting, ask for volunteers to communicate with people who couldn’t be at the meeting.
Add extra time on global calls. When you can’t see people physically or if English is their second language, allowing plenty of time for people to speak is vital. Double the amount of time you put into your agenda to ensure people will ask questions so they can reach understanding.
During times of change, share more information and be available for questions. In order to deal with change, people need clarity, not certainty. Most managers make the mistake of waiting for certainty before being in communication with their people – too late. Talk to your people before you know how it is all going to turn out. You can always tell them what you know right now, the process that is being followed, and when you will know more. That clarity will go a long way towards reducing the angst in the organization.
One thing to watch out for. Avoid long answers and lengthy explanations. Don’t add detail that isn’t necessary. This is about being available and then answering every question until your staff doesn’t have any more questions. And it’s always good to practice focused speaking—which means your speaking is clear, concise, and relevant.

 

Two designs for your one-on-one meetings with staff

Recently, there has been a lot of press about companies and organizations walking away from the annual performance appraisals. I believe there are many factors contributing to this, but I think the most important – and maybe surprising – is the employees themselves. Most people want to know how they are doing in real time rather than waiting six months or a year for a review. They also want to feel a connection to their boss, and that often means talking often enough so that difficult conversations are few and far between.
This idea works well with a recent article that argued for calling these one-on-ones conversations instead of meetings. Since I’m trying to get all meetings to be seen as a series of conversations, I love that idea. The value of one-on-one sessions is that they can truly be a back-and-forth, give-and-take discussion that leads to transparency, clarity, and progress.
To be truly effective, these conversations need to be “filter-less.” By that I mean both manager and staff member agree to speak openly as well as respectfully. Here are some guidelines that you might include in your organizational culture to promote greater levels of candor and permission and to provide the context and tone for your one-on-one discussions.
Let’s be straight with one another…

If you are ever curious or concerned about anything…ask. I’ll tell you the truth.
If I have concerns about your performance or hear any concerns from anywhere in the organization, I’ll tell you within one week.
If something isn’t working for you, let’s discuss it.

Let’s be accountable to one another…

Let’s avoid unfulfilled expectations by being clear and specific when we discuss goals and action items. If it’s not clear… ask.

 Let’s be fair with one another…

Decision making will be transparent and open to input and review, yet not everyone will be involved in every decision. Ask for the level of involvement you need.
Let’s give one another the benefit of the doubt… and when we make a mistake, let’s have it be no more than a mistake.

Two Designs for One-on-One Staff Meetings
Here are two one-on-one meeting formats that clients have put into practice with wonderful results. Both are initiated, designed, and led by the staff member, not the manager. While that’s not necessary, there is a powerful level of ownership gained by having the employee be responsible for the meeting.
The Standard Checking-In Meeting
 Action required of employee:

Request time on the manager’s calendar.
Share proposed agenda two or more days in advance of the meeting.

 Agenda Format:
For each topic:

State the issue or topic to be discussed.
Provide enough background or context so issue is clear.
State the desired outcome for this conversation.

Agenda discussion path:

Review recent circumstances and actions
Discuss ideas, concerns, issues.
Review next steps: Who will do, What, by When.

Action the next day:

Employee sends follow-up e-mail to summarize the meeting, if appropriate.

 The 30-60-90: One-on-One Check-In with Team Members
Providing clarity about the future and the focus required to achieve it are important elements of managing people. Three time frames are important—30 days, 60 days, and 90 days—so that longer-term issues get equal attention. These meetings are usually done once each month.
Initiating action required:

The staff member sends responses to the questions below to the manager at least one day prior to the meeting so the manager has time to reflect.

Questions to be answered:

What has happened recently?
What are the desired 30-day outcomes?
What are the desired 60-day outcomes?
What are the desired 90-day outcomes?

Discussion path for the meeting:

Review prior action items.
Discuss ideas, concerns, issues.
Review next steps: Who will do, What, by When.

As you would expect, this format sets up excellent, purposeful discussions which add to the relationship. In addition, the manager can see where he or she might help team members by clearing roadblocks, selling ideas, or obtaining resources.
One final comment: I’m a big fan of having employees design and lead the meetings they have with the boss or with managers higher in the organization. Managers often don’t have time to think about one-on-one meetings ahead of time, and they sincerely appreciate employees who come into each meeting prepared. It’s another way for you to come across as remarkable.
 

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