How to Avoid Being Misunderstood

misunderstoodDo you feel misunderstood by your direct reports or colleagues? Do they think you’re an ogre when you’re really fun and fair? Or maybe they think you’re a pushover when you’re really purposeful and committed.

There might be a disconnect between what you intend and how you’re coming across. Here are four ways avoid misunderstandings by closing any gap between your intentions and your actual impact on others.Get clear about what you want to happen. Conventional wisdom says that we are on auto-pilot about 95% of the time. Which means we are consciously thinking about or aware of what we are doing very little during the day.

  • Get clear. Know what you want to accomplish before you go into a meeting, have a conversation with a co-worker, or work on a project. Ask yourself what you want to get out your time spent.
  • State your intentions. Based on the outcome you want to create, state your intentions out loud, especially when interacting with others. By doing so when going into a meeting or conversation, you are not leaving to chance how the other person will interpret what you say or do.
  • Ask for the other person’s perspective first. As a leader, when you speak, your words carry weight, and that weight often shuts down others who are further down the food chain. Additionally, listening first will give you a chance to tune in to the other’s perspective.
  • Seek to reconcile different perspectives. With a clearly stated intention and after sharing perspectives, you will have a better understanding of how the different perspectives overlap or don’t. Revisit your intention again, and ask for how you can move forward by using what most important from each perspective.

By consciously focusing on a clear intention and being open with your perspective, you can create conditions that allow others to “see” you for who you are.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with leaders to maximize the “people side” of business and evolve into the leader they are meant to become. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

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New Beginnings: How to Gain Credibility in a New Role Without Slaughtering Sacred Cows

Whether you were recently promoted to a leadership position for the first time, or you are a seasoned leader hired into a new company, stepping into a new role is exciting . . . and it can also be fraught with landmines and interpersonal dynamics you never dreamed of. If you transition to your new role thoughtfully, you increase your odds of making a great impression on others, avoiding critical errors that come from underestimating the power of corporate culture, and laying the foundation for getting results later on.

The biggest tendency is to jump right in to show how good you are, regaling others with your knowledge or solving problems that you can’t wait to address. Unfortunately, those who have been around awhile might see things different and might even take offense at all of your new-fangled ideas.

Unless you were hired into a desperate situation with the expectation that you would clean house from Day 1, you would be wise to ease in to your new role and be a bit circumspect. For the first three to six months, here are 6 things to do or keep in mind when you are the new kid on the block:

Sacred Cow

1. Take it slowly. Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. You don’t have to “fix” everything you see that is wrong (in your eyes) all at once (unless that’s why you were hired). Let people get to know you first. Slowing down also allows you to more fully understand why things are the way they are. If you rush to make changes, you’re sure to step on toes that you can’t afford to offend.

2. Clarify what will make you “successful”. To do this, look at what would make you successful based on the role, what your boss is looking for from you, and what you want to personally accomplish long- and short-term to be successful.

3. Make your boss shine. Need I say more? It’s always good to make your boss look good, so what can you do in your new role to support your boss’s agenda?

4. Foster a relationship with each direct report. The better your team knows you as a person, the easier it is for them to put your ideas and suggestions into context. Get to know what’s important to them and for their careers. They will already have trust in you and know you have their best interests at heart.

5. Don’t risk being labeled an “outsider” from the get-go. Align with the company’s values and behavioral expectations. Figure out how things get done. Get a feel for the sacred cows, pet peeves, superstars, and outsiders. In short, adapt to your new surroundings. You can point out when and if the company doesn’t “walk its talk” later once others know and trust you.

6. Observe and uncover issues without solving them immediately. Especially in your area of responsibility, get to know other players, learn about current and on-going issues, and just listen and observe. Spot patterns, learn the history of things, and tune into where there are alliances and feuds. Quietly hypothesize about root causes and possible solutions.

Sometimes less is more, and that seems to be apt when starting a new role (and especially in a new company). Ease into your job in the first 3-6 months and let the company adjust to you before you attempt to impact the new culture. Once you are a better-known quantity and accepted as part of the group, you’ll have the credibility to voice your observations, concerns, and solutions and have them taken seriously.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE?

You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman challenges leaders to lead like nobody’s business by knowing themselves, bringing alignment to their businesses, and communicating clearly and powerfully. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Why Confrontation is the Secret Ingredient of Success

You dream of working easily and seamlessly with colleagues with little or no contention.  Who really wants to work in a contentious environment? Surprisingly, little or no disagreement/conflict is a sign that your group is not as good as you think.  When there is little if any open disagreement about matters of importance (mission, values, projects, and goals), your nice and easy culture is in trouble of complacency and of becoming irrelevant.  The group becomes vulnerable to “group think” without the ability to thoroughly vet ideas and does not adapt quickly and strategically to changing conditions nor does it evolve rapidly enough to face handled new challenges. And you know without little outward disagreement your colleagues are expressing disagreement and discontent out of the light of day among themselves.

“Easy” working relationships and interactions tend to be superficial, Stepford-type communications that present a good face while hiding what you and your colleagues really think and feel. When you don’t express your real thoughts and concerns, interactions in the workplace are coated with the waxy build-up of unvoiced concerns, resentments, passive-aggressive behavior, disengaged employees, gossip, and scapegoating others.  This sets you up for poor decisions based on untested beliefs and untried assumptions, which in turn increases stress, smothers innovation, derails growth, and allows incompetence to go unaddressed.

The result is a toxic culture with low trust even though you and your colleagues are outwardly nice to each other while putting down each other behind your backs.

The secret to turning this around? Confrontation.

Whoa!  You have been raised to be non-confrontational.  How can confrontation be good?  Confrontation can be done in a respectful way where the emphasis is on really digging into the content of what others are proposing rather than attacking others personally.

Confrontation doesn’t need to be loud and forceful. It isn’t about making someone else wrong while you are right nor is it about winning.  Instead, confrontation done right is about using the data that is known to question a process, a decision, an opinion, performance or behavior. Confrontation done right highlights other possible perspectives or interpretations without demeaning others. By confronting the completeness and interpretation of existing data, you stand a greater chance of having deeper, more meaningful discussions while de-personalizing the issue at hand.

Disagreement is natural when interacting with others because we don’t all think, believe, or act the same.  Sadly, whether you’re trying to be PC or whether boat-rocking in general makes you queasy, the idea of confrontation gets a bad rap, mostly because you have seen it done badly for so long.  The typical scene that pops into your head when hearing the word “confrontation” probably involves someone losing her cool by yelling, pounding a fist on a table, and/or even throwing something. That’s not the type of confrontation that is productive.

Handled appropriately, confrontation done right allows a department, work group, business unit, or team to vet differing opinions, ideas, and assumptions, which leads to greater clarity before a course of action is chosen.  The result?  A collegial climate in which you feel you can be transparent and vulnerable because the focus is on the good of the group rather than on protecting your ego by looking like a hero. Healthy confrontation creates an atmosphere where people are willing to forego the short-term relief of staying in a familiar rut in favor of long-term, meaningful impacts that will enable your company to adapt and thrive.

And that is why confrontation is the secret to your success.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman is the advisor for senior leaders who get an edge on the competition by staying sharp and adaptable to increase productivity and profitability. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

3 Tips for Taking Control of Your Attention

attention, listeningBemoaning the maddening busy-ness of your workweek? Why do you feel you have to be constantly connected to incoming input?

You’ve done it or seen others do it: constantly texting (probably multiple conversations at once), emailing, browsing, gaming, or talking on the phone.  To what end?  There is no way that ANYONE has that much they NEED to engage with throughout their waking hours. Maybe it has to do anxiety that constantly taps your shoulder, making you believe you must be on the lookout for real time problems or new opportunities or risk missing out on something important.

I call it “rocking chair” behavior: you’re moving, but you’re not going anywhere.

Just because you have the technology that provides a constant stream of information doesn’t mean you should or must stay at the end of its tether.  You are deluding yourself into believing that everything that is reported in a 24/7 culture is relevant or important for your survival and success.

It’s not.  Most of it is simply noise.
“Life . . . is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”
— William Shakespeare, Macbeth

You are hard-wired to perk up at anything perceived as “negative” in the environment for your own self-preservation.  However, in today’s world, this caveman threat response is working overtime. Your residual reptilian brain equates almost everything you encounter in the modern world with a wild animal attack. Consequently, the constant assault of 21st century information translates into a stream of perceived survival threats, creating feelings of overwhelm and locking you in a constant threat response.  Contrary to the benefit you thought you were getting by drinking in all this data, the resulting chronic threat response actually decreases your thinking capacity and narrows your focus instead of expanding it.

Just stop it.

I’m not advocating burying your head in the sand to avoid what requires your attention.  Simply, become smarter about where you put your attention.  Have the courage to pull yourself loose from the constant stream of input focus on what is really important.  Become intentional about what information you allow into your awareness, then consciously and deliberately determine what to do with it.

 “Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing.”  — Lao Tzu

Here are 3 suggestions for uncoupling yourself from the barrage of input and deliberately attending to what matters:

1. Set an intention

. . . an intention to stop getting sucked in by each piece of information coming your way and the temptation to respond immediately to it.  The earth won’t stop spinning if you don’t immediately text someone back or allow a phone call to go to voicemail.  And no one will hate you.  Others are probably surprised that you are so available most of the time anyway.  (Try not watching TV or streaming news for a week.  You’ll be surprised on how much you DIDN’T miss out on.)

2. Set boundaries with yourself and others

. . . about what you respond to and when.  When do you choose to be most available to respond immediately to texts and phone calls?  What times throughout the day do you choose to return emails? What times of day do you choose not to respond immediately to phone calls, email, or texts?  What is the definition of an “emergency” that will justify an interruption and trigger an immediate response from you?  To whom do you choose to always respond immediately — Boss? Parent? Child? Spouse? Bookie?

3. Clarify the purpose and current vision of success

. . . for yourself and your organization.  Knowing this, you’ll know what information is relevant to attend to.

At bottom, you must have the courage to choose.  Choose what you allow into your world.  The rest can remain noise.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with leaders who want to confidently become the leader they are meant to be as they maximize the “people side” of business. Learn more about her at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Leader as Thinker

It’s the end of the day, and you’re beat.  You’ve been “on the go” since 7 a.m. and you’re ready to call it a day.  Most of your days seem to go this way.  Then, a coach like me, asks where you’ve built time into your weekly schedule for “strategic thinking/planning time”.

When I ask my clients this question, I get predictable responses – everything from a look of “you’ve got to be kidding” to a question like, “Really?  It’s OK to spend my time doing that?”   I take the responses as a symptom of American culture that preaches “to be busy” equals “to be productive”.  But the higher up the corporate food chain you go, the less time you should spend on “being busy” and the more time you can and should spend on thinking.  Insufficient time spent thinking about your business can lessen the quality of the decisions you make about it.

The basis of good solid thinking goes back 2500 years to Socrates in Ancient Greece.  His method involved asking deep questions and probing for answers before accepting an idea of as worthy of belief.   Fast forward to our experiences today, where we spend hours on activities that are quick, immediate, and/or passively mindless, like texting, watching TV, spending time online updating our status, or engaging in various other forms of pure entertainment.  (I’m also guilty as charged.)    No wonder we find it hard to believe that we ought to spend time engaging our minds in a deep, intellectual pursuit.

“Thinking time” doesn’t have to be spent alone in a locked office working on your company or department’s strategic plan (although that could be very productive).  It can be time you spend walking around a competitor’s retail store, observing how they operate.  It can be lunch in a nearby park, observing the comings and goings of local flora, fauna, and people, which may lead to serendipitous connections later on.  You can walk around your own corporate office, retail store, or manufacturing/shipping facility to observe what’s going on.  Would you rather think in tandem with others?  Invite someone out to have a beverage and conversation.  You can even spend your commute time thinking.  Whatever will afford you time for meaningful introspection and reflection is the type of thinking activity that will be beneficial.

The point is that your “thinking time” will provide you with information when you need it later on.  From observations, come connections, and the more connections you make, the better prepared your mind is to draw upon seemingly unrelated information and events that might just provide you with brilliant insight applicable to your business just when you need it.

Recommended ReadingThe Thinking Life, P.M. Forni