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

 

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…!!

Gotcha!

ImageI cancelled my cable service a few weeks ago—I just don’t watch much TV and it was silly to continue this monthly expense. 

I was asked “Why?” when I called the cable provider to cancel.  I was asked “Why?” when I drove to the service center to return my cable box.  I was asked “Why?” again via a customer service automated phone survey two days after my trip to the service center.

Today, I was phoned by a real person employed by a survey company hired by my former cable provider to again answer the question “Why?” did I cancel my cable.  Now, in every instance I was asked additional questions beyond the initial “Why?”  While in my first encounter I was asked only about five questions, by today the interview script had swelled to at least 20 questions.  Although the repetitiveness of the “Why?” question remained, it ceased to be the predominant reason for the surveys.  Instead, “what was your experience with the [most recent] service representative?” had become the real focus.    

Now, of course it is a pretense to be asked about my (non)use of a service as a guise to collect feedback on a customer service representative interaction.  But this was getting silly—every time they engaged me, they had to re-engage me to inquire about my most recent experience with them!

So, all you customer service folks who value the collection of feedback for your representatives, PLEASE consider what it does to the customers whom you’ve ensnared in a Mobius loop!

But that is just an aside…the purpose of this blog is to tell you what happened after I talked to the person today.  She was actually amazed that I had taken the call (between bites of my lunch, but she didn’t know that).  After the twentieth question, she summed up with:  “Would you mind responding to one more call?  My supervisor may call you to be sure that I actually had conducted this interview.”

Wow.  Ken Blanchard has built his company espousing the value of catching people doing things right.  This was exactly the opposite!

So here are some questions I offer for your consideration:

  • In your communications, are you treating the other person as a data mine? 
  • How would it differ if you treated her or him as a real person? 
  • Are you clear in what you are seeking?
  • Are you focused on what is working well? 
  • Are you building trust, or playing “gothcha!” with your questions? 
  • Are you truly sharing feedback, or are you manipulating one circumstance to justify questions for another circumstance? 
  • Do you mean it when you say “thank you” to the other?

And trust me, I won’t have your supervisor follow up on whether you answered the above questions or not!

Do You Want to Tango?

Tango dancing can be free flowing, energizing, and expressive.  And, downright fun!  There is a leader and a follower.  The follower decides how to respond to the leader in the moment.  It is a collaborative process, which encourages the development of sensitivity, clarity, trust and respect.Tango Picture

A coaching session is similar to a tango dance between a coach and client. A coach is skilled to follow the client in the moment and artfully take the lead.  The key for the coach is to be completely present. The coach’s full attention is on the client while silencing his/her background noise, thoughts, and opinions.  A coach is actively listening and naturally responding from his/her intuition or ‘gut’.  Based on the client’s responses and reactions, the coach will take the lead through asking thought-provoking questions and challenging perspectives.  The coach tangos with the client by carefully leading when appropriate and mostly following in order to create an exploratory, rejuvenating, and possibly, empowering discussion.

Do you tango in a business meeting?  Are you always the lead?  Can you follow?

In order to foster collaboration, trust and respect, it is important to know when to put your thoughts and opinions aside to truly understand and explore the other person’s message.  You consciously make the decision to follow the person in his/her thoughts and ask questions that delves deeper.  You are curious in your questions and responses.  This enhances and expands the two-way dialogue. The discussion becomes energizing!   As a result, there is a clear understanding of the message, an increased awareness, and, possibly, ideas and/or solutions are uncovered that may not have been considered.

Who is your next Tango partner?