Episode 26: Alleviating Anxiety and Cultivating Civility In Your Workplace


When tensions run high because of high workloads, looming deadlines, or un-addressed conflict, people’s relationships suffer. And when relationships suffer, your productivity takes a hit. Join us for this week’s VoltCast Illuminating Leadership as Jennifer Owen-O’Quill, a certified Conversational Intelligence™ Coach, joins us to address the intersection between anxiety, civility and performance capacity. You can anticipate a lively conversation as Jeff and Jennifer share strategies for alleviating anxiety, and tips and tactics that build trust, resilience, and creativity on your teams. Candor, civility and creativity are linked. Tune in to learn how those three elements drive the capacity of your team.


Jeff: Welcome. It’s Jeff Smith. I am so glad you could be with us today. I’ve got Jennifer Owen-O’Quill our guest today. Jennifer, hello?

Jennifer: Hello Jeff. Good to see you.

Jeff: Yeah so Jennifer works with us here at Voltage Leadership, and is going to come on and talk to us about alleviating anxiety, and how do we cultivate civility in your workplace. We’ll talk more about that in the intro and sort of our first sections. But we’re definitely seeing a real spike in anxiety, civility challenges and all that kind of stuff, so I’m excited about this topic today.

We may even have a few things to teach some of our politicians, and some of our sports teams. So again this is Illuminating Leadership I’m your host Jeff Smith. If you want to email us during the show, it’s jeff@voltageleadership.com.

Our website is www.voltageleadership.com you can like me on Facebook at Voltage Leadership or connect with Jennifer at jenniferowenoquill@voltageleadership.com. And you can also hit me up with Jeff Smith on LinkedIn. So Jennifer, congratulations, you’ve gotten certified in conversational intelligence since the last time we talked. So job well-done. I know the whole last year you spent studying, getting coached, and learning material.

Jennifer: That’s right.

Jeff: Being pushed, challenged and experimented with. So congratulations you got a big ol’ diploma here that I was handing off to you today so congratulations.

Jennifer: Thanks Jeff. It was a great experience with colleagues from all around the globe. In my cohort we had someone from Sweden, we had someone from India, we had someone from Germany and it was really a wonderful experience to talk to coaches all over the globe about conversational intelligence. I’m looking forward to sharing that with our audience today.

Jeff: Well what’s interesting about that is that in each of those countries we have people that listen to our show. Even Lee West in Denmark, a client of ours, gave us a shout out this week. And some friends in Abu Dhabi and Dubai and other places. So I think that’s really important and really proud of all the work that she did. And I’ll be interested to hear some of the content from your program that you learned, we’ll be bringing to our listeners today.

Jennifer: That’s right. Definitely about civility, trust and erasing anxiety and drama from the workplace.

Jeff: You mean there’s anxiety and drama in the workplace?

Jennifer: There’s anxiety and drama in the workplace.

Jeff: Well I think that’s interesting so maybe as I drove across the globe, across this country, I was here, there and everywhere, I’ll just relate a real quick story back in January. We had a flight that got cancelled, it was when Philip and I went to the national championship for JMU in football. A great overall experience.

But there was a gentleman to the left of us and I’m here with my 13 year old son, and he is absolutely losing it right. I mean from the looks and polish and gelled hair and all that looks like someone that would handle things with civility and professionalism. And he is dropping ‘F’ bomb after ‘F’ bomb and I mean my son is just like, “Back away.”

And I’m like, “there’s nothing I can do I’m just trying to get us rebooked on a flight.” And this guy refuses to give up his spot at the podium. And you’re just like, what about this gentleman does he think that this is working for him? And he is screaming at these three people and everyone was just like wow, and you could hear everyone behind him start to fuss and escalate. They finally had to escort him out with the police.

Jennifer: Wow.

Jeff: Isn’t that crazy?

Jennifer: That is somebody who got emotionally hijacked.

Jeff: Yes he did get emotionally hijacked and I think that happens a little bit more in our workplace. You and I have worked with one of our clients recently that did some reduction in force and let some people go, so that’s certainly raising anxiety. We got other clients where the uncertainty of truthfully what’s happening in healthcare.

We’ve got a lot healthcare clients, what’s going to happen with Affordable Care Act? That’s creating some anxiety too. I’m curious, what do you see when you’re out with our clients and traveling around the world and certainly the country?

Jennifer: Well I certainly see there’s a tentativeness, there’s a little more uncertainty and dis-ease that I sense in teams when I pull them together. And that’s been interesting to notice. I actually had a CFO sit down for a conversation and said, “The biggest leadership problem by face right now is actually anxiety. Like dealing with the anxiety that’s just out there and how to help my people through it.”

And I don’t want to put a generalization on it but for the CFO of an organization to come in and come in and say that, “Wow I’m really noticing that there’s anxiety around here and my people are not doing well,” I was A) impressed with his emotional intelligence that he would notice that.

And that he would have thought to sit down and have a conversation about it, it was helpful. And then what do you do? How do you create the space to calm room? How do you create the space to calm a team down? How do you create the space to allow us to think more clearly because anxiety disrupts our best thinking?

Jeff: Yeah so I understand anxiety and people probably shouldn’t be anxious. But people insure themselves, they’re worried about the future of their organization, they worry about their own career. How about the second part of the work; cultivating civility. What do you mean by civility? I want to make sure that we have a common understanding of civility before we move on.

Jennifer: Well civility is about treating people the way that you would like to be treated. In a certain way, it’s about thinking about the person on the other end of your words, and caring about how they land. Creating an environment where you can still have accountability and civility. And that is a leadership lesson that is very important.

We solve our problems or we have disagreements and then we attack the problem and the idea, but not the person behind the idea. It’s about being able to- I love hot boardroom tables where you’re wrestling for an argument and trying to find the best idea, there should be a lot of heat at the table, but it shouldn’t get personal.

So that’s when the line gets crossed; that’s the line between good thinking, bright thinking and the great argument and civility. How we really are going to treat each other and continue to respect the person and the fact that they came with that idea and we want to preserve their creativity, we’d like them to come with another idea. So to me that is a piece of civility in the workplace.

Jeff: We’re in the studio together looking at each other, you got a bunch of stats here and things that you’re seeing in the workplace. So could you give us context of why is this emerging as a topic? I certainly am hearing it with my clients, you heard it as we prepped for the show where it was like yeah we’re seeing this. But what is some of the data suggesting and what are some of the key highlights that you’re reading about?

Jennifer: Well here are some of the things that go unspoken and the use of civility isn’t just staying quiet about a problem. It’s also about having that real conversation and that crucial conversation. So there’s two directions. There is being civil about how you deliver news but still being candid. And there’s that intersection. But one of the things that the data suggests, yes.

Jeff: Civility and candor.

Jennifer: Civility and candor are both possible. You can actually say what’s on your mind, but you have to pause and think about how to say what’s on your mind in a way that preserves the dignity of the other person.

Jennifer: Well so to really get into the data about what the benefit of civility in the workplace is it cranks up trust, it cranks up productivity and it cranks up creativity in the workplace, because there isn’t fear right or there isn’t mistrust.

So you’re not as worried about hidden agendas, if you have candor and you have civility, you also tend to have trust and you tend to have creativity and you tend to have higher productivity. What gets in the way though are things that people are keeping quiet about. So when they aren’t being candid. And a piece of civility is being honest, not being dishonesty right, because people can smell that.

So we keep quiet about what other people aren’t doing on the team sometimes because you don’t want to throw Bob under the bus. But 72% of us keep quiet when people fail to pull their weight instead of going to that person and asking them about it.

Jeff: That’s almost three out of four.

Jennifer: Three out of four right.

Jeff: Wow.

Jennifer: 70% of people keep quiet when others are performing poorly. 68 keep quiet when they see somebody disrespect someone. And I want to pause here for a moment because our role inside the workplace whether we’re the leader or not, the health of an organization has to do with how well the rest of the community referees the game, right.

How well we all do at calling fouls. And in a conversation, I’ve stepped out. I mean we were in a team meeting at Voltage the other day and I said something that wasn’t kind to one of our colleagues and I caught myself. And I said, “Wait a minute, I’m sorry,” we have to call our own fouls but we have to be willing to step in and call the fouls of other people, say that’s not okay.

Jeff: Because I was going to open up a can whoop butt on if you hadn’t. But so I think a couple of things are happening here right. So it’s there’s really recognizing in others, I call this triangulization right. So I can’t talk about Jennifer to Lee. I need to be going directly to Jennifer.

If I got a challenge with Jennifer or Jennifer has a challenge with me, let’s not loop in Lee or Marissa or Beth or someone else in our company. We’ve got to go from one person to the other and that’s candor. But if I go to this other place where that just breezes, there’s anxiousness and there’s lack of civility. So good, keep going.

Jennifer: Right and I want to circle back around and say more about that because there was a wonderful little phrase that one of our clients came up with around the difference between good gossip and bad gossip.

Jeff: Okay we’ll come back to that.

Jennifer: So then there’s 57% of people keep quiet when others skirt around important issues. So if a question gets asked and you don’t answer that question you answer a different question, and everybody in the room agrees that that’s okay.

Jeff: Okay, yeah.

Jennifer: That’s not okay.

Jeff: No.

Jennifer: The question needs to be answered, or we keep quiet when other people are resisting change. And it’s not about saying, “Hey get on the bus,” but really being curious about what are you concerned about? Why is this hard for you? What do you see that we don’t see? So that they have been heard because behind that resistance might be a real obstacle that hasn’t been considered.

And it certainly is an obstacle in that person’s mind and deserves to be heard. So that’s helpful. And then the last one is half of people keep quiet when they are in confusion. Then they’re confused about what the decision was. They don’t say anything so they leave the meeting confused. And we have a tool for that, that we’ll talk about in this hour together.

Jeff: Well some of that is just staying present in the moment too right. so many of us in meetings these days I think are on our smartphones, on our laptops, things like that so sometimes that anxiousness and lack of civility is like we’re just not even on the same page. So this first section has gone really fast today Jennifer.

So we’re off to a great running start here. I think we’ve laid the context. But what we’re seeing with anxiety and how do we cultivate civility? So when we come back in two minutes we’ll start down the path of alright so what are some of the steps to alleviate this anxiety and cultivate civility? We’ll be back in two. Thanks.


Jeff: Welcome back. And I’m so glad that you could be with us today. It is an awesome day here in Virginia, and we’re so excited that you are spending part of your day with us. Again Jennifer Owen-O-Quill, a recently certified conversational intelligence coach. So congratulations.

Jennifer: Thank you.

Jeff: Rock on. And we were talking about how do you alleviate anxiety and cultivate civility in your workplace? A trend that we’re really seeing needed most of the workplaces, quite honestly some discussions at national level and politics here.

Jennifer: Globally.

Jeff: Globally, some of the challenges we’re facing, whether it’s the Brexit or how does the EU deal with Greece. So it is alive and well. I know Jennifer that we’ll be hearing a lot about conversational intelligence. For most people it’s probably still there’s more of a coaching term.

It hasn’t made it into the common vernacular out there. So when we’re talking about conversational intelligence, what is it and what does learning it help you accomplish?

Jennifer: Well the short answer is that I learned to curate conversations over the last year. It’s about thinking about what it is that you want in the different parts of a dialogue? Particularly in a meeting, well how you want people to be thinking, feeling, reacting, responding, and to think about that in advance and then to design questions, that deliver you that result. To design an environment that delivers you an experience, not just a question but an experience that delivers you that result.

The result for most business leaders is they want a high degree of creativity and innovation. They want a high degree of productivity, and to gain efficiency and capacity in their businesses. To really have business success and that can include a lot of different things. But mostly it includes the intersection of thinking of the people on their team.

Jeff: Well let me ask you think. So I think I know the answer but is this something that you can actually be taught or is this just part of your DNA?

Jennifer: Well that’s a great question. It’s something that can be taught.

Jeff: Okay good.

Jennifer: Because we spent a year learning it so I hope that I’ve learned something about conversations.

Jeff: That’s where I thought I was going.

Jennifer: I’m sorry, it can be learned. We can learn and it’s a two-fold process. Conversational intelligence is about learning the neuroscience around conversations. Everything actually happens, every assignment is given, and every idea is hatched in a conversation.

So learning the neuroscience of the conversation and how to regulate the emotional life really in a room, how to regulate the energy level in a room is something that you can think about and plan for.

Jeff: So I have to be a brain surgeon to learn this? Is that what you’re saying?

Jennifer: No.

Jeff: Oh it’s just the study of the brain.

Jennifer: Right, that’s right.

Jeff: Okay good.

Jennifer: So actually there’s lots of neuroscience terms and chemicals that we learned about. And how I like to talk about it instead is there’s a hot system and a cold system in the brain. And it’s a little bit easier to understand it. Hot lead to anger, fear, distrust, problems.

Jeff: Yeah.

Jennifer: And the cooler side, right will calm that down, will bring out your best thinking, will bring out the strategy, and will bring out collaboration. And the ability for the best ideas to emerge, and the pieces of those ideas to kind of come together.

Jeff: Interesting, so hot is anxiety and cool sounds like civility right?

Jennifer: Right.

Jeff: Okay that’s nice. So that’s the story but what are some of the most interesting things that you’ve learned over the past year while you were studying this process?

Jennifer: Well one of the things I learned that I thought was fascinating, is that it takes .07 seconds for our brain to register an emotional reaction to an experience. It happens before our brains even can define the words that the other person spoke and what they mean.

Jeff: Man, that’s fast.

Jennifer: We come up with this emotional response, and then those chemicals are cascading through our body while our brain interprets what the words mean. So our emotions are coloring the meaning of our words, and the words that are spoken in a conversation.

Jeff: Say that again so the emotions are coloring our words?

Jennifer: The emotions are coloring the words that are spoken, so how we feel in the room is coloring the meaning that we assign to words and human beings make meaning.

Jeff: Yeah that’s very good. Nancy Smith and Sharon Nicks and I were talking about chocolate or lunch a couple of weeks ago on the show. Nancy was really talking about how she came into this room at a restaurant and she was kind of in a bad mood, but she didn’t know that she was. So she looks across at this bother woman they kind of got into a staring contest.

And they kind of were, her term- had their bitch face on, and it was like grrr. Then this lovely waitress comes over and is jolly and joyful and shifted her mood, so by the end she even had this nice civil conversation with this woman that she had been staring down. So I think that’s a good example of like she heard the words. And sometimes hearing the words to someone else’s actions and started turning them through her emotional lens. Is that a good example?

Jennifer: That’s a great example. I have another good example for you.

Jeff: Please go for it.

Jennifer: Not that I was there but I was in fact there at the driving school in California where I had to go because I had a speeding ticket when I lived there. So they put you through an eight hour course over two weekends. And I pull up to the end of this 16 hours of content. And this is the parting wisdom that he says. “You’ve heard all these things, you’re going to forget everything you’ve heard.”

But if you remember one thing that is I want you to earn three waves from other drivers every time you’re out on the road. If you get in the car, put on your seatbelt and think, how am I going to earn three waves from other drivers as you’re driving around, you’ll end up being a great diver. And I won’t see you again.

Jeff: Oh good.

Jennifer: And I thought that that’s the way you create civility on the roadway right, is to be a driver that earns three waves. But it also means that you’re moving through looking for opportunities to help another driver. So in a way civility in the workplace is about moving through the workplace in a way that’s looking to facilitate everyone’s effectiveness.

And to really create the best in everyone, to lift the organization as a whole. And when we move through the world and without our- to use your word- bitch face on, when we move through the world looking for opportunities to meet other people where they’re at and to move them in a positive direction, it helps.

Jeff: I’m just listening to our friend in Boston and New York, they’re probably rolling their eyes and like, “Ain’t no way I’m getting no wave from them.” But I like the concept right and I think it applies. And I can hear Michael Sam who lives just outside of New York City, he’d be like, “I got a wave for them.”

Jennifer: That’s right.

Jeff: But I do appreciate that kind of down here we do wave a lot, and we do kind of let people cut in and do things like that.

Jennifer: It helps.

Jeff: Another question I think I have is you hear a lot about anger and fear in the workplace right. What is it that’s happening when that goes on? Is there anything that’s happening maybe in our brains during that stretch of time? Like if we’re really trying to connect this to the neuroscience. I see a lot of anger, I see a lot of fear happening in the workplace. What’s going on? Can you tell me what you learned about that?

Jennifer: I can. So there’s a bunch of cortisol basically being dumped into your body when you have anger and fear going on. And there’s a way to interrupt it. So that’s the other piece to learn, is that those chemicals will keep cascading in our bodies if we keep thinking about that same situation or we dwell on it.

Jeff: Let’s hit that, so they’re just going to keep dumping right?

Jennifer: Right. Every 90 seconds you’re going to re-up for another hit of cortisol.

Jeff: Every 90 seconds?

Jennifer: Yes.

Jeff: Wow.

Jeff: Wait, let’s stop there for a second. So I want to just really get back to some earlier work we did with Power of TED from Dave Emerald right. So it’s called the Frisbee Model, what we focus on drives our inner state which drives our behaviors, and I talk a lot about this with like turbulence. You can be just fine on a plane having a nice time.

I flew through the storms that hit Charlotte last week and we were all fine, all of a sudden for about four minutes we hit some really rough turbulence and everyone on the thing got really testy. Some just praying real quiet. You could just this cortisol was like dropping down like instead of the oxygen masks. It wasn’t quite that bad.

But there is this cortisol hit just happening for all us right. So again what we focus on drives our inner state drives our behaviors. So just know that when we’re in our anger and fear spot we get a bunch of cortisol. Right so now I think you’re taking us to the other side.

Jennifer: And it keeps your brain in that fight/flight freeze or a peace mindset to stop that. The first step is to breathe. And to breathe with your diaphragm, to breathe low not high. When you breathe in your throat that’s actually where you breathe when you’re having a panic attack.

Jeff: Oh no.

Jennifer: When you breathe in your chest that’s a stress breathing and that where actually most of us are breathing most of the time. But when we drop our breathing to our diaphragm, we flip the neurological system from that hot system to the cool system. Because the nerve that regulates that is at the bottom of your diaphragm. So you literary click that on when you breathe from your diaphragm deeply.

Jeff: Yeah and it’s interesting I talked a lot about we breathe in a lot of this hot air and then we try to breathe out cool air. So if you breathe in the cool air first, and then that so the deep breathing brings in that sort of blue cold air and you get rid of all that anxiety going out. So Lee and I talked about on another show so interesting. And it’s all coming together.

Jennifer: It’s all coming together.

Jeff: We got about three minutes here till our next break. So what are some of the aspects of conversational intelligence that have had the biggest impact on raising anxiety and drama in the workplace? So clearly taking a moment to be intentional would be the start. But what else are you seeing?

Jennifer: There’s a few practices that are useful. One of them is having ground rules for your team, that’s a very useful practice, to actually sit down and intentionally have a conversation about how you want to treat each other, that’s one important step. I did that with clients this morning that both in their separate groups there separate teams have had ground rules.

But I had collected them together for their individual team where one is the clinical side and one is management side, and how do you come together and have ground rules in this particular place that you work all the time is helpful., because then you’re not having a reactive conversation. You’re having an intentional conversation. So that’s one tool. The other thing is it’s such as simple thing but it’s such a big thing it’s listening. It’s really listening.

Jeff: What are you talking about it?

Jennifer: I am. And in listening and with a couple of practices, one is asking questions for which you don’t have an answer. And then when you hear something instead of reacting, asking a curious question about so that you can actually dig deeper instead of immediately coming in with your idea, your thoughts, your reaction, your response.

To follow that other person’s thoughts, experiences, their train of thought and inner landscape in a way, to be able to allow a person to be seen and allow that person to be really fully heard.

Jeff: Can you just give me-we got about a minute here-and maybe an example of a curious question right. So I mean I think I understand the first one but what’s a curious question?

Jennifer: Curious questions tend to start with the word what. Bigger questions, when we’re asking questions where we’re trying to lead someone to a conclusion we ask other questions. But what is it that you most hope to achieve in this project? What is it that you aspire to have accomplished by the end of the year? What is it that matters most in the values of this organization? Those kinds of questions. What matters most for our relationship?

Jeff: That’s great.

Jennifer: What is it that you want to accomplish together?

Jeff: Well what matters most at the moment is this, we’re up against the clock, and it’s time for another break. So we will come back and we’ll pick up on some of these questions and listening. We’ll talk to you in two minutes.


Jeff: Welcome back. I’m here today with Jennifer Owen-O’Quill. We’re going to have a conversation about how do we alleviate anxiety and cultivate civility in the workplace? And we’ve been spending a good bit of time around conversational intelligence content which I know Jennifer you just got certified in. so congratulations again.

Jennifer: Thank you.

Jeff: So a couple of things earlier, we talk about why is this important. It’s we want to increase trust, we want to increase productivity, we want to increase our creativity. And by having this civil workplace where we can have the right kind of conversations, all those things are a possibility.

So in the last statement we talked a little bit about how do we set ground rules? Making sure that we all know what are the operating rules to work together? Just putting that down on paper and having a conversation about it gives you a playbook for how we do it.

Jennifer: That’s right.

Jeff: We then branched into listening and really listening and being able to ask important questions on top of that listening. So listening, reflecting back, and asking bigger questions, the ‘what’ kind of questions and things that are not easily solved. But I want to brush right by this thing called listening right. This is an important concept.

And a lot of us feel like we’re really great listeners as we do our smartphone, as we check our computer, as we do these six things. So when we talk about listening Jennifer, what are some of the things that you learned about listening and what would you like our audience to hear about listening?

Jennifer: Well what I wanted to first communicate is that when we were learning this content and the coaches that were in my cohort sat down and talked about what we wanted to practice, what skill we wanted to practice in that intensive two months of practice with each other, we each of us chose listening as the competency we needed to improve in.

And I want to reflect back that these are people who listen for a living. And that each of us felt that we had skills to learn as listeners. One of the things that comes with a terrific listener and you can tell if you’ve been with one, is how good you feel when you leave that person’s presence.

So one of the things you can investigate about your listening capacity is to find out how people feel when they leave your meeting, or leave a one-on-one with you. And how do you go be curious about that, asking someone to find that out? How do you discover? By asking some curious questions. How did someone land back at their desk when I finished that conversation?

Did they leave here with a smile or do they not? Do they leave feeling that their problems are answered or that they have a better path to success or that I really heard them or not? So there is something that happens inside of a person when there’s been oxytocin and not cortisol in their brain.

And oxytocin is the other chemical that releases trust and it releases our ability to think freely. And it allows for our mind to travel very quickly to the strategic part of our brain. It allows for our minds to get up into the prefrontal cortex whereas cortisol actually shuts off that part of our brain.

So it’s really important for organizations that are going through change to navigate changed or downsizing or whatever in ways that really are thoughtful about how to mitigate fear, and how to replace it with a sense of trust in the organization. And maintaining that sense of trust with the people in the organization really has an impact on feelings that people have and their ability to think strategically about the future. So that’s one of the things.

Jeff: Yeah no, I think it’s great. And I think what I’ve noticed a lot with those folks I had to deal with from the listening perspective is that they’re almost listening for you to say they’re thinking right. They’re kind of looking for confirmation. So they’re not really listening to the other person, they’re waiting to hear like yes that’s exactly what I want to say.

Or they’re waiting for you to say the thing that they want to argue about. So it’s not really listening for curiosity, it’s not really listening for creativity. It’s almost let me tell you why you’re wrong, or why you’re so brilliant. And I don’t even let you finish your statement right. And part of this is that the normal person speaks at about 170 words a minute. I’m like a little faster not the radio show but in general, I’m a pretty fast speaker.

Jennifer: Yes you are, it’s true.

Jeff: But our brain can process about 450-480 words per minute. So we got all this extra horsepower that saying, boy that was a personal speed up so I can just tell them what they need to be told. So we just have this energy. So part of this is we have to slow down a little bit and really listen intently.

One of the practices that I use a lot with both coaching, one-on-ones but also in team meetings is something called rounding right. So the reason for that is two-fold. One it is a listening tool. Often what happens it’s used to build some trust too. But it’s also there to get us to slow down because here’s what happens normally when you go into a meeting.

Everyone kind of just has the agenda or there’s no agenda truthfully. And what they’re trying to do is they go right into all the problems that are happening, we dive in. and sort of the thing that happens the least is listening. There’s all that talking over each other. And what we’ll often do is an opening round where we talk for 30 seconds maybe a minute on how long the meeting is.

And we let each person in the meeting just sort of say what’s their desired outcome, and is there maybe something which they’d like to share that’s been working well. The intent here is again to get present, kind of breathing but you’ll also start to hear good things happening in other places.

And really once you’ve done this opening round a few times, you start to be present and not worried about what you’re going to say, which allows you to listen. So we then have a chance to say, “Oh I came in thinking this was our problem, now that I’ve heard from three or four other people and they’ve got similar challenges, it sounds like we’re on the same page.

Instead of me having to approve what we’re going to talk about, wow why don’t we work on that? so I will often use opening round of again desired outcomes, maybe something has been working well, maybe what is the one topic you want to get out of today’s conversation? Jennifer, thoughts.

Jennifer: Those are all great curious questions because they are not questions for which you have an answer. The difference between a question that you have an answer for, or when you want to lead someone to your answer and a really honest curious question has a real impact on the brain of the people who are listening.

So just pitching those questions at the beginning of an opening round when you gather for a meeting helps set and curate, you didn’t know you’ve been doing it all this time Jeff, curate a conversation that begins with this big hit of oxytocin so that people can enter the meeting and be as open as possible. The other tactic that I learned inside of this, is a closing round.

And there was a particular question in the closing round that I found helpful. And it was a question that said, what did we learn today? So it was, you get to clarify what the expectations were on the meeting as an intentional question about what are you really feeling anxious about, what resources do you need right?

What do you need next and how is it that you’re going to take this out and do the next thing? so there’s these practices where if there is, as we like to say the last 10% of something that you were worried about or concerned about, a problem in the decision that you didn’t share, you’d have an opportunity at the closing round to name it.

And that might be something that actually stops a bad decision from getting made. At least it gives you the opportunity to communicate your concern. And it allows you to leave the meeting with a lot more integrity, and it stops the thing that happens at the water cooler is the meeting after the meeting.

Jeff: The meeting after the meeting sure.

Jennifer: Because you already had it when you were together.

Jeff: Yeah so let’s hit that closing round again because we went kind of fast to that right. So it’s clarifying expectations.

Jennifer: Clarifying expectations.

Jeff: Sure, anything that you’re anxious about.

Jennifer: What are you anxious about?

Jeff: Okay. Next action steps.

Jennifer: Next action steps and what did you learn.

Jeff: And what did you learn right. So I think part of how do you create civility in the workplace is that you allow time. You don’t just sort of as Scott Eblin says, we’re all racked and stacked in meetings right. So honoring the fact that hey, this is an hour meeting. We’re going to have five minutes at the end to cover something like this so make sure that we’re all on the same page.

So I think that promotes some civility instead of like you’re kind of all racing at the end of the meeting just kind of throwing this you do this, and you do that and who’s the employee for that? So I think a practice is taking minutes to wrap a meeting appropriately.

Taking a couple of minutes just to kickoff meeting properly. And being really intentional can help to lower that anxiety and elevate that civility, that creativity and lead to better productivity and trust.

Jennifer: And if you’re meeting for an hour and you’re going to be in meetings all day, to have the meeting start in first and second gear, to allow you that time to really think and process what is about to happen and why you’re there. And then to get to the end, to think about what you’ve accomplished and what you need to do next.

If you if you’re pushing a meeting all the way up to the limit of the hour you don’t have time to take good note about what it is that you needed to do. You don’t have time to get good feedback about what just happened and you carry those things with you. And that creates eventually drama in the workplace.

Because if somebody said something you didn’t care for and you didn’t talk about it in that moment, then you’re going to leave and you’re going to bring it with you the next time but it’s going to be larger.

Jeff: Right. I can hear some of our listeners out there rolling their eyes a bit and saying, “Jeff, Jennifer, our meetings are jam packed.” And they are. And I would just say that a lot of it though it that we’re not really listening and we’re not really communicating effectively with each other because we’re not fully present.

So actually I would encourage it and say hey the meeting content may only need to be 35 or 40 minutes if you do this right. And there’s time for relationship on either end. And you might be able to run meetings of 45 minutes if you really stopped to listen and abide by your ground rules, instead of people being only partially present, kind of stacking on top of each other and not really listening.

So we know yes you are really busy. But a lot of the meetings we sit in are not particularly productive because folks aren’t listening. There isn’t the ground rules, there isn’t the sense of how we’re going to be together. So if you take some time to do that in the frontend, we thing you’ll get time in the back, future meetings and you’ll have a more productive workplace.

Jennifer: About meetings too, managing time in a meeting; one of the tools that we teach in our Amp Your Leadership class is a facilitator pitches a problem to the group and the group solves the problem. And the facilitator tracks how many statement and how many questions are asked and by whom. So you end up with a map of who took up the most time.

And then you pass that around at the end. It’s a wonderful learning tool, as you facilitate a meeting. If you have somebody track that and you pass it around, it allows people to just become aware of how they’re showing up, and how much time they’re taking away from their colleagues. And to just restate at the end, we want to share the time equally here let’s do a better job.

So those of you that were quiet and hang back I want to hear more from you next time. And those of you took a lot of time, I want you to step back and really be wise about when you speak and interject your thinking so that we can share the time equitably. And that creates civility in the workplace but it also draws out the thinking of people who are less likely to step into a meeting.

Jeff: Thanks Jennifer. So great stuff in this segment. We’re up against the break so we’ll come back in two minutes and give you some tips and tools walk away from.


Jeff: Welcome back. We’ve been having a great conversation today between Jennifer Owen-O’Quill and myself around the anxiety and civility in the workplace. And quite honestly both are important. You need to be able to understand why there is such anxiety. But we really get to a place where there’s civility and we talked about this a little bit earlier, candor and civility.

Quite honestly, be able to have hard conversations, just not avoiding things. So Jennifer as we start to kind of put the wrap on the show I’m curious about some maybe tips and tools that our listeners can take away from today’s program.

Jennifer: One of the things I would say is practice your listening. And check out how well you listened by seeing how people leave your presence. What’s their condition the inner state that they were in, and how can you find that out? Listening well means asking great questions and curious questions begin with what.

So that’s a trick. Crafting some of those in advance is helpful. We also talked about rounding, both at the beginning and at the end, to allow for there to be time to celebrate the beginning, to talk about desired outcomes at the beginning.

But at the end to pull up and find out what the expectations are, what we learned and what we were anxious about and what we’re going to do next. Those are helpful things. We also talked about triangles and how to avoid them.

Jeff: Triangulization?

Jennifer: Yeah.

Jeff: What? Yeah. Should we hit that one for a second?

Jennifer: I think I’ll stop there for a moment. So here’s a tip to understand whether what you’re saying is a triangulation or gossip or not. Are you speaking about someone who is not present? If you’re speaking about someone who is not present, are those words praising that person, blessing that person or encouraging that person?

And by bless that person I don’t mean bless their heart.

Jeff: Oh that’s what we do in this town. So if you’re not from here, because we have a worldwide audience, in the Southern United States often we’ll say something like, “Jennifer I bless your heart.” So Jennifer is not in the room and that means I can turn to Lee now. And now once we say bless Jennifer’s heart, we can now talk about her right. So that would be an example of gossip.

Jennifer: In a negative way.

Jeff: In a negative way so that’s an example of gossip right okay thank you.

Jennifer: Right so that’s not helpful. And the critical things you need to say to someone directly. And if you’re afraid to say it to them directly, then you need to bring someone with you to say it directly to them because otherwise it creates ugliness in everybody’s life; in a family, in a workplace, in our community.

To talk badly about your neighbor without actually trying to talk to your neighbor or to your seatmate, teammate, whatever the context may be. So is the person that you’re speaking about present or not? And then are the words coming out of your mouth kind or not? And if you have something critical to say, that’s fine.

Go have that crucial conversation with that person who can actually help. The other thing to remember is that when you go have that conversation that person is also the star of their own movie just like you’re the star of yours. So the meaning you’ve assigned to their words may not actually be what they meant.

Jeff: Yeah.

Jennifer: So keep space for that. We need to be able to reframe and refocus and redirect people.

Jeff: I like that. I think on triangulization one point, sometimes I hear this. Hey I go talk to a friend or coworker to maybe practice conversation and get ready. Okay maybe right. So I’m okay with that and often we get used as coaches to do that. I would just say to make sure that you’re not going to that person in that gossip sort of spirit.

What’s your intent? If you’re that friend and someone is coming, ask him what their intent is. Why are you talking about this person that’s not here? Oh you want to practice a conversation okay, but then hold that person accountable. So that can one of your ground rules, is that if you’re going to go have a conversation, you have to have some set time where you’re go have that conversation.

So in a previous life at Capital One that was our rule, was that triangulization, the only way you could have a triangulized conversation was you had to commit to going and having that conversation that you just practice within 24 hours. So it was a very clear ground rule. We prefer you not to have had the conversation.

But if you really felt like you needed to practice it, you only had 24 hours. And the person that would practice with you, they were supposed to check back with you in 24 hours.

Jennifer: It’s a great ground rule.

Jeff: Yeah and to me, what I want to go back to in all of this so is what is your intent? So when you walk into a meeting, if we’re looking to how to knock down anxiety and to cultivate civility, it’s what is your intent walking into the meeting? What’s your presence you’re bringing in? Have you taken a deep breath?

I was speaking for Roche and in Dallas this past Wednesday to a bunch of laboratorians. And this is what I talked about. They’re going from meeting to meeting to meeting, and I just said stop for just a moment, outside the meeting room. What’s the intent? What is something that make me keep anxious in this meeting?

Who is someone that you can build on? Who’s someone that can be really helpful for you in this meeting? But to take a deep breath three, four times, from the belly, get all the way down in there and calm yourself down. Because if you just go in there, you haven’t had your lunch and you’re highly caffeinated on your Starbucks.

And you start talking like I’m talking right now it’s like… you’re going to promote civility. It’s going to be you’re going to run right over people there’s no listening. So get clean with your intent before you ever walk into the situation.

Jennifer: Another practice I’ve heard a leader has is when he has a meeting and he’s called people to it, he stands at the door and he greets every single person coming to the meeting and thanks them for coming. And then he sits down leads the meeting and then at end he thanks people for being there.

And he is there at the door again so that if people have questions they’re going to pass by and be able to have a moment or two to talk. And I think however you do it to create that engagement is really important.

Jeff: That’s great. Are there any other tips or tools that you think are helpful? I love this idea of the opening round and the closing round. I also love the fact that what you’re trying to do is get people to really connect, use better questions, listen more intently. But I also think it’s things like building relationships.

Taking the time to go have a coffee or lunch or get to know people a little bit better, doing some recognition at both the beginning and end of meetings. As well as maybe doing a round and stopping by and saying thanks for a job well done. Anything else for you?

Jennifer: I would add as you’re having conversations if there’s something that trips you up with what somebody else says, double-click on what that meant, ask.

Jeff: Double click okay yeah.

Jennifer: Yeah. So it’s like we double click on our mouths.

Jeff: Yeah sure.

Jennifer: Right double click and make sure what did you mean by that, can you say more? We’ll have that emotional response and that .07 seconds and we’ll assign it a meaning and a tone of voice. But to circle back around and say, “Wait a minute what did you mean by that?” is really helpful.

One of the things that’s tricky that I notice also is when we sit down with a couple of folks that have been working together for five years and it’s clear that they’re still uncomfortable with one another. It’s not that they don’t like each other, it’s that they don’t know each other. And that’s sad. We spend so much of our time at work.

Be curious about the people that you work with. Ask questions about what they really want, and know what their aspirations. You might there’s a talent locked in the person sitting next to you that you didn’t know, that’s exactly right for the assignment that you have.

Jeff: Jennifer, boy an honor and a privilege to be with you today. Thanks for helping us out so I have a great conversation. I know you do such great work with our customers our clients, I know you’re a sort after speaker and facilitator. Now a coach certified in conversational intelligence. So congratulations.

Jennifer: Thanks for having me Jeff.

Jeff: Absolutely. Next week on the show, we’re going to have Zach Mercurio Zach and I are going to be having a conversation about your purpose. What’s the purpose of you, what’s your purpose in the organization? Can we find a common purpose?

And how do we drive it into all those organizations and create meaningful work, so that it improves not only our engagement but our wellness? And how do we find joy and happiness in the workplace, which I think is missing. And we’ll build off with this topic. So I look forward to talking to Zach next week.