April 2019

It may sound like an academic question. It isn’t.

Which of your personal assets make your colleagues, clients, team want to follow you? Is it your warmth? Is it your knowledge and competence?

The answer – duh – is both. But here’s the differentiating part: With the HAPPY WARRIOR, both are EQUALLY expressed.

This is the loud message from a whole lot of behavioral research about the warmth/competence mix. An article in a Harvard Business Review Edition devoted entirely to Personal Influence (Connect, then Lead, July/August 2013), penned by the formidable Amy Cuddy from Harvard Business School and fellow researchers Matthew Kohut and John Neffinger, tells the story. And HAPPY WARRIORS succeed regardless of where they find themselves. Boston. Paris. Beijing. Buenos Aires.

I love the word warmth. We like to circumvent it with lots of fancier leadership language. Empathy. Emotional Intelligence. Extroversion. But warmth is something essential and primal that all of us experience kinesthetically. We “get it” deep down. And it is irresistible.

Think back. The moment we enroll in school to get our professional education, we are taught competence, competence, competence. Leading with warmth is, at best, an after-thought. If you have your MBA, you know. Ditto if you went to Medical School. The focus on “competence first” is all-pervasive and global.

Now here is the part I urge you to really pay attention to. What is the price we pay for not finding our warmth/competence mix?

According to Cuddy and her colleagues Susan Fiske of Princeton and Peter Glick of Lawrence University, people who we view as having lots of competence but lacking in warmth tend to elicit envy in us. And envy is a double-edged sort: Sure, it may include respect but it also contains a strong streak of resentment. On the other hand, people who are viewed as being warm but lacking in competence tend to elicit pity. Another double-edged emotion.

How do HAPPY WARRIORS embody both warmth and competence?

They own their competence strategically, selectively, with ease. And they trust that no matter what words they utter, in the end both warmth and competence are conveyed through the body. Or let me put it this way – if our body doesn’t convey it, it doesn’t matter that our words may scream warm and competent. Words often lie. The body doesn’t.

Consider the following kinesthetic warmth/competence conveyors.

  • A genuine smile: We know that a smile can melt an iceberg. A polite smile won’t. A fake smile won’t, either. A genuine smile is triggered by a powerful private association I have with the moment I am in, or any external stimulus that elicits a joyful and compassionate association. So – connect with your inner and outer joy and compassion triggers. And yes, smile.
  • An energizing tone: A tone that is mellifluous. Self-assured. Relaxed and effortless. Not tight, not hurried, not abrasive. Tone refers not only to vocal quality but also to the tone we set for a conversation. The I-wanna-be-here tone. The I-am- happy-to-engage with you tone – even though we may be having a difficult conversation. The I-am-choosing-to-be-fully-present-in-this-moment-with-you tone.
  • A gracious confidence: Not cocky, not arrogant, not in-your-face. No, a quiet confidence that need not flaunt itself. Because you have earned it. You have faith in it. Faith in yourself. And in the “right” unfolding of the moment. That’s the sort of confidence that sets us free AND invokes success.

Wanna have some fun with the kinesthetics of warmth and competence? If you’re already an Amy Cuddy aficionado, you know about “power poses.” They may strike you as silly – but as a former acting coach I know how spot-on they are. Cuddy suggests that we adopt “power poses” associated with strength and dominance from the animal kingdom. Think wide, sturdy, expansive. Think Wonder Woman or Superman. A mere 2 minutes of holding a power pose before a crucial meeting will increase your testosterone levels and your sense of confidence – which is a key manifestation of competence. The beauty of a power pose: it tends to unleash your warmth conveyors, as well. Your HAPPY WARRIOR is unleashed!

What a liberating AND liberated way to show up. And WHOA, does it ever work!

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The Mueller probe. Russia probe.

That’s what I think of first when I hear the word “probe.” Congressional hearings. Senators hovering in elevated seats, staring down at the solitary witness with a prosecutorial air. Probing, probing, probing, probing.

A spectacle.

Given this context it’s easy to forget that great things that can happen when we probe with a measure of grace in our everyday lives. Not the lawyer/prosecutor/interrogator probing. No, the probing for greater personal connection.

Lynne Waymon, my esteemed colleague, friend and the CEO of Contact Counts, a training firm that teaches professionals how to better network, told Sue Shellenbarger of the Wall Street Journal about a survey her firm conducted with over 1000 professionals (WSJ, 5/23/17). According to Waymon, only 1 out of 4 professionals sees value in asking probing questions of strangers.

I’m shocked. We’re not talking senate-hearing-probe here. We’re talking probing to elevate everyday relationships.

Everyday probing, Waymon elaborates, involves taking a risk. I’m demanding more of you when I ask thought-provoking questions. I’m making an assumption that you’re in this conversation to make something of it.

Risky, yes. But business success tends to amplify when we take conscious risks. Business relationships blossom when we consciously probe.

Want to minimize the risk?  Here are my Top 5 Conversational Probing Tips. They work in business and in absolutely every aspect of your life:

  1. Always a 2-fer

When you ask someone a question, think Question/Answer/Follow-up Question. The second question confirms that you have heard, that you’re interested, and that you long to know more. It demonstrates curiosity. It’s the relationship builder.

The exception? When the first question creates clear discomfort or disinterest in your conversation, notice the discomfort and move on, unless it is time to have an intentionally disruptive conversation with this individual.

  1. The low-risk probe

Asking for specifics as you probe is simple, surefire, and the least risky way of advancing and deepening any conversation.

Statement:  I had such a great time in New York over the week-end.
Question:  What did you enjoy most during your visit?

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But how often have you spoken with someone who immediately starts telling you how HE always wanted to visit New York or how she had an amazing time on HER last trip to the Big Apple. Probing opportunity wasted.

  1. The high-impact probe

Asking for the WHY drives a conversation to the other person’s deeper purpose and motivation. Your conversation drops to a more intimate, more vulnerable and ultimately more enriching level. It is simply inevitable.

Statement:  I just love spending time in New York.
Question:  Why do you think you enjoy being in New York so much?

  1. The what-did-you-feel probe

Asking to name an emotion may seem a little therapy-ish to you. Overuse it, and folks may indeed tell you to stop “being my shrink.” But our emotions are the hidden level beyond thought where we commit to, or resist, any situation or experience. Naming an emotion will invariably invite powerful personal testimony.

Statement:  I had such a great time in New York.
Question:  So how do you feel while you run around in New York?

  1. Know when to un-probe

I hang out with professional coaches. Many of them are masters at asking probing questions. Coaches have also been trained to keep themselves out of the conversation. While that may work in a coaching conversation, it NEVER works in a business conversation. Keep probing and probing, and you become one of those senator-probing-machines, even when you do it with a smile.

Want to deepen a relationship? Probe, probe, and then find a sincere AND substantive link to your own experiences.

It’s oh so clear. If you want to succeed in your relationships – any relationships – asking a probing question is a non-negotiable skill. NOT probing isn’t an option.

Don’t ask the probing question like a prosecutor, ask it with grace. But ask. Ask it often. And reap the rewards.

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It’s a bruising paradigm.

We expect a leader to have answers. The level of your leadership pay is commensurate with the expectation that you execute strategy and don’t make a mistake. An apology is a very public acknowledgment of having erred. A sign of weakness. Or so the story goes.

Yup. Bruising.

Leaders are human. They err.

Here’s what’s even more brutal. The pressure to fake the knowing, to have a solution, to be in charge of the execution game, is relentless. We can fake the I’m-a-smart-leader-who’s-in-control part. For a while. We can’t fake the apology part. EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER.

An exquisite apology is a powerful reset point in any relationship. Professional, personal. It gets us to the human truth of events that occurred. It invites the possibility of redemption and a path forward. It unmasks the I-have-it-all-under-control game. It is ultimately liberating for every party involved.

Need to apologize? Here are a few essentials:

1. Choose unequivocal language.

Our choice of language needs to signal full ownership of the apology. No I regretI wish I hadn’t. Cautious words that signal half-hearted remorse. An apology requires an unequivocal verbal cue. I am sorry thatI apologize for. Amplify such cues by adding qualifiers that indicate the depth of your apology. I am so very sorry that. I apologize profusely for. Amplify with language that is authentic to you, not clichéd.

2. Convey understanding.

If your behavior has caused financial, physical or emotional harm to your business or the people you engage with, convey clearly that you are aware of this impact. We want to know that you understand the depth and scope of the damage you have caused – and its impact on people. For us to move forward with you, we need to know that you “get it.” When you don’t demonstrate insight, any apology remains a narcissistic exercise.

3. Drop all conditions.

No but I had a little too much to drink. No I didn’t have all the information. No circumstances were beyond my control. No other people have failed much worse. All of that may be true. It doesn’t matter. Assume unconditional responsibility. No butif onlyunder other circumstances. Own it. Fully. Don’t diminish your 100% ownership of your actions.

4. Feel it.

Clever apologies don’t stir us. Cognitive insight alone is never enough. We long to know that you had an emotional awakening which prompted you to apologize. That your emotions were stirred as you reflected on the impact of your behavior. Especially if your apology is caused by any misdeeds on your dark side. Yes, we need your apology to come from the heart. And that’s the part we cannot EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER fake.

A heartfelt apology is a sign of strength. Always is. It flips the narrow leadership story – hey, I have all the answers – to a human leadership story – I am a leader who loves to execute and win, but yes, I am human, and I own my mistakes with integrity.

More helpful story, right? More successful story, as well.

All it takes is an apology. Apologize freely. Apologize well. Apologize from the heart.

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I worked out with a trainer for the last 5 years. Liked the discipline. Appreciated Reggie’s focused and yet very personable demeanor during the work-outs. 2019 is the year of simplifying my life – and as part of this simplification I decided to do without the trainer part. Focus on swimming laps in my pool and going to the gym once in a while on my own.

Simple, right? Well, as the moment to tell Reggie approached, I found myself hemming and hawing. Wanted to procrastinate. Wanted to find the “perfect moment” to say it. I suddenly felt awkward and tongue-tied. It was tough to get the words out.

Endings are hard. Good-byes are difficult.

I had to be reminded, again. This ending made me think of the many professional situations in our lives when it is time to say good-bye. Because we have accepted a position in another company. We may have been let go. We got transferred within our company to a new role, a new business, a different location. And then there are all those moments when we stay but someone we have worked with closely moves on.

Saying good-bye is part of the dance of life.

Don’t avoid the good-bye. A loss is a loss. If you’ve spent any time at all in the corporate world you have likely attended a program about how we move through change. You’ve seen a powerpoint slide about the emotions we may experience when there is a loss, whether we frame it as a loss or not. The emotional change journey, as taught in corporations, is based on the wisdom and books of Dr. Elisabeth Kuebler-Ross (On Grief and Grieving and On Death and Dying).

Yes, it was “just” a professional relationship. And yes, feelings will kick in. Saying good-bye is not a simple transactional moment. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge a loss. It’s also an opportunity to celebrate the rich encounters you and I had. Even if what we had was not always easy or friction-free.

Here are some Do’s and Don’ts you may wish to consider when it is time for a professional good-bye. This I know – you will have many opportunities to apply them:

Good-bye Do’s:

  • Do it in-person
    If at all possible, have a private moment with your colleague or colleagues. If at all possible, do so in in-person. If it was a truly significant relationship, go out and share a meal. Honor the relationship by not rushing the good-bye. Linger for a moment. Be realistic – this will take time, especially if many colleagues are involved. Take the time. It will be time well spent.
  • Celebrate the best of the relationship
    Explicitly state what you experienced as the highest good in the relationship. Remember the moments when you had shared successes, when working together was a joy, when you conquered obstacles together. If your colleague was helpful to you along the way, state it. If there were rough patches in your relationship, acknowledge them in a light-hearted way but focus on what you valued, instead. Leave with the good.
  • Acknowledge what you feel
    If feelings come up about a colleague’s departure or your own, state them in feeling language. If you feel sad, say so. If you don’t feel sad, do not say that you are. Stick to what is true for you in the moment, not a fantasy script of what should be said in a moment of good-bye. This sounds obvious but is not easy to execute. Because emotions can feel overwhelming we are tempted to “shut down” when it’s time top say good-bye. Don’t. Stay present.
  • Have a stay-in-touch plan
    If you would like to stay connected with a colleague, state it and be clear about how you will follow-up. Make it specific. Will you connect via your preferred social media platform? Will you call her in a month to grab a meal? Will you wait 3 months so he can adjust to new professional circumstances? Whatever your thinking of, state it. Your specificity shows that you mean it.

  • Wish them the absolute very best
    Whether you liked this person or not, whether you will miss them or not – wish them the absolute very best. It’s good karma. The Golden Rule. Get in the habit of wholeheartedly wishing the best for others. Your inner homework is to make sure that you do, indeed, fully and unconditionally wish the very best for others. Your transactional reminder is to not forget to say it.

Good-bye Don’ts:

  • Avoid the good-bye
    Because good-byes can be uncomfortable, it is tempting to avoid them. We suddenly get very busy on our day of departure. We feel overwhelmed or distracted. We may feel nauseous or “not fully here.” Our mind may have already raced to what we will do the week after. Beware. Plan time for your good-byes. Show up for them. Don’t get caught like a deer in the headlights. Don’t shun the good-bye.
  • Offer follow-up platitudes
    I suggested earlier we think ahead about how we wish to stay connected. As helpful as it is to be genuinely connected with professional colleagues, truth is there are also those colleagues we’re happy to see go. If that is the case, acknowledge it to yourself. And do not resort to platitudes like let’s stay in touch or let’s grab a drink. Wish them the very best – but don’t “play nice” by pretending you wish to extend the relationship.
  • Give Gifts
    Unless the gift is an object which is powerfully connected to a significant moment in your professional relationship, skip it. No bottles of wine, flowers, candy, company pens. The biggest gift is a moment of genuine connection and being present for whatever the good-bye moment holds. Everything else is camouflage. Drop the camouflage. Show up.

Saying my good-byes to Reggie reminded me of just how uncomfortable a good-bye can be – and how powerful, at the same time, when we show up for it. Do the dance. Choose to show up. Be genuine. Be prepared. And tap the part of you that will enjoy the dance.

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I stumbled into a new restaurant last night, here in Hollywood/Florida where I live. Indonesian Cuisine. The food was sumptuous. Better yet, it was matched by the quality of the service. Attentive, energetic, consistent, helpful. The server, the busboy, the owner. Everyone.

Professional is the word that comes to mind.

Earlier in the day I had spoken with my chipper 94-year-old mom in Germany. Our chat reminded me of how two years ago, after mom had a minor stroke, I arranged for her to move into an Assisted Living Facility. The unforeseen part of that experience? Within a matter of weeks I had a seemingly endless stream of interactions with professionals I had never before met. Doctors, many of them. Nurses, even more. Physiotherapists. Social Workers. Bank Clerks. Receptionists. Taxi Drivers. Security Guards. Assisted Living Directors. Car Mechanic. Apartment Liquidator. Newspaper clerk. Clergy.

I was taking care of mom, and I was witnessing a whole lot of professionals being professional.

Being helpful, not helpful. Present, not present. Focused, distracted. Flexible, rigid. Warm, aloof. Grouchy, joyful. All while performing their jobs. And I thought of you and me. The choices we make, every day, as we show up for work.

It’s not like we don’t know. I saw it in my Indonesian restaurant, and I saw it so clearly while in Germany, tending to my mom. How we show up at work, moment by moment, human interaction by interaction, is a conscious choice. It always is. The fundamental choices we make in every human encounter change their day, and they change ours.

A little reminder of what works, regardless of your personality type or what line of work you’re in:

  • Choose Joy.

It doesn’t need to be big ra-ra joy, and no fake cheer, please. But the moment you and I have a professional encounter with another person, whether we know her or not, whether we like him or not, let’s infuse it with a sense of delight in the encounter. Let’s make this sense of delight our most elemental choice, and let’s make it a conscious one. The starting point, always. It will infuse every second that unfolds. The alternative isn’t pretty.

  • Manage Your Irritations.

When you’re having a “bad” day, don’t dump your crappy mood on others. Ever, ever. We have two choices, always. We can be transparent about what is bugging us. When that is not appropriate to the situation we’re in, we can manage our irritations. Not stuff ‘em, but be aware of them and mindful of containing them. Anything else is not cool. Bad-mood drip drip drip is poisonous. Show up as a grown-up, please, and don’t drip. Be cool.

  • Demonstrate Understanding.

We like agreement with others – but what we truly desire is understanding. You and I cannot always offer agreement, and we frequently don’t receive it. But we can always seek to understand. And we can, to the best of our ability, convey to the other person that we have understood. No fake “yeah, I get it.” No easy platitudes, no surface-skimming. No, an understanding of the deeper yearning, the stuff beneath the surface. The human and sometimes messy part. Agreement is nice. Being understood, truly understood, is better.

  • Drop the mask.

The professional mask, that is. It is so seductive. The “I’m efficient mask.” The “I know what I’m doing mask.” Don’t get me wrong. By all means, be efficient and know what you’re doing. We expect nothing less of you. But when this ability turns into your primary public demeanor, it becomes a professional shield. The “crisp” mask. Clean execution of required behavior – whether it is greeting a client or delivering a performance review at work – in a professional human exchange is never enough. Go beyond required. Warmth works. So does kindness.

Over the last two years, mom has had her good days and she has the not-so-good ones. Her social filters are gone. I think of a moment when she was in a Rehab clinic and complained, yet again, about the inattention of the staff at the clinic. We bantered back and forth about what transpires in a human exchange. I know that when I greet the nurse with a smile and a good attitude, mom admitted with a wistful sigh, I always get a smile in return.

It’s a two-way street. It always is. And the choice begins with us.

Always does.

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