Thursday, September 28, 2017

I Call It Like I See It

I was working with a client a few weeks ago and heard him say, "I just call it like I see it..." in response to being called insensitive after giving some brutally honest feedback to a coworker.

Think about that statement: "I" call it like "I" see it. You can call it like you think it is but it still remains your perception, not someone else's reality. Honest feedback is important but the way it gets delivered makes all the difference in the world. It is easy to think that it is only about getting results from people. Why should you care about hurt feelings? You should care because your goal when giving feedback should be to get better results by changing someone else's behavior. You cannot do that until you change your own behavior first. 

This week we explore the EQ skill of Empathy. Empathy by definition is "identification with or vicarious experiencing of, the feelings or thoughts of another person" but in the context of Emotional Intelligence, it is deeper than that. It is about reading the emotional needs of someone else; fully connecting with them to understand how they think and prefer to communicate. 

Empathy is not sympathy, and it is not always agreeing with someone else's preferences. Empathy requires us to frame our message differently based on who we are with, and more importantly being able to recognize that the way the message is delivered can be more important than the message itself. We use Empathy when we select the most appropriate means of communication (email, phone, text, in person). Low Empathy sounds like: "I don't text so I am not doing that" and we expect others to adjust to us and what we are comfortable with. Low Empathy also sounds like: "the truth hurts" and "it's not personal, it's business." 

Exceptional leaders understand that people are the most motivated when they receive fair, clear, and respectful performance feedback. For those who just want employees to come in and check their feelings at the door, must remember that employees bring their head AND their heart to work - it's a package deal.  But here is a little secret - you can show Empathy even if you don't feel Empathy.

Here are some suggestions:

1. If your tendency is to walk into the office Monday morning and get right to task, assigning duties, asking for deliverables, and setting the priorities for the day - STOP. Many people in the office need to reconnect with you before they can move on to a task. Delay your needs by 120 seconds to ask how their weekend was and make some small talk. Likewise, if you are someone who enjoys 15 minutes of chit-chat with co-workers over your morning coffee, cut that down to 2 minutes and skip the gory details of your weekend with the person who just wants to get to work.

2. When you have to deliver bad news, consider in advance how it will sound to others. Some will want to hear it straight, with little superfluous data included. Others will need to be eased in, gently told, and will want to ask a lot of questions; feeling they have your support. Let go of your own preference for hearing tough messages and meet the needs of the other person first.

3. Body language speaks volumes: if you want to show Empathy you must give someone your undivided attention, use eye contact, show concern in your tone, resist the urge to speak and just listen to understand them. Don't judge or try and fix them. 

4. Ask yourself how often you are focused on your own needs and concerns without much thought to others? When communicating with others, be cognizant of how much time is spent talking about you and your opinions versus asking questions and listening to others.  

Part of being emotionally intelligent requires us to get out of our comfort zone - to meet others in theirs - and the pathway to get there is by demonstrating Empathy.

It can be difficult to see how this approach will get you what you need. However, even a small gesture goes a long way with others, and they will want to work with you when they see that it doesn't always have to be about you. As it has been said, the Golden Rule is to treat others the way you want to be treated. But the Platinum Rule is to treat others the way they want to be treated.      

Thursday, September 21, 2017

It's Hard to Breath in a Feedback Vacuum

Hearing feedback can be tough, especially information that we don't like or don't want to believe about ourselves. But those who are willing to face it gain a real opportunity to increase their overall effectiveness, influence and business results. I have had my fair share of days when I have thought that feedback is overrated and I am just fine, thank you very much. But I know that I don't help myself when I shut down data on how my behavior is impacting someone else and taking note of it makes it all the more valuable. And as you will see in this week's article, getting helpful feedback is key to avoiding career derailment, by a big amount.

A Feedback Vacuum 

The world today is filled with ambiguity: the economy, politics, terrorism, Wall Street. With so many factors out of your control, doesn't it make sense for you to ensure you are paying attention to what is in your control? Your own behaviors? What shifts can you make in your behavior to safeguard against possible ego pitfalls that could potentially hurt your career and reputation? What tactics can you employ to sharpen your emotional intelligence (EQ) and reap its proven benefits? It all starts with getting some feedback, especially if you are a leader.

To become a truly excellent formal or informal leader who creates exceptional results, a question that everyone needs to ask themselves from time to time is: "How am I doing as a leader and how do I know I have an accurate answer?" Followed by the all-important question: "How closely does my own opinion of how I'm doing match what my direct reports, my peers, and my boss would say about how I'm doing?" The reality is that your success in leading others requires alignment between your self-perception and your followers' perception. From a leadership standpoint, it's an important distinction. The continuum runs from "plugged in" to "clueless." Where you fall on this scale affects not only your leadership credibility but your effectiveness and ultimately your career.

 What leaders do is always more impactful than what leaders say. And regardless of intent, the message to followers when leaders exempt themselves from the feedback process is clearly, "Do as I say, not as I do" or worse, "I am okay, but you are not." My guess is that most leaders don't mean to make such statements intentionally. Yet when they forgo the feedback-gathering process for themselves, that's exactly what they are doing.

A study of 39,000 global leaders by PDI Ninth House confirms that there is, in fact, a significant correlation between an "inability or unwillingness to see one's own faults" and career stalling or derailment. Those who were identified as "out of touch" with how their direct managers rated them were 629% more likely to "derail"(i.e., performing below the level of expected achievement, being demoted, or even being fired) than those who were in touch with how their direct manager rated them. Stop for a moment and re-read that number...629%! That's a big, career-imploding difference. If that stat doesn't make you stop to consider the importance of syncing up your own assessment of your performance with those around you - to gather and listen to feedback - what will?
Much of the time, daily feedback will be delivered to you in vague terms, tied to business issues, or masked within frivolous praise so as not to hurt your feelings, or, more often, so as not to have to deal with your reaction. So you'll need to listen for the cues and really observe what people are trying to communicate to you. If someone looks uncomfortable or hesitant while telling you something, a little red flag should pop up, encouraging you to tune in and ask more. You can also look for common themes among statements by your team members and use these as valuable clues on where your people may need you to adjust.

Feedback provides you with valuable input for how to ramp up your EQ in several key areas:

  • Recognize your own impulses before acting on them (self-awareness)
  • Relate better to others, meeting their needs when appropriate (empathy)
  • Moderate your own behavior (self-control) to avoid unproductive interactions and responses
While the ego tells us that a lack of constructive feedback is a sign that we are doing "great," EQ reminds us to stay grounded in what's true by soliciting feedback from others and using that feedback to create a more complete picture of our performance. A healthy dose of regular feedback from others can help to keep the ego in check and allow the benefits of EQ to flow. Remember that ego and EQ are mutually exclusive: you must make a conscious and daily choice about which one will dominate your conduct each day.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Month in a Minute

School is back in session. The Fall routine starts again and we are heading into the last 100 days of the year. For those in Texas, Louisiana and now Florida, there has likely been a lot of business and personal life disruption. If you have been affected, keep that stress tolerance and optimism high and I wish you a speedy return to normalcy. For the rest of us, it’s time to decide what needs to be accomplished before we sing Auld Lang Syne to 2017. If I may make a suggestion, one of your year-end goals should be personal development. Pick a book to read. Attend a webinar. Listen to a podcast. Take an assessment. If your company offers free workshops or pays for you to attend offsite ones, do it. Never pass up an opportunity to invest in yourself.