Monday, October 31, 2011

risk of asking for a behavior change

I was talking with a group of engineers this week about letting another person know when his behavior is making it difficult for them to do their work. Many of us complain and gossip: "can you believe he's late to every meeting!" "Once again she goes on travel without letting anyone know where she is!" "He's so creepy -- he comes up behind me when I'm working on the computer and rubs my shoulders!"

The outcome of this complaining is that we get solace and comaraderie -- the person or people to whom we complain agree the complained-about person is a creep or an idiot or selfish or whatever characterizing term seems to fit. There is no actual change as a result and our improved emotional state lasts only until the offending person behaves in his "usual" way again.

We have a chance of changing behavior when we let the other person know how his behavior is negatively affecting us and our work. We can say, "we can't make rigorously-analyzed decisions when you arrive late to meetings -- we're missing too much of your input." Or, "when we don't know you're going on travel, we assume we'll be able to work directly with you. It would help our work planning if you'd give us advance notice of travel plans." Or, "I'm uncomfortable when you come up behind me and rub my shoulders. I'd prefer you simply come around my desk and say hello"

Speaking up has the advantages of enabling us to experience ourselves as people with the potential influence to make changes rather than as whiners, providing the other person with the opportunity to change behavior he may not realize is detrimental to others, and limiting gossip, and therefore outgrouping, at work.

One person in the program said, but what if I speak up and the person doesn't change his behavior? Yes, this is a risk. Perhaps the other person's habits are so deeply ingrained that he can't change them, he lacks the emotional intelligence to make changes, or our requested behavior was unreasonable.

I have a student with whom I've talked in person and to whom I've sent several heart-felt emails about arriving late to class. I've talked about what he's losing, what his learning group is losing, and what our class is losing by his missing so much of the class period. He continues to arrive about 30 minutes late. He will not change. That's his choice; a choice that will be reflected in his grade. And if you're thinking, well that gives you positional power, not so fast. This student is the first to complain about course process (often about things he insists I don't do for students that I do at the start of classes which he misses) and I have no doubt he will complain to the department and in his evaluations. These complaints can influence the department about hiring me for future classes and can influence future students' thinking about taking the class. His coming in late will cost me.

I can't change his behavior but if I had not tried I would not have changed his behavior nor would I ask other students to make this change. Yet every other student who habitually arrived late changed behavior after a few words from me. We must see each person and situation as unique. If I stopped speaking up, I'd see myself as powerless and I would become powerless.

When we say nothing, we get nothing.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Can you teach "heart"?

I noticed this sticker on a student's computer: "you can't teach heart".

I asked him about it -- what does it mean by "heart" in this context? Kindness? Generosity? Empathy? (all of which I believe can be taught)

He said the saying is "absolutely true" and in his context it meant commitment to the sport (jui jit su). So, what do you think? Can you teach someone to be committed to a sport -- to give his heart to it?

I disagree with this quote. While I believe we cannot motivate another person -- that the other person has to be self-motivated -- I do believe we can do things to teach commitment:

  1. model commitment ourselves. We can demonstrate to our employees, teammates, peers, and children our own commitment to our group, company, team or family. We are teaching all the time. Do we give our heart to our organizations or work teams? Do we give our heart to our families? How often do we just go through the motions, get through the day, finish the task? We cannot expect heart when we don't give heart.
  2. actively demonstrate the outcomes of commitment. Oftentimes people don't go the extra mile because they don't see the value in doing so. We think those folks are lazy and lose interest in them. They get less attention and see even less value in giving their hearts, and we've facilitated a negative spiral. We may know why we're committed, but if we haven't shared the overarching goal -- our organization's reason for being beyond making a profit, our team's goal beyond winning the next game, and our family's role in our lives beyond someone to add to the laundry basket -- then we cannot expect anyone else to have that goal at the front of their minds.
I'm sure there are more ways to teach "heart". What ideas do you have?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

How to carve practice space out of existing performance space

You can create a space for practice by ensuring psychological safety on your team and by using the coaching process created by Denis Kinlaw in Coaching for Commitment.

Psychological safety: Develop mutual trust whereby you are all willing to be vulnerable to each other because you assume the others have positive intentions. Your team will trust you when you are authentic, consistent, competent, and principled.

Coaching process: Instead of solving problems for your employees, invite them into a discussion of discovery. Purposefully use your conversations with employees as practice spaces -- encourage them to share what they know that you don't, build on their ideas to make the most of what you both know, and focus on gaining insights rather than on immediate end results.

When your employees know that there are times they can talk out their ideas with you and you will make both the time and the mental energy available to focus on what they have to say, when their words have influence over what happens at work, and when it's okay for them to test theories, raise concerns, stretch for higher goals, make mistakes, and attempt new skills, they gain new and useful competencies. These competencies give them the confidence to stretch for even higher goals, building ever greater competency -- a self-perpetuating upward performance spiral.

When you create a space for practice at work, you enable employees to reach their fullest potential.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Do you create practice space for your team?

Sports teams practice and perform: 5 or so days a week they get together and experiment with new plays, try out different tactics, push limits, and test theories. They expect some of these won't pan out -- they'll fail -- and they'll learn from what didn't work to determine what will.

Players increase competency by seeing what works and learning from what doesn't, by reaching for more speed or endurance or skill, and by learning how to respond to setbacks. And competency creates confidence, which inspires players to try to reach higher goals.

When game day comes along, they use what they've learned combined with their confidence to succeed.

In some work environments, employees perform all the time. There's no room for trying something new, testing unique ideas, or failing. As a result, confidence wanes, leading employees to be less willing to stretch themselves, less likely to take risks, less comfortable offering suggestions. New competencies aren't developed and existing competencies aren't strengthened.

What can you do to create room for practice at work?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Does fear of vulnerability make us more vulnerable?

A student expressed concern that if he told people how their behavior affected him, they'd have the power to affect him negatively. The other students responded that few people in his environment were out to get him, and I think that's probably true. Yet, I'm not sure if that was comforting enough for him to risk sharing his concerns with others -- how would he know who to trust with his feelings?

Trust is the willingness to be vulnerable to another person because we expect their intentions and actions toward us to be positive, or at the least, not negative.

So, would it be a bad idea to let someone you don't fully trust know their words or actions cause you hurt or frustration, or in any way limit your ability to do your best work? Yet if we don't trust the other person, and we don't say anything about the negative impact their words/actions have on us, aren't we more likely to be more hurt in the future when they continue that behavior?

And in the end, if they decide not to change their behavior then we know beyond a doubt that we have to change our response to their behavior. After all, we have control over our own emotions; no one can make us feel something. So, perhaps it's better to get it on the table where we can no longer ignore it and hope it will change?

What do you think? Have you ever had someone hurt you more than they had in the past after and because you let them know their behavior resulted in a negative experience for you?