Comfort Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be

Most likely your natural tendency is to sidestep uncomfortable emotions, painful physical sensations, cognitive challenges and/or social exertion. But those discomforts are often signals that you’re pushing yourself into areas of positive growth with a level of intensity that will lead to actual progress.

In endurance sports this discomfort is called suffering. Some of that suffering comes from the physical pain that your body generates as you approach the limits of your current capability. As you strain, your muscles generate waste and collect minor tears. After your effort is completed, the tears will signal the healing forces to rebuild with additional capacity to avoid future tears.

We now understand that some—or perhaps much—of the pain sensation is also generated by the fail-safe concerns of our brain. It senses that, if we continue to do what we’re doing, we risk exceeding our body’s abilities to intake oxygen, deliver fuel, and clear out waste materials. The pain sensation is an alert that we should shut off our effort to preserve crucial blood flow to our brains. The problem is that this warning comes earlier than necessary and, if we heed it too soon, it inhibits us from our highest level of effort and eventually diminishes our maximum performance.

In non-physical areas, your brain also protects you from danger with early and overblown warnings about threats. It flashes discomfort and pain signals when there are opportunities for growth. For instance, when there is a possibility that you will need to give up an established pattern of behavior in order to make a change or challenge your comfort zone.
Each time you strive to stop an old habit or start a new one, you will likely come face to face with some level of discomfort—some minor “tear” in your routine. In order to change you will need to ignore the easy path of following your old habit and push against your discomfort. You may need to welcome the experience of social embarrassment and confront someone, push against the call of a sweet treat in order to change your eating habits, get to a gym class when you’re feeling hollow and lethargic, or resist the pull of something more entertaining when you should be exercising or working on a project.
How much discomfort are you willing to push through? If the answer is none, then you aren’t likely to change. Just a little bit? You may make a bit of progress. A few brave souls will answer in the affirmative when they ask themselves, “Am I willing to suffer for a significant increase in my performance?”
Choosing to suffer isn’t complex or difficult, but it also isn’t easy. And we are not suggesting that there is any significant value in suffering for suffering sake. Given that you will face feelings of discomfort many times a day, and will on occasion suffer, you should know that you will suffer less if you welcome discomfort as a necessary ingredient in improving your performance.
There is suffering that leads to no valuable end. There is suffering that we might wish to avoid, but which leads to healing. And there is suffering that is simply the best pathway to enhanced performance. Avoid that discomfort and you will keep doing what you have always done. Embrace it and you will dare to push yourself enough to cause your body, emotions or mind to gain increased capacity.
**
In growing your business, a healthier life, or deeper relationships you will benefit from having effective strategies to help you deal with discomfort and gain the maximum value from any investment you make in suffering. Don’t suffer needlessly. But also don’t avoid opportunities to grow and feel significant satisfaction and benefits from your efforts. We can help you invest your energy wisely.

Surprising Problems with Praise

Despite the common advice of many business coaches, praise can demotivate your team and make them skeptical. Praise, like sweeteners, needs to come in measured amounts and not taste artificial.

People do experience meaning and satisfaction when they hear those they respect value their contributions. But it doesn’t it follow that we should therefore lavish praise on members of our teams.

Research points out that too much or insincere praise creates less than desirable results. This appears to be true both at work and with our families. Overdone or generalized praise is quickly dismissed as worth little. If everything is “great”, then you’re not believable. Overusing expressions like “Amazing!” “Wow Experience!” “Great Job!” all lead other people to feel that your praise is worth less.

Do you understand what I’m saying? Great job! You’re an amazing reader! Something certainly smells rotten in my praise.

To make praise effective it needs to be sincere, specific and address the actual work or effort. And it needs to come in believable doses.

One clear way to avoid hyperbole and misunderstandings is to share acknowledgements instead of praise. They’re similar, but acknowledgements make a specific statement about the results of a person’s actions. They don’t give a label of good or great. They don’t base an evaluation on your judgment of the person. Acknowledgements speak about the effect of a person’s activities.

For good work that is a tad above a person’s normal performance levels or when a team member finally shows continuity over a period of time try something like:

“I noticed your effort today produced results.”
“I notice your quality is staying higher.”
“I noticed you are trying that approach we talked about.”
“You put some real effort into getting that job done on time. Thank you.”
“Having the reports on time has been helpful.”

Save praise for exceptional situations—and still consider using an acknowledgement instead. If you’re going to fall back on praise, keep it  believable and use it only for above average work. Stick with simple acknowledgements for basic work done well.

********
Developing new leadership and managerial habits takes specific understanding and practice. We can help you:

Learn how to acknowledge and praise wisely
Ask curious questions
Listen effectively
Reward for effort, strategy and progress

And, as a bonus, a healthy dose of acknowledgements and praise from a coach will help you implement habits that will increase your and your team’s performance and satisfaction. Call or email today if you want to set up a time to consider what habits will bring the most leverage to changing your business and your life.

How the Best Leaders Listen and Respond

I want to share two skills that are simple but take practice. We teach these to our clients to help them accomplish more and have fewer stressful debates with their team, clients—and even family members. If you are seeking more productivity, higher morale and more straightforward interactions, then give these a try.

When someone makes a statement that we disagree with, the most common response is to either ignore what they said or respond with all the reasons we don’t agree. There is a better way. Let me use an example I dealt with last month to illustrate what didn’t go well:

During a particularly hectic time at the company, Dave, the HR manager told John, his supervisor and our client—“We need to meet for 10-15 minutes each morning for the next couple of weeks to discuss the specific hires you’re looking for and possible ways to deal with the two employees who are under-performing.

John retorted, “No way! I can’t meet every day! I just don’t have the time.”

When John asked me for ideas about how to handle it better, I asked what he objected to. He said, “It’s ridiculous to think Dave and I can or need to meet every day.”

I asked what, if anything that Dave said that he had agreed with. He thought for a moment and said, “It makes sense that Dave understands the kind of person and attributes I’m looking for in the new employees.” He concurred that he wanted to have major input on how to document the under-performing employees because they probably would need to be terminated.

Suggestion 1:

If you agree, say so. Acknowledge the places of agreement.
If John wanted to change Dave’s suggestion and also give him credit for suggesting a solution instead of just waiting for a problem to develop, John could have said, “I agree that it would be a good idea for us to talk about the new hires and the documentation process.”

You don’t need to agree with everything said.  Team members will be encouraged to develop critical thinking skills by even partial agreement. So say out loud what you agree with.

Suggestion 2:

If you feel something was left out or needs to be altered, state your agreements first and then add to their thinking—build on their idea.

“I agree that it makes sense for us to meet; we need to talk about the new hires and what to do about the team members who are not performing. Because time is crunched, let’s meet twice next week and then evaluate where we are.”

By finding something to agree with you defuse a lot of the debates that start around people defending their suggestions. If you can limit the defensiveness and the debate time, you keep things moving. You’ll be surprised how often the points you disagreed with get dropped and everybody’s happy.

Close: What you do-and say-matters.  If you want your team to run more smoothly, think for themselves and make good decisions, consider calling or emailing us for ways to tweak your communication. Small changes can make a big difference—with team members, clients, and partners.  And, as one of my clients who keeps building skills – and seeing better results – reminds me, “It just feels better.”

Quick Ways to Improve Your Listening

Again and again, Jay and I see our clients running into trouble because they’re distracted by their own ideas and internal rebuttals when they might profit more from paying attention to what their team members or clients are saying. Here are a few quick ideas to help tune up your listening skills so you can stay focused when you don’t think it’s important. Thanks to Jay for this article – adapted from his book in process – Simple Steps to Listening.

Here are some quick, straightforward ways to help you listen better and encourage people to share vital information with you:

If you recognize you are or were wrong, chances are you missed an opportunity to hear everything that was available to help you make the best choice. Next time try coaching yourself to really understand a variety of other peoples’ opinions before committing to an action.

If you start thinking before the other person is done talking, chances are you missed some piece of important information. Try asking a question that you don’t know the answer to.

“I’d like to understand where this data is from.”
“What specifically has led you to have this concern?”
“How would you implement your idea?”
“Do you have a suggestion how we could reduce the risk you are talking about?”

If you find yourself preparing a response before you’ve heard everything the other person wants to say, you aren’t listening anymore and you will miss something. Will it be important? I don’t know, but to be a little more confident that you know what was said remind yourself:

“Find the unusual insight in the stew of their ordinary ideas.”
“What if one of their ideas were a clue that might tell me something about the future which of their thoughts is the clue?”

If you’re irritated by the person speaking, your ability to listen may well be overwhelmed by your frustration. Try assuming that the other person is probably doing the best they can. Quickly make up one or two possible positive motivations they might have to do what they’re doing. Whether you’re right or wrong makes little difference. Even considering alternative positive motivations will make it easier to recover from frustration.

People want to be listened to, and knowing they are encourages them to share more. How does the person who’s talking, know that you’re listening to them?

Look at them, not somewhere else or right through them. Respond with specific comments:
“That’s an interesting idea.”
“I like the idea of a new website approach. Let’s focus on that for a minute.”
“Please repeat that last idea. I want to be sure I understand it.”

Repeat a detail-“If I understand you, you’re saying…”

And perhaps the most powerful evidence that you’re listening is the acknowledgement you offer.

And remember, listening and watching are both paying attention. In a sense, watching is listening with your eyes. People will feel respected if they feel “seen” or “listened to,” and acknowledgements also show that you’re paying attention.

“Thanks for explaining your idea. You got the ball rolling.”
“You created the original dashboard. That started all the innovative ideas.”
“I’ve noticed that you’re always on the lookout for potential risks.”
“You’re someone I depend on to keep us abreast of the latest possibilities in the field.”

Have you found ways to keep your attention focused when you want to be listening? Please send them to us. We’d love to share them with other readers. Go ahead. We’re listening.

***
Learning to listen means taking good ideas and practicing them. Our coaching sessions on better listening encourage lots of relaxed practice where you can find your own voice. Contact us to discover the importance of listening whether you’re a collaborative leader or an authoritarian one. Boost your leadership potential and strengthen your personal relationships with coaching that matters. And if you can’t see the purpose in listening better, you should know that we think we can show you some pretty compelling reasons why your business will profit from the effort. Call or email us and we’ll discover together which of us needs to listen to the other.

Is Your Life Working Well?

We think about Return on Investment (ROI) only in the context of money and profit, but I want to encourage you to consider investing time to assure your future will generate the happiness you want.  Is your life working for you?  Could it use a small tweak to work optimally, or does it need more? I want to touch on some things to think about when you are considering a transition. Read on!

I’ve discussed transitions, one of my favorite topics, in previous posts. The question of what you’re going to do in the next phase of your life trips many people up. We often assume we know what will make us happy, but discover almost too late that happiness is still elusive.

Research and experience show that happiness comes to each of us in a number of flavors, some of which melt rather quickly. It may help to consider what flavor or level of happiness you want to put your effort into pursuing. You have options whether you’re looking at a career change, thinking of adding an avocation or hobby, or searching for a complete makeover.

Positive psychologists—those professionals who look at strengths and successes—talk about three phases of happiness: pleasure, engagement (or flow), and meaning.

Pleasure

This is the simply feeling good part of happiness—going to the beach, taking a trip, trying a new restaurant, buying a new piece of clothing or car, watching the sunset, and so on. If you are working really hard now and contemplating cutting back, time for more of those pleasure moments may be enough— a chance to relax and take a break from any responsibilities.

Engagement

To many people’s surprise, even really great pleasure of the first kind gets old after a while. Boredom, restlessness, or loneliness usually begins to creep in. That’s when you may realize you need the second level of happiness, engagement—something you can sink your teeth into a bit. Maybe study the piano, plan a garden, join a Makers group, start playing golf again, pick up a hobby, study a language—i.e. engagement with other people or activities that are personally interesting, or that matter to you.

Meaning

Some of us will get hungry for something even bigger—creating a legacy or just wanting to give back. This can happen throughout our lives; for some of us, the need increases as we cut back our money making activities. We want to give back—to offer our talents, services, energy to those who can use it. We seek meaning— a feeling of having a larger purpose and contributing something to others and to society.

Any transition is likely to be more satisfying if you’ve set your sights on the level of happiness that will give you the type of pleasure you’re looking for. Here are a few steps to play with to get you started:

Think about how to create possibilities for yourself

If you know what you want, think about ways to get support to begin creating it.

If you’re feeling restless to make a change, but don’t know what direction to go in, try something. Try and then adjust as you learn. It’s better than standing still in frustration or confusion.

Research is one form of action—get online, interview people who are doing “it,” read books about transition or happiness, ask a coach.

Plan a goal and some details

Whether you’re still working, working part time or almost retired, plan! We often can’t wait to get “there.” But once we reach our goal, we face a blank slate and a “What now?” vacuum that is very uncomfortable. Begin to plan some of the details now.

Think about how to make your life richer and more resilient with a diversified life portfolio—different areas of happiness so that one or more will continue to be viable and interesting. What would a satisfying day to day life look like? Would it have social connections, exercise, learning opportunities, giving to the community and family? What else?

Either way, please take the time to make the changes that will make a big difference in your life—at work and at home.

Lately so many clients have been looking for assistance with a transition in their lives that I want to announce that I will be facilitating a group on making a transition in your life. My “What’s Next” group will help you think more clearly about the what, when and how of making a major transition in your work or personal life.

Money: Getting More Comfortable Asking for It

Our attitudes and beliefs about money are often based on fear and inaccurate assumptions, which “cost” us both financially and emotionally. And the longer we stay stuck in our mistaken and anxious money notions, the higher the price we pay.

Not sure if you have money issues standing in your way? Ask yourself:

Is there anyone you haven’t sent a timely bill to?

Are you avoiding raising your fees because you aren’t sure how to explain them to your clients or patients?

Do members of your team stumble when they need to ask for retainers or recommend high-priced treatments or services?

Are you comfortable having salary conversations with team members?

Here are a couple of quick thoughts that my clients have found useful.

If you raise your fees or suggest high value/high priced services in an effective way, the odds are clients aren’t going to think what you assume they will. People I have worked with on fee and money issues have reported predicting that their clients would probably be thinking:

“Who does she think she is charging this much money. She wouldn’t be worth it.”

“That service wouldn’t be worth that much, no matter how good it was.”

Instead their clients eventually report that they actually thought:

“I would probably find a lot of value in talking with her.”

“That seems like a fair fee for the service. It’s a relief to find someone to help me move this forward.”

“That’s a lot of money, but I need to figure a way to manage it.”

Another quick way to check your personal degree of money comfort is to list some current “asks” or money conversations you want or need to have. Do you generally create a positive assumption, or a scenario where you’re rejected or rebuffed? Chances are that if you start with a negative assumption, your fears or avoidance are costing you money. You may be avoiding important conversations or communicating a lack of confidence. Either can be stopping you or your team members from dealing effectively with money issues.

Creating a new way to approach fee and money conversations can be as simple as taking a quick look at your negative tendencies around money and then creating new scripts that you can use to ease into more powerful money dialogues. We have seen clients try out new assumptions and suddenly find comfort talking about money and charging more reasonable fees.
Success is measured in many ways, but earning less than you’re really worth isn’t one. Don’t allow discomfort or old assumptions to stand between you and providing well for your family, your team and yourself.

I used to be dreadful talking with my clients about fees. If I can do it, you can too. Want a good laugh? Ask me about the fee-agreement I used in my first private practice! Want to have your own discomfort a thing of the past? Give me a call.

Encouraging Positive Behavior

People need people. This was brought to my attention again when Jay was reading Deep Survival a book about the attitudes and behaviors that survivors of accidents and natural disasters exhibit. Many lost adults don’t stay still so that they can be found during a grid search. They keep moving in an apparent attempt to reconnect with other people—anything but spending time alone. To be seen is to feel alive, safe and significant.

There is often a similar longing to be seen in the work environment. Team members want and need acknowledgments as much as lost hikers. It is necessary to pay employees, but that isn’t sufficient to motivate the best critical thinking or creativity. One of the techniques leaders need to develop is the ability to make a team member feel seen at a time that encourages them to repeat a positive action, attitude or effort.

Here are some ways to give a little acknowledgment in everyday situations:

Brighten just a bit each time a person looks at you and they will tend to look again. Jay and I use this technique to get people to focus on me when they’re talking to a group. And conversely you can look down or look away to encourage them to address someone else.

Say “Thank You!” when people give you tough feedback and they will tend to continue the behavior of daring to risk your displeasure.

Acknowledge a project or task that is completed on time and the positive attention will tend to nudge the employee toward getting the next one done on time.

Say a cheerful “Good Morning” right away when a chronically tardy employee shows up on time and you’re more likely to see a bit more on-time behavior.

If you work for someone, you might try completing a project early when it’s handed out early and holding it back until the last minute when it’s given to you late. This is different from the traditional “passive-aggressive” attitude because you’re working toward a solution that is intended to help both of you. You just need to be very clear that the goal is a smoother working relationship, not just one that satisfies you.

Say hi to team members as if they’re the one you’re pleased to see and they will more likely act like someone you want to see.

Positive feedback, smiles and noticing others’ constructive behaviors, all increase the odds of a repeat performance.

For more ways to increase your effectiveness and influence the outcomes you’re looking for, please call us at 978-446-9600 or email us.

Jay’s book Simple Steps to Change: Your Business, Your Life is a good resource, with lots of ideas, as well. You can read parts of it or purchase it on Amazon.

Successful Transitions

The transition from an old to a new process or system, from a previous manager or key employee to a new hire, or any other change is tough. Understanding more about how to manage the process will make it all go a bit easier. With the right information you can make a difference between a successful transition and one that just doesn’t work well. This post highlights some aspects of change based on “The Transition Model,” by change expert William Bridges, whom I had the pleasure and opportunity to study with. Besides reviewing this article, you might also find it helpful to watch Change expert Naomi Karten and me discuss change and transition.  Coping with Chaos: Change and Transition

Even a positive change like a new piece of equipment can make people feel uncomfortable. The most common reaction to change is to second-guess it, or even resist or oppose it. By understanding why your team is dragging their feet or expressing reluctance, you will be in a better position to help them accept and ultimately support the change that is coming.

William Bridges distinguishes between changes—something that happens to us by our own choice or is thrust on us—and transitions—the process that happens in our minds and feelings as we go through a change.

Change can occur quickly, in a moment in time—the day we got a promotion; signing the closing papers on a home; buying the business; hiring a new office manager. But the internal transition is usually slower. It simply takes time to get used to a change.

There is a tendency to go through three stages as we move through a transition:

1. The Ending—things as we know them have changed.
2. The Neutral Zone—an often messy time sort of muddling about before moving on.
3. A New Beginning—a new status quo develops as the change is consolidated.

People move through transitions at different paces. Entrepreneurs may jump from an old to new business adjustment much more quickly than their employees or team members. Some people will need to linger in the Neutral Zone while trying to understand or accept a difficult feeling change.

Here are some ideas about how to help make a transition more efficient and comfortable so your team can execute as quickly as possible:

Endings

•Slow down the process in order to speed up the process. Invest the time now to eliminate future problems.
•Be open and transparent about what’s going to happen.
•Emphasize what will stay the same—values, schedules or whatever.
•Accept that there will be resistance. Listen to peoples’ feelings. Listen to concerns. Listen to fears. There will be denial, anger, sadness, disorientation, loss of identity, frustration, and uncertainty. Listen well.
•Be clear about how you will help them adjust. Offer training and resources they may need, which you’ll discover because you were listening!

The Neutral Zone

•The way you help your team prepare for the coming change will determine how long people may muddle about before getting on with the new change.
•Expect some people to feel overloaded and uncertain or confused. Others will feel impatient. It takes time to adjust to a new management system or style.
•The leader who pays attention can often find ways to offer support that will keep the process moving.

The New Beginning
You know you’ve arrived at a stage of acceptance and renewed energy when people begin to embrace the change. They start to see their efforts pay off and to feel more comfortable. Don’t let down now. You need to help your team sustain their energy and enthusiasm.

•Help people see how their personal goals connect to your long-term vision and objectives.
•Be certain everyone hears how team members implement the change successfully.
•Acknowledge peoples’ grit and persistence.

This is the quick executive summary but implementing any piece will likely help make the transition go more smoothly.

If you are about to implement some change, anything from hiring a new key team member to changing some part of your system, let us help you strategize how to more effectively implement the change. We can even come in to help your team see their way through it. If you’ve currently stalled, call or email us and we’ll show you how to get moving again.

Better to Forgive than to Forget

Some recent research found that forgiveness affects perception of difficulty even during physical performance. Jay and I have been discussing how forgiveness might also affect the workplace.

The research found that just thinking about a time you didn’t forgive someone increased the perception of a hill’s steepness and decreased your ability to jump. At first glance neither seems related to any advantage for forgiveness in work or personal relationships. But let us suggest some possibilities.

Imagine your reaction if a team member, one more time, doesn’t follow through on an assignment or avoids thinking for themself and asks you a series of obvious and frustrating questions. You’ve been here before and your irritation level spikes. If you’re jumping ahead and thinking that we’re going to ask you to forgive the team member, well that may help, but actually the idea we’ve been thinking about may be even more important to you.

In the situation above, your response may not have been very measured and thus probably doesn’t decrease the odds you will do any better next time. Let’s face it, you blew it and now that you’ve calmed down you’re blaming yourself. Our question is, would it help to forgive yourself?

Many of our executive clients admonish themselves for “stupid” mistakes or misjudgments. They’ve read lots of advice to “put it behind you” or “let it go” but it’s possible that you might create better future solutions and stronger working relationships if you forgive rather than to try to forget. The perception of the magnitude of the effort it would take to train team members and build more effective management approaches—the hill you have to climb—might seem less daunting if you started with a bit more understanding i.e. forgiving yourself.

Once self-recrimination is tempered by or resolved with self-forgiveness, it seems reasonable to expect that we might free up our focus, creativity and energy. Tasks, including repairing our mentoring role with team members, may look less formidable.

Have you practiced a process that acknowledges, forgives and lets you get on with the task? This is where the mental game comes to the front. How quickly can you forgive your own missteps and begin to work on a different solution and repair the relationship you injured?

One hint is to focus forward with coaching prompts like :

“Well I won’t do that again!”
“That was a learning experience.”
“I lost my focus on that move.”
“What would I do differently next time?”

All of which lead to better future results than blaming and staying stuck regretting the experience.

Superior management skills and results come from practicing emotional control and getting more proficient at the basics of support and influence.