September is officially here. Children are readying for back to school, a bit of a chill lingers in the morning air and Mr. Sun is a wee bit slower to rise and shine. As we head into sweater-weather, I look forward to drinking pumpkin spice lattes, decorating the front porch and watching movies like You've Got Mail. I love the line Tom Hank emails Meg Ryan, "I would send you a bouquet of newly-sharpened pencils." It pretty much sums up how I feel about September. It's time to set goals, refocus, and shake off the lazy haze of summer.
Earlier this year, I read a great book called Atomic Habits by James Clear. The premise isn't new, but the author's approach to the topic is refreshing and encouraging. It is a guide to introducing positive small habits that, over time, will lead to remarkable results. I decided to put it to the test, not only for myself, but with one of my clients who had a specific weight loss goal. I invited him to read the book, which he did. It helped him set realistic weekly goals by implementing small, but consistent changes that become part of his healthy lifestyle. My client set a goal to lose 1.5-2 pounds a week. He also gradually introduced some physical fitness in the form of walking, jogging, planks, and push-ups. As one of his accountability coaches, I checked in with him weekly. Since February, he has lost close to 60 pounds and has increased his running, weight-training, planks and push-ups, substantially.
What about me? I started running again. I set a daily goal to run 35 minutes 5 days a week. I scheduled my runs in my calendar so the time was secured. I kept to the goal and within 8 weeks, I was running 7km 6 days a week. It became an activity that was just part of my day and if I didn't run, I felt like something was missing.
So back to the book summary. Atomic Habits is broken down into six sections. The first section explains the theory and fundamentals of atomic habits. The next four sections cover the laws of making and keeping a new habit. The premise here is that you want to make it obvious, attractive, easy and satisfying to keep a new habit. In my case, I laid out my running clothes and shoes right beside my bed so that I had no excuse when I woke in the morning. I tracked my daily runs and had a weekly reward planned if I kept up my running habit.
What about breaking bad habits? The opposite approach holds true here. You want to make a bad habit difficult, unattractive, invisible, and unsatisfying. James Clear provides many real-world examples in his book.
The final section deals with more complex issues you might encounter as you continue to develop and improve your new habits.
It is a great read, especially for those who are keen on setting new goals and look at September as a fresh start or a chance to adopt some new and healthy habits.
The trick is to start small and allow yourself to experience success so you can build your confidence, have fun and gain momentum over time. No hidden secrets here. It takes effort, but not as much as you think to experience remarkable results.
Welcome September and all you have in-store including sharpened pencils, fresh starts and good habits.
Recently I heard a quote that really stuck with me while watching a program on Netflix called, Mozart in the Jungle. The new maestro, Rodrigo de Souza, says, "The highest cliff you can fall from is Trust." This quote was inspired by Francisco de Quevedo's words, "El mayor despeñadero, la confianza. Quevedo was a Spanish poet and writer from the Spanish Golden Age.
While the quote is in reference to how to develop and maintain trust in our lives, it got me thinking about the critical role trust plays in the workplace. So much of my coaching practice centres around trust. For me, as I'm sure is the case with other coaches, if you can't establish trust and intimacy with your client, you cannot truly move forward in any meaningful way.
For my clients, when we explore obstacles, and particularly communication barriers that are holding them back, the issue is usually distilled down to the theme of trust. Either trust has been broken or trust was never really built in the first place.
Like Maestro Rodrigo's quote, trust is the highest cliff you can fall. As quickly as a major drop from a cliff occurs, so it happens with trust. The challenge is that building trust feels like the same experience of climbing a mountain to get to the top. Once you're there and trust has been built, you can enjoy a splendid view. Everything seems clear and you can see the landscape around you for miles. Falling takes no effort, but is horribly frightening, as is the case when you lose someone's trust. Building and maintaining trust requires constant effort and conscious self awareness of what observable behaviours you exhibit that either build or destroy trust.
I believe self awareness gives us the ability to make positive change happen. How do we become more self aware? We ask for feedback and we reflect on our actions and words. We can self reflect on the topic of trust by asking ourselves 4 major questions: (source: Leader as Coach)
There are a host of other questions under each of the 4 major questions and if you would like to complete the full leadership trust audit please contact me and I'll email you the (free) questionnaire.
There is so much to share and discuss on the topic of trust. On September 4 at 12pm EST, I'll be leading a webinar as part of a Laurier Alumni series. (You don't need to Alumni to participate). There is no charge to sign up for the webinar. It is called, Fostering Trust in the Workplace and I hope you'll join in.
In the webinar, we'll explore:
When we have a trusting relationship, we give the other person the benefit of the doubt when something seems amiss. When trust doesn't exist, "trust tax" is taking off the top of every exchange we have with them. We are quick to judge and to make a negative assumption. In a work setting, when trust doesn't exist, nothing happens with speed or efficiently and achieving results takes far more time than necessary. If you're interested in learning more on the topic, I invite you to read, The Speed of Trust by Steven M. R. Covey. If you'd prefer the 8-page book summary, contact me and I'll email you the free executive summary.
I'll leave you with this quote by one of my favourite writers, Ernest Hemingway, "The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them."
When I think about coming to the end of a good book, I feel a sense of loss. If I really loved the book, I don't want it to end. I want the story to continue, yet here I am, closing the book and facing change. What will I read next? Will it be nearly as good as the book I just finished? This analogy might seem trivial, but I hope it serves to create a sense of similarity with the concept of dealing with endings. Endings of any kind create a psychologist reaction in us.
Change is an enigma
Endings are a result of a change event. There has been a great deal of research done on the topic of change as well as many books and workshops on the topic, including my own. Perhaps it is because change is a bit of an enigma.
Change vs. Transition
No matter how much we study and write about it, we struggle to manage change effectively. Research done by Peter Senge of the Center for Organizational Learning states that over 70% of organizational change efforts fail. Why is that? Perhaps it has to do with the fact that while change is situational, outcome-based and relatively quick, it is the psychological response it triggers in us, as a result of dealing with the transitional aspects of change, that happens at a far slower pace and trips us up. Often in change management, we overlook the importance of the psychological aspects of change and don't give it the time, attention, or resources needed to help those going through the emotional aspects associated with change.
Psychotic? No Psychological!
Transition is a process people go through as they internalize and come to terms with change. Transition is psychological and is what happens inside people's minds when they are presented with change. Here's an example: when a woman gives birth, the process happens relatively quickly (some mothers may argue this point), but the process of becoming a parent and learning what it takes to effectively care and raise a child is a much longer transition. There are a host of questions, fears, worries and anxieties that are related to the change event of child birth.
The Transition Model
Back in 1991, William Bridges came up with a framework called the Transition Model. It deals with 3 phases of transition:
1) The Ending - letting go of old ways and identities and dealing with a sense of loss.
In this phase, we worry about what we are likely to lose and we grieve the old ways. If we aren't allowed to recognize or express our feelings of sadness, fear or anger, it will take longer and be more difficult to get through the transition. This phase takes time because it isn't change people resist, it is loss.
2) The Neutral Zone - this is the in-between or uncomfortable time when the old is gone, but there is confusion, ambiguity, uncertainty and maybe even existential angst about what it all about anyway.
The old way is gone, but the new way doesn't fit comfortably, yet. In this phase, you know that you've got to let go of the old, but aren't sure how to be or how to work in the new. This is the trickiest phase and the one that I think warrants the most attention because here we see an increase in anxiety and a distinct drop in motivation and productivity.
3) The new Beginning - during this phase, people start to experience new energy as they discover their new identity and purpose after letting go of the old. In this phase, we experience an uplift in energy, motivation and productivity as we begin to feel more comfortable with the new.
It is important to look for small wins with the new. Keeping yourself motivated and supported as the new beginning takes root is key so that you are able to establish healthy new behaviours and avoid limiting thoughts about what's ended.
Be the Pro
To transition through change like a pro requires new behaviours and the ability to let go of the old. Be clear about what you need to do differently and what you will let go of. Allow yourself to feel the emotions associated with loss and seek the answers you need as you move through the 3 phases of transition. If you take this approach, you'll reduce the depth of the dip in the neutral zone and face the new beginning with more energy and optimism.
For years I've asked the question:
What stops you from giving feedback?
Not surprisingly, the response is consistently the same:
1) I don't know how the person is going to react;
2) I don't think they will take it well. I think they will be upset or defensive and I don't know how to handle it.
It's natural for us to feel uncomfortable when we don't think we can be in control of a situation or predict the outcome. Our brain reacts to uncertainty as a major stressor that could be the equivalent of a life-threatening situation. Since the dawn of man, our amygdala, or the oldest part of our brain, deals instinctively with stress by triggering an emotional and physical fight, flight or freeze response in us. When we're in a place of uncertainty, our brain says, no, I don't like it. It could mean danger. Red alert. Red alert.
How do we overcome the Red Alert Syndrome that prevents us from embracing the art of giving feedback?
It helps to know some key steps in the process. It is all about practice and applying techniques to create a climate for successful candid conversations.
When and where to have a feedback conversation.
Let's start here. Giving candid or difficult feedback isn't easy especially when you're unsure of how the person might respond. Give consideration to the following:
What if the person gets emotional?
What if the person interrupts you, cries, yells or acts defensively? This is a realistic concern. Just know that you can't control how a person responds. All you are in control of is how you deliver your message and how you manage your own behaviour.
When dealing with emotional reactions, it helps to:
Stay firm in your decision to give feedback even if you can't predict how the person will respond. Drown out any red alert signals by concentrating on how you will deliver your message, how you will conduct yourself during the conversation and remember that the purpose of your feedback is to help the person be successful.
I recently learned some trivia about the 1976 neo-noir psychological thriller, Taxi Driver. In the movie, Robert De Niro, stars as Travis Bickle a mentally unstable veteran, working as a nighttime taxi driver. The line, "You talkin' to me?" ranks number eight in The Hollywood Reporter's list of 100 favourite movie quotes of all time. The film's director, Martin Scorsese, shared that Robert De Niro made up the entire sequence on the spot where his character talks to himself and asks that famous question.
The movie quote reminds me of how people feel when they either think about giving or receiving feedback. Both scenarios can trigger emotional responses of fear, anxiety, and discomfort for the giver and receiver.
Why give feedback in the first place?
Not everyone has the innate gift of being diplomatic, genuine and calm when giving feedback. The good news is that it is a skill you can learn with patience, practice and experience. By getting comfortable giving feedback, you make it easier to address expectations and boundaries in relationships.
When done well, the benefits of feedback help to:
Got the feedback jitters?
Here's a tip to help you lose the feedback jitters and do a better job of delivering an important message -- remember the why! When you feel nervous or unsure about giving feedback, focus on the core purpose or reason for doing it -- you want to help the person be successful. Feedback is most beneficial if provided within 24 hours and no later than 1 week from when you observed the behaviour that warrants feedback. Connecting with your intention of being helpful to the other person and wanting their success will make it easier to deliver your message. Start your conversation by stating that you're giving feedback to help them be successful. Doing so will kick your feedback discussion off on the right foot.
When is it appropriate to give feedback?
When giving feedback of any kind, ask yourself:
Check out Part 2 of Giving Feedback with Confidence for tips on managing emotional reactions.
Recently I embarked on a complete rebranding exercise for my coaching and consulting business. The result? It made me fall more in love with the work I do as an entrepreneur and strategic thinking partner for those I'm fortunate enough to call my clients.
North Star Purpose
This rebranding exercise got me thinking about my North Star purpose - otherwise known as a personal mission statement or articulation of high-level, long-term aspirational goals.
When I first started my business, I thought a lot about my North Star and really hadn't revisited it until now. I knew that my business needed to reflect what I felt so passionately about - that a coach can help you see your North Star and define it such that you are always able to stay on course and find your way, no matter where you are.
A North Star is something wholesome and vital. When you find it and recognize your purpose, it feels good to know where you're headed as something steady and reassuring, something you can always count on.
For professional/leadership coaching, finding your North Star means finding the way you wish to lead based on your core values so that you can use your North Star light to enable others to find their own.
What is a North Star Strategy?
In my role as a business coach and consultant, I help leaders identify their organization's overall
purpose and ambition. In other words, I help them find and define their why...their North Star -- a way to communicate and honour stakeholder promises and customer commitments. I ask my clients powerful questions to help them find inspiration and insights in ways they hadn't before considered.
I'm so thrilled at the success my clients experience. Using a tested and true model, we get clear about their why, their North Star purpose. While the four questions I've included might seem simplistic, I can assure you they aren't. When you are able to fully answer them and your employees are able to provide consistently similar responses, you know you've been able to successfully implement your North Star Strategy. The work doesn't stop there though!
The four questions:
1) What does your organization do?
2) Why is your organization in business? (your North Star purpose)
3) How will you ensure you can bring your why to life your business? What will that look like?
4) Now that you've answered questions 1-3, how do you want your customers to feel?
With my unwavering belief in the North Star approach, I've rebranded my logo to reflect the compass rose. It is the diagram depicted on a compass face that shows the directions of north, south, east and west in abbreviated initials. The compass and GPS have been some of the greatest inventions, in my opinion, as instruments to indicate direction and navigation. For mariners, the magnetic compass allowed them to determine their direction even if clouds blocked their usual astronomical cues.
There are times when all of us feel there is something obscuring our ability to see the path forward. In these times, it is helpful to have resources, like a compass or a coach to help you map out points to steer yourself and your business in the direction of your North Star. Contact us to take the next step in aligning your energy and actions in the service of your vision.
I can't imagine that anyone wakes up in the morning and says, "Hey, I think I'll be a victim in the story of my life today." Yet, more often than not, our brain tricks us into taking on that exact role.
What? Our brain tricks us? Answer: Yes.
Question: Does that mean we need to outsmart it?
Answer: Yes, if you want to experience more balanced responses when you become emotionally triggered and to remain the hero of your own story.
What does it mean to be emotionally triggered?
Let's take a quick trip back in time. At some point the oldest part of our brain, known as the amygdala, served us well. We were able to impulsively and quickly respond when emotionally triggered through a flight, fight or freeze response. Even in this day and age our amygdala still tries to protect us at all costs, but still confuses stress for life threatening situations. It stops our the newest part of our brain, the Prefrontal Cortex (PFC), or thinking brain, from receiving the information it needs to help us make good, balanced choices. When our amygdala isn't experiencing stress, it communicates nicely with our PFC. When our PFC doesn't receive the information it needs, it also isn't able to communicate with our hippocampus or our mental "librarian". The hippocampus stores and recalls our memories. When our amygdala kicks into overdrive, neither our PFC or our hippocampus get a chance to perform their jobs properly.
Have you ever...
had a meeting with someone that didn't go well. Let's say it is a colleague at work. After your upsetting conversation or disagreement, you get in your vehicle to drive home and don't remember how you got from the office to your front door. What happened? Perhaps the conversation triggered anger or embarrassment for you or perhaps your values where challenged. Not remembering or not being in the present moment means your amygdala tricked you into zoning out by preventing your PFC from receiving the information it needed to help you deal with the negative experience in a better way.
When you're emotionally triggered, your brain perceives that someone has taken or plans to take away an important need you have. Your brain goes into flight, fight or freeze mode. You might ruminate and replay the conversation over and over in your mind thus stopping you from being mindful and consciously aware of your surroundings.
What are your top emotional needs?
Common needs include: acceptance, respect, being liked, being understood, being needed, being valued, being in control, being right, being loved and feeling safe. Some needs are more important to you than others. If you're not sure of your top emotional needs, you can complete a brief, free quiz at lifecoach.com.
Don't stop the feels.
The goal for creating a more balanced response when you're negatively emotionally triggered isn't to ignore the emotion.
It's important to identify and acknowledge what you're feeling.
You can mentally say to yourself, "I know there is anger in me." or "I can accept that I am experiencing intense anger or frustration right now." Instead of feeling embarrassment or guilt for having a negative emotion, this is the time to hold the feeling in your awareness and stay open to it instead of trying to be stronger than the emotion. When you accept the emotion, you are able to create space around it. You have emotions, but you aren't the emotion. The emotion isn't permanent. It is here now and will fade away like ocean waves that crest and recede. You can mentally say to yourself, "This is a temporary feeling. I know it is here now. What need do I have as a result of the emotion I'm feeling?"
When you acknowledge and accept the emotion, you allow yourself the ability to witness it and trick your brain into allowing the PFC to receive the information it needs. You do this by being in the present moment and mindfully creating a pause before you react and allow your amygdala to impulsively trigger a response. This response could be an overwhelming urge in you to do something you know isn't good for you. Perhaps you are an emotional eater, or drink more alcohol when negative thoughts trip up your amygdala. Maybe spending to excess is your response, These examples of emotional triggers are a reaction to a perceived or real unmet need. These emotionally triggered responses aren't completely involuntary. You have the power to choose how best to respond, but it does take practice and lots of self reflection.
Practice through self reflection.
Think about your past experiences when you recall being emotionally triggered. What was the need you felt was being threatened? How did you respond? What might you have done differently? Did you ask for what you needed?
When you don't deal with the threat of a need being unmet, your amygdala will rationalize whatever unhealthy response you chose in the moment in order for it to make sense to you. Through self reflection and being truly honest with yourself, you will be able to start identifying when your responses weren't ideal or perhaps when they were hurtful to yourself or others. Don't let your amygdala place you in victim mode. By accepting your emotion and witnessing the need you have by being in the present moment, you can allow messages to move from the amygdala to the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus thus allowing you the ability to shift your response to a more balanced one.
How do you stay present and exercise self compassion?
Start by recognizing the tension in your body. Breathe deeply several times and release the tension in your arms, shoulders, neck, back and and everywhere you feel it.
Then drop your awareness to the center of your body just below your navel. Next, offer yourself a kind wish that can become your go-to mantra. Examples of kind wishes include:
"May I be healthy. May I be happy. May I be free from suffering."
"May I be filled with confidence."
"May I be free from the compulsion to negatively react to this situation."
The good news is that you and you alone are the hero of your story. You have the ability to control how you choose to respond. Stay present when you're emotionally triggered and remember to be kind to yourself. Imagine what you might tell your best friend or a loved one who felt the way you do when emotionally triggered. Give yourself that the same level of compassion you offer those you hold most dear.
Olive and I have been through Beginner dog training. Note the graduation cap in the photo (no small feat to get this image!)
I'd say that her ability to listen to my requests is an ongoing challenge and open to interpretation from her perspective, I'm sure.
Being a good communicator is more about how you listen than what you say.
When you truly listen to others and they believe you understood them, well, it is a powerful experience.
There are 3 levels of listening that I'd like to share with you.
Level 1: It is the "ME" level.
Level 2: It is the "WE" level.
Level 3: It is the "YOU" level.
For many of us, staying at Level 3 listening, the YOU level, takes practice. Perhaps we have some poor listening skills, like Sheldon, to break.
Here are some tips to help you listen at a level 3 and focus on the other person:
I have a dog named Olive. She a sweet and loving little black Cockapoo. She literally is my constant companion and a joy in every way. There are times when I call Olive and she doesn't come. It is as if she isn't listening to me. I call her name with a little more vigour and volume, but she still doesn't come. I realize, not just through dog training, which is really people training, that the issue isn't with Olive. It rests with me. I need to get better at how I communicate so that she has an easier time of listening.
My experience with Olive got me thinking about what it feels like to be listened to. For me, I feel a sense of calmness, of validation, of being understood. When someone takes the time and makes the effort to really listen, it builds the foundation for trust and respect; two of the most crucial underpinnings of success in any type of relationship.
I invite you to take a few seconds to consider what you feel when someone really listens to you and you know they understood the full extend of what you're expressing.
There are clear verbal and non-verbal signals that allow us to recognize that the receiver of our message is actively listening. Here are some surprising, but true facts about what people can pick up from us:
There are also clear signs of poor listening skills. I've included one of my favourite video clips from the TV series, The Big Bang Theory to demonstrate poor listening skills.
Signs of poor listening skills
I think Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory is a pro at demonstrating poor listening skills. So fun to watch, don't you think?
It might not be so fun if you recognize that you have Sheldon-like tendencies when it comes to listening. Whenever I ask workshop participants about their listening skills, they tend to rate themselves favourably as being effective at active listening. After we go through a series of role-playing exercises to demonstrate levels of listening and then share feedback, the results are thought-provoking. People struggle more than they realized. They frequently interrupted and judged or debated with the person speaking even when asked as part of the exercise to simply listen.
Want to know more about active listening? Stay tuned for Part 2!