Author Archives: Anita Rios

Assume good intent

Want to build trusting relationships fast? Start with assuming good intent! According to Stephen M.R. Covey and Greg Link, when people in one part of an organization are asked to interface with another part, they often start with assumptions of negative intent such as:

  • “Is there a hidden agenda?”
  • “What is her real motive?”
  • “Is he trying to position himself or his team to get more, so we’ll get less?”

Sound familiar? At times, I’m sure we’ve all had those assumptions of others that we need to work with. However, in their book Smart Trust, Link and Covey say, “…the best leaders, the best teams, the best companies start from that promise [of assuming good intent] and doing so creates the very behavior they’re seeking.”

Doing otherwise and assuming negative intent can be a self-fulfilling prophecy and create the very behavior that is feared.  Think about it. Our assumptions are pretty powerful and influence how we behave AND the behaviors we elicit from others.

I had a recent experience where a partnering organization made an accounting error that negatively impacted the budget of a professional board that I serve. While leaders in the organization did acknowledge the error, they did not offer to remedy it immediately. In fact, they indicated that it would be a hardship to do so.  Assuming negative intent could have easily devolved into a very combative situation that could threaten both the partnership and the sustainability of the professional board. I’m glad to say that the board members and I worked hard to assume good intent and offered up several options for resolving the issue. That good will perpetuated a much better response.  I have now heard from the leaders that they are working on the issue and want to pursue a mutually satisfying resolution.

Thinking about your own experience, here are some questions from Covey and Link for you to consider:

  • Have you ever assumed negative motives on the part of someone else?
  • Have you ever been surprised to discover that your assumptions might have been wrong?
  • What has been your experience in working with others when people assumed good intent on the part of others? What was your experience when they didn’t?

While it is important to accurately assess situations or relationships where it may be smart not to assume good intent, Covey and Link argue that in most cases, assuming good intent with coworkers, teams, organizations, partners, suppliers, spouses, children and others is a more productive, positive, and prosperous place to start.

Anita Rios

 

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Are you building or losing trust?

“There are no trust neutral interactions… you either build trust or lose trust.” I can’t remember the name of the person who said this at a conference I attended almost 20 years ago, but I can tell you the saying has stuck with me.

I’ve found that I can walk away from each meeting or conversation I have with others and use the simple measuring stick: Did I build trust? Or did I lose trust?

Still, building trust is not always simple. For example, it can be challenging to focus on building trust when confronting an individual or group about a difficult issue. Add to that an emotionally charged discussion and your amygdala can be hijacked, sending out warning signals to protect yourself and shutting down the ability of your pre-frontal cortex to think constructively.

In those situations, it begs the questions: how do you have healthy conversations when you feel pushed to the edge? And more importantly, how do we deal with others to build relationships rather than erode them?

In her book, Conversational Intelligence, Judith Glaser shares how she has coached leaders to build trust by moving from an I-centric to WE-centric focus in her TRUST model below. Her approach integrates how each step impacts our brains in creating safety and allowing the pre-frontal cortex to engage in greater candor, cooperation, and collaboration.

T – Transparency – create transparency which signals “safety” to the amygdala

  • I-centric: secrecy, threats, lack of clarity, lack of alignment
  • WE-centric: openness, sharing of threats, intentions, aspirations, and objectives; movement toward establishing common, aligned objectives

R- Relationships – focus on connecting with others first, which signals “friend” not “foe”

  • I-centric: rejection, resistance, retribution, adversarial relationships, suspicion
  • WE-centric: respect, rapport, caring, candor, nonjudgmental listening to deeply connect and build partnership

U – Understanding – see the world from another’s eyes, enhancing bonding and a feeling that “we’re all in this together”

  • I-centric: uncertainty, focus on tasks, unrealistic expectations, disappointment, judgment
  • WE-centric: understanding, ability to stand in each other’s shoes, empathy for others’ context, seeing another perspective of reality, partnership; support

S – Shared Success – create a shared view of mutual success. Put words and pictures to what success looks like and signaling to the pre-frontal cortex that it’s safe to open up

  • I-centric: promotion of self-interest; focus on “I” and “me”; seeking of personal recognition and reward
  • WE-centric: bonding with others to create a vision of shared success; building a shared vision that holds space for mutual success; pursuit of shared interests and celebration of shared successes

T- Truth telling and testing assumptions – use candor and caring to build and expand trust

  • I-centric: reactions of anger, anxiety, withdrawal, resignation
  • WE-centric: regular, open, and nonjudgmental discussion of assumptions and disappointments as part of collaborative problem solving; identification of “reality gaps” and effort to close the gaps for mutual success; willingness to start over again if distrust emerges

Here’s my leadership challenge to you for today: Think about an upcoming difficult meeting or conversation that you are anticipating. How can you apply some of the WE-centric ideas above to your approach?

Anita Rios

 

 

 

 

 

Conversation-powered leadership

I thought it would be apropos to wrap up our month of exploring the fundamental leadership competence of effective communication by recommending the book Talk, Inc.  In it, authors Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind draw on the experience of leaders in organizations around the world, who are using the power of conversation to increase employee engagement and strategic alignment.

While top-down, one-way communication has been typically used in hierarchical organizations as a way to distribute news to internal and external audiences, it is a relic of a command-and-control model which no longer works.  Groysberg and Slind assert that  “…. people–and the energies and capabilities that lie inside them–are the ultimate source of optimal performance and sustainable competitive advantage.”  Given that, they have found thriving organizations that are using organizational conversation to engage the best in their people to drive performance.

Organizational conversation, in their words,  replicates the elements of good person-to-person conversation where the scale of the conversation is small and intimate; the structure of the conversation is dynamic and interactive; participation is equal and inclusive and the approach is focused and intentional.

Where they have seen organizational conversation flourishing, it has the following four elements:

Intimacy – leaders reduce the distance, institutional as well as spatial–that separate them from their employees. They do this by cultivating the art of listening to people at all levels of the organization and by learning to talk with those people in ways that are personal, honest, and authentic.

Interactivity – leaders talk with employees not just to them. Cultural norms are now favoring dialogue over monologue and changes in the technology of communication especially with social media, support this shift.

Inclusion – leaders invite all employees to add their ideas into the conversational mix. And they call upon employees to participate in the work of representing their organization as unofficial bloggers or trained brand ambassadors.

Intentionality – leaders promote conversation that develops and follows an agenda that aligns with the strategic objectives of their organization.

I’d encourage you to pick up a copy of the book in your local library or bookstore to learn more. Their insights about how to make organizational cultures more intimate, interactive, inclusive, and intentional through purposeful organizational conversation make it a good read.

Anita Rios

 

Communicating effectively – or not

By guest blogger John Kearns

Early in my career as an academic leader, I was serving as my university’s business dean. One day, a department chair named Michelle stopped by my office and said she needed to speak with me about an adjunct faculty member. I recognized the person’s name, but I could only vaguely match the name to a face.

“Does he have a mustache?” I asked.

Michelle gasped and covered her upper lip with her palm. “What??? Do I have a mustache?!?”

“No, no!” I sputtered, imagining that I had somehow managed to blow up the great working relationship I had built over time with one of my chairs. I immediately tried to clarify: “Does the adjunct have a mustache?”

“Oh,” Michelle said, suddenly realizing it was just a misunderstanding. “Yes,” she said matter-of-factly, “he does.” The conversation continued, thankfully without any further awkwardness.

I felt terrible for days. I assumed it was my fault. Had I been staring at Michelle’s upper lip when I asked the question? (Probably not.) Had I used the wrong pronoun – you instead of he? (Definitely not.)

And yet Michelle had, for a brief moment, been pretty certain that her dean thought she had a mustache. The more I reflected on what I would later call the mustache incident, the more it taught me a critical lesson about how, in a hierarchical organization, some people are listening to their leader on two levels. On one level, they’re listening to your words and taking them at face value. But on another level–and this is where you can stumble onto an interpersonal explosive device–they’re expecting the worst: bad news or a difficult request or a negative comment. You may have never acted with anything but integrity and respect as a leader, but for some people there is always the expectation that eventually you are going to slip up and reveal that you are, in fact, a horrible boss after all.

From that day forward, I approached every form of communication, from email to memos to speeches, on two levels:

  1. What I hoped my audience would hear
  2. How my words might be interpreted in the worst possible way

It didn’t always keep me from the occasional fumble, but no one ever again wondered if I was inquiring about a mustache.

John Kearns serves as Minnesota State’s senior writer for executive and strategic communication

Conversations and neurochemistry

“Conversations are not what we think they are.”  And so begins my new favorite book Conversational Intelligence by Judith Glaser. Powered by both neurological and cognitive research, she says that conversations go much deeper than simple information sharing. They impact the way we connect, engage, interact, and influence others, because they actually have a chemical component. Conversations can stimulate the production of hormones and neurotransmitters, stimulate body systems and nerve pathways and change our body’s chemistry, in both good and bad ways.

Think about it. When was the last conversation you had that didn’t go well? How did you feel? Threatened? Sick to your stomach? Did it change how you continued the conversation? What did you do? Retreat? Become more forceful? Or even antagonistic?

Glaser states that even at the simplest level, of asking and telling – I ask a question, you tell me an answer – conversations can become complex as questions provoke thoughts and feelings about what you mean or your intentions. If a question feels threatening, that can activate the defensive role of the amygdala to “handle” a threat.

Of course, conversations can also trigger dopamine and serotonin, those good-feeling chemicals, as you experience an exchange that increases sense of belonging, care and concern for your well being, and a shared sense of purpose. Those conversations tamp down the defensive role of the amygdala and free the prefrontal cortex to generate new ideas, insights, and wisdom.

In every conversation, we are constantly reading content and emotions sent our way and we are sending content and emotions to others. In fact, Glaser asserts that leaders are communicating that they are happy or sad with almost every communication.

Her book is full of helpful information to help increase conversational intelligence for leaders and their teams.  Here is a brief summary of Glaser’s 5-step STAR (Skills That Achieve Results) model that can help tamp down the amygdala’s threat response and can turn adversaries into partners.

  1. Build Rapport – get on the same wavelength as the person you are talking to; connect with them as a person and demonstrate you care
  2. Listen without Judgment -pay full attention to the other person as they speak and set aside the tendency to judge the person; resist the temptation to formulate your response while they are speaking; just listen
  3. Ask Discovery Questions – be curious; ask smart questions that may change your views as you listen and learn
  4. Reinforce Success – see and validate what “success looks like” for both people
  5. Dramatize the Message –  ensure understanding by telling a story or drawing a picture if needed; this can elevate awareness to make sure you are on the same wavelength

Using STAR’s five steps, Glaser says leaders can create a positive shift in brain chemistry (theirs and others) as they work towards having productive conversations that can shape reality, mind-sets, events, and outcomes in a collaborative way.

Anita Rios

 

Communicating with clarity

Have you ever listened to a presentation and walked away not knowing what you were supposed to do with the information? Worse yet, was there a time where you didn’t remember much that was said? As leaders, we face the challenge of how to create memorable messages and communicate with clarity all the time.

Knowing that, my team and I decided to ramp up our game recently and do a dry run of three separate presentations we were preparing. After each practice presentation, I asked the team to provide constructive feedback to each presenter. What we learned in the process was invaluable.

While each of us thought we were communicating our information clearly, once each slide deck was presented, the resulting messages weren’t always crystal clear. One of our team members remarked, “I’m not understanding the purpose of your presentation…what do you want the audience to do with the information?” That one question helped each of us refine our approach, reduce the number of key points we tried to communicate, and create clear consistent messaging. The outcome was much better when each of us went “live” with our presentations last week.

Focusing on the top 2 or 3 messages you want your audience to hear and understand can really help refine a message. Additionally, here are some tips for communicating with clarity adapted from workplace communication skills expert Deb Calvert:

  1. Consider Your Audience: Who is your audience? What specifically do they need to know? And what do you want them to do with the information?
  2. Say Exactly What You Mean: Think about communicating your message in a direct and unoffensive way. What superfluous information can you eliminate?
  3. Avoid Jargon: Eliminate specialized terminology that may not make sense to your audience. Keep language clear and understandable.
  4. Keep it Short and Simple: What are the highlights and key points in your message? Be prepared to answer questions, but don’t overwhelm your audience with details unless they ask.
  5. Ask for a Playback:  What do you expect your audience to do in response to your communication? To check for understanding, ask them to play back what they will do.
  6. Over-Communicate: Is your message important? If so , repeat it! Repetition helps people to remember key messages. In my team, we have a saying “8 times, 8 ways.” People need to see and hear a message multiple times through multiple channels in order to retain the information.

What tips do you have for communicating with clarity?

Anita Rios

 

 

 

 

 

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Not feeling heard?

“We didn’t feel like we were heard.

People were dancing around the topic to avoid offending anyone.

How can I get my message understood?”

Do those comments sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone. Those exact phrases were shared with me last week by a leader who was asking for help to communicate more effectively.

While the acts of listening, speaking, and sharing ideas seems straightforward and simple, they are anything but; especially when you add in the fact that we each bring our own filters or lenses through which we interpret messages. And if there are positional power differences or emotions are running high, communications can be fraught with peril.

During this month, we will be taking a deep dive into our Minnesota State leadership competency: communicates effectively, defined as:

  • Effectively conveys ideas and shares information with others using appropriate methods
  • Listens carefully and understands differing points of view
  • Presents ideas clearly and concisely

Please join in the conversation by sharing your leadership and communication challenges.

Anita Rios