Communication

Agile. Nimble. Flexible.

The opposite of rigid and fixed.

I think of a morning last October when my colleague Suzanne Daigle and I sat at Charles de Gaulle airport, waiting to fly home to the US after a week in Belgrade. We had been guests at an Agile conference, submerged in the world of Agile project management and Scrum. Iterative project practices, smart technology, but my own association with the word agile is physical agility. It’s a swimmer’s view. The way I slice through water when I swim. The ease with which my body moves. The way I flow with the current.   

From the moment Suzanne and I had arrived at the airport, chaos. An overbooked flight. Mechanical failure. Delayed departure. Evasive public announcements. And the eventual cancellation of the flight.

I won’t bore you with a war story – but I found myself considering its essential ingredients as they enveloped me. Moment-by-moment changes. Increasing uncertainty. Bubbles of emotion. Eventual complete change of plans. More uncertainty. More emotion.

A classic narrative arc. I was in the midst of an agile situation.

The situation was relatively simple as far as agility goes. The bulk of the decisions were made for me. I can change my response to a sudden change in circumstances but I cannot change the circumstance itself. The circumstance is right in my face. Detailed observation or keen insight are not required.

I am responsible for my attitude about what unfolds – that’s the mental part – and my emotions. These two are intertwined.

There are many more situations where the need to adapt quickly isn’t so clear-cut. When things kinda sorta work but never excel, never become great. When mediocrity is the standard we have become used to, when complaining about the way we do things is the norm but nothing is bad enough to scream change now.

What does personal agility look like in the face of that? How do I stay agile when nobody demands that I be more agile? Here are a few personal guide-posts to help sharpen your own everyday agility:

  • I notice when something isn’t working. I stay present. I stay aware of the emotions that kick in. Instead of stuffing my emotions, I consider what may be causing them. Considering my emotions will lead me to indicators about my own thinking (internal clues) or relationships with collaborators (external clues) that may require adjustment.

  • I notice when pressure is mounting. I choose to stay calm under pressure. More importantly, I do not ignore pressure. I have a healthy pressure-meter that can distinguish between necessary pressure and debilitating pressure. I do not succumb to prolonged debilitating pressure. I know the difference between pushing through and changing a course of action because what I’m doing is not working.

  • I seek help. I do so quickly. I do not hide when the going gets tough. I approach professional challenges with a sense of healthy curiosity. Most importantly, I view seeking help as a sign of strength. I seek help freely and am mindful of whose insights may be most pertinent when an adjustment in process or strategy seems necessary.

  • I invite multiple viewpoints. I understand that multiple inputs will produce a better new course of action. I am not afraid of the complexity that may be invoked by multiple viewpoints. I know that embracing complexity will lead to more fully considered next steps. More fully considered steps accelerate the likeliness of success.

  • I act quickly. I understand that changing course and adapting quickly to changing circumstances is the only way to release forward-moving energy and create momentum. This may be the most crucial of these 5 points. I don’t get locked into the jail of this is what I had planned or this is how it should be. Taking swift action is my friend. I welcome this friendship.

There are many ways to define illuminated leadership. Mental and emotional agility hang at its very core. Great thing is, we get to use this agility every day. Each encounter at work, at the supermarket, at the airport, in our personal relationships is an opportunity to practice agility.

Yes, I have a swimmer’s mind. I love the sense of forward motion that I experience in water. It feels so very good. An agile mind helps me to experience this sensation in all other aspects of my life.

So, stay agile. Practice diligently, and practice with an open mind. Notice how wrong effort will start to disappear.

How liberating that is.

 Like

Just relax.

How often have you muttered those words to yourself when you feel stressed, under pressure, tense and gnarled in your body, or worse yet, don’t feel like you’re in your body at all?

Just relax. If only it were that easy.

Before I begin a coaching engagement with a client, I invariably have two key conversations. One with the individual I am about to coach, another with that individual’s boss. These are the conversations where we articulate the goals for the coaching journey.

I had one such conversation last week. Steve is a boss, and our chat was reminiscent of similar conversations I’ve had. We spoke of Sheila, the individual I am about to support. After praising the many things Sheila does well, Steve recounted some of the scenarios where he felt Sheila’s behavior had gotten her into trouble. Then, after a bit of a pause, Steve ended with this statement: I think I just want her to relax.

I ponder Steve’s words as I sit in my car that evening, driving to Miami, tuning my radio to NPR. Joshua Johnson’s 1A radio program is on. I enjoy Johnson’s keen mind and his rich sonorous voice. And I have always been a little distracted by Johnson’s slight over-articulation of words. Clipped. Arch. Trying too hard. This evening, the archness in the voice is gone. Johnson sounds more conversational.

He has learned to relax, I think to myself.

It often is such a fine line, isn’t it, between relaxed and not? I don’t wish to review basics like taking a breath, meditating, slowing down. Yes, do those things. Here, however, are some other behaviors you may wish to consider when the stakes are high, time is tight, you have an agenda and want to get stuff done. When a relaxed way of showing up seems to fly out the window:

 

  • Stop forcing.

 

Notice when you’re pressing just a little too hard for an outcome, for consensus, a resolution. When it is not happening in your ideal time-frame. Notice when others may need a different pace, additional time to reflect, or a pause. Reality is not matching your ideal-outcome storyline. Notice how you’re suddenly driving conversations with an irritated edge, an annoyed tone, a slight petulance. Just a little too hard.

Notice, and pull back.

 

  • Muscle-memorize your most relaxed self.

 

Muscle memory is a powerful thing. Athletes know. Even on a day when our mind may not feel as sharp as we’d like, our body performs. It remembers. Muscle memory kicks in. So, go and begin to remember what your body feels like when you’re at your most relaxed. For me, that’s when I step out of the pool after I have just had a robust lap-swim, when I lounge on my daybed and read, sit on the stool at my kitchen counter and conduct business from there. My job is to show up that relaxed, as often and whenever I can.

Remember, and drop into it.

 

  • Allow for silence.

 

Some folks go quiet when they’re not relaxed. Most folks go hyper. They talk more. Talk faster. Their talk is wont to become repetitive. It becomes noise. Allow for silence. Don’t fill every second with chatter. In the silence new wisdom appears. In the silence we better observe what’s really going on. In the silence we hear, and reconnect with, our heartbeat – and the energy that emanates from our hearts.

Shut up for a moment, and settle into silence.

 

  • Make it about them.

 

An I, I, I storyline undercuts relaxation faster than anything else. I have to get this done right. I need to finish these 5 items before 3 o’clock. I know more about these matters than the rest of the team. I would rather work on something else. I, I, I. Me, me, me. Whenever possible, direct your attention to the person or persons in front of you, what they are saying, what they may need, and how you can be of service. Shift your focus from you to them. Every moment instantly gets simpler. Suddenly, we’re engaged with what is actually real, in front of us, in this moment, not our random storylines. Exhale.

Focus on others, and feel your body unwind.

 

  • Have faith.

 

It is difficult to relax when I believe that every outcome is dependent on my behavior, my actions, my efforts. Whew, what pressure. I don’t advocate for a fatalistic mindset, mind you. I believe in my ability to affect outcomes. I equally believe that if something doesn’t work out just as I wished, that outcome is the outcome that was meant to happen, in that moment. The one that will lead us to the next right outcome. That sort of faith allows me to relax. And this, of course, is the paradox: When I relax, I am able to more potently affect the outcomes I envision and desire. Go figure.

We’re talking relaxation consciousness here, and we’re talking relaxation practices. They’re intertwined. In case of doubt, allow your muscles to remember your most relaxed self. It may require a mental prompt.

Yes, connected. Consciousness and action. Such great fun to play with. Enjoy.

 Like

Aetna has Andy Lee, a Chief Mindfulness Officer. Corporate Consultants are rebranding themselves as Chief Inspiration Officers. Tony Schwartz, author of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance, champions the notion of a Chief Energy Officer.

Yes, these job descriptors can sound a little trendy. Creative job titles such as these, however, speak to what, deep down, we all long for. Less drudgery at work. More inspiration. An energized and energizing ride.

If you’re fortunate, you work in a Silicon Valley work culture like Zappos where every aspect of the organizational design is intended to motivate and energize you. Free lunches. Freedom to decorate your meeting spaces. Free life-coaching. An explicit work culture that does much of the energizing for you.

Chances are, you’re not employed at Zappos, and you will not suddenly be anointed Chief Energy Officer where you currently work. Don’t let that hold you back. Here are 5 habits that will help you to immediately become the inspirational Chief Energy Officer you long to be – and the person your colleagues long to engage with:

 

  1. Notes of Appreciation

 

Show that you noticed. Saying it, especially when the saying reveals the specifics you observed, is terrific. But when you write it down, not in an email, no, in an old-school note-appreciation-card – wow, then it carries the weight and impact of a well-considered gesture.

Write 1 note of appreciation a week. It takes less than 5 minutes to do so. It will be an exhilarating energy catalyst.

  1. Happy Endings

Have great meetings. Disagree vigorously. Challenge each other. And at the end, affirm the fire and spirit of the discourse that occurred. The Happy-Ending-Affirmation may come from you. Or invite every meeting participant to affirm each other, out loud, before you leave the room.

No meeting ends without a vigorous affirmation of the positive that occurred.

  1. Passionate Curiosity

Even when you’re sure of a course of action, even when you feel like you do not wish to be derailed by a tangential comment, stay curious. Yes. DON’T BE RIGHT, BE CURIOUS. Your curiosity will energize everyone around you.

Talk less, ask more. In every situation. Even when you think you have all the answers.

  1. Conscious Optimism

While you’re caught in a crappy day, as you have grave doubts about a course of action, face your reality, in that moment. Face it – but refrain from unloading every detail of your anxiety on those around you. Speak your truth, but infuse it with optimism.

Consciously stated faith and optimism will energize those around you. It will energize you. Constant worrying will not. 

  1. “Speak Energy:”

Make energy not just something you experience – use energy language to describe how you feel in a moment or receive the communication by another person. “I was energized by the conversation we just had.”  “I’m always energized after meeting with you.” “Your energy is infectious.”

When we begin to explicitly describe a human encounter in terms of energy, we help the other person to more consciously experience the energy of a moment, as well. And energy is the deepest level of connection between two individuals. Powerful.

The beauty of these 5 simple habits: While we energize others with these behaviors, we also energize ourselves. We become, in fact, our very own Chief Energy Officer. How very cool is that!

 Like

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!

 Like

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.

 Like

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.

 Like

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.

 Like

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.

 Like

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.

 Like

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