Tag Archives: blind spots

How to listen? – Don’t talk!

Simon Sinek offers a simple, yet powerful, rule for leaders to be better listeners. Refrain from sharing your opinion until everyone else has spoken! It is his “Lesson Four” for successful leaders.

Your people are super-attuned to your words and behaviors and naturally search for cues to understand what your priorities are. This human tendency can get in the way when you want to hear their opinions, ideas, insights or concerns – to truly listen to them.

Inc. magazine recently shared three tips to help leaders “talk last” to ensure that their people talk first.

  1. Listen – and do absolutely nothing else! Don’t speak verbally or non-verbally. Do your best to eliminate gestures, head nodding, comments, affirmations, or concerns until all have shared and others have commented.
  2. Ask questions like an interviewer. When you do talk start by asking “unbiased” or clarification questions. Think of yourself as an outside interviewer who just wants to better understand what you have heard – with no stake in the game! Seek to discover the “why” behind their ideas and then the “how” before you add your perspective.
  3. Disagree and commit. If you have concerns about what you are hearing, continue to explore the reason behind their ideas until you completely understand the why  – then share your ideas. If possible commit to trying their idea or search for potential alternatives that address all points of view.

I think you will be impressed by what you hear if your people have the space to speak – first!

Todd Thorsgaard

 

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“Ruthlessly realistic”

“Stop pretending.”
“How did they treat you?”
“No such thing as color blind.”
“Being comfortable being uncomfortable”

These are strong words that capture the essence of a TED talk I want to share with you. Mellody Hobson says that mentioning race is the conversational equivalent of “touching the third rail.”  It can feel risky and people don’t know how to respond.

As leaders, Hobson says it is important for us to step bravely into the conversation about racism and discrimination at work. Acknowledging the realities of discrimination and overcoming our fear of talking about it is the first step to creating inclusive workplaces.

Join over 2 million people and take a few minutes to watch and listen to her 2014 TED talk.

It’s hard, but we need to be “color brave, not color blind.”

Todd Thorsgaard

Can you hear me?

Are you reacting differently to these quotes? Would it be different if they weren’t attached to the photos or attributed to a specific person?

This isn’t a new phenomenon but it seems to be getting worse. We are not very good at listening to people we perceive as different from ourselves. That makes it hard to build inclusive work teams, share diverse points of view, and leverage the strengths of everyone on your team.

The founders of Living Room Conversations want to help people actually listen to each other rather than debate and talk at each other. Recently a number of leaders at several of our campuses have used the Living Room conversation agreements and topic-specific conversation guides to tackle the tough topics of status, privilege and race with diverse groups of faculty and staff.

Conversation Agreements

  1. Be curious and open to learning
  2. Show respect and suspend judgement
  3. Look for common ground and appreciate differences
  4. Be authentic and welcome that from others
  5. Be purposeful and to the point
  6. Own and guide the conversation

The actual conversations become structured “deep listening sessions” that include an orientation to the process, intentional time-keeping and facilitation and a closing period. An example of the status and privilege guide can be found here – Conversation Guide.

I can attest to the almost magical listening and sharing that occurs during a living room conversation. People stop interrupting each other, they smile as they hear the stories others share, and they are surprised by how easy it is to share their own story with people who are actually listening to them.

When we asked participants after the conversations the majority responded that they had not changed their personal points of view but they now could see more common ground with their colleagues, despite their differences. Further, there was universal support for more dialogue.

Using a structure to help people actually listen to each other can provide a starting point for greater inclusion, in the workplace and beyond.

Todd Thorsgaard

A slippery slope to disaster

It had been a good morning of snowboarding out west. Each run I pushed the edge a little more, tried to go a little faster or carve a tighter turn. And, no falls! I was ready to risk a double black diamond run. It was just slightly steeper I told myself, I can get away with it. But no! I lost my edge and took a spectacular fall.   Luckily all I lost was a little snowboard cred with my buddies but when leaders push the edge of integrity they can get on a slippery ethical slope that leads to a much more damaging career crash.

You may have heard about the slippery slope of ethics but until 2015 it had not been closely studied or truly understood how it works. A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology answered a few of those questions and can help leaders avoid falling down an ethical slope. The study also addressed how to create a culture that discourages ethical breeches. The key finding is that when small trivial behaviors that are slightly questionable are not noticed or called out over time there is a large increase in the likelihood that ethical people will commit larger violations in the future. This evidence demonstrates that getting away with seemingly minor acts like grabbing a few pens from the supply closet and bringing them home or extending a medical appointment to run an errand makes it easier for people to next add a few extra dollars on their meal expense report or fudge a few data points in their research. And if that isn’t noticed it can build to covering up safety issues, rigging a hiring processes, embezzlement or outright financial fraud. Crashing careers, reputations and institutions.

Personally leaders need to be aware that even they can be swept down an ethical slippery slope without realizing it if they work in a culture that doesn’t pay attention to trivial incidents. The study recommends establishing a personal vigilance on ethics that encompasses all issues, large and small. In addition, it reinforces the importance of leaders clearly defining misconduct and quickly addressing even trivial behaviors to ensure that people don’t set themselves up for a larger crash down the road. The authors describe this as developing a “prevention focus” by:

  • setting clear ethical standards
  • openly discussing and describing potential ethical dilemmas employees may face
  • role-modeling ethical behavior
  • responding quickly and openly to even minor violations – this doesn’t require draconian punishment but it does require notification and follow-through
  • reinforcing vigilance and respect for ethical behavior in all settings

Slippery slopes are exhilarating on my  snowboard but they can cause even the most ethical of leaders to crash and destroy their integrity without proper vigilance.

Todd Thorsgaard

Truly understand by hearing everything.

To truly understand others, leaders need to listen – not talk! That may sound easy but in the day-to-day crush of work and deadlines and priorities it is a challenge. Yet the payoff is huge. In fact, one study discovered that the strongest predictor of trust is a leaders ability to listen with empathy and respond based on what they hear.

Harvard Business Review suggests that leaders focus on three crucial “behavioral sets” to improve their listening.

  1. Actively recognizing ALL verbal and nonverbal cues. People speak with much more than the words they use and listening is different than just reading a transcript of their statement. We all have “misheard” or “misread” an email. Empathic listening involves paying attention to things like tone, emphasis, energy, excitement, reticence, body movement, gestures, and facial expressions. Seeking to understand both what is being said and what isn’t being said demonstrates true listening.
  2. Processing the message or tactical listening. Sharpen your skills and use techniques or tools to help you follow along with the speaker, remember what is being said, keep track of key points, identify areas of agreement/disagreement, and capture the overall message. This can be as simple as taking notes, using summary statements and minimizing distractions. It also involves giving up control of the conversation and focusing all attention on the other person.
  3. Assuring others that genuine listening has occurred and that conversations will continue.  Only the people on your team can accurately state if they feel listened to. Leaders need to use verbal and nonverbal actions to share the message that they are listening and want to continue listening. Ideas include verbal acknowledgements, clarifying questions, summary statements, check-in’s, paraphrasing and at times even restating a point being made. Your non-verbals are also being watched so eye contact, posture, facing each other, nodding along, and mirroring body language all reinforce your empathic listening.

Learning to listen builds trust and helps you say more with less talking.

Todd Thorsgaard

Blind spots

Best of HigherEDge, first published on January 9, 2013.

We had our first snow and ice of the year and the news has been filled with reports of car accidents and spin-outs. It reminded me of this post. I hope those of you in the midwest scraped your windows so you could avoid a crash due to a blind spot.   Todd Thorsgaard

Has this happened to you? You are a good driver, you have the best intentions, and you are paying attention and following all the rules, yet when you signal your lane change and start to move – suddenly you hear a horn honking! Next comes screeching brakes or a crunching sound and an impact. What happened? There was a car in your blind spot.

As leaders, we also have blind spots. Have you ever been surprised by how people on your team react to something you have said or done? Are there times when the pep talk you gave to help motivate someone or the wise piece of advice that you knew was exactly what your team member needed didn’t have the effect you intended?

I still remember the reaction I got from teammates in one of my first jobs after graduate school. My boss called me into her office for my 30 day check-in. I was meeting all my initial goals and I was providing good consulting resources, but my colleagues had shared that they did not think I valued their experience and they didn’t like my “attitude.” I was crushed! I respected them and was so happy to be working on a high performing committed team. What was going on? It was a blind spot. I had just spent a period of time in graduate school where we were expected to always ask critical and probing questions, on every idea raised by anyone. I thought I was demonstrating respect and letting my colleagues know how much I valued their experience and insight by asking questions and seeking to better understand what they were sharing. What they were feeling was that I was challenging their ideas and didn’t trust their experience!

Leadership is a two-way street filled with people. As Anita described in her last post, successful leaders need to understand how their actions impact others.  The Johari Window, a tool created by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham in 1955, highlights that we need feedback to better understand ourselves and to minimize our blind spots. (click on image to enlarge)

johari-window2

Increased self-understanding leads to greater effectiveness in leading others.  I needed to ask my boss in that new job what was happening, why were people reacting the way they were? I was unaware that when I immediately responded with a question to a colleague’s idea they felt like I didn’t value their expertise. It felt attacking. I was destroying trust while I blindly thought I was engaging in a spirited debate. Now, as a leader, my natural style is to focus on facts and reasons and I can be blind to how that feels to people on my team. I have learned that I need to continually seek feedback from others on the impact of my actions. Luckily I also have a trusted relationship with my current manager and I am able to ask about my blind spots and the impact they have on my leadership.

What leadership blind spots have you discovered in yourself? How can you invite feedback from others or gain more self-awareness?

Todd Thorsgaard


Do you see that bird? What bird?

After college I took a road trip to the western United States with two roommates, Digger and Jorgy. While we had a great adventure I also learned a fascinating lesson about the challenge of strategic leadership.

As we were driving Digger kept exclaiming, “do you see that bird!” And Jorgy would say, “no, where?” Then Jorgy would shout out, “look at that formation” and Digger would say, “what formation, where?” Digger, the ornithologist, was always scanning the sky or treetops, while Jorgy, the geologist, was always scanning the ground. They did not easily see what the other saw.

Author and leadership consultant Bruna Martinuzzi suggests that a strategic leader has to be able to “keep an eye on the ground and on the horizon at the same time.” In an article she wrote last year she provides advice on how to develop that tricky skill of looking up and down at the same time, or developing “the ability to oversee the day-to-day operations while directing the long-term strategic imperatives.”

  1. Practice Using Reframing.  Reframing is the ability to view an issue or topic from a completely different and new perspective. A physician I worked with at my previous employer shared my favorite example of reframing. Whenever she worked with a patient who kept failing when trying to quit smoking she would reframe it by focusing on the patient’s willingness to keep trying, not on the failure. Then they could reinforce the patient’s tenacity and agree to work on trying something new. Marinuzzi describes how leaders can use a Reframing Matrix to view an issue from four different perspectives before you make a decision.
  2. Adopt Practical and Conceptual Approaches. Honestly acknowledge if you typically use a more concrete or a more abstract approach and then force yourself to carve out time in your schedule to practice the opposite. If you tend to be more practical, take time to research industry trends and analyze trends over time. If you are more comfortable in the conceptual realm, take time to review the project plans of your people or examine the day-to-day processes your people use to get their work done.
  3. Strike a Balance Between Informing and Inspiring. Examine all your different types of communication and assess how often they focus on creating clarity and sharing of information versus inspiring and motivating people. Strategic leaders must do both.

As a strategic leader you can help your team keep their eyes on the ground and the horizon.

Todd Thorsgaard