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!

Pipeline Lifeline

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I’ve been thinking about how information travels through organizations. There are formal ways – when you are done with this report send it to these people – and informal ways – “Hey Pat, what do you think of this?”.

Proximity is important for the informal communication. I think that open offices were designed to increase this type of casual, spur of the moment, spontaneous communication. Sometimes ideas can be fertilized and grow from chatting with your co-workers. Works in progress can be seen before they are finished and fixed with less effort and expense.

My husband has a bunch of his team on another continent, in a very different time zone. Almost all of their communication must be formal. Daily required status updates. Daily feedback. There are no chance encounters over lunch or getting office supplies.

It seems like people are liable to think the worst of others in these situations. With no face to face contact, no chance to explain what’s going on, when someone doesn’t implement the feedback given it’s easy to assume ‘they just don’t respect me as their director any more. That makes me angry. I’m going to be vindictive or snarky in response.’ Which makes them less likely to implement my instructions. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.

These conflicts can show up even in people in the same building, if there’s no contact between them. I was talking to someone at a party recently who said his organization is full of silos. “We” don’t want to talk to “them” if we don’t have to.

Sometimes the divisions happen because each department has a different priority, and it can feel to people that those in other departments are out to get them. Sales just promised a feature that engineering can’t produce in the time allowed. Engineering just made a feature that sales can’t figure out how to sell. What were they thinking?!?

I know all of this is human nature, but it makes me sad. I see people becoming less flexible, less open to input, less likely to encounter new ideas, less likely to offer creative ideas. I know what amazing things can happen when people work together, but there has to be trust to do that, and these silos sap trust.

It would be interesting to map how information flows through an organization. There’s probably already a diagram of who reports to whom, so there is some understanding of the formal process. But where does feedback really come from? An artist might get the design from the concept artist, official feedback from the art director, informal feedback from other artists, and office gossip from a friend in HR. The art director might give feedback to artists, get feedback from the VP, and come up with new ideas from chatting with marketing over lunch. I’d love to bring in LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® to examine where the bottlenecks are, who is connected to whom, which departments are in silos, where there is cross-pollination.

Who do you talk to at work?

Friends at Work

What do you need to make friends at work?

You are put together with other people who at least share a passing interest in whatever work you do, even if it’s just enough interest to earn a paycheck. Hopefully you all share some amount of passion for the project you are on. But you may not come from the same background, or have the same hobbies, or share the same view of the world. What do you talk about?

I will be doing a team building workshop this weekend for a group that’s getting together just for the summer. Some of them know each other already, some don’t. So I’ve been thinking about what makes teams bond, and what helps people to make friends. Here are some ideas:

Shared experience. People who have a shared experience, especially an intense one, often form friendships based on that shared experience. People who went to drama camp together, or law school, or basic training, share a bond based on that experience.

One of the premises of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® is that the process of building ideas and feelings and metaphors and stories can sometimes be uncomfortable. The emotional content of the discomfort is part of what makes the stories memorable and important. We hope that the participants mostly feel comfortable, but if they only feel comfortable then what they are doing together is less impactful. In fact, resolving the discomfort in some way as a group goes a long way to making the group a more desirable place to spend time.

Self-revelation. The Johari Window below diagrams the amount of ourselves that we reveal to ourselves and others.

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The larger the open area is, the easier it is for people to get to know and like us. The process of revealing more is part of the process of creating bonds. Self-disclosure is the easiest, and it helps us create connections around shared experience. (You like toast? I like toast!) Feedback is more difficult, since it gives us information about ourselves that we might or might not want to hear. But if someone sees us that clearly and shares what they know, it creates a connection too.

The greatest bond comes from shared discovery of areas that were previously unknown to everyone. And this is something that LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® does well. The hand-brain connection helps people with self-discovery, figuring out what they think as they build. Since everyone else is doing the same thing, the process creates chances to reveal things to each other that each person might not see at first. As everyone explores the unknown together, people get the emotional bond from doing something intense, as well as the bond from learning new things together.

Not everyone will bond to everyone else based on either of these. Sometimes people just don’t click, no matter what you do. Sometimes the best thing for a group is to change the people in it! But that’s a drastic answer, and often not necessary. Often all that is needed is shared experience and a chance to tell our own stories.

Rummage Sale of the Brain

One of my strategies as an artist is to look for new input all the time. I look for new ideas, look at other artists’ works, go to galleries, go to open studios, and visit garage sales and places like the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse which have lots of random bits of things that can be crafted and art-ed with. I let these new ideas and materials and possibilities simmer on the back burner of my brain, and new ideas get cooked up.

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In other news, I was reading an article by Daniel Goleman, author of the bestseller “Emotional Intelligence,” that was linked on LinkedIn. In it, he says:

The good news is that Adaptability, like each EI competency, is a skill leaders can develop. And, the EI competencies build on each other. Three keys to developing adaptability can be summed up as “Listen Inside,” “Look Outside,” and “Step Outside.”

  • Listen Inside means tapping into emotional self-awareness to recognize what you are feeling, how it impacts your behavior, and whether you are operating from habit.
  • Look Outside is shorthand for looking beyond your usual information sources, paying attention to data that contradicts your current thoughts. This means tapping into skills in organizational awareness, another EI competency.
  • Step Outside involves intentionally stepping beyond your comfort zone and seeking out new experiences, opinions, and environments.

– See more at: http://www.kornferry.com/institute/train-your-brain-for-change#sthash.Aw56QMBK.dpuf

This made me think about my artistic habits. It also made me think of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®. After all, part of what makes LSP work is that people think with their hands. Which means they need to have a big old pile of LEGO® bricks on the table from which to choose. The amount of possibility lets them sort through and figure out what they want to build, and say. Maybe something they never thought about before. Maybe something they never had the courage to say before.
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Sometimes someone will feel the need to sort the bricks before they start building. When this person is the boss, it worries me. It makes me think that perhaps this leader feels more comfortable in the position of being in control, and that perhaps they don’t invite in opposing views. They may end up in what the Harvard Business Review called  a CEO Bubble, or Daniel Goleman refers to as “feedback deserts.” They don’t really want a lot of ambiguity, possibility, chaos, new ideas, or additional information cluttering up the clarity of their desk or vision or direction. But this also means they are less likely to be flexible and adaptable when the inevitable need to change arises.
It is difficult to tell a leader that you think they lack the necessary flexibility and adaptability to change with the changing world. You may well end up changing jobs if you do. Some people crave poking through rummage sales, some people think it’s garbage and don’t want anything to do with the chaos and clutter. I don’t think that LSP will single-handed-ly change a person’s innate nature. But perhaps, maybe, possibly, introducing such a leader to more new ideas can open him or her up to a little more change. Maybe, it’s possible, that giving such a leader an article like this one can help them think about bringing in information from more sources, including ones that don’t feel comfortable. Possibly, maybe, perhaps, they can be convinced to water their feedback desert and get more options (with the corresponding lessening of clarity) to bloom.

Creativity Games

I haven’t talked about creativity games in a while, so I wanted to touch on them again. As I’ve mentioned, play provides a way to create a space where there is no winning or losing, which makes it safer for people to practice speaking up. This only works, of course, if the people in charge are making it safe by appreciating all answers, not preferring some over others.

I think it’s cool that even if people don’t speak up, just by thinking up the answers they can stretch their comfort zones and exercise their creativity muscles, so it will be a little easier to speak up next time. Or the time after. Whenever it feels safe enough and they feel confident enough of their answer.

I’m going to draw some cards from the game Disruptus. This is a card game by Funnybone Toys designed to help people stretch their minds. There are four choices of what to do with the cards, then a box full of pictures of things. The four choices are:

Improve. Make it better: Add or change one or more elements depicted on the card to improve the object or idea.

Disrupt. Look at the picture, grasp what the purpose is, and come up with a completely different way to achieve the same purpose.

Create 2. Take any number of elements from each (of two) card(s) and use these to create a new object or idea.

Transform. Use the object or idea on the card for a different purpose.

I’ve selected 4 cards at random:

DisruptusCards

How can you improve, disrupt, create, or transform these images?

Here are some ideas I came up with; I’d love to hear yours. (Just as an aside, my insecurities come up too. I want to label these ideas as silly, or somehow put them down, so you won’t judge me too harshly for coming up with unusable or stupid ideas. But I’m not going to censor myself because of these insecurities. Please don’t censor yourself either!)

Disrupt: The sink is to wash hair in a hair salon. What if there was a chair that could rotate upside down, and lower the person into a sink? Maybe into a series of sinks, for shampoo and rinsing and conditioning. The person would need to be strapped in, but they might not need plastic covering since they will be above the water.

Create 2: That clothes hanger looks like it would work for a zip line with the rope. Maybe a zip line for clothes from storage to your hand, or a zip line for a person to get from one place to another. (We could even include the tall building and make a zip line that ties two buildings together!)

Transform: Use that high-rise for a farm. All those windows can let in light to grow plants. Maybe the center of the building can be used to trap and store rainwater.

Improve: Rope is really thick. That makes it good to support heavy things, but it makes it hard to tie it or tie things to it. But you could make a rope with a strand that has loops in it. So the loops would be tied into the strength of the rope, but would be sticking out all over so things can be attached.

What ideas do you have? I’d love to hear them!

Play Is Good Business

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As you probably know by now, I’m a geek when it comes to communication, connection, play, creativity, collaboration, innovation, and teamwork. I’m not so fluent, or interested in, business, marketing, finance, and other MBA related subjects. So it was odd for me to pick up a copy of the Harvard Business Review this month. They cleverly put LEGO® bricks all over the cover, so that it would catch my eye. Surprisingly enough, there were a number of articles in it that aligned with my areas of interest and expertise. So I thought I’d share some of them with you.

There is an article that talks about the diversity of work styles and perspectives based on brain chemistry. By talking about Pioneers, Drivers, Integrators, and Guardians, Deloitte can help people understand each other better. One of the things that intrigued me about this article is the notion of “cascades.” “Once ideas, discussion, and decision making start flowing in a particular direction, momentum keeps them moving that way. Even if diverse views exist on the team, they probably won’t change the flow once it’s established, as people often hesitate to voice disagreement with an idea that gets early visible support.” (HBR March-April 2017 pg 54)

In order to prevent cascades, it’s helpful to start out getting ideas from the minority views. And it’s especially important to hear from your sensitive, risk-averse, introverted people. They will not stick their necks out to challenge what feels like a waterfall landing on their heads.

(One reason I love the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® methodology is that it helps introverts and extroverts play on a level playing field. Just saying.)

Later in the magazine there’s an article called “Strategy in the Age of Superabundant Capital.” There are two passages that intrigued me: “When capital was scarce, companies attempted to pick winners. Executives needed to be very sure that a new technology or new product was worthwhile before investing precious capital….With superabundant capital, leaders have the opportunity to take more chances, double down on the investments that perform well, and cut their losses on the rest. To put it another way, when the price of keys is low, it pays to unlock a lot of doors before deciding which one to walk through.” (pp 73-74) This jives with what I’ve been saying about needing an idea incubator. It’s easy for ideas to be rejected quickly, sometimes even before they are spoken. But having a lot of ideas may be the best way for a company to survive. Therefore it needs to be safe for odd ideas to be spoken, and for tender new sprouts of ideas to grow before being subjected to scrutiny.

Also in this article: “But great ideas don’t just materialize. They come from individuals and teams with the time to work productively, the skills to make a difference, and creativity and enthusiasm for their jobs. As long as companies continue to focus too much attention on managing financial capital, they will devote far too little to ensuring that the organization’s truly scarce resources – time, talent, and energy – are put to their best use.” (p 75) Yes! People matter, and their ideas matter, and fostering creativity helps the whole organization succeed.

And finally there is the article “Bursting the CEO Bubble: Why Executives Should Talk Less and Ask More Questions.” The CEO of Charles Schwab says the CEO bubble takes two forms: “people telling you what they think you want to hear, and people being fearful to tell you things they believe you don’t want to hear.” (p 78) His solution is to get out of the office, and talk to people around the whole organization. If you don’t know what you don’t know, you can’t even plan to learn it. Many leaders don’t want to be wrong or appear wrong ever, and will defend decisions that aren’t working. More successful leaders are willing to admit to mistakes, and to pivot as needed. “Innovation always involves at least an implicit acknowledgment that you were wrong about something before….The question for leaders is how to go about embracing the notion of being wrong.” (p80)

If innovation is so painful, if learning what you don’t know means hearing about problems and places you were wrong, it can be difficult for leaders to hear what their people know. One reason I like LSP is that it puts the problem into the form of a LEGO® model, instead of the form of the person across the table. Since people can only ask questions about the model, not the people, it makes it easier to bring up places that need to be looked at without making anyone wrong. A good facilitator will also keep the conversation positive – not where someone screwed up, but how we can move forward given what we know now. And play can help make being wrong, or not knowing, not be a crime.

I love finding support for my ideas in a very traditional business magazine! I hope this inspires you to pick up something you wouldn’t normally read, to see if there are any ties to things you are interested in. And I hope that this gives you some confidence that there really is a solid foundation in reality and business for my somewhat new-agey and woo-woo ideas!

What Do You Do?

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You ever have those team meetings where only the most powerful or extroverted people speak up? I help teams make meetings a safe place to speak up, so everyone feels heard and valued and engaged, turnover goes down, productivity goes up, and better decisions get made.

You’d never believe it’s taken me months to write that. It’s always so tempting to tell people my methodology (LEGOS®!), rather than my results. Or to sum it up in a cute package – I help teams have more fun and get more done.

I think a lot of people these days have trouble explaining to their parents what they do for a living. There are so many people doing things no one has ever heard of before. I used to say, when I worked at a computer software company many years ago, that I sold bits of information that moved other bits of information around.

It’s really interesting trying to find a way to describe what I do in a way that will make sense to people in different fields, doing different types of work. Luckily, we all work with other people. (Mostly. Unless you’re a hermit, or a programmer.) (Just kidding! Sheesh.) And working with other people means we run into similar problems. We get invited to a meeting because we have something to contribute, but never contribute it because it’s too hard to get a word in edgewise. Or we don’t feel safe bringing up something unformed, or painful, or edgy. So we waste more of our day, and our company’s money, never saying what needs to be said.

What results do you get? What do you do?

Flying Feelings

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I wrote up an idea I have for a group exercise. However, sitting as I am alone in my living room, I have no one to test this idea. Want to give it a try? I’d love your feedback!

Flying Feelings
Instructions: Think about how you feel when you are the least charitable and the most cranky. When you are in that head space, think about what you assume other people’s priorities are, especially when they seem to conflict with yours. Write them on a piece of paper. Then make the paper into a paper airplane, and when everyone is ready, on my mark fly it into the middle of the room.

Pick up a few and read aloud. Then recycle all of them. These aren’t the attitudes we want to keep.

Instructions: Think about how you feel when you are the most charitable and generous. When you are in that head space, write down what you think the others in the group priorities are. Fly your planes all together into the middle of the room. Before we look at them, write a new page with what your own priorities are. Fly those into the middle of the room.

Mix them up and read a few. Read enough to see if the group can tell the difference between what people do care about, and what others think they care about.

Ask how this exercise feels to them. Does it feel better to have a generous attitude to others? Does it feel bad to know others think badly of them?

Brainstorm and write down general guiding principles of how people can assume the best of each other, and what to do if there is suspicion people are assuming the worst.

What do you think? Will it work? Did it work? Please let me know!!!

Serious Play and Playful Seriousness

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Sometimes I feel like I need to be serious to be taken seriously. I can do serious pretty well, but when I lose my playfulness, I also lose a certain amount of alignment. I lose perspective. I can’t keep my sense of humor intact.

I’ve always been afraid that if I led with my playfulness, my humor and fun, I wouldn’t be taken seriously. I would be dismissed as not worth the time of anyone who is part of serious business. After all, serious business is serious. It’s important. It’s very, very formal and straight-laced.

One of the wonderful things about using LEGO® bricks in my methodology is that I can be playful, and help other people be playful, while accomplishing serious goals. Thinking with one’s hands, hearing from everyone at the table, arriving at shared goals and a direction forward, is all scientific and serious and important. And it’s also a lot of fun!

When I called myself a Play Professional, I decided to lead with the fun. But serious business isn’t interested in fun for fun’s sake. That’s not work, that’s play. They’re opposites. (At least in the general understanding of things. I think the opposite of play is depression, not work. And work can be full of play.) So I’m finding ways to talk about the benefits – increased efficiency, decreased turnover, everyone on the same page, etc. But I find my serious mind taking over when I think about that, and soon I’m dull as dishwater.

I don’t have a pat answer for this. It’s a dance I’m doing -oops, too far over to serious, gotta go be silly. Oops, too silly, need to be serious for a moment. I’m always in danger of losing my playfulness in order to get serious work done with serious people. I’m afraid to let out my silliness in public – that’s not what grownups do. But I know when I stop laughing I also stop being present and aligned and able to help with my whole being.

So, for what it’s worth, I think it’s time to take a dance break. Time to practice new silly walks and doodle on my to-do list. Let’s not take life too seriously, okay? Are you with me?