January 2019

5 Ways of Directing Your IMPATIENCE Well

Patience can be hard.

I was reminded of it again at the start of this year. Hanging out in beautiful Hoi An/Vietnam – and then I came down with a pesky cough and fever. Darn it, that’s not how this was supposed to go. I felt weak. Void of energy. Emotionally down. I could do little to affect what was happening. Couldn’t magically make it go away. You know what it’s like, you’ve been there. Impatient for this circumstance to change.

At once. Right now.

Yep, patience can be hard. Impatience is harder.

Not the petulant, self-righteous, I want it right-here-right-now impatience. That’s the easy kind, the one that may have gotten us what we wanted when we were a toddler. It rarely works for grown-ups.

No, I’m thinking of the sort of repetitive impatience that gets triggered in places of work. Impatience with the slow pace of change in your organization. Impatience with processes that plain don’t work. Impatience with colleagues who never get their stuff done in time. Impatience with questionable ethics. Impatience with glaring incompetence and the same tired excuses for why something cannot be done.

Our daily frustration with individual and systemic mediocrity.

I get it. You’re impatient for change. Impatience with the status quo is the hallmark of an inspired leader. You sometimes feel like you will burst out screaming if things don’t change fast.  

Scream at home. When you want to get things done in business, however, focus your impatience. Consider these 5 ways of directing your impatience well.

  1. Open the Door of Possibility – with Grace
    NOT: What we’re doing right now sucks. I know what will work better.

You may like the language of bluster and bravado. It may feel authentic to you. It really does capture exactly how you feel. Dump authentic for a moment and opt for skill and finesse. Invite folks into your point of view – don’t hit them over the head with it.

BUT: It seems we have been struggling with this same dilemma for a while now. I have a few ideas that we may wish to consider.

  1. Respect Tradition
    NOT: Really, I can’t believe we’re still doing this the way we did it 30 years ago.

Most of us have worked in situations where processes feel arcane. Like, really, who ever thought THIS was a good way of doing business! Work flows inhabit progress. Rituals seem rigid, not nimble, don’t make any sense. Truth is, they likely made sense to someone at some point. Especially when rituals are tied to a company’s core values. If core values and tradition matter where you work, find a way to publicly honor them before you go on the attack!

BUT: I can see why this way of doing things contributed to so many of our early successes. There are some very impressive companies that we all know who have found ways of improving how they do things. Let’s see what we can learn from them.

  1. Test Your Ideas – BEHIND the scenes first
    NOT: I will bring this up at our next Executive Meeting to make sure everybody is in the same room and hears the same message from me.

Yes, you will have a captive audience. You also run the risk of being labeled a loose cannon or a troublemaker. Before you bring up a potentially explosive topic in a large forum, test it in private 1-1 conversations. Float an idea by a colleague or two. Think of these as casual, low-risk lobbying conversations. Instead of forcing your idea on these colleagues, invite their honest reactions. Pay attention to what they say and what they don’t say. Truly listen. Then decide what to do with your idea.

BUT: I will test my ideas in informal 1-1 conversations to hear what others think and discover if my ideas resonate before I take a bold stand in the “big” meeting.

  1. Forge Alliances
    NOT: I will take this on as my pet project because nobody here is as passionate about this as I am.

Don’t be a martyr. Don’t assume that you’re the only one, or the most qualified one, to take on a cause. You may, in fact, be the most qualified. You will, however, have a lot more impact if you have allies. Your effort will be harder to dismiss. Take your lobbying conversations to the second level – that’s the level where you switch from testing an idea to getting a commitment of support from your conversation partners. That’s how allies are born.

BUT: I will work to make sure that at least 3 other key influencers are as fired up about making this change as I am. We will be a rebel tribe. Together, we will have a powerful voice.

  1. Accelerate the Process
    NOT: Great conversation. Let’s revisit this at our next monthly staff meeting.

We know that when we desire change and momentum, this is not a compelling way to end a meeting. And we’ve all been in meetings, especially those where new ideas were proffered, that end in deferment. Don’t accept deferment. Ask for more. Suggest next-step commitments. And make them time-bound, please.

BUT: Great conversation. Let’s commit to the following three actions! Can we get this done by the end of next week? Who will take on which item? Awesome.

Successful impatience is strategic, it is persistent, and it pushes the proverbial envelope while playing successfully with others.

Celebrate your impatience. Impatience with the status quo is a powerful incubator for new ideas and new ways of doing/being. Season your impatience with your ability to be patient. They are flip sides of the same coin.

Hard? Perhaps. Not harnessing your impatience is harder. Go and grab it by the horns – and direct it WELL!

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People have always told me that I’m very direct. Little do you know all the things I’m not telling, I invariably think to myself.

I come from a country that prides itself on directness. Germans like to complain about Americans. Their need to be “nice” and never say what they really think. Others, of course, may experience German directness as harsh. Americans like to complain about how some of their Asian colleagues never say what they really think. A Chinese person, however, may experience an American communication as brash. Yes, directness is culture-relative.

I’m a lot more direct these days. Directness feels good. I feel untethered, and directness has powerfully elevated my professional impact.

Then, the other day …

I come home from a dinner and think of a few things I have said to my host, and I suddenly panic. Wait a minute, that may have been way too unfiltered. You may have totally offended him!

Potential unintended impact. Not my intent. GoshI hope I’m not turning into a self-righteous jerk, I wonder. And I remember the two emails I sent. They contained difficult messages. They were to the point. I did not received answers right away.

Really, am I being too direct?

Maturity means you and I second-guess ourselves less. We have the courage of getting to the point. And we are, I hope, kind to others.

I want to continue being direct. Here’s my Directness Checklist. Memo to Achim. If it works for you as well – consider it a Memo to You:

  1. Don’t Make Them Wrong

In case of doubt, argue passionately FOR what you stand for instead of AGAINST what they believe in. Draw a contrast between two divergent positions if you must, but resist the temptation to hammer away at everything that is wrong about what s/he values. Chances are, you will get lost in a tirade. Directness gone wrong.

  1. Cut the Edge

The edge – that is any tinge of arrogance, superiority, sarcasm. Any touch of bravado or self-righteousness. Your swagger. Cut it. The edge tends to show up when we’re not aware of what we’re feeling, and those feelings suddenly hijack the message instead of informing it. When we speak with an edge all they will hear is the edge, and what we advocate for so strongly will be instantly dismissed.

  1. Keep it Brief

Direct goes hand-in-hand with concise. The danger? When we feel strongly about a point of view, we will always be tempted to go on and on. And on. Because we want them to “really get it.” The less they get it, the more we go on and on. Their wall goes up. A vicious cycle. It’s brutal. Brevity, please.

  1. The 1-second Delay

You pride yourself on being direct but others have labeled you a “shoot-from-the-hip” kinda person? You may think to yourself yeah that’s kinda cool, but chances are the label was not intended as a compliment. Direct with no impact. You know how they have a 7-second delay in live television so an editor can bleep the unacceptable crap? You may not need 7 seconds, but when you find yourself wanting to shoot from the hip, impose your own 1-second delay. Breathe. Think. Edit yourself. What comes next will likely be a little more direct with a lot more impact.

  1. The Essential Questions Scan

If you’re not sure if being direct will be helpful in a given situation, ask yourself these two questions during your 1-second Delay: Does it need to be said? and Am I the one who needs to say it? If the answer to either question is NO, consider being less direct than you’re inclined to be.

Here’s my Cruise-Ship Directness lesson. You know how there are those conversations we have over and over again? They are our splendid teachers. Here’s a conversation that is endemic to South Florida where I live. My home is 15 minutes from the Port Everglades Cruiseport in Ft. Lauderdale, and nearly everyone in my social circles takes advantage of this proximity. Folks here LOVE to cruise. And they LOVE to talk about it. I don’t love cruising. To me, being on a cruise ship feels like being locked up in a gaudy Las Vegas hotel with too many guests in the halls and no way to escape. This is a sacrilegious perspective in my neck of the woods, I know. I have learned to not indulge my disdain of cruises. I talk about the joys of vacationing in the Keys, instead. Very directly.

The two emails I wrote? The responses came in and all is well. I had a very pleasant social exchange with my dinner host. But I’m relieved that I considered my Directness Checklist again. A crucial tune-up.

I need it ever so often.

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I coach folks on personal impact.

Sometimes, I get a little fancy with my coaching. And then, once in a while, I am reminded that the simplest adjustment often produces the most compelling results.

I stumbled on a radio chat about upspeak and vocal fry a few years back, moderated by Terry Gross, host of the Fresh Air program on National Public Radio. Upspeak describes the tendency by some folks to raise their inflection at the end of a sentence. The individual wishes to make a declarative statement but what comes out sounds like a question.

Vocal fry describes the habit of drawing out ends of words and sentences with a low, creaky voice.

Both habits are often ascribed to women. I coach many men, however, who engage in upspeak and vocal fry, as well. These habits significantly impede personal impact.

I chuckle at a line of reasoning proposed by one of Ms. Gross’ guests. Upspeak and vocal fry are not the problem, she suggests, but our social conditioning that deems these speech patterns unauthoritative is.

It’s my problem and that of others in the room that we find your speech pattern annoying? Good luck in winning that battle! There are languages where an uptick at the end of a sentence is part of the cultural cadence. Global Business English isn’t one of them.

Here are 3 simple speaking adjustments that will elevate your personal impact by 50%. They are ridiculously simple to execute. It merely requires that you stay mindful of them. Here’s what you do:

1.    Keep your sentences short.

Stick to one idea per sentence. Have lots of ideas? Awesome. Start a new sentence for every new idea or message. Run-on sentences are horrid in written documents. They’re an even stronger impact-killer in verbal communication. A period and a pause are wonderful things – they bring your message into focus.

2.    Stop at the end of a sentence.

Your pause lets me know that a thought is complete. It gives me a moment to absorb your idea. And it allows me to tune into what you’re about to say next. If you don’t pause for 3 sentences in a row, I have already tuned you out – you are simply blabbering!

3.    Drop your voice on the last word.

No upspeak please unless you’re asking a question. When your inflection goes down on the final word, I get a sense that you mean what you say and that what you say matters. And while you’re at it, avoid vocal fry, as well. Upspeak can come across as uncertainty and lack of conviction. I’m making a point – but I’m not sure I fully believe it! I’m making a point – but please go ahead and approve it for me!  Practice the power of a declarative ending. Drop the voice.

Ridiculously simple, isn’t it?

A bonus tip: In case of doubt, speak slower than your instinct wants you to. We often conflate a quick pace and enthusiasm. Expressed enthusiasm is almost always a wonderful thing. Couple it with a rapidfire pace, however, and you run the risk of becoming the person that rattles on and on. Observe folks who are comfortable with their sense of personal power. They claim the moment. They take their time. They don’t rush.

Here’s what these simple adjustments do for you. They bring you into focus. They allow me to hear your message clearly. And even when you don’t feel very authoritative inside, these adjustments help you project a sense that you are.

3 little adjustments. 50%. The impact is that dramatic.

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Personal Influence. Most folks like the notion of having some. My professional practice is predicated on the benefits of getting it.

The right position in the right firm gets us a modicum of influence. Knowing other influential people gets us some more. Presenting innovative ideas – huh, now we’re getting somewhere. The most disarming way of being influential?

Yep. Ask great questions.

It’s that simple. It’s not that obvious. It allows everyone in every organizational function to wield influence. And it needs to be executed with finesse.

When we hired Leandra Campbell to be the Relationship Manager at my firm, we hired her over more seasoned, more flashy, more obvious candidates. Why did we hire Leandra? In the interview, Leandra asked keenly thoughtful questions.

Back in the days, when I had my very first assignment as an Executive Coach, I had a session with my client Oliver in which I felt resoundingly inadequate. Oliver talked and talked, and I simply had no insights to offer or any great wisdom to share. I chimed in a few times, remained silent the remainder of our session. It was an utterly excruciating experience for me.

“You were so helpful,” Oliver said when we were done.

Yep. I asked a couple of questions.

What makes a question a great influencing question? Influencing questions expand the scope of a conversation. They invite fresh perspectives and surprising ways of looking at the familiar. They help others to see things they may have overlooked. They create momentum.

Here are 4 ways of influencing a conversation with a question:

  • Appreciate assets when folks get too critical in their thinking:
    What are some things that we’re really good at that we don’t want to forget?
  • Consider alternative scenarios that have not yet been considered:
    I wonder what would happen if __________ ?
  • Broaden the context if a conversation is getting stuck in predictable thinking:
    How does what we are considering compare to what companies like ________ are doing?
  • Mine added reasons  for pursuing a certain path:
    What might be some other considerations that would prompt us to follow this particular course of action?

This the finesse part I suggest we never forget. It’s as critical – and influential – as the questions themselves.

  • Pose every question with a sense of childlike curiosity.
  • Don’t ever try to outsmart a Senior Stakeholder with your question.
  • Keep your ego 100% out of the conversation.
  • Don’t force the flow of the conversation if your question doesn’t yield instant insight. Listen – and then offer another influencing question

Sometimes we influence with a fresh idea, a new course of action. Here’s the gift of influencing with questions: We can do it in the absence of a fresh idea or a new course of action. We can do it any day, anywhere, anytime. We can always be influential.

I find that profoundly liberating.

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