Listening, with the Intent to Learn

Back in February, I wrote about the topic of smiling and my grocery shopping experiment, which resulted in many positive reactions from others, including myself.  I’m reading a few books right now around the topics of Social Intelligence and Human Connectedness.  As a result of reading these books and the positive outcomes of my smiling experiment, I decided to test what I’ve learned so far, by conducting another social experiment during a party I attended a few weeks ago.Dog Listening

The party I attended was the 40th birthday party of one of my wife’s friends.  I didn’t know anyone at this party, except for the birthday girl.  In addition to celebrating the event with the guest of honor, I also made it a priority to learn as much as I could from as many people as I could that were in attendance.  I started by always having a smile on my face, being approachable with an open body position, introducing myself (and my wife), while asking a simple, yet non-threatening question about how they know the birthday girl.  Throughout our conversation, I did my best to ask lots of questions with the intention of learning as much as I could about each person. At the end of the night, my introverted self was exhausted.  I won’t go into detail about the interesting facts that  people shared with me about themselves, but I believe my social experiment was a success, due to how much fun I had, how much I learned about others (and how much they were willing to share), how many people I spoke with and how much positive reaction I received from those I interacted with.

In reflection, I used many of the coaching techniques that we typically use with our clients, when we are trying to learn about them or a situation they may have. 

I paid conscious attention to all that was being communicated to me.  I provided a receptive environment, listened with the intent of being influenced, and was present.

I listened for: significant content, the heart of the matter, the communication style and preferences of the other person, and what the person already knows.

In addition, I practiced my nonverbal and active listening skills.

For those familiar with the Blanchard’s Coaching Essentials® for Leaders program, what I described above is the “Listen to Learn” portion of the L.I.T.E. model.

What I learned from my little social experiment is that these coaching techniques really work and made for a more entertaining and fulfilling night than if I decided not to use them with the intention to learn about others.

In the comments section below, please share your experiences in using these coaching techniques and the reactions you received from others.  Thanks!

Managerial Courage

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What does it take to be able to say what needs to be said, when it needs to be said, and to whom it must be said? Managerial Courage. This leadership competency is an essential topic for leadership development programs, and is a central focus for many executive coaching initiatives.

I’ve recently been coaching two leaders who’ve been identified as possessing “high potential” for advancement in their organization. In assessing which leadership competencies they must develop, each leader, along with their respective bosses, has aligned on the topic Managerial Courage. But that is where the similarities end! When asked, each leader defines the stuff of managerial courage differently. And each of their bosses do, too.

Listening to each, I hear assorted aspects of what is to be achieved through our coaching:

  • To respond more swiftly in real time (because they are over-thinking and staying silent)
  • To trust they will be listened to when speaking (because they are accustomed to NOT talking)
  • To believe their contributions are “legitimate” (because they over-value others, and under-value their own contributions)
  • To learn to be uncomfortable, and more visible (because they have become too comfortable in familiar spaces)
  • To behave more authentically (because they hide behind their positions and titles)

Discomfort abounds when a leader has to “get out of a comfort zone,” and that’s ok. However, anxieties increase when leaders fear “managerial courage” means they have to change their essence. I assure them they do NOT have to trade their stripes for spots! Their essence is who they are—and our coaching is to have them increase their own knowledge of who they are, what matters to them, why, and why that should matter to the people in their workplace. Courage begets courage—and the etymology of the word says it all—it comes from the heart.

The first step to increase managerial courage isn’t to “just do” the things I’ve bulleted above.  The first step to increase managerial courage calls on the leader to examine his or her heart, and see what really matters. The second step is to share it.  Heart speaks to heart.

The Power of Observational Feedback

By Linda Miller, MCC

When you think about giving feedback, what’s your first response?  Mine is, “Do I HAVE to??”  Making observational feedback can help. Observational feedback is information that’s shared without a request for change. It’s just an observation. For example, “You seemed quieter than usual in the meeting this morning. Hope everything is ok.”  Or, “Your energy level is different, and it looks like you’re enjoying the new project.”Monkeys

Observational feedback gives information that may not be otherwise recognized by the person receiving it.  It can confirm something that’s going on or point out something new. The best observational feedback is non-judgmental and timely. It’s a data point.  Our hypothesis is that if we increase the positive and observational feedback, it will decrease the need for feedback asking for a behavior request or change.

Last week, I had the privilege of working with some very talented managers.  During one of the sessions, we asked the managers to give each other observational feedback. Here’s a response from one of the participants: “When we were giving observational feedback to each other, someone gave me some feedback that I always knew but finally heard.  I can’t wait to start applying everything that I have learned.”  That’s the power of observational feedback.  Try it. Notice what happens.

Coaching is Not…

Many clients are unclear of what to expect from coaching.  Some of my clients come to their first coaching sessions expecting me to tell them what to do, focus on their past behaviors, or fix them.  I explain coaching focuses on the present, goal setting, and forward movement.  As a coach, I view my clients as naturally, creative, resourceful and whole.  They have the solution.  They may not realize it, but they do!  It is my job to help them uncover the solution and to create action.

A colleague from the local ICF Chapter created the below distinctions between Coaching and other service professions.

What other distinctions stand out for you?

Therapist:  Can deal with past patterns that don’t work and with intense emotions; Analyzes problems to find out “why?”; Often focuses on non-functional behaviors; Model: something is wrong that needs fixing

Coach:  Focuses on present and future; Questions rather than analyzes; Approaches client as a whole healthy human being; Model: curiosity drives questions to help the client discover his/her own strengths and greatness

Mentor: Has a stake in the outcome; Is viewed as the expert; Typically has a student-teacher duality; Focused on career successes and progress; Gives advice and shows how to do

Coach:  Detached from outcome; Partners with client in learning; Finds out what is important to the client in the journey; Emphasis on contribution to the whole person

Manager:  Primary objective is the company’s mission; Focused on the career area and achievement; Has a large stake in the outcome; Provides solutions, direction and advice; Transmits information from one level of the organization to another

Coach:  Primary objective is the client’s well-being and success; Helps client understand the link between personal mission and company mission; Focuses on the entire person, all life areas; Is detached from the outcome; Does not problem solve, provide solutions or advice; Keeps information confidential

Consultant:  Has specific area of expertise; Shares expertise with the client; Gives advice and/or solutions; Consultant does the work

Coach:  Facilitates the process of creating awareness and responsibility; Helps the client learn how to find solutions; Client does the work

 

Get Your Needs Met

What is the benefit in the need to pretend that one has no needs? Huh? The energy spent in pretending we have no needs is astonishing. But, sadly, it can be seen every day at work and at home. Let’s just cut to the core of the matter:

  • All humans have needs (ask Abraham Maslow if you don’t believe me)
  • The idea of being called “needy” is terrifying to most adults
  •  Many of us were raised to be embarrassed by our needs, so therefore we may deny their very existence
  •  Even if we have denied the needs, our unconscious will drive our behavior to get them met…and this wreaks havoc—on us, and those around us
  •  Guess what? Everyone else can see our needs anyway!
  •  It’s “cleaner” to identify each need and get it met appropriately, than to deny it

Since we were little, all of us have had encounters with rude, whiny, and demanding people. Our parents and teachers have pronounced that these folks are SELFISH. The lesson? “I don’t want to ever be talked about like that.” So, we proceed through life, ignoring, denying and dismissing our needs.
The punch line, though, is the needs do not go away. Psychologist Linda Berens notes that when needs are not met, an “individual is drained of energy and suffers dissatisfaction or stress.”  Taking the responsibility to get one’s own needs identified and then satisfied is the opposite of being needy!  It will renew your energy and remove your stress.

Here’s just such an example:
I coached a vice president of sales who had been enjoying great success in attaining her sales goals, but found herself feeling increasingly fussy and uninspired. Her frustrations were spilling out in work meetings and around her kitchen table, too. In questioning her about her activities, I learned that she is a master gardener. However, over the years, she had pruned back her time in the garden because of the demands from work. A-ha! In our coaching work, we were able to identify her unmet needs: to create beauty, order, and to be a master. She realized that returning to the garden would meet those needs in a more satisfactory way than expecting her sales force or children to meet them for her. Within weeks, her team noted that she was less prickly and more developmental in her leadership.
Returning to the garden suitably met a number of her needs…but she deserved to have ALL of her needs met. I asked her to consider where else her need for order could be satisfied. So, she decided to institute a family calendar in the kitchen, and the children chose their own color for the markers which would signify their disparate activities. She also concluded that the need to be a master is more graciously attained in the garden than in her book club.

How about you?
Think about a recent time when you found yourself behaving in a way you really can’t explain or disregard. Now, grab your pencil and start answering the following questions:

  • What was your behavior?
  • What need was not getting met?
  • What did it cost you in the eyes of others?
  • If this need were met, how would you conduct yourself?
  • Who can help you to get this need met?

Make Your Thinking Visible

By Linda Miller, MCC

While teaching a coaching class this past week, a participant said, “This is what I’d like to say to my coaching partner, ‘I have feedback for you, and my intent is for your development, not to hurt you.’ But, how should I say it?”  My response was simple: I encouraged her to say it exactly like that!Lightbulb

When we put our intent into the statement, we make our thinking visible. In this case, it means sharing our motive.  Making our thinking visible is a powerful way of communicating.  I first learned of this concept many years ago from Kepner-Tregoe  where it is included in the 4 characteristics of world class organizations.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if others made their thinking visible to us? How many times do we try to guess what is meant or what the motive is?  How much miscommunication might be avoided if we make our thinking visible?

Here’s the challenge for all of us, me included:  Let’s be intentional to make our thinking visible for 24 hours and notice what happens!  I’ll accept that challenge, starting immediately.  How about you?

Hard, Solid Thinking Pains

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”Martin Luther King

As I pondered Dr. King’s quote, I realized many of my clients have experienced a lack of hard, solid thinking.  I am also guilty of it.  Due to competing priorities and time constraints, some clients perceive they cannot take the necessary time to engage in hard, solid thinking and reflection.  They want quick solutions.  Some clients come up with “half-baked” solutions that do not solve their root issues.  For example, I worked with a client (client gave approval to share) who was not getting the direction and support she needed from her manager.  Her first solution was to ask others for help since her manager was so busy and frequently gave her positive feedback.  As we delved deeper into what she wanted and needed from her manager, she focused her thinking and reflected deeply.  She uncovered she needed to take more control of leading her meetings with her manager.  She created a strategy for her meetings to get what she needed to increase her effectiveness in her role.  As a result, she created a stronger partnership with her manager while taking control and changing her behaviors.  The client’s strategy surfaced over time as she became more intentional and gained clarity on her purpose.  Hard thinking involves a laser focus on an issue until a solid strategy or solution is uncovered.

A coach’s role is to encourage, challenge, and ask thought-provoking questions that lead the client into solid thinking, self-reflection, and awareness.  A coach does not serve her client by promoting the “easy” solution. Solid thinking is about understanding the true purpose, impact, and outcomes of the issue.  It is intentionally thinking through an issue over time.

Hard, solid thinking can be painful, time consuming, and definitely rewarding.  In order to achieve your goals and Dreams, take a step back and do some hard thinking.  Remember, Dr. Martin Luther King had a Dream…!!