Outstandingly Great Blog
One. Saying, “I am sorry” is not the same thing as saying “I am wrong” or “I am at fault” or “I am to blame.” I am sorry that this thing happened or that my email made you feel this way is different than saying I did this thing and I am at fault or that my email was out or line or incorrect. When to take responsibility is and the benefits of this approach are topics for another post. The point here is simple – “I am sorry” is not an admission of guilt. So, maybe it is something you could say more often. Those three words make a big impact and go a long way towards connecting with more people (clients, managers, subordinates) having more of an impact.
Two. Trying to understand someone else’s point of view is different than agreeing with them. We engage in conversations with the wrong mindset. We listen for disagreement, check for accuracy, and look for windows to rebut. This approach doesn’t move us forward – it isn’t profitable and doesn’t lead to innovation. It is more effective to strap on your seatbelt and to make a mental declaration that you are in it for the long haul. Decide to be in the conversation until you can see the other persons point of view. Commit to understanding their perspective and to continuing the dialogue until you appreciate where they are coming from. Respond with “I really hear what you are saying.” This is not synonymous with “I agree with your approach.” You lose nothing and create the opportunity for connection and collaboration down the road.
As they say on Game of Thrones, “Words are wind.” People say all sorts of things, but then do something different. People say all the right things and then do exactly what they say they don’t want to do. People who want to change their behavior revert to old habits and do the most comfortable thing when confronted with an opportunity to try a new approach.
They say they want to be less judgmental, but when given the opportunity to be empathetic they evaluate instead. They say they want to take a risk, but when presented with the chance to try something new, they opt for the safe road. People say they want to be more nurturing, kind, open-minded, hard-working, responsible, inspirational – the list goes on, but then chose to be distant, punitive, narrow-minded, efficient, non accountable, and route.
The next time you are confronted with a choice do what feels the most unnatural, makes you the most uncomfortable, and seems totally wrong. Whatever your gut tells you to do, do the other thing. That is how we change behavior. When we do something different, we get a different result. Don’t expect to to enhance your life (to have deeper relationships, reach greater levels of success, to leave a lasting and meaningful mark) by doing the same old thing time and time again.
Everyone talks about how competitive the marketplace is now. It is not enough to be technically good at what you do, to stay ahead you need something more. It is not enough to network, you must be on social media as well. It is not enough to provide good customer service, you need a marketing strategy to make the grade. Organizations are busy hiring consultants and coaches – they are focusing on mindfulness and mediation. The big players in our economy – Amazon, Apple, Google are using metric to measure the effectiveness of their teams and the ROI of their professional development efforts.
That is all well and good. Naturally, I believe strongly in the benefits of professional development programs and the efficacy of coaching. But really getting ahead, beating out the completion is easier than all of that. In many instances the good old-fashioned stuff is still best – making a phone call, maintaining eye contact, mastering the art of conversation, listening when someone is talking (hopefully you know by now that listening is a skill and is much different from simply being quiet).
I was at a dinner last night where 50% of the adults at the dinner table were on their phones. This is nothing new. We have all seen the viral internet pictures of groups of people staring at their screens and the news articles about how Millennials don’t know how to communicate. I am not the first one to notice this.
But seeing it for the umpteenth time brought it home and helped me connect the dots between how I am and why people respond to me, open up and look to me for guidance. Since I am good at relating with people I am often accused of reading minds. And usually I laugh it off. I take my ability of knowing what the person is thinking before they say it, finishing sentences, and understanding their feelings for granted. It comes easy to me. But when I think about it more critically it is clear that it’s not actually a talent, it is a skill. I do some pretty easy and obvious things when dealing with people who help me understand them and makes them feel understood, cared about and motivates them to work with me instead of the next guy.
I don’t multitask, I am laser focused on what they are saying (not drifting away with the thoughts of my own mind), I look into their eyes, I watch their body language. People know I am right there with them and that they are my first priority.
Am I special? Nope. Can you do these things too and get more clients, provide better customer service, boost profits and beat out your competition. Yep.
Will you do it? I don’t know the answer to that one, but I hope you do. It is much more cost-effective than spending money on initiatives that you really dont need.
I was coaching a client this week and he got emotional when talking about why he does the work that he does. He had forgotten why his work mattered to him. He had been phoning it in for a long time and getting back in touch with his reason for being moved him.
Just the session before we had discussed how he wasn’t happy and something was off. He was jumping from one responsibility to the next without fully diving in. He took whatever work was offered as long as the money was good. He was overwhelmed, spread too thin, and dropping the ball. I could see on his face that he was unraveled. I didn’t even know him that well and it was clear he wasn’t himself.
Between that painful session and the one we had this week he worked through some exercises that helped him get back in touch with some of his core values and his vision for himself. He then made critical choices about what to drop, what to walk away from and what to grasp more tightly. He got in touch with what mattered to him and saw that many of the projects he was working on, clients he was doing work for, and ways he was spending his time didn’t match up with what mattered to him and what he wanted. So he ditched all that stuff. He found his way again.
Unfortunately, too many professionals are in this same position. They have been on the hampster wheel so long that they have forgotten why they got into their career to begin with.
We schedule time to get our teeth cleaned, our cars serviced, and our hair cut, but when was the last time you sat down and mapped out the vision you have for yourself and whether the life you are living is in synch? Turning autopilot off and taking inventory instead is a worthwhile endeavor.
This summer I traveled with my kids to Weaverville, NC – technically we went to see my folks who have a house in Leicester, but I spent a large part of each day in Weaverville. That part of America is truly God’s Own Country in July and while I basked in the splendor that summer in the mountains brings, it was the reunion that I had with my best self that I most enjoyed and left the most lasting impression.
In Weaverville, I was a free as a bird, Grateful Dead listening, country road traveling, lattee sipping, fiction writing GODESS. I was carefree again as I traveled the winding mountain roads listening to The Dead, 10.23.80, New York, NY. I was cool again and spent my days developing characters and designing plot points at a local coffee spot. I was happy knowing that my suburban-city hybrid kids were busy with the business of being kids – breathing fresh air and getting their hands dirty at our local farm.
It was a much needed gift, but the experience did leave me wondering why I had to travel so far from home to access that side of myself. Why is it that at home I carry tension in my shoulders, need silence in the car, opt for the shortest route to my destination, get in line at the closest chain coffee drive thru, and struggle for creative inspiration? I am not alone in this. My husband is in his full glory sitting on his surfboard waiting for a wave. I have a friend in Boston who I witnessed surrender his daily preoccupations and hop around with enthusiasm only at an outdoor installation art-music festival. I see clients every day who access their kindest, most generous insightful selves only behind the closed doors of their offices in deep conversation during coaching sessions with me. On my way out the door I glimpse them reenter the common areas of their office with their business armor back on ready to correct errors, penalize mistakes, and reprimand with sarcasm. It is impossible for them to reveal their best self to their employees, clients, and colleagues.
I am determined to shed my Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde persona. My hope is to integrate the divergent parts of my personality. Weaverville will always be there waiting for me, but It must be possible to go about the business of my life and also hold onto the parts of me that I like best right here at home. I know that maintaining my Alexa-ness makes me a better leader, coach, and entrepreneur. I imagine all of us are at our most impactful, profitable, and powerful when we bring our whole self into the world.
I was reminded recently of something I learned many years ago in an art history class as an undergrad. Our professor explained that in art women were most often depicted as either the Madonna or the whore. Time and time again women were painted as one or the other. Artist rarely exhibit women as something in between.
This dichotomy in art brought to mind all of the extremes that exist in the business world – how so many professionals don’t live in the wide swath of gray but rather hang out on the margins. Leaders are either too forgiving or too punitive. Managers are either too focused on the bottom of line or too worried about being friends with everyone. While the margins are to our detriment, we gravitate to them nonetheless. They are easy places to hang out. Trying to be moderate is hard. It doesn’t come to us naturally. Rather than challenge ourselves to do better – to make more of an impact, we retreat to our corners.
The Jewish holidays are upon us. This time of year is an opportunity for Jewish people to repent for our sins. This got me thinking about apologizing in the business context. Some leaders never say, “I am sorry.” Whereas others take ownership for all of the ills of the world. Both approaches fail. Effective, memorable leaders are able to apologize when the circumstances call for it, but are able to recognize when they are not to blame.
When it comes to apologizing (and to most other important business skills) successful people are tightrope walkers, suspended in the gray space where work that matters happens. It is an extraordinary event to witness, breathtaking and memorable, but rare indeed.