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3 Practices To Become A Great Listener

*As originally seen on Forbes.com

Are any of these phrases familiar to you?

  • “You just don’t understand.”
  • “How many times do I have to repeat myself?”
  • “I can’t tell if you’re distracted, or you just don’t care.”

Whether you’re hearing these phrases or saying them, they’re all signs of ineffective listening. And ineffective listening can lead to damaged relationships, inefficient use of time and energy, and silos between key people in an organization.

The conventional advice to improving your listening skills ranges from practicing active listening, walking in someone else’s shoes, echoing back what the other person says, and paying attention to nonverbal communication (body language, facial expressions etc.).

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Here are three steps to being a better listener.

Step 1: Build Rapport

By building rapport, we make the other person feel safe by giving them the experience that we are the “same as” them. The more safety you provide to another person, the more safety you provide for yourself when interacting with them.

This frees up your attention and energy to listen to what the other party is communicating. It also frees up their attention and energy to express what they are truly thinking. Rapport is about caring, not controlling or manipulating.

There are many ways to build rapport. Here are the two we suggest everyone start with:

  • Physical Body Mirroring. By mirroring a person’s posture full body position you step into what it feels like to be them. So for example if someone is leaning back and has his arms crossed, you do the same. Always pause before mirroring so that changing your position isn’t rushed or abrasive.
  • Keyword And Gesture Backtracking. Mirroring the words a person uses to describe their experience, and the gestures they use too furthers “same as.” If someone says, “I’d like to go the extra mile!”, while slicing the air with their hand—you can respond by gesturing similarly, and backtracking their keywords, “Yes! Let’s go the extra mile.”

(Note: this does not mean paraphrasing—which does not build rapport. Using their keywords is important.)

Step 2: Use the Meta Model

You’ll often hear people use non-specific phrases such as, “I find this task too difficult”. Often, we assume we understand what the person means by “too difficult.”

For a software programmer, “too difficult” might mean they have been asked to develop a better version of Microsoft Word by themselves. For you, “too difficult” might mean you need more time to complete a specific task. We all have our biases.

Key to clarifying what someone means, is to use what’s called the Meta Model in neurolinguistics. The Meta Model helps us see the world from the other person’s perspective, rather than our own.

The most useful Meta Model questions you can use include:

  • “What specifically?”
  • “How specifically?”, and
  •  “In comparison to who/what, specifically?”

Given the example we discussed, you could ask the person any of the following questions:

  •  “What specifically is this task, that you find too difficult?
  • “How is this task too difficult, specifically?”
  •  “Too difficult in comparison to what, specifically?”

Step 3: Make It Easier For Them To Express Themselves

What we say to someone can make it easier for them to express themselves and feel heard. Key is to first understand the root causes of why ineffective listening and communicating occurs: a lack of the three key emotional experiences of safety, belonging, and mattering.

1. Lack of safety. If the persons in communication do not feel safe, they’ll likely be in Critter State. This can lead to defensive behavior, aggressive interactions, and conflict avoidance. Rather than telling each other openly what they mean—a lot of their attention is directed to making sure they aren’t being harmed emotionally (or physically).

2. Lack of belonging. Without sufficient belonging, people will not care to share what they want to say. And they won’t care to listen to what others want to share either. People want to feel connected to and supported by the people they belong with (colleagues, industry peers, friends, and family).

3. Lack of mattering. If two people communicating don’t make each other feel they are important, and they matter—it’s difficult to feel heard, understood, and respected. People want to know they count, that they make a difference, and are contributing to the greater good.

Safety, belonging, and mattering are essential to your brain and your ability to perform at work, at home, and in life overall. In every communication, we are subconsciously reinforcing or reaching out for more safety, belonging, and mattering.

Try the three above steps and you’ll find your interactions will be more fun and more fulfilling too!

7 Steps To Maximize Your Success As A Leader

*As originally seen on Forbes.com

*As originally seen on Forbes.com

Many people think that executive coaching is for people who have problems. I often handle requests from CEOs and Senior Leaders who want to “fix” a manager or employee who is struggling. While there’s a lot of useful things that can be done to help, I find that the most exponential success usually comes when I am coaching people who are already doing great and want to be even better.

Here are seven steps to maximize your success as a leader:

7 Steps to Maximize Your Success As A Leader

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1. Seek Feedback

When coaching someone to achieve their highest potential, I first assess how they’re doing already. Where are their strengths and how can those be amplified? And where are their weaknesses, and how can those be minimized–either by behavior change or by delegation? The desire for external input, the willingness to make yourself vulnerable in seeking other people’s opinions, goes hand in glove with the overall desire and drive for self-improvement. Given that an enormous percentage of what we do every day is based on unconscious thought patterns and automatic behavior, how can we shift our beliefs and behaviors if we don’t know what they are? Let other people tell you.

2. Give The Gift Of Listening

They ask questions and other people explain themselves and defend their positions. Then they decide what they think or what questions they still have. Think of someone you know who has a lot of executive presence. I’ll take a gamble that they ask a lot of questions and are very curious. Here’s the real secret though, you actually have to listen to the answer the person gives you, and ask questions that reflect your growing understanding of what they are saying. One way to improve this immediately is to start noticing the ratio of how much you speak to advocate your ideas and position, versus how often you ask questions. Then start shifting that ratio to be more and more question asking and less and less advocacy.

3. Hands Off The “How”

Many leaders get confused when wanting to increase the accountability of their team. They go to communicate objectives and they get overly detailed, overly explicit on “how” that objective needs to be done. The team then feels like it’s being micro-managed, gets disengaged in the work, and accountability can actually slip. What needs to be communicated explicitly is the objective, the timeframe and impact, and the ownership—who owns what piece. Let your team figure out for themselves how they are going to succeed. The more inexperienced the team member, the more explicit you can ask them to be when communicating their plan and the more check-ins you will want to structure. Letting people figure things out on their own builds engagement and ownership.

4. Wander Around A Lot

In this age of accelerating technological change, I see more and more business books that have the sole purpose of advising people to get out from behind the darn computer screen, and meet with other people face-to-face. Business is about people, interacting with people. You need to know who your people are, what they are engaged in, and what fires them up. The only way you’ll know this is by getting out from behind the computer screen and making it a point to interact on a regular basis. If your team works off site, start picking up the phone on a regular basis, but make sure you also provide opportunities, at least a few times a year, for people to meet and greet live and in-person. That 1980s classic leadership concept–popularized by Tom Peters in his book In Search of Excellence – Management by Wandering Around (MBWA), is still valid today, maybe even more so.

5. Practice Radical Accountability

I am constantly amazed at how many people want to be in charge but don’t do the simple things required to build trust, like getting tasks done on time and communicating when things go wrong and a deadline needs to be renegotiated. Radical accountability not only means holding yourself to this high standard consistently, but also means making sure that you hold people in other parts of the organization accountable. You don’t have to be unpleasant about it. You just have to communicate if a deadline has slipped. That’s all. Find out what happened, renegotiate, and move on. Long-term organizational problems with accountability are usually communication problems in disguise. One person might feel embarrassed, something might have happened to change things and they failed to communicate about it, or they might be overwhelmed and under resourced, or they may have simply forgotten and not realize that another part of the organization is depending on them. When deadlines slip and there is no communication about it, underlying problems are never resolved. And that’s the real problem.

6. Master Influencing Skills

No this doesn’t mean practice power poses in the bathroom or read Machiavelli. In fact, real influence building is quite the reverse of manipulation.

It means learning to mirror and match people, so that you can build a sense of safety and trust. It means taking the time and effort to inquire about other peoples’ maps of reality so that you know where they are actually coming from and you aren’t just making stuff up. It means developing empathy—a real and felt sense of what someone else is going through.

7. Put Your Oxygen Mask On First

On an airplane they ask you to put your oxygen mask on first in case of emergency because they know you won’t be able to help others if you can’t breathe yourself.

Desire Is the Key

Maybe desire should have been step number one on the list: cultivate the desire to improve yourself. Cultivate that intangible drive and passion for excellence, for being all that you can be.

The Art Of Showing Up: How To Own Your Leadership Role And The Authority It Brings

*As originally seen on Forbes.com

*As originally seen on Forbes.com

Sue, CMO at a Midwest insurance company, receives a litany of excuses from her VP Marketing when deadlines are missed. And he continues to miss them.

Dan, VP Sales at a Silicon Valley software company, runs ragged tracking the performance of his sales people and cajoling them into using the CRM. He often donates time from his own assistant to do the sales people’s CRM data entry.

Karen, VP Talent at an East coast professional services firm, has frequent challenges with one of the firm’s top consultants. He changes agreements constantly, says he doesn’t remember promises made, and even bullies her and her team.

What do all these leaders have in common?

They’re not owning their role and the power and authority it brings. They’re not standing in their energetic weight.

Art of Showing Up

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The Art Of Showing Up: Standing In Your Role And Its Weight

Energetic weight is the energy, the power, the authority that comes with a given role. Now the role has it, sure, but does the individual with that role choose to use it? Standing in one’s energetic weight is about standing up for what you believe is right, it’s about doing the right thing, it’s about treating others with respect and also drawing the line when others are not honoring who you are and what your role represents.

Too many leaders, in an attempt to “be nice,” to fit in, to be popular miss the opportunity to stand in their energetic weight. Then they wonder why they are mired in low value activities, when their team doesn’t perform, when it’s hard to just get things done through other people.

Think of energetic weight like a mantle you wear, or even a crown. When you accept the responsibility of a given role, you “take on” or wear an energetic mantle of sorts. You agree to hold yourself to a higher standard than your prior role perhaps, because this new role may convey more authority, carry more responsibility (financial, larger team, etc.).

What’s Your Weight?

Here’s a quick quiz to provide some insight into your energetic weight. Answer Yes or No to each:

1. I spend 70% or more of my time on High Value Activities.

2. I hold others accountable to their commitments even if they go into victim or persecutor behavior  and try to make me “the bad guy.”

3. My team knows what is expected of them and they come forth when they drop the ball—rarely do I have to mention it.

4. My peers know what to expect in our interactions, what’s OK and what’s not, and where the line is that they shouldn’t cross.

5. My supervisor/boss/leader wouldn’t dream of delegating work to me that could be given to someone more junior.

6. My team wouldn’t dream of bouncing delegated work back to me, their leader.

7. I am known as fair, direct, collaborative and a straight shooter. This is why people trust me—I don’t play games, I give others credit when due, and continuously elevate and cultivate others.

8. I see my role as a privilege and not an entitlement. I am here to serve my company’s mission, fulfill its vision, and honor its values, and make a positive contribution to its clients, partners, and team.

9. I complete the work I am able to complete that is appropriate for my role and the amount of time I dedicate to work. I don’t self-sacrifice and work excessive hours–that would reduce my work quality and also mean I either am not delegating enough or am taking on more work than is healthy or appropriate.

10. I am OK with conflict and stress. If I disagree with something I say so, in a respectful way, with the reasons why. If others try to shoot down my ideas I get curious and find out what I may have missed. If under stress I stay calm and move through it. We’re all works in progress and that’s OK. We’ll get through this together.

If you have:

0-3 Yes Answers: It’s time to get a coach or work solo on building your energetic weight. Start to uncover the stories you’re telling yourself about being seen, having power, claiming your rightful place. It may be time to rewrite them.

4-6 Yes Answers: You’re on your way. Hone your skills, expand your heart, ground your energy into the earth and be the glorious human being you are. Now comes the best part: You get to help others understand this too.

7+ Yes Answers: Optimization is your adventure now. Let’s see how mentally clear, how inwardly still, how authentic and transparent you can be. It will be of great benefit to those you have the great good fortune to work with.

The Best Kind Of Weight Gain

So what happened to the three leaders above?

Once I coached them in their energetic weight and they began to stand in it, the results were fantastic.

Sue no longer receives a litany of excuses from her VP Marketing when deadlines are missed. Because he doesn’t miss them. He understands now that this isn’t OK.

Dan no longer runs ragged tracking the performance of his sales people and cajoling them into using the CRM. They now understand that if they don’t enter the CRM data timely, they can find a job elsewhere. And his assistant now has time to implement cool sales contests to increase revenue.

Karen let the consultant prima donna go. Her team is much happier now.

How is your energetic weight? Where would you like to grow?

Gain Energy In 5 Minutes

Do you feel totally drained by the end of the week or even by the end of the day? You can gain energy!

Here’s a quick (literally 5-minutes) way to recall your energy. Enjoy!

Today’s Workforce Only Wants Three Things

What does today’s workforce want, really?

Early retirement?

Ever-elusive work-life balance?

Or just a decent place to work with nice people?

While the war for talent continues, the talent themselves are strategically deciding with whom they want to align. Here’s how to get them to want to align with YOU.

According to a recent study by Ranstad, employers need to brand themselves intentionally–and “branding strategies cannot be left to chance… strategies require a laser focus on building core components – factors like company culture, candidate perception/experience and employee engagement.”

I agree–we must bring the brain into the equation too, ensuring your team is recruiting, retaining, working from their SmartState. Let’s check out the latest data in the  infographic from Ranstad where you’ll find:

  • Top 3 sectors where employees want to work
  • Most important criteria when choosing an employer
  • Personality traits most desired in an employer
  • Factors that put work-life balance at risk
  • Top motivators for teams
  • Retirement expectations

What Todays Workforce Wants Infographic

How can a company rock their branding strategy?

Eat, sleep, live your values. Per Ranstad “The bottom line is, an empty brand promise can reap devastating outcomes.” Be clear about what you want and you won’t have to wage war in order to attract and retain your top talent.

So what does today’s workforce want most? As I see it financial and emotional stability, cool people to work with that they trust, and as much work-life balance as we can get.

Christine Comaford (@comaford) is a global thought leader on corporate culture and performance optimization and a neuroscience-based executive coach.

Stop Being So Predictable As A Leader: 6 Ways to Change this NOW

Does your team “have your number?” Do your kids? Your significant other? Sure they do.

Because it only takes a short period of observation to find the harsh truth: people are predictable.

Yet as a predictable leader, you compromise your ability to influence and to shift another’s behavior, which is often crucial to accelerate results, boost revenue, ensure sustainable growth. While a large part of influencing is about making people feel a sense of safety, belonging, and mattering, sometimes we need to bluntly lay out the facts. Being able to switch from one stance to the other is an immensely valuable leadership skill.

 

 

How Flexible is Your Behavior?

Most of us react in predictable ways, have predictable patterns of behavior, and have predictable speech patterns. No wonder it’s so easy for people to peg us….and no wonder it can seem virtually impossible to get through to certain people.

Chances are your employees know what you’re going to say or do in many situations before you even have a chance to react. Consciously or unconsciously they tune you out (and maybe retreat into their critter state if they think your reaction will be negative)…and any productive potential the conversation may have had is lost. Or perhaps, unbeknownst to you, the way you are acting and reacting sends others a different message then the one you meant to convey.

There’s hope. The following behavioral stances can be mixed and matched for maximum influence, rapport, and outcome. When we use different stances in different scenarios, we get different results. Thanks to all my teachers on stances: Milton EricksonTony RobbinsJerry Jampolsky, and many more. There’s the:

Mommy: Supports the recipient fully, sees and acknowledges how great they are. As a result the recipient feels huge.

Anthropologist: Behaves with major curiosity and high inquiry. This stance asks  lots of questions and is continually curious, at times even fascinated.

Drill Sergeant: Hard core, tell-it-like-it-is, no sugar coating. This stance is supremely direct but not mean.

Professor: Cool, high advocacy, factual, “this is how it is,” “when you do X, you get Y.”

Best Buddy: Highly empathetic: “I’ve been there, I know how hard it is.”

Guru: The wise knowledgeable one, often used by consultants, has a touch of Professor but is less linear and more about overview, has a touch of warmth and heart. This stance is the expert with a heart and high enrollment.

Behavioral Stances in Action

Brain-Based Proof That You’re More Effective Working At Home

image015It’s time to ditch the office. It’s time to have more control over your brain as you work, and the best way to do that is to work from home. Over the past 3 years we’ve been tracking how our clients, executives in senior leadership, sales, marketing, finance, operations, improve performance in three key areas by working from home .5 to 2 days per week.

The results are surprising. The secret is to forge these new positive habits when working from home, then bring the benefits to the workplace.

1-Make Better Decisions—Faster

40 = the number of hours per week that companies expect people to be strong decision-makers

3-5 = the actual number of peak decision-making hours that people report

You make better decisions when you have a chance to reflect on all aspects of what needs to be considered—and not when you have the proverbial gun to your head. As we know from meta programs, if you’re on the reflective end of the Active-Reflective  continuum, this is even more crucial. When you are insulated from interruptions and can control your environment you make better decisions, because you brain experiences less stress.

Speaking of stress, let’s consider the massive amount of uncertainty that exists in today’s workplace.  Thanks to Harvard Medical School research we now know that 75% of people in uncertain scenarios will make decisions based on fearful assumptions—they are expecting something bad to happen. The result is decisions that are risk-mitigation and pain avoiding, with little or no strategic vision in mind. Vision isn’t possible because fear shuts down the prefrontal cortex, so we have no access to our innovative, problem solving, planning parts of our brain.

Client result:

  • 300% increase in hours of peak decision making time each week- based on training their brain in managing their emotional state.

2-Design Better Strategies and Solutions–Faster

10% share of people who do their best thinking at work

39% share of people who do their best thinking at home

In the relentless pursuit to be strategic, extract and demonstrate value, and provide optimal solutions all the time, the workplace is a continuous pressure cooker. This means the brain is often in fear and disaster prevention instead of in analysis and designing the outcomes we want. What happens on our best day? How did Einstein form strategies and solutions? When asked how he created his theory of relativity he said first he felt it, then he saw it, then he could articulate it. He let his mind wander, have visions, form connections, then he formulated the visions into something he could tangibly communicate.

Einstein also said “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of coming attractions.” We need to engage the emotional brain by seeing, hearing, feeling ourselves standing in the future when the strategy is being executed. How is it going? How are people feeling? Are they embracing it? What’s working? What’s not? Now take this learning and ask yourself what you need to adjust right now, before you lock in and launch the strategy.

As leaders the more we balance the logical (prefrontal cortex) planning part of the brain with the emotional (mammalian) area of the brain the more effective our strategies will be.

Client result:

  • 200-400% increase in the quality of strategies – by giving their brains space to feel into the future before a strategy is deployed.
  • 73-97% increase in ability to influence outcomes/others – due to more time to thoughtfully craft communications.

3-Increase Focus and Have More New Ideas

Ever had the feeling that something isn’t quite right, but you can’t quite put your finger on it? That’s the intuitive part of our brain, the insula, at work. This is why we often have great ideas when on vacation, or when shooting hoops or hiking in nature. Our brain is wandering, forming connections, resolving incongruencies, testing out theories. Working from home enables more vision time. Many of our most successful clients allocate one half to one full day per week (Fridays are best) for Vision Time. This is where they let their brains wander, and countless new products, strategies, alliances have resulted.

Our clients that allow Vision Time or even Vision Retreats (solo time in nature for a weekend) consistently crank out market-leading products, ideas competitors haven’t had, and innovative approaches to leverage assets and efficiencies. Give your brain a break and see the great insights that come from it.

Client results:

  • 300-500% increase in innovation across the company when they first followed this process themselves, then taught their teams.
  • 20-47% weekly increase in time on high value activities – due to reduced distractions and drama of the workplace

So working at home makes us faster, better, and heck, it’s even cheaper.

Christine Comaford (@comaford) is a neuroscience-based executive coach that helps leaders build cultures of trust and high performance.

Statistics Sources:

#1 above:  40 and 3-5 from Neuroleadership Institute; 75% from  Harvard Medical School

#2 above: 10% and 39% from Neuroleadership Institute

All other statistics from SmartTribes Institute clients

Fix or Fire? Who To Cultivate, Turn Around, Let Go Of At Work

I was thinking the other day of Jack Welsh’s philosophy that people fit into four categories of performance:

  1. Live the firm values and do produce: keep them!
  2. Live the firm values and are not producing: keep them and develop their performance.
  3. Don’t live the values and don’t produce: easy–fire them!
  4. Don’t live the values and do produce: all organizations struggle here. They should be fired or coached—but many organizations do neither.

Let’s turn this around.

First, recruit people that are naturally aligned with your values.

Here’s where we find our clients often struggle:

  • Candidates aren’t being screened for alignment with company values
  • Candidates aren’t being asked enough self-revealing questions
  • Recruiters aren’t using rapport techniques  to powerfully put candidates at ease—which would result in them revealing who they are

A job interview is a candidate’s “Rock Star Moment”—they’re showing you their best face, so it’s up to the recruiter to ensure that it’s an accurate face, a face we can rely on, a face that is honest. Here’s a sample list of recruiting questions that apply to all roles in a company:

  • Which of our company values are most aligned with your personal values? Why?
  • Please tell me some times in your career when you’ve most powerfully embodied our values?
  • What are the 5 career accomplishments you are most proud of? Why?
  • What are 5 adjectives used to describe you by: colleagues, bosses, friends, yourself?
  • What makes a working environment most compelling?
  • Where do you want to be career-wise in 3 years? 5 years?
  • What is your mission in life and why would working with us help you achieve it?
  • What is the most important thing in life? How do you ensure you honor it?
  • Please tell us a bit about your past entrepreneurial experiences and why/how you’d fit in with us.
  • [add all of your role-specific questions here]

Now let’s address the people in categories #2 (lives the values but not producing) and #4 (don’t live values and do produce) above. Work on turning them around with our Counseling Process first. And if that doesn’t work, it’s time to let them go. To start:

  • Determine what a realistic counseling/turnaround period is: 30, 60 or 90 days, depending on the complexity of the behavior change.
  • Next , think through the specific behavior(s) you need changed, as well as what level of support you are willing to provide.
  • Last, determine the consequences if the behavior does not change (Demotion? Termination?) or if the behavior does indeed change (Keep current job? Move to another team?)
  • Good—now schedule the meeting with the employee that needs counseling.

Our clients love our conflict resolution process below, as it helps everyone get to a shared positive understanding for growth/resolution:

  1. Set the stage – explain why you’re meeting and the outcome you want (to form a collaborative turnaround plan)
  2. State observable data/behavior – this is where you describe specific behaviors that must change and examples so the employee can “step into” the past scenarios
  3. Describe impact – the damage that these behaviors are doing to others/the company/the employee themselves
  4. Check problem acknowledgement – do they agree that there is a problem? Do they agree this problem now must end? This is the most essential step. If you don’t reach agreement here, go back to step 1. Once agreement is reached you’ll notice steps 5-7 are more pleasant, as the employee will now be engaged in finding a solution!
  5. Co-create a plan – set a time period (30-90 days) where you’ll meet weekly for 15-30 minutes to track their progress on releasing the challenging behaviors identified above. Make the plan very specific in terms of what you need to see and when you’ll know you got the outcome you wanted. If the turnaround doesn’t occur, state clearly what the consequences will be (lose job, etc).
  6. Check understanding – is everything clear? Anything else we need to cover? Reiterate desire for a positive resolution so the consequences can become irrelevant.
  7. Build small agreements – launch the plan and commit to ending the conflict once and for all. Be sure to track it frequently and make sure all concerned see the behavior change too.

What categories are your employees in? When will you address those in #2 and #4?

Christine Comaford (@comaford) is a former serial entrepreneur, White House advisor and neuroscience-based executive coach that helps leaders build cultures of trust and high performance.