Hey Enlightened Managers!
I've been doing a lot of communication skills training this year, and one of the hardest lessons that we all need to swallow is that we cannot control other people. Sure, we have an ability to influence, but this has limits.
Giving the Gift of Good Communication
Here is something really cool though. We have tremendous power to make the lives of our coworkers better, simply by choosing to be good communicators. Ideally when everyone "pays it forward" by being a good coworker, the whole team benefits. But the truth is that it begins with each of us as individuals. We can each pay it forward.
Five Ways to Pay it Forward
1. Assume an Absence of Malice
I stole this language from one of my clients, the awesome Kathy Powers. In consultant-speak it refers to avoiding inferences or "guesses" about why people behave like they do. When someone does something that you don't like, assume they had good intentions. Hell, assume they had neutral intentions! Just don't assume they did it to be hurtful.
PS: Even if you are wrong and they were being an asshat, your assumption that they meant well will still benefit you and the team. Seriously.
2. Be Gracious
You read this blog and so I'm going to assume your Momma (or another family member) raised you right. That means that you know it's flat wrong to respond to rudeness with more rudeness. It also means you never talk smack about a coworker behind their back.
Practicing graciousness on a daily basis is an opportunity to strengthen yourself as a human being. The workplace is fraught with human drama. You can either give into it, or you can use those daily challenges as opportunities to practice compassion, forgiveness, and kindness. Think of the office as a kind of workout room for your soul.
3. Say What You Mean
We like to dance around what is uncomfortable, don't we? We have these awkward sideways conversations where we circle around the truth, feinting at it, but never really saying what we mean.
Say what you mean. Really.
Are you worried about being too harsh? Frame your honesty as a request for help. Nothing takes the sting out of honest feedback like a little vulnerability.
"Jack, can I ask you for your help with something? I've been feeling a bit frustrated and I have a request for you... I hope that is OK."
"Maria, there is something that's been bugging me, but I've been nervous about bringing it up to you. I really respect you and I want to make sure I don't give offense. Is it OK for me to say what is on my mind?"
4. Focus on The Positive
Chances are you work with some people who are... less than ideal. None of us is perfect, and then layer on top of that all of our differences in personality, style, politics, and more.
Find something that you like about each person you work with. It might be something small. When you are gearing up to work with that person, take a moment to remember what makes them wonderful. And yes, we all have something in us that is wonderful.
You'll be a better communicator if you approach someone human-to-human instead of gearing up for a battle. Think about the good. It helps.
5. Be Less Demanding
Challenge yourself to send 10% fewer emails than you do today. Schedule 10% fewer meetings or make your existing meetings shorter. Time is precious. Take up less of it.
Those are my top five anyway. How do you pay it forward? :) I'd love to hear.
I've gone from a P to a J.
For those of you familiar with the Myers Briggs personality assessment, you'll know that people with a preference in Percieving tend to be open ended and unstructured. These are the folks who ride life like waves on the ocean - taking things as they come and laughing or drowning when they get tossed in the swell.
Those who score higher in Judging like to have plans. They want to have all their ducks in a row, they want to know what is coming, and they like to have a system for repeatable success. My husband, who famously used to line up his pencils in tidy symmetry on his desk, is definitely a J.
When I was 18, I was an ENFP. Gradually in my working life I've morphed into an ENFJ. And in the process what I've discovered is that routines, structures, and plans are not inherently limiting. In fact, they can be a source of freedom, delight, and creativity.
On the Benefits of Structure
There are some pretty cool perks to being a J, and they might surprise you.
Predictable Results - I feel more relaxed when my working environment is clean and pretty. I may not particularly like my routine of loading the dish washer every night and unloading it before I leave for work, but I can't deny that this little "routine" keeps my home/office tidy.
A Framework for Creativity - Waking up early every morning so I could write sure felt like a chore. But within that framework, I've just completed a novel! (Release date: Late November) Structure has created space for my creativity when my "freeform" approach to writing never did. Routine for the win!
More Free Time - Painstakingly organizing all my facilitation and meeting supplies into modular clear boxes was a real pain. But now when I need to run off to a facilitation, I just grab the appropriate boxes, go, and then put the boxes back when I'm done. Time savings = 30 minutes per meeting. That is more time I can spend working watching Futurama reruns and reading mystery novels.
Better Teamwork - When it's my turn to do a particular chore around the house and I'm too swamped, I can just say so. Hubby pitches in for me. I pitch in for him. When we know who is doing what, substitutions are easy. But when no one owns a task, it may languish forever, creating resentment.
Being a "J" with a dash of "P"
One of the things I loved best about my old style is the fact that being a disorganized/creative type lead to a lot of spontaneity. Nothing made me more chipper than emailing my husband at 4:45pm on a Friday and saying "I booked us a hotel in Canada. Picking you up with bags and passports in an hour..."
As much as I see the benefits of structure, planning, and routine, I think it's just as important to break the mold now and again. Go off course! Color outside the lines! Drive to Canada! (Did you know they have Maple flavored lattes? Delicious.) Embrace the sudden wildness of the untamed artist.
Then come back home, put away your dishes, and find bliss in an ordinary routine.
Who says we can't have both?
Cheri Baker is a Management Consultant and trainer in Seattle, WA.
Our days and seasons have a certain pattern to them. The sun rises in the morning and the shadows lengthen at night. It's not that different when it comes to the workplace. Do you know what that rhythm is, at your company?
The Surprising Importance of Start Times
I was meeting with an engineering director this week, and she told me that after moving her start time earlier, she found herself feeling much more "plugged in" to what is happening in business.
It turns out that at her company most of the important conversations happen between 6 and 8am. If you arrive at the office at nine, you've missed most of the action.
I've seen the opposite effect too. There are companies where most people roll in around 10am, and everything starts heating up around dinner time. Early birds may miss those important but impromptu 5pm meetings.
Be Where the Action Is
The funny thing about these situations is that it is not like anyone was getting in trouble for having a different schedule. Many workplaces are flexible on start and stop times unless there is a business reason for a certain schedule. So it not like you get an advertisement that you are missing out.
Here are a few things you can investigate, to assess if you need to rethink your presence.
When and where are the decisions really made?
When and where do the power-players gather to talk things out?
It may surprise us to realize that it's not the big formal team meetings that matter - it's those habitual hallway conversations once the hustle and bustle of the day are gone. It's those talks that happen over bagels in the break room. It's those little moments we need to be present for, if we want to be counted, if we want to have a voice.
Do you know when to be present at your company? And are you?
Cheri Baker is the owner of Emergence Consulting in Seattle, WA.
Let me tell you about this lovely dream I have. When I think about it, I get this dreamy smile on my face. It's awesome.
I walk into a store to buy something. It could be anything really. A new sweater, a ream of recycled paper, or even a shiny new laptop. Cheerful and knowledgeable salespeople are within reach, but they simply greet me and then leave me alone. When I make my selection and bring it to the register, I exchange money for goods and am wished a nice day. I leave.
My dream is shattered almost daily as I go about my business. Why?
1. I can't purchase something without being given a lecture on the many benefits of your store's membership card or program. (Cost Plus World Market)
2. I can't purchase something without two lectures about the benefits of your store credit card. (One in the dressing room, one at check-out.) (Macy's)
3. I can't leave without being instructed to go and fill out a survey ("Please mention me by name!") in exchange for a coupon. (Kinkos, Office Depot)
4. I can't shop without being interrupted every five minutes to find out if "I need any help" or "Have any questions?" (Various)
When these things happen here and there, it is easy to be a good sport about them. You smile and perhaps fill out the survey. But now it seems to happen constantly, at almost every transaction. And to quote Captain Janeway, it's like getting pecked to death by ducks.
I understand the drive to be helpful. I understand the desire to get feedback. It is admirable!
You know what's not admirable? Turning every transaction into a demand or request. It's downright obnoxious!
Forgive me if this is a bit ranty, but I'll get right to the point. Customer service is about helping the customer reach their goal, and doing so with kindness, respect, and a genuine human interaction. You want to make your customer's experience simple, enjoyable, and successful. That's it. If your company's customer service practices veer away from these basics, it's time to start pushing back.
You know what boss? I worry that our rehearsed speeches about our member cards are turning our customers off. What of we simply made the information visible and accessible, instead of quizzing every customer at every transaction?
You know who is good at customer service? The friendly baristas at the Starbucks on 2nd and Lenora near my office. They smile. They usually remember my name. They give me my F'ing coffee (made to my specifications), and then let me get on my F'ing way.
That's F'ing beautiful. That's customer service.
Cheri Baker is the President of Emergence Consulting in Seattle, WA. She offers a customer service training and improvement program for teams that focuses on customer service, not customer harassment.
Welcome to the first edition of Coach Q&A! This month's Q&A is all about getting promoted within the management ranks. If you have a question, please email it to Cheri for the October edition.
This post is part of the Project Management Flash Blog, with over 70 bloggers writing on the topic "What Project Management Means to Me." You can find a list of all participating blogs here, or follow the hashtag #PMFlashBlog on Twitter. Enjoy!
What does project management mean to me? I can answer that in two words:
Some projects are successes. Some projects fail big. When a project is a failure, you can usually track that failure to a lack of commitment.
- The key players "went along" with a poorly conceived plan because they didn't think they were allowed to speak up. They lacked true commitment and went through the motions.
- The sponsor supported the project with his or her words, but that commitment didn't translate into providing sufficient resources or time. The commitment was espoused, but not real.
- The project team failed to get buy-in from the people who would be impacted by that plan, trying to "force" a new way of thinking and acting onto a reluctant population. Commitment was never secured from the people that matter most.
Invest the Time Up Front
A successful project begins with an agreed upon purpose.
Why don't we invest the time we need up front? Lots of reasons! We are in a rush to get to the "good stuff" (the work). We resist opening our project concept to a wider range of people who may have troublesome opinions. We believe that "we" (the leaders) are qualified to make these decisions on our own. We worry about delays. We feel pressure from customers.
You've heard this old story, right? A man is tasked with climbing the tallest tree in the forest. He quickly equips his gear and rushes out to find that tree. He waves from the top proud of his accomplishment.
The problem? He was in the wrong forest.
I believe that project management is all about securing shared commitment up front.
1. What are we doing?
2. Who is involved?
3. How will the work be done? By who?
4. How will we hold ourselves accountable?
5. How will we measure success?
Once these questions are answered with shared commitment from the right players, we are off and running. Everything else is logistics.
And that is how I view Project Management. How about you?
Hey Enlightened Managers!
As I'm writing this blog post, I'm about an hour and a half away from quitting my part-time teaching job. I'm sad and nervous and feeling a bit unsure about myself.
If you've ever been on that knife edge of "should I stay or should I go?" I can empathize. A job is rarely just a collection of tasks and a paycheck. You've made friends, poured your energy into it, and been a part of something. Breaking away can feel like breaking up.
So when does it make sense to quit a job?
Not all of these conditions apply in my case, but the fact remains that I'm ready to move forward to a different kind of future. One where my energies are not divided between my business and my academic course load.
The Practical and the Emotional
Quitting a job has both emotional and practical components. On the practical side, you need to evaluate the impact to your financial health. On the emotional side, you need to make peace with the positives and negatives associated with the change.
In my case the practical components involve some risk. I'm basically betting on myself that I can make up the lost income through consulting. The emotional aspects are harder. I'm letting go of some aspects of the work that I really like, including my student relationships and a great manager and coworkers.
Whenever I have decided to quit a job (and I have not had that many of them) it always involves finding the alignment between my brain (reason), my heart (feeling) and my gut (confidence).
In this case I just woke up one morning with that sense of rightness in all three places. This is the right decision. It will be painful for a while, but then it will be great. I'll have new space in my life, in which better things can grow.
If you are trying to decide if you should stay or if you should go, I encourage you to listen to all three of those things.
Brain - What are the reasons to stay or go? What are the practical implications? (money, career)
Heart - What is your heart telling you? What will be the best decision for you personally?
Gut - Once you've added it all up, what does your gut say? Stay or go?
It may take some time to reconcile these three voices. But once you do, you know what's next, right?
Cheri Baker is the President of Emergence Consulting. She resigned from her Professorship in September of 2013.
Hey Enlightened Managers,
Today's post is about one of those random "aha!" moments life can throw our way. I was lying awake in bed a few nights ago, pinned between two gently snoring tabby cats, when this little bit of wisdom fell from the sky.
I know this sounds a bit new-age-wonky, but bear with me. Let's begin by thinking about the way we tend to place conditions on our own happiness. Do you ever think thoughts like the ones below?
I'll be happy... when I get that promotion.
I'll be happy... when I am in a relationship.
I'll be happy... when it is the weekend.
I'll finally be happy... when certain conditions are met.
We race forward to achieve our conditions, but even when we reach them, we still don't feel happy. We find ourselves with a new set of conditions to meet.
Silly right? And yet it can be hard to get ourselves out of this trap. Let's take a look at four specific things we can do to cultivate our own happiness.
Get Happy Tip #1
If you want to be happy, stop trying to fix other people.
Your friend isn't going to leave her jerk husband until she decides to. Stop trying to fix her.
Nagging your best friend won't make her a better person. Stop trying to fix her.
We cannot fix people. We can be in relationship with them. That's it.
Get Happy Tip #2
Stop focusing on what you cannot control.
You know what makes us unhappy? Wanting one thing and having another. If you really want a bigger house, but you cannot have a bigger house right now, you are placing yourself in a cycle of misery. There is a tension between what you want and what is.
Accept things for what they are. Yes, you can take sensible steps towards your goals, but continuing to ruminate on the difference between what you want and "what is" is a recipe for unhappiness.
Get Happy Tip #3
Lower your standards a bit.
Become an advocate for "good enough." Yes, you can no doubt do better! Yes, it is possible that with an extra three hours of time and some additional money you can find a more perfect solution. But what are you giving up in pursuit of that "better" answer?
Three precious hours of your life?
A few extra dollars that could have fed someone hungry, or provided security for your family?
Go for "good enough" and invest the balance in being alive, now.
Get Happy Tip #4
Recognize that happiness occurs in noticing the small things that bring us joy.
Smile at your husband/wife/partner/friend and give them a hug before work.
Enjoy the contented purr of a cat on your lap.
Laugh at the joke told by your coworker in a staff meeting.
Find the silver lining in a crummy situation.
Do your chores with an appreciation for the result. (I love a clean floor!)
Appreciate the goodness already present in your life right now.
Seriously, this is the secret to happiness. Enjoy this moment, right now.
We Make Things Too Hard
As I was lying there in bed, I shifted my perspective a little. Why do I spend so much time striving and stressing? Wouldn't life be so much sweeter if I could simply be happy about all the daily goodness I encounter? Couldn't I be so much more relaxed if I stopped fighting all those little things that are outside my control, or none of my business?
I do have goals. I do want to make a difference in this world. But I don't think that this has to go hand-in-hand with viewing life as a set of problems and disappointments.
I choose to be happy, right now. How about you?
Cheri Baker is a Management Coach in Seattle, WA.
I had an interesting phone call last week from a business association for "professional" women. I had heard about this group from a few different people that I like and admire, and so I was curious to learn more. I did learn more, but not in the way I had hoped.
The "membership" person on the phone was little more than a high pressure telemarketer, albeit a very smooth talking one. After hanging up in disgust, I decided to appreciate the call as a lesson in how to avoid being manipulated by others.
And so here I am proud to present...
Four Signs You are Being Manipulated
Sign #1: They remind you how awesome you are.
In this case, they asked lots of questions about my experience level, accomplishments, and even what charities I donate to. They didn't even need to kiss my hiney! By asking careful questions, they got me to puff up my own ego. At the end, they agreed that I was accomplished enough to join their special group.
Note: Some manipulators use the opposite tactic, playing on your insecurities and doubts.
Sign #2: There is a bait and switch.
The website for this association was vague on fees, but did talk about a complimentary membership. Yet after buttering me up, they asked for $750 dollars. Woah! Where did that come from. Yet "the ask" was made with such confidence and smoothness, questioning it felt somehow impolite.
Sign #3: There is irrational time pressure.
I had to sign up right then. My application had been approved, and needed to be sent to "the processor" in order for me to get a membership packet. To keep their "costs efficient" I was not permitted any time to consider their offer. I was expected to say yes right then.
Sign #4: They won't take "no" for an answer.
I have no problem saying no. They had no problem trying to manipulate my "no" into a yes! No I wouldn't give them $750. Oh! Well good news, they have a membership available at a lower price. Where should they send my packet to? I had to say "no" many times, and even then I was forced to hang up to end the call.
Maintaining Healthy Skepticism
Here is the thing about manipulation. When the manipulator is skilled, it is very easy to fall under their spell.
Manipulators know how to sound reasonable, how to identify and work around reasonable objections, and how to push you to do what they want because you are afraid of seeming foolish.
This goes for manipulators of all kinds, not just those on the phone.
Stay skeptical my friends! When your scam antennae goes up, listen. When you've said no and the other person charges right over you, it's time to hang up the phone, walk away, or shut the door.
Cheri Baker is an Organizational Development consultant in Seattle, WA.
Meetings can stink. But that doesn't mean they have to!
Gathering together a group of people can be powerful if we use that time to engage everyone's brains and build off of one anothers ideas. We each come in with our own strong perspectives, and it's when we meld the best of our ideas with the best of someone else's ideas....
POW! Meeting magic.
The problem? Not all groups are naturally interactive. If you'd like to see more participation in your group meetings, here are three facilitation techniques you can try.
1. Begin with a convening question.
Having a topic for your meeting can feel a bit flat. Instead, turn that topic into a question that you would liek the group to answer. A question is like a funnel. It focuses the group's energy and invites the sharing of opinions.
Sample Convening Question: Are we on track to achieve our annual goals?
2. Call on people.
You can do this individually of course, and the trick is not to make it a kind of grade-school dynamic where you are calling someone out. Instead, try "NAME, we have not heard from you yet. What are you thinking?" Some people like to be invited to speak. Not all of us are natural jump-in types.
You can also do a "round robin" where you go around the room and hear from each person on a topic. This is a great way to seed the conversation with a variety of ideas before narrowing things down.
3. Break into small groups.
Conversation in the full group can be great. But there are two downsides to a large group conversation.
Time - When everyone is talking in the same space and time, it adds up. In a group of ten, if each person gets just two minutes of airtime, that is twenty minutes gone.
Singular Focus - A conversation follows a certain narrative flow. Think of it like a river. It can be hard to change the direction of a river. You are having ONE conversation. Small groups allow for multiple parallel conversations, which can create a wider range of ideas.
Small group break-outs allow for faster progress, more air-time per person, and a wider range of ideas being expressed. (Have small groups report out a summary, then blend into a large group conversation.)
These three sound pretty simple I know, but they are the bread and butter of good facilitation. Ask good juicy questions, get people talking, and flex the types of conversations (full group, small group, round robin) around to get the right kind of energy in the room.
One last thing... don't forget that your job as the meeting facilitator isn't to control the outcome of the conversation, it is to ensure that a good quality conversation happens. If your team knows that you are driving them towards some sort of pre-destined answer, they won't play that game. Why should they?
If you have a facilitation technique to encourage more meeting participation, share it in a comment below!
Cheri Baker is the President of Emergence Consulting Seattle