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The emotional dimensions of change

“The President-elect, it turned out, had a gift for the behavioral arts. He intuitively grasped “loss aversion” (our tendency to give more weight to the threat of losses than to potential gains), and perpetually maximized “nostalgia bias” (our tendency to remember the past as being better than it was). He made frequent subconscious appeals to “cultural tightness” (whereby groups that have experienced threats to their safety tend to desire strong rules and the punishment of deviance), and, perhaps most striking, his approach tapped into what psychologists call “cognitive fluency” (the more easily we can mentally process an idea, such as “Make America great again” or “Lock her up!,” the more we’re prone to retain it). Even his Twitter game was sticky: “Crooked Hillary!” “build the wall.” (…[R]epetition works.)” —Sarah Stillman

Human beings don’t like change, and we are not particularly rational about it.

That means that fear and anger and even hope can trump evidence and logic (pun intended).

Which means we are more easily manipulated by demagogues than we would like to believe.

It also means that if we seek to influence others it is important to understand that reason alone seldom produces lasting change.

If “reason” isn’t sufficient, what works?

1. Research and other forms of evidence provide a rationale for change and are essential to some people before they will consider the change.

2. Well-selected anecdotes (preferably based on personal experience) and testimonials from individuals respected by group members can be very persuasive. So, too, are images and video (think back on photographs and video clips that have changed public perception related to important problems).

3. Remember that the emotional response change evokes in others is not necessarily about us (although it may feel that way) nor about the ideas or practices we promote.

Being forearmed with an awareness of the emotional dimensions of change can increase our resilience during this present moment of heightened national anxiety and fear.

It can also enable us to remain deeply engaged over the many years and decades required to bring about meaningful and lasting change in any important field of endeavor.

Our words matter…

As this political season has taught us, the feelings that words evoke are contagious. They can uplift and unite us or create hatred and division.

Likewise, particular words have a unique emotional resonance to each of us because of the meaning they possess in our life experience.

Here a few words that have such resonance for me:

Empower, as in enabling others by delegating authority and responsibility

Voice, as in “expressing our uniqueness” or enabling others to express their uniqueness (see “empower”)

Conversation, as in thinking deeply with others about important topics with an openness to learning

Learn, as in changing what we belief, understand, and/or do

Teach, as in promoting the intellectual, emotional, and physical growth and well being of others

Witness, as in “bearing witness to” the life circumstances of others.

What words most resonate with you?

Don’t feed shame…

Dennis

Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change. —Bene Brown

In a comment on last week’s post on self-care Jim Knight made an important distinction between guilt and shame which caused me to think more deeply about the importance of that distinction and how it can have a profound effect on both our personal and professional lives.

Sometimes people confuse what they do with who they are. 

For instance, more than once I’ve heard someone say: “When I get angry I just say whatever comes to mind [other problematic behavior can be substituted here]. That’s just who I am.”

The distinction between guilt and shame is reflected in that confusion.

Guilt, as I understand it, occurs when we have done something to violate a moral code. We have done something we regard as wrong.

Shame is when we are what is wrong. We are the mistake, not our behavior.

Children are shamed, for example, when in response to a misdeed they are asked, “What’s wrong with you?”

Once shame has become well established within a child or adult’s neural networks it can be very challenging to help that person separate their behavior from who they think they are as a person.

As a result, even a request for a conversation about “improvement” or change can activate shame and make it very difficult for the person to attend to the conversation.

Once we become aware of this distinction we are more likely to notice the presence of shame within and around us.

But what can we do about it?

First, be very careful with the language you use when speaking to others and in your self talk. When we are concerned about someone’s actions, focus on observable behavior. Don’t contribute to anyone’s shame by digging deeper for their “issues,” a task far better suited for professionals.

Second, when shame has been triggered anticipate the possibility of a defensive response: “Why do you think there’s something wrong with me?”

Third, to minimize defensiveness ensure that the conversation remains focused on behavior. Because people who are accustomed to being shamed may find it very difficult to separate their behavior from who they are as a person, it may be necessary to repeatedly remind them of that distinction.

I encourage you to think deeply about how shame and guilt affect your life, both at home and at work, and how you might counter it.

Being our best selves

Dennis

We have a choice about where to aim the lens of our attention. We can relive past injustices, settle old grudges and nurse festering sores. We can imagine failure, build up its potential for destruction, calculate its odds. Or, we can imagine the generous outcomes we’re working on, feel gratitude for those that got us here and revel in the possibilities of what’s next. – Seth Godin

Feelings and attitudes are contagious and can quickly spread throughout a group or community.

Leaders’ feelings and attitudes are particularly infectious and are determined, in large part, by where they focus their attention.

For instance, school and classroom leaders who spread positive emotions and attitudes focus on:

• problem solving and growth instead of complaints,

• talking with people (integrity) instead of about them (gossip),

• efficacy instead of resignation to the status quo,

• gratitude and appreciation instead of negativity,

• strengths instead of deficits, and

• creating a desired future instead of lamenting and acquiescing to a future being created by others.

The list could go on…

To put it simply, leaders who spread positive energy consistently focus on being their best selves, both for their own benefit and for the benefit of those with whom they interact in their personal and professional lives.

What is missing from my list?

I will be taking a sabbatical over the next few months to refresh and renew. Best wishes for an enjoyable summer (or winter if you happen to be Down Under)!

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?

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?


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