• Read Silence Really Is Golden

    Leadership

    Silence Really Is Golden

    Yesterday I was teaching a leadership class, and we got into an interesting conversation about zoom, and given the fact that so much happens in the virtual world now the question was:  How do you effectively engage with people in a virtual environment and create meaningful connection? My leaders were voicing their frustrations about the lack of “real” connection in the virtual world, and how you get team members who are on the quieter side to speak up, to participate, to engage, particularly in a group setting. “I’m often looking at a screen of black boxes with people’s names.  I ask if there are any questions when I’m finished sharing my thoughts, and it’s just crickets.  And then I just move on to the next item.”  The scary sound of silence The dreaded sound of silence.  The awkwardness of it.  I remember when I first started facilitating, I was afraid of it.  What if I ask a question and it doesn’t land?  What if the participants aren’t getting it?  What if they think I’m a fool who has no idea what she’s talking about?  When I first started out, I tended to rush through the content, because awkward silence was scary.  I would fill it with my worst fears about my performance.  I would imagine folks were thinking horrible things about me, the material, or the learning experience.  I was afraid of silence.  And to be frank, I think most people are. We’re not used to silence We live in a busy world, full of notifications, full of ims and dings and the next thread on slack to respond to.  It’s not often you hear silence .  I doubt we’re even used to it anymore.  There’s often a tv playing in the background in the airport, the radio or podcast we listen to in the car, even in my old office in Houston CNN was always running on the monitor in the background.  Noise is everywhere. Silence is a gift And then another participant in my class shared something interesting.  “You know, my manager brought me in the other day to facilitate a team session for a group that he warned me in advance was often quiet.  He told me they probably wouldn’t have any questions.  They wouldn’t engage.  So I thought hard about how to approach them to get a different result.  I started off the session slowly and methodically and told them that I’m comfortable with silence.  I’m not in a rush, we can take all the time we need for this experience.  And then I sat back and patiently waited. And the questions kept coming, 8 in total, when they’ve never asked one before.” The story didn’t surprise me.  Probably the hardest thing for me to learn over the years as a facilitator of learning was to embrace silence.  To learn to love it, and to use it like Erika did in this story effectively.  Because the truth of the matter is, there is magic in silence […]

    October 28, 2022

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    4.2 min read

  • Read Feeling is freeing: How to Practice Emotional Intelligence

    Authenticity

    Feeling is freeing: How to Practice Emotional Intelligence

    For years and years, I would have told you that I was a very emotionally intelligent person.  I was aware that emotions could take many forms, had many names and I knew intellectually it was important to understand them.  Emotional intelligence has been a notable topic for many years, and I considered myself to be one of those wise people who were in the know. Unfortunately, in all of my information gathering on the topic, I ignored one crucial point.  That in order to have emotional intelligence you actually have to experience emotions.  Who would have thought? The key to emotional intelligence is to not just identify the emotion we are experiencing with a handy dandy robust emotional vocabulary, but to allow ourselves to feel it non-judgmentally.   This is a key point, because many of us who grew up in households where emotions were not welcome got used to shoving them down and pretending they didn’t exist. Feeling is freeing When we suppress emotions, it typically doesn’t lead to much good.  We end up accumulating hurt on top of hurt and over time these feelings build up until one day we can’t shove them down any longer, and the long-awaited bomb finally erupts.  Or we can try to numb them out with the help of food, booze, shopping, video game playing or any other addictive habit we have accumulated over the years.  Not a recipe for success either. We often try to squash the negative emotions.  The ones we consider to be “bad” like anger, frustration, sadness, guilt, shame (my personal favorite), disgust, overwhelm, anxiety, fear.  We’re often not super aware of the oh so subtle tricks we’ve accumulated over the years for disowning these things in ourselves. I feel anxiety before delivering a leadership development program, particularly a new one.  Perfectly reasonable, right?  And yet, in my head I’m thinking to myself, “Bad Shelley.  You shouldn’t be feeling that.  You’re only feeling that because you’re a bad teacher and facilitator.  If you were better at your job, you’d be more confident and you’d never experience this.” So the anxiety comes up, and I try to swat it down by directing anger at myself for having the emotion in the first place. Or perhaps I’m frustrated or angry at a family member.  “Bad Shelley.  You shouldn’t be feeling that.  You’re only feeling that because you’re a bad niece, sister, cousin, etc.  If you were a better person, you would be more caring and emphatic and understand their perspective and where they were coming from.” Here is the mental leap that often eludes us:  having and especially feeling an emotion does not make a person “bad.”  What matters at the end of the day is what we do with the emotion we’re having.  I can be angry and resentful inside and yet I can still manage to put that aside and recognize in the moment exhibiting that behavior would not be helpful.  I can choose my response.  I feel the way […]

    August 18, 2022

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    4.5 min read

  • Read Straight Talk: Speak the Truth with Love

    Authenticity, Communication

    Straight Talk: Speak the Truth with Love

    This week I’ve been teaching a course on straight talk.  I often refer to this skill as “Speaking the Truth with Love.”  The crux of getting this right depends on three important aspects. There are three elements to straight talk: Caring personally (compassion) – Caring personally about the individual who is on the receiving end of this conversation and demonstrating this care with your words in the conversation. Sharing your perspective and/or challenging directly – Or in other words, being clear about the issue that needs to be communicated and not beating around the proverbial bush. Inviting others to do the same – Creating the space to have a two-way conversation rather than merely talk at someone. Any straight talk conversation is a great opportunity for two-way dialogue and not merely a “dump and run.” Don’t Bury the Lead You’d be surprised how often we do the opposite.  When it comes to challenging directly, I notice one thing in particular.  I often sit in practice runs where participants are role playing a difficult conversation they need to have.  I’ve seen people do a million times something I call “burying the lead.”  At the end of the conversation, I ask the initiator what the issue was they wanted to communicate.  The person on the receiving end of the conversation often had a totally different impression of what the conversation was about.  The gravity of the issue had not been conveyed clearly or accurately.  This happens all the time, and people walk away with completely different perceptions of a conversation or an issue.  No wonder there’s so much conflict in our personal and professional lives! Remember that honesty without compassion is brutality But the caring personally aspect is just as important as challenging directly. It’s crucial to remember that honesty without compassion can be brutality. E.g. “I think your idea is stupid.” I’m reminded of an old friend and colleague that I used to spend a lot of time with.  She prided herself on her ability to give straight talk.  She had mastered the art of being direct.  On that front there was no one better I will admit.  The problem is her words were often not couched in compassion.  Over time it took a toll on my ability to relate to her, and eventually after I’d been stung enough times, I abandoned the relationship.  It just wasn’t worth it. So why don’t we engage in straight talk?  Or why don’t we do it well when we try? Mindset is Everything Mindset plays a huge role when it comes to this skill.  Do any of these sound familiar? It means being unkind. I must act professionally regardless of the cost. I can’t upset people. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. I must tell the truth at all costs. Silence is golden. I can’t challenge someone senior to me. Which of these beliefs are true for you?  And how are they getting in the way of […]

    July 13, 2022

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    3.1 min read

  • Read The Power of a Great Question

    Leadership

    The Power of a Great Question

    We all know we should ask good questions.  The problem is that a lot of the time we don’t do it.  We default to the things that are more comfortable. When I’m teaching coaching skills to leadership, I often have them do a very simple exercise. Advice versus open ended questions In pairs, they take turns listening to a colleague, but in the first round, they do it with the hat of a mentor.  They can give advice.  And boy do they.  These conversations typically descend into, “here’s what I’ve tried that’s worked.  You should do this.”  I hear loads of closed ended questions, lots of yeses and nos as they probe their colleague for what they tried and what they didn’t try. In the second round, they can’t give any advice, and only can ask open ended questions.  (An open-ended question is one that can’t be answered with a yes or a no just in case you were wondering.). They really struggle with this one.  But during the debrief, the folks with the issue typically report that the latter exercise, the one where only open-ended questions could be asked, was the one that really expanded their thinking or got them to see something from a different perspective. Why are open ended questions so powerful? I’ve often seen the light bulb go off after I debrief this exercise.  If I’m asking an open-ended empowering question, the person on the receiving end comes to their own conclusion, not the conclusion that I think could be best for them.  The benefit of this is that the person being questioned takes more ownership of whatever the solution is.  Have you ever had a great piece of advice which you willingly gave to someone and just couldn’t understand why they didn’t take the idea and run with it?  Well, it may have been great for you, but it probably wasn’t great for them.  The ability to create one’s own solution creates natural by-in in the problem-solving process.  It gives the person with the problem a sense they also have autonomy, which is something that greatly motivates folks and many of us desperately crave this in our work.  I can’t tell you how many coaching clients I’ve had who are looking to leave a job who say they don’t have enough creativity in their work.  They feel micromanaged.  They feel condescended to.  It’s not surprising considering it’s sometimes just easier in the short run to “tell” someone how they should do something.  The problem is that this way of communicating creates loads of longer-term issues. Powerful open-ended questions also create engagement.  If I’m telling someone what I think they should do, how engaged do you really think they will be in the conversation?  Asking a powerful open-ended question opens the dialogue, I am engaging this person on a deep level, getting them to think critically and creatively about the issues they face.  And if you don’t think engagement is important, think again.  According to Gallup, […]

    May 11, 2022

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    4.5 min read