Posts Tagged ‘effective decision making’
Posted January 26th, 2014 by The Steve Alexander Group
We thought we had been completely clear on our dinner order. Then everything quickly tumbled out of control, with tempers flaring and a rush headlong into the ‘right/wrong’ paradigm I teach about in my coaching and teambuilding training. “Okay, here it comes,” I thought to myself, as others around the table seemed to grasp for help.
We started out for our last dinner with the team I was training in Florida. I’ve been working with them for over a dozen years, so lots of history and warm camaraderie around the big round table. We asked, given it was an unusually nice French restaurant in seemingly the middle-of-nowhere, if anyone wanted or had ever tasted escargot. With mixed replies, some willing to try, some salivating and others with a nonverbal cue to keep it far from their plate, we asked the delightful French waiter – a short, squat, grey-haired 70-plus year-old gentleman who spoke his English with a great French accent – right out of central casting, if we might have enough escargot to share among nine of us. He wrote it down and disappeared into the kitchen.
The wine was selected, conversation deepened, time passed and out came the owner of the restaurant with nine separate servings of a half-dozen escargot in each dish!
Eyes widened around the table (no one of the decliners lurched for the restroom, however you could see it in their faces) and the nonverbal responses entered into a din of dialogue that quickly turned to finger-pointing!
“Who ordered all this escargot?” “I didn’t want any.” “We can’t eat all this!” The noise level rapidly shot up. And, of course, the level of ‘listening’ went down right along with the comprehension. After a brief point, everyone turned to me and begged, “Steve, you’re our facilitator, please fix this!”
I turned to the owner and said, “There’s been a misunderstanding. We wanted enough escargot to share among nine of us, not separate servings of nine each.” To which he replied, “No, you did not.”
Our journey begins.
I suggested, due to the miscommunication, how about he leave us with four or five of the servings, to which our delightful French waiter replied something along the lines of “You are wrong! You absolutely ordered nine servings.” (My command of French is slight; my study and reading of human body language allows me to conclude there are certain universal ‘words’ that are clear no matter the spoken word!)
He pointed to his pad and with great emotion told us we CLEARLY ordered nine servings of escargot.
At least the point of this post should be clear by now. How quickly communication can be confused, how miscommunication can arise. And how quickly we jump to that ‘right/wrong’ paradigm (if I am right, you must be wrong, and vice versa).
Of course, once the dialogue (shouting, pleading, etc.) settled down, and the Frenchman came over to me and confided how difficult it was to work for the owner, who was often quick to allow his temper to rise, and how much trouble he was in, I assured him we would do all possible to help.
After time passed and temperatures cooled, and the main courses were delivered and deemed with perfection, I called over the waiter and announced that we’d had the best service of any of our experiences while gathered in this little corner of the world, and felt a part of our Frenchman’s family. Our group gave him a loud, heartfelt round of applause, to which everyone in the restaurant turned to see what was happening. We thanked him profusely for his patience with our language, and left him with a warmth and gratitude that was as important to us as it was to him.
I brought him close and whispered to him that I would talk to the owner and explain as well.
When the owner came by at the end of the meal to ask how it was, we told him, out of everywhere we’d been (the irony being we had other dinner plans and only selected his because the place we were going didn’t seem suitable), this was truly the best, and what made it so was our delightful, personable, engaging and dedicated waiter, who, in spite of the miscommunication, OUR miscommunication, made our evening the most memorable of all.
Ms. Communication actually turned into a great hostess who gave each of us – team members, waiter and owner – a glimpse into our own ability to unwittingly make communication blunders. It became a positive experience in how, instead of seeking blame, fault or cause, we may instead focus on the desired outcomes and the purpose of our communication. We even perceived the broader context of why and how we were gathered together and the potential to learn from one another and our circumstances.
When we move to cause and blame, we too often lose sight of the bigger picture. And everyone goes away a loser. With a less-than-positive experience and a ‘having-missed-something’ outcome.
Our French waiter became our teacher. We, part of the classroom that now extended from the retreat center to our evening dinner. Each of us was in some way affected, appreciative and better for it.
What’s happened in your life recently where Ms. Communication has visited? Where are the opportunities, in both big and small ways, to take a breath, self-reflect and find your way, with others, to better understanding, patience, insight and growth?
We all have those ‘escargot’ moments in our lives. Keep searching for how you can better approach the moment so the outcome leaves everyone satisfied, even enriched for having been a part of the experience.
P.S. If you’re curious about how we actually resolved the escargot quandary, let us know!
Posted November 10th, 2013 by The Steve Alexander Group
I’m not sure who said that. My brother has reminded me of it in many of our conversations.
The more professional coaching work I do these days, the more I remind others of it as well.
We seem to want to focus on what others need to do. To make us happy. To give us what we want. To change to make our lives more comfortable. Easier. Less complicated or conflicted. And yet it’s these very expectations that leave us feeling like we didn’t get what we wanted.
As the old Zen lesson reminds us, “Have no expectations, get no disappointments.” What if we lived a day without expecting anything from anyone else in our lives? Instead, what if we asked ourselves what we might do to bring pleasure, peace of mind, some small gesture of caring and concern to others in our lives?
With friends last evening I watched the movie “About Time,” a delicate romantic comedy with a science fiction time-travel twist. One touching moment, upon realizing there were limits to his time travel, our protagonist had to learn something from his father (brilliantly performed by the masterful Bill Nighy).
Though he had the ability to travel to anywhere in the past, instead of looking for the big moments, instead live each day twice, once as he lived it and once again, going back and looking for those moments within each day to find and give to others some simple pleasure, some small opportunity for happiness in between the spaces of what we normally live through in the course of a day.
How the day changed. No expectations. No disappointments. Beyond that, giving without expecting to ‘get’ something in return.
Can you live a day like that? At work? Home? In line at the coffee shop while you’re in a hurry to get to where you need to be next? In spite of the problems or challenges you’re facing? Or the ‘important’ work you’re doing? Or the many things on that long list of ‘To Dos” you need to get to?
I know we’re all busy. How many times do I find myself rattling off a list of all the important things I’m doing with clients when others ask how I’m doing.
What if you took a day and made a conscious effort to expect nothing from anyone or anything. And instead focused on how you might fulfill someone else’s needs and desires. For a conversation. An extra bit of comfort. Time. Care. Love.
I’m going to give it a try today. How about you?
Posted November 18th, 2011 by Steve Alexander
I recently attended another Cinema Society of San Diego event run by my friend Andy Friedenberg. I’m not sure how he does it; his timing is impeccable when it comes to delivering movies just right for our times. Thanks, Andy!
After posting my recent blog about dysfunctional group dynamics, and receiving so many responses about how useful it was to folks, personally and professionally, Andy delivered with a touching, tender, poignant and timely movie called “Being Elmo” that was right on point!
So, why Elmo? The movie (releasing late December 2011, and you won’t want to miss it) is about an eight-year-old boy’s dream; a dream to become a puppeteer. More than that, it’s about the soul of this boy and how his character, whom we later learn is Elmo, reaches full expression in his life. Through Elmo, he touches a world of children and adults with love, compassion and care. His message is one of acceptance without judgment. No labels, criticism, put-downs or name-calling. How refreshing. And how timely.
The heart and soul of Kevin Clash, the tender, compassionate, caring boy whose dream actually becomes Elmo, is the heart and soul of this character we see develop on screen. We learn how congruent this is for Kevin and Elmo’s lives, if you will. By the way, Kevin is not a ventriloquist, putting a voice into a lifeless puppet, he’s a real, live human being putting his own heart and soul into Elmo. Touching lives. Caring. Carrying a message that says, “We’re basically all alike, regardless of who we are and where we come from; take the time to see that in others, see their dreams and hopes, and encourage and care for them.”
I never watched Sesame Street, Elmo’s home, only because I was from a different era. Learning about Kevin Clash, and his “Elmo,” gave me an appreciation for how much we could use his message in our tension-filled world, and in our distracted lives. How much we could all use a little compassion, unconditional acceptance and positive regard.
And maybe a re-visit to Sesame Street.
One of the many benefits of Cinema Society is we often meet the writers, directors, actors, producers and others connected with a film. We did that night. And also met 51-year-old Kevin Clash, who fulfilled his dream, and still carries that heart and soul on his sleeve, and, of course, in Elmo.
Listening to him talk, watching him connect with the audience, both in and out of character, was an inspiration. I’d like to take him to a few meetings with me; the tough ones I facilitate, where opinions and egos get in the way of sharing, caring and collaborative, mutual gains problem-solving. Kevin (in the character of Elmo) has a lot to say, and do, to help us in these challenging times, when communication has become so tragically dysfunctional.
I walked away that night with a refreshing sense of hope. I was touched by Kevin, even more, his Elmo. And it made me wonder if he couldn’t inspire in all of us a little more, to find that place in our hearts and souls, for reaching out to someone, friend or foe, and practicing in our own lives a little more… of Being Elmo!
Posted October 30th, 2011 by The Steve Alexander Group
It’s a shame that phrase has become so trivialized and impugned because of the circumstances under which it became part of our modern-day vernacular. Otherwise, it could truly serve as a plea for sanity at a time when dialogue between reasonably intelligent, well-intentioned people has veered off into a world of unbelievable disrespect. I’m not the first to comment about the condition of today’s public discourse, and I won’t be the last. Hopefully, however, with some easy-to-apply tips, we all might challenge ourselves to a higher standard.
I was recently asked by a reporter to comment on a situation involving a community planning group and the level of apparent dysfunction they’ve reached, including personal insults, name-calling, nasty emails and the like. The article, “Political infighting plagues Alpine panel,” appeared in The San Diego Union-Tribune and explains the kinds of behaviors that often occur in today’s public arena, whether it’s an advisory group, governmental body, in blog posts in response to news stories, etc.
I recently read somewhere that much of what has happened is that, due to the growth of electronic communications, we’ve learned to treat ‘people’ represented at the end of those communication venues as if they were themselves machines. Unfeeling, unconscious, unaffected machines. Thus, an email isn’t to a person. It’s the pounding away on a keyboard, with all the anger, frustration, ill-will and worse that gets conjured up inside us at times. Were folks sitting in the same room, face-to-face, it might just temper the words we use and the sometimes strength of emotion we use to convey them.
A few questions to ask yourself next time you communicate:
- How would I treat this person if they were my best friend?
- What can I say or do that would actually help in this situation?
- Is it possible I’m not seeing something that might give me a different perspective on the issue?
- What can I learn from someone who doesn’t think like me, doesn’t share my values, life experiences and world-view?
- If I let go of who’s right and who’s wrong, and instead focus on doing the right thing, how does that change my actions and words?
A few tips, many you’ve heard before, however, worth repeating:
1) Stop, take a deep breath (or three) before saying or doing anything. Just this pause alone will give you time to think, maybe even lower your blood pressure and act more kindly and thoughtfully.
2) Consider the difference between a reaction (quick, thoughtless, emotional, gives control and responsibility to the other person, blames, diminishes the likelihood of a resolution to conflicts, etc.) vs. a response (strategic, thoughtful, unemotional, seeks resolutions, puts you in control of your emotions and actions), and seek always a response to events and conflicts.
3) Take FULL responsibility for your part of the interaction and relationship (more on this in another post) instead of blaming or seeking change in the other person.
4) Remember, you are emailing, talking, blogging, tweeting, etc. a REAL HUMAN BEING, a person with feelings, albeit their world-view may be different than yours, they are of the same species, and like you, they mostly want to be heard, understood and appreciated for who they are.
5) Avoid the right/wrong paradigm (if they’re right, I must be wrong and vice versa), and instead, look for the nexus in your ideas; in the case of this story about Alpine, for example, what do we have in common in our love for our community, our vision for the next generation and what they’ll inherit from our hard work and dedication, etc.?
6) Remember, you can’t always be right. Sometimes you have to ask yourself if being right is more important than being happy and protecting your own serenity. After all, being at peace with what’s happening is within your power and it’s your decision, not someone else’s.
Granted, it’s not easy to be the first one to take the high road. However, with a new way of approaching our discourse, perhaps we’ll have healthier discussions, greater self-respect as well as respect for others. If it even nudges us slightly away from the aggressive tone we’ve adopted in our public discourse, won’t it have been worth it?
Interestingly, guess what the most common response is to my comments in this recent article from friends, colleagues and clients who read it! “Can’t you and those who do what you do descend upon Congress and get them to practice this stuff? They really need your help!” Well, we may not be able to do that. What each of us can do, however, is make an individual commitment, and since, as it’s said, ‘we elect the government we deserve,’ perhaps we can make a change in the discourse there, too. It can’t hurt to try.
Posted August 29th, 2010 by Steve Alexander
Just did another senior management training last week and the topic always comes up – what about email? How do we manage it, use it, control it, keep from getting buried by it and fix communications that get broken by it… the list of questions, comments and consternation goes on and on. The 29 August 2010 Sunday column, Corner Office by Adam Bryant, includes a comment about email (along with a number of other key insights Bryant’s weekly column provides) from Kasper Rorsted, the CEO at Henkel, a consumer and industrial products company, so I thought it was time to underscore some tips from an earlier post and make a point about email and the importance of face-to-face communications.
Email is NOT dialogue! It is not a substitute for honest, open, transparent communication. Email is two-way monologue, where one person gets to make their point, state their case, convey information, thoughts, feelings or whatever, without the benefit of the other person being present. Email is NOT a short-cut for communication. It is a form of communication, however, designed for one-way transmittal.
Remember: There is no substitute for direct, face-to-face communication, especially when an issue warrants it. For example, anything that affects your organization’s mission, vision, values, goals and deals with major strategies, decisions or compromises them requires direct, real-time communication. Personnel issues, challenges and coaching opportunities – set a meeting. Major problems with a product or service – set a meeting. Customer/member/client complaints – set a meeting.
Don’t let email get the best of you. It’s your job to manage it, rather than it managing you. Use it wisely as a tool for information transfer, not as a comprehensive communications program. There’s no substitute for getting up from your desk and making contact, or setting up time to communicate, face-to-face, with people! Use your email wisely so it’s not being misused by you or others.
P.S. Try adopting Henkel CEO Rorsted’s tip on deleting ALL email where you are only in the cc line. His point: being in the copy line is often only for someone’s ‘cover’ and if they want to connect with you, those emails should be To: you. Try it for a couple weeks and let me know if your email flow is more manageable, and if it helps make your communications more productive, valuable and meaningful.
Posted August 8th, 2010 by Steve Alexander
A common issue in my work with boards and chief executives is the challenge of micromanaging. It’s something that happens as well with parents, supervisors, co-workers, peers and others. What’s at the root of it all and how do we know when it’s happening? Truth be told, micromanagers are often aware of what they’re doing; like any addictive behavior, they just can’t seem to help themselves!
If you’re a micromanager, ask yourself what the underlying emotion is that drives the behavior. Using the ‘think, feel and do’ exercise from an earlier post, call a meeting with yourself. How we act is more a result of what we feel rather than what we think. If we’re ‘feeling’ frustrated, for example or overwhelmed and out of control, we’re more likely to ‘think’ we can ‘do’ something about the little things, and sometimes even the big ones, however, these are not often the important things.
So, we ‘manage’ the details instead of stepping back, recognizing what’s really going on…and most importantly, and letting go. Empowering, rather than managing, others.
We all have our tell-tale signs. I bet if you take that meeting with yourself, you’ll be able to write down a few of yours.
And if you’re the one being micromanaged, remember, it’s not about you! Work with your supervisor, board, spouse, parent and ask the more critical question: What is the result or outcome we need in this situation? Then, when you’ve created clarity about that, encourage the micromanager to empower you to come up with some acceptable solutions (not how you get there and myriad of details along the way!) and offer an agreeable timeline for delivering results.
Let me know how it goes next time you experiment with your new behavior!
Posted June 6th, 2010 by Steve Alexander
I was recently asked to attend and facilitate a small planning meeting. Before we got started, one of the attendees asked the question, “Why am I here?”I could tell it was not about the meaning of life nor was it rhetorical! It actually startled everyone, and I realized immediately not everyone was on the same page as the person who ‘called’ the meeting (in our business that’s commonly referred to as the ‘convener’).
Meetings are one of the biggest issues I hear folks in my world talk about, question and criticize. In fact, the word ‘meeting’ and the phrase ‘waste of time’ are often either synonymous or at least heard in the same sentence. Rarely do people seek my services because they have such great meetings and just want to make them even better. Usually, as part of the executive coaching, team-building process and overall improvement program, they want to know how to make their meetings work.
The question was one of the most direct ways I’d heard of asking that series of questions we should all ask when we’re planning to attend or, if it can’t be done prior, actually attending a meeting. Why am I here? What value do I add? What value will this meeting add to my work, what I need to produce for the company, how I support my peers, satisfy my customers, enhance my skills, etc.? Is this a meeting I need to be in face-to-face? Can the results be achieved in some other manner that’s less costly and time-consuming and more effective? What’s expected as a result of my attendance? What will I do differently, more of/less of, as a result of this meeting? You ever ask yourself these questions? Out loud? In front of your peers? Try it.
It’s the convener’s job (remember, that’s the person who calls the meeting) to be crystal clear about the meeting purpose: what key outcome(s) need to be achieved that warrant(s) those in attendance being there to achieve that purpose. The second job of the convener is to select the right participants. Who is, and why are they, necessary to achieve that purpose? This isn’t determined by title or even the job they hold in the organization. It’s more important to consider what ‘value add’ each participant will have to achieving that meeting purpose. Another key question for the convener is what exactly do we need to accomplish in the meeting, and how should the meeting be structured to accomplish that, in order to fulfill the meeting purpose? Finally, ask what materials and information participants need to have in advance and/or at the meeting to wisely use their time and produce the outcome. (This is guided by the proviso that a meeting should never be used to ‘read’ information to participants!)
If you’re a convener, don’t call your next meeting without answering these questions. If you’re a meeting participant, don’t be afraid to startle your colleagues and the convener with this critical question, “Why am I here?” If you want to be part of effective, high-energy, high-impact meetings, apply this simple question and encourage a business culture that supports it. Your company, co-workers, customers and you deserve it!
Posted May 2nd, 2010 by Steve Alexander
A client and friend recently sent me a Harvard Business Review article, titled “The Acceleration Trap.” Important reading if you’re leading a company or organization and you’ve gotten caught up in the ‘more is more’ addiction and find yourself multi-tasking and using technology to ‘stay in touch’ at all times. The reason the concepts they highlight are so startling is that the authors have studied the impact all this 24/7 ‘in-touchness’ can and is having on the work environment. What we think is making us more productive is actually hampering our effectiveness… and there’s a big difference between being efficient (for example, staying in touch at all times with lightning speed response to e-mails, tweets, texts, etc.) versus being effective (actually achieving productive, meaningful, tangible, mission-driven results).
I facilitate a lot of medium to large meetings, retreats, team-building and training sessions, strategic planning events and other types of in-person meetings, including some with just one or two people. For years we’ve been applying some common-sense ground rules about the use of technology in those sessions, the importance of being ‘present’ to have effective interaction with peers and team members and how to productively engage with others in a way that creates meaningful outcomes. Technology, and its applications that try to keep us in touch with what’s happening ‘outside the room’ can actually be a big deterrent in those settings. With some playful and thought-initiating exercises and ground rules, we establish an important commitment from participants to connect with those in the room.
I’ve had more friends and colleagues admit their e-mail addictions recently than ever before. So, what can we do to make ourselves the master of the technology we have at our disposal rather than how it’s become/becoming our master? How do we avoid the pitfalls of multi-tasking and re-learn how to focus and regain effectiveness (and our sanity!) and how to be present in the moment?
Some simple tips: 1) Read the HBR article. It will get your attention if you’re responsible for your or others’ results and the achievement of goals and priorities. 2) Ask yourself, when you’re with someone else or in a group setting, how important is it really that I check the latest e-mail, news, tweet or some other external information source? How will that add value to who I am with and what I’m doing at this moment? 3) Learn to be present… in the moment, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, to ensure you are truly (intellectually and emotionally) connected to the person(s) with whom you’re supposed to be communicating and interacting. 4) Disconnect on purpose. Plan some times when you are completely off the technology grid. Use the time with family, friends, peers and colleagues. Or even invest in time to be alone. 5) Build a habit of shutting off your ‘connected devices’ when you’re in a meeting and invest instead in actively listening and engaging in the discussion. You were asked to be present because your presence matters. Make it matter intentionally. 6) When you find yourself getting caught up in the ‘acceleration trap’, ask yourself if doing more is the same as achieving more. Create and apply a litmus test that will guide you to determine if more and faster actually equals better.
Bottom line: It’s up to you to make time to take a break from the pace and impact that our technological connection has created. Stop to smell the roses. Just promise you won’t snap a picture of the roses on your iPhone and tweet it to your Facebook friends!
Posted April 22nd, 2010 by Steve Alexander
In my last post, I mentioned I’d re-visit the concept of The Platinum Rule®. First, let me give credit where credit’s due, The Platinum Rule® was created by Dr. Tony J. Alessandra and is a registered trademark. His work is pioneering, as it shifts the entire focus from ourselves to others. The Platinum Rule® simply states, “Do Unto Others As THEY Want Done Unto Them.” What it does is force us to think outside ourselves, requiring an empathic connection to the hearts, minds and souls of those folks with whom we’re interacting. It helps us seek to understand, rather than to be understood.
Why does that matter to you? Well, in that simple re-framing, we’re able to step back and examine from a different set of values, perspective and experience. Other than our own. And that’s where the magic begins.
I did a training for city department directors on how to manage difficult people. One jokingly said, “We’d all be fine if we didn’t have to deal with the public!” We all knew it was a form of gallows humor. And we all knew there was some truth to the view and experience that this person shared. Of course, we can get jaundiced by the day-to-day of complaints, criticism and sometimes downright ruthlessness when we’re in those kinds of public interface careers. So, it’s important to stop and ask ourselves, “What does this person need?” “What’s given rise to their complaint or problem?” “Why am I in this unique spot at this specific moment in time?”
With that insight, we begin to lay the foundation for applying The Platinum Rule®: “How can I be of service in helping them get their needs met, in helping them get what they want out of their interaction with me, my company and its product or services, or my organization, or the government service I represent to them?”
Why The Platinum Rule® works so well is because it’s contagious. Don’t take my word for it. Check it out. Apply it. Experiment in your job, at home, with your friends. Watch what happens when you start asking, “What do they need and want; how does their world look from their perspective?” And then follow-up with action, thoughts and words based on a view of how to “do unto them as they want done unto them.”
Take a test drive for the next few days; let me know how it feels. What you think. And how it works. I promise this, no matter what. It will be different.
Posted April 18th, 2010 by Steve Alexander
When you’re responsible for a meeting, whether it’s a one-on-one or a group, in-person or by phone, teleconference, etc., try this effective technique for driving solid, measurable results from the time and effort you’ll spend with your meeting participant(s). The process can be used in a brainstorm session with others who are involved in designing and making the meeting successful, or you can do it on your own. The key element is to do it in writing until you’re crisp, clear and focused on the three outcomes from the following question.
“Thinking about the participants (again, this can be a meeting with one or more), what do I want him/her/them to think, feel and do as a result of this meeting?” Sounds simple enough, right? Now try it quickly with an upcoming meeting you’ve generated or one you’re planning.
First, what do I want them to think: Depending on your meeting, you should come up with “I” statements as to what the person(s) should be thinking about you, your fellow meeting planners, your proposal, project, etc. “I like this idea!” “I believe this will provide us what we need.” “I want to hear more.” “I like the thoughtfulness that’s gone into this proposal.” The more “thoughts” you generate that connect with the feelings you want to elicit and the action you want to lead to, the better.
Second, what do I want them to feel: People are often motivated by the feelings generated during an experience. Feelings are typically one-word statements like, “confidence,” “encouraged,” “excited,” “invested,” “respected,” “trust,” etc. You get the idea. Any time you follow a feeling by the word “that,” “like,” “as,” or similar words, you know you have a thought, not a feeling. Put those responses back in the first category.
Finally, what do I want them to do: Based on the thoughts and feelings you’ve created by your presentation, discussion, interaction, etc., you should end up with a crisp, concise, thoughtful and strategic “do” from this session. Homing in on this will help you build the discipline to use your and your audience’s time wisely, respectfully and productively. The length, format, venue, number of participants, etc. for the meeting don’t matter.
Next time you’re planning a meeting, even if it’s a stand-up five minutes, use this brief exercise wisely, complete it in advance and write it down. You’ll quickly find your meetings generating thoughtful results and engaging your participants respectfully and productively.
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