February 22, 2018

If in doubt, communicate

Three senior managers talkingSometimes we wonder whether we should say something or not, probably because it’s sensitive in some way.

I’ve always reckoned that if we’re unsure whether to take a particular action or not, we should do the positive thing i.e. take the option that is active rather than passive. At least that way we’ll learn something even if the action doesn’t turn out that well, whereas if we don’t do anything, we’ll learn nothing. Over time that attitude has paid off, I would say.

Similarly, then…

If we’re unsure about speaking (or writing) to someone about something—if the decision is finely balanced, that is—we should go ahead, with the best skill and tact we can muster and if it seems the right time. At least then we move things on, even if the road is bumpy.

If in doubt, communicate.

New Year every month?

Calendar dates from monday to sundayHow often do you review your goals (assuming you set some in the first place, of course)?

Obviously, it’s traditional to set personal goals at the turn of the year and it’s a good idea. It’s a good time to do it too, because we need a bit of downtime to reflect on what our direction should be. I have benefited over the years from doing this reasonably diligently, not least because it’s made me re-assess my priorities and what I am aiming for. The actual outcome has definitely been different from what it would have been had I not taken the time to think over what I could achieve in the 12 months to come. (I also think about three years ahead, to make sure I am radical enough.)

Because of the fresh direction that comes out of the process, last year, I decided to attempt to take stock and re-assess my yearly aim and objectives every month-end. Of course, I didn’t manage every month, but I did manage about six of the month-ends. That definitely contributed to a successful year. Each time, there was experience and learning to reflect on and I made some adjustments to my aim for the year—upwards, generally—because I could see more clearly. That redirection definitely wouldn’t have happened without making time for the review. (I’m not saying it’s a comfortable kind of thinking, by the way. It’s work, no doubt about that.)

I suggest you try this, especially if you are entirely responsible for your own direction. At the end of the year, you’ll be glad you did.

I know this is kind of serious, but it matters.


New Year every month?

Tip: Schedule your monthly review in your diary—perhaps for the weekend nearest the beginning of the month.

And, of course…

Best wishes for 2017.

Resolution wasn’t built in a day

Bridge to visionOur inclination is to think that it should be possible to resolve issues, disagreements, and even conflict in one go—in a day perhaps. Sometimes, no doubt it is, if we can bring enough goodwill and expertise to bear.

Other times, we may only be able to proceed part way; we may only be able to head in the right direction—or even just a promising direction.

But we should not be deterred…

Sometimes a little progress—and a little sustained movement by all parties—can be enough to build sufficient trust, confidence, and faith that, in time, further steps can be taken and more progress made towards an ultimate resolution.

Important, then, not to dismiss the initial progress, just because it’s incomplete.

Relationship building, or especially rebuilding, is a through-time process not an in-time event.

Resolution wasn’t built in a day.

The value of validation

TeamOf course, it’s good to make up our own mind about whether something we’re doing is right or not. Nevertheless, a bit of external validation is still very welcome.

We can seek it out ourselves, for our own needs.

But what about other people—those we have reason to assist in their learning?

If we’re supporting someone develop new leadership behaviours, for example, and they seem to be making some progress in that some of their people are stepping up and taking on appropriate leadership responsibilities as well, it can be extraordinarily reinforcing to prompt other people seeing these positive developments to say so.

In a workshop setting, one answer is simply to invite other participants to comment. Out in the field, a little more deliberate action is needed—perhaps asking them to take the trouble to have a word.

From our perspective then, as the orchestrator of all this, perhaps as a facilitator, or maybe just a friend…

Worth thinking about how to prompt people who could say something helpful.

Don’t leave it to chance.

Connection or fluency?

Mid sized audienceWhich is more important: being fluent or being connected with your audience i.e. the other party?

Traditionally, we pay a lot of attention to being fluent, even organising many aids to make sure we can join words together in a smooth and flowing way.


It may be more effective to concentrate on being connected with the audience.

If people have a sense of connection, they’ll listen with the heart rather than the head—and, in fact, take more away from the conversation. They won’t be that aware of glitches in the delivery.

It might not really about the words anyway.

If people are disengaged, it really doesn’t matter how good your words are.

Sometimes attempts at fluency can get in the way of natural connection.

The ideal is both, I suppose, but if you can’t have that, which would you go for…

Connection or fluency?

The problem of filtering

Three senior managersSometimes we need to conduct a relationship through a third party. For example, we might be supplying something to our customer’s customer, and need to discern indirectly what they require. Unfortunately, the person or organisation in the middle may not be that effective at relaying the necessary information, partly because their expertise is in another field—that’s why they’ve engaged our services.

Or maybe a family member asks for our help in resolving an issue with another family member but doesn’t want us to get directly involved—and yet they have some difficulty really hearing what the other person is saying.

If the set-up was a piece of electronics, we’d say the party in the middle was a low-pass filter, unintentionally removing important parts of the signal.

Two questions then…

What do you do to avoid the consequences of the filter? Seek opportunities to talk directly in a three-way conversation is an obvious step, though that option isn’t always open, or welcomed. Perhaps we have little option but to coach the middle person in being a more complete communicator. We may well need to find a way to motivate them to take the trouble.

How do you tackle this issue when it arises?

And, secondly…

Do you notice when you are being a filter, inadvertently inhibiting a process of communication? And what’s your response to that realisation?

Dangerous questions

Worried manBeen reading Daniel Kahneman’s excellent and very useful “Thinking, Fast and Slow”…

He says: If asked a difficult question we don’t know the answer to, we will normally pick an easier one we do have an answer to, and provide the answer to that one instead. And we do that without realising we’re making the substitution. It’s an unconscious process.

That rings true, I believe.

Moreover, it seems to me…

If the question asked requires a yes or no answer, then our search for a seemingly related question we can answer in those binary terms may take us an especially long way from the starting point, with unpredictable results.

Maybe we should take more care with our questions.

We want you to step up (except when we don’t)

GatheringLeaders in businesses and organisations often say they want their people to step up and take more initiative.


Some, in the next breath, will say they want certain things done a certain way, and they’ll end up directing the action they want. Other times, they’ll push back when the to-be-empowered folk come forward with some new and different idea that doesn’t quite fit with their view of things.

In other words, they want their people to step up—except, that is, when they don’t.

Quite a difficult thing to get right: stepping up some of the time, and only then in someone else’s preferred manner.

Could you be in this predicament?

The right review arrangements might be what you’re missing.

Taking people along with you

Group working on a projectIt’s remarkable how often this comes up as a theme: the challenge of getting a group of people on board with a course of action.

Our natural inclination is often that the hard task in a situation is working out what to do and the easy bit is taking other people along with us.

But really…

It’s the other way round: Working out what to do is the easy bit and taking everyone else along with us is the hard part.

And so it makes sense to put that first: To recognise that time spent in the “social” process is worth it in the long run, and that we should organise around that.

This seems rather obvious but still we often do the opposite: We revert to working out the solution ourselves and then trying to sell it, which actually is much harder.

Much better to get the group to develop the solution and apply our expertise in guiding them in that process. Then we don’t need to sell the plan to them… because it’s already theirs.

It’s a fundamental trait of human nature not to resist things we say ourselves—and one that’s worth making use of.

Then it’s easy to take people along with us.

If we let go of the big goal…

Mount EverestIt’s seem slightly paradoxical, doesn’t it? If we put our big goal out of our mind and just focus on getting small things done, it’s easier to take those minor steps—to do the mundane. And so we make more progress towards our main objective.

The tasks we put in hand do need to contribute to the aim, of course. They need to be part of the plan. And we do need to have a clear idea of what our big goal is.

Assuming that to be the case…

Sometimes it’s easier to make progress if we stop worrying about the big thing we need to accomplish. Then we relax. And then we can get started.

This is worth remembering both for ourselves and anyone we might hope to lead.

If we stop worrying about the big goal; if we calmly accept its existence, and indeed the possibility that we might or might not get to the ultimate outcome, it could be that we will make more progress towards it.

That’s true even if “failure is not an option” funnily enough—perhaps especially if failure is not an option.