Tag: conversations

The Case for Thoughtful Notes in a Digital World

In the top drawer of my desk at home, I have a pile of handwritten notes. There’s one from Thayne, a longtime client. There’s one from Gwil, who has patiently worked with my writing for years. There’s another from a grandchild that reminds me to keep playing games with him. There is one from my daughter, Amy, from when she was about eight. And if I dig deep enough, there will be some that I’ve completely forgotten about but are wonderful to rediscover. Sometimes I don’t even need to read any to brighten my mood—I just have to remember they are there.
Do you have a drawer like this too?
Words have the capacity to renew our spirits and repair the damage from whatever tough moments life throws our way. Notes of acknowledgment and appreciation never lose their capacity to remind us that others care about us and that we matter.
Of course, the message is the same when it’s given verbally, in a text message, or in an e-mail. Yet there is something more enduring, more tangible, about that handwritten note. Seeing someone’s handwriting is more personal than the perfect edition produced by the computer.
The Reason for Writing Notes:

Verbal conversations disappear quickly; with notes people can read and reread your words, letting them truly sink in.
People are people and therefore they take things personally. And because of that, they will always be touched by a thoughtful note.
Do not worry about your penmanship or use of language. As long as you mean what you write, it will be taken in the right way. Sincerity always carries the moment.
People want to be noticed, liked, and valued. Most people are concerned about what we think of them. It is a gift you let them know that you appreciate not only what they do, but who they are.
Handwritten notes are scarce these days, and subsequently those messages carry even more weight—more caring and meaning.
There is also the benefit of the reflective mindset in which you place yourself—being present to what you write and to the person to whom you are writing…it’s a special place. Expressing gratitude also does wonder for your soul.

For sure, a thoughtful e-mail note is powerful, and if that is easier for you to do more frequently, go for it.
With that in mind, here are three notes to consider:
Thank you notes—expressing your appreciation for something someone did. Whether it’s thanking someone for repairing your divot mark on the green or for making coffee in the office or for getting back to you so quickly, there are literally dozens of things you might thank someone for each day. Most of these are done verbally—to write a note would seem like overkill. But once in a while, taking the time to express your thanks in writing would be appropriate and appreciated.
Acknowledgment notes—sharing your thoughts about what you like about the person, their characteristics or qualities—acknowledging his or her spirit or kindness or work ethic. Think about five things you appreciate about each of the people who work for you. Think of about ten things you like about each of your kids. Acknowledgement notes remind people of their impact on you. These will certainly occur less often than thank you notes, but as you begin to think of people in this way, you’ll find opportunities to express your appreciation for what you like about them.
Value notes—expressing the value you took away from being in conversation or from spending time with someone. This is a powerful way to honor the person by sharing what you gained from being with him or her. This is one practice that managers need to master. When you comment on the value in the experience, you are indirectly commenting on the value in the relationship. You probably haven’t received any of these notes or sent any—it’s not traditional, but do think about it.
What’s Next? Try it.
This week, write one to three thank you or acknowledgement notes and see what happens.
{I have a close friend, Don Gallagher, who has long been an advocate for thank you notes. You’ll find a nice piece here by Don.}
I know we are all rushed in life and there never seems to be enough time, but try slowing down this once and take your time in this exercise. Write a thoughtful thank you this week—a note that makes the person feel great about himself. Who knows? Maybe the note will end up in the top drawer of his desk, tucked a

Have Your Best Holiday Yet – Plan it Backward

Imagine it’s January 8th. You’re back in the office, sitting at your desk, reading through emails and checking items off your to-do list. You’ve successfully gotten back into the swing of things, and yet you can’t stop thinking about the holidays. Just last night at the family dinner table, everyone agreed that this had been the best holiday season anyone could remember.
But wait, it’s only December 10th!
Most of us plan from where we are, looking forward. That’s normal. Sometimes it would be more useful to plan from the future back to today. Like solving a children’s maze puzzle, it’s faster and you make fewer wrong moves if you go to the center of the maze and then work your way back to the beginning.
I recommend that you consider this approach in thinking about the holidays. Design backwards from the desired outcome to create the necessary conditions.
Here’s how you plan backward from a desired future:

Start by imagining the conversation among family members after the holidays are over, then ask this question: What 10 things made this holiday the best ever? Perhaps:

everyone got time for what they wanted to do
no one felt left out
the work got distributed more evenly than normal
we found something each day for everyone to be involved in

Then ask yourself this question: What conditions would almost guarantee these outcomes if the conditions were in place?

if we knew what everyone wanted to find time for
if we didn’t make any arbitrary decisions without asking others
if we asked for what we wanted instead of hinting

Then ask yourself: What’s needed to make sure those conditions are in place?

asking everyone to list three things they want to do
having the conversation early about what’s most important to each of us
giving people permission to take care of themselves

These won’t be your exact answers, but you get the idea. Whatever you come up will get you close to what you can do today to make sure the holidays turn out to be special.
The holidays hold such promise for wonderful times with our friends and family. We can – and should – plan so that they will turn out as we hope. It’s as simple as taking a few moments now to decide what you want, and then being intentional about producing that future. Clarity and action—powerful stuff!
Who can you have a conversation with now to ensure that next couple of weeks create the memories that will last a life time?

Who might you invite to coffee?

Building relationships is part of the job
With today’s hurry-up pace, it seems we’ve simply lost the notion of slowing down and taking time to be interested in other people. Front porches have been replaced with fenced-in backyards. Company softball teams have disappeared. Events designed to get employees together after work no longer hold the same interest. We’ve lost track of what is happening in other people’s lives. We eat at our desks, and there doesn’t seem to be time to go out for coffee.
Let’s make time. There is something about the invitation to have coffee that carries a genuine interest in the other person, in connecting. Sure, Facebook and LinkedIn are designed for keeping in touch with the people in your personal and work lives to some extent. But nothing beats face-to-face conversations for developing a sense of connection and understanding. And those connections forged over coffee, tea, or lunch can provide value beyond getting to know one another better—they affect your ability to get things done in the organization.

During a leadership seminar, Ashlee shared a couple of her favorite insights about being in a leadership role. I loved this one, which she called: “With whom do I need to have a cup of coffee?”
As we were in the beginning of a new product launch, Mary Pat and I were feeling the pressure: a lot to do, and a short time to do it. It was chaotic. During a rough moment, Mary Pat said, “I am failing. I feel as if I am failing.” 
“Why?” I asked her. “All launches are chaos, and we just need to get through it.”
She then said to me, “When Dave had this job, it wasn’t this chaotic. He would be having a cup of coffee with someone now instead of being out here on the factory floor.” 
I looked at her as if she were nuts and asked how a cup of coffee would make things less chaotic. She said, “Dave knew when and with whom he needed to be building relationships to avoid the chaos and indecision.” 
Her statement has stuck with me for years. I now evaluate situations and question where a cup of coffee could solve my problem, or at a minimum make it less painful.
For many reasons, projects stop moving or commitments are not kept. If you have a relationship in place with the folks involved, discussing the problem is much easier. It’s tough to bring up an issue with someone you don’t know. Over coffee might just be the best way to have difficult conversations.
There is something about disengaging from the hectic pace of work and life—stepping away, slowing down—that creates an environment of calm and safety and permission. It allows for conversations about things that matter. And I’m not talking about a huge time investment here. Thirty minutes, once a week, and you could make new connections or deepen your relationship with fifty colleagues in a year’s time.
Take Ashlee’s advice and begin your day by thinking of someone you might invite to coffee.

Excerpted from Meetings Matter: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations by Paul Axtell.

Whose topic is it and who should lead the conversation?

Most organizations use one of two options for determining who will lead a meeting. It’s either the manager/supervisor of the group, or it’s an outside person hired to facilitate the meeting.
But there is a more powerful option available: Decide on a topic-by-topic basis.
The roles people play in a meeting can change from one agenda item to the next. The meeting roles outlined below show a significant distinction in the parts people play, whether they’re the owner of a topic, the leader, or a participant. The entire meeting doesn’t need to have a single leader; this role can shift depending on who needs to be free to participate more fully in the conversation.
The Owner of a conversation topic is the person who requested time for it on the agenda. This person will both set the stage for discussing the topic and wrap up the discussion at the end. It is preferable for the owner of the conversation to be free to listen to each contribution, add clarity when needed, and consider the most powerful way to close the topic.
The Leader directs the discussion, with a focus on both keeping the conversation on track and ensuring broad participation.
Meeting Roles
The Provost Council at a Land Grant University I’ve worked with developed a definition of meeting roles that breaks down something like this:
Typically, this is the person who asked to put a topic on the agenda. The Owner sets up this conversation for the group, which might include:

Framing the topic in a longer time frame or providing the context
Setting outcomes for the conversation in this meeting
Explaining is wanted and needed from meeting participants
Establishing time and process, if the discussion process is complex

With straightforward and short-duration discussions, the Owner can also be the person who manages/leads the group conversation.
Whether leading or not, the Owner is also responsible for looking for the value that occurs during the conversation and providing closure at the end of it.
On complex or longer conversations, it’s useful to have someone who can manage the group conversation without adding content. Responsibilities include working with the Owner to design the best way to introduce and conduct the conversation.
This person is also responsible for making sure that the process for working through the conversation is clear and then keeping the conversation on track. The Leader manages the levels of conversation so everyone feels heard and included.
The Leader either provides a charting of the conversation or asks someone else to do so and asks someone to keep track of the conversation so pertinent points can be captured in the meeting notes to be sent out to participants within twenty-four hours.
Meeting Participants
In addition to participating in the conversation, Participants look for ways to help the Owner and the Leader to both accomplish the work on each topic and ensure that everyone has a good experience of being in the meeting.
Participants with less content to provide on a topic have an obligation to pay more attention to process and provide guidance on where the conversation is and where it might go next.
At times, you should lead your own meetings. No problem—I’m just arguing hard for not making it an automatic decision. Varying these roles is a wonderful way to build the organization’s capacity for effective meetings by giving lots of people a chance to lead—one conversation at a time rather than handle an entire meeting.