I Believe

I believe that having a seat at the table is not the same as having an equal voice.

I believe that sprouts need time and space to grow, whether those sprouts are tender new plants or fragile new ideas.

I believe that the still, small voice inside is the one most worth listening to, and that we have to get very quiet to be able to hear it.

I believe that everything, including mindfulness, can be used as a weapon by those who are acting aggressively, and that everything, including conflict, can be used as a tool for growth and connection by those who are acting with loving-kindness.

I believe that group dynamics are much more complicated than relationships between two people, which are complicated enough.

I believe that the stories we hear in our heads have a lot of power over us. It’s hard to see that they aren’t the truth, especially if the people around us reinforce them.

I believe that getting hurt when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable will keep us from getting vulnerable again for a long, long time. I believe that from the outside it can be hard to tell if another person is actually feeling vulnerable. I believe we should always assume the other person feels vulnerable, even if they are acting brash.

I believe that connections between people are the most important thing we can create.

I believe that understanding, compassion, and acceptance are the most important tools a team has to create a space where everyone feels welcome and able to be vulnerable.

I believe that new ideas are vulnerable things. It doesn’t take much to crush the idea and the person offering the idea.

I believe that new ideas are necessary to move the world in a sustainable and healthy direction, and to create prosperity for the people doing the moving.

I believe that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, that being vulnerable is a sign of great strength, and that it takes courage to be open to change.

I believe that I can help teams find this place, where they believe these things too and can make their own spaces safe to be vulnerable and new. I believe I can help you.

When 7-Year-Olds Are In Charge

Imagine this: You’re around 7 years old. You are in a classroom. Your teacher asks you to come up to the blackboard to spell a word: Antidisestablishmentarianism. You’ve never heard of it, and have no idea how to spell it. How do you feel? Probably embarrassed at your lack of spelling chops, humiliated that you have to expose your ignorance, angry that you’re being put on the spot, afraid of being laughed at or yelled at….

Fast forward. You’re now an adult, in a business meeting. The boss has been hearing from the same three people for half an hour and needs a new perspective on the thing they’re discussing. They (I’m going to say ‘they’ instead of ‘he or she’ because it’s easier and I don’t want to imply all bosses are either ‘he’ or ‘she’ by picking one. I’m sorry for the singular/plural disagreement.) call on you. How do you feel? Maybe you don’t think anyone’s idea is particularly good, but you don’t have a better one to offer. Maybe you haven’t been listening because it’s been the same stuff over and over, and you’re thinking about lunch. Chances are good that your inner 7-year-old will take over – you’ll feel embarrassed to be put on the spot, humiliated that you have nothing to offer, angry that you had no warning, afraid of being laughed at or yelled at….

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The thing is, the boss had the best of intentions. They wanted to hear from more people, get more ideas, even the beginning of an idea to start a new conversation. But the person being called on is suddenly in fight/flight/freeze mode and can’t come up with anything intelligent to say. Everyone feels frustrated. No ideas come out. Another meeting wasting more time with no outcome.

Does this sound familiar? I know my inner 7-year-old comes out at times. Often when I need to do something very adult and responsible like call clients or speak on stage. I feel afraid and embarrassed and very, very young. It can be a real challenge to remember that I’m an adult now, that I’ve got this, that my inner child is safe, and my adult self can handle whatever comes my way.

In the meeting example above, often the person being put on the spot doesn’t have the chance to collect themselves before needing to respond. What can a meeting group do to help them out?

I’m so glad you asked! First of all, treat all questions and comments with respect and lightness. That is – if the boss yells at people for asking dumb questions, no one will ask questions. If group members grumble that their precious time is being wasted answering dumb questions, no one will ask questions. Then, when a single question could change the course of the company, no one will ask it and the company could go under. It really is that dire. Every question needs to be treated with respect – no put-downs, no grumbles, have a real honest desire to answer seriously. However, some questions are veiled grumbles or put-downs themselves, and these don’t need to be taken seriously. But you can’t put them down either, or the more 7-year-old-inclined of the group will retreat. So humor and compassion are key.

Next, reassure the person who is staring at you like a deer in the headlights that their answer isn’t life or death. Ask them to start a conversation, not have complete answers. That’s what the team is there for – to come up with a stronger answer together than anyone can do on their own. Is anything feeling off for you? Do you have any concerns? What sounds right about this plan? In your experience, will this work? Tell us about your doubts. We can help flesh it all out.

Note how different this is from: if you see a flaw in the plan, it’s your responsibility to fix it. Or, if you think there’s something wrong, what do you think is the right thing? These types of responses make people much less likely to say anything. Too much pressure, too much responsibility, too much extra work.

Another strategy: assume any problem or mistake is just data, not failure. People do NOT like to fail. Having one’s mistakes scrutinized is very painful and likely to bring out the 7-year-old in us. Having one’s mistakes seen as information about what works and what doesn’t takes some of the sting out of it. And seeing that data as a piece of a new brainstorming session can help move it into a positive new idea.

Leaders who are sensitive to the emergence of our inner 7-year-olds can make a world of difference to the people who follow them. People who assume everyone around them is as tough as a Navy Seal will squash new ideas left and right. People are just grown-up little kids, at least some of the time, and having our inner children be respected and not humiliated will bring out loyalty and great new ideas. I pinky promise.

Vulnerable Post

Hi everyone, I want to share something somewhat vulnerable with you today.

I’m really excited about the work that I do. I get to help people be heard, show up fully, add creativity and innovation to their organizations, feel valued, and ultimately change the world. A one-degree shift in direction can take you miles and miles away from your original destination, so the shift from being quiet to speaking up can make a profound difference in a person’s life.

The reason I care so deeply whether people get heard or not is that I grew up not feeling heard and afraid to speak up. From birth, when I was put into an incubator (my twin brother and I were 5 weeks premature), I have been looking for a way to connect with people and not finding it. I found walls, not loving parents. So I stopped trying to connect.

In my growing up years, I tried very hard to be the person I thought my parents wanted me to be. It seemed to me that every time my insecurities or extra sensitivities got triggered, I was told to toughen up or brush it off. Every time my most tender parts got bruised, I felt like it was my fault for being this way and I’d better change. So I tried to become the person everyone seemed to think I should be. I stopped crying. I ate my feelings away. I tried so hard to be the person they seemed to want.

By the time I got to high school, the advice “just be yourself” was gibberish. I had no idea who I was, and I was pretty sure if the real me surfaced everyone would run away screaming. By college when I got a therapist, she said something about emotional connection and I said “what’s that?”.

The price for all this was pretty high. I was extremely depressed. I thought it was normal for teenagers to wake up not wanting to live in their own skin that day. Everyone said adolescence was tough – but apparently not everyone wanted to die. Thank all the powers that be that I found a good therapist before I acted on it!

When I entered the work world, I was in therapy, but I still didn’t know who I was, or how to speak up, or how to value my own opinions. I didn’t think my unformed and uncertain ideas could stand up to challenge or scrutiny, so I didn’t say them. Maybe I could have changed the course of my employers for the better, but I didn’t believe I was worth listening to.

I’m not there any more, but I remember what it was like. That is why I feel a bit vulnerable offering my services now. I would like to offer 15 free team engagement assessments before the end of the year. I am also looking for 15 places to do a free lunch-and-learn.

I care deeply about this work because how a person shows up can make a huge difference both in their own lives and in the trajectory of their business. I don’t do therapy, but I do help people think with their hands. I level the playing field so everyone has to think before speaking, and I make sure that everyone speaks. People leave feeling like their ideas and opinions were heard and integrated into the decisions that got made. Morale goes up. Engagement goes up.  Productivity goes up. Happiness goes up. People are more cooperative, more inclined to give extra effort to making their shared solution happen.

I don’t always like to admit how personal all this work is. Work should be business-like, right? But it’s deeply personal to me to get the quiet voices heard.

If you support my efforts to bring all voices to light, could you please forward this to anyone you know who is struggling with a team? Please help me find 15 teams to talk to for free about how well they are working together, and 15 businesses that want to have me give a free lunch-and-learn to help their teams grow. Before the end of the year we could change the world!

Letting Go Of The Boat

Have I told you, my faithful readers of my blog, about my experience snorkeling in Australia? This was between 15 and 20 years ago, but it made a deep impression on me. (See what I did there? Deep? Get it?)

I am not a confident swimmer, but I manage in a pool. We were on a boat heading out to the Great Barrier Reef, and it was an hour across ocean to get to our snorkeling site. I was nervous the whole way. When we got there, everyone else jumped off the back, and I sat there crying, I was so scared and humiliated for being scared. Then a huge Maori Wrasse came up to the back of the boat to be fed, and I touched it as it went by. It looked me in the eye. I decided it was worth it to get in the water to see more amazing things like that. So I blew my nose, grabbed a pool noodle in one hand, my boyfriend’s hand (he’s now my husband) in the other, and got off the boat.

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After that, it was magic! I was flying over cities of coral and fish, soaring above the beauty and scurry of life under water. I didn’t get swamped by the waves like I thought I would, instead I floated on top and bobbed up and down. I didn’t get lost and pulled by the current too far to get back to the boat. My boyfriend and I headed back on time and got our snacks on our way to the next snorkeling site.

Many years later, I’m still talking about this experience. I’m still using it as a metaphor to remind myself that it’s worth it to let go of the boat. I might be scared, but what I will experience is so amazing it’s worth it to move through the fear.

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Just recently my husband got a charm made to look like that fish I saw in Australia, so I can keep a reminder to move through fear with me always. (My other charms represent, in order, my husband, myself, my son, and my business.)

I bring this up because I have been challenging myself with new and scary experiences recently. Yesterday I got interviewed on camera for a show that will be aired on an obscure cable channel that very few people watch, but clips will be put on Facebook and YouTube and people will see me. I don’t know how I did. The interview felt choppy and uncomfortable while I was doing it, but I think I said all the things I wanted to say. Maybe. I was nervous going in to it, and anxious going out. So far, it doesn’t feel like magic, I’m not flying over new cities of anything. But I’m proud of myself for doing it, and maybe it will help advertise my business. You, my faithful readers, are still keeping me a secret. What gives?

It is uncomfortable being scared. My shoulders have been too tight for weeks. I eat too little or too much. I can’t concentrate on work, can’t fall asleep at night, and my mouth is always dry. I understand why we avoid this situation! But I’m also proud of myself for stretching outside my comfort zone. Every time I do that my comfort zone grows. I’m more willing to snorkel again. I’m more willing to be interviewed on TV again. I’m more willing to try the next scary thing that comes along.

So I say to you, please don’t be ashamed of having fear. And also, at the same time, I hope you find a way to move through the fear and do what you are afraid to do. There is a whole world on the other side of your fear.

One Uncomfortable Thing A Day

I am trying to build a business. A lot of what I need to do is uncomfortable, so I resist doing it. Call people I don’t know to ask them to do something for me? Definitely not what I call fun.

My mentor Jesse from Thrive Academy says that one’s success is directly related to the number of uncomfortable conversations one is willing to have.

Interestingly, once I’m in a conversation with someone I’m more willing to go for the uncomfortable questions. If I’ve established a connection with someone, I’m often interested in what’s underneath. Not always, and it’s not always appropriate to ask, but somehow it’s okay with me because we are in relationship, and we are together, and we are risking something that will bring us closer.

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Pick up the phone? Now that’s a different matter entirely. I’m alone, anxious, not in relationship, not sure who will answer or what they will say, unable to see a face, feeling cut off from all my sources of information. Not an easy position to be in, for me.

So I have started a practice – make one uncomfortable phone call a day. If I go into it knowing I will feel uncomfortable and acknowledging that, it’s somehow easier than if I assume I should be able to do it easily. I’m no longer wrong for struggling with it. In fact, I’m brave for trying it.

I often don’t do more than leave a message. I have never gotten one of those messages returned. The point is two-fold:  One, to plant seeds in different places. Eventually, the right person will hear my message at the right time and call me back. Two, keep doing the thing I don’t want to do. After a while, it’s a little less excruciating. A while after that, it’s almost easy. Almost. Seriously, it does get easier with practice and repetition.

I don’t know what is uncomfortable for you. Maybe it’s talking in public. Maybe it’s petting a dog. I encourage you to take a tiny step forward on a regular basis. You don’t have to jump into hugging a German Shepard – but maybe a pat on a nice placid beagle? Maybe not a TED talk, but speaking up in a team meeting? Tiny steps are still steps. Acknowledging yourself for taking those steps even though they are difficult is strengthening and empowering. You are awesome for trying!

Don’t Believe Everything You Think

You’ll never live up to their expectations.

Who are you to show up in a big way? Just give up.

You haven’t succeeded yet, so you never will.

Have you ever had voices like that in your head? I have them today. I have a presentation later today with some people who could potentially send me a lot of business, so my gremlin voices are extra loud.

They won’t like you.

You don’t have enough experience.

You always freeze. You’ll never be able to answer all their questions.

I know a secret about these voices – they are trying to protect me. They are trying to keep me in my place in my tribe, so I won’t lose tribal support and end up alone and likely to be eaten by a lion. They are trying to prevent extreme discomfort by keeping me in my comfort zone. And I appreciate their efforts! Only thing is, they’re a little too zealous.

I hope you’re not late with all that traffic.

You look frumpy in that dress.

You always forget something you need.

Here is my tactic for today:  Thank you gremlin voices! It’s so nice to know you are always there to keep me safe. I really appreciate your efforts. Only thing is, I don’t need you right now. I’ve got this. I’ve done it before, I know what I’m talking about, I’m an adult. You know what would be really helpful? Instead of tearing me down, build me up. Tell me all the things that could go right, not wrong. When I hear you start to talk, I’m going to make sure what you’re saying is helpful. OK?

No one wants to hear what you have to say. – Actually, I was invited to speak because they do want to hear what I have to say!

Your insights don’t matter. – Really? The last group I talked to thought my insights were helpful and even profound.

What makes you think you can succeed this time? – Well, I’ve been improving and learning and working for a while; now I have the support, confidence, experience, ability, systems, and knowledge  I need to thrive. And when I thrive, I can help so many more people! It’s win – win – win!

My gremlins start to shift into cheerleaders when I do this. I stop hearing the voices of everyone who has doubted me, and start hearing the voices of those who believe in me.

You don’t let anything stop you.

You have such a big heart.

Your smile lights up a room.

You are courageous and keep showing up.

You care so deeply about the people you help.

You got this!

People tend to find what they look for. What we pay attention to, grows. I refuse to let my doubts run the show today. I got this!

So do you.

Out Of Balance

My son is sick. He is being very dramatic about it, too, whining and flopping on chairs instead of standing up, sniffling loudly and moaning about how much his head hurts. I think I’m getting his cold, and I want to declare how icky and tired I feel too.

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What is interesting to me is how bad we feel because our bodies are doing exactly what they are supposed to do. The symptoms we have are there because our bodies are fighting off infection, and the runny nose, fever, and cough are there to get the invaders out of the body or burn them to death. Our bodies feel out of whack because there has been an extreme test that requires an extreme reaction before we reset to normal.

It’s an odd perspective to say we feel icky because everything is going right. It sure feels like something is terribly wrong – and I suppose the invading germs are wrong – but our bodies reactions are exactly right.

What if this were a metaphor? Is there another place where things are out of balance and feel wrong? I’m tempted to say that the current political climate feels terrible because a poison has been introduced – hate, intolerance, injustice, etc. – and the tumult that is resulting – protests, marches, lawsuits, rioting, etc. – is the body politic’s response to the disease. It is absolutely the right thing to happen, and should happen more, to drive the poison out of our system. Even thought things feel scary and dangerous, it’s more dangerous not to fight back.

Each of us is our own white blood cell attacking intolerance in our own environment. Each of us has the option to speak up when we see injustice in action. We are stronger when there are more of us. No one can do our job for us – we are an army of individuals addressing what we see as we see it.

Sometimes we will get things wrong. Some of us might interpret others actions incorrectly, or through fear-tinted lenses, and attack the wrong people. Other times we might not be as aggressive as we should be because we fear for our own safety or we don’t know what to do or say. At times we will just sit down and give up because it all feels so uncomfortable and out of whack. We may complain more than we act. All of that is normal, and human, and forgivable, as long as we get back into the fight.

The health of the entire nation is at risk, here. It’s not just the immigrants, or people of color, or Muslims, or whatever other group has been targeted. The culture of fear and hatred this poison is spreading will harm all of us. We can’t pretend not to be affected, even if we are not the group being targeted for prison or deportation. All of us need to fight to the best of our abilities for compassion, tolerance, kindness, compromise, mediation, coming together, helping each other, finding ways to live together in peace and justice. Isn’t that the American way?

Please Don’t Know Everything

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I went to a networking event last night and talked to someone about why it’s difficult to hear from people on your team. He mentioned the type of manager who thinks they need to know everything already.

Are you that kind of person? Do you feel queasy when you think your people might question you? Do you go into meetings already knowing what outcome you’re looking for? Do you think you know best, and the rest of the people in your organization are just hands to execute what you dictate?

If so, you are why 70% of the American workforce feels disengaged at work.  Please stop knowing everything.

The truth is – bosses might have great ideas, but they’re not the only ones who do. Chances are the people in your organization were hired for their smarts, abilities, experience, etc. They also have great ideas.

It takes courage to admit you don’t have the whole answer, and to ask others for their viewpoints. It means the meeting might take longer, people might disagree with each other and with you, emotions might run high. Or, if people are unused to being asked for their ideas, maybe there will be silence. They might not believe you want to hear from them. They might be afraid of being made wrong, or simply of being visible from speaking up in a quiet room.

There was a quote from the TV show Agents of SHIELD which I probably won’t get 100% correct, but it went something like this: What if no one has 100% of the answer, but 100 people each have 1% of the answer?

We have complicated problems these days. The problems are bigger than we are, and might take a lot of brains to figure out. Maybe it will take 100 people giving input to whip an idea into shape. If the boss won’t listen to their team, everyone loses.

So, how can you, as a manager, get access to all those great ideas brewing in your peoples’ heads?  Here are some ideas:

  1. Ask a lot of questions. Become curious about what other people are thinking. (I’m currently reading a book about questions, I’ll write more about this in the future.)
  2. Admit you don’t know everything. No matter how humbling, uncomfortable, or difficult this is, you can’t know things from anyone else’s perspective. Admitting this helps make it easier to hear what other people think.
  3. Be patient. It will take a while for people to get used to the new you, the one that doesn’t have all the answers. People won’t trust you right away, so don’t give up.
  4. Give people reason to trust you. Don’t jump down people’s throats when they disagree with you. Ask more questions. Acknowledge the validity of their points.
  5. Acknowledge your people for speaking up. Thank them for their courage, for their insight, for anything you can find to thank them for. People will do a lot for positive acknowledgement.

(Side note: In college I took a dance class with a teacher who did not give praise out easily. She challenged us, she made us work hard, and she made us repeat things a lot of times. But – when she called out my name to say I was doing it well, I felt like I was dancing on air. I wanted to work even harder, to get that acknowledgement again. I would have followed her anywhere, and done anything for her. Genuine praise for something specific that is done well is hugely motivating!)

Okay, now that we have solved all the problems in the office, let’s go have a great and collaborative day!

Power And Force

I was out of town when the Charlottesville events happened last week. I have been spending some time processing what has happened, and I have something to say.

Most of my writing assumes good will on everyone’s part, but cluelessness at times. That is, I don’t think people want to oppress others, and that they do want to know if they are doing something that keeps others from speaking up. Sometimes, however, people are very explicit in how they try to keep others down. Right now, white men are marching with torches claiming they are superior, they won’t be replaced by any minority (Jews, people of color, women, immigrants, Muslims, etc.) – and they are using violence to intimidate people into letting them have their way.

We also have a president who advocates violence and bigotry, and this is allowing people to speak up about their own bigotry in ways they had to hide in the past. What the person at the top says makes a difference all the way down the line.

I think that all of the racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, etc, is about power. There are some white men who are afraid of losing power to people they think are beneath them, and they will do anything to keep their power. They will kill, and threaten, and beat up, and elect powerful people who think the way they do.

These people seem to think that power is a zero sum game. That is, there is a finite amount, and if someone else gets more, that means they get less. They also view the world in a very hierarchical way – everyone is either one-up or one-down from others. I don’t agree with this world view. I think that everyone is equal, no one is better or worse than anyone else, and that everyone can hold personal power without taking away from anyone else’s power. However, power is not the same as force. That power is personal power to speak our own truths. It is power to bring multiple points of view into the world and work out how they can coexist. It is power to build, not destroy, and to understand, not suppress.

I’m disturbed by the number of people who have forgotten what every kindergarten teacher tries to impart – we are all in this world together, we need to share, we need to help each other, we are all worthy of love and attention, and we all need to let other people have love and attention too. There is enough love and attention for everyone. We don’t need to take it away from others to get it for ourselves. No one always gets their own way. We need to compromise to be able to live together. Force just makes people angry and resentful. Hate begets hate – and help begets help.

I think the world is stronger with everyone’s viewpoints in it. I think the world is better when more people are able to be fully present and alive and seen and heard and valued. I will fight bigotry and hatred with love and compassion, and continue to insist that every voice must be heard. Together, we are stronger.

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Blind Spots

What do you not know that you don’t know?

That’s one of those brain-twisters, sort of Dr. Seuss for psychology. How can you know what you don’t know you don’t know?

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Remember the Johari Window I mentioned on June 7? The people who created it did so to show that there are parts of ourselves we don’t know about. Some of them we can learn about from other people. Some of them will always be mysterious.

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Those blind spots can really hamper a leader. I referenced a “CEO Bubble” mentioned in the Harvard Business Review in my blog from April 12. It’s so very easy, and human, not to want to know about our own flaws, or the flaws in our organizations. Plus it’s very human not to want to upset our superiors. So we end up not knowing what we don’t know because we don’t ask and others don’t tell – and that can lead to failure.

Sometimes we luck out and someone has done a study about the places most likely to be a problem. That gives us the chance to start self-correcting before all our employees leave in a huff. In this case, Dale Carnegie did a multi-national survey of adults in businesses large and small to find out where the problems are.

I took a workshop by Dale Carnegie called Uncovering Leadership Blind Spots: Discovering the Pathway to Motivating Your Employees. What I found most interesting was that the blind spots most leaders face are around people skills. Employees want their leaders to care about their opinions, but they think their leaders don’t. Employees want their leaders to admit to mistakes, but they feel most of them throw others under the bus instead. Leaders aren’t falling short in marking plans or product development, they’re falling short in engaging their people and making them feel important and valued.

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Aha! Scientific data to back up what I already knew – people disengage when they don’t think anyone wants to listen. And if people don’t have a chance to speak up in their meetings, or if their ideas are dismissed, they will stop engaging, and then leave. Which costs the organization a lot of money. It’s good business sense to acknowledge your people, to listen to them, to respect their opinions. It’s even good business sense to admit to being wrong, should the occasion arise. (I joke with my family that I’m only wrong once a week, so if I was wrong yesterday I can’t possibly be wrong again today. I can’t figure out why they don’t believe me!)

How do you care about your people?