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.

 



Leadership Move #19: Teach Them to Enjoy the Challenge

Image Source: Pixabay

The phone rings: It’s your boss with a killer to-do; one that NO ONE is going to like.

You know it’s a great developmental opportunity for someone, though, so you delegate it. Not surprisingly, the reception is lukewarm – frigid, actually. What do you do?

If it IS a hill to climb, don’t pretend it’s NOT one

Many bosses try to sugar-coat such this type of assignment by making it SEEM like it’s less difficult than it really is. “Oh, it’s not that bad,” they’ll say. “You’ll see.”

Or maybe they try another old favorite: “Would you do me a favor?”

And if all else fails, they just blame their boss. “Oh, you know how he (or she) is. Just do it and be done with it.”

But these are all faulty strategies.

  • First, they each encourage staff to underestimate what’s needed to do a job-well-done, which can be problematic for all sorts of reasons.
  • Second, they make you, their boss, look either disingenuous, at best, or incompetent, at worst – or, quite possibly, BOTH.
  • And third, they actually encourage people to whine and complain whenever there’s some difficult work to be done.

Let it be what it be

So rather than trying to ‘spin’ a challenging assignment, I prefer you make THAT it’s a challenge the whole POINT of the exercise:

“Look, there are some days where we basically get paid for free,” you might say. “We come in, do what we love, go home, and we’re done. No fuss/no muss. But there are other days where we really have to earn our paycheck – each and every penny of it. Today just happens to be one of those days. So get ready to dig in and really enjoy the challenge of the challenge I have for you, today!”

Helping your staff develop the confidence (and competence) to tackle new and more challenging tasks is key to increasing their value-added back to you. And if you review their Lessons Learned after each assignment, you’ll help them see that they are both learning and truly earning their paycheck which, contrary to popular belief, is something that most people are proud to do.

Your thoughts?


Leadership Move #16: Brainstorm WITH

Image Source: Pixabay

Much has been said about ‘brainstorming’ – and much actually misses the point!

Brainstorming is “a group problem-solving technique that involves the spontaneous contribution of ideas from all members of the group,” and is an excellent way to teach your staff how to think more creatively, constructively, deeply, widely, strategically, consistently and a variety of other adverbs that you’d like them to be able to do when they think through the issues and implications they face.

But when they don’t already know how to brainstorm effectively, what’s a boss to do?

  1. You can brainstorm FOR them – This is how most bosses do it. Rather than coach, mentor, teach, or show how to analyze and assess, most bosses just answers all the questions and surface all the options themselves. Staff’s role is to just back and wait. Does this work? Well, up to a point, yes it does – if by ‘yes’ you mean it brings everyone up to speed on a topic. But if you think it through, you’ll realize that this particular approach actually teaches staff how NOT to think, how NOT to wonder, and how NOT to consider much on their own. Why? Because the boss is already doing all the work (and seems to WANT to do all the work) so staff says, ‘Fine, YOU do it, then.’
  2. You can tell them to brainstorm by THEMSELVES – For more advanced teams, this is actually the choice of choice. But many work groups honestly don’t know where to start or don’t know what to do when the nay-saying kicks in. So for this lesser experienced teams, not much really gets accomplished when the boss just throws an issue ‘over the wall’ like that. In fact, many teams will procrastinate, if not entirely ignore your request, in hopes you’ll either forget about it or will revert back to brainstorming FOR them once they’re reminded.
  3. You can brainstorm WITH them – The idea, here, is to help them get started by framing the issue, providing a possible implication, and then encouraging THEM to identify additional implications, instead of just waiting for you. (Sure, you likely already have some really good ideas, but delegating is not about what YOU know or can conjure; it’s about helping them access what THEY know and what THEY can conjure. So, please, resist the temptation to be the smartest person in the room.) Too, since brainstorming is more about surfacing ideas than evaluating them, it’s important to show how to create a ‘safe place’ for staff to flex their mental muscles in this new way. Your job is NOT to discount – or let anyone else discount – someone else’s ideas – the evaluative/vetting stage comes later. At this point, your job is to simply keep things from getting bogged down.

Increasing the Flow of Ideas

Here are some quick and easy ways to keep the dialogue going:

  • say you’ll brainstorm together, but they need to go first
  • for every 2-3 ideas they they come up with, offer no more than one of yours
  • make sure new ideas build prior ones rather than rejecting them out-of-hand
  • encourage wacky thinking – the more outrageous the better! – and enjoy a good laugh at the outrageousness
  • encourage the ‘quiet’ people to contribute as well (“What might we be missing, Mary?” or “What are you thinking, Steve?”)
  • don’t fear silence – sometimes people need time to think and gather their thoughts
  • if you think they’ve stalled, get them to move around, change chairs, stretch, take a break, doodle – whatever helps reinvigorate the mood
  • and don’t lose track of the fact that the goal, at this point, is idea GENERATION, not option prudency. (There’s time for that later.)

Practice, Practice, Practice

If your staff has trouble brainstorming, you may want to INCREASE the amount of brainstorming they do. As people tend to engage more readily with issues that are already relevant to them, tell them you want to help them practice. Then ask them problems they’re having, what opportunities they see, what they’re worried will happen next and suggest you all just kick around some possibilities. Or you could just do it in stealth mode, by asking them, more readily, for THEIR views on a problem or opportunity that’s on your radar.

Remember, the point of the exercise is to get them comfortable with thinking out loud, more insightfully, more strategically, and in increasingly nuanced ways. So start with something other than your Number One high-profile priority. Brainstorming is a skill and to develop fully, skills must be practiced.So don’t worry if it’s slow-going at first. That’s natural.

Learning, after all, is an iterative process – one that brainstorming can definitely facilitate!

 


Leadership Move #15: Be Bolder

Image Source: Pixabay
Here are seven leadership moves to help you be bolder, more easily:

  1. Purposefully Push The Envelope –
    Show what you’ve got…and to see what happens. You can always apologize (mop up?!) later if someone thinks you went too far. (Remember: You have been given leadership responsibility for a reason – so lead.)
  2. Be More Visible –
    Let them get to know who you really are and what you really stand for. People, at all levels, are going to form their opinions about you, anyway, so you might as well have a say in what they decide. (Always participate. If you don’t provide input at the meetings you attend, you are actively diluting your brand – whether you think so or not.)
  3. Keep Focused On What People Are Counting On You For –
    Be relentless in delivering EXACTLY that…up, down, and across the chain. (Knowing your entire business, not just the part you’re responsible for, provides great clarity in knowing exactly what that ‘exactly’ is.)
  4. Take A Stand –
    Get passionate about possibilities…especially with peers and superiors. Let them know you’re alive, engaged, and ready to make some magic happen. (Volunteer and seek out special projects you believe in, as well.)
  5. Jump In Sooner, Rather Than Later – You don’t always have to wait for everyone to stop talking before saying something…learn how to interrupt politely. (It’s not always rude to intrude. Watch any good tv interviewer to learn how. Watch any lousy tv interviewer to learn how NOT to!)
  6. Innovate Through Experimentation – Dare to try new things. Don’t be afraid to fail…you’ll get more mileage from applying your Lessons Learned on subsequent problems and opportunities than you will from just dutifully taking the safe route. (Even a small scale pilot or test program can provide surprising value, regardless of its outcome.)
  7. Enjoy Yourself –
    People want to work with people who want to work. So help them realize that you want to work by showing them how much you enjoy the work you do…even if it isn’t always the case! (Modeling enthusiasm and effective ‘mood management’ are very powerful leadership techniques. Show ’em how.)

When you’re bolder in your interactions with others – they’ll respect you for shaking things up…and they’ll see you as someone capable of even greater things.

A word of warning, though: Be sure to do so RESPECTFULLY, though. Otherwise, you’ll likely be seen as more of a liability than a potential asset.