Sunday, July 16, 2017

When you want to connect, your words have to ride your energy

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It works every time, even if you're speaking a second language or working in a field that is new to you.

Here's the magic formula for effective communication: knowing what you want + paying attention to other people = words that work. 

I know this seems too hard. I know you are tempted by the people who teach another script, another voice lesson, another theory of body language that will supercharge your communication. I know that it seems easier to work on your words than it does to work on being so clear about the results you want that you are able to dedicate most of your attention to the people you want to influence.

Attention is harder to manage and maintain than a script. But scripts don't work well without it. Your attention is signalled by energy: people notice when you're directing energy at them. They pay attention to it. And when they do, your words can ride that energy and land deeply and effectively.

But if you expect the words to do all the work, they will work only when the listener is providing the energy to carry them. And it's risky to expect the people you want to influence to do most of the work in the communication. If there's something they want enough, they'll do it, but they'll be doing it to get what they want (not necessarily what you want).

To get what you want, you need to know what you want. And then you need to direct energy at the people you need to influence to make what you want happen.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Happy Birthday, Canada - it's okay to be imperfect if you keep trying

Today is July 1 - Canada Day, and because Canada 150 is a big deal, it's been greeted with big protests. Everywhere on social media, protestors are disrupting the celebration because Canada has not always been good to them or for them.

I get it. You're mad. Somebody screwed up and you want us to fix it (even though exactly how to do that is up for some debate). You're angry because you're stuck and you don't see a way to make it better. You're angry because you're black, you're indigenous, you're left wing, you're right wing, or you've been left out in the rain or out of the speech (sorry, Alberta).

Here are some house rules you might consider based on something called the six step reframe in NLP:

1) it's better when you can generate lots of new ideas - innovation takes cooperation and respect
2) the best ideas come from our best selves - the ones Canadians try to remember in celebrating a national birthday (ideals like diversity, tolerance, ecology, compassion and aspiring to something better).
3) a failure to get consensus is overcome by generating new ideas and building consensus, not by knocking each other out of the arena.

I am really proud of being a Canadian, and I am really angry when people attack me for things I had no say in and for which they have no remedy. I am really angry when people suggest that my nation doesn't deserve to exist or that my children do not deserve to have a place here because of something that happened hundreds of years before they were born. So I get it. You angry, disposessed people want me to feel the way you feel everyday.

Now what?

For me, now self-management. This isn't how I choose to experience this day or this life, and it's not how the thinkers I trust believe that people make good choices. So peace. Even celebration in the place of anger and frustration. Not because other people deserve it, and not because it makes them comfortable. Because it works.

And because I want to live in a world where imperfect people still deserve a day to celebrate their best selves. I want to live in a world where tolerance and compassion and collaboration are ideals worth trying, even when we screw it up and have to try again.

Canada, you're nowhere near to perfect. Diversity is challenging and so is trying to do the right thing. People have been hurt and will be hurt and we, collectively, won't help - we probably won't even be able to decide what might help. 

And yet - I live in Toronto and I work with people from all parts of the globe and we share hopes and stories and it's pretty wonderful.

So, happy birthday, Canada. Celebrate today. And get back to work tomorrow.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Truth is a team sport

When you need to base a choice on the truth, how do you find it? Most of us believe that we let real information - facts - drive our decision making. Some scientists suggest that we are much more likely to be moved by emotions and suggestions than we are by information. They make these claims as if it is possible to find facts, know the truth, and weigh different options objectively. This may be true in books or in laboratories. It is seldom true where you work or where you live.

What is more likely is that you often find yourself faced with choices where the truth is impossible to determine. We are bad at predicting the future, and yet we have to make decisions every day that depend on knowing how people will act and react before they have done either. This is true for coaches, teachers, sales people, and business leaders. It’s true for everyone who wants to shape the future and not just react to what has already happened.

So how do we do it? It’s clear that people make choices every day without having access to the right information, and somehow, most of those choices work out okay. Maybe there’s a way to work with the truth that doesn’t involve a logical organization of facts.

Think about a typical situation where you have to decide whether something represents a distraction or an opportunity. There’s no way to be sure: that’s why you have to think about how to make a choice. Your thinking will be coloured by the experience of people you know, by stories you have heard, and by your own past experiences. Your thinking is also coloured by what you know of the people around you and how they will respond to whatever you decide. Although the decision may be up to you, there is a whole team
 in your head weighing in on what might be useful.

So what pops up for you? It might be a strong feeling one way or another. Or it might be a feeling that you have to guess: that you won’t know until you try something. Whatever pops is not a factual representation of the situation you face, but it’s also not isolated from real experience. It’s more like an intuition how to put together everything you know about how to make such a decision. And it’s based on your real experience, and the real knowledge and experience of everyone whose thought has touched yours.

What drives your choice might not look like facts, but that might be because you expect a fact to be a singular point, the focus of a single point of view. Truth might not look like a distinct fact. It might look more like a composition that depends on dozens of points of view processing slightly different information. Think about the voices you are including in the advisory team that’s working in your head. Do they represent the best team you can put together to deal with the situation where you need to choose? If not, pick some better team-mates and then make your best guess.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Seeds to Grow Your Confidence

When I am teaching, I will often sit with my back to the park so that everyone who is listening to me is also looking at things that move and grow. This is not a distraction from my point: it is a way to suggest that the point of what I teach is for people to move and grow.

One of the things that people hope to grow through my training is confidence. Confidence is not something you grow from a seed: it does not start out small and gradually increase in size and complexity the way a tree does. Confidence is a side-effect. To grow it, you have to create the right conditions. The seeds you use are not confidence seeds: they are usually seeds that look and feel entirely different than the confidence they eventually generate.

For instance, a seed of courage will often produce some confidence eventually. While you are nurturing courage, you feel the opposite of confident. You might feel shaky, scared, anxious or afraid. If things were easy, you would not need courage. Courage appears when you face fear and keep going. And after the moment is passed, courage will often leave confidence in its wake.

Another seed that leads to courage is called will power. Will power is not sexy and attractive and confident. Will power is the determination to do something hard, or to do something repeatedly. We all have a limited supply of will power, and the only way to grow more is to use up what we have. When we go through the false starts and the missteps and the backsliding and make will power stick, we often find that confidence has shown up, too.

You will also find confidence growing in the aftermath of the kind of caring that leaps up and takes action because something has to be done and you are the person with the best shot at doing something to help someone in need. This is not caring about: caring about is often something that happens in our heads or hearts but does not change us very much. This is caring for, taking action to make something better for someone else. It often involves inconvenience and uncertainty and giving up something you would rather be doing. The reward it leaves on your pillow the next morning is a tiny grain of confidence.

Perhaps there is a way to grow confidence with same progress and certainty that turns a maple key into a tall maple tree. But I think it is more likely that confidence grows from paying attention to what we know to be true in ourselves and in the world. I think confidence is a side effect that grows after you do the right thing.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Is it an accident or a failure? The right label matters

This was the view from the training room window on Friday. A very large tree had come down in the park on Thursday night. All day, people stopped to examine the trunk and think about what had happened.

Was it an accident? 

It hadn't been chopped down, so it was clearly not something that had happened on purpose. But to call it an accident suggests that it couldn't have been helped. It also suggests that the rest of the trees are likely to remain standing.

If on the other, hand, it was an infestation, then there is something that needs to happen now. Someone needs to check the rest of the trees. While it's possible that the first tree could fall by accident, if any more fall we will call it something else - something like incompetence or failure or fault.

Sometimes, the label we choose tells us how to act next. If we choose the wrong label, it is likely to lead to the wrong action. Take a moment now to think about a problem or issue you have been facing. Give it a one-word label.  Then ask yourself: "Am I sure this is the right label? What else could it be?" And then ask, "If this is the right label, what is my next step?"

You'll find that labels are never neutral: when you label a problem, you also take a step towards fixing it. It's worth giving the problem a name that will help you solve it.