30 years of blissful marriage

This week my wife and I are celebrating 30 years of extraordinary marriage, and 35 years of being together. We met on the day of my 20th birthday. It was love at first sight, and after 5 years of dating with a couple of short breakups, it was clear to both of us that we were meant for each other forever and we got married. We have been blissfully married and deeply in love ever since.

My wife’s version of how we met is that the minute she laid eyes on me (she was 15 at the time) she knew that we would be together forever. I have always found that hard to understand and believe, but people who were there confirmed that she told them that at the time.

I have been very fortunate and blessed in my marriage. In fact, I am more in love with my wife today then I was 35 years ago, and it was pretty amazing to begin with. People often ask us “what is your secret?” Even though I know how I feel and I know what we’ve done and been through to keep it blissful, I don’t have a concise, definitive and clear formula or answer. Making intimacy, love and unity thrive seems to be more of an art than science.

My wife’s answer to the question is typically very pragmatic: “Do not try to change your spouse. Respect, be kind, learn to compromise, forgive and forget, be patient, never go to sleep angry, and – have lots of sex!

Perhaps our fortune is simply a matter of luck, attraction and compatibility (and we had plenty of those, even though we are opposites in many ways). But, I really believe we had everything to do with making our marriage blissful. From the beginning we believed in our ability to do it. And we behaved and interacted that way for as long as we’ve been together. Every time we had to deal with challenges (and we had our share of these, too) our love and marriage centered and empowered us to overcome these. From the beginning we committed to a completely open, honest, authentic and courageous communication as one of our foundational values and rules. We haven’t been perfect, however, even with all my travel and physical absence, we have kept to it pretty rigorously. And, as our 3 children came along (today they are 25, 21 and 14) we made sure to not forget, neglect or lose“us” in the mix of it all.

With the rate of divorce in North America being 55%, I feel extremely fortunate. The statistics mean that 5 to 6 couples out of every 10 who said “I do” intending to stay together for life didn’t succeed. Why is that the case?

A recent article on msn.com listed the 8 most common reasons for divorce. The most common reason, cited in 73 percent of couples surveyed, was lack of commitment http://living.msn.com/love-relationships/the-8-most-common-reasons-for-divorce

So many couples describe the time they met as “love at first sight”, like us. They fell in love, married and then fast forward 5, 10, 15 years they “fell out of love”.

A close friend who is also celebrating his 30th year anniversary shared with me that he surprised his wife and took her to the same exotic resort in which they had met and fell in love 30 years ago, hoping this will rekindle their marriage. I asked him how it was and he replied sarcastically “not as great as the first time”.

I was not surprised by his answer. People often think the source of love is in the external setting, conditions and circumstances. So, we tend to go back to the same resort or restaurant or do the same things that made us happy in the beginning, hoping these will ‘do the trick again’. But they don’t because even though the places still exist, we have changed. And, kindling or rekindling our love comes from the inside, not from any circumstances.

Falling “in love” and “out of love” seems like things that happen to us. As if we don’t have a say about them. I recognize that it is not the same for everyone. Marriage requires deliberate focus and often a lot of work, and that it is a journey often filled with ups and downs. Plus, there is an element of luck, attraction and compatibility in the mix too.

However, WE have the biggest say… if we believe that and if we can stay in the game, enjoy it and prove it right.

 

Brutal honesty is not enough.

In my last blog I emphasized the importance and benefits of creating an open, honest, authentic and courageous communication environment in teams and in life. In this blog I want to dig a little deeper.

Living with a courageous and relentless commitment to openness and honesty is a powerful and, in my view, noble virtue. I am not merely saying this because I have personally adopted this commitment in my own life. I am saying it because I have seen the power of openness and honesty triumph over resignation, despair and challenge, as well as nurture opportunity many times. BUT, I have also seen openness, honesty and bluntness deeply hurt and deflate people.

People often think that “having no filter”, “calling it as they see it” and “putting it all out there” are virtues and an asset to their group or relationship. In fact, some cultures – the Dutch for example – pride themselves on their bluntness. When brutal honesty is delivered in a productive manner, it can definitely be a huge asset. But brutal honesty can also be a disaster and an impediment. It can hurt people deeply and leave casualties.

A sales manager at a global telecom company shared with me a story that I have heard in other places before: his boss asked him to represent his country in the weekly regional sales forecast call with the upper level managers. The economic times were challenging and deals were hard to come by, so everyone on the call was somewhat tense and apprehensive, especially his boss’s boss, who was under tremendous pressure from his superiors to perform. When it was time for the sales manager to present he didn’t have good news to share, so not before long he found himself being questioned, grilled and criticized by those who attended the meeting. Needless to say, he left the call feeling devastated and publically attacked, humiliated and demeaned. His boss’s boss had a different depiction of the incident. His take was: “The sales manager came to the call unprepared so I gave him some feedback and tried to help him steer his presentation the right way”.

If openness, honesty and bluntness don’t make a difference and empower people, they are not worth the dignity they stand for and represent.

I have also heard many people equate open, honest and authentic communication to “getting it all off their chest”. In fact, in a recent coaching conversation an executive expressed pride in the fact that he finally mustered the courage to tell his team-mate how he really felt about him, after a long period in which he accumulated pent up frustrations and resentments about his colleague. I empathized with his initial feeling of personal triumph. But when I asked him if the conversation made a difference to address, resolve or change things he wasn’t sure at all. In fact, upon reflection he admitted that the trust and partnership with his colleague didn’t get stronger, and they didn’t come out of that conversation with any tangible productive actions or directions. He left the conversation feeling relief, but his colleague seemed quite upset and disheartened.

Putting it all out there, or getting if all off your chest is the wrong focus. Making a difference should always be the purpose and focus of any communication. It should guide the approach, angle, style and intensity of all our conversations. If making a difference requires being completely open, honest and blunt, then so be it. But, if being completely open, honest and blunt would hurt, insult, demean or deflate the other person, it may be better not to say anything at all.

A friend of mine, who is teaching at a post graduate university, shared with me recently that her new boss adopted the “blunt, no filter” approach, which was less than successful in their environment. Her boss, who came from the finance world, did not take into account the less brutal and more “diplomatic” academic world she was now immersed in. My friend confessed to feeling wary and cautious about bringing issues to the front because of her boss’s unorthodox style.

There are always appropriate, effective and productive ways to communicate, give feedback and express criticism and dissatisfaction – no matter how severe – which elevate and empower people.

What good is it for anyone if people around them are torn down and/or afraid to speak their minds?

Blunt honesty is the right approach both in business and at home.

I love working with leaders who are relentless about driving a culture of open, honest and courageous communication around them. These leaders are about high performance and they have zero interest in, or tolerance for, internal drama or politics. They operate at a high level of personal integrity, authenticity and ownership. And they expect and demand the same from people around them.

They make it difficult – if not impossible – for people to get away with doing the things that undermine and weaken the organization: point fingers, adopt a victim mentality, indulge in destructive politics, and “CYA” (cover-your-ass) behaviors that distract from the goals of the organization.

Even if these behaviors are very subtle, they drain energy and waste everyone’s time. Eventually, people begin to feel that they cannot make a difference, and the organization loses focus and cannot achieve the results it seeks. In today’s environment of growing competition and limited resources, what company can afford this?

Any manager can do this – break these undermining patterns, reverse past damage and create a high performance team dynamic – if they are willing to be a courageous leader, role model this behavior, and call his or her people to account for it too. They need to stand for a new code of rigorous honesty, refusing to settle for less than the truth in an environment where people are used to only voicing what they think their leaders want to hear.

No matter which method they use, leaders must make their unconditional commitment to honesty known, and they must convince their people that they mean it. It’s not enough to declare it. They need to demonstrate through action that they are genuinely open to feedback, criticism and input, including about themselves. As one of my clients once admitted: “It takes 10 rights to fix 1 wrong, and 1 wrong to undermine 10 rights.”

This leadership philosophy of open, honest, authentic and courageous communication can be messy, lonely and painful at times. However, time and again, I have seen it lead to significant transformations inside organizations. In fact, clients have repeatedly shared with me that creating a new level of communication at work has even made them a better person in their personal life, changing the way they relate to their children and their spouses. One CEO even told me, “It saved my marriage.”

I am not a marriage counselor, and I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But one thing I do know is that when organizations have the courage to face the truth every day, a powerful platform of authentic team ownership, commitment and accountability emerges. The team is then equipped and energized to focus on any challenge or opportunity that lies ahead, no matter how unfamiliar, complex, or difficult it may be. In short, the team becomes unstoppable.

Generating Breakthroughs in Challenging Relationships (Part 4): Rules of Future Engagement

How do you take a challenging relationship — personal or professional — and transform it into one built on trust, respect and intimacy?

Over the last three weeks, we have examined the first three steps for generating this kind of breakthrough:

  1. Both parties must authentically desire a transformation and commit to having the conversations necessary to take the relationship to a new or better place.
  2. Have an honest, open, rational conversation about the history in order to drive closure, complete the past and bring the relationship back to the space of nothing (zero).
  3. Generate rich, exciting possibilities for the future of your relationship.

This week, we’ll cover the fourth and final step: Turn the new possibilities into clear actions and practices that take the relationship to the next level.

Turn the Possibilities into Reality
This phase of the conversation is about cementing the new possibilities you’ve generated for your relationship with clear promised actions and practices. If the last step was all about creating rich possibilities, this phase is about narrowing the playing field and committing to specific actions.

Most people like to keep commitments ambiguous because it leaves wiggle room, which allows them to avoid the potential stress of having to do what they say. The problem with vague promises is that they leave a lot of room for failure and disappointment. So, my coaching to people who are in this step is always to keep the promises simple, clear and rigorous.

  • “Simple” because it is better to commit to fewer actions and really keep them well than to have a list of 20 things — I call it the “should” list, the things we should do — and not follow through with most of them. In fact, I recommend making the fewest promises that make the most difference.
  • “Clear” because different people at times have different views about what certain things mean. And I have seen so many breakdowns in trust that were caused or made worse by people believing everything was clear only to discover through the other person’s actions and behaviors that this was not the case.
  • “Rigorous” because especially when people turn a new page, it is particularly important, in my experience, to manage promises and expectations in a rigorous way. This is a time of heightened sensitivity. It takes many conversations and much effort to give a relationship a new chance but only one screw-up to ruin the progress and take things backward.

Actions and practices could look like:

  • “Let’s agree that every Tuesday, we’ll meet for half an hour to share our key objective of the week, especially the anticipated challenges. Agreed? Great!”
  • “Every time we have a presentation, we’ll first have a one-on-one conversation to ensure we are on the same page and have the same message. Agreed?”
  • “Every time you hear some feedback or some information that could be of use to me, you’ll share it, and I’ll do the same thing. Promise? Good!”
  • “Whenever I do or say something that upsets you, please promise me that you will come straight to me to talk about it. And I promise to listen without getting defensive. Because if I do these things, it’s because I am unaware, not on purpose. OK?”

In Conclusion

Now you are ready to move forward — to change what wasn’t working and to begin building the trust and intimacy necessary to work together well.

To recap, what did we do? We didn’t react to a problem. We didn’t react to an issue. We completed the issue, took it to zero, and then created a new possibility for the future. Rather than reacting to the past, we proactively created the future we want from nothing.

While this might not always be easy to do, the principle and steps are quite simple, and they are based on common sense. Just keep these four last tips in mind throughout your conversations:

First, be authentic. Stay true to your intention. Don’t sell out.

Second, be courageous enough to share your feelings and generous enough to listen as the other shares theirs. Let it in.

Third, stay with it, even if it’s messy or you get lost in the conversation. Go back to your initial intention, and resist the urge to get defensive. Remember, this is about feelings, and whether you agree or disagree is irrelevant.

Lastly, Be smart, not right. I think this is self-explanatory.

If you keep these things in mind and work the four steps, you will be able to transform and/or elevate any challenging, dysfunctional or functional relationship to a new level of trust, partnership and affinity.

I would love to hear your experiences in using this — whether you were successful or not. This will give me an opportunity to provide more support. Please comment on my blog.

Generating Breakthroughs in Challenging Relationships (Part 3): Starting From Scratch

How do you take a challenging relationship — personal or professional — and transform it into one built on trust, respect and intimacy?

Over the past two weeks, we have examined the first two steps for generating this kind of breakthrough. The first step is that both parties must genuinely want to take the relationship to a new, better place and commit to having the necessary conversations. The second step is to have an honest, open, rational conversation about the past so that you can complete the past and “zero it out” so you can start over.

This week, we’ll discuss the third step of the conversation: generating a rich, exciting possibility for the future of your relationship.

Envision a New Future

This part of the conversation is about expressing and declaring what you both want — how you want your relationship to play out going forward.

This is not about creating a plan of action or making promises to each other (that’s step four, which we’ll get into next week). At this point, you’re simply expressing what you want the next level of your relationship to look like and what you both hope to create together.

I picked a few words deliberately here. First is “create.” In this step you are creating the new future of your relationship. You can only create something if you start from nothing, or zero. That is why the previous step of completing the past and returning to zero, or nothing, is so critical. If you don’t complete the past and return to zero, whatever you try and create will be on top of incomplete and unresolved baggage — and it will only be a matter of time before something will trigger the baggage again, and the resentment and lack of trust will re-emerge. If you have done the previous step genuinely and effectively, this step will be very exciting, stimulating, liberating and empowering.

The other word that is important is “want.” In this step you are expressing what you want the relationship to look and feel like: what it could be, what you’d like it to be. When people express their desire, there are very few limitations to the conversation and you can literally create whatever both people want.

Build Excitement for the Future

In the last step of the conversation — where you discussed the past — I suggested taking turns and resisting the urge to interrupt or comment on what the other person has to say. This third phase of the conversation is a different type of conversation — it doesn’t have to be so structured. Ideally, you will build upon what each other says by going through a lot of back and forth.

For example, one person might start off by saying, “You know, I would really like our relationship to be open, easy and straightforward. You are so good at bringing people together and getting them to work together, and I am so good at addressing issues and conflict resolution. If we could work together, we could really do some great things. I would love for us to be able to work like this.” Halfway through, the other person will respond by saying, “You know what? I agree with you. I feel exactly the same way. Remember what happened a year ago when we brought these customers together and they were upset about our quality of delivery? I did a great job getting them to the meeting. But you did such a great job of defusing the tensions and getting a dialogue going that led to our best year ever. If we had done it together in all these other situations, can you imagine how great the results might have been? I would love to work with you in this manner, with no tensions and complications …” “Yes, I agree ….”

This conversation will be highly interactive and energizing, and the two of you will get infected and inspired by each other’s expressions of “What if …,” “How about …,” or “Wouldn’t it be great if ….” The energy will spiral upward. Eventually, both of you will be left in a space of: “What do we do with all this great possibility and excitement?” That’s when you know you’ve just completed the third step of the conversation.

Next week, we’ll examine the fourth and last step — where you cement the new possibilities you’ve created for the relationship through concrete practices, actions and new rules of engagement for the future of your relationship.

Generating Breakthroughs in Challenging Relationships (Part 2): Zeroing Out the Past

How do you take a challenging relationship — personal or professional — and transform it into one built on trust, respect and intimacy?

Last week, I outlined four steps for generating this kind of breakthrough. The first step is that both parties must genuinely want to take the relationship to a new, better place and commit to having the necessary conversations. This week, we’ll examine the second step: Complete the history of the relationship by fully getting each other’s reality and experiences. This requires an honest, open, rational conversation about the past.

Setting the Stage for Change

Start by setting the time and place for the conversation. Obviously, if possible, do it in person. However, if it’s not possible, don’t delay the conversation. Do it via phone or any other platform, like Skype or FaceTime. If you think you can only achieve breakthroughs when sitting in front of someone, that is not true. I have had many breakthrough conversations via phone, and I have seen others do the same. On the other hand, I have seen too many people avoid and procrastinate the difficult conversation because they felt they couldn’t do it in person. My experience is that most of the time it’s better to have the conversation not in person than not having it at all.

The purpose of this second step is to fully understand each other’s reality, experiences, perceptions and feelings regarding the history of the relationship.

It’s best to take turns. One person communicates while the other person listens, and then you switch sides. Do not interrupt each other unless something is unclear and you need clarification. There should be no pushback or arguments because you are sharing feelings, perceptions and experiences, not facts and truths.

For example: In one of my sessions, person A and B were having a conversation to generate a breakthrough after a falling-out that occurred a year earlier, which caused them to stop trusting each other and collaborating. Person A was expressing his feelings to person B, and he said, “I was really offended by your comment in the meeting we had last year. I felt dismissed, disrespected and demeaned.” That evening over dinner, when I was asking people how their conversations went, person B said to me: “It went well, but I still disagree with how person A took my comments in the meeting a year ago. My words were not offensive, dismissive or disrespectful…” It took me a while to make him see that whether he agreed or disagreed with person A’s feelings was irrelevant and that the real opportunity in the conversation was to fully stand in person A’s world, get how he has been feeling, and get that how he has been feeling is in fact valid. Person B’s reaction is common. That is why I always advise people who are pursuing breakthrough conversations of this type to truly listen, without judgment or defensiveness, and genuinely seek to understand. This way, they are not pointing fingers, assigning blame. Instead, they are sharing their reality. It’s not about who is right or wrong. Instead, it’s about understanding each other so you can move forward.

State Your Feelings, Not the Facts

Sometimes in order to complete the past people have to discuss the events that took place in the relationship. This is often a more challenging topic as most people, especially when they have baggage and emotions, don’t do a good job distinguishing between the facts and their interpretations or feelings that followed what happened. In addition, many times people simply remember things differently, but everyone is convinced their version is the truth. And when people are at odds with each other, they tend to feel that the other person is maliciously lying about the situation.

But when people really want to have a breakthrough, it is easier for them to realize that often it is less important to agree on the facts. Sometimes what is equally or even more important is to understand and accept how the other person experienced what happened.

For instance, someone might be upset with another person because they are always late to appointments. They may say, “You are always late. You don’t respect my time, or me for that matter.” The other person may say, “That’s not true. I was only late six out of the last ten times. You are exaggerating.” I often coach people on this. It doesn’t matter if it was 10/10 or 6/10. It still left the other person feeling disrespected. In order to have a breakthrough, you need to understand and accept how your being late — whether six or ten times — affected the other person.

When people can accept the validity of each other’s reality — the feelings, not the facts — that’s when the magic begins.

Here are some angles you could use to share your reality with the other person:

  • “My experience and feelings about you and our relationship has been …”
  • “I’ve always felt your view about me and the relationship is … and that has made me feel …”
  • “I started to feel this way when …” (share the event that triggered it, if you recall)
  • “When this happened, I felt …”
  • “Ever since, it has affected me in the following ways …”
  • “It has prevented me from doing the following things …”
  • “It has cost both of us the following tolls …”

Listen Generously

The only way this conversation will work is if you are both willing to close your mouths while the other person is speaking, so that you can open your ears and open your heart.

When each speaker finishes talking, the listener should say “thank you.” You are expressing your gratitude for the other person’s honesty, courage and willingness to share his/her feelings.

By approaching the conversation with gratitude, you are more likely to listen, rather than simply wait for your turn to talk. For instance, I’ve noticed that when people raise their hands to speak in meetings, they tend to shut their ears. Even if during the time their hand is raised their issue is addressed or resolved, they don’t hear it because they’re in waiting-for-my-turn mode.

The words “thank you” tend to open people’s hearts so they can let the other person’s truth in, acknowledge it, own it and live in peace with it. Expressing gratitude is also a generous way to acknowledge the other person’s courage and commitment — and the validity of his/her feelings. This in turn encourages more sharing and communicating.

Get to Zero

After both people have spoken, and if you’ve both genuinely shared and listened without getting defensive, what you will be left with is a sense of emptiness, “nothing” — a clean slate — and the question “So, now what?”

Only when you get to this place, when there’s no fight left, can you zero out the past. What will naturally follow is a new sense of possibility, hope and excitement for the future of your relationship.

So, what do you do from here? How do you build something new from “nothing”? Stay tuned for my next blog.

Having Effective Conversations to Build or Restore Trust in Any Relationship

There are some people with whom we easily build trusting, productive relationships — people with whom we connect and take our relationships to the next level without much trouble or controversy. But there are other relationships — personal and professional — that require more work, either because past dealings or misunderstandings have created mistrust or animosity, or because different personalities make it harder sometimes to find common ground. Sometimes there is a problem in the relationship that we need to address or react to. But at other times, even if the relationship is functioning sufficiently, we want to take it to a higher, better level.

Communication: The Key to Transforming Relationships

Trust, relationships, partnerships: These are just different ways of talking about the same thing — a level of intimacy and trust necessary in order to connect, interact and collaborate well with others. This intimacy lives in communication and is shaped by communication. It gets built through communication, and it can be destroyed by communication, or a lack thereof.

Over the next few weeks, I will share my thoughts about how to take any challenging relationship and transform it into a genuine partnership based on trust, respect and understanding. I will also cover how to take relationships that are functional to the next level. The principles for both scenarios are the same. The application has to be personalized to each person, relationship and circumstance.

The Four Steps for Transforming Any Relationship

There are four steps that if you follow will enable you to significantly transform or improve any dysfunctional or functional relationship no matter what the starting point. The more you understand these steps as principles or spaces to navigate the conversation through, the more confident and effective you will be at applying them to any circumstance:

  1. Step One: Align both parties on the need for improvement in the relationship and the level of trust, the desire to achieve these improvements, and the commitment to invest the time to achieve them.
  2. Step Two: Complete the history of the relationship by fully getting each other’s reality and experiences.
  3. Step Three: Create rich and exciting new possibilities for the future of the relationship.
  4. Step Four: Turn the new possibilities into clear actions, practices and results that take the relationship to the next level.

Get on the Same Page

The first step for generating a new level of trust in the relationship is that both parties genuinely want to transform the relationship and are willing to commit the time, energy and emotion to the conversations that can make this happen. You can’t force people to do this. It’s got to be authentic. This doesn’t mean that people know how to achieve the desired outcome. It means they want it.

Create a Common Interest

It’s always easier if both sides want this and there is no need for anyone to convince anyone else. But, as we all know very well, that is often not the case. So, in order to get people on the same page, there sometime needs to be an explicit dialogue about “Why do it?” “What for?” “Why now?” and/or “What’s in it for me?”

Consider a contrarian view: There is a benefit and cost associated with having a prolonged dysfunctional or dissatisfying relationship. The benefit is typically status quo, avoidance of conflict and uncomfortable conversations. When operating in the benefit mode, people tend to blame others rather than take responsibility for the situation. This is often accompanied with some self-righteousness, which could sound like, “Why should I take the first step?” “It’s all because of them;” “I’ve tried to address this before but they didn’t cooperate;” etc.

On the other side, the cost typically includes stress and loss of joy and satisfaction. And overall it drains energy to stay upset, incomplete and/or dissatisfied in a relationship for a long time. Sometimes people become cynical or numb in the relationship or about relationships in general. I had a single woman friend who every time I asked her how her love life was going, she would tell me the same story about how “all men are selfish and only care about one thing…” Self-righteousness is costly in itself.

So, when discussing the need or opportunity for change in the relationship, you can look for the areas of cost. These will give you opportunities for areas of common interest.

We all know the saying: “It takes two to tango.” However, I believe that when it comes to relationships and trust, “It takes one to take two to tango.” So, if you are the one initiating the transformation in the relationship, don’t get distracted, discouraged or fall into blame — take responsibility for enrolling the other person in the breakthrough. Listen to their concerns. Swallow your pride. Acknowledge them as valid, even if they are not factually true. And respond to them from your commitment, not reaction.

Sometimes people don’t want to move on because they don’t trust the other person’s sincerity. So, declare your sincerity, even if you have done it before. Sometimes they feel they’ve tried to address issues before and the other person wasn’t sincere, didn’t listen, wasn’t open to what they had to say, didn’t take ownership or responsibility for past transgressions, etc. So, stay open, own their experience of your past attempts as valid, apologize if needed and express your sincere commitment to making it work this time.

This first step is the ticket into the game. Without a shared desire to elevate the relationship, the next steps are irrelevant. While it takes courage to take a relationship to the next level, especially if the starting point is dysfunctional, isn’t it “better to fail giving it your all, rather than give up without trying at all?”

Stay tuned for more next week.

Different Behavior Means Better Meetings

In our last blog post on this topic, we talked about the difference between a meeting that is organized around an agenda and one that is oriented around outcomes. In today’s post, we further explore this topic by looking at the impact each type of meeting has on team behavior.

The fundamental difference between an agenda-driven vs. a results-driven meeting is that they elicit two very distinct types of behaviors from team members.

When a meeting is oriented around topics and an agenda, it brings about a greater degree of opinion swapping. For example: Someone expresses his or her point of view on a new product, provoking someone else to state his or hers. That then reminds someone else of something tangential which they share, and soon these conversations begin to resemble a yo-yo.

But a meeting that is oriented around outcomes provokes conversations that focus people on saying something that has to do with achieving a result. It cuts back on the tangents and encourages team members to put forth offers, recommendations and commitments that move the action forward.

Some simple ways to make sure your meetings are ‘result vs. agenda’ oriented include:

  • Declare the meeting objectives at the beginning of the meeting, rather than by the amount of time allocated to each topic. Encourage spending as much time as needed on each item to achieve the stated objective(s) of the meeting.
  • Invite people to the meeting who will gain from or contribute to the realization of the stated objectives of the meeting. Don’t invite spectators or people for political reasons.
  • Complete the meeting by summarizing the commitments made, not the topics discussed. Too often, the minutes of a meeting reflect what was talked about, not the promises made.
  • Don’t tolerate conversations that don’t directly forward the outcomes you want to achieve.

By focusing on these guidelines, your next off-site or team meeting can go from drowning in conversation to being infused with commitment.

How do you make your meetings effective? I would love to hear your comments.

Talking About What You Are Not Talking About

What do you consider to be the key drivers of your group’s effectiveness? Is it their ability to raise and address difficult issues? Is it their skill at being able to come to alignment on common goals or objectives? Perhaps it’s their ability to subordinate their personal agendas for the common good?

Regardless, the prerequisite for all of these is the ability to have open, honest and straight conversations. It’s not what you can talk about that makes a difference at work, it’s what you can’t. It’s always what you are not dealing with that’s controlling and shaping your team.

If you want things to be different in your organization, then you have to develop the willingness and ability to talk about what you are not talking about. Here’s one way to get started.

In functional groups, ask each member of the team to write down their background conversations (their stories, opinions, judgments, ideas and perceptions) about the company and the other departments within the organization they interact with.

For example: We had one manufacturing group whose background conversation about the engineering group went something like this:

Engineering is always building prototypes, which they design in partnership with the sales group and then take and sell to the customers. But they never consult with us (Manufacturing) about our capacity to build these or seek our input regarding the design.

This leads to customers saying, “Yes, we want that,” and engineering then handing off the design to us and our struggling to deliver what they promised. We resent engineering for not including us in the process and feel like they view us as an obstacle to success. The net result of this is poor customer satisfaction, loss of customers, poor product quality and lots of failures in output.

In order to address this issue, we brought manufacturing and engineering together to discuss their background conversations about each other, and, within 18 months, both profitability and customer satisfaction soared.

The bottom line is that you have to be honest about things that are not working company-wide. If everyone knows people are nervous about layoffs or competition, put it on the table. Discuss it. One of the myths is that you have to always be positive and pump people up. But the most refreshing thing is honesty — both about the good and the bad.