June 2011

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PowerPhrase: I need your input to make an intelligent decision

Leaders often are afraid that if they ask for input, they will sound like they are abdicating their decision-making role. Here’s a phrase that will by-pass that. 

  • I needpowerphrase_icon2 to hear from you in order to make an intelligent decision here.

This phrase makes it clear that the leader intends to decide, but seeks to consider all options. It’s open, inclusive, rsponsible and decisive. 

Power Phrase: What don’t you know?

  • I don’t know

powerphrase_icon2is a Power Phrase. 

Joe kept trying to make it right and explain to Nancy why she shouldn’t be upset. He guessed what was upsetting to Nancy without really listening to what she was telling him. He tried to pacify her in ways that were based on one assumption after another. Finally he gave up and said,

  • I don’t know what to do next.

That was the perfect next step. Finally he was open enough to listen to Nancy. Finally they were able to have a real and productive conversation that moved their understanding forward. 

If you find your words aren’t getting the response you’re going for, ask yourself what you don’t know. Just entertaining the question can take your attention to a litany of assumptions you didn’t know you were making. The perfect next step is to go and find out. 

Real emotional intelligence

Emotions can be an important part of a conversation and can add power to communication. They also can be a distraction. Recently a team member dropped the ball again. This had happened several times. I understood the demands on her time, and I also needed to know what I could count on. So when her main message was:webby_sad_sm

– “I feel awful about this.”

it didn’t give me what I needed to hear. I didn’t want her to feel bad. I wanted to know she would come through for me so I wouldn’t be left doing what she had committed to. 

I’m a fan of psychology and emotional intelligence and knowing what we feel. In it’s place. We are emotional beings. If we exclude emotions from our business conversations and pretend they don’t exist, we can miss an important communication element.  

But when you try to convince someone they should keep you on the team after you’ve dropped the ball several times, it’s good to acknowledge your chagrin and essential to provide concrete reasons to let the other person know they can count on you in the future, even when they couldn’t in the past. 

I would have loved to have been able to keep this lady on the team, but I needed someone I could count on. We faced the facts and parted amicably. I was sad about the decision myself – but also happy because I knew she didn’t have time and we made the right decision. It took some genuine emotional intelligence to look at the facts and move on. 

PowerPhrase: I reviewed it as if it were my own

I have a lot of experience writing phrases and phrase books. But that doesn’t mean people who haven’t written phrase books can’t help me. However, in coauthoring, one challenge has been getting people to put their own wisdom and experience into powerphrase_icon2their contributions instead of unquestioningly following my lead .

That’s why when Diane used these words to preface her input on a phrase book she’s helping me with, I was very heartened. She said,

  • I reviewed it as if it were my own. So some of my comments may be intrusive.

Her preface reflects a perfect blend of ownership and respect for the fact that it is my project. She was willing to think beyond what I had already written without negating what I had. Her comments were very useful. 

Kudos to Diane and to Sharon whose input also reflects a great blend of my ideas and her own. It’s key to great collaboration. 

Subject line magic

My friend and coauthor Susan Fenner sent me an email with the subject line “You’re amazing!”

We exchanged many emails after that, and each time she replied, I received yet another email with the subject line “Re: You’re amazing!” It was quite a pleasant experience. 

Then it occured to me that Susan was receiving emails with the same subject line. It seems I had discovered another application of “You reap what you sow.” What goes around comes around. In this case, it’s a good thing.

I’m more conscious of subject lines now. 

Email for touchy conversations? Sometimes.

It’s common wisdom that you don’t use email for touchy conversations, isn’t it? 

I’ve been rethinking that one. Every situation is different, but more recently I’ve decided if I have something to tell an associate that might be difficult to hear, email is actually a good way to communicate – IF – I make it clear I plan to follow-up verbally and invite them to call if they prefer.

Too often people use email to hit-and-run. They chose it to avoid dealing with someone’s reaction and to have the last word.

But I think email explanations with an invitation to talk about a situation actually allows the other person the time to collect themselves and respond gracefully and thoughtfully. It can give them the chance to consider alternatives and even uncover possible flaws in my logic. 

I’ve used it this way recently, and it worked the way I intended. Both times the recipient thanked me for my thoughtful email and was ready to have an open conversation about the situation I raised. Both times they actually agreed and were glad to have the opportunity to respond by saying basically the same thing from their perspective. 

So don’t rule out email for INITIATING touchy conversations. But don’t hide behind it either. 

Getting really good at falling

It might not sound like a complement, but it was. Steve told Wendy

  • You’ve gotten really good at falling this year

Steve was referring to cross country skiing.

When you’re good at falling, you dare to stretch past your comfort zone. You’re willing to risk more because you know you can pick yourself back up and move on with little damage. And this principle applies to more than cross-country skiing.

I’ve picked myself up from a number of communication falls lately. I’ve risked truth knowing that my friend or partner might not want to hear what I really was experiencing. I’ve ended a few associations that simply weren’t willing to meet me where I am. I felt some sadness, some relief and much peace.

I also have some amazing wins and breakthroughs. I’ve had moments of dazzling clarity, joyful shared discovery and satisfying connections. 

I think I’m getting really good at falling. How about you?

She talked it and walked it – home from assisted living

Last April I had the pleasure of welcoming my parents back to their home after months in skilled nursing and assisted living. Many people thought they would never return home again. Harriet, my step mother knew she would. It was her absolute certainty and determination that bought them more time in their home.

Some things needed to change to make it possible. That meant a lot of challenging but necessary conversations about who could be counted on to do what. Old family patterns and games had to give way to straightforward dialog. But they made it home and they’re still home, and contrary to many projections, my step mother is driving again.

She talked it and she walked it. It wasn’t just positive thinking and bold declarations. It was positive thinking, bold declarations and concerted effort. 

I salute her.

More Kindergarten Lessons About Learning

This from my engineer, researcher and Toyota Kata author buddy Mike Rother. Another learning experiment involving kindergartners. The Economist reported that proves (okay, indicates,) that when teachers, coaches and guides explain what you can do with something, it inhibits exploration and discovery. 

It’s such a fine balance! In Perfect Phrases for Managers and Supervisiors, I refer to Management by Throwing Spaghetti Against the Wall. Perfect Phrases for Leadership Development is all about guiding people to make their own discoveries. I recently heard a Kimberley Clark manager talk about how they don’t share best practices because they want their managers and workgroups to find their own answers. They guide them in doing that, but it still takes longer. It also results in managers and workgroups that learn to improve processes on their own.

I work with coauthors. I have my own ideas of how the books should evolve, but I know from experience that if I say too much, their input is more likely to be limited to what they think I’m looking for. If I don’t over-direct, they are more likely to come up with things I would have missed. 

So I hold back. I might ask questions, but if I do, they’re honest questions, not leading questions to get my coauthors to come to the same conclusions I did.

Of course, synergy comes from a side-by-side exploration. I have a head-start when I invite a coauthor to write with me on a book project I created. I like to give them a chance to do their own thinking and then I’ll share mine. Then we experience synergy – mutual discovery where we’re exploring side-by-side.

The Economist study did not explore what happens when the teacher and students discover what the toy can do together. I suspect if it had, the discoveries would skyrocketed.