When I was growing up, I envied the little boy next door. His mom asked him questions. Would you like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or soup for lunch? Will you spend the afternoon reading a book or playing?
That’s not how it worked at my house. My folks, especially mom, told me how it was going to be.
While I don’t think Mom intended for it to turn out this way, her telling style was a good life lesson. How so? It prepared me to deal with command-and-control style bosses who wanted answers straight up.
As I grew older, the questions my dad asked took a different twist. He asked lots of questions that began with “have you thought about,”“how/why,” or “help me understand.” Dad said he wanted to make sure I thought things through.
He prepared me to work for bosses who wanted thoughtful answers and options that demonstrated a command of the issues.
I worked for a boss a few years into my career who asked a whole new style of questions. He tested both the logic and emotion of his employees.
His rational was like that of Socrates, who was “well known for using questioning to probe the validity of an assumption, analyze the logic of an argument, and explore the unknown.”
That boss wanted to know how we were going to achieve both quality and quantity or how we would meet our short-term goals without jeopardizing our long-term position. Answering his questions required deeper thought and analysis of the big picture.
Only years later did it hit me that these individuals had gifted me with a well-rounded repertoire of knowing how to respond to or deal with different types of questions.
The key to wisdom is this: constant and frequent questioning, for by doubting we are led to question, by questioning we arrive at the truth. ~Peter Abelard
Questions lead to discovery and meaning. They can eliminate confusion or point to hidden agendas. They help us reflect, develop critical thinking skills, or clarify intent and understanding. Questions help us make sense of our surroundings, distinguish fact from fiction, or define our purpose. Questions provoke lively debate, satisfy our curiosity, and prompt us to assess our assumptions.
A good question can disrupt, inspire, show humility, and open closed doors.
Research done by O.C. Tanner Institute showed that “asking the right question increased the odds of someone’s work having a positive affect on others by 4.1 times. It made the outcome 3.1 times more likely to be deemed important, 2.8 times more likely to create passion in the doer, and 2.7 times more likely to make a positive impact on the organization’s bottom line.” That’s powerful stuff.
He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever. ~Chinese proverb
So why do we ask less and less as we get older?
Tom Pohlmann and Neethi Mary Thomas with Mu Sigma polled 200 of their clients on question asking. Clients who had children estimated that 70-80% of their kids’ dialogues with others were comprised of questions.
However, those same clients guessed that only 15-25% of their own interactions consisted of questions. Tom and Neethi attribute the reduction in the number of questions asked by the adults to working in a you-need-to-get-it-done-yesterday business environment.
“Leaders should encourage people to ask more questions, based on the goals they’re trying to achieve, instead of having them rush to deliver answers. In order to make the right decisions, people need to start asking the questions that really matter.”
Asking questions that really matter + actively listening to the answer + critically reviewing what’s been shared = a good thing.
Just like spring breezes and pollen, conflict is in the air.
Contentious attitudes are everywhere. We find them in the media, in workplaces, in our social media feeds, in the streets, between friends, and at the dinner table. Civility and respect for other’s rights to have their opinions are beginning to feel as outdated as a wall calendar.
A number of people have shared how they’re struggling to stay calm and deal with the friction and discord swirling around them.
I’m struggling with that, too. You?
I’m also struggling with discovering I didn’t know people I thought I knew. It’s been hurtful to be on the receiving end of their unpleasant attacks. Their darkness tugs at some dark spot in me that cries out to respond in kind.
Lessons from a wise man
That feeling isn’t new. I experienced it back when I worked in labor relations and contentious was the flavor of the day, every day.
Joe had been a labor relations attorney longer than I was old and was willing to help me learn the ropes. The first lesson he taught me was how to disagree without being disagreeable; the second was not to make things personal by attacking others.
He believed conflict wasn’t logical or rational but rather emotional and relational. What we think shapes how we feel and act. For many, feelings become facts.
The same issues that lead to protracted conflict (e.g. values, status, and identify), are also the triggers of strong emotions. People who feel ‘unfairly attacked, misunderstood, wronged, or righteously indignant’ are typically overcome with emotion and respond with hostility and aggression. ~Michelle Maiese, Emotions, Beyond Intractability
Joe said only a silly person believed they could solve a conflict based in differences of opinion or perspective. He said people needed to accept that, in those situations, conflict is a fact of life.
Here’s his wise counsel for dealing clashes of interests:
See conflict as something ongoing that needs to be managed; not exterminated like termites.
Aim for a constructive, goal-oriented solution that gives everyone a small win.
Strive for outcomes that improve performance.
Look to advance the greater good; there’s something bigger than all of us out there.
Accept that differences of thought, opinion, and perspective are both healthy and uncomfortable.
Handled without skill, patience, or compassion, conflict can easily become ugly, leaving people frustrated and angry. Don’t go there. Find a way to let respect over-rule self-righteous anger.
Take the high road and be productive, not the low, unproductive one.
That last point about making conflict either productive or unproductive is crucial. Conflict, handled constructively, can be an instrument of growth. Handled unproductively, well, too many of us have experienced unpleasant attacks—that sometime get so bad that relationships and friendships are lost.
Wondering which side of that productive/not productive line you sit on? Imagine you’re a party to a conflict that’s flared up because of differing principles and values. Think about what you would normally do when you feel your needs, interests, or concerns are threatened. Then take a look at the table below.
If more of your actions fall on the left side of the table, take a step back and reflect. It’s likely you’re not letting people feel heard, respected, or free to voice a dissenting opinion. Aren’t those things you’d want people to do for you?
How conflict makes us productive…or not
Refuses to see other’s position
Open to exploring another point of view
Respond with anger or accusations
Respond calmly and respectfully
Acknowledges thoughts or feelings and doesn’t try to justify
Reasons or argues others out of their invalid thoughts and feelings
Approaches issues with facts, not emotions, saying when you do xx in this situation, I feel yy
Withdraws love and compassion
Continues to care and be compassionate
Nonverbal communications (facial expressions; posture; gestures; pace, tone, and intensity of voice) are hostile
Nonverbals are agreeable, pleasant, nonthreatening, and friendly
Focuses on winning and losing
Understands that success is more than a score or coming out on top
Passionately defends individual power and rights
Seeks mutual interests
Dredges up the past
Focuses on the here-and-now and the future
Refuses to let go of any contrary issue
Knows when to pick a battle
Makes it personal
Doesn’t let things become personal
Always goes with the gut; doesn’t see the need to research or seek to understand
Gets the facts from checking multiple sources
Denies being wrong
Shows courage and openness to being wrong
Co-mingles and conflates people and problems
Respects people, attacks the problem
Jumps to conclusions
Gathers additional information before deciding
Intolerant of differences
Refuses to negotiate or compromise
Aims for inclusive consensus
Is eager to escalate, exaggerate, or embellish
Stays level-headed and keeps to the facts
Demands my-way-or-the-highway allegiance
Commits to working together to work it out
Presumes that others will live up to and/or accept their expectations
Gives others room to have their own expectations
Thanks to Joe all those years ago, today, whenever I’m facing a vocal someone who passionately sees things differently than I do and who’s starting to get under my skin because all they can say is that I’m wrong, wrong, wrong, I take a step back and think about their right to think differently.
I have to understand and respect that I’m never going to change someone else. Only they can do that.
I know I can’t control the other person’s response, but I’m in total control of mine.
I have endeavored to remember that the object of life is to do good. ~Peter Cooper, industrialist and philanthropist
Lately, it seems like there is one new corporate crisis after another in the headlines. Some of the largest, most visible, and successful companies are being forced to publicly apologize while feverishly attempting to convince their customers that these unfortunate incidents are only isolated blips that don’t imply the presence of any systemic organizational issues.
What’s going on here?
Is it arrogance, weak leadership, corporate greed, human error, or bureaucracy? Or is it simply the newfound social media cautionary tale?
Make no mistake—systemic issues are at play and there is a connection among all of these communications crises.
While evolving technology has increased the number of brand touchpoints available for instantaneous distribution of damaging content to millions of people, technology is not the root cause of this dysfunction. The corporate dysfunction isn’t new either. In reality, organizations and people haven’t changed; there has always been corporate dysfunction.
The very DNA of an organization is revealed through each and every touchpoint. When interactions reveal weakness, deeper problems within the organization are exposed. In an interconnected world where companies can fall from grace in hours, it has never been more important for leaders to address the common thread that creates corporate crises: a lack of clarity that originates at the very core of the organization.
Clarity is what happens when leaders take a holistic view of their strategy, people, and story—and ensure that there is alignment with each.
An outcome of alignment is a sustainable, positive culture with strong leadership. With clarity, employees at every level know how to live out the vision, mission, and purpose of the organization. They understand the behaviors expected of them every day. This clarity guides the people who work for the company and provides the reason for everyone to come together and serve.
It is this DNA that is the soul of an organization and drives decision-making, profits, and improves performance. Finding and leveraging that clarity is the difference between:
A spokesperson communicating a difficult decision or creating an entirely new crisis.
Customers believing the firm does care about their privacy or that everyone is management is a liar.
A passenger walking off an airplane or being dragged off; a pet arriving at its destination alive or dead.
Being seen as being committed to doing more to solve domestic and sexual violence issues or seen a being more interested in damage control.
Being revered for your role as one of the leading technology disruptors in the world or being reviled for the way you treat your employees and customers.
The digital economy has forced leaders to prioritize trust, transparency, and authenticity. It is no longer possible to explain our way out of crises or dysfunction. We must understand that the most contrite apology statements, countless refunds, or discounts will not fix crises that reveal systemic dysfunction.
Many examples of great companies that have successfully overcome public relations crises with openness, honesty, and empathy exist. The company names may not be at as memorable. But thanks to the clarity within their organizations, their customers forgave them, and in many cases, the connection with those brands actually improved.
The key to successfully managing any public relations challenge today is to find organizational clarity before the crisis happens.
Have you found organizational clarity?
Today’s guest contributor is Brad Deutser, president of Deutser LLC , a consulting firm that advises leaders and organizations about achieving clarity, especially in times of transition, growth or crisis.
Check email. Debrief the boss. Go to the staff meeting. Return calls. Review sales numbers. Attend budget meeting. Check email. Participate in conference call with headquarters. Glance at online news headlines. Go to vendor meeting. Gobble granola bar. Conduct an employee coaching session. Check email. Review strategy assessment documents. Attend meeting with marketing department.
Is your typical work day something like this string of activities? Bouncing from one thing to another like those randomly dancing lottery balls just before the winning numbers are posted, all frenetic, unconnected energy?
In a crazy busy world where meaningful work relationships require commitment, novelist E.M. Forester’s phrase to “only connect” is a good reminder of what we need to do if we’re to do do good and do well..
In Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, leadership author John C. Maxwell says: “Connecting is the ability to identify with people and relate to them in a way that increases your influence with them.”
The Power of Connections
Are you as connected as you’d like to be?
If not, let the three-legged stool for building quality associations be your guide. Understanding what makes you tick is the starting block for building solid connections, so plan to start there. Follow that up with reconnecting with your colleagues, vendors, and clients. Last, make it a point to reconnect with your boss.
Connecting with you
Snag a few minutes to re-engage with what’s important to you, personally, professionally, or both.
Psychologist Daniel Goleman’s work with emotional intelligence is highly instructive for individuals who are seeking better self-understanding:
The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds. ~Daniel Goleman, Vital Lies, Simple Truths
Getting in touch with what we fail to notice about ourselves is a crucial first step to establishing powerful connections. To get in touch with what you might be missing about yourself, consider:
What’s my personal and professional north, and am I still on track?
What worthwhile things have I done today that I will continue doing?
Whose life did I touch today and help make it better?
What one thing, big or small, did I do today to renew my energy and increase my knowledge and/or skills?
Connect with colleagues
Spend a quality moment or two with a direct report, colleague, client or vendor. Establishing relationships and alliances with those around you at work—at every level within the organization and externally as well—is a make-or break element for career success.
In Results Through Relationships, behavior strategist Joe Takash says: “Many people assume that only new contacts will help them achieve their goals, but in reality, many breakthroughs happen within existing networks.”
To connect with those around you:
Reach out and ask “how are you doing today?” Really listen to the answer and ask follow-up questions.
Say thank you.
Celebrate an accomplishment.
Spend a few minutes over a coffee to chat about sports, kids, a TV show, etc. Explore, discover and share interests to build a bond.
Connect with your boss
Engage your boss in a meaningful exchange. Warren Bennis reminds us: “No matter how brilliant you are, you need to remember the people.”
Be proactive and reach out to your boss:
Ask “How’s it going? Anything I can do to help?”
Invite her to a 10-minute coffee chat and seek to understand things from her perspective.
Ask him about his family or favorite book so you can establish some common ground and shared interests.
If meaningful connections are your goal, make it a habit to halt your bouncing balls for a few minutes each day and take the time to connect with someone. You’ll be glad you did and so will they.
I was working in another state and traveling in an area unfamiliar to me. At the end of the day, I asked a member of the management team if there was a route I could take back to my hotel that would bypass the rush hour traffic.
“Of course there is. I’ll show you,” replied one of the women present.
“Terrific,” I replied. “What streets do I take?” My expectation was that she would provide directions.
That’s not what she meant when she said she would show me.
She was literally going to show me the way—she wanted me to follow her vehicle as she led me back to the hotel!(more…)