I just returned from speaking last week at the Lone Star College Women’s Leadership Conference in Houston. I spoke about the value of collaboration. It was the first time I spoke publicly about growing up in an environment that was high on dysfunction, low on trust, and often emotionally or physically violent. One can’t talk about collaboration without making room for conflict. Conflict is one ingredient that offers us the opportunity to take the best of what we each have to offer, and stir it together to create something unique and new, and more than the sum of the parts. Conflict often gets a bad rap, and I understand why. When I made the decision that I wanted to change the world by changing the quality of our conversations, I discovered I also had to change my relationship with conflict.
Conflict can be frightening for people like me who grew up around folks with low impulse control and who operated from a place of win-lose. I spent many years trying to diffuse and manage, or at the very least not get caught in the cross-fire of this unhealthy version of conflict. While the risk is often different in a work setting, the emotions that conflict can evoke trigger all those old fears. With practice I was able to improve my capacity for dealing with conflict without running for cover, but that also brought a whole new set of problems. I soon discovered I was still trying to control it by being attached to the outcome.
Someone asked me recently, “Deb, what you’re saying is that theoretically I can learn to become more conflict competent, and even apply techniques that improve my ability to collaborate, right?” Yes, I responded. “But what if my business partner doesn’t follow the same guidelines or refuses to play with the same set of rules? What then?” This question is important on several fronts. What I’ve learned is that collaboration is a stance we take in the world. I made the decision to live co-actively many years ago. I practiced building authentic trust in my relationships with others. I did my work, took the class, got the certificate, went to therapy, and in the process of all that I learned how to be more collaborative and to become conflict competent.
But trust is a two-way street, and (sadly) I’ve also learned that I only have control over the car I’m driving (by the way, even though I’ve accepted this truth I’m still practicing living in to it).
We prefer to do business with people we trust. Dr. Dwayne Tway, who wrote his dissertation on the Constructs of Trust, cites several components of trust. First, we each have a capacity for trusting others based on our experiences. We can increase that capacity by not allowing ourselves to be held hostage by the past. We can create capacity by being present to what is true now, not the old version of what used to be. Secondly, we have to learn to trust our own capabilities and the capabilities of others. If I doubt myself, I must be willing to challenge my thinking but also be realistic and take stock of my capabilities. I can choose at any time to lean into my own possibilities and/or rely on others to close the gap. The last of the three constructs is our perception of others as either self-serving or able to set-aside personal agendas for the greater good. If I suspect that someone is only self-serving, I will naturally question his or her motives differently than someone that I perceive cares about my needs.
Each of us chooses to engage in the dance with trust. We can do our part to increase authentic trust in our relationships. We cannot do more than our part. Some people are not trustworthy, and unless you have been living in total isolation you too have discovered this reality. While this does not come as a surprise, I must confess that I am often disappointed and even still somewhat disillusioned by this fact. The best one can do is, “to thy own self be true.”
I decided to take the stance of being collaborative. That is who I choose to be. I will do my best to listen and value others perspectives, even when I disagree with them. By being a partner who believes in reciprocity and mutual respect, I am living in accordance with my values. I can (and I will) do my part.
I’ve found it frustrating at times that no matter how pure my intentions, or how masterfully and skillfully I respond, I cannot force others to choose my version of authentic trust, but I guess we all have our own work to do. I remind myself that I don’t collaborate for the outcome. I collaborate because that is who I am.
And while you can lead a horse to water, you can’t make him collaborate.
I recently worked with a group to support them on discovering new ways to collaborate together. I designed the work around ways to practice cognitive diversity. I hoped they could go beyond accepting others unique talents, opinions, and experiences. Diversity today is not about merely accepting others, but rather embracing differences. Diversity in today’s ever evolving workplace demands that we seek differences, because we each only hold a piece of the truth. We need others who think differently to expand on the possibilities.
We each see the world in ways that are uniquely ours. I read a book once that described this truth via a scenario where a young man sits down in a movie theater with his Mom. They have purchased the necessary popcorn, watched the “coming attractions”, and finally the feature film begins to play. There is something oddly familiar about the movie, and he soon recognizes himself and his siblings in a scene from his youth. How can this be possible? This movie is the story of his life, and yet it isn’t quite the way he remembers it. The characters are similar, and yet inaccurate. For example, his older brother, who was always “getting away with murder,” was more mature and giving in this version of the story. He turns to his Mom and says, “Can you believe they mean this to be about us, but they got it all wrong!” His Mom replies, “but this is exactly how I remember it.” The young man realizes he is watching his life story through the eyes of his mother. This story makes the point, that while we may be experiencing the same circumstances with others, our reality is often different. We perceive things differently and we think differently, which is known as cognitive diversity.
Most people find it easier to work with people who think like them, and challenging to work with people who do not think like them. Thinking differently means that we problem solve differently. And this can be painful. Some, more conventional thinkers break problems down and explore the pieces while integrative thinkers see the problem as a whole and examine how the parts fit together. We also perceive reality differently, based in part on past experiences and the need to organize and make sense of the world.
Sometimes when I see an expansive view that takes my breath away, or a scene between strangers that touches me deeply on some emotional level, I might make myself wonder at another’s experience in that moment. What do they feel or think? Sometimes I suspect that what inspires me is sheer boredom to someone else, and vice-versa. I remember a long time ago, I stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon and my legs felt weak from fear and yet others were hanging over the rails in ways that I could only perceive as dangerous and misguided. They felt exhilaration, wanting to lean in to the moment and I wanted to escape it.
In the work with this group, I used images as a way to demonstrate that our brains actually see things differently. One of the images I used can be seen as either a rabbit or a duck. The team was quite surprised to learn that what they saw (and translated as a fact) was sometimes interpreted differently by others. The members where fond of saying to each other after that, “I want to know how you see it. Just because I think it’s a rabbit, that doesn’t mean that’s the whole picture…maybe you see a duck.”
Sometimes we get so stuck in our view of the world that we forget we only have a piece of the truth. We need each other to challenge our beliefs and assumptions. Sometimes a rabbit is really a duck. Which do you see?
I posted an article this week on LinkedIn about generations at work. The article asserted that we should prepare ourselves for the inevitability of shorter longevity of Generation Y employees in organizations, and that a smart strategy is to maximize Gen Y’s contribution during their employment and prepare them to be organizational ambassadors when they move on to their next roles.
I fundamentally agree with this strategy. I find that too often, managers coach others based solely on the organization’s agenda, rather than creating a win-win for both the organizational system and the individual. While the individual is part of the system, they are also motivated by intrinsic drivers that impact their choices and actions. Seeing employees as people with goals and ambitions, and then helping them make progress toward those career objectives is a surefire way to create strong engagement and commitment in the present. The question becomes, what is the organizations objective: engagement or retention? There are those who would argue both…but I’m not convinced that argument fits this new world we live in. Maybe we need inflow of new ideas and energy more than we realize. What if having high turnover actually becomes a desirable state? Something to think about. I believe the fulcrum is career planning.
Expecting team members to career plan in the narrow-box called “traditional career-ladder next step” is short sighted. This archaic view of the world creates empty career plans that don’t create energy and transformation. Team members are afraid to speak of what they really want their future to look like for fear that it will have a negative impact on the present. So in organizations everywhere, managers and team members go through the motions of putting together plans that don’t reflect the fullness of the passion and energy that wants to be unleashed on the workplace. These surface conversations can’t become open and vulnerable because the system isn’t set up that way.
Managers often operate from the position of protecting future workflows, which translates to ensuring that human resources are available and ready to be deployed as needed. The measurement stick believes that if employee engagement goes up, attrition rates will come down, and we all think this is a good thing. But what if it isn’t? I raise the question: is this world view still legitimate?
I had lunch with a dear friend yesterday who shared with me her coaching work, and specific examples of highly educated and successful people that wanted to move mid-career into a new industry or field. She spoke to how difficult it was because they were seen as outsiders in these new fields, despite being highly experienced in others. We have trained ourselves to walk a very narrow line, in a very big new world. We don’t see the benefit of an outside perspective. But what might we gain, if we cross the lines and blur the edges?
What possibilities does a new discipline bring to the tired and well-trodden view?
I have brought you more questions than answers. I hope the Gen Ys help us discover how to let go more easily of the status quo, and I hope we can teach them how to stay grounded enough to know what needs to be held onto.
In a recent survey, CEO’s identified critical skills needed to ensure success in this improving economy. No surprise that the skill collaboration made it into the top three. What does it mean to collaborate? The word collaborate has its roots in Latin, and comes from collaboratus, past participle of collaborare to labor together, from Latin com- + laborare to labor. So, working together.
I think most of us would agree that working with others gives us the benefit of a longer reach, additional talent and skills, added experience, and so-on. While we recognize the value, most of us would also agree it can be challenging and sometimes downright painful. Why is this so and what can be done about it?
Last weekend, my husband and I attended a class that was based on the relationship research done by Dr. Sue Johnson, and her book detailing that work called Hold Me Tight. Her research shows the relevance of attachment theory in adult relationships, which used to be seen as only impacting children. No matter our age, we all want to feel an emotional connection and a sense of belonging, and we can become triggered when we perceive a loss of this connection. Sue calls these sensitivities our “raw spots”: those vulnerabilities or the fear of loss of attachment or belonging. The interesting thing is that when one of our raw spots is triggered, we tend to distance ourselves or demonstrate behaviors such as blame or aggression.
It makes sense that in a committed personal relationship it would be important to have an awareness of when one feels threatened by a partner strong-arming, ignoring or criticizing, but what about at work? Do these same triggers become tripped in the workplace? I wonder if the patterns that we dance in our personal relationships also show up in our work relationships. I suspect that they do.
I’ve noticed, for example that one trigger in my personal relationship is impatience. A slow response or failure to move on the part of my partner, and I may step around and move forward alone. I am less collaborative when I feel my partner isn’t there for me in the way I prefer. So I go it alone. This is also true of me in business relationships too. A combination of a work partner not being attentive in some fashion, or my own revved-up process can potentially derail my ability to be collaborative. And what is crazy is that intellectually I value the collaborative process! But emotionally, well, I can get stuck in my own fear of being alone.
I am curious about what others notice about when or why they check out of collaboration with business partners. Do you also find that at the root of it there is fear of rejection or being alone.
I recently revisited the book, The Anatomy of Peace by the Arbinger Institute. If you are unfamiliar with that work, the authors also penned Leadership and Self-Deception which, in my opinion, is a must-read for all managers. The fundamental principal of both books is that it isn’t always the behaviors on the outside that impact our business and personal relationships; it is what is happening on the inside that can make all the difference. Is our heart at war or at peace with others?
I have been reminding myself of the importance of listening. I am a trained professional and I can demonstrate active listening in any given moment. The question that Anatomy of Peace asks of me is, how am I “being” when I am “doing” active listening? Do I really hear you? Do I hold your needs with the same regard as I hold my own? Or am I gathering information in support of my own agenda? Am I responsive to others or am I resisting them?
I find the book empowering and liberating. If we have the power to choose our response, regardless of another’s treatment of us, we can send a hard message but do it from a place of respect and compassion. We do this by seeing others as people (out of the box) rather than objects (in the box).
I have learned over the years that true effectiveness has more to do with how we are on the inside than what we show on the outside.
What does it mean to be happy? Psychologist Ed Diener, author of Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, defines happiness as life satisfaction and having more positive emotions than negative emotions.
Since we know that the more fully one lives into his or her values, the more deeply satisfied they will be, Diener’s definition supports the absolute importance of values clarification and alignment work. He also makes a strong case for practicing and appreciating what we have, rather than dwelling on what we don’t. If you find that you aren’t as happy as you would like to be, one option is to explore your values and another is to practice the art of gratitude.
Being happy is largely an internal game that only you can decide to play.
Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness, describes happiness as having three parts: pleasure, engagement, and meaning. Pleasure is the “feel good” part of happiness. Engagement refers to living a “good life” of work, family, friends, and hobbies. Meaning refers to using our strengths to contribute to a larger purpose. Seligman says that all three are important, but that of the three, engagement and meaning make the most difference to living a happy life.
Again, Seligman reinforces that deciding to do our own internal work (self-awareness, knowing our values and talents, and exploring how we use ourselves to make a difference) can lead to happiness.
I’ve also seen the research that shows we each come into the world with a set-point, or our natural genetic tendency to be happy. And, I am no Pollyanna; I understand that we can only work with what we have been given. But if you could be as happy as it is humanly possible for you to be, wouldn’t you choose that over the alternative?
Clearly it is easier to be happy when life is treating you kindly, and based on the research, it also helps if you are more aware of who you are and what you have to offer so that the external world can invite you to the party. I will also agree that it is hard to be happy when shame and doubt get between you and your full potential.
“Feeling good” and living the “good life” requires our full attention as we spin around the dance floor to the music of life; easy listening, then an up-tempo celebration, and next a tragic opera.
There is a natural cycle to all things. I recall that what goes up, must come down, and vice-versa. This too shall pass, becomes my mantra, and it helps me remember that all things must come to an end; both what I perceive as good and bad. If I let my happiness become dependent on that which I don’t control, I may grow weary of the dance.
I interpret both Diener and Seligman’s definition of happiness as more a function of what happens on the inside, than some external circumstance that brings me fleeting moments of pleasure. I have to do my internal work as the price for maximizing what happiness is possible for me. But what does that mean in terms of society’s responsibility for the happiness of others? Why is this topic relevant to where we work?
When we cultivate happiness in the workplace the value to the organization is: higher quality of work, greater creativity, increased productivity, and an increased likelihood to be more cooperative. It’s true that each individual is accountable for his or her own happiness. But here are a few of my thoughts on ways we can support others to be happier at work. We can teach Managers:
I would love to hear from you. Let me know what you would add to the list of how we can increase happiness at work.
I sit here in front of the fire on the first day of the year and contemplate what I can do differently to more fully live my life in alignment with my truest self. I like New Years, as it represents turning the page and starting anew with a clean slate. It’s also a time to slow down for a little contemplation and reflection. As I consider the goals I set for myself last year, I’m pleased to say that the one that mattered most was met. Achieving that big goal, requires that I take all that I learned and up the ante for next year. While I had some success, other goals did not turn out the way I would have liked. I find myself feeling extremely disappointed by this fact. I have a tendency to question and second-guess myself, and frankly it takes effort for me to practice self-compassion. If I am being completely honest, I don’t like it when I don’t meet my goals. So today I am doing my best to wrap my head around what created this less-than-expected performance.
I recently read that C.R. Snyder, who spent his career researching hope, defined it as a cognitive process. “A trilogy of goals, pathways, and agency,” or a function of setting a realistic goal, being both persistent and flexible in your pursuit, and believing in yourself. So which part of that equation impacted my hoped for outcome last year? How do I identify the missing element so that I can avoid the same thing happening in the New Year?
When I look back, I begin to see that my missed goal was not realistic, and it wasn’t even that well defined. I worked tenaciously and persistently, but I wasn’t clear enough in terms of what I was doing and how often I was doing it. I threw a lot of spaghetti at the wall, but not enough of it stuck. And as for belief, I was hesitant rather than confident. The relief I feel is tangible like the sigh that escapes me, when I realize the insanity can stop now. Thankfully it’s a New Year.
As I begin to take a deeper look, I see something that makes me feel a bit uneasy. I suspect that I may have set the goal because I felt I should, and without aligning it to the big picture and my talents, values, and purpose. Geez…what do they say about a plumber always having leaky faucets?
What I am going to say next sounds like some broken record, cliché, whatever, but I just can’t help that. It dawns on me that everything must be connected to a vision, and regardless of whether the vision is for my relationships, my health and fitness, or my businesses P&L without it I am like some lost soul wandering (I was going to say alone in the desert but it sounds way too dramatic) with no idea of where they are, or where they are going. For this vision to be inspired or inspiring, it will link directly to my talents, purpose, mission, and values, or the very essence of who I am.
My husband and I recently went through a values clarification exercise as a way to align and support each other more completely. We discovered that we shared one third of the values we individually selected. We are in the process of creating some art for our family room that we will put on display as a constant reminder of what is most important to us individually and collectively. We decided to take this step before revisiting our individual vision and purpose. Then we can look for alignment, set individual and collective goals, and update our relationship agreements.
We are in the process of working on vision and purpose and have decided to write individual letters and then share them with each other. One way to revisit vision and purpose is to have your future-self write your present-self a letter. The subject line might be something like, My Ideal Life. Set a timeframe of one, three, or five years. I have done this in the past as a way to imagine what I want my world to look like when I wake up at some future place and time. In the letter I describe in great detail things like; where I will live or work, what activities I am participating in, how my work has changed or evolved, the quality of my relationships, what I have accomplished, and so on. In coaching circles we would call this a future-self exercise. Really dig into the quality of the feelings this evokes in you. And dream big…you can pull on the threads that make it both realistic and attainable if you decide to set specific goals and move in that direction.
It’s never too late to do the heavy lifting. If you haven’t spent time reflecting on the progress you made this past year, do it now. Get clear about what you want to create in the New Year. Explore what matters most, identify what you have to offer, and envision a future that links those things to what the world needs now from you.
How are you checking in on both the inside and the outside to see if you are aligned?
Each of us is a gift. We bring with us into the world a bundle of raw talent and possibilities. When we take all that and mix it with our life experience it’s somewhat like having both the seed and the earth on standby, ready and willing to produce something special. Yet only we can prepare the soil for its use—so that it can bear fruit. Some struggle to learn how to create the furrows in the ground, remove the stone or debris, and prepare for the planting. They say, “This land is barren—nothing good can come of it!” Yet others see a grove where stately trees gently sway in the warm breeze providing shelter and joy. The degrees to which we use our God-given gifts are forever linked to seeing ourselves and all that surrounds us as being enough. Some can’t break the pattern of scarcity, and others find ways to overcome and create from everything they already have.
I watched my youngest daughter graduate last weekend with her Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial Design. It was such an incredible moment in time. She finished her degree after years of attending classes part-time, and finally taking the last two years to go full time. Her major changed a few times, requiring additional credit hours as she switched from a BA to a BS. I watched her struggle with uncertainty about what she wanted to do with her life and I admire her tenacity as she continued to work the soil until it was ready to receive her soul’s calling. Her tremendous creativity and artistry is something our family admires and we have long watched as it showed itself in everything she did – and now we see it in her inspired designs.
My oldest daughter graduated in Florida the month before with a degree in Music Business, and sadly I was unable to attend. But there she was celebrating her sister and fawning over her final projects with awe and delight. These two daughters of mine stood side-by-side hugging each other the night before the ceremony and shared how proud they were of each other, and the hard work and effort it took to complete these milestones. I think what makes me the most proud is that they both have followed their hearts and pursued interests that are such a part of the unique and talented women that they are. I can remember the oldest singing tirelessly in the car and the youngest taking art classes to satisfy her hunger to create spatially.
Each of us has a special and divine gift to offer the world. We owe it to ourselves to cultivate the space so we can bring the best we have to offer forth. This year give to others by being the best version of yourself, the gift you were always meant to be.
How do you cultivate the space between where you are and where you would like to be?
My husband and I find it challenging to set common goals and to make decisions together. Are we the only ones? Finally we have found the decision making process that we hope will help us sort out what is often painful and sometimes impossible. Learning how to set goals and collaborate on decision making is difficult for us because we come from very different perspectives, styles, and belief systems. In a best case scenario, these differences should give us more options to work from, and worse case, it creates polarization and angst because we each feel we are not getting our needs met. So how do we find common ground? We decided to consult the experts.
If you are ever looking for a way to give your relationship a major shot in the arm (or a kick in the pants), look no farther then Kate and Joel Feldman who are a magical combination of wisdom, wit, and fierce love. They are also a committed couple; one is a relationship coach and the other a licensed relationship therapist. We worked with them this fall and they helped us set common goals, and among many other things, they gave us an approach to decision making.
The first time we used the decision making steps provided by Joel and Kate, we practiced clarifying our roles in terms of dinner planning and preparation. The process began with Gathering all the thoughts and ideas about how we would like to divvy up who does what, and when. All ideas were welcome and we were both careful not to hinder creativity by closing each other down. For example, when I said we could hire a gourmet chef as one option we had a good laugh, which caused my husband to return the fun with some creative ideas of his own. The gathering step was both serious and fun.
The next step was to Deliberate and Sort the ideas, really listening to each other’s perspectives. Once we had a few realistic options, we were ready to move on to Illumination, which is really envisioning and shining a light on a plan that could work for both of us. We were able at this point to combine some of the options and both of us felt comfortable with the new form the approach was taking.
Testing involved us considering the merits of the plan and asking if there were any reasons why it wouldn’t work. For us, what we discovered by taking the time to test was that there was a feature of our plan that was at risk and required that we add another component to give the plan a fighting chance. Following this step, we were able to Finalize our plan and agree to the details of when, who, what, and how it would all come together.
We decided that we would each take responsibility for planning and preparing two meals during the week. The other would have clean-up duty on those nights. We would discuss our schedules and the menu the weekend beforehand, to ensure we didn’t have any misunderstanding about each other’s calendar, special dietary needs, and to develop a shopping list. We opted for more spontaneous planning and preparing meals together on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, and one of those nights we would eat out or order in. This really satisfies my need to be prepared in advance and he loves the spontaneity we get to have over the weekend.
As we practice a new level of being intentional, what we are discovering is that we both tend to make assumptions about how things should work, from parenting to household chores. Deeply listening to each other has been eye opening and has revealed how differently we see the world, not better or worse, but different. Our first new process for setting goals, roles, and agreements around the dinner hour has been fun, and has brought new and interesting dishes to our table. I notice that in the past few weeks I look forward to both my turn to create and my night to sit back and enjoy.
We are going to use the process next on some financial planning and goal setting. It feels like we are ready to up the ante, so to speak. Don’t be afraid to try a new approach to decision making and goal-setting! If you don’t have a process, either try the one Joel and Kate use, or go searching for one that works for you. We found several good options online. If you do have a process that works, but it needs a shot in the arm, reflect and adjust your process to improve connection, clarity, and creativity.
It’s hard work but worth it.