The high cost of resignation

Dennis

Some people confuse current reality with how they want things to be. They not only don’t see the forest for the trees, but they fail to see the forest because they don’t think it should be there.

Other people are so overwhelmed by current reality that they become resigned to the status quo, believing nothing can be done to alter it.

I am reminded of that whenever I hear people talk about climate change.

Some people say that there is no climate change because science can’t be trusted. Deny.

Others say that there may be climate change, but humans have not caused it. Deny. Minimize.

Still others say that, yes, there is climate change, and, yes, it may be caused by humans, but it is too late to do anything about it. Resignation.

That’s a common pattern: Deny —> Minimize —> Resignation to the status quo.

There is another way, however, an approach that can be applied in our personal lives and work settings:

  • Conduct an honest and thorough assessment of current reality. (You can’t design a roadmap to a better future if you don’t know where the trip is beginning.)
  • Then create a vision of an alternative, desired future—the new reality you wish to create.
  • Engage in planning and in persistent, focused action to create that new reality.

How have denial, minimizing, and/or resignation manifested themselves in your work or personal life, and how have you countered those tendencies?

When questions are a barrier to inquiry

Dennis

One reason we ask questions is because we want information.

Another reason is to promote deeper exploration of a subject.

Some kinds of questions promote such exploration while others do not.

“Honest, open questions,” to borrow a phrase from Parker Palmer, invite inquiry. For example: “What are some things you might do to solve the problem you are having with your friend?”

Questions that clearly have “right answers” or are really disguised statements often thwart inquiry (“closed, directive questions”). For example: “Don’t you think you should call your friend to find out why he said that?”

Many of us have not had the opportunity to learn how to phrase honest, open questions – that is, questions that cause further inquiry and deepen relationships.

We may ask questions to steer the direction of the conversation rather than to truly seek to understand the views of others or to extend their thinking.

We may ask questions that narrow the focus of thinking rather than expand it.

Closed, directive questions often cause people to feel they are being manipulated, which breeds distrust and cynicism.

In addition, people whose habit it is to ask closed, directive questions often perceive honest, open questions through the lens of manipulation, suspecting ulterior motives and becoming defensive.

Good questions stimulate thinking on the part of both the person who asks and the person who answers. They deepen understanding and open up previously unexplored areas for conversation.

Individuals involved in such conversations feel like they have learned something about themselves, each other, and the subject at hand. In addition, they feel respected and understood.

Examine your questions. Do they promote honest inquiry or directly or indirectly tell people what to think and do?

In your experience, what types of questions deepen inquiry and improve relationships?

What’s wrong with advice?

Dennis

Wise men don’t need advice. Fools won’t take it. —Ben Franklin

While advice giving is widely practiced and can take many forms, it often has adverse effects for both the giver and receiver.

What could be wrong with advice giving? People often ask for it, and it’s clear that some people need it. And when we give it, we often feel helpful and even appreciated.

Advice giving can simply mean sharing a point of view. The advice giver explains how he or she thinks about a situation and the possible consequences of various courses of action. They then leave it up to recipients to make their own decisions.

But sometimes advice giving is a form of control that is expressed as a demand.

If you are not certain about the motives of the advice giver, try an experiment: Thank the advice giver and explain that you will take their advice under advisement. If they “should” you (“You should do that” or “You need to do that”) or get upset or angry, you are on the receiving end of a demand.

Both requesting and giving advice have their downsides:

Sometimes people ask for advice because doing what others advise is easier than figuring out what they want to do and accepting responsibility for the outcome.

Similarly, advice giving often generates dependency and passivity in the face of problems. The default response becomes, ”I will simply wait for others to tell me what to do.”

Advice giving is often one directional – from those with more power and status to those with less.

What to do instead of offering advice?

Support people in solving their own problems by helping them better understand the problem through “exquisite listening” and by assisting them in generating alternative solutions, setting goals, creating action plans, and monitoring progress.

If asked, offer your point of view, but let go of the outcome.

What is your experience with giving and receiving advice?

The gift of exquisite listening

Dennis

“One social habit that I used to be quite bad at was to truly listen when other people spoke. I sometimes zoned out. I got distracted or my attention started to wander before they were done talking. Or I just waited for my turn to talk again (while thinking about what I should say next). Not very helpful. So things had to change.” —Henrik Edberg

There is no greater gift that one person can give another than sustained, attentive, and nonjudgmental listening.

Being fully heard and deeply understood by another human being is rare and can be life changing.

Because such committed listening also enriches the experience of the listener, it can transform relationships.

In addition, it is an essential ingredient of “deep work” (see previous post).

Henrik Edberg describes the attributes of such listening this way:

“When you listen, just listen.

” Don’t interrupt. Don’t jump in with solutions (this one can be a hard one in my experience).

“Just be present in the moment and listen fully to what the other person has to say and let him or her speak until the entire message is said.

“Sometimes that is also all that’s needed. For someone to truly listen as we vent for a few minutes and figure things out for ourselves.”

“Just listening” requires practice and discipline, however.

Sophia Dembling offers a tool that can help us master this demanding habit:

“Imagine that there is a big arrow hovering over the space between two people engaged in a conversation…. As the listener in this conversation, your goal is to keep the arrow pointing at the other person for as long as possible.

“A devoted listener knows that there is always more to learn about another person, no matter how long you’ve known them.”

What have you learned about the benefits of such listening, and what helps you more consistently offer it to others?

Deep work matters

Dennis

I’ve attended countless meetings during which some variation of the following happens:

Person A makes a point about a topic.

Person B comments on Person A’s statement.

Person C brings up another subject.

Person D returns briefly to person A’s comment and then makes a point on a totally different subject.

And so on as participants skate across the surface of important topics.

This type of “superficial work” is all too common in meetings, even those where important decisions are being made.

Likewise, professional learning can be deep or superficial.

So, too, professional reading and writing can be deep or superficial.

Deep work is obviously essential when decisions are being made and when learning is the goal, either for adults or young people.

While deep work typically takes time, a lack of time is not an adequate excuse for superficiality because there is always time to do what matters.

Deep work requires:

Intentionality. It is essential that we are committed to deep work when we examine our individual and collective beliefs, values, ideas, and practices.

Habits of mind and behavior that value slowness over speed, sustained focus over multi-tasking, problem solving over complaining, and meaningful professional learning over “sit and get.”

Protocols that help participants pay attention to both task accomplishment and the quality of relationships.

What other things promote deep work?

Open minds by touching hearts

Dennis

Minds are very hard things to open, and the best way to open the mind is through the heart. —Jonathan Haidt

Leaders extend their influence when they speak to the heart as well as the head.

Human beings are motivated at least as much by their emotions as they are by logic and rationality. While research, data, and other forms of evidence have their place in improvement efforts, by themselves they are insufficient.

Emotions elicited through storytelling, poetry, and the use of imagery can inspire and provide a context for the meaningful use of data and professional literature.

Today I will speak to the heart as well as the head in an upcoming interaction with colleagues, students, or parents.

[This “meditation” is one of 180 (one for every day of the traditional school year) provided in Leadership 180: Daily Meditations on School Leadership, my most recent book, published by Solution Tree.]

6 ways to ensure that things don’t change

Dennis

Over the years I’ve written countless articles and posts on how administrators and teacher leaders can affect positive change through school culture, professional development, and the application of emotional intelligence, just to mention a few possible sources of influence.

But I have never approached that challenge from the flip side—what school leaders must stop doing if they want to create a ceaseless flow of positive energy that improves teaching and learning for all students.

So here are 6 ways to ensure low staff motivation:

1. Tell people what to do. Make demands: “I am the boss. Your job is to do what I tell you to do or else.”

2. Explain that what you’re telling others to do is a mandate (a variation of #1): “I don’t like this either, but we have to do it.”

3. Cite research combined with a demand: “Research says, so do it.”

4. Use guilt: “If you are really a professional (or care about your students), you will do this.”

5. Emphasize that you are smarter and/or have better intentions than they do: “If you would just read the research (or analyze the data), you’d see that this is the right thing to do.”

6. Explain that you have their best interests at heart: “Do this for your own good,” or “Trust me because I know what’s good for you.”

What would you add to my list?


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