Communication

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.

 Like

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.

 Like

I like the old saying Fake it til you make it. Better yet, my colleague Alisa Solomon’s adaptation. Fake it til you feel it.

It works. Until it doesn’t.

I read lots of books on leadership. I love being inspired by new leadership thinking. Yet once in a while, someone utters something that puts all this new book wisdom to shame. Someone delivers a back-to-basics message.

Gustavo, a CEO with a resounding success record of turning troubled companies around, was addressing a group of mid-career professionals. His audience expected to hear insights on strategy, tips on execution, pointers on how to build great teams. Here’s what they got from Gustavo instead:

  • Be genuine
  • Care about people

You may go DUH. Of course. I know that.

Good. It’s the stuff we can’t fake. It feels especially compelling during Valentine’s Day week, a week when I like to celebrate my love of all beings.

Be genuine. Care about people. These tenets are the basics Dale Carnegie so compellingly wrote about in his 1936 classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Back to the future. One of those books, social media and technology and all, that feels as fresh today as it did back then. We can’t fake the basics with technology. We can’t fake them with charm. We can’t. We sniff out the fakers at once. Without these two basics, our personal impact in the world is forever diminished. Lasting impact is impossible.

Let’s dissect these two tenets, shall we!

  • Be genuine

We have created lots of code language around this notion. Be vulnerable, be transparent. Yeah, I like those words. If we’re going to go modern, I like be real best. Genuine has a more old-fashioned ring to it that I like even better. Allow me to translate: Don’t bullshit people. Don’t deliver fake-peppy talk. Don’t unload unexamined clichés on folks. Don’t dress up your conversation with lots of fancy jargon you’ve learned in a communication skills class. Don’t pretend to have answers that you don’t have. Don’t act like you have it all together when you don’t. Don’t hold me or anyone else to an idealized standard that no one can meet. Including you.

Have healthy boundaries, yes. But be real. Be human. Be genuine when you speak with me.

  • Care about people

It doesn’t mean act nice. Doesn’t mean showering folks with gifts or compliments. Doesn’t mean discussing career planning or feigning interest in someone’s personal life. It may, in fact, mean firmly holding someone accountable and offering a bit of tough love. On the most essential level, caring about people springs from an unwavering belief that in the larger scheme of things, you and the other person are one. Regardless of position, of education, or social standing, at the soul-level there is no separation or separateness between you and me. Act from that place. It is the well from which true caring springs.

Have healthy boundaries, yes. And do not hold yourself separate from others.

I believe in fake it til you make it – when it comes to confidence, when it comes to tackling that which you have not yet mastered. You can’t, however, fake the people stuff. It doesn’t work.

Drop fully into being genuine and caring about people. If you already embody these qualities, you know how they help you meet every challenge with grace. If you have a sense that you can drop a little deeper, go ahead, make the drop.

And if you were to hop into a dinghy and head for a desert island where internet distractions are not to be found, take Dale Carnegie with you.

A very happy Valentine’s Day to all.

 Like

Last Friday, Cory Booker, the US Senator from New Jersey, announced that he will seek the Democratic nomination to become the next US president. His instant media blitz that day involved an appearance on the talk show “The View.”

I believe that in this moment, co-host Meghan McCain says to Booker, authenticity is the most important political currency you can have. And after some elaboration McCain asks: How do you convince people that you’re authentic and not a phony?

I cringe. Not at McCain or Booker. This is not about them. No, I cringe at the ease with which we toss about the word authentic. Ever since Bill George popularized the notion of Authentic Leadership in his book “True North,” we have steadily killed the meaning of the word.

I want to be authentic with people.

It has become the most overused leadership cliché of the past decade or so. Mind you, I am in favor of not being inauthentic. Or a phony. But you and I can authentically be many different things. Which authentic Self will you bring?

I think of a conversation I had with Jen Congdon, Head of a Business Unit within a highly profitable publishing empire. Jen and I were talking about how to play well with folks who have social power. She mentioned her relationship with Chuck, the empire’s legal counsel. Chuck, it was clear, pushes Jen’s buttons. She saw him as the quintessential young buck climbing the social ladder, with a lot of bravado in the mix.

In a way Chuck is so transparent, Jen sighed. You just need to stroke his ego a lot to get things done. Another sigh. But I have to be authentic with people.

Are there things you genuinely appreciate about his talents as a lawyer? I inquired.

Yes, there are, Jen sheepishly admitted.

And can you authentically let him know that you appreciate those things? I asked.

I guess so. Vera said it with a pained look on her face.

We say authentic when we mean vulnerable. We say it when we mean genuine, truthful, direct. Transparent. When we mean “act according to our values.” When we long to express a strong emotion we have. When we want someone to “fully own their life story and tell it.” Why not toss the word authentic and say what we actually mean?

Let us not pretend that we all agree on what the heck authentic is. And what it looks like. I urge you to be mindful of the following myths that are frequently attached to the word authentic:

Myth #1: Just Be Yourself

When you go on a job interview and your best friend tells you Just Be Yourself. When you have to give a crucial speech at work and your colleague suggests Just Be Yourself. Let’s be clear – nobody in a job interview wants you to just be yourself. Or when you give a speech. Chances are, we don’t want you to be boring. We want you to be prepared. We want you to make choices about which Self you bring.

You and I can authentically be many different things. My joy can be authentic. My enthusiasm can be authentic. My fear can be authentic. My doubt. In key business situations, we want you to bring your Best Self. And we want you to be intentional about it. That’s grown-up authenticity.

Myth #2: To Be Authentic I Have to Say What I Really Think

No, not really. A thought is merely a thought. It may feel authentic for a moment. A minute later another thought may feel authentic. Thoughts come and go. Repetitive thoughts may indicate a pressing concern. When you and I have a pressing concern, in a business situation or a personal relationship, let us consider context: Is this a good moment to express what I’m thinking? Is it essential that I express my thoughts right now? Will expressing my thought enhance the conversation we’re having?

Expressing a thought is a choice. Not expressing a thought is a choice. Both can be authentic choices. Sometimes not expressing a thought is the more enlightened one. And authentic, as well.

Myth #3: I Like to Keep It Real OR I Like People Who Keep It Real.

When I hear keeping it real this is what comes to mind: Gosh I’m tired of all the platitudes. The bullshit. The polite stuff. All the things we’re avoiding and not talking about. All the fake conversations. Let me cut through the crap.

A noble impulse, one I empathize with. Beware, however. We have all been with folks for whom keeping it real means going on an angry tirade. Attacking and blaming. Unloading pent-up anger. Going on and on. Dumping. Letting it rip.

Authentic expression? Perhaps. I think of this behavior as unfiltered narcissistic authenticity. Yes, I say what is on my mind, with little regard for my audience. It, more often than not, has scant positive impact and much unintended detrimental impact.

Myth #4: Being authentic means I tell you “my story.”

Bill George popularized the notion of telling our “crucible stories.” Stories of moments in our past when we overcame barriers and obstacles. When our lives transformed and we learned major life lessons. Crucible stories can often be inspiring. Old leadership thinking used to be that we hide our struggles and shortcomings from those around us. Current thinking, championed by the likes of George and Brene Brown, suggests that considered vulnerability fosters connection and personal impact.

I agree. I love stories. I love to tell them, and I have coached many folks on how to tell them well. Here’s the deal, however. Stories are often carefully selected for their potential impact. They are crafted and shaped. At times colored by all the things we leave out and don’t say. For every story we tell there are hundreds we do NOT tell. Each story we tell is a choice of omission. It is manipulated authenticity. We choose to highlight one facet of our narrative over others. Let’s not confuse this with being authentic. Because we could authentically tell legions of other stories that we withhold.

In case of doubt, bring the YOU that enhances execution and personal connection. Check the other selves at the door. Here’s a bit of wisdom from someone who pre-dates the likes of Bill George and Cory Booker and Meghan McCain.

I’ve learned that it’s what you leave OUT of a performance, not what you put INTO it, Tony Bennett says. Less is more. It’s not because of my age, but it’s the right thing to do.

Tony Bennett is 92. He knows.

When you style a song, there’s the craft of singing. And there are the choices you make while you sing. Yes, less is often more. Just one of many authentic choices a performer makes.

When you lead, please don’t be yourself. Bring your BEST self. Make sure your best self comes wrapped in a bit of craft. Be vulnerable when your vulnerability will be helpful to those you lead. Use keen judgment about what to leave OUT.

And stop worrying about being authentic.

 Like

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!

 Like

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.

 Like

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.

 Like

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.

 Like

I confess. I used to disdain the phrase soft eyes.

Back in the days, when I taught rapport-building skills, the term popped up in one of my training manuals. Soft eyes just sounded kinda cheesy to me. You know, softly gazing at someone. Like a scene from a sappy Hollywood movie.

That’s not what soft eyes is, of course.

You know folks who have been drilled in how to give eye contact, right? The ones who don’t do it well? They stare at you intently. Often intensely. Their gaze is unwaveringly focused on you.  They really really look you in the eye. Their eyes seem to somehow never blink. And you simply want to recoil. Run. Run as fast from them as you can. Have them leave you the heck alone.

That’s bad eye contact. The opposite of soft eyes.

A little bit of context. The term soft eyes has been around for a long while. Hunters use this phrase to describe their skill in animal tracking. It is generally believed to have Native American origins. NLP (the study of neuro-linguistic programming) uses the term to describe a relaxed way of being present. In the HBO series “The Wire,” an entire episode was named Soft Eyes. In it, the character Bunk Moreland uses the phrase in conversation. He suggests that when we look with soft eyes we’re able to see more than what we see at first glance.

Nice. Let’s distinguish between 3 different ways of viewing what’s in front of us.

  • Peripheral vision:

    Most of us are not great at it. It’s an acquired muscle-memory skill. When we practice peripheral vision we approach our field of vision with the widest possible span and try to catch all that is on the edges of this span. I think of it as the old Cinemascope view of the world. We scope deep and wide.

    The risk:  We get constantly distracted by all we see and don’t notice what’s actually right in front of us. Not unlike a state of steady social media overwhelm. More, always more.

  • Foveal vision:

    Consider it the art of the laser focus. We are able to bring our attention to the tiniest detail that others will miss. My friends Pedro and Frank, both gemologists, immediately come to mind. Gemologists are trained to notice, and focus on, near imperceptible matter. The sort of stuff I tend to not see even after it is pointed out to me

    The risk:  We zero in on a seductive detail and miss significant details beyond our point of focus or significant changes in our surroundings. We have stereotypical tunnel vision

  • Soft eyes:

    It’s the effortless combination of both peripheral and foveal vision. When we focus on a person or an object, we do so without straining. Our eye muscles stay relaxed. Our gaze is not hard or intense. It is soft. At the same time, we stay aware of our peripheral vision and see all that is present in the broadest field of view.

    The risk:  I don’t, pardon the pun, see any risk. I see only assets.

The benefits of looking at the world in front of us are in some ways obvious – and tremendous:

  1. More relaxed:

    Because the inherent tenet of soft eyes is that we don’t strain, it tends to lull us into a more relaxed way of looking at others and the world around us. It puts us AND others at ease because we’re not “trying so hard.” Folks who meditate liken it to being in a state of walking meditation, much of the time. An easy, conscious, aware way of moving through the world.

  2. More open:

    When we doggedly focus on one person or object, we inadvertently close ourselves off to the many subtle non-verbal signals that may be “talking” to us while we over-focus. Soft eyes keep us aware of these signals and, in turn, make it easier for us to adapt our behavior accordingly. We show up more “in tune” with our environment.

  3. Less self-talk:

    I wish I had research data for this claim. The anecdotal evidence is powerful, and I trust that on a gut-level it makes sense. When I look at my surroundings with soft eyes I am powerfully in tune with the world in front of me WITHOUT trying too hard. This constant and effortless immersion with what I see pulls my focus outward, away from the sometimes incessant mind chatter we all know. The mind chatter dials down. Thanks to soft eyes, I am more present in the moment.

I have dreams and intentions for 2019. I am excited about them. And I know that everything will unfold with more grace and ease if I approach people and situations with soft eyes.

I claim 2019 as My Year of Soft Eyes.

I can’t think of any reason not to. Won’t you join me please?

 Like

Call me a curmudgeon.

I’m not into all the traditional holiday stuff. Not anymore. The social expectations. The over-consumption of everything. No.

I want more. I want magic.

My work travel ended a couple of weeks ago. I’m into magic season now. Yes, I long to spend the rest of 2018 making magic every day.

Open Space Technology is a global movement based on the precepts of Harrison Owen. Open Spacers get together to have conversations. Deep conversations. Galvanizing conversations. Strategic conversations. Unplanned conversations. I spent some time with Suzanne Daigle and Jasmina Nikolic, two of my Open Space friends, in Belgrade this fall. Suzanne and Jasmina both speak with great fervor about their first Open Space experiences: Magic happened. 

Amen.

Conversations are my magic.

My 93-year-old Mom used to come visit me in Florida for the holidays.

Mom doesn’t believe in God – so we didn’t do traditional holiday stuff.

But we had rituals. We brunched at The Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. We dined at the now-defunct Sugar Reef restaurant in Hollywood Beach. We took afternoon siestas. We went for daily strolls on the boardwalk. We listened to bands doing cover songs at the band shell. We hit every shopping mall within a 25-mile radius. Some of them more than once.

That’s the stuff we did every year. Not the rituals anyone imposed on us. OUR rituals. The stuff WE discovered. The repetition of the same is the magic sauce.

I just returned from a visit to Mom’s Senior Residence in Germany. The rituals have changed. They are simpler. They are rituals nevertheless.

Taking the elevator from the 4th floor to the 3rd floor. Mom resting on her walker as we ride down. Claiming our own little table in the bistro. Me walking to the counter, picking up 2 cappuccinos. 2 pieces of torte. Mom leaning in, telling me what she truly thinks of the occupants of the other tables.

The same. Every afternoon at 3. Every day.

Rituals are my magic.

I ran down to the beach right after 7 yesterday morning. The boardwalk was already bustling with the walkers, the bicyclists, the joggers, the idlers. The life guards were doing their pre-shift jogs. Tourists were starting to claim prime beach towel spots. The Atlantic was giddy and restless and just a little cold. When I went in my body shivered. Once I fully submerged I felt a calm and a supreme joy wash over me.

The joy of being, at this beach, in that very moment, on that very day.

I will do this every morning. The ocean will be the same every morning. And it will be completely different every morning. That’s its charm.

The ocean is my magic.
 
If you’re one of those folks who work through the holiday season, consider this.

I think of an interview I read a few years back. Amy Erret is the CEO and co-founder of Madison Reed, a firm that provides in-home hair color. As Amy explains in the interview (NY Times Business Section, 11/15/2013) about how she hires talent for her company, I’m starting to think Whoa, she would be a really cool woman to work for!

My personal tipping point in the interview? Ultimately my job, Erret says, with the people who work for me, is to find your genius and to help YOU find your genius. And if we can do that, that’s the magic.

Another amen.

While you show up for work during the holidays, celebrate your genius. And celebrate the genius in everyone you work with. Notice what happens.

Genius is our collective magic.

Yes, I plan to make some magic this season. Every day.

I did, by the way, buy my first-time-ever set of twinkling-light-snow-flakes. My Florida living-room windows will be making some magic, as well …

Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. Revel in Magic.

 Like