Be a coach, not a critic

In chimpanzee troops, the leader sits at the centre. About every 30 seconds, all the other apes orient themselves to him. They take their cues from him. When he’s stressed or nervous, so are they. When he’s calm, so are they.

Like the chimp troops, we need our leaders to remain calm and in good spirits. When you’re in good spirits, you lift everyone’s spirits. When you’re down in the dumps and feeling stressed, you lower everyone’s spirits. Your mood and the way you deal with staff affects the way they do their jobs and deal with each other and their customers.

On top of that, the brain is hard-wired to give more weight to negative messages than to positive messages. Whether you intend to send a negative message or not, and whether it’s verbal or nonverbal, your messages carry weight. No matter how considerate, constructive and tactful you aim to be, your words can all too easily dismay, distress or alarm. To counter that, your messages need to be cool, calm, collected and mostly positive.

And, of course, the tougher your message and the less people want to hear it, the more difficult it is to get across. And sometimes you need to give a tough message. which is when you want to be a coach, not a critic.

Here are five ways turn your complaints & criticism into constructive comments so that your words sink in rather than sting:

  1. Think about your goal, not the problem. Focusing on a problem keeps you stuck with it. Thinking about how to remove or avoid a problem is destructive and negative. Thinking about how to replace the problem with something you want is creative and positive. So think about what you want to happen or what you want to replace, say, an annoying behaviour with.Saying something like ‘We both want the same thing, here,’ works like magic. Mentally step back and talk about what you both want to show you’re both on the same side. ‘We both want a good working relationship.’ ‘We both want to make the changeover a success.’ ‘We both want to get this problem rectified.’ Now, you only have to work out how to achieve your joint aim.
  2. Focus on the future, not the past. Thinking about your goal automatically means you focus on the future. Coaches avoid post mortems except to see what everyone can learn from them. They keep their sights firmly on the next game, the next match, the next round. Why criticise someone’s mistake when you could show them how to get it right next time?

    LOSE THESE                             USE THESE
    You shouldn’t have …               From now on …
    You’ve done that wrong.          Try it like this.
    That isn’t right.                           Here’s what needs to happen.
    I’ve told you before not to …    Next time, try it this way …
    You never …                                 Could you please …?Outlining what you need to happen instead of blaming someone for something they’ve done or failed to do invites cooperation rather than resistance. It wins you support and improved performance.

  3. Be positive not negative. Thinking about your goal also puts you in the positive. Criticising gets people’s backs up and leads to arguments. Just what you don’t want in a professional relationship. Say what you want, not what you don’t want. Discuss what can be done, not what shouldn’t have been done or what not to do. Here are some ways to turn critical phrases into coaching phrases:

    LOSE THESE                             USE THESE
    Why can’t you …?                      How about …?
    This is difficult.                          Here’s how to do this. Watch carefully.
    We can’t do that because …     We can do that as soon as …
    You’re wrong.                             Here’s how I see it…
    We can’t do that.                        Here’s what I can do….
    No problem.                                It’s a pleasure!Finding solutions, not fault, strengthens working relationships and makes sure things are done right.

  1. Ask don’t tell. People tend to resist when they feel they’re told to do something, forced into something or given unasked for advice. Instead of demanding ‘Do it this way’, suggest: ‘How about…’ or ‘Would you mind…’.Try simply prefacing your comments to flag what you’re about to say or do. For example, asking ‘Would you mind if I make a suggestion?’ means you don’t ram unwanted advice down peoples’ throats.
  2. Be specific not general. You know what you mean, and you want to make sure others know what you mean, too.‘This report isn’t good enough – you’ll have to fix it!’ What specifically needs to be fixed? The layout? The content? The ‘voice’ or tone it’s written in? Is an Executive Summary needed? Perhaps more supporting data would help.Whether you’re being complimentary or constructive, say why. When you need to be constructive (that’s the coaching word for critical), say ‘because’ to take the heat out. When you offer a compliment, saying why you appreciate something sounds more sincere and makes it more likely that the ‘something’ will be repeated.

Coaching, not criticising smooths your professional relationships, brings out the best in people, and gets you more of what you want.

Maslow’s hierarchy put to the test

You are no doubt familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It’s and old and much-loved theory that says we must satisfy our basic needs for food, sleep, shelter and so on, before we start trying to meet other needs. Once we’ve met our basic needs, we then seek safety and security. Once we feel safe and secure, we seek love and friendship. Once we feel loved and have enough friends, we seek self-respect and the respect of others. Then what Maslow called self-actualisation kicks in – we want to become the best that we can be. Finally comes self-transcendence, which is feeling part of the greater whole, wanting to serve and help others and so on.

Of course, we’re probably never fully satisfied at any level, but we need a comfortable level of satisfaction at one level before we can move onto the next one.

According to this fine theory of Maslow, we’re happier when we can meet our needs. When we can’t meet our needs, we’re not so happy. Now there’s a blinding flash of the obvious.

But is it true? Is there really a hierarchy of needs that everyone tries to meet?

The problem has always been that this is what’s called an ‘armchair theory’. In other words, Maslow sat in his chair in front of the fireplace, probably smoking a pipe or cigar since after all, it was 1943. And he thought, ‘Now then, which comes first, the chicken or the egg?’ Or rather, ‘Which comes first, food and shelter or the desire to reach your potential?’

Well, some psychologists at the University of Illinois set out to find out whether Maslow’s theory holds water. They tested it in 123 countries between 2005 and 2010.

The good news is, at least for people like me who have studied, taught and used the theory to bring out the best in people, is that Maslow’s theory is largely correct. Fulfilling the needs described in his hierarchy does indeed correlate with happiness: happy people are those whose needs are fulfilled.

To be specific, fulfilment of the lower order needs – food, shelter, friends – is closely linked to a positive evaluation of your life. Satisfaction of the higher order needs, – respect, self-actualisation and self-transcendence – is strongly related to enjoying your life. Bingo.

An interesting but maybe not so unexpected finding when you think about it, was that people seem to feel more positive about their own lives when those around them also have their needs met and feel positive about their lives. And we enjoy our lives more when those around us are enjoying their lives.

So go forth and help the people you lead and manage meet their needs. And make sure your job allows you to meet your needs, to. Especially the higher order needs.

Creating solutions

If you’re a manager, I bet you have a lot of problems hanging around, waiting for a solution. I won my bet, didn’t I! Here’s what to do.

Think about what you want to happen instead of the problem, or what you want to replace the problem with. Then you’re not thinking about how to remove or avoid the problem, which is destructive and negative; you’re thinking about how to replace the problem with something you want. That’s creative and positive.

One way to do this is to sit back, relax, and think about what you want to happen. Once you have a clear picture of that, you can begin thinking about the best way to bring it about. This is much more rewarding and inspiring than trying to get rid of a problem.

Let me give you an example. Say you have a new boss and you’re a bit concerned that she might be a bit of a new broom that wants to sweep clean, as they say. You can focus on what might go wrong, how to avoid it and how you can protect your position, but that’s a mistake. Here’s what you want to think about: What do I want my new boss to be thinking about me as our first meeting comes to an end? That gives you a positive vision to work towards and makes you feel powerful, not fearful. And that in turn helps you ‘perform’ better at that first, very important, meeting.

Here’s another example. You have a staff member (or a teenager or a toddler at home) with a couple of annoying behaviours. What do you want them to do instead of those behaviours? There’s your positive vision. It’s a lot easier to get to work on that, isn’t it, than to try (and no doubt fail) to stop someone acting in an annoying way.

It isn’t just people problems this works with, of course. It’s any problem. Your photocopier keeps breaking down. Pain in the neck. What do you want? You want it to work as it should. Now then, what do you need to do to make that happen?

There you have it. Instead of sweeping problems to one side or ignoring them, get creative. Be clear on what you want to bring into being.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The lights are on but no one’s home

Years ago, I participated in a training exercise I’ve never forgotten. To this day, it makes me queasy with discomfort!

The trainer asked us to pair up and one person in each pair was to leave the room for a couple of minutes. I went out. While we were out, the trainer instructed those remaining that when their partners returned, they were to engage us in conversation and listen. BUT – they were to offer no sign whatsoever that they were listening. No eye contact, no nods, no grunts, no nuffink.

I can tell you, I found the absence of those non-verbal ‘encouragers’ not only extremely off-putting, but actually quite distressing.

Two things happened very quickly:

  1. I reached the firm conclusion that my partner was an absolute dork.
  2. I dried right up.

Normally, as those of you who know me know, I can talk the hind leg off a donkey, but with someone sitting opposite me, just sitting there like a lump and doing absolutely nothing, I completely lost my train of thought. I began rambling wildly. And then I ground to a halt. I was most uncomfortable to say the least.

That made me realise, in a very visceral way, how important it is to not just ‘sit there’ and listen. We need to do something.

So here are six small but crucial things to do when you’re listening to someone:

  1. Make eye contact.
  2. Nod.
  3. Say ‘uh-huh, ‘I see’ and ‘mmm’ a lot.
  4. Repeat a key word or phrase.
  5. Orient your body towards the speaker.
  6. Lean slightly forward towards the speaker.

That way, you won’t find your conversational partner drying up and thinking you’re an absolute dork.

Build better habits – effortlessly!

Your computer has ‘default’ settings – actions it takes automatically, without instruction. And you can change those default settings to suit your personal tastes. Set them – and forget them.

We have default settings, too. They’re called habits. They’re actions we take without conscious instruction. Some of them help us. Some of them harm us.

If you want to build helpful habits effortlessly, here’s how.

Let’s use the good old standby of losing weight as an example. (Do you know that 63.4% of Australians are overweight?) There are countless actions you could take to build habits that would help you lose weight effortlessly. For instance, you could walk for 12 minutes every day. That would lose you 5 kilos over 12 months. The first few days might be hard; the next few easier, then easier and easier still. Build it into your routine by walking for 12 minutes before lunch, whatever the weather, and it won’t take long to build a habit. That 12-minute lunchtime walk becomes nearly as automatic as breathing.

Repetition builds habits. You could cut back your portions by 20% at every meal and not even notice it. That would lose you 12 kilos over 12 months. The first few days might be hard; the next few easier, then easier and easier. By the end of the month, you’ve got a habit.

Rules can build habits, too.chocoholics could eat chocolate only on odd-numbered days. That would lose them about 9 kilos a year. The first few days may be hard; the next few easier, then easier and easier. Before you know it, you’ve got a habit.

Little actions add up and they all become effortless, once they’re a habit. Those three actions could lose you 26 kilos in 12 months – that’s 4 dress sizes from 3 easy actions.

Ah, I hear you say. That’s all very well, but one needs willpower.

You know what? Willpower is like a muscle and like a muscle, you can strengthen it with regular exercise. Ask Mark Muraven from the University at Albany in New York. His research shows that regularly working your willpower muscle pays off. Start with simple actions that need only a little self-control, little things that aren’t a big deal.

Sweet tooth? Give up sweets for a month, even if you don’t want to lose weight. Hate exercise? Do 5 or 6 push-ups first thing in the forming, even if you don’t want puffy pects. Do you slouch? Make a point of sitting up straight every time you’re in a car, on a train or in a bus, at the computer, or eating a meal, even if you don’t want to improve your posture or look 5 kilos slimmer.

As you practice self-control, you strengthen your willpower muscles. Then, when push comes to shove, you have the willpower you need to do that difficult or stressful task that requires a lot of self-control.

I’m off for a 12-minute walk.

Reporting to more than one boss

Following on last week’s theme of the changing workplace and how that affects reporting relationships, reporting to more than one boss is now as common as reporting to a far-away-in-a-distant-land boss (which we discussed last week, if you missed it). This week, let’s look at the possibly more challenging undertaking of reporting to more than one boss.

With temporary teams abounding,  matrix organisations becoming more common and temporary assignments to project teams commonplace, it’s goodbye unity of command and hello to the danger of conflict and confusion of two or more bosses.

Reporting to several managers, each making requests of you, each with their own agenda and priorities can be tricky. You’re in danger of:

  • Competing demands on your time: Which boss’ work gets priority? Tricky when each thinks their work deserves precedence.
  • Conflicting messages: Different bosses have different expectations and communication styles and they can unintentionally undermine each other’s messages.
  • Work overload: This occurs especially when each boss treats you as if you work only for her or him.

To protect yourself, work out who your primary boss is. This is the person you formally report to, who does your final performance review and who makes decisions about your pay. Make sure you have regular, at least monthly, meetings with this boss — not the quick weekly check-in discussed in the next paragraph, but a more solid 30-40 minute meeting to discuss your role as a whole. Ask for her or his help in coaching you to work well with your other bosses if you need to.

Be open about your workload so all your bosses know your commitments. Share your electronic calendar with them and block off specific times for working on different projects and assignments so they know when not to interrupt you. Provide each with a brief document updating your progress on all of your projects and other work. However briefly, check in with each boss face-to-face or virtually once a week to maintain your good working relationships.

When you have several bosses, it’s probably fair to ask each to adjust to your preferred working style so you don’t have to keep chopping and changing, which is stressful in itself. Let them know whether you prefer to receive questions and requests via email, meetings or in some other way. Agree on mutual expectations regarding response time for queries, regularity of meetings and regularity and format of update briefings. Try to agree on one way that works for everyone.

As with working for one boss, be clear about your deadlines and deliverables, focus on results and keep communication and results flowing.

Reporting to a remote manager

How ironic. After posting last week about getting back into the routine after the crazy summer season, I got caught up in Mad March and Adelaide Writer’s Week and forgot to get back into my own routine of the weekly Wednesday blog. Shows to go, doesn’t it. All I can say is mea culpa and I hope you missed me!

Well, I thought that given the way workplaces are changing, reporting to a remote manager is becoming more common, so it might be worth looking at how best to do that.

When you can’t see your boss ‘in the flesh’, it’s easy for each of you to miss the signals of energy, mood, personality and so on. You need to put in extra effort to communicate efficiently and build trust quickly.

As with any manager, agree on your job purpose, your key result areas (KRAs) and your SMART targets or deliverables and find out your manager’s preferred working style so that you can fit in with it. What is the best time of day to contact her or him? What is the preferred method of contact? Do your boss prefer progress reports in virtual person or in writing? How much detail should you include? Does your boss prefer to take queries or receive updates as they occur, or in regular batches?
Your other initial goal is getting to know your boss. When you can’t meet face-to-face, make good use of virtual meetings and the telephone. Small talk is important, so avoid the temptation to move straight into task talk (unless that is your boss’ clear preference).
Provide regular progress reports and updates, with the frequency depending on you and your manager’s agreed plan. Involve your manager in what he or she should be involved in (but avoid information overload). Make sure you aren’t forgotten by establishing subtle routines; for example, phone at a certain time every day with a quick update or email a lunch-time status report in addition to your other regular reports.
Schedule regular virtual meetings with an informal agenda and prepare the agenda to go to your boss in advance. This is your opportunity to summarise what you’ve achieved since your last virtual meeting. Ask any questions you have and finish with an outline of the next steps you are taking to achieve your mutual goals.
Confirm your commitments in a follow-up email, including date and time of your next scheduled virtual meeting. Design the email’s content so that you can print it off to use as a checklist or use it to list goals and create work schedules and plans to achieve them.
The bottom line, as with any working relationship, is to develop trust and confidence, establish routines that suit you both, deliver the goods and communicate with confidence.