Venting vs. Clearing

“I just HATE when they complain like that,” one leader said exasperatedly.

Sure. I get it. People grouse, grip, grumble, moan, bellyache, carp, whine, and yammer all the time. Especially at work. And all that negativity can all-too-easily negate an otherwise decent mood you’re in.

So what to do? What CAN you do?

Definition of Terms

When something someone does or says continually frustrates you, one of the very first things I want you to do in your capacity as a leader is to recognize that they’re acting that way more for their own benefit, than yours. And while it often helps to acknowledge their angst – so they feel heard and seen – you really don’t want to encourage this sort of complaining from them without boundaries.

But how?

Well, what I recommend is that you create a distinction between the sort of ‘venting’ that people do – which often feels like endless complaining just for complaining’s sake – and ‘clearing’ – the process of quickly and efficiently sharing strong feelings so that they can be dissipated and released, allowing everyone to get back to more important things. And then redirect them, accordingly.

Distinctions in Action

So here’s how it’d work.

Someone ‘stops by’ and starts dumping all this negativity on you. Calmly, quietly, and respectfully, you say, “Wow! That sounds awful. Here, take another 15-20 seconds to ‘clear’ it out of your system so you can feel better and get back to work.”

Yes. Just. Like. That.

“Wow! That sounds awful. Here, take another 15-20 seconds to ‘clear’ it out of your system so you can feel better and get back to work.”

It’s Not as Harsh as You’d Think

Have them take another 15-20 SECONDS?!

Yes, because by and large, most people simply don’t know how (or when) to stop their beefing. So the time-limit, is actually very helpful. Too, the deadline:

(a) gives them an endpoint;

(b) helps them realize that, as their boss, you’re not there for them to routinely dump on (that is ‘vent’ to);

(c) gives them a way to release (that is ‘clear’) their pent up the frustrations they’re all bollixed up about; and

(d) allows you to assert your authority in a respectful, powerful, and efficient way.

Now, can you give them more than 15-20 seconds? Sure. But why would you want to?! Especially when you consider a corollary of something called Parkinson’s Law.

Parkinson’s Law postulates that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.

So it reasons that if you shrink the time available for completion, the completion will still occur…just in less time!

After all, as with any delegated assignment, it’s typically far less about how much time someone COULD put into completing the assignment as much as how much time you can ALLOT to them for completion, before you need to use the results they were charged with providing back to you.

Key Traction Point

If you just told them to go away, they likely would…and then find someone else to vent to. But that would be terribly short-sighted on your part.

So by teaching your your staff the difference between ‘venting’ and ‘clearing’, you not only help them feel better, which is a very important skill, but it also will benefit YOU every time they come to ‘vent’ – as you cleanly redirect them to ‘clear’ instead – and will benefit THEM because they’ll now know what to do whenever someone comes to grousing to THEM!

Try it, yourself, and see. And if you’re so moved, I’d love if you share your experience in the comment section, below.


When Are You At Your Best?

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When challenges arise, it helps to know when you’re at your best.

Why? Because, by definition, challenges are challenging. And when we’re at our best, challenges become imminently more doable. When we’re at our best, we’re more creative and spontaneous – more capable and confident.

When we’re at our best, we tend to see challenges in the best possible light – as intriguing puzzles to solve, games to win, tests to ace!

So it naturally follows that if we know what helps us be at our best, we can take the necessary steps to get back there when we’re not.

This? or That?

What follows, then, are some questions to help you better understand what peaks your skills, interests, talents, and abilities.

But first a word of caution:

If you’re like most, you’ll want to say, “It depends.” And, yes, of course it does. But you’ll find this a more meaningful exercise if you resist the urge to say that. Rather, go a bit deeper than what you can do – get in touch with what you prefer.

Ready? Let’s begin.

Here are ten sets of choices to get you started, but feel free to create, and choose from, as many other distinctions as come to mind:

  • Do you prefer working with others? – or working alone?
  • Do you prefer solving problems? – or leveraging opportunities?
  • Do you prefer bigger? – or more targeted?
  • Do you prefer helping others? – or others helping you?
  • Do you prefer facts? – or ideas?
  • Do you prefer vibrancy? – or calm?
  • Do you prefer creating? – or editing?
  • Do you prefer overhauling? – or optimizing?
  • Do you prefer planning? – or improvisation?
  • Do you prefer new and innovative? – or tried and true?

Aligning Preferences

So let’s say you have a deadline approaching for a project or assignment that, frankly, doesn’t thrill you. How can you apply this?

Well if, as example, you prefer relationships (working with others) to solitude (working alone), you would likely become more motivated by calling or visiting some people you respect and admire to get their views on how best to move things forward. Conversely, if you prefer solitude, you would likely get more value from some extended ‘one-on-none’ session with just you and a whiteboard.

If you prefer to refine what others have said (editing) rather than capture your own ideas (creating) you might want to delegate specific elements of your assignment to your direct reports so you have something to work with. Conversely, if you get inspired through creating, you might find that drafting a scope document or executive summary to share with others as a more meaningful way to start.

And if you prefer a more structured approach to your work (planning) versus something more free-form (improvisation) you might start with an outline or project plan or to do list. Conversely, if you prefer taking a less structured approach, doing some mind-mapping, or capturing your ideas with colored pens on rearrangeable sticky notes would likely prove more beneficial.

And the more preferences you can combine, the better.

Bringing It All Together

No one can be their best at all times. (If you could, it wouldn’t be called your ‘best’, it’d just be ‘normal’.) So becoming more skilled at returning to your best is the what we’ve been talking about here.

Remember that Japanese proverb, nana korobi, ya oki? (“Fall down seven times, stand up eight.”) It’s not about when, or where, or even why you might not be at your best at any particular moment in time – it’s about how to return to your best as quickly and effortlessly, as possible.

That is the goal. That is the skill to develop.

What do YOU do to get back to being at your best?


Updating Your Self-Diminishing Conclusions

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The following exercise is a variation of Benjamin Franklin’s T-Chart (where he’d take a sheet of paper, divide it into two columns, and use one column to list out all the ‘pros’ of an upcoming decision and the other column to list out all the ‘cons’).

In our case, though, rather than starting with a decision to be made, let’s use a decidedly negative conclusion you’ve reached about yourself.

Maybe something like, “I can’t accomplish ANYTHING – I’m a total loser,” or “I just can’t follow rules.”

The idea is that, regardless of how ‘true’ it may FEEL to you, such a statement is NOT a fact — it’s just a conclusion. And not a particularly helpful conclusion, at that.

But it IS often helpful to state our negative self-beliefs out loud. Why?

  • Because we’re already thinking them
  • So we can re-frame them in decidedly more positive and supportive ways

The key is to do it in a self-supporting way.

Step 1 – Start with the Negative

Pick a piece of negative self-talk that is all-too-familiar to you. Write it down. (As illustration, let’s use, “I can’t accomplish ANYTHING – I’m a total loser” as our working example.)

Step 2 – Capture its Reason

Think about what caused you to reach that negative conclusion for our first example. . For example, maybe you’re thinking:

  • “I’ve failed at so many other things so many times before”
  • “I just never know what to do”
  • “I always feel I’m in over my head”

The point here is not to make yourself feel bad, but to better understand what led you to your conclusion in the first place.

(I suggest you limit the number of reasons items to 3 – at least to start – as this helps minimize any ‘awfulization’ that might creep in when first trying this exercise. Besides, we’ll only need 1 so no need to go overboard!)

Step 3 – ‘Stem’ the Tide

Use the following sentence stems to create an alternative positive and self-affirming explanation for the Negative Conclusion from Step 1 and the Reasons provided by Step 2.

I sometimes feel … [insert your Negative Conclusion from Step 1] and that’s probably because… [insert your Reason from Step 2] … which highlights one of my STRENGTHS, in that … [insert your Restatement from Step 3].

Sample/Example 1

I sometimes feel … “I can’t accomplish ANYTHING – I’m a total loser” and that’s probably because… I’ve failed at so many things so many times before … which highlights one of my STRENGTHS, in that … I’m unafraid to take on new challenges.

See what we’ve done? We’ve re-framed your self-talk from being about failure, to being about fearlessness.

Sample/Example 2

I sometimes feel … “I just can’t follow rules ” … and that’s probably because … I can always see why exceptions are in order … which highlights one of my STRENGTHS, in that … I am sincere, caring, and truly customer-focused,even when it’s inconvenient.

See what we did? We turned your so-called weakness into a customer-service value-added.

Moving (Positively) Forward

The way to leverage this exercise, moving forward, is by using it to help you recognize that just because you’ve reached a Negative Conclusion about yourself does not have to mean that it’s a fully accurate conclusion about yourself. And with that, you now also know how to quickly and easily replace that negative self-talk with something decidedly more positive, constructive, and self-affirming.


What Does It Take To Grow As A Leader?

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It’s hard to learn and grow when you’re the one in charge.

When you’re the boss, people all-too-often look to YOU for the answers to their questions. They all-too-often look to YOU for the questions they should be asking, too. And even when they say they don’t, they also all-too-often rely on YOU to check their work.

Isn’t that right?!

Maybe it’s because they’re trying to be really careful. Maybe it’s because they’re trying to shirk responsibility if things don’t go precisely as planned. Or maybe they just realize that you’re going to change whatever they decide or recommend, anyway, so why bother try to figure it out, beforehand.

Regardless, if this is happening to you, it’s likely that you’re encouraging people to do the exact opposite of what you’re hoping they will.

Stop Reinforcing The Wrong Lessons

This all-too-familiar cycle actively dampens learning. Or said another way, it encourages not learning in favor of upward delegation. Which creates a downward spiral of ‘dumbing down’ for employees and bosses, alike.

  • If you don’t know how to do something, ignore it and see if the boss ever follows up with you on it.
  • If ignoring it doesn’t work and you’re boss does ask about it, say you’ve been too busy working on more pressing priorities.
  • If saying you’re too busy doesn’t work, try ignoring it, again – or better yet, blame someone else for slowing you down.
  • And if none of that works, just dump it in your boss’ lap as something too difficult to handle on your own.

So now you, the boss, have to do not just YOUR job, but THEIRS, too.

Sad AND all-too-often true.

Articulating What (And How) To Learn

So how might we reset what (and how) learning takes hold? Here are some thoughts:

  1. Don’t just assign a task; state the learning opportunity it’s designed to enable – This may seem like an obvious place to start, but never underestimate how UN-obvious it can be.
    • Bad: “Call this irate customer.”
    • Better: “Call this irate customer and let me know what he wants.”
    • Best: “Call this irate customer to find out what he wants while practicing your rapport-building, conflict management, and independent problem-solving skills.”
  2. Don’t just assign a due date; explain how you’ll use the deliverable you’re requesting – All meaningful work is part of a process, not just a series of isolated to-dos so show how this piece fits into the larger whole.
    • Bad: “Get this done.”
    • Better: “Get this done by Tuesday at noon.”
    • Best: “Get this done by Tuesday at noon so I can use it for my presentation to Senior Management at their 1pm meeting so they can authorize our project.”
  3. Don’t just accept submitted work; circle back to review it with the person – Share both your positive and constructive feedback to inform the person as to what excellence looks like.
    • Bad: [Say nothing.]
    • Better: “There were a few parts I had to fix, but you did a nice job overall.”
    • Best: “Here’s specifically what I liked about what you did and what, specifically, I’d like to see you improve, moving forward.”

Leaders Learn By Helping Others Learn

Sure, you’re busy. You’re stressed. And there’s far too little time to do far too much. But here’s the math: Let’s say it takes 15 minutes for you to do something, yourself, and 30 minutes to train someone to do it for you. If it’s only a one-time thing, it might not be worth it. But, really, what are the chances that anything you have to do at work is a one-time thing?

Besides, helping others learn not only helps them learn, but it helps you learn, too:

  • Knowing, and being able to properly articulate, precisely what you want, and why you want it facilitates learning and higher levels of performance from others AND yourself.
  • Knowing, and being able to properly articulate, the difference between ‘good work’ and ‘excellent work’ (and ‘insufficient work’) facilitates learning and higher levels of performance from others AND yourself.
  • Knowing, and being able to properly articulate, your vision and priorities facilitates learning and higher levels of performance from others AND yourself.
  • Knowing, and being able to properly articulate, what outcomes you specifically want to avoid facilitates learning and higher levels of performance from others AND yourself.

See? You’re already learning, again, aren’t you?!



What Do People Listen For?

“What do the people you’re trying to influence, at work, ‘listen’ for?”

That’s one of the questions I asked attendees of a breakout session I did on leadership for the American Academy of Home Care Medicine, last month.

“Typically, 6-8 things,” I continued, as I put up the following slide:

Let me explain:

  1. The Crux of the Matter – Some people consider themselves professional problem-solvers. Others are what we might call ‘opportunity maximizers’. And how they listen to what you’re saying varies, greatly. If a problem-solver doesn’t hear a problem in what you’re saying, you likely won’t keep their attention. In that same way, if you bring a problem to be solved to an opportunity maximizer, you likely won’t get the traction you’re hoping for, either. So the key, is to match what you’re saying with what the person is naturally listening for. Another way the ‘crux of the matter’ shows itself is in listeners wanting to know if, as example, the course of action you’re recommending is supported by consensus, or not (as with a policy change) or some sort of imperative (i.e. upcoming deadline or crisis situation). Listening for the ‘crux’ is what gives them a context from which to listen further…or not.
  2. Size, Scope, and Impact – Some people like big, fat changes. Others prefer smaller and more targeted efforts. Some prefer incremental change; others prefer large-scale overhauling. For those preferring a smaller size and scope, ‘pilot’ studies and project phasing or staging enables them to ‘test the waters’ before committing more fully. But recommending that to an overhauler would likely lead to disappointment as to too slow a tempo. A similar difference can be seen with one’s preference for a project’s timing. While some people prefer to implement new initiatives ASAP, others would rather wait until it’s absolutely necessary to begin. Knowing who prefers what, and speaking to them through that ‘frame’, can most definitely improve the odds of their more actively supporting what we propose.
  3. Risks – Another key area of differentiation is how people react to risk. Some, as example, freak out at the first sign of risk and much prefer recommendations that work within existing guidelines and precedence. Others feel that anything worth doing has inherent risk so their objective is not so much to avoid risk as it is to insure that we properly identify what the risks are, and have plans to properly mitigate them.
  4. Quid Pro Quo – Yes, the old “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine,” is another relevant distinction in how people listen. This category has to do with inherent or underlying ‘political’ implications of what we’re proposing. In its simplest form, are we asking for them to go out on a limb for us using the promise of certain results to balance the scales; or is what we’re proposing more our returning a favor for what they’ve already done for us? Also relevant, here, is how our requests align with their work agenda. Are they in support of them, neutral to them, or complications for their spoken (and unspoken) priorities? It might not always matter, but it rarely never matters.
  5. Personal Commitment Required – This has to do with the level of support we’re looking for. Are we, as example, asking them to ‘let’ something happen? To ‘help’ something happen? Or to ‘make’ something happen? (Many a great idea has stalled because a person wasn’t ready, willing, or able to provide the level of support that was hoped for.)
  6. Next Steps – Similarly, it’s important to align, or at least clarify, what we’re specifically asking in any moment particular moment. Do we want the other person to make a decision for us…or with us? Is it to discuss an issue, brainstorm solutions, or debate the merits of a particular solution? As they say, it’s hard to be successful if you don’t know what you really want.

The larger point, here, is that the people we bring our issues to typically have definite preferences (and biases) – whether they’re consciously aware of those preferences and biases, or not. So it’s incumbent upon us to learn these proclivities as best (and quickly) as we can.

Your thoughts?


Grit, Resilience, and Hardiness

In many ways, GRIT, RESILIENCE, and HARDINESS are more similar than not. If we were to differentiate, though, I’d say it this way:

  • GRIT is what keeps you focused and helps you push through, notwithstanding the stress
  • RESILIENCE is what helps you bounce back from a prior stress
  • But HARDINESS is the ability to actually thrive before, during, and after – and notwithstanding – the stress

So while GRIT and RESILIENCE are obviously very important, if you want to maximize your efforts, work on increasing your level of HARDINESS.

Building Hardiness…or Not

Figure inspired by : The Hardy Executive, Salvador Maddi, Suzanne Kobasa

recognizing hardiness

Think about it this way:

  • CONTROL vs. POWERLESSNESS is created by

    • Shifting from: Trying to Control What You Really Can’t
    • To: Addressing What You Actually CAN Control
  • CHALLENGE vs. OVERWHELM is created by 
    • Shifting from: Feeling Helpless and Dis-empowered
    • To: Creating Healthy and Doable Challenges and Stretch Goals
  • COMMITMENT vs. REFUSAL is created by

    • Shifting from: Thinking, “It’s Too Hard, Why Bother?”
    • To: Reconnecting with your Core Values and Beliefs

Doing so – even partially – will help you create a more optimistic (and less pessimistic) view and naturally shift from avoiding what’s stressing you (which only causes more stress) to taking action to resolve what’s stressing you sooner.

Which Begs the Following Questions…

  1. How might you have more CONTROL than you maybe realize?
  2. What’s the a ‘doable’ CHALLENGE inside the overwhelm you’re maybe feeling?
  3. And what is the larger COMMITMENT you’re working toward?

Try It For Yourself And See, Yes?

While grit is good, don’t just settle for being able to push through your challenges, regardless of its personal cost to you.

And while resilience is good, too, don’t just settle for being able to recover from stress.

Focus, instead on increasing your hardiness so that you can actually thrive before, during, and after – and notwithstanding – the stress.

For more, visit www.leadershiptraction.com/hardiness.