March 2019

Empathy.

A great word. Like passion, like integrity, like synergy – a word in danger of becoming an easily uttered cliché.

What does empathy-in-action actually look like? Do I “feel” more for my colleagues? Do I behave more kindly toward them? Is it something I say that unequivocally articulates my empathy?

I remember an interview the great Cate Blanchett gave for her Oscar-nominated performance in the film “Carol.” In the interview, Blanchett defines acting as an act of empathetic connection with a character. When you act, you temporarily walk in another character’s shoes. And Blanchett draws the sort of distinction actors love to make: You don’t have to be a killer to convincingly play a killer. No, acting is a momentary, highly-skilled Shoe Swap.

Watching the tv show “Undercover Boss” is one of my guilty pleasures. In “Undercover Boss,” a CEO goes undercover for a week and, under the guise of being a trainee, performs some of the tasks that frontline employees in the business perform on a daily basis. A classic Shoe Swap. Invariably, the CEO is startled by the disconnect between the firm’s corporate strategy and the hardships faced by its workers in daily execution. As in a way cheesy and “manipulated” as the show is – the impact of the Shoe Swap experience is clearly transformational for most CEOs. By the end of the experiment, they are invariably reduced to tears.

A Shoe Swap is powerful.

When I received my Mediation training at the Brooklyn Courts, back in the 1990s, shoe-swapping was one of the techniques we learned to help shift an adversarial relationship. Yes, powerful.

Next time you wish to behave more empathetically toward a colleague, don’t just think nice thoughts. Do a mental Shoe Swap. Here’s how it works.

You sit in a meeting. You have a strong reaction to an idea proposed by a colleague. You feel the heat rise in your chest. Your mind is itching to reject the asinine suggestion put forth. You’re planning a brilliant retort. Uhuh, your mind is ready to do battle.

Go to your internal cue word: Shoe Swap.

  • For the next 45 seconds, intentionally abandon your thoughts, your feelings, your reaction.
  • For these 45 seconds, FULLY try to understand the reasoning, the rationale behind this colleague’s point of view.
  • Contemplate the challenges your colleague may be facing.
  • FULLY put yourself in your colleague’s shoes.

45 seconds. We can do that, right?

A Shoe Swap does not mean we agree with another person. It does not suggest we abandon our beliefs.  You and I may not be reduced to tears like the CEOs in “Undercover Boss.” But if we engage in our 45-second Shoe Swap with sincere intent, there’s a superb chance we’ll end up with a more complex understanding of the situation at hand.

Shoe Swap accomplished. Empathy in action.

You and I are responsible for our mental cuing.  A Shoe Swap does not magically happen by itself.

Incorporate the phrase “Shoe Swap” into your mental programming. Triggered in a conversation? Think Shoe Swap. Execute in 45 seconds. Powerful shifts will occur in your conversation. 45 seconds is all it takes.

Swap freely.

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When I tell friends that I’m helping organize a global event around happiness, I am often met with a pained roll of the eyes. A moment of polite silence. And attempts to contain the happiness conversation.

Well, you can’t be happy all the time.

Don’t you think being fulfilled is more important than being happy?

Happiness, I read between the lines, is deemed fluffy and fleeting. Not robust enough.

Meet a business leader who gets it. Cedric Bru, the CEO of Taulia, a maker of invoicing software for the likes of Coca Cola, Halliburton, Pitney Bowes, PayPal, Agilent Technologies, Hallmark and many, many others. Taulia has a 100% customer retention rate since launching in 2009. Taulia is doing something right.

How do you hire people? Cedric Bru was asked by Adam Bryant, the former curator of the compulsively readable New York Times Corner Office column (NY Times, 2/5/2017).

I believe that people overperform when they are happy. And I don’t believe that companies make people happy. People find happiness in a company, in their life. It’s not external. People have to be happy with themselves.

For Bru, the notion of happiness is more than a fanciful leadership idea. It’s an explicit part of the workplace conversation.

Happiness is personal; the way you find happiness in a company is different from mine. So I ask questions that are tailored to understanding how they will find happiness here. It becomes a shared assessment.

I will ask you how you will find happiness at Taulia, and I want you to think how feasible it is. Because if you don’t think you can find happiness here, I don’t want to work with you. It’s not good for you. It’s not good for everyone else.

We tend to hire folks for skill and culture fit. Cedric Bru taps a deeper animator. His comments make me think of a trip I took to Bhutan in 2017. Bhutan is famous for having created a Gross National Happiness index. Political and spiritual leaders are committed to creating conditions that allow their citizens to be happy. This commitment is supported by specific policies that are deemed to foster a happier country. And yet, every civic and spiritual leader I spoke with in Bhutan was unequivocal: We can create the conditions that make it easier for you to be happy. But we cannot make you happy. You’re responsible for your own happiness.

If these considerations interest you, tune in for an entire week of great chats about happiness. The virtual World Happiness Agora is taking place this week, March 18-22 (www.happinessagora.world). It is the most comprehensive global gathering ever of thinkers and practitioners in every aspect of creating happier lives. Happiness and Mental Health, Happiness and Education, Happiness and Self Mastery, Happiness and Technology, and Happiness@Work.

I had the pleasure of helping organize an entire day centered on Happiness@Work. March 21. This day alone, hear from Mo Gawdat, Former Chief Business Officer at GoogleX and the author of “Solve for Happy.”  Anna Gowdridge, Head of People at Virgin Unite. Blake Harris, Leader of the Happy Crew at Zoom. Peter Weng, Chief Business Officer Search Inside Yourself Business Institute. Doug Kirkpatrick, Author, TEDx Speaker, Global Authority on Self-Management. Pim de Morree, Co-Founder of Corporate Rebels. Raj Raghunathan, author of “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy.” Eve Simon, Founder of The Future of Leadership Salon. And so many other wise and inspiring guests.

Cedric Bru was right. So are our friends in Bhutan. Happiness it’s a choice, and it begins with us.

So come, be inspired. Brighten your happiness radar. Join us for some amazing conversations!

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Trust is an ephemeral thing. Sometimes hard to describe, harder to quantify.

And yet, every relationship – professional and personal – is transformed when trust becomes the guiding force in that relationship.

I think of an interview Adam Bryant, former columnist of the New York Times Business Section’s inspired Corner Office column, conducted with Tobi Luetke a few years back. Luetke is the young, German-born founder and CEO of Shopify, an e-commerce software company. Luetke holds a personal net worth of US $ 1.2 Billion. One of his secrets? At Shopify, they get explicit about trust.

We talk a lot about something called a ‘trust battery,’ Luetke tells Bryant. It’s charged at 50% when people are first hired. And then every time you work with someone at the company, the trust battery between the two of you is either charged or discharged, based on things like whether you deliver on what you promise. (NY Times, 4/24/2016)

At Shopify, the notion of charging the trust battery is not just a cute little phrase – it’s an integral part of the work culture. 

We decided to create a metaphor, Tobi elaborates, so that we can talk about this in performance reviews without people feeling like the criticisms are personal.

Marvelous.

A metaphor awash with brilliant allusions. A battery becomes depleted and needs to be charged. Most of us desire a long battery life. It behooves us to notice when a battery isn’t charged. If we don’t notice, trouble ensues. Clear, right?

Trust is not a fixed, static entity. There is no neutral, no holding pattern when it comes to trust. Our actions either charge or deplete the battery. Desire more success? Start to view yourself as a trust charger. It puts you into the driver seat for shaping the underlying and often invisible dynamics in any relationship.

Because each relationship is different, start with a little reflection to better understand how you currently charge or discharge trust:

  1. How do I experience the notions of “charge” and “trust?

For example: Charging, feeling charged, intentionally charging another person are more than nice ideas. How do you FEEL when you are charged, when your battery is full? How do you EXPERIENCE this sensation in your body, in your thoughts?

– Tip: When we know what it feels like, we have a better sense of what it is we’re seeking to invoke. And we have a better notion of when we’ve been successful!

  1. What are 3 everyday behaviors I already engage in that charge the battery? 

– For example: I genuinely praise colleagues or team members when they have done a great job.

– Tip: Do it more often, with more people.

  1. What are 3 behaviors I engage in that tend to deplete the battery

– For example: I give one set of instructions, and when I have a new insight I change my instructions and give new guidance.

– Tip: Think things through more thoroughly before giving instructions to your colleagues so you don’t become the leader who is constantly “changing his mind” and driving folks bonkers.

Yes, trust is ephemeral, but it is fueled by our simple everyday behaviors. How would you fare in the annual Shopify Trust-Battery-Review? Conduct your own trust-performance-reviews. Don’t conduct them merely once a year, conduct them often. Make them an integral part of how you “do relationships.” You will be amazed at just how quickly the batteries get charged.

Theirs. And yours.

Charge on.

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Yeah, we know.

Every aspect of work flows better when our business relationships work.

We know – and then we get busy. Transaction mode takes over. Execution fever. We forget.

Old-school wisdom is that if we desire stronger relationships, we need to spend more time with folks. Yup. Here, however, is the deal. We can be really really busy and still deepen our relationships. If you don’t have more time to spend, use language that accelerates connection!

“People with rich vocabularies,” success guru Tony Robbins suggests in his wise little book Giant Steps, “have a multihued palette of colors with which to paint their life’s experience.”

Multihued. Yes. Here’s the good news: The colors in your palette don’t need to be high-falutin’. A rich verbal palette works best when used in person – and it works equally well on the phone, in a Zoom meeting, in writing. So, busy or not, cultivate your connecting palette!

Here are my top 5 verbal cues that I know will strengthen any business relationship you’re in – and all other relationships, as well!

  1. I was touched by …

Most of us, even if we’re a little gruff on the outside, have a keen desire to impact folks. The deepest impact occurs when we touch someone’s heart. This simple phrase indicates to the other person that s/he has, indeed, via an action or a gesture, had that sort of impact on us. Powerful. Get in the habit of being touched, please.

  1. You really helped me …

It feels good to know that something we have done, no matter how small it may have seemed to us, has been of help to someone. It feels even better to hear this acknowledged. Whenever possible, let someone know that something they said or did, even if it was routine behavior for them, was helpful to you. “Help” is a fundamental relationship word.

  1. I never looked at it this way before …

Especially in a conversation that may have had its rough patches, acknowledge that the other person had a positive impact on you. Made you think of new possibilities, had you question hidden assumptions, forced you to reach beyond easy answers. This phrase celebrates the positive aspects of a potentially uncomfortable conversation. I mean – someone had an impact on you; how powerful is that! Relationship instantly enhanced.

  1. I don’t agree with …

You may wonder, hey, really – how is disagreeing with someone a relationship-builder? Folks who have strong relationships with others are not afraid to disagree. They don’t waste time dancing around a moment of disagreement. They state their disagreement “in neutral.” No raised voice, no elevated emotion, no drama. Just a fact. The moment a disagreement is stated, the conversation can shift to new ideas and fresh solutions. Instead of offering me platitudes or making me guess what you really think – you actually let me know. Honestly, respectfully. How liberating is that.

  1. I know we can come up with something better …

Even as we discard a present state that we believe isn’t working, we look to the future with unwavering optimism in our ability to deliver. The word “we” is a potent non-blame word. And the affirmation of my faith in the “we” is a sublime relationship-shaper. Add the verb “can” – and whoa, power magnified. Get in the habit of saying “we can!”

There are folks with whom it is tough to build relationships. Agreed. But even a tough nut tends to crack when s/he is approached with a relationship-enhancing cue. The most common objection I hear to the just-listed cues: This is simply not how I talk. That, of course, is the very point. Would you object in this manner when you learn a foreign language? No – you would learn the language.

Toss the objections. Expand the palette.

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