Reducing Conflict 67 Taking Steps

November 13, 2022

Not enough organizations are taking steps to make a significant reduction in conflict. We are all too familiar with the inevitable conflict when people are working together. In this article, I will explore some of the main causes and describe some preventive techniques. These ideas will not eliminate all conflict, but they can make it much less debilitating for your organization.

Lessons from my leadership class

In my training program for leaders, I ask why we have so much conflict between people. In one session we did a brainstorm and came up with over 50 questions about why conflict occurs. Here is a list of some of the questions:

Is it because other people are morons?

Is it because other people can’t see your point?

Is it because other people don’t care what you think?

Is it because other people lie?

Is it because management is clueless?

Is it because other people are greedy?

Is it because other people are lazy?

Is it because other people gossip?

Is it because other people are suck-ups?

Is it because other people are immature?

We could go on forever, but the point here is pretty obvious.  The focus in people’s minds is on what other people “have to fix.”  The real reason there is conflict is that other people aren’t you!

Taking steps toward less conflict

The first realization is that we are all imperfect.  We can see very clearly the things that others need to do to shape up.  Our view of our own imperfections is far less accurate. The first step is to internalize one of my favorite quotes. Observing people at work, it is obvious that human beings have a remarkable ability to drive each other crazy.

Work toward alignment

We may think we are all rowing in the same direction, but when you look closely you find parochial agendas. Many people are actually pulling in opposite directions. The first step is to verify that each person on the team understands the values, mission, vision, behaviors, and goals of the team.

You accomplish the above not just by publishing the strategy.  You must involve the entire team in creating the vision and constantly test for understanding. Beyond understanding is true commitment.  There is an old saying about the difference between involvement and commitment. It is as simple as bacon and eggs. In the case of the eggs, the chicken was involved. In the case of the bacon, the pig was committed.

In addition to commitment, you need specific skills for taking steps

The reason I am writing this series of articles is to get groups busy taking steps on their own to reduce conflict. This is article number 67 in the series.  You may wish to review some of the former articles because each one is a little nugget or technique that can help reduce conflict between people.

Another resource is a series of short videos I did on the topic. The title of that program is “Surviving the Corporate Jungle.”  You may wish to spot-check some of the ideas in this program.

Conclusion

Do not overlook conflict reduction in your program of organizational improvement.  The cost of conflict is great, so there is a high ROI for taking steps to reduce the problem.  

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Building Higher Trust 98 Colin Powell on Trust

November 11, 2022

Colin Powell gave a response to a student question that I find most helpful.  She asked him the following question. “How would you define the key characteristics of effective leadership that allow you to go and be an advocate for good?” Colin gave an immediate one-word response, “Trust.”

His experience in a nutshell

He went on to tell the short story of when he first learned this lesson from his superiors 50 years earlier. He was in the infantry school at Fort Benning. Here is a link to a brief video of Colin Powell’s view on the importance of trust.  

His main point is that good leaders are people whose followers trust them.  He quipped that if there is trust, people will follow you, “even if only out of curiosity.” It is worth doing a bit of analysis on this concept. 

Translating Colin’s message on trust to my own environment 

I always thought highly of Colin Powell as a model of excellent leadership. He had a long and industrious career helping our country in the military and as Secretary of State.  A key lesson was that once you have built trust, you can be a human being and make a mistake.

Mistakes can happen

Powell made a few mistakes in his career. His integrity was never doubted. People respected him. The most serious blunder was when he recommended the USA invade Iraq in 2003. His analysis was based on faulty intelligence that Saddam Hussein had biological weapons of mass destruction. Those weapons were never found as the invasion unfolded.

A key lesson in leadership 

The lesson is, if you build real trust as a leader, you no longer have to be perfect. I learned the lesson when interviewing CEOs in preparation for my third book on trust.  Leaders who have not built trust must guard every action or sentence. People are waiting to pounce on any potential inconsistency.  Life for these leaders is miserable and highly stressful. 

Leaders who build trust can relax and be fallible human beings because people will cut them some slack. That’s why the title of one of my books is “Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind.”

Two very different ways to lead

The difference in quality of life for the leader who has built trust is palpable. I observed this difference when interviewing many leaders in preparation for the book. Leaders who had not built trust were bundles of nerves and totally stressed out. Leaders who knew the secrets of building trust were relaxed and far more productive.  They were actually having a ball because great leadership really is a blast. You just need to learn that the key is trust. Colin learned this lesson early and used it throughout his life.

Colin Powell paid attention as a lieutenant at Fort Benning. The skill he learned made him adored and world-famous. He died on October 18, 2021, at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The cause of death was a compromised immune system: probably complicated by COVID.  At his funeral, three current and past presidents hailed him as an American Hero.

Conclusion

Please do not underestimate the power of trust in your organization.  Believe me, it changes everything. Not only are you a more effective leader, you also have a much richer and more enjoyable life.

 

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations

 


Leadership Barometer 170 In the Trenches

November 8, 2022

Military historians know that the view from “in the trenches” is far different from the master strategy war room. This article will contrast the two views of a proposed activity and offer some advice for organization leaders. The result is a better chance for a successful venture.

In the trenches is not fun

The trench is a long hole in the ground constructed to protect soldiers. The entire body is protected from the bullets flying above.  Living and working in a trench is incredibly frustrating.

First of all, life in a trench is not pleasant at all.  The atmosphere is wet and cold all the time. You often have to stand knee-deep in mud.  Mobility is severely limited.  Communication with the rest of the company becomes more difficult. You only interface visually with a few of your compatriots.

Meals are the bare minimum and usually not hot.  You have a very difficult time obtaining the raw materials to do your job (bullets).

If you stick your head out of the trench in order to assess what is happening, you stand a good chance of having it blown off. You may end up dead in the mud like your buddy next to you.

Contrast with the War Room

In the war room, the generals are plotting the next phase of the battle. The room is warm and well-lit. The generals eat hot food off clean plates.  They can even enjoy a cocktail or two.

They spend their time talking about the strategy of battle. Often they will focus attention on maps of the area with small models of tanks and artillery. They push these pieces around the map with long sticks like in a chess game. In more recent times the maps are on computer screens with the battle materials in simulations. It is not a bad life at all in the War Room.  The generals are also financially compensated better than the troops.

Now let’s take this contrast and describe the situation for an organization. There are many parallels to discuss. 

Organizational trenches

The shop floor is the trench for workers in a company.  It is noisy and often smelly and dirty as the product gets mass-produced on huge machines.  One advantage organizations have over the military trenches is that you rarely get your feet wet. However, the atmosphere can hardly be described as pleasant.

You may not get your head shot off, but you might have an encounter with a part of the process that goes out of control.  It can actually be dangerous in certain circumstances.

In a non-production environment, you may be working from home with no one in your trench except you.

Leaders mostly stay in the War Room 

The leaders usually remain in the offices and conference rooms. Conditions are much more favorable. They can sit and drink coffee while listening to presentations about how they will overtake the competition. They spend their time strategizing about the next product introduction.

Leaders often make substantially more money than workers while enjoying the perks of their position.

Really good leaders break this cycle

Great leaders spend significant time out of the office and conference room. They actually get down in the trench with the workers in order to experience what they are doing.  This habit gives excellent leaders more empathy for the workers, and they respond by being more engaged.

Conclusion 

Don’t be a general in the War Room.  Take the time to be out on the production floor with your workers.  You will find things go a lot better when you do.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations


Reducing Conflict 66 Trickle Down Misery

November 6, 2022

Organizational misery usually starts out at the top and trickles down through the layers. I have seen the problem in hundreds of organizations over decades of study.  If there are issues of trust, they almost always have their roots at the highest levels of leadership.

Top leaders rarely have the intent to make life miserable for other people. It just seems to happen in many cases.  This article is an attempt to peel back the root causes of the problem and suggest some viable antidotes. Let’s look at several typical causes and suggest ideas that can help.

Trickle Down Misery

Many leaders do not consider that they are part of the problem. The best way for leaders to understand how their actions impact others is to study “Trickle Down Mindset” by Michal Stawicki. The book offers leaders an innovative approach to shift into a more productive path. It helps to understand how things tend to trickle down in organizations. The mindset is especially important when setting goals.

Unrealistic Goals

Goal setting needs to be a combined activity between leaders and the workers who will pursue the goals.  Too often leaders just establish unrealistic or inappropriate goals without proper buy-in from the workers. The result is low commitment and a feeling of futility and low trust. These feelings can lead to quiet quitting or even exodus from the company.

When the workers have real input in the formation of goals, they are far more engaged to actually reach them. The sense of ownership is pivotal for workers to perform at their best.

Trust and Inspire

A recent book by Stephen M.R. Covey shows leaders how they must shift their approach to be successful today.  The book is titled “Trust and Inspire.”  It highlights the need to stop using “Command and Control” logic when dealing with people.  Instead, Covey advocates a “Trust and Inspire” mode of working with people. Covey points out that many leaders have not or cannot make the shift.  The book is convincing and extremely well-written.

Lead with trust

One of my own books is a good vehicle to reduce the trickle-down misery in organizations. The title is “Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind.” In the book, I point out that leaders who establish a culture of high trust have a significant advantage. They can relax and enjoy the wonderful ride of great leadership. The trickle-down effect is not required. In many cases, the problem is one of low Emotional Intelligence.

Low Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to understand one’s own emotions and the emotions of others. It also has to do with behaving in a helpful way once the emotions are understood. Daniel Goleman observed that people with low Emotional intelligence have blind spots and cannot see how they are coming across. Leaders with low emotional intelligence often say or do things that take them in the wrong direction.

“Emotional Intelligence 2.0” by Bradberry and Greaves is very helpful at opening the eyes of leaders who need help. The book provides an overview of the topic and then gives numerous exercises for self-study. Often Emotional Intelligence is blocked by hubris.

Hubris

Leaders who are full of themselves or resistant to change tend to turn off people under them. They see themselves as the center of the universe and put down anyone who would challenge their ideas.

There are two books that I like to get conceited leaders to read. The first is “Good to Great” by Jim Collins.  In his model of excellence, he coined the phrase “Level Five Leaders” to describe humble leaders.

The second book is “Simple Truths of Leadership” by Ken Blanchard and Randy Conley. It lists 52 ways to be a better Servant Leader and build trust. The book highlights ways to make common sense common practice. Ken Blanchard focuses on how leaders can understand and practice the art of servant leadership. Randy Conley wrote about building higher trust.

Conclusion

There are many more books and resources to stem the trend toward trickle-down misery.  It is really worth the time to read and heed the advice in these books.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Building Higher Trust 97 Trust Fragments

November 3, 2022

In this article, I will focus on the pile of trust fragments that remain after trust has been shattered. The process of rebuilding trust starts with examining the fragments of broken trust.

I like to use visual analogies when describing my beliefs about trust. For example, I built a Rube Goldberg-like device that I call my Trust Barometer. I use it to describe how trust is often built in small increments over time. The device also shows how all the built-up trust can be destroyed very quickly.  Here is a brief video of me demonstrating “The Trust Barometer.”

What are Trust Fragments?

Think of the relationship you have with another person. It is not a simple thing. It consists of many interrelated parts held together by a magical force called trust. I picture it like a beautiful glass ball filled with experiences and feelings about the other person.

When a trust betrayal occurs, the glass ball becomes shattered, and the pieces all fall to the ground.  Those pieces are the trust fragments that form the basis of rebuilding trust.

How to pick up the fragments

Some of the trust fragments will be distorted or lost in the process of the breakup. Still, there will be plenty of fragments that are intact and useful. Set aside the temptation to focus on the catastrophe that caused the ball to explode.  Instead, start looking at the pieces you recognize.  They will be all over the place and not in good order.

Start looking at the parts you can recognize.  For example, look at the happy memories that were from the time before the explosion. Recall as many of the good feelings about the other person as you can. Fixate on what it was about these times that provided value to the relationship. Many of these things are still in place and just need to be put back together like a jigsaw pussle.

Get some glue

As you put some pieces in place, make sure to glue them together so they start forming a picture. I think the glue can take the form of a heart-to-heart discussion between yourself and the other party. What are the parts of the glue?  One is the desire of both parties to return to at least a strong relationship as you had before. By verbalizing this desire, you go a long way toward the repair. Another part is demonstrating your care for the other person and the relationship.

Ask what will make the repair complete

If you both have expressed a desire to repair the damage, you are halfway home. Ask the other party what would have to occur to mend the damage completely.  Ask if there might be a way to make the relationship stronger than it ever was before.  Those questions will get the endorphins flowing and add enthusiasm to the work.

Verify progress along the way

Complete repair is not going to happen in an hour or a day.  Expect the process to be delicate and challenging but worth the effort. It is important to celebrate when the fragments are back together for part of the puzzle.  Feel good about this progress. It will give you the energy to continue.

Conclusion

Picking up and repairing the fragments of lost trust is not a simple process. It will be rewarding and very valuable if you take the steps outlined above.  The process can be repeated anytime there is a serious breach of trust.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations

 

 


Leadership Barometer 169 Temporary Assignments

November 1, 2022

Organizations use temporary assignments for a variety of reasons. These assignments are usually loosely controlled activities of convenience.

Sometimes temporary assignments are for a specific project. An example is to serve on a transition team during a merger or acquisition. 

Many organizations use temporary assignments as a way to enhance the skills of an individual. They are also used to test the person in different ways prior to a promotion.

There is a wide variety of temporary assignments

Temporary assignments can be delightful opportunities to pick up new knowledge and shine in a different way. Most businesses are becoming more global.  Assignments in a different country give rising executives a convenient way to become more sensitive to cultural differences. 

Temporary assignment in a merger or acquisition

In a merger or acquisition process, there are often numerous temporary assignments because conditions are changing dramatically. It is important to have some people pulled out of the daily business decisions. They need to focus on the integration effort. In the steady state, these design and policy-making positions will no longer exist. During the transition, there may be numerous people in temporary slots.

The science of making temporary assignments work well is rather eclectic, and the track record of success is spotty.  This paper deals with some of the problems that can occur. It includes several ideas that can help improve the probability of success.

Ten typical problems with temporary assignments 

  1. Poorly defined position – Sometimes leaders make the assignment in haste. The temporary position is ill-defined. The cure is to take the time to consider at least a partial list of duties that transfer with the individual. Make the assignment one that includes a real challenge, along with the authority to make professional decisions.
  2. Inadequate facilities – Many temporary assignments require people to perform in ad hoc project teams. Finding a central location with the proper facilities in which to do the work is a typical challenge. For some period of time, individuals may have to work out of hotel rooms or sparsely-equipped community gathering places.  
  3. Inconvenient location – Often the need requires an individual to live in a different city and fly home on weekends for months. Sometimes it is possible to arrange temporary housing for the person. This is a typical scenario for expatriates.
  4. Lack of Authority – Roles of a temporary assignment are transitory by definition. Individuals often feel a lack of authority at a time when they must assume greater responsibility. The antidote here is to give decision rights to the individual on the assignment. Also, be sure to back up this person’s decisions and actions publicly.
  5. Bad Personal Chemistry – An individual doing a temporary assignment is often entering a society with little knowledge of people, customs, and culture. The exact reason for this person coming in may be unknown. An individual must establish new relationships from a position of distrust. The antidote here is simple. Whoever arranged for a temporary assignment owes the person being moved a good introduction. It includes an adequate rationale and an expectation of fair play.
  6. Sense of futility – Some people may assume the job is just a placeholder. Assure the individual that it is due to this person’s worth that he or she was selected. There will be a good job at the end of the ordeal. Actually, people on the integration team have a natural advantage. They help invent the structure and rules for the merged entity.
  7. Burnout – There are just not enough resources to cover everything. Both the ongoing business resources and the integration team are stretched to the limit. It is easier for the ongoing business to stretch. Some people from lower levels can step up to temporary management positions to cover. For the transition team, life is more difficult. There are literally thousands of details to consider. The work is endless, critical, urgent, and highly emotional in nature. Coupled with living or working out of temporary housing, it causes many people in these assignments to burn out. For this reason, senior managers need to provide some modicum of work-life balance or “R&R breaks.”  
  8. Guilt or sense of punishment – Some individuals will over-analyze the nature of a temporary move and feel a sense of failure. They wonder if this is a signal from top management that there is a serious issue. To prevent unwarranted worry, top managers need to be transparent and share the true reason for a temporary assignment. If there are issues, then the individual is due an explanation. Give the person a chance to mitigate the damage to his or her reputation.
  9. Squishy Return Arrangements – Often a person on a temporary assignment has no visibility to his or her return path. Will there be a good job at the end of the assignment? When will the assignment end? Was this little adventure good or bad for the person’s ultimate career? Have frequent communications with the remote individual. Show appreciation for the service and assure the individual will have a viable return path.
  10. The pasture – Unfortunately, some groups use a series of temporary assignments to encourage an underperforming individual to leave. The jobs have marginal value, yet keeping the person on organizational life support seems kinder than pulling the plug. People who are going out to pasture are usually well aware of the intent. Many upper managers hope it will cause the person to quit and leave. Unfortunately, in a lot of cases, it causes quiet quitting. Here again, the antidote is candor and transparency. Let the individual know the truth so he or she can make appropriate choices rather than guess.

Conclusion

These are just 10 of the common issues with temporary assignments. They include how upper management can reduce the stress and pain.  Properly managed, temporary assignments can be invigorating and helpful to both the individual and the organization. If done poorly or without care for the individual, they can be a real problem.

For additional information on how temporary assignments impact creativity, check out this article by Philipp Cornelius. “How Temporary Assignments Boost Innovation.”

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations


Reducing Conflict 65 Paradise Mindset

October 31, 2022

I used to do a lot of teaching online. A student who lived in Detroit was lamenting another dreary winter day. He had reached the breaking point.  His comment to a student in Hawaii was, “Well, I have to take responsibility for my own misery. After all, I chose not to live in paradise.”  I wrote to the student that “paradise” is a state of mind not a state of the Union.  

Human beings have the power to live in reasonable happiness most of the time. They need to choose to exercise that power.  That is true regardless of where they are located or what the conditions are. It all has to do with our attitude. Please understand, I am not being frivolous here. I am talking about true peace and contentment being possible, even when circumstances are far from pleasant. 

Finding paradise in a POW Camp

There are stories of POWs who have achieved a state of joy, even as they were being starved.  One such individual was Viktor Frankel during WWII in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp.  Viktor was a psychologist in Vienna living a comfortable life when he was nabbed by the Nazis. Like most prisoners of war, He was treated with disdain, starved, and beaten.  

The mindset to survive

Frankel was curious about why some people survived, while most others quickly died.  He described the survival instinct as the realization that there was something significant to live for. The survivors had a mindset of “something significant yet to do in their life.” Once they were reminded of their purpose for living, they had the ability to survive.

The paradise mindset in action

Viktor used the power of visualization to rise above the incredible conditions of the moment and feel joy. After the war, he wrote a book on his observations entitled Man’s Search for Meaning.  

Some people feel they are in prison today

What prison do you live in?  Does it sometimes feel like you are suffering needlessly at work? Are the managers in your organization kind of reminiscent of prison guards, or at least schoolyard bullies? Do you feel there is little hope to be happy or content with the conditions that exist around you? 

If that describes you, then realize you are making a choice. You are choosing to not live in paradise when the opportunity is there for you to do so. At least you can improve your frame of mind significantly.

You may say “This guy is crazy; he has no clue about my miserable existence here in this dungeon.”  That accusation is correct. I don’t know your condition, but I do know the person most in control of your happiness is you.  Choose to be happy or ignore this advice and remain miserable.  I am not saying this is easy, because if it was, everyone would do it.

Focus on a positive mindset

If you choose to change conditions for the better, get some material on mental imaging and change your life. The more depressed you are, the more you have to gain. Most of the time you cannot change the conditions you face. You can control your attitude or reactions so that your state of mind is much more enjoyable.

This philosophy is not that profound, and we have all heard some form of it numerous times before. Some people call it “mind over matter.” Norman Vincent Peale called it “The Power of Positive Thinking.” Earl Nightingale made the observation that “We become what we think about.”   

One helpful book is the classic, Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz (1960).  Maltz became fascinated with the process of setting goals for his plastic surgery patients. He learned the power of self-affirmation was enabled by the connection between the mind and the body.

He taught how developing a positive inner vision was a means of developing a positive outer vision. This led to the idea that a person’s outer success almost never rises above the one visualized internally. More recent philosophers such as Brene Brown, Stephen M.R. Covey, and Lou Holtz enhance the theory. They have based much of their work on the ideas originally developed by Maltz.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, when we are miserable, it is hard to remember that we are in control.  We just need to assume that control. When you get depressed, try visualization techniques. They can make a big difference in your life. Paradise is not as far away as it may seem.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Building Higher Trust 96 The Synapse of Trust

October 28, 2022

Trust between people is like a synapse in the body. A synapse is a structure that permits a neuron to pass an electrical signal to another neuron. Think of it as the communication channel between neurons in the body. Without the synapse, all life would cease to exist.

Similarly, the ability to pass trust from one person to another allows trust to be viable in our lives. The basis is the ability to communicate with each other. Trust is like the glue that holds people together. It can exist at all levels because it is fundamentally a kind of synapse between people.

Trust within an organization

A similar pattern exists within organizations, where trust facilitates interactions between people. Where the synapse does not happen, trust becomes thwarted, and it blocks fruitful interaction. This barren condition is common. It results in people “playing games” with each other in an effort to gain political traction for their own agendas. 

I visualize trust as existing in the “white spaces” between thoughts and activities. Trust enables the flow of ideas and concepts in an environment free of fear.  That condition is vital to creativity in any group endeavor. One of my favorite sayings is, “The absence of fear is the incubator of trust.” Lack of fear isn’t the only condition for trust to grow, but I believe it is a necessary precursor.

Many authors and researchers have documented the benefits of trust. For example, Stephen M.R. Covey’s book, The Speed of Trust makes a good point. He stresses that as trust increases costs go down and things move faster.  Dennis and Michelle Reina’s book, Trust and Betrayal, shares research on the process of healing broken trust relationships. In my own books, I seek to highlight the nature of trust and how to achieve it every day.

Reinforcing candor creates the synapse

The heart of building trust is to create a space where people feel safe.  They can share uncomfortable thoughts without fear of retribution. Leaders accomplish this atmosphere when they praise people for being honest and open. It is especially important when the message is difficult to hear. I call this technique, “reinforcing candor,” and I believe it is one important way leaders create the synapse. It is all about accurate communication between people.

Candor is not always a pleasant experience, because the truth is sometimes repulsive to behold. Individual differences allow one person to think a situation is acceptable while another individual may see it as intolerable. Revealing an opinion about an issue leaves a person vulnerable. The ability to withstand differences of perspective and still maintain respect is what makes trust so precious. The synapse of real trust is enabled by honesty and candor in communication. In the void between souls, these connections allow a strong bond of mutual care and support.

The synapse requires judgment

Raw candor is not always the best approach. We must apply it with judgment, tact, and care.  There are situations where it is wise to avoid blurting out our unvarnished thoughts. Within an organization, our reactions to activities or situations begin as private thoughts. They are not malicious or offensive; they are simply our beliefs.  The ability to communicate this information with leaders in a constructive dialog is important.

If we feel stifled out of fear of retribution, then our private information will remain hidden. The organization does not benefit from the information, and we suffer frustration by feeling muted.

When we know it is safe to express our thoughts in a helpful way, it is a different story. Leaders will listen, and we feel more attached to our work. The organization benefits from our viewpoint because of the open communication.

It is up to the leaders to enable this flow of information through the behavior of reinforcing candor. That behavior allows the synapse to occur.  Further, it is essential that leaders hear and understand the input and be willing to consider it seriously.

We must teach leaders the power of this fundamental law: without trust, we do not make progress. Candor is the enabler of trust.  Leaders need to embrace and reinforce candor as much as possible. It is not easy, as it is much more comfortable to become defensive when facing a contrary opinion. The best leaders make people glad when they bring up difficult discussions. It enables the synapse of trust to flow.

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations

 

 


Leadership Barometer 168 The 30 Second Email

October 26, 2022

Can you read that email in 30 seconds or less?

You know how it feels. You are grazing your bloated inbox, and you see the name, Sam Jones. You cringe. Having waded through his prior tomes, you know the routine.

Opening this e-mail will tie you up for at least 15 minutes trying to get the message. Sam writes really l-o-n-g notes and rarely uses paragraph breaks. He does not capitalize the start of sentences, so his writing is hard to decode.  You pause and pass the note because there is just not enough time to deal with the hassle. 

Don’t be a Sam Jones!  Follow these seven simple rules, and people will appreciate your email communications.

  1. Make it easy on the reader. Have a well-formatted and short note that deals with a single topic in a compressed format. Don’t ramble!
  2. Don’t go “over the horizon.”  Try to have the majority of your notes fit into the first window of a note. The reader can see the start of your signature block at the bottom of the opening window. He knows that is all there is to the note. That is a psychological lift that puts the reader in a better frame of mind to absorb your meaning. When the text goes beyond the first page, the reader has no way to know the total length. This is a psychological burden that frustrates the reader subconsciously.
  3. Aim for 15 to 30 seconds. Try to have the email compressed enough that the recipients can read it in less than a half minute.  They will remember it much more than one that takes 5 minutes to read.
  4. Use bullet points. Short, punchy bullets are easier to read than long complex sentences.
  5. Highlight expected actions. Delineate action items in a way that is not offensive. Do not use all caps. Sometimes bold text works, but I find it best to have a separate line like this:      Action: Please get me your draft report by Friday.
  6. Be polite. Start with a friendly greeting and end with respect but not long or trite quotations.
  7. Sometimes the Subject can be the whole note. In this case, use EOM (End Of Message) to designate there is no note to open at all. It looks like this:      Subject:  The Binford celebration is Wednesday 3 pm.  EOM

If you follow these simple seven rules, people will pay more attention to your emails. You will improve the hit rate of your communications.  Not all notes can follow all of these rules but most can. Make sure the majority of your emails follow these rules.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations


Reducing Conflict 64 The Socratic Method

October 24, 2022

The Socratic Method uses questions designed as a discovery process for the person who is being questioned. This technique is often used in educational venues to help students learn critical thinking skills. I believe the application of the Socratic Method at work can be a powerful tool if used carefully. It can also backfire if used poorly or with a heavy hand.

Application of the Socratic Method

Here is an example of a work situation where the Socratic Method might come in handy. Suppose you want to advocate a specific course of action to a superior, but you expect significant pushback. Picture a situation where you are trying to convince your reluctant boss to approve some travel for you. You want to attend a training class out of state.

The straightforward approach is to: discuss the benefits of the training. Explain why this will be helpful to the organization, and ask for permission to travel.

Based on your knowledge of the boss, you suspect that he is going to turn you down flat. The promised benefits do not impress him. In this case, advocating a course of action and arguing your case will likely produce a negative response. Furthermore, once the boss has said no, subsequent attempts to change his mind will only be an annoyance. You are likely to hear “What part of NO didn’t you understand?”

Shaping questions

Using the Socratic Method means asking the boss questions about his satisfaction with how things currently are. You stand a better chance of getting a reaction you can then build into a stream of thought. Continuing to ask leading questions allows the boss to discover some of his own thought patterns. He may realize that a specific skill set is missing in his organization.

Here is what your final question in the series might sound like.  “I wonder how I might be able to get the skills to do what you’re suggesting?” After a few seconds of thought, the boss might open the door.  “Well, you could get some training and bring those skills back to our group.” You say, “That’s a great idea! I will look into some training options to accomplish that.”  You are now in a position to praise the intelligent boss for suggesting something you wanted to do. You get what you want, and the boss is your hero rather than a tight-fisted curmudgeon.

Now the boss has mentally committed to having you get some training because he came up with the idea. You come back the next day with a specific proposal to get the training. You are far more likely to have the boss agree to the expenditure.

Use the Socratic Method with care

I mentioned at the beginning of this article there is a huge caveat to applying the Socratic Method. It is because the technique is fundamentally manipulative. You have an idea of what you are trying to get the boss to verbalize. You keep asking questions that direct the conversation toward that end. If you are not extremely deft at posing the questions, the boss may become highly annoyed and suspicious. You have an ulterior motive for asking your open-ended questions. If this is the case, you may be doing more harm than good. 

Apply the Socratic Method with skill

Socratic questions must be used with great skill. Let’s examine six categories of Socratic questions and suggest a method of application that may help you be successful.

Below is a list showing six different types of Socratic Questions. I think this handy guide is useful because it provides different avenues of logic, so the questions don’t all sound the same.

Types of Socratic Questions

  1. Clarify: To prompt others to explore their questions and prove basic concepts and ideas of arguments Examples: What examples can you provide?  What do you mean by…?
  2. Probe assumptions: To query others’ beliefs concerning their arguments. Examples: How did you arrive at those assumptions? What if we looked at it this way?
  3. Determine Reasons and evidence: To delve deeper into supporting claims others use for their arguments. Examples: How do you know this? What is the cause? Can the evidence be refuted? How?
  4. Gain Perspective: To have others query their viewpoints or perspectives; they attempt to look at the argument from another perspective. Examples: What is another way of looking at this? What are the strengths and weaknesses of your perspective?
  5. Identify Consequences: To identify consequences and determine if they are desirable; use as others develop arguments and logical consequences become foreseeable. Examples: If we follow your argument, what are the consequences? Are the consequences desirable?
  6. Question the question: To probe the intent of asking the original question. Examples: Why did you ask the question? To what point are you driving?

A best practice for applying these questions is to mix up the type of question as the conversation unfolds. By applying the specific type of question naturally as the discussion proceeds, it seems more expected and less manipulative. 

Consider your intent

If your true intent is to probe subliminal thoughts, you can gently guide the conversation without detection. In other words, do not try to corner a person into saying something that he or she does not really want to advocate. That is true manipulation, which will invariably backfire. Use the Socratic Method to guide the discussion. Let the person see the true benefits from his or her own perspective. The person then becomes an advocate instead of a roadblock.

Conclusion

Using the Socratic Method can be helpful. It requires skill and practice to apply it successfully in the real world.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.