In our personal and professional environments, there are two kinds of calm – productive calm, and that uncomfortable, strange kind of calm warning us that someone is about lose their composure.
Typically, when things at the office are quiet (almost silent), it’s a sign that people are hard at work, focused on getting things done. It’s a stimulating, productive mood set by managers who have the skills to motivate and inspire people to consistently give their best. This mood normally lasts for several hours before it is broken by a conversation off in the distance or a sudden burst of laughter.
Lauro O., having been raised with the Gordon Model (his father was the P.E.T. Representative for Mexico for 25 years—and he and his father are very close as a result of P.E.T.), Lauro decided he would become an L.E.T. Trainer. He talks about how L.E.T. and the Gordon Model have impacted him not just as a person but also in his role as leadership training consultant.
Those of you old enough to remember the no nonsense, Police Sergeant Joe Friday in Dragnet, will remember that he had little patience for assumptions, theories, conclusions, or interpretations from his witnesses. He wanted “Just the facts.” He believed that the only way to solve a crime was to determine all the facts of the situation first. The same is true of all problems. The first thing to do is to establish the facts.
There are all sorts of really good arguments for using I-Messages rather than You-messages when confronting someone’s unacceptable behavior. They are: less likely to produce defensiveness, more likely to help maintain the relationship, less judgmental, more likely to produce a helpful response. But, perhaps most importantly, they are more accurate. In a very real way, they are true. The three parts of the I-Message (Non-blameful description of the behavior, concrete and tangible effects, feelings) represent the facts of the situation. Everything else is speculation.
We often think of leadership training as the relationship between a leader and a group. One of the many outcomes of effective leadership training is the impact it has on the relationship between two individuals and the quality of their communication. Lauro O., L.E.T. Trainer and Licensee for Mexico, shares his personal experience using Active Listening (one of the skills taught in L.E.T.) that had a dramatic impact with one of his clients—showing that when Lauro’s client felt acknowledged and heard, she was ready to move into the buying-selling process.
Let’s face it. Sometimes we are going to mess up. The best of us make mistakes, make bad decisions, overlook important details or take on tasks we are not qualified to accomplish. Certainly, we should take steps to prevent errors when possible. Many leadership training programs teach us to anticipate problems, identify potential “choke points,” incorporate mechanisms to alert us to obstacles before they become serious problems and develop systems to monitor progress. Certainly, the work of W. Edwards Deming taught us to be more attuned to prevention than to inspection. All that is to the good but even under the best of circumstances, we will still make mistakes. So, the question becomes, “What do you do about it?” It’s easy to get caught up in the blame game and go after the poor slob who wrote the bad line of code or dropped the circuit board or sent out the wrong memo. It’s a whole lot more challenging to look at the situation as a learning opportunity.
Why is it awkward for us to have serious conversations over the phone or through email? When you need to break any kind of news, good or bad, why do we prefer to do it in person? There’s only one explanation for these scenarios – as humans, verbal communication simply isn’t enough. We crave eye contact.
Part of the reason we crave this contact is because eyes don’t lie. They can’t. They reveal all emotions from happiness to sadness and from calmness to despair. When people wear sunglasses on cloudy days or in crowded restaurants, it’s usually because they don’t want people to pick up on what they are thinking or feeling.
Eyes are used by athletes to psyche out their opponents, in sales to communicate trust and credibility, and they have the power to deter would-be attackers. Eyes are, by far, the most important tools we have for communication.
Often organizations seek to train their employees in one specific leadership skill, such as listening or conflict resolution. When learning the Gordon Model for leadership training (L.E.T.), participants learn an entire system so they know what skill to use when and why. It is tempting to shorten or chop up leadership training by teaching skills in separate learning modules sure, but it’s important that all components be taught together so foundation skills are learned, built upon and then practiced…and practiced—that’s what makes leadership training effective and impactful.
At Google, one of the largest and fastest growing companies in the world, employees are encouraged to experiment, trial and error, test, retest, push envelopes, fix things that aren’t broken, aggravate status quo’s, question everything, stir things up, and change the game.
Where some companies choose to play it safe and proceed with caution for fear of failure, Google is a company where, as your Grandmother may have said, has ants in its pants. If you are a Google user, you likely know they are always up to something new, and they aren’t the least bit shy about beta testing new applications anxiously awaiting feedback from users.
“Teambuilding.” Is there any other word that elicits quite the same quality of itchy, queasy, I’m-sorry-I-think-I’m-scrubbing-the-bathroom-with-my-toothbrush-that-day reaction in business training-dom?
Announce an upcoming teambuilding activity (or day) and you can generally expect to see your organization’s introverts attempt to melt into the walls, while their colleagues who are heavy or frail or nonathletic or bruise easily cringe and stare at the floor, reliving those humiliating elementary school gym classes yet one more time.
Unlikeleadership training, which focuses on real, concrete communication skills that can be appropriately applied in the workplace for decades, team-building activities are one-time events that tend to run along a continuum:
Innocuous and saccharine ———————————–Dangerously and ill-advised.
The silly, innocuous things I can excuse–even enjoy–as long as they take up only fifteen minutes or so of a daylong retreat. It’s probably not going to hurt anybody to know that I once, say, had a childhood paper route, or that my colleague Marcia won a Pat Benatar impersonation contest.
“Why do you feel that way?” is a question I often hear in leadership training workshops when I am coaching participants to verify their understanding of another’s message. In fairness, the participant is normally trying to do a better job of paying attention to the team member’s emotional state rather than ignoring it (the more typical method for many managers). The result of that kind of questioning, however, often has the effect of completely shutting the other person down, the opposite of the desired outcome. We are taught how to ask good questions. We understand that questions can be very powerful. There are people in my life who are important resources for me precisely because they know how to ask difficult questions, the kind that challenge me to think in new, often more productive ways.
I have never forgotten a line from a play that my wife and I attended several years ago. The play, Rocket Man  , was clever if not especially memorable. But, the line stuck. In defense of some criticism about the advice he gave, the protagonist says, “There’s nothing more obvious than the solution to someone else’s problem.” Wow! What a concept! If you’ve ever given anyone advice about anything of any significance, you probably understand the risks. We hear all kinds of advice: on the radio, from our friends, from our boss, from our relatives, our spouse, our kids. Everyone seems to know exactly what we should do and have little hesitation in telling you so. Why? Well, isn’t it obvious? So, why not? You should get a 4G iPhone. You should go back to school and finish that degree. You should leave him. You should. You should. You should. You should. (Or, you shouldn’t. You shouldn’t, etc.). If it is so obvious to you, why then, isn’t it obvious to me what I should do? I am the one with the most information about by own problem but no one seems particularly interested in hearing that. They already have their minds made up. It is really easy to give advice if you are not the one who has to live with the consequences.
Facebook reminds me from time to time what bad leadership really looks like. Take this example, posted last week:
“New boss has chastised me in writing and copied it to the HR file he keeps for employees. My offense? Making a small joke about a typo. Our finance manager left the Million out of our $10 million goal… so I joked that the $10 goal would be awesome. The boss’ response was: ‘Although I appreciate your sense of humor, I think this type of email is not useful and deviates the group from the main point.’ He became my boss 4 days ago.”
I just want to send this manager an anonymous note and ask, “Really?” (Partially because “deviate” is not, under any circumstances, nor will it EVER be, a transitive verb, and the verbification of nouns in business jargon makes my blood turn to ice-cold cottage cheese. But I digress.)
A trillion here, a trillion there! Pretty soon you’re talking about real money. So, we have a deal. The goons from the bank aren’t going to show up at the White House and start carting off the furniture. The teenager at the Quick-Stop won’t keep the credit card when Uncle Sam tries to buy a six pack. We found a compromise. That’s the American way. Right? Well, maybe. The debt limit deal is being called historic, a landmark deal, monumental, etc., etc. This is, of course, hyperbole but it is how things often get done. But, who really won? Each side will claim a victory, blame the other side for the weaknesses in the bill, and bemoan the fact that they didn’t get everything that they wanted. We averted disaster but no one really won. We all know this. I suspect that we could look at the details of the agreement and acknowledge that, for the most part, it isn’t much different from what we could have agreed to six months ago. When I do mediation, I am often amazed at how similar the two sides really are. If you had word for word transcripts of the two points of view, they would appear almost identical when it comes to the important elements of the arguments. Organizational leaders (political leaders, societal leaders, etc.) often talk about compromise as a virtue. I believe that I understand their meaning. They see compromise as a movement away from the “winner-take-all” mentality that leads to tyranny. It seems to be very hard for leaders to accept the idea that there can be genuine no-lose or win-win solutions. These phrases have been so over used in corporate America that people no longer take them seriously. They assume that win-win really means compromise.