Key Point: Would your day be different if you treated each conversation with total care? When you really think about it, most relationships are built on a series of conversations. Life itself is a continuous series of discussions. So many things happen because of each verbal (and non-verbal) interaction. How we feel and act towards the other person or people involved in an exchange is dependent on how carefully we construct our language and the intent behind the listening and content delivery. It is primarily a matter of treating others and ourselves with respect.
Think about great conversations you’ve had. My belief is that a common element of the most gratifying exchanges is the feeling of being listened to. When your partners in conversation really cared about what you thought or said, and when you sincerely appreciated their thoughts and views too. I bet that all the people involved asked lots of questions with genuine consideration to the responses. Now think about the conversations that haven’t gone well. What characterized those?
I recently was introduced to someone over a business lunch. The entire exchange was about him. I asked him questions and off he’d go. He paused to gulp down his sandwich or wait to talk about himself some more. Frankly, I figured he had little interest in me and subsequently was not very invested in where our relationship went. Think about all those dinners you’ve been at where the person sits next to you, says almost nothing, and puts little if anything into learning about you. It is challenging not to conclude that this person is either socially inept and/or doesn’t really care about the relationship. It is a little like the person often sitting next to us on planes. Many of us don’t invest in conversations during flights, not because we are unfriendly but because we are likely not going to see them again.
- Although most conversations happen naturally as part of daily living, think about each one as a relationship builder to be cared for… Not just a “talk.” Ask yourself quietly how much the relationship moved forward based on the exchange you completed.
- Ask lots of questions to make sure you really understand the other person’s intent. When you are sincerely interested in their views, ask them for advice or insight.
- Be vulnerable and authentic. It is ok to be open about things you feel hesitant about, to be genuinely humble, and to have a self-deprecating sense of humor. We know people aren’t perfect. When you open up, often others do too. You make it safe for them to do so.
- Use language that is more open to outcomes than sounding totally definitive. Words like “might,” and “could be,” when explaining or taking a position, give room for more views and possibilities to be explored. Remember your view is only one perspective.
- Stop, breathe, listen, and speak when you have something to move the conversation and relationship forward. If you don’t have anything of value to add, it is ok to actively listen.
Careful conversations in the Triangle,
Key Point: Build a bucket overflowing with moments to balance the jar with dwindling marbles. As I get older, I’m reminded of the “marble in the jar” analogy. So many people I’ve worked with, that I truly loved being with, I’m likely to hardly see. This is even more poignant with our children, all of whom live a geographical distance from their mother and me. Essentially the idea is that there are only so many marbles left in the jar. You get the drift. (Although some of you who know me might have put a different spin on the “losing marbles” idea… Haha).
The wonderful counterbalance is that my bucket for capturing golden moments is beginning to overflow. When I make a point of being present and allow my mind to slow, I capture more of them. This of course applies to all parts of our lives, but since this blog is mostly about work, let me focus on that. I’m not just talking about the BIG ones… The “good” or “bad” ones… Just YOUR moments. I remember standing in front of several hundred people at a company conference that brought together colleagues from all parts of the world for the first time. At the gala dinner event, the night was sparkling in every respect. I strode onto the stage as MC, grabbed the podium. The room stopped for just a second, at that moment I said, “ladies and gentlemen… Tonight … Right now… One of our team members on this globe is serving a customer”… The place went nuts with cheering and high fives. That was a “moment.”
I also remember tightly closing the door on the house that for 10 years was the office of the consulting company my partner and I built. It was a hot Sunday afternoon… No one was around… That was one of the loneliest and empty feelings I’ve ever had…A “moment” for me for sure.
And my bucket includes memories of too many friends I’ve had to fire… The look between us… The feel of the last handshake… Their backs as they walked out the door… Those are “moments.”
Right this very moment I’m on a bus driving through the town of Chippenham in the UK… The European home of the company I was CEO of for eight years. Truly, a golden moment. I doubt I will come back through this town very often… If ever again.
- Acknowledge that the relationship jar of marbles is emptying. Enjoy those people you love to work with. Too soon, that will pass… You will miss them.
- Counter attack by filling up that bucket of golden moments as full as you can. Make it a BIG bucket. Stuff it. Add another bucket.
- Please write those moments down. Start now. One day, the other “marble analogy” from above will be playing tricks, and you will be happy you did.
- What are your top 10 golden work moments?
Golden moments in The Triangle,
Key Point: Whether you’re a hockey fan or not, all of us can learn from the Detroit Red Wings. They have developed a franchise where they are always in the top tier of the win/loss column and are a constant prospect to win the Stanley Cup (the holy grail of hockey and arguably one of the most difficult trophies to win in sports). This year, when they were expected to be average at best, they are challenging to win it all again. The Wings do not spend the most money, and because of their success, they do not get the most talented draft choices (the best young talent goes to the lowest ranked teams). They are not like the New York Yankees, spending huge amounts of money on free agents. So eventually you would think the Wings would hit a wall of failure before they might recycle back to the top. But they keep winning? Why?
A. The top leadership really cares. The franchise ownership treats team members as family and demands excellence in every position: From players and equipment managers to the ticket office. They think of their employees as people who complete a system of excellence, not sparkly chattel for just drawing fans or an entertainment commodity to be discarded indiscriminately.
B. They patiently develop their talent: The farm team gets the best coaches and mentoring is a key part of the process, beginning with the NHL veterans and extending to the front office (which is stocked with former players such as Chris Chelios, Jiri Fischer and Kris Draper). They pass on their experience to the kids in Grand Rapids (their AHL farm team).
C. They develop a unique and clearly defined structure: The Wings teach players how to contribute in THEIR system. Great leaders develop exceptional individual competency but expect that skill to be applied in a prescribed way of doing it…The Red Wings way. It takes years to learn how to seamlessly act in all situations. Everyone knows their individual job AND role in the organization. To the naïve observer, hockey looks chaotic and totally dynamic, but a great team has key principles and plays that require real time player decisions to put the team and winning first.
D. They demand Respect, Accountability and Abundance. The older players know that the younger guys will take their jobs. But they teach and mentor them to do so. They know they will always be part of The Red Wing alumni, and are treated fairly. You actually help people take over. You respect the mission and team first. You hold yourself accountable to play your unique role and participate in the spoils of winning accordingly.
- Are you developing personally AND within a system? If not, learn ways you can be better individually and as a contributor to the system. Do you even know what the winning system is in your organization?
- Who is mentoring you? What are they preparing you for? If you do not have coaches AND teammates who are committed to developing YOU, you’re missing out. Determine what you might do to find a coaching environment.
- Highly demanding systems, where excellence is expected, require patience and real learning to advance. Look to participate in that environment and you will likely have a sustainable winning organization to ride.
A Red Wing in The Triangle,
P.S. I trust this blog will not jinx Detroit’s series against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Key Point: We make decisions about others very quickly. We have to be cautious about doing that because the meaning of respect, one of the tenants of The Character Triangle, is to “look again.” It is a powerful definition that encourages us to really observe and listen without judging hastily. However when I meet with others, I must admit that I do listen very carefully to the words and phrases used. Their language gives me a glimpse into what I think they really believe. Let me share a few of what I call “trigger words.”
“I.” People who define their success exclusively in the context of “I” make me wary. Most highly evolved and effective leaders describe their accomplishments in sincerely humble ways. They know that success is most often a result of many hands. Sharing that view does not diminish their contribution. It does however highlight the self-awareness required to understand that many people and fortunate conditions are necessary for great results. (The one time using “I” is appropriate is when leaders take the heat for something gone wrong).
“They.” Frankly, I detest the use of this pronoun in the context of blame. When I’m interviewing someone and they tell me the reason they want to work for me/us is because they are running away from “they,” I almost always conclude the discussion with a “no thank you.” This usually tells me that self-accountability is not fully resident in that person. I do not want to invest in teaching people to become self-accountable. I want them arriving demonstratively with self-accountability.
“Yeah, but…” When people use this phrase they might as well stop the conversation with me. My experience is that most often the word “yeah” is a big second fiddle to the word “but.” Resistance to exploring options with “ yes but-ers” is normally very high. People who lead with “yeah, but…” often have a closed versus growth mind-set. They spend their time thinking about why something won’t work versus finding ways to make things work.
“Should” and “Never”… Really? Why would I associate myself with “should” and “never?”
- Learn how to use precise words. Sometimes I think we have lost the importance of having an extensive vocabulary that provides us with the repertoire of using the most effective word to describe the feeling we want to accurately convey. I believe one has to READ great literature to expand our language catalogue. It’s not about huffiness it’s about the significance of clarity. Cable TV and abbreviated social media terms just don’t help very much.
- Watch words that tell you what people really believe in. Look for trigger words that determine whether the “feet and mouth” are really in sync. What are your trigger words?
- Be aware of the words you use that define and reinforce your beliefs. Language is powerful. You may want to believe you think a certain way but you give yourself “away” by what you say (and do, of course).
Say it and mean it in The Triangle,