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Challenge yourself to set down your smartphone

I just returned from a lovely summer vacation at a nice beachside resort. Being the proud workaholic that I am, (I love what I do!) I use these vacations to unplug from work. I, personally, need this disconnection physically and spiritually. Additionally, unplugging greatly contributes to my business success. These times off provide invaluable opportunities to think, reflect, take stock of progress, and to create and plan for the future.

As my wife and I were sitting on the beach and by the poolside, the number of people constantly glued to their smart devices struck me; people of all ages, from all walks of life – fathers, mothers, their kids. In fact, with many guests, it seemed as if they were on Facebook, email or Instagram nonstop.

It was the same way at the restaurants during breakfast, lunch and dinner – people sitting around a table, each in their own world, glued to their personal smart device, consumed by what was on their screen rather than who was in their company.

So, when do these people actually enjoy their vacation?

I am not naïve, and I don’t mean to be narrow-minded or judgmental. I understand the modern smart digital age we live in. I take part in it every day. I use my smartphone too, when not on vacation. In addition, I have three kids who are, or were, teenagers. So, I fully get it.

However, I try very hard to manage and control my smart-device usage and not allow it to manage and control my life. It seems that so may people have reached an unhealthy point, and my vacation people-watching experience definitely confirmed that.

Some people may push back and say, “Being on my smart device doesn’t take away from my vacation, it enhances it,” or “It doesn’t distract me. It helps me relax.”

I don’t buy it!

When people are consumed by their smart devices, they are not meaningfully present in the moment with the people and activities around them. It’s as simple as that – when they are on their smartphones 60-90% of the time, they are fully present with their immediate environment only 40-10% of the time.

Don’t take this the wrong way, I try and take the fullest advantage of these innovations and I value the transformation technology, smart devices and the digital and social media environment is bringing to many areas of my life.

At the same time, I also see the negative affects of technology – people being so occupied by their devises that it compromises their ability to relate, communicate and drive intimacy.

Where are you on this spectrum?

Photo by: Johan Larsson

Why is straight talk so difficult?

I was coaching two entrepreneurs who were partners in a services business. They were very good at what they did and their partnership made them a lot of money and afforded them great market brand and reputation.

However, they had very different personalities and they had an acrimonious relationship for a long time.

Even though their teams had to work closely together, somehow the two managed to navigate the business conversations and activities while staying clear of the need to directly deal with each other on a personal level.

They continued to avoid dealing with their personal conflicts, lack of trust and overall contentious relationship, even though it negatively affected the people under them, as well as the overall effectiveness of their company.

When I talked with each of them alone, they always had lots of blunt criticism and negative comments about each other. But, when the three of us had sessions together, their accusations always seemed watered down. They were not communicating in a straightforward, bold and honest way.

Every time one of them criticized the other I would first ask them, “Have you told your partner how you feel and what you want/need?” and if the answer was “No!”, as it often was, I coached them to go do so.

On several occasions when one of them would report: “We had a blunt conversation and I told my partner exactly how I feel and what I want,” the other would contradict the story and say: “We talked but we didn’t discuss anything new.”

I see this type of dynamic happening in organizations all the time. People can engage in straight talk with me, but then they water it down when they talk to the person with whom they need to have the blunt and direct conversation.

Why does this happen?

From my experience, it is due to one of the following reasons:

  •  People are not clear about what they want to say. When people speak in circles or stumble on words, or when they don’t know which words to use or how to phrase what they mean it is simply because they don’t know what they want to say. Many times, people enter conversations feeling confident about what they want to say but then during the conversation, they realize their thoughts are still half-baked and unclear. People are also unclear when they haven’t quite taken a solid, final stand on something yet. I have seen this happen many times. The minute people become clear about what they believe and want, they always find an appropriate and effective way to say it.

 

  • People are not willing to own what they have to say. They are not willing to own the tough feedback, coaching, assessment or requests they have of others. This may seem a bit simplistic, however, if you net it out, I find that it all somehow boils down to courage. Having the courage to either dig deep and be clear about what we want to achieve and what we want to say, or actually coming out with it even if it may be uncomfortable to the person expressing or the person receiving.

So, next time you find yourself stuck in a conversation ask yourself: “Am I really clear about what I am trying to say?” or “Am I avoiding owning what I have to say?” This will help you move forward.

Do you know where you really live? It could change your life.

Often, people do not pay enough attention to what they say—both publicly and privately. Whether positive or negative, people don’t seem to understand the immense consequences of what they say or think.

I believe most people would agree that positive, optimistic and encouraging conversations uplift and empower their spirits and psyches, whereas negative, cynical conversations have the opposite effect.

However, there is more to the story. What we say and think also have significant repercussions on our overall wellbeing. Certain conversations give us energy while others suck the energy out of us. Have you noticed that some days you are tired at 10am in the morning and other days you are full of energy at 10pm at night?

That is not a coincidence.

Most of the time, our level of energy is not a function of how many hours we slept the night before…or even how hard we worked during the day. In fact, some mornings we jump out of bed full of vitality even when we only slept a few hours. And, some nights we are wide awake even after a long day of hard work.

Our energy, mood and spirit are all shaped by the conversations and thoughts we entertain and dwell in. In fact, we live more in our conversational environment then in our physical environments.

Let me illustrate:

Have you ever been on a conference call while commuting to or from work on the highway and suddenly had a shocking realization that for the previous 20 minutes you were completely not present to what was occurring on the road in front of you?

Have you even taken time off with the intention and desire to fully disengage from work and rejuvenate, but you just couldn’t relax and let go because some issue or interaction at work was still irritating, upsetting and consuming your attention and soul?

We don’t litter, trash or neglect our physical environment because we know that we live in it. But, we do tend to litter, trash and neglect our conversational habitat.

If you accept this premise, you should be more inclined to better care for and manage your conversational environment. You dwell in your conversations so make sure that the conversations you surround yourself with are positive and empowering. Make sure they support, represent and honor who you are.

Here are a few practical things you could do immediately to achieve this:

  1. Don’t participate or initiate gossip, especially when their focus is trashing other people that have a part in your life. Gossip may be valid, but it NEVER makes a difference.
  2. Have the courage to address issues with people quickly, directly and productively. Don’t let issues fester.
  3. Make requests and ask for things instead of complaining about things.
  4. Apologize and clean up your mess when you misbehave. Swallow your pride and don’t let your ego get in the way.
  5. Always have something to look forward to; a goal, project, milestone or event that you are working on that excites you in the present.
  6. Express gratitude, acknowledge and thank people around you every day, especially the people in your personal and professional environment that you respect and love. Don’t be lazy or stingy about that.
  7. Be thankful and count your blessings every day.

 

 

 

 

We sentence ourselves in our sentences

I learned many years ago that how we think and speak about ourselves and others determines the space and mood we live in. Speaking, thinking and even feeling are really very similar in nature. They all involve having a conversation. Thinking and feeling are speaking with yourself. We wouldn’t really know how we feel if we didn’t say to our self “I am sad”, “I am scared” or “I am angry.” And speaking is verbalizing our conversations to others in an interaction.

In the world of conversation, there are two types of conversations: empowering and undermining. Engaging in empowering conversations make us bigger, stronger and more energized. Engaging in undermining conversations, obviously, make us more circumstantial, resigned and cynical.

Sometime the distinction between the empowering and undermining is bluntly clear. For example if someone thinks or says: “I am not good enough,” “I am not smart enough,” or “I will never have a really great marriage or career,” that is obviously a disempowering belief. But, if someone thinks or says: “achieving my project is going to be really hard,” or “its going to take me a really long time to realize my dream,” it may not be as apparent that this too is an undermining paradigm.

One of the reasons why we keep engaging in thoughts and conversations that have a negative impact on us is we don’t do a good job telling facts apart from interpretations. We often engage in undermining conversations about past events, present situations and future possibilities as if we are merely innocently reporting on facts, while in reality everything we are thinking and saying is purely our interpretation.

In fact, many times we set ourselves up for invalidation when we take on an aspirational goal. If we fall short in achieving it, we get sucked into self-deprecating thoughts and feelings about the goal and ourselves.

For example, I have seen people who wanted to better themselves set a bold objective of doubling their income, but ended up achieving 70% of their goal. Even though their achievement was still admirable, they said things like: “What was I thinking” or “I shouldn’t have taken on such a big goal.” I have seen this with many types of goals.

The vicious circle of undermining conversations thickens when we add uncomplimentary conclusions and assign subtle negative meaning to these events. Many times I heard people say things like: “I am just unlucky,” or “Someone like me can’t have that type of success.” These comments are often subtle, but they are harmful. We forget that we are the ones who made up the game in the first place. (Many references to the vague “people.” Do you have a specific story that could work here?)

Furthermore, the way we express our conversations is also often disempowering. When people refer to yesterday’s shortfalls, they often say: “I am failing with this result” or “this is not working” rather than “I failed to achieve this result last month” or “it didn’t work last time.” The first implies “I am a failure,” hence most likely I won’t ever succeed. The other implies “I failed in last month’s goal,” which means nothing about my ability to achieve it in the future. In fact, the second allows us to learn from our shortfall and identify what could be changed, corrected and/or improved in order to succeed in the future.

Lastly, any type of conversation in any area of our life with an explicit or implicit reference to “I am not good enough,” “something is wrong with me,” or “I should be different,” is untrue and more important harmful and destructive.

So, how do we get free from these undermining cycles?

  1. Develop your self-awareness around conversations.
  2. Become aware of the self-deprecating mechanism outlined here, by catching yourself in real-time when you entertain undermining conversations.
  3. Start telling the difference between facts and interpretations.
  4. When you feel, think or say things ask yourself – “is this empowering or disempowering me? You will be able to tell by how you feel about the conversation.
  5. Make sure you are clear that your interpretations no matter how valid they may be, are not true or facts.
  6. When you acknowledge an undermining feeling, thought, or conversations, have the courage to say to yourself “thank you for sharing” and don’t buy into that conversation.
  7. Instead, create an equally valid conversation that does empower you.

The more you practice this the better you will become at it.

Enjoy the ride.

Empower yourself to have more courageous conversations

In last week’s blog I stated that most people in most organizations avoid having the courageous conversations. They want things to change, they want more empowerment, responsibility, involvement and authority, but when push-comes-to-shove they often have diplomatic, watered-down or politically correct conversations.

In private conversations with leaders, managers, and employees in many organizations, most acknowledge that they are not as courageous as they need or want to be.

So, in this post I want to suggest some steps that could empower people and teams to go to the next level in this area:

First step – Fess up – In order to change their behavior, people need to first own up to their current behaviors and dynamics – in this case to their avoidance of courageous conversations. In so many cases, change doesn’t happen because people are either blind to their shortcomings or they are in denial and don’t admit them.

Second step – Embrace your alternate options – Have you heard the saying: “The truth will set you free?” When most people fess up to their shortcomings, gaps or lack of ownership, authenticity and/or courage, they feel relieved. And from that space, they can start thinking about, “So now what?”How else COULD I act and/or behave?” and “What else COULD I do?” For many people, this new space of possibilities is energizing. However, some people prefer to avoid responsibility; they can’t seem to get beyond blaming others and being victims of their circumstances. One very effective way to take ownership is to consider the “benefits” and “cost” of avoiding responsibility for having the courageous conversations. I have elaborated on this several times in previous blogs.

Third step – Make a choice and take a stand – When people own up to their alternate options, they can make real choices – choices about how they will think and behave differently, and what they will, in fact, do differently. Steps one and two are about completing the past. Step three is about creating the future. Making a choice is, in essence, taking a stand; promising a new course of action, launching a new beginning, and propelling oneself to a new trajectory.

Fourth step – Act and behave in accordance with your stand – Authentic choices lead to new actions and behaviors. People can reinvent themselves by following steps one through three and then beginning to act and behave consistent with their stand. In many cases, when the new actions are radically different from the past ones, people feel somewhat awkward, inadequate, and out of their comfort zone. I often refer to this as being “beginners.” They may even need to “fake it till they make it,” at first. However, if they are willing to stay the course and correct themselves when they stumble, fall or screw up, sooner than later the new actions and behaviors will start to become part of their new DNA.

The technology leaders from last week’s blog managed to generate meaningful breakthroughs in elevating the quality and effectiveness of their teamwork and communication by using these steps and increasing their authentic and courageous conversations. They did it together as a team so this made it easier for each of them to step up.

Today, they look forward to their meetings because at least 90% of their time is focused on the essential topics. People feel they can truly affect change. They had that mandate before, but now they feel they have “each other’s permission” and the environment to effectively do so. As a result, the team members feel much more comfortable to engage in whatever conversations that are necessary to reach alignment and make decisions fast. They also started to hold each other to account for commitments and deliverables much more courageously.

 

Are you having the courageous conversations?

The senior leaders of a large and successful technology company wanted to improve their overall effectiveness as a team, including their communications and meeting productiveness. The leaders acknowledged that their conversations and meetings were not where not effective and that included:

(1) The short-term financial updates and immediate fire drills always took over the meeting’s agendas and the team never got to discuss the more strategic topics of opportunity and change,

(2) When the leaders did get to the discussions the same few team members always dominated the conversation and other team members felt unable to contribute,

(3) The team debated issues endlessly without reaching conclusions, alignment and decisions,

(4) Important decisions that affected everyone were made behind the scenes with the same few inner circle team members, and

(5) When the leadership team did make a collective decision (especially change-related) people often didn’t comply, follow up and/or reinforce.

The senior leaders had frustrations with, and complaints about other colleagues in the team. However, for the most part they blamed their boss, the CEO for not “making the meetings productive”, and not “empowering the senior team to make the key decisions”

Meanwhile, the CEO was frustrated because his senior leaders were not having the necessary conversations with each other. They needed to work together and behind the scenes between the meetings to confront things, resolve issues, align on strategies and plans, and hold each other to account for decisions that were made in prior meetings.

Instead, people were escalating the tough issues to him, expecting him to resolve and make the decisions, even on issues the leaders were fully capable of, and empowered to solve. As a result, people felt the meetings were a waste of time because most of the time was spent on reviewing updates and reports, confirming decisions and other mundane topics that could have easily been handled elsewhere.

In short – The leaders were simply avoiding having the courageous conversations.

I see this dynamic at all levels of seniority in most (all) organizations. People want things to change, they want more empowerment, responsibility, involvement and authority, but they are not willing to step up and have the courageous conversations with stakeholders, team members and each other.

Yes, these conversations can be messy, unpredictable and uncomfortable; they could cause tensions, conflicts and even deteriorate trust temporarily or permanently. But the cost of avoiding them – for the leaders – is not being able to provide leadership, make the difference and drive change. And, for the organization, not functioning on all cylinders.

So, how do you change this?

It starts with people owning up to their avoidance of courageous conversations. In next week’s blog I’ll share a framework that works for teams and individuals for starting to take on the courageous conversations.

I will also share the end of the story of the technology leaders and how they generated a meaningful breakthrough in their courageous conversations.

 

Stay tuned…