January 18, 2018

Blending the intervention

Four people speaking in front of a laptopWe don’t have all the answers. That’s true whether we’re on the outside of the issue looking in or on the inside looking out.

The leadership team knows its business, whereas the change agent knows something useful the insiders don’t currently have. Neither has all the answers, nor even all of the pieces available collectively.


The way forward needs to be a blend of both—both what the leadership team already has and what the change agent is bringing, but not usually all of either.

For the necessary co-creation to happen, both parties need to let go of something—to give up part of their model.

Are you ready to do that?

Why relationship skills?

Networking groupSometimes it’s worth reminding ourselves of our reasons for doing something.


Why focus on relationship skills, whether in a professional or a personal context?

After all, talking about the subject can seem a bit “preachy” if we’re not careful.

But there is a whole other way of looking at this…

Relating to other people is, at times, one of the most demanding and yet potentially enriching things we do. Doing a better job of that can unlock all sorts of benefits. It’s where the leverage is.

So the subject seems worthy of a little attention and focus—perhaps more than a little.

And perhaps a systematic approach.

There’s a bit more to this than communication skills: Getting one’s point across in the moment isn’t the same as successfully managing a relationship over time, which requires a little more sophistication.

I think so anyway. Don’t you?

Ever wonder why some discussions go round in circles?

Three in discussion… and what to do about it?

You’ll have been there, I’m sure… The conversation waxes and wanes, ranges about, goes round and round, without anybody ever seeming to “nail” the issue. Nobody falls out, but they never quite seem to line up either.

Why is that?

There could be lots of reasons, but one of them is very common…

That’s the use of oh-so-familiar, seemingly very normal, totally acceptable abstract nouns like integrity, empowerment, engagement, mediation, globalization, manipulation, trust, leadership and so on—all activities with the verbs taken out.

Any conversation that builds on words like these is bound to be dissatisfying. It’ll seem inoffensive probably, but it won’t add much value either.

You see, the trouble is…

Every single person understands these words differently, so as we converse using them, nobody’s talking about exactly the same thing, and so the reality is, we’re trying to nail the proverbial jelly.

What’s to do?

To straighten it all out, we need to put the verbs back in and express the nominalizations, as they’re called, as behaviors. For example, “integrity” might be “always being and acting true to what you say.”

But you thought “integrity” meant something else?

Well exactly, that’s the point.

Until we nail “integrity” down as some observable behaviors, we’ll go round in circles trying to promote it.

Switch on to these abstract nouns and you’ll see this fog is everywhere.

Do you notice? It’s a big deal.

More detail in my book of course, available here http://amzn.to/ouLZgs (US) or http://amzn.to/vAaZMl (UK).

Or you could ask me to speak at your event or guest on your program.

What could an engineer possibly bring to relationship skills?

Group discussing plansIn three words—system and structure—though that’s perhaps not for everyone.

My apparent shift from engineering to relationships seems to fascinate. The typical introduction goes like this: “He is an engineer by profession but/however/though/and (delete according to taste) he now works on relationship skills.”

But it’s maybe not so strange—in the end, it’s all about people in any profession.

Engineers look to understand things at a fundamental level, learn practical and insightful skills, and use them as much as possible.

Every week, I write a little piece specifically on this topic and post it here, though all the time, I’m drawing on an underlying system for relationships drawn from a number of sources. Here it is for you now…

1. Attention to other people first
2. A resourceful attitude through a set of principles
3. Self-control and calmness
4. Being mindful of visual, auditory and kinesthetic preferences
5. Understanding and adapting to personality traits
6. Connecting with people quickly, easily and reliably
7. Working quickly and effectively with values
8. Seeing patterns in language
9. Self-awareness
10. Clarity about what we want
11. Reconciling our inner tensions
12. Human connection and love

Now your first reaction might be that’s all common sense.

It’s not.

Every one of these topics is a skill area in itself and an opportunity to develop expertise and insight we generally won’t have by accident, though depending on how you come to this subject, some will be familiar.

The thing is…

If you want to hone your ability to relate to other people professionally and personally—and why on earth wouldn’t you—and see more clearly what’s going on, these are the headings you need. Skip any one of these, and something is liable to trip you up. Learning them in depth, on the other hand, is life-changing.

I’ve set all this out in detail in my book, which is available here http://amzn.to/ouLZgs (US) or http://amzn.to/vAaZMl (UK). Quite honestly, a steal for the amount of learning available. I hope you’ll treat it as a resource.

Or you could ask me to speak at your event or guest on your program.

Switching off dates on blog posts – good idea or bad idea?

Hands at a keyboardIt’s seems a clever idea – switching off the date stamp on your blog posts. That way you can tweet about them later and readers won’t realize they’re not new. Well, most of them won’t…

The audience respond appreciatively to this suggestion by a speaker at a conference, conjuring with the increased traffic they might generate by reusing their content more.

There’s a snag…

Tactics like this damage our authenticity. They sap away at our brand. We seem just that little bit less real and present. Not what we want.

Transparency matters. Withhold or manipulate information and you weaken your connection with other people, with your audience, with your market. The shutters come down that little bit. There are a lots of ways we do this if we’re not careful – lots of ways we undermine our own openness. I’d say go in the opposite direction and you’ll gain more. Be real and specific and you’ll draw people toward you.

Authenticity might rate higher than efficiency in your world. I’ve learned it does in mine.

Relationship mastery: For the young or for the wise?

Senior leaderRelationship skills are sometimes seen as a subject for members of the younger generation—as if their need is the greater and older colleagues already know what they need to know.

But it isn’t necessarily so. Sure, experienced people are more skilled in professional relationships, but they are called upon so much more given their positions and the scale of the challenges they face. The bar is so much higher and the need for flexibility and resilience so much greater.

An assumption that deep learning about interpersonal skills is really for the younger crowd suggests we don’t realize the power of the skills we could be acquiring. It shows, as ever, we don’t know what we don’t know.

The more authority and responsibility we have, the more we need the most insightful approaches to take us forward.

Wise heads need more mastery not less.

Who’s more conflicted—us or them?

Man thinkingOne day he says one thing; the next another. He just doesn’t seem to “know his own mind.” If only he would stick to what he said.

Frustrating, but are we really any different?

It’s a curious thing…

We’re well aware of our own uncertainty about our choices. We know we compromise in the face of complex circumstances, often inconsistently. We know we can be conflicted about issues in our lives, and moreover that it’s a lifelong journey to work these out.

And yet…

We somehow imagine others will be clear in their own minds; that they will be congruent in their behavior, and that they will have sorted out their inner conflicts, despite the evidence of our own experience. Then we’re surprised when it turns out they aren’t.

What changes when you allow people in your world the same scope for inconsistency you experience within yourself?

How congruent do you think we really are, day-to-day, and are others more or less conflicted than you? What do you think?

Is trust an all or nothing thing?

Three people, two shaking handsOne idea leads to another. Quickly the project takes shape. It’s all quite unexpected and the end result is way beyond the initial starting point. Why? Because the individuals involved trust each other absolutely, not so much about money though that is important, but about sharing the risks of vulnerability and relying on the other’s support. And, by the way, they have never met face-to-face.

In contrast…

The parties cautiously suggest minor changes, protecting their position at all times, giving little away, trying various gambits, manipulating the numbers, always on their guard. The end result is an improvement on the starting point, but only just. And it’s slow. Being face-to-face doesn’t seem to help much.

In a workshop on “information overload”, participants seem to like the idea of deciding whether individual relationships are trusting or not, and dealing with them one way or another if they aren’t, because relationships without trust consume energy and generate excess information to be handled.

There’s no rocket science here, but I’ve been struck by what a huge difference absolute trust makes in a working relationship – not so much a factor of 2 as a factor of 10.

Of course…

Trust is one of these “be the change you want to see” things. If we want other people to be trustworthy, we need to be that way ourselves. We need to be on the high ground. No use trying to get other people to trust us, if we’re not trustworthy ourselves. (I’ve heard people say they don’t trust such-and-such a person, having just revealed how they’ve manipulated their own numbers. Funny that.)

But what about when it seems unclear?

Can you have degrees of trust? Can you half trust someone (or a business)? Or a quarter, or three-quarters?

Here’s an angle…

On-line, I believe it’s an absolute, more than off-line. On line, anything less than 100% trust is no trust at all. So our attitude to trust is increasingly important.

What do you think?

What a shocker: Trader acts in accordance with what he values

City traderAs do we all.

Did you hear the surprise?

If the world wide web could gasp, you would have heard it from mid-ocean. A city trader said candidly that he hoped for another recession because he could make a lot of money from one.

Various commentators then rather missed the point and started discussing whether the “man in the street” could make money from a recession, which of course they mostly can’t.

This episode brought into sharp focus a vital principle: Individuals always, always, always act in accordance with what matters to them – not what matters to us, and not what matters to that averaged expectation we call the “public interest.” Expect anything else and we will be disappointed. And what’s worse: Pretend that this isn’t so and we make our thinking and our dialogue worse than useless.

And yet…

It’s extraordinary how often we hear policy makers, commentators and others talking as if we can expect individuals to behave in the common interest – traders to always want economic prosperity. Now they might, but only in so far as they personally value the “public interest,” and they may well be under-delivering for their employer in doing so.

Please forgive me if all this is obvious to you.

(Whether international policy makers and regulators should allow large markets in financial instruments that contribute nothing to public good is another subject.)

Here are some everyday takeaways…

If people behave in ways that surprise us, it means we don’t properly understand what’s driving them. So what are we missing?

If we want people to behave in a different way, we need to change what they see as important somehow.

The most deep-seated drivers of behavior are usually unconscious ones, long since programmed in, probably around age 10. As Milton Erickson said “most of your life is unconsciously determined.”

You probably see lots of examples of people not understanding the drivers in a situation, or even not realizing that they need to. What tales have you to tell?

Bullying in the workplace – often due to weak relationship skills?

The onlookers hold their breath…

Frank has worked in the organization for years. He’s just queried the young, new manager’s request to undertake a task in a particular way. Frank doesn’t think it’s the most effective approach. In fact, he doubts it’ll work at all. The rest of the team knows there’s going to be an explosion and every one of them is suddenly engrossed in something else entirely.

The manager practically screams at Frank, “Do what I say or I’ll have you fired!” Frank controls himself with difficulty and sets off to do as he is bid, telling himself that’s the last time he’ll try and keep the boss out of trouble. Who was right? Who knows?

We’ve probably all seen it – perhaps even been guilty of it ourselves – shouting at somebody to get something done when we can’t cope with their reactions to what we say.

We call this bullying, usually.

Interventions tend to focus on eliminating the behavior, but that’s generally not an effective approach. We need to displace the problem behavior with something that is wanted instead.

As Robert Dilts says in one of his books, it’s better to respond to the positive intention behind a behavior rather than the behavior itself. The positive intention of the “bully” is usually to achieve an outcome that is wanted by all or at least most, but they don’t have the ability to handle relationships in a resourceful enough way in extreme situations. Few set out for work planning who they’ll be unpleasant to today. The problem stems from a lack of skill in dealing with people.

So to eliminate bullying, work on relationship skills, would be my suggestion.

What about you? How do you deal with bullying behavior in your organization? How many perpetrators are just simply uncaring and how many “lose it” because they run out of skills to deal with challenges resourcefully?

(May you outwit the bully wherever he or she may be found.)