How and Why to Bite Your Tongue

Don’t interrupt. It’s obvious; we know. Still it’s very difficult.  I speak from personal experience—after decades of paying attention to how important it is to wait until the other person is finished, I often cut them off anyway. I find it especially difficult to remember around friends and family.

According to Deborah Tannen, the linguist and author, some of us—me included—have a “high involvement” communication style. We “overlap” the other person’s speech. This can work—if the person you’re talking with has a similar style. And if what they’re talking about is more informational than deeply emotional.

Others have a “high considerateness” style. These people generally seek more clear pauses and want more order to the conversation.

Talking when you should be listening. Teaching when learning would serve you better.

In most cases it would be more respectful and helpful if I listened, instead of talked and learned, instead of tried to teach.

Why do we interrupt?

It can be helpful to identify what causes your interruptions:

•Are you trying to be supportive? To show you understand what the speaker is saying?
•Are you feeling crunched for time? Trying to move the conversation along?
•Are you more interested in sharing what you know rather than learning?
•Are you trying to show your expertise? Prove something?
•Are you worried that you’ll forget what you were going to say, if you wait until the other person is finished speaking?

Some things to try:

1. Notice when you interrupt

When you cut someone off, stop (even mid-sentence) and say something like: “sorry; I really want to hear what you have to say.” (This new habit will take time to develop and some courage.)

2. Enlist family or friends to help

Ask people you trust to respectfully remind you when you’ve cut them off. Ask for a do-over.

3. Create a cue to remind yourself

Sometimes sticky notes can help-in your car, on your bathroom mirror, at your desk at work. Find a word or phrase that you’ll be comfortable with others seeing—maybe “listen” or “pause.”

4. Track your progress

Initially just notice and count the number of times each day that you interrupt someone.
After a week or so, set a realistic goal and acknowledge your progress.
Some people find that self-acknowledgment works even better coupled with a reward.

When we click off or tune out before we’re sure we’ve heard and understand the speaker’s entire message, we cut ourselves off from some potentially useful information or insights. And, interrupting is not only disrespectful to the person being interrupted, but hurts you as the leader or manager. Sure, some of your team may be thick-skinned and more Teflon like. Others, though, will be put off and therefore less productive, loyal, or creative. Call or email us if you want to increase your positive connection with your team or just plain want to improve your listening skills.

Easy Strategies for Effective Performance Reviews

Delivering bad news or pointing out maladaptive habits isn’t easy, even if you think the employee may have an idea of what’s coming. Assuming you’re both on the same side of the table sharing a common goal can make difficult conversations easier.

Your job is to ask good questions, to find ways to help your key employees identify what’s working well, where they want to go in their careers, which skills they might like to pursue, etc. Your questions are designed to facilitate buy in, give them an opportunity to critique their own performance and to offer information first. Your questions also give you better information to develop a strategic approach to the next phase of the conversation.

The questions below are worded for an annual review: (You can, of course, tweak the time line if it’s different). We recommend reviews much more often to keep tabs on how your team members are feeling and what they’re thinking.

Usually, you’d give these questions in advance so there’s time for them to think about them and write out answers.

1) What professional accomplishments of yours do we need to remember from last year?  Please include items that might not have been noticed.

2) Were there professional skills you were able to improve on last year?  Did you receive training or help from any member of the team?  Again, please be as specific as possible.  What skills do you want to work on this year?

3) Were there projects or tasks that you had the freedom and responsibility to do in the way you thought best?  Please think of both ongoing and one-time projects you did and describe how much independence, if any, that you had.

4) What do you do well professionally, enjoy doing, do easily, get compliments on, etc.?  I’d be particularly interested in things you do well that I don’t know about.

5) Are there things about your work that give you real pleasure or make you feel you’re making a difference?

6) What could I be asking that seems important for your success here?

The answers are important, but building a process of open, corrective conversations with your employees is just as important. And slowing down to listen to their struggles and goals is the only way to create effective plans for future growth.

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.

First Understand, Then Resolve

One of our colleagues sent us the following email upon receiving Jay’s new book Simple Steps to Change: Your Business, Your Life: “The segment below is so great it should be highlighted in bright lights. It’s so good. Should be required reading for everyone.” Here are a few excerpts along with our colleague’s favorite parts that are italicized in bold:

First Understand, Then Resolve

You need to plan for two or three conversation stages.

The goal for the initial stage is to become thoroughly familiar with each other’s point of view, thinking, and intuition. To gather this data, ask questions about anything you aren’t positive you understand and ask for confirmation that you’re correct on anything you think you do understand.

It is crucial for your understanding of the other person’s position that you help them feel safe, especially if they disagree with you or are sure you don’t understand them.

To create safety it’s better not to take an absolute stance as if you know best. You need to be equivocal in your statements and questions—meaning that you do not speak in absolutes, or as if you know something for sure.   

Listen Before You Leap

It is hard to have the patience to listen to someone when you’re pretty sure you already know what they are going to say. It can drive you up the wall if their point is obvious and they talk slowly or keep repeating each argument a number of times.

To check out that you still understand everything, ask the speaker if you heard them correctly. Repeating their main points will force you to listen. Then ask if you have missed anything.

If you want to enrich your bottom line, retain your best employees, and be on the leading edge of changes, listen patiently. Grit your teeth and pull your hair out, but listen!

Creating a Safe Space for a Hard Conversation

Here are some fundamentals for having a safe, non-confrontational conversation:

Use words and phrases that underline that you don’t know the Truth, that you only have some of the information. (This is almost always the case.) “My experience is…”, “From what I can see it looks like…”

Constantly ask questions that reflect your willingness to be corrected. “What am I missing?”, “Can you see something I’m missing?”

Do not try to convince someone that you’re right. You may be, but there is a good chance you’re only partially correct or not even quite that much.

Mostly listen and do very little talking until you understand what the other person is saying. It may help to repeat to yourself, “Listen carefully.” Or “Stop thinking of rebuttals and just listen for a while.”

Think about what assumptions you’re making and try to ask truly curious questions. “I’d like to understand better. Please share some of the information you’ve learned about why that is the case.”

Once you are fairly certain you understand each other, you need to move to the resolution conversation.

You can check out or order Simple Steps to Change: Your Business, Your Life on Kindle or softcover at

If you would like us to send you the complete section of First Understand, Then Resolve, please email us. And, if you’d like the chance to put these important skills into practice, we’re here to help you. Just call or email.

Getting Started

Clients are always identifying motivation as a central problem in changing their behavior and instituting new habits. But what is motivation? How do you develop additional motivation? A simple place to begin is with the notion of getting started.

Think of motivation as what’s needed to push against resistance and create momentum. What are your options to generate motion?

  • Lower your resistance
  • Increase your motivation
    • Know your desired outcome
    • Find your personal purpose
    • Feel loyalty to the team, patients, clients
  • Both lower resistance and increase motivation
  • Or, just take a first small action step that requires less motivation and presents less resistance, and creates activity.

With our clients we encourage simple answers that lead to the easiest solutions possible. Just taking a simple action step is often that solution. When I don’t feel like getting on my bicycle for a training session I don’t struggle to find motivation – I just put on my workout clothes. That step pushes past a chunk of the resistance – I’m already dressed – and kindles a bit more motivation – do I want to get undressed after getting this far?

If I’m still struggling, I start again and just pump up my bike tires. Now there is less standing in my way of getting on and riding, and more pull to make use of the clothes and tire pressure – just getting on and getting started is easier.

Figuring out where to start on a list of tasks is similar. Just do the simplest one. It creates momentum and as we learned in science class, a body in motion tends to stay in motion. Be careful not to get caught in too much figuring out how to conserve energy, be most efficient, or organize the work before getting started.

Outline the project – in motion. Set a date and time to get started – step one accomplished. Write a brief summary of the paper – you no longer have a blank screen. List in bullet points some attributes of the employee you need to evaluate – step two will seem easier.

You’ve heard or read us talking about this before? We find that even when people intellectually know what they need to do, they often have no system to cut through the resistance and remind themselves. So this is another reminder – just do the equivalent of standing up and taking a small step. Remind yourself that you don’t need to feel motivated; you just need to take a small step and create a bit of momentum. If that isn’t quite enough, take another small step. Soon you will either have a bit of forward momentum or you will be finished with the task or project – either works.

Steps toward motivation are simple to understand, but they are hard to implement. Having support and an experienced problem solver in your corner can make the difference between just wishing and actually accomplishing. Szifra Birke and Jay Livingston understand people and will partner with you to help you get started and keep momentum going so you get things done. Contact us.


Small Changes Lead to Big Results

Many of us want to change a habit. We want to lose weight, procrastinate less, stop smoking, exercise more, be more disciplined about our spending, get less irritated with people, and so on.

Instead of tackling a new change head on, you can start to exercise your self-discipline muscle in small, consistent ways that don’t seem obvious. For example, if I’m trying to get myself to spend less money, I can build my discipline muscle by resisting my chocolate craving by 10 minutes.

In other words, if you practice changing one habit, it can carry over to changing another habit. This builds a base from which to make other changes. If you teach yourself to wait to eat the chocolate, you are teaching yourself to control an impulse.  If you keep this up, you build increased ability to resist the urge to do things the old way. You can start by pushing back against a small established habit.

  • Spend 5 minutes thinking about tomorrow’s projects
  • Resist checking emails or texts for a couple of minutes when you normally would
  • Stall for five minutes when you want a snack, coffee, cigarette or game of “Angry Birds”
  • Park slightly farther away in the lot
  • Take a different route to work
  • Brush your teeth with your opposite hand
  • Turn off the radio, music and TV and allow your world to be quiet for a few minutes while exercising, driving or walking

There are countless other possibilities; try ideas that feel interesting or of value. Just keep them small and easy to do. The idea is to practice light repetitions that require increased focus; don’t strain yourself.

If you want to increase performance on the job, in a sport, or in your personal life, we can help you stay on track.