“It’s not going to work”

Photo by Bob N Renee

I remember, more than 13 years ago, at the beginning of my military service in the Israeli army. I was serving as an instructor in a school preparing soldiers for their service in the Air Force. A few months into my service I was attending a party for one of the other instructor who was about the leave after finishing her time in service. Her commander was talking about her, praising her, and he said something that for some reason I still remember. “I knew”, he told us, “that when she said in a meeting – something is not going to work – that she was right and our attempt was doomed to fail”. He continued “She had this ability to look at a suggestion and identify its weaknesses”.

For years this is a quality I desired. I wanted to be able to identify when things are not going to work. I wanted my peers and commander (or boss or supervisor) to say the same things about me. God knows I spent a lot of meetings saying things like: “this is not going to work” or “we tried that already, that’s not a good idea”.

Lately, I changed my mind. It’s not that I don’t think it is helpful to be able to point out weakness in plans. It is. I, however, came to the conclusion, that being pessimistic and critical might be OK, but if we really want innovative ideas that will change things, we need to build on each other’s ideas instead of shooting them down.

A few days ago a peer I am managing a project with sent me an idea. My first reaction when I read the idea was: “this is never going to work”. And I started writing an email detailing my opinion. And then I stopped.  I thought about all the research I have done in the last few months about cooperation and innovation. I deleted my original message and wrote: “sounds interesting. How did you think to develop this?”. I am still not sure it going to work. We set up a meeting next week to further discuss. But you know what? Yesterday I had an idea building on that original idea that I think might make it work. And isn’t that what cooperation is all about – synergy?

So, what are you doing in order to build on ideas? How are you making sure ideas are not just shot down, but are developed cooperatively?

Elad

BUT…

Photo by lionheartphotography

Last week I was thinking a lot about feedback as I was preparing to give a class about it as part of my reserve duty in the Israeli Air-force. One of the issues with feedback and communication in general is that because people’s perceptions are selective and interpretive (meaning: we only hear what we want to hear), words create reality. As I wrote just a few days back, the way you say something is just as important, if not more, than the content.

As I was dealing with feedback sessions aimed at creating a positive conversation that will enable the person to see things from different perspective so he can achieve self-growth to match his skills with the right challenges (the core definitions of flow), the issue of what words to choose in such a conversation became very important. One word in particular became very important: “But”.

You know this one very well. Everybody knows they need to start the feedback with something positive and get to the improvement part (I personally stopped believing in this conventional wisdom a while back). The word “But” is somewhere in the middle. And this is what some smarter people wrote about it:

“But” is a very dangerous word.

It puts people on the defensive.

It makes them think there’s a catch.

It negates everything you said before.

It reduces the positivity of your argument.

Thenametag guy, author of the preceding quote, goes on to describe 21 alternatives enabling the speaker to avoid the word “But”. Just an example:

6. “That’s a good idea. Have you ever thought about…?”

7. “That’s a good idea. Here’s what you need to be careful of:”

Paul Hebert similarly claims that when you use the word “But” in the middle of the sentence:

…the focus shifted from the positive to the negative.  The word “but” has that effect – demoting what comes before it and promoting what comes after.

As I was starting to catch-up on my reading after almost a week with no internet I found myself wanting to comment on some posts people wrote. And I automatically caught myself writing something like this:

You make a very interesting point. BUT, I disagree because…

I stopped and stared at the screen. I hit backspace and rewrote:

You make a very interesting point. I want to add my own perspective…

See the difference?

Very hard to do. My instincts cry out whenever I make myself do such a thing. The effects are, however, powerful.

Language matters.  How are you stopping your “But”s from coming out?

Elad

 

BUT…

Photo by lionheartphotography

Last week I was thinking a lot about feedback as I was preparing to give a class about it as part of my reserve duty in the Israeli Air-force. One of the issues with feedback and communication in general is that because people’s perceptions are selective and interpretive (meaning: we only hear what we want to hear), words create reality. As I wrote just a few days back, the way you say something is just as important, if not more, than the content.

As I was dealing with feedback sessions aimed at creating a positive conversation that will enable the person to see things from different perspective so he can achieve self-growth to match his skills with the right challenges (the core definitions of flow), the issue of what words to choose in such a conversation became very important. One word in particular became very important: “But”.

You know this one very well. Everybody knows they need to start the feedback with something positive and get to the improvement part (I personally stopped believing in this conventional wisdom a while back). The word “But” is somewhere in the middle. And this is what some smarter people wrote about it:

“But” is a very dangerous word.

It puts people on the defensive.

It makes them think there’s a catch.

It negates everything you said before.

It reduces the positivity of your argument.

Thenametag guy, author of the preceding quote, goes on to describe 21 alternatives enabling the speaker to avoid the word “But”. Just an example:

6. “That’s a good idea. Have you ever thought about…?”

7. “That’s a good idea. Here’s what you need to be careful of:”

Paul Hebert similarly claims that when you use the word “But” in the middle of the sentence:

…the focus shifted from the positive to the negative.  The word “but” has that effect – demoting what comes before it and promoting what comes after.

As I was starting to catch-up on my reading after almost a week with no internet I found myself wanting to comment on some posts people wrote. And I automatically caught myself writing something like this:

You make a very interesting point. BUT, I disagree because…

I stopped and stared at the screen. I hit backspace and rewrote:

You make a very interesting point. I want to add my own perspective…

See the difference.

Very hard to do. My instincts cry out whenever I make myself do such a thing. The effects are, however, powerful.

Language matters.  How are you stopping your “But”s from coming out?

Elad

Paul Hebert, Thenametag guy, and, but, communication, language, feedback, flow

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Listen only to the message; talk only to the person

Photo by AndYaDontStop

Last week I was preparing for a long drive with many people in my car. In order to make room for bags in the back of my car I took out the basketball I always carry there and put it on the back shelf near the back window. Some guy I don’t even know, who was standing near me, saw me put the ball near the back window and told me that it is dangerous because if I will have to make an emergency stop something not tied flying from the back of the car is like throwing a huge heavy brick inside the car.

And you know what? He was right. But I didn’t listen. Why? Because of the way he said it. He said it in a condensing way that meant the only thought I had was: “How obnoxious is this guy”. And for a minute there I thought about leaving the ball there just for spite. Who is this guy – I don’t even know him – to talk to me like that, and tell me what to do?

Luckily, I thought again. I decided to ignore that instinct and take the ball down. Tie it down so it would not pose a risk. Because no matter how unfriendly the guy was, he was right. And that made me think of two things:

1. We tend to think that if we just make a rational argument people will agree to it. If we just use the right line of reasoning people will see the light and come around. Unfortunately, people don’t work like that. They have many emotional barriers that prevent them from assessing the situation in a rational way. So it does matter how we say things. How we offer new ideas. How we criticize. It is not only the validity of our arguments that will determine whether or not we will be listened to, but also the way we present these arguments.

2. We need to try to separate the issue from the person. Yes, the remark I got about the ball in the back of the car could have been phrased better. If he would have approached me and asked me if he could make a suggestion instead of just saying it in a smug tone, I might have accepted it more easily. But did his tone change the fact that he was right? More importantly, did his tone change the fact that I was risking my life just to spite some guy I don’t even know? Sounds crazy, but we do it every day. How many bright ideas are we missing because we don’t like the person who raises them or the way he acts in meetings? What advice did we fail to take because we were too emotional to separate it from its source and evaluate it on its merits alone?

Do these two ideas seem to contradict each other? Maybe. F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said that “the true test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time”. But I don’t think they actually contradict. As communicators, we have no control over what goes on the mind of the other person, but we need to make sure we do as much as we can to help him get the message. The same way, we do have control over what is going on in our mind. And we have to do everything we can to understand what the other side is saying. Isn’t that what communication is really about?

Elad

Do other people know what you want?

Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography

Just yesterday I asked “Will middle managers join the dinosaurs?” after reading Lynda Gratton’s Future of Work blog post. Today in HBR.org John T. Landry gives a different approach:

…[W]e’re better off accepting command-and-control as the default for organizational life. A few companies or industries may be able to achieve true empowerment and collaboration for a while, mostly because their fast-changing markets leave them little choice. For every other organization, let’s lower our sights and focus on softening the edges of hierarchy.

Interesting. But I am more interested in a different part of the post where Landry describes an interview given by Bob Brennan CEO of Iron Mountain. Here is how Landry describes what Brennan says:

Brennan starts by saying that business is going through a transformation and top-down leadership no longer works well for companies. But he believes that too many of his managers still operate in a “command-and-control reflex.” They’re a lot like he was earlier in his career: good at holding subordinates accountable but bad at setting clear expectations. When subordinates aren’t sure what the boss really wants to accomplish, they don’t feel safe, and true delegation is impossible. Instead of acting autonomously, they hang around the boss and try to do whatever pleases him at the moment.

Fascinating. It reminded me of something I wrote long ago in a post called “What will your employees do when you leave for a vacation?”:

Imagine. You leave for a month of an overdue vacation. The catch is, it is on a deserted island, which has no way of communicating with the outside world. What will happen to your employees when you are gone? Will everything continue as usual? Will they be able to ask themselves, at every decision intersection they face – what does my manager would like to me to do, and answer that question? Correctly?

In one of the forums on Linkedin there is a current discussion about the difference between leaders and managers. While I have my own answer for this question, I found it interesting that a large part of the discussion was devoted to the question of vision and whether it is a necessary ingredient in the success of a company.  Well, maybe vision is a big word that frightens people and makes them think about historical figures or CEO of multi-million dollar companies. But actually it is much simpler. A manager needs to ask – will my employees be able to make decisions when I am not here. The decisions might be right or wrong in retrospect, but that is less important. What is important is whether these decisions align with your guidelines and attitude?

So, do the people around you know what you want even when you are not there?

Elad

Getting #feedback is hard

Photo by Criterion

I remember when I was in the Israeli Air Force an officer responsible for teaching one of the cadet courses and I had the following conversation:

Officer: Hey, you guys teach how to give feedback, right?

Me: Yes, do you want us to give a class to the cadets?

Officer: Yes, but I want you to teach them how to receive feedback.

Me: What do you mean?

Officer: We try to provide feedback all the time, but they keep arguing and talking back. I want you to teach them how to listen so my constructive feedback will be more effective.

I am reminded of this conversation every once in a while whenever I have trouble dealing with feedback myself. I ask myself from time to time should we teach people how to receive feedback?

While I would be inclined to agree that some people are very difficult when exposed to feedback – even constructive well intended one – my answer would generally be no. One of the first points I teach when I talk about feedback is very intuitive and usually is revealed by the students instead of lectured to them. Getting feedback is hard. There are a lot of reasons for this, many of them psychological and emotional. But I don’t really need to tell you that, as you probably felt it before. Everybody who ever got some feedback – and all of us have – felt it.

When I analyze it in hindsight I think the request of the officer suffered from a misunderstanding of one of the most basic principles of communication. In most cases, when there is miscommunication, it is the fault of the transmitter and not of the receiver. That is why I always try to refrain from saying “You don’t understand” and instead say: “I did not explain myself well”. Saying – “they just don’t listen” – takes the responsibility of your hands and puts it on the listener. The question is not if somebody else isn’t listening. The question is: are you talking in a way that will allow them to listen to you?

That is what I said to that officer. Teaching people how to receive feedback will probably not do any good, if you do not take the responsibility for giving true and effective feedback yourself. We should focus on how you give feedback and especially on ways of finding out why your cadets are unresponsive for you attempts to give them constructive feedback.

He did not like my answer. He did not come back.  I can guess why.  Getting feedback is really hard.

Do you take responsibility for giving constructive feedback or do you think that people are just not listening to you?

Elad

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Awareness (2)

Yesterday I wrote about awareness and how it is important for managers to be aware of their surroundings in order to to reach a human connection. Then I encountered the next two quotes:

Whoever knows essentially his own nature, can know also that of other men and can penetrate into the nature of beings. He can collaborate in the transformation and the progress of Heaven and earth (Confucian teaching).

How can the soul, which misunderstands itself, have a sure idea of other creatures? (Seneca).

Exactly what I said. Just shorter and more to the point.

Elad

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Awareness

Photo by Metro Centric

In the last few weeks I have been taking classes in positive psychology and practical philosophy. Both disciplines have a lot in common but the main thing is the idea of awareness and noticing out surroundings. The basic idea is kind of ironic. Only by truly being aware of the now and truly feeling it, you can achieve long-term goals of a sustainable happier life.

If you watch the amazing clip above, you will learn many things about human behavior. One of the most interesting pieces of information in it is that while American people complain that they don’t have enough time for themselves, for their families and their friends because there are swamped at worked, when asked what they will do with an extra day a week, they answer – will work more. Talking about being aware and not noticing what we are doing to ourselves.

When you think about, this tension, between long-term goals and short-term, almost hedonic, needs is a tension that is found in all facets of business and management life. How often do you stop to reflect and ask yourself – what am I doing right? What am I doing wrong? How can I make sure I recharge myself so I can keep up this crazy race in the long run? I am sure the answer is – not much. Life is to hectic, work to demanding, costumers want things yesterday.

Now think about your employees, peers, teammates? When is the last time you stopped and noticed them? Spent some time really getting to know them? Thought about their lives and what drives them? Thought about how to make their lives easier so they can survive the long run? Besides the fact that socializing and informal communication was found to be an important antecedent of creativity, innovation and team effectiveness, there are much simpler reason to be aware of your employees.

Grant McCracken asked, on HBR.org, a few days ago: Do You Know What Your Employees Are Watching? While McCracken suggested that we can learn about trends in the economy from employees TV habits, I think the question is important on a much more individual and personal levels. Are you aware that your employee loves to watch that dance show, because he always dreamt of being a dancer or even taking a dancing course? What will happen if instead of giving him a standardized bonus next time, you would be able to buy him a dance class for the same amount of money? What if you suddenly notice that all your employees are into Glee… will that enable you to create a contest between teams in your department that will boost morale?

Opportunities to make a difference are out there all the time. the question is, are you aware enough to notice them and utilize them for long-term benefits.

Elad

Correction: In the post I talk about a clip, which I forgot to include. Here it is:

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