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.

Playing While Messy

I haven’t done a creativity game in a while, so I wanted to share this one with you. I like it partly because it takes something messy and turns it into something creative and fun.

Start with a stain on some paper. Maybe you put down your coffee cup. Maybe a leaky pen. I’m using a paper stained with grease:

The first picture is of the paper with the stain on a desk, the second picture is held up to the light to make the pattern easier to see.

The challenge is to turn this random collection of blobs into something different. Maybe recognizable, even. This is what I did:

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I looked at my little critter and thought it needed a place to live, so I kept doodling:

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I even gave it a friend in the lower left hand corner. A friend just as lumpy as it is, but without the dramatic coloration.

I would like to note that I am not a professional artist. I’m sure that some people could turn this into a work of art. I just doodle. If I can do this, so can you. You don’t have to share the results of your doodling, but give it a try. It’s a great way to open up possibility thinking – what could this random stain turn into? What do I see in it? How can I transform it? How can I bring out its essence? How can I play with it?

As I’ve said before, and I’m sure I’ll say again, creativity is like a muscle, and it needs to be exercised. The more creativity games you play, the more you practice open-ended possibility thinking  – the more creative thinking you have the rest of the time, too. So when your job, or your life, needs creative thinking, you will have more new ideas because of practicing creative thinking.

Another creative exercise – give your doodle a caption or a title. I find this challenging, which is why I’m including it! Maybe: Fluffy Finally Finds a Friend. Or: Yes, He’s Part Rottweiler and Part Dragon. What do you think it should be called?

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.

Listening With Your Eyes

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I came across this quote while looking for something else, and saved it because I like it so much. It’s so true – if you don’t want to hear what other people have to say, they will stop sharing their thoughts with you. Your team has so much skill, perspective, creativity, possibility, and innovation inside, but if you value being right more than being open, you will lose all of it.

A few months ago I referenced an article in the Harvard Business Review that talked about getting the CEO out of their bubble. No one likes giving the boss bad news, and so a boss that doesn’t seek out what’s going wrong will likely never learn about it.

That’s right. Not only do you need to listen, you need to actively seek out people to listen to. It’s a great first step to not tear the head off of anyone giving you news you don’t want to hear, or ideas that don’t fit with your ideas. Keeping an even temper ALWAYS can give people a little more trust and courage to approach you. But that’s not enough to really get a full view of what’s going on in your organization.

When I bring workshops using the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® methodology to an organization, one of the advantages is that people can store a lot of information in a single LEGO® model. It means they don’t have to store their story in their heads, because it’s backed up in the model, so people can listen more fully to others. Plus, there is something to look at while listening. This ‘listening with their eyes’ helps people understand what is being said, and remember it more fully. Being encouraged to ask questions of the model if there’s something that they don’t understand also helps keep people engaged and involved in what the other person means.

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People need safe space to meet face to face to be able to function well as a team.

The good news is you don’t need to have LEGO® bricks in the office to be able to listen with your eyes. Look around your organization. Do people look tense? Are all the shoulders up around the ears? Do people take time at lunch to eat and talk? How late to people have to stay to keep up with their work load? Listen to your organization. Do people sound impatient? Tired? Frustrated?

Sometimes merely asking how things are going is enough to get to meaningful information. But if you have had a history of killing the messenger, or if you rarely emerge from your lair, you may have to dig deeper to get to real information. Start asking questions about what you see, and really listen to the answers.

A quick note about listening: Not knowing things might make you uncomfortable. I hate it when someone points out a place I think I know things but I don’t. It makes me feel inadequate and stupid. Here’s the thing – you’re not supposed to know everything. That’s why you have people. So please take a deep breath, or whatever else calms you down, and allow the discomfort to wash through you and away. In the end, what you learn will be worth all of the icky feelings.

Talking While Female

Have you ever felt that men talked more in your meetings than women did? Did you find other people in the same meetings didn’t think this happened? There is an app that tracks if men or women speak more in meetings:

Look Who’s Talking

I love that this exists! I love that you can get nice infographics to give to people who say everyone gets equal time to prove that they don’t – or to celebrate the groups where people really do get equal time.

I saw a cartoon once where a manager says to a woman at a meeting something like, “That’s a great idea Miss Jenkins. Would any of the men here like to make it?” (I just spent way too long looking through New Yorker cartoons trying to find it. I didn’t, so you’ll just have to picture it.)

When I go to networking events, I often ask people if they’ve ever been in the kind of meeting where only a couple people speak up, and no one else says anything? It’s really interesting to me that some people say that all their meetings are like that, and some people say none of their meetings are like that. I always wonder about their experiences. Could it be that there are people who have never, ever, been in meetings where one person dominated? Or where people disengaged because no one seemed interested in hearing from them?

I don’t want to make assumptions about people’s perceptions of how much men and women talk, but I find myself making up stories. I secretly assume that the people who think everyone participates in their meetings are the ones who dominate, and who don’t notice people on the fringes not participating. Maybe they think that the people who don’t speak up don’t have anything to say? Maybe they are busy making up their own stories about why those quiet people are quiet – they’re introverts, they’re happy to do what other people want, their opinions don’t really matter?

Brene Brown recently stated that if she could give people one tool, it would be to talk about the story they are making up in their heads. It’s really powerful! I tried it recently when my husband and I were talking. I asked to change the subject, and he agreed, and took his hand off my shoulder. I told him the thing, and then asked why he moved his hand. In my mind, I made up the story that he was worried about what I would say, that he assumed it would be something negative about him, and that he was already getting defensive. In fact, he moved his hand off because I kept gesturing, and he felt like his hand was getting in the way of my moving my arms. There is so much possibility in being open to another interpretation of events! I was able to see my husband as kind instead of walled off, and he could reassure me that my gremlins were not in fact real.

When I make up stories about how other people’s meetings actually go, I don’t really have a way to know. But if any of these people get curious, they can use this app to investigate. I would love to get real data from people about how their teams operate!

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!

Monkey See, Monkey Do

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People need to see you make it safe to participate. If they don’t see you do it, they won’t do it either.

I was reading the book Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger. One section really caught my attention. He was talking about why things that are public and easily observable catch on more than things that are private. People use other people to judge the value of things. If someone rejects a kidney, other people will think it’s a sub-par kidney and reject it even if they need one to survive. Even in preschool, children play with the toys that other children play with. And – if no one asks a question after a presentation, then no one else will either. They will think no one else is confused, so they won’t admit they are either.

“Behavior is public and thoughts are private.” (p. 134) If you want to make your work place a safe place to speak up, then people need to see behavior that supports that. People need to see that you don’t shame people who ask questions, that you thank people for bringing up opposing views, that you ask for more opinions and don’t want people to just say what you say.

If the boss can do all this, that’s best. If the boss doesn’t, then rank and file people can do it too. It helps if there’s more than just one. The more observable behavior people see, the more they can imitate. So even if you don’t see other people doing it, you can be the shining example that lets others know it’s okay to challenge bigotry, or it’s desirable to question the way things have always been done. Get a friend to back you, and the behavior you model may in fact become contagious.

In other news: I will need to miss next week’s blog. Back in two weeks!

Hearing Every Voice

I care a lot about getting every voice heard. Sometimes people get talked over because they are introverted. However, it often goes along with social status. Straight white men are the most likely to be uninterrupted. If you are a woman, or gay, or a person of color, your chances at being heard go down.

I will be speaking about Hearing Women’s Voices in a Man’s World next week at the EBWN meeting. If you’re local, I’d love to have you come out and hear me in person!

   “Hearing Women’s Voices in a Man’s World”

You are invited to join us for lunch and a great presentation by keynote speaker, play professional Talia Dashow on Wednesday, August 2nd.

Have you ever been in a meeting where only the most powerful or extroverted (or male) people speak up? Businesses lose money when people don’t feel able to speak up – there’s higher turnover and lower efficiency. Talia helps teams make meetings a safe place to speak up so all employees are engaged, happy, and productive.

In her presentation, you will learn:

  1. Techniques to even the playing field so that every voice is heard in a meeting.
  2. The importance of hearing every voice in the group.
  3. How to create safe spaces for new voices to emerge.

Talia DashowOne of Talia’s methods in her presentations is using LEGO® bricks which are more interactive, engaging and memorable for groups.

A graduate of UC Berkeley, Talia has studied how people communicate for decades, starting with her own struggles to learn how to connect with people, and then observing how individuals and groups interact and work best together. She has received training in community mediation and in LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY and has combined that practical knowledge with her creativity and playfulness to help people “play well” with others.

Don’t miss this great presentation, beautiful golf course views, fabulous lunch, fun networking, and opportunities to learn and grow. Gentlemen are welcome.

 https://ebwn.org/hearing-womens-voices-in-a-mans-world/

 

The meeting runs 11:30-1:30 in Alameda, California. Let’s play with LEGO® bricks and talk about how to get every voice heard!