communication

Check Your Assumptions

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People struggle to communicate. We struggle to say the important, vulnerable thing to our spouse. We struggle to ask for raises or reassignments. We struggle to set boundaries with or make requests of our colleagues.

Oftentimes we are struggling because we have already drawn a set of conclusions about the outcome of the conversation so we never bother to have the actual conversation. Or we think we know why someone is doing something we don’t like or appreciate, and that assumption about some else’s motives turns into a story about that person. Slowly those stories we have about other people begin to feel like facts.

But something feeling like a fact does not make it true.

Judith Glaser, in her work around Conversational Intelligence, called this habit we human beings have “climbing the Ladder of Conclusions.” (Glaser, 2014)

We all make up stories in our lead about why another person says or does something.

· When someone talks over us in a meeting, we write a story about why they did that.

· When someone is late with a reply or promised project, we make up a story to explain why.

· When someone else is praised for their work and we are not, we create a story about this too.

In every case we are trying to explain “Why?” from our point of view.

But we are trying to explain “why” in relationship to our own emotions, because first we feel, then we think. It is our feelings, layered with our thinking about our feelings that creates our beliefs about other people, and color our conclusions about their intentions.

I am continually reminding people of two things:

1.      Learn to assume the best intentions in others.

It will make your life happier, and your relationships easier.

2.      Check your assumptions.

Investigate. Ask. Find out. Not from one third party, from the person you are making assumptions about.

Yes, I am suggesting you go and actually have a conversation with the person you think doesn’t like you, …who looked at you “funny , … who did not reply to your invitation. 

Here’s one approach:

Ø  Ask if you can talk over coffee or lunch or a break. This signals more time, relaxed environment.

Ø  Let them know you are curious to learn what you can make the relationship better.

Ø  When you meet, let them know you want to better understand their point of view, and offer your own firsthand experience. Then share your stories. Both the facts and the story you are making up in your head. Use the language, “the story I am making up in my head…”. For example: “When you didn’t reply to my email, the story I made up in my head was that my idea was bad, and you don’t like me.”

Ø  Share the impact your interactions have had on each of you. Describe also the positive impact you want to have on them in the future.

Ø  Talk through your ideas about how to make the relationship better in the future.

We spend a lot of time believing the wrong thing about other people’s intentions. I know, because at least 30% of my time coaching leaders is spent helping them find ways to think through the stories they are making up about other people, and figuring out how to simply talk with them directly.

So the next time there is someone you have written a big story about, take a moment to walk down the ladder of conclusions: set aside your conclusions, challenge your beliefs, separate your thoughts from your feelings and then from the actual facts.

Remember, even the best relationships have some tension in them from time to time. When we check our assumptions, assume best intentions, and seek to understand the other point of view, more often than not we find common ground. And common ground is where trust is found.

 

360 Degree Thinking

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How do we effectively communicate with and develop promising leaders? This was on my mind in preparation mode for co-presenting at a major executive event in New Orleans. In all types of economic conditions, the answer to this question has big implications for business.

When times are challenging, development and succession are often the first things to get ignored under the false notion that nobody will dare look elsewhere during trying times. All this type of thinking does is guarantee bad turnover as talented people will be the first to bail out at the first signs of economic rebound. When business is good, competition for obtaining and retaining top talent compels leaders to engage in “360 Degree Thinking.”

360 Degree Thinking means leaders take the time to apply strategic hindsight, foresight and insight to their business and employee needs.

§  Hindsight – Experienced leaders apply lessons learned from their path forward. Very often we hear middle and upper management describe how they would have handled something in the old days, but now apply a very different method. To communicate with and grow promising leaders, share hindsight.
 

§  Foresight – Lessons learned, applied to help shape the future state. A forward-looking statement or safe harbor statement is a statement that cannot sustain itself as merely a historical fact, (hindsight). Forward-looking statements use future events as expectations or possibilities, (as in the case of growing leaders.)
 

§  Insight – The ability to synthesize hindsight and foresight into experiential critical thinking.
Yes, this is subjective, but how many of us have benefited from another leader who shared their insights with us? To grow promising leaders, it is wise to share insight. While they may or may not be able to grasp what is being shared at the time, chances are that it will happen sooner or later.

So, what is landing on the promising leaders in your sphere of influence? Are they aware that they are “well thought of” and possible candidates for advancement? Are they being communicated with in a validating / nurturing way?

Avoid too little – too late syndrome. This happens when the promising leader’s phone rings and they take the call. They turn over in their minds a new opportunity and then go back to their native culture to see if they are being paid attention to. Remember we said take the time to apply strategic hindsight, foresight and insight to your people needs. Wouldn't it be a shame to have top talent leave simply because this wasn't done?