I just had a lovely conversation with a friend who had given me feedback I found disheartening.
I don't want fluffy feedback that's all praise and no content. On the other hand, I do like to think that, despite the flaws and limitations, work that is the expression of my latest wisdom evokes more than red pen corrections.
My friend missed the point of my creation (although she did catch a lot of legitimate flaws. Her feedback was useful.) Happily, she didn't miss the point of my feedback on her feedback. I want us to move forward and to continue sharing ideas, and when I found myself hesitating to share something with her, I knew we needed to talk.
And we did. It's a good friend you can do that with. That's what I call SpeakingStrong in collaboration from The Synergy Center. Or, feedback about feedback among friends.
Last night I attended a gathering with an author I've admired and followed for over 20 years. I'll call her Claire. I walked away with many gems, one of which was the difference between talking about what matters and structuring it into a process.
The theme was self-care. Claire urged us to take care of ourselves so we could support our wounded community (the effects of the Waldo Canyon Fire) without coming from a position of need. However, the gathering was structured in a way that discouraged self-care then and there. After about two and a half hours of facilitated dialog, "Nancy" asked if she was the only one who wanted to pee but also didn't want to miss anything. Claire told her to go ahead and take care of her need. That required Nancy to crawl over other participants to step out, since the chairs were set in a circle with no easy way to get in or out. As Nancy left, Claire introduced a fascinating topic, which fed Nancy's concern about missing something.
The gender research is in. After all these years, women still speak drastically less when outnumbered by guys. And that's bad. Or is it?
I don't care how MUCH I talk. I care that the perspective I offer contributes. Of course, the two are related. The researcher reported:
"When women participated more, they brought unique and helpful perspectives to the issue under discussion. We're not just losing the voice of someone who would say the same things as everybody else in the conversation."
(Of course, it's not strictly a gender thing. Some women are naturally masculine in their participation and some men are naturally feminine in their participation - and that's not a criticism of either.)
There was one exception to the finding. When the resulting decision needed to be unanimous, women spoke more, and the decision reflected more community values. In other words, when every opinion matters by design, every voice is heard.
I've spent 25 years learning to SpeakStrong, and be direct when my inherently more feminine perspective is ignored. I've also spent much of that time learning to change the game so I don't have to compete in a style that is unnatural to me, and less refined than I'm capable of.
It would be inefficient to require that every decision be reached unanimously. There are other ways to structure discussion so every voice matters. Many of my communication formulas do just that. Often, just pointing out how unbalanced a conversation is makes the difference. Phrases like this can change the dynamic.
It's a meta-message that addresses context. Some say content is king. I say context is. If the context won't let you get a word in edgewise, create one that does.
How do you present to top executives? This SlideShare offers useful tips.
I post this SlidesShare about presenting to Executives because it is excellent and useful.The author talks about "execuphobia", which of course means, fear of executives. He suggests you fear FOR executives instead of being afraid OF them. It's a partnering mindset where you're on their team to help solve their problems. That's a great step toward curing execuphobia.
I studied it before I spoke to a room full of lean manufacturing executives. However, instead of applying his advice directly, I took another angle. (I wouldn't be me if I didn't. :-) ) My thinking was - execuphobia is the challenge I need to address, not a trait I need to jump through hoops to accommodate.
Well, my fear FOR executives is that by inspiring fearfulness, they miss out on a lot of input that they need in order to lead well. So my talk was aimed at breaking down the walls for conversational leadership. I didn't do that by getting to the point in one minute. I did it by catalyzing a conversation where THEY made my point in one minute. They made a lot of points for me, and admittedly, some of them took more than a minute to get to,
My style was familiar to them in theory but not in experience. Some loved it, others not so much. Some valued the way the approach cracked the surface of the discussion and got into underlying concerns. Others thought I should have been more directive.
I had a room full of talented, accomplished men and women. Why should I have made all the points? I left that approach to the other presenters and tapped into the brilliance in the room. I learned a lot, and so did they. It just might not have been what they thought they would learn. If they apply what they experienced as well as what they heard, their people might not need SlideShares about handling execuphobia.
My husband Bob does the grocery shopping on Saturdays. Sometimes he does other things while he's out, so one Saturday morning I asked, "What are your plans for today?" He said, "I think I'll do the grocery shopping." I saw that as a given, and and playfully asked, "When did you plan that?"
I cracked up because it's true - his day had been largely planned five years before. When I did my own shopping, I would tend to go when I opened the fridge and couldn't find anything to make a meal out of.
I enjoy the benefits of a fridge that magically replenishes once a week. His system works. The only question is, if it stopped working, would he change it?
Planners can be rigid, and those of us who are more spontaneous and organic can be chaotic. We've tempered each other over the years. While I never will embrace his level of structure, I gladly embrace the principle of creating systems that work. While he will never embrace my fluidity, he gladly embraces the principle of shaking things up when they get stagnant and just don't work anymore.
I like balance by nature. So when something seems imbalanced, my tendency is to fill in what's missing. I'm getting better at it. I used to be considered contrary. Now I'm considered complementary. Or at least when I do it well.
A brilliant friend asked for input on a SlideShare. It was informative but not particularly engaging. I reworked it in a way that was highly engaging. My version was intended to highlight an engagement tone, not to show him what a balance would be. Rather than add engagement to his writing, I went to the other side of the polarity. My intention was to give him an alternative to marry to his version.
The last three sentences are the meta-message about my input. A meta-message provides context so people know how to take your words. I didn't want him to think I was suggesting my version as a final one.
A meta-message also helps you understand where you're coming from. I wasn't always conscious of my tendency to fill in what's missing. I'd doubt myself and wonder if I really was contrary. I didn't know how to use that trait effectively. When I create my meta-message, I become more consious of my communication options.
People like to put people in boxes. We all do it. Your meta-message guides people to put you in a bigger box than they might reflexively. That gives you more room to operate, and that's a good thing.
When Stephen Covey popularized the idea of synergy, I was delighted. I also wondered why the concept didn't take off more than it did. To me, it seems so basic to success.
Yesterday someone told me the word synergy is dated in business circles. To me, that's like suggesting that exercise is out of fashion so we shouldn't talk about it or do it anymore.
Well, I figure anyone who dismissed the idea of synergy hasn't experienced its magic. What do you think?
Today, an editor of a magazine I write for told me she loves my article about synergy. She noted that the article empowers people who often feel "less than" and cements the fact that we al have a part of creating, and each part is needed. So maybe there's hope for synergy after all! There is if I have anything to do with it!
I'm not easy to work with. Well, those who like to collaborate enjoy working with me a lot. But working for me isn't for everyone.
I don't hire people, I partner with them. Basically, I use their expertise to help me make the decisions I would make if I had their knowledge and skills. So I didn't want a caterer/planner to give me bland choices, like one of three menus or what my colors would be. I wanted a caterer to stimulate my imagination to pick a theme, a menu and everything else that was involved in planning a major event—like a wedding.
The first caterer I met with had some great ideas. But she clearly had her own agenda—her own ideas, wedding imperatives. The way she dismissed my desire for finger food and insisted on a sit-down dinner was a warning sign. When, five weeks later and two weeks before the wedding, she sent me yet another menu that didn't reflect our conversations, it became clear it wasn't a match.
Enter Whole Foods. Sure, they could do chicken kabobs, but curried chicken satays would be easier to eat. Sounded good to me–and it was! Brad took my ideas and raised them up one. Where with my first caterer, I had a hard time visualizing what she was talking about, Brad's enthusiastic descriptions of possible dishes painted clear pictures that were aligned with my vision. And then, we came for a tasting. That closed the deal.
We heard it a lot—the wedding was delightful and was as unique as we are. And the food was part of the delight. That's because I found partners who were willing to understand what I wanted and advise me based on that understanding. They were willing for it to me my wedding, aided by their expertise.
And that's what good consultants do. They help people unfold their own genius. I was starting to wonder if there was a caterer who could do that. I went through a few, and found there was.
I'm not easy to work with if it isn't a match. None of us are. And even two weeks before the big event, it can still be a lot quicker and more effective to gracefully settle with those who aren't a match and find someone who is. Thanks to Brad and Sharon and Sherry and all those wonderful people who showed up in surprising, supportive and unassuming ways to help us have a magical mystery wedding. (In fact, a few people found both the preparing and the event so powerful they felt as if we all got married.)
Sometimes we can miss change that happens right before our eyes. That might be what's going on in our country now, as cooperatively owned businesses are finding footholds in the US and creating a new model of how businesses can run effectively. Gar Alpervotiz wrote an inspiring article about the growth of cooperative workplaces that may be paving the way toward dynamic democratization of business in America. You can read his article, Worker-Owners of America, Unite, in the New York Times online.
He emphasizes that it might be easy to over-estimate the possibilities of a new system. However, when you see the trend toward collaborative alliances popping up in many different forms and many different places, it does seem to signal that something new and good is happening. Just as the importance of lean manufacturing is far greater than the improved bottom line from the companies that practice lean, the importance of cooperative workplaces is greater than the incidences. They show that the alternative to the kind of capitalism that has developed isn't just a socialistic model. We're seeing living examples of how business systems that collaborate without compromise are truly viable alternatives.
Change happens when: the pain gets bad enough, the vision of possibilities is inspiring enough, and the steps are clear. We're feeling the pain in the US, and both lean companies, and worker-owned companies, are showing us visions of new models. Their experience can help us see the steps to the change, with added benefit from forward thinkers like Rod Collins, author of Leadership in a Wiki World, Mike Rother, author of Toyota Kata, and Tom Wujik, champion of The Marshmallow Challlenge, who teach the iterative approach to change, learning with each step. As Alpervotiz notes, the pain of our broken system just might be bad enough that we're ready for the options.
Lauren and I collaborate on writing projects. We share ideas at various stages of refinement. We respect each other's thinking enough that we're not embarrassed to share raw ideas. Our bad ideas form a foundation for some really good ones.
In personal relationships, people talk about having good chemistry. In business relationships, I will sometimes say,
Our collaborations don't involve compromise. They create something new that neither one of us could have created on our own. That's alchemy, synergy, and collaboration at its best.
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Collaborative communication skills for today's busy workplace