Thursday, April 24, 2014

Register for My One Day Communications Workshop

I am happy to report that I will be giving a full-day workshop (seminar) at this year's Project Management Institute Conference on May 16 here in San Diego. The workshop is titled "Leading Teams to High Performance" and you can read a little more about it here

Learn more about the this year's conference here.

Learn more about the OUTSTANDING PMI Organization in San Diego here.

Insist on great business results! Go to Pathfinder Communication

Creating a Productive Communication Environment

Defensiveness is not productive. May seem obvious once it is said like that, but making something explicit isn’t such a bad thing – especially if something is not obvious to the person you are speaking to. Defensiveness is the normal and correct action when someone is feeling attacked.

Notice I didn’t say being attacked – I said FEELING attacked.

I have found many times that, in my distant past, I was capable of feeling attacked when, in reality, I was not. I have certainly had people tell me (again in the past) that they felt I was attacking them when I wasn’t. When I felt attacked, I would demonstrate all sorts of clever behaviors to distance myself from the perceived danger – but whatever behavior I chose, the lack of safety I felt would KILL my willingness to continue honestly and openly continuing with the discussion. My goal was to get out alive.

So – communication stops being productive when either party feels a lack of trust or safety in the environment.

There are other elements of a productive communication environment than the risk of attack, of course. What if the other person isn’t attacking us at all – but we don’t believe that they care about what we’re saying? Or that they do care, but they aren’t open to try anything other than their current idea? That doesn’t feel very productive, and we may act out when we sense this happening (acting out unspoken feelings is the whole basis of the study of body language, by the way – we all do it). Sometimes we act out verbally, too, and if the other person feels attacked by this, things spiral the wrong way.

A productive communication environment is one in which:
·         It is safe to tell the truth
·         We intend to arrive at the conclusion that satisfies our most important objectives
·         We intend to arrive at the conclusion that is not objectionable to any stakeholder

One of the ways we can make the communication environment productive is be explicit about these things and mean them. To ENSURE that everyone in the conversation knows EXPLICITLY (by saying it) that it is safe to tell the truth hear – we need to be free to share exactly what we think. I know how scary that sounds (and I know why you picture the conversation immediately turning into a fight) when you think of saying it, but sometimes it’s best to make it obvious, and this is one of those times.

Once you and the people you are speaking with believe the three bullets I wrote above, then you (not they) need to know how to facilitate that conversation. I say “you” because it only takes ONE competent communicator in the room to handle most any situation, and I have picked YOU to be the competent communicator.

Next time, we’ll talk about the THREE things you need to know to perform your new role.

Insist on great business results! Go to Pathfinder Communication

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Not tools so much as an environment...

I spent a big percentage of the last few years teaching others what I have learned about making communication at work productive. I was asked a while ago by one of my clients “What are the tools used and the responsibilities of each person engaged in a productive conversation?”

It seems that this is the way we like to imagine these conversations being held – each of us having an equal part in the conversation and the outcome. I believe that particular expectation is an obstacle to productive communication, and that by changing that expectation of “equal participation” one can begin to make things productive.

Most of us recognize that there will naturally be differences between people in our work place. That is, in almost any pairing of two people one person is a better listener, or more articulate, or more withdrawn, or more distracted…… the list of differences is quite long.

When we walk away from a conversation thinking that the other party doesn’t listen, doesn’t speak up, is scary to talk to …. THAT is when we recognize the differences and have bad feelings. The bad feelings are because our needs weren’t met – we NEEDED them to be effective and they weren’t which leaves us unsatisfied with the conversation. Further, it seems that this THEIR fault and is not fixable unless they change.

But it IS – we just have to change the “equal participation” expectation. And understanding that makes it easier to describe the use of the “tools”.

There is a kind of “ideal” environment for conducting conversations. That environment is not very necessary when we are discussing the “easy” things – non-controversial, obvious, simple, low-impact topics – and vital when we are discussing the hard things – poor performance or failures, bad news, high-impact things. In other words, maintaining the environment to conduct difficult conversations becomes most important at the very same time that the topics demand the most focus. If we don’t appreciate maintaining the right environment, or if we don’t know how, it is easy to think that TOPIC or the PEOPLE involved are what made the conversation implode. But usually, it is that we didn’t maintain a good environment.

 Communication tools and techniques are used to promote the optimum environment. Next week, we’ll talk about what that environment looks like exactly, and then discuss the tools used to create it.

Insist on great business results! Go to Pathfinder Communication

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Speaking in San Diego on July 9th

I'll be talking about how to combine some of the things I've been writing about for the last few months...should be fun. I can't wait to see you again.
For more info, including location and sign-up - go here (ASQ San Diego)

Insist on great business results! Go to Pathfinder Communication

Monday, June 10, 2013

Controlling How We Are Perceived

We develop an impression of others pretty quickly, and we are wired to be flexible with the first impression IF we see evidence that we are wrong (“when I first met her, she seemed a little ditzy, but I could see after just one real conversation that she was better versed than I on a lot of subjects”). If evidence indicates we are right (and sometimes, if we just NEED to be right) our impression will develop into something stronger (like an opinion) and we may even “upgrade” its status to a “fact”. My point is that how people perceive us can be controlled.

It is easiest to influence their perceptions at the beginning of a relationship because we are wired to be flexible at first and become more rigid as we find evidence. We even refer to the process as “forming” an opinion. If someone is forming an opinion about us, WE are the source of the evidence. And even if they know something about us from a different source, we provide the evidence that they can use to modify that opinion of us, until their judgment of us is aligned with the evidence they have.

This sounds like an opportunity to “pretend to be someone that you aren’t”, but it isn’t. It is an opportunity to determine behaviors that may be holding you back (or coloring people’s perception of you in an unflattering way) and tailoring them to portray your true feelings and thoughts in a way that they can easily understand them. That is, to be more transparent and accessible, less cryptic.

In short we can present ourselves in a way that promotes productive and beneficial working relationships without being false or fake in any way – just by have the a full understanding of how we actually feel, and how to communicate that to the world. I will make some suggestions as to how excellent communicators and leaders typically feel about relationships and common ways those feelings manifest themselves. You MUST tailor these to suit who you are – you should seldom use someone else’s words to express your own feelings. NOTE - beware self-help advice that offers you “scripts” – if your words don’t align with your feelings and actions, the people you are trying to communicate with will identify you as a fake. Think of the people you have known whose words didn’t align with their actions. How did you feel about them?

My suggestions (from the last newsletter) were as follows:
·         Giving the benefit of the doubt as far as our counterpart’s motives
·         Using inquiry like a journalist would and listening to answers
·         Working actively to prevent defensiveness
·         Being honest and explicit

 I will expand a little on those and give you an overview of a model I named THE SCORE to help you remember the elements.

The objective is to be a person that does not promote defensiveness in others. Defensiveness is the primary reason that people are not open and honest at work – they think what they say will somehow cause them trouble, so they “defend” against that trouble in a MYRIAD of ways. My method (THE SCORE) is a method that requires only three things:
1)      You know what makes for good communication
2)      Adjust YOUR way of communicating to conform with those rules (in YOUR unique way),  and
3)      Facilitate other people in communicating in that same way (usually, without them knowing it).

I will teach you these things, so don’t worry that you don’t know them now – you will over the next few weeks. As you begin to practice them, others will just see you as the kind of person they can talk to about anything and it will seem natural to do so. They will feel that way because you will SHOW them that you are that kind of person.

Some of the ways we promote defensiveness in others are listed in the table below. Ways to PROMOTE DEFENSIVENESS (detract from good communication) are in the first two columns). Ways to INHIBIT DEFENSIVENESS (encourage good communication) are in the last two columns.

Example Behaviors that Promotes Defensiveness
Common Names for Bad Behavior
Behavior to Inhibit Defensiveness
Common Names for Good Behavior
Acting as if your ideas are fully formed, vetted, and can’t be improved upon.  Input or critique is not welcomed
Arrogance, Closed-mindedness
Explicitly stating that our ideas have some room for improvement. Use other’s involvement in the formulation of ideas to create buy-in
Tentativeness; Humility
Ignoring or arguing with the feelings or opinions of others such that you indicate that they don’t matter (or don’t exist)
Self-centered; Isolated; “Steamroller”; Disconnected
Explicitly demonstrating an understanding of the feelings and opinions of others, considering them,  and expressing that they are important; Speaking kindly, giving the benefit of the doubt
Empathetic; Fair-minded
Using vocabulary or terms that is not familiar to the person with whom we are trying to communicate; or using vocabulary that is aimed below their level of capability
Snobbish; Show-off; Talking Down; Confusing
Using vocabulary chosen specifically for the people with whom we are communicating (defining unfamiliar acronyms, using two syllable words, explicitly asking for understanding, watching non-verbal cues for confusion)
Simple; Clear; Meaningful
Using prepared “boilerplate” information that doesn’t take the specific audience into account; Using words to manipulate; offering weak excuses
Insincere; Manipulative; Dishonest; Condescending
Speak from the heart, being kind and honest ; being fair and firm
Telling rather than asking; listening
Closed minded; Disconnected; Rude
Asking questions, including follow-up questions to answers
Acting as if your ideas are fully formed, vetted, and can’t be improved upon.  Input or critique is not welcomed; Cutting others off
Closed minded; Arrogant; Rude;
Sharing the weak points of your own position; asking for suggestions; listening summarizing to assure understanding; weighing trade-offs; changing your mind when warranted
Cutting others off; insulting; dismissing their ideas without reasoning
Disrespectful; Rude
Listening; fully considering proposed ideas; giving reasons for disagreement
Holding multiple discussions at a time; not focusing one someone speaking to you; multitasking (phone, email) while someone is discussing something important with you
Disrespectful; Disengaged; Disingenuous
Focusing your attention on your counterpart; rescheduling discussions based on their priority in order to give attention

I suggest you look through the first two columns to identify the things that POOR COMMUNICATORS IN YOUR LIFE currently do that detract from good communication. It is usually easiest to see these things in others, especially those that already bother us. Then look at what GOOD BEHAVIORS they would have to implement to improve the situation. Wouldn’t things be better if they would do them?

Then look through the first two columns looking for things that YOU might do. I found it useful in my life to ask people if they thought any of the names in the second column applied to me. I wouldn’t ask them to explain, and I wouldn’t try to tell them they were wrong, or give excuses….. I would just thank them. Then I would practice the behaviors in the last two columns that were prescribed. It is difficult for people to tell us our short comings (unless they trust us). If you find that your circle of co-workers find you perfect, you need to search yourself. Are they just afraid to tell you the truth? If you are truly perfect, then I need you as a mentor.

THE SCORE is a model that I created that stands for:

Simplicity (and Sincerity)

The right hand column in the table above corresponds with the model elements. We will go into detail on these elements next time.

Insist on great business results! Go to Pathfinder Communication

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Productive Relationships

This is a big moment. In the last two newsletters, we've talked about WHO to talk to and WHAT to talk to them about in order to make changes in the way company works. This week, we are going to start talking about HOW to accomplish what we want.

The reason I call it a big moment is that we are going to talk about YOU, and why you need to change the way you talk to people to get the results you want.
Some people believe that one is either born with communication talent or not, and it can’t be learned.
I am telling you it can.
Many people don’t believe that a change in their perspective will cause a change in their communication results.
 I am here to tell you it will.
Some people feel that it is unfair that they should have to learn these skills when it makes the communication better for EVERYONE when they practice it. It’s like they are carrying the load for everyone.
I am saying “So what?”…. If you want to have great results, you have to put in some extra work. What’s unfair about that?

If you are still with me, and are willing to do the work, I’ll show you HOW to approach others such that they want very much to work with you because they know you value them and lead them into better results than they can get elsewhere.

I speak to professional organizations, university classes, and companies routinely about the things that cause them issues at work and the people I meet almost always tell the same story.

 “Our people are all good at what they do. I mean, the engineers are all good engineers, the project managers now what they are doing, the production personnel are capable of doing great work… but they don’t TALK to each other until something goes wrong, then they work hard to RE-DO what they could have done in the FIRST PLACE if they just would have talked about it. They blame EACH OTHER for the communication problems, and say that management doesn’t hold people accountable (meaning ‘they don’t fire the people that I think they should’). It’s this way everywhere, and I don’t think there is a good solution”.

This should give you a good idea of how important being a good communicator is; it is a widespread problem, it is the root cause for many of our routine problems (if we communicated well, a great MANY problems go away), and it is about LISTENING, TALKING, and THINKING in certain ways that tend to get better results. This means it is the key to great results AND  involves changing the way we do our most common activities, so we have lots of opportunities to practice and can get better quickly.

We need first to consider just ourselves. We know about the things that make us uncomfortable in communication and instead of thinking about our counterpart making us uncomfortable, we are going to concentrate on doing what WE can do to make them comfortable. If we do this, we are much more likely to put them in a frame of mind in which they will be cooperative and THAT is when we will begin achieving what we want to achieve. This is 70% of good communications –keeping the right frame of mind. THIS IS THE HARD PART. Once you are through it, you will get better results than most of the people you know. Until you practice it about 25 times, it will feel very wrong (if you are doing it right). Then, you will never want to go back to the way you used to communicate.

The principles we will use are:
  • Giving the benefit of the doubt as far as our counterpart’s motives
  • Using inquiry like a journalist would and listening to answers
  • Working actively to prevent defensiveness
  • Being honest and explicit
Many of us know that these contribute to good communication, but have trouble doing them. The reason for our current trouble (after training lots of people that have had that trouble) is that they never thought about a way to do them all together. For instance, we have all seen someone say something that resulted in defensiveness in someone else, while the speaker thought they were just being “honest and explicit”. Experiences like that give us very strong mental examples that tell us “you just can’t GET any better”,  say things like “the truth hurts”, and blame the communication issue on the other person.

You may be doing these things already, or you may think you are and actually aren’t; either way, I will outline how I want you to approach it.

Giving the benefit of the doubt is pretty easy – just recognize that it is not necessary to understand your counterpart’s reasons for having their opinions .Unless you are sure that they are purposely lying to you in order to cause you to think something that isn’t true, then that is good enough for now. What you DO need is a full understanding of their opinions – that will tell you what you need to know about their reasoning. Later, we will learn to examine their story with them and find the answers to any important questions (like – are they being honest).

Using inquiry is something we will talk about a lot going forward because it is the first new skill that you will need. Not that it is new to everyone, but if it IS, you will find it a little different than what you are used to and difficult because of that. Inquiry is a method to collaboratively compare multiple points of view to find the best “parts” and build the best ideas out of those parts. I have written a couple of articles on MY model of Inquiry (the SPIRAL model) and you can refer to them here and here.

“Working actively to prevent defensiveness” and “Being honest and explicit” are accomplished using the other model I developed called “The Score”. I have written a lot about it over the last few years and you can find past newsletters on the subject here and a paper written on the subject at my website here. The paper has a flyer attached to a 3 day class I was offering when I wrote it. Please ignore it.

Insist on great business results! Go to Pathfinder Communication

Sunday, April 28, 2013

What to Demonstrate to Your Company's Key Staff (And a Rare Public Class Announcement)

Last time we talked about who you want to talk to in order to affect the culture and introduce your ideas into consideration. There will be lots more on that later, because finding the right people is pretty critical in getting your ideas adopted. This time we want to talk about WHAT you say to them, and maybe a little on HOW you say it.

There are a few things you want to accomplish in your conversations that are not intuitive and how you are viewed has a big impact on your success with accomplishing them. Let’s talk about how you would like to be perceived in order be considered as a key employee by a typical employer.

You are serious about contributing the company’s success and are capable of doing so.
  • This means you are recognized as credible by those employees that matter (those outside of your regular circle that shape company culture and, of course, your peers and immediate superiors). They know that you are appropriately educated and trained, that you get good results, and that you make extra effort when needed. You don’t talk about doing work in order to “keep so-and-so off my back”, but instead talk about your reason for doing the work as achieving an objective or meeting a goal that is important to the company. Become aware of the goals and objectives that your tasks support. If you were a manager, and you needed help on something important, you would want someone that has demonstrated their ability to recognize important tasks and place their effort on them.
  • In order to make it clear that you are this person, you may want to talk SPARINGLY about your education, your training, and your experience in past jobs but remember this (important note here – EXPERTS are considered more credible if their education, training, and experience enable them to EXPLAIN what is right or wrong about a specific action. Experts that refer to their education, training, and experience in order to AVOID giving explanations are likely to be perceived as blowhards.)
  • It is also important that you share your track record of success, both at your current employer and prior, and that you do it sparingly. You must not be seen as a braggart because braggarts are generally suspected of exaggerating and exaggerating is a form of dishonesty that undermines your credibility. A good way to encourage others to help spread word of your successes independently is to ALWAYS give credit publicly for the accomplishments of others. If you do this, people will want to reciprocate by talking of yours. Do not, however, engage in false modesty or give credit where it is not due.

You are serious about work, and you also have a life outside doing things that are interesting and aligned with the values of the key employees at your company.
  • This means that you prioritize work highly in the way you live your life, and the things you do outside of work are like the things that the key people at your work do. This one worries some people in that they think that I am recommending that they change “who they are”. I would not recommend that you change anything about your character for anyone but yourself. Change is good if it is needed, and you are the judge of that. What I AM pointing out is that part of creating a connection with the key people in your organization is to demonstrate how you are LIKE them.
  • I’ll give you an example – many of the people with whom I work are charitable givers. That is, they give money or time to the community. I was not giving to any charities, so I found a couple that aligned with who I am and began to be involved. I found it enriching, made me feel good, and when I would bring it up at work (usually in a regular old “what did you do last weekend” talk) people saw me as the kind of person that they can respect – someone like them. Not because I faked it, but because I found a way to do it that was true to who I am.
  • As we get deeper into the study of persuasion and influence, we will talk about the work of Robert Cialdini. In his research, he found that people are persuaded more easily by people that the feel are like themselves. Find a few ways in which you are truly like those with whom you work, and demonstrate it. DON’T try to be someone you aren't – be who you are and show those parts of your character that are like theirs.

You can intake information, analyze it, and create and articulate courses of action that are organized, actionable, and likely to be effective.
  • This is a skill which we will cover off and on through this series of articles. Being able to get data (that is, research issues and ask questions) is really rare and knowing how to do it will set you apart. Being able to ask someone questions about a sensitive topic, getting the truth, and improving the relationship with them is the hallmark of an expert and we will walk through many techniques to do this. After you get the information, you need to be able to weigh it out and find a course of action.
  • This is a largely collaborative process and, again, being able to guide such discussions is very rare but we will learn how to do it and build teams and commitment at the same time. It is critical that we can collaborate with others without much ego and help them focus their individual expertise on effective collaborative outcomes.

You can operate with some ambiguity in your work.
  • Many times one has to work through trade-offs (when changing things means that some things improve and other things get worse) or solutions that improve the short term at the sake of the long term, or vice versa. Learning to recognize these instances and talk through the relative benefits and penalties is an important skill to elite team members.
  • For an example, many times in order to reduce rework that results from a poorly run process, I have found that we need to add a little planning work. The addition of planning in many cases reduces the OVERALL costs or time of the process but the PLANNING time is increased. The folks responsible for the planning think I am crazy – that I am just making things take longer and they are right from THEIR perspective. Overall, though, we reduce cost which is what we need to do from an OVERALL perspective. After we are sure that we have reduced overall cost by doing a little more planning, THEN we try to find ways to do the planning more efficiently so we can reduce the time it takes to do that.
  • By being able to recognize, articulate, and work through the ambiguities with all team members, you become increasingly valuable.

The topics above are four critical ways you can strive to be perceived if you want to start working on the culture of your organization. Study them to find ways you can begin living them at your work. Remember to always be yourself – don’t abandon the principles that are important to you in order to fit in. Emphasize and demonstrate the parts of you fit in with your organization’s elite team.

As for any skills that you may need to develop or refresh to assist, I am anticipating conducting a class this spring / summer again. The cost will be $199 total and will take 3 days. If you are interested, let me know. If there is enough interest, I will select dates that work around my existing private classes so that we can have a group class for any that are interested. As many of you long time readers know, I have been booked with private classes for the last two years so this “open to the public” class is a rare opportunity to be guided through these high-performance communication principles. Write to

Insist on great business results! Go to Pathfinder Communication