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.


What Does It Take To Grow As A Leader?

Image Source: Pixabay

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?


Listening For What Bosses ‘Listen For’

Image Source: PixabayI was recently reminded of a helpful leadership tool I sometimes recommend – and a number of my my clients continue to use. (If memory serves, I think I got the idea from Tracy Goss’ “The Last Word on Power.”)

The big idea is this: Listen for ‘what bosses listen for’ – and then frame your requests, to them, in specifically those terms.

For examples, does which does your boss listen more for:

  • Problems to solve or opportunities to leverage?
  • Revenue increases or cost savings?
  • Ways to provide increased visibility for their direct reports or ways to increase their own profile?
  • Who to blame or how avoid blame? (Sadly, yes.)

The possibilities are near-endless and the same boss will listen for different things, and different times, depending on circumstances. (Think how less attentive bosses can be when preparing for big meetings.)

But, generally speaking, bosses have a preferred ‘default’ something that they listen for – and it’s in your best interest to know what that is, and speak directly to it.

A ‘Listen For’ How-To Story

As a relatively new executive, I was having trouble convincing my new boss to even listen to some of my my ideas for improving things. It didn’t matter how hard I tried or how well I prepared – he just was not interested in having those conversations with me.

So I started paying closer attention to the conversations he WAS having with my peers – and the recommendations of theirs he WAS approving.

Now I knew they weren’t all particularly great ideas, but they were still getting his go-ahead – so what the heck was going on?!

The answer had to do with what he was listening for – in his case, problems to solve.

DOH!!

My approach had been to talk in terms of opportunities to leverage, not problems to solve. No wonder pitching ideas based on all the cool extra things they could help us achieve, long-term, were going nowhere!

So I got smarter and started pitching the same ideas in terms of problems that needed to be addressed:

  • Me: Hey, Boss – I need you to know about something that’s showing up on the radar and looks like it could really bite us.
  • My boss: Really? Oh my! What is it? Do you have a solution?
  • Me: Why, yes…I do!

Variations on a Theme

I also used this ‘what they listen for’ concept when I took over responsibility for a department that considered themselves ‘orphans’ and ‘stepchildren’ – and suffered from terrible morale – because that same boss never paid them any mind or gave them much, if any, attention.

My re-frame was to tell staff about his being a professional problem-solver – and a great one at that!

“If he even sniffs a problem,” I said, “he’s on it,” which they knew to be all-too-true from stories they heard from their friends in other departments that reported up to him.

“The fact that he isn’t spending time with us is not an insult – and not a sign he doesn’t care,” I continued. “To the contrary: It’s a compliment – and one of the highest order, because it means that he’s SO confident and SO comfortable with your work, and your ability to make good choices, that he knows he doesn’t have to worry, one bit, about what you’re all doing or be at-the-ready to step in at a moment’s notice, as you know he would, if he thought he needed to. You see, in HIS mind, we are NOT a problem – we are a refreshing relief – which has resulted in him giving us waaaay more autonomy and waaaay more control of what we do than any other area that reports to him. ”

I had their attention!

“Now having that said,” I said, “I get how ‘recognition for a job well done’ is, sometimes, needed. So, my commitment to you is that within the next 30 days, I’ll get him to meet with us all to personally thank you, and acknowledge that what I’ve just said is true.”

Which I did to the delight and renewed vigor of my staff.

How? By telling my boss that I had a serious problem in my department that was affecting employee productivity and morale, and work quality – which is was. “What’s your recommendation?” he asked. “With your help,” I replied, “I think we can solve it in just one conversation – 10-15 minutes; 30, max. All you have to do is tell explain this…”

His reply: “Schedule it.”

One Last Point

In listening for ‘what bosses listen for’, it’s also helpful to hear what topics capture their immediate attention – even when they’re crazy-busy or just otherwise occupied. Things maybe like:

  • active problem updates
  • key information for important upcoming meetings
  • news about what one of their key stakeholders wants
  • explanations of extraordinary budget variances
  • progress in holding vendors to account
  • something urgent that s/he may find out or be asked about before your next scheduled meeting, together

Knowing these ‘hot topics’, or at least having a solid sense of them, can really help you communicate much more powerfully with your boss – especially at the very beginning of a conversation.

Give any of this a try and let me know what kind of traction you get from it.


Assessing An Interviewee’s Conflict Management Skills

Image Source: Pixabay

Being able to effectively handle challenging conversations is an essential leadership skill. But is there a way to assess someone’s conflict competence – or any other leadership competency, for that matter – BEFORE you hire them?

Absolutely!

Here, as example, are some conversation-starters you can easily add to your upcoming interviews:

  1. “People don’t always agree. And those disagreements can sometimes become uncomfortable. Please share an example of a conflict you experienced at work…and how you worked through it.”
  2. (Part A) “Different things ‘trigger’ different people. Please share an example of a time that YOU were triggered by someone…and how you dealt with it.”
  3. (Part B) “What helps you NOT get triggered?”
  4. (Part C) “How do you help others who you’ve inadvertently triggered regain their composure?”
  5. “Please share an example of a time when you avoided addressing a work issue because of the conflict you felt it would’ve caused…and walk me through your decision process.”
  6. “Please share an example of a workplace conflict you unintentionally may have caused – or was blamed for causing…and how you dealt with it.”
  7. “Please share an example of how you worked through an issue with someone you disagreed with that resulting in something excellent happening.”
  8. (Part A) “On a scale of 1 to 10 (1=low; 10=high) how would you rate your conflict management skills? Why?”
  9. (Part B) “On a scale of 1 to 10 (1=low; 10=high) how would OTHERS rate your conflict management skills? Why?”

The key is in your thinking about whatever competency you want to focus on, where (what scenarios) that competency would be needed, and asking the interviewee to share an experience of theirs that illuminates how they thought, felt, and/or acted in such a scenario of their choosing – and then asking whatever clarification or followup questions you need to fully understand their example.

By doing so, you can then pretty easily determine if the answer they provided sufficiently demonstrates the competency you’re looking for – in a sufficiently relevant context – or not.

Give it a try and let me know what you learn.


Leadership Move #29: Establish S-T-R-E-T-C-H Goals

Image Source: Pixabay

The thing about personal/professional development goals is this: If they’re too easy, people get bored by them; If they’re too difficult, people get unnerved by them.

Either extreme falls short of its intended aim. So the key in establishing quality goals is to have them sufficiently s-t-r-e-t-c-h the person, but not overwhelm them.

Here are three ways to do that with your staff:

  1. Trial-and-Error – Try a few things, see what works, what doesn’t, and modify the goals accordingly over time. It helps to realize that you don’t have to get it exactly right the first time; the best learning (and striving) is always iterative.
  2. Report Back – The idea here is for them to create their own goals and then tell you about them. Then build some stretches around what you hear. Just keep an eye out for whatever bias your staffer brings to the process, though – some people will purposefully UNDER-estimate what they can achieve (sandbagging) ; others will OVERstate it (wishful thinking). Your job is to find the sweet spot.
  3. Collaborate – Engage WITH others on random assignments to: (a) see how they perform; and then (b) create their s-t-r-e-t-c-h goals WITH them. Using the best of ways 1 and 2, identify meaningful, relevant, and sufficiently challenging goals that build their skills and are aligned with their interests.

Whatever way you choose, be sure to remind people that you are noticing whether they’re working on their goals (or not) … and watching their progress (or not).

In other words, help them keep their s-t-r-e-t-c-h goals top-of-mind so they actually DO stretch.

After all, the things we pay attention to are typically the things that actually get done.