I recently heard something that stuck with me as a good little adage to remember about judging others: “Logic doesn’t equal fact”.
I think this is an important thing to remember in every aspect of our lives; but particularly in regard to how we might unwittingly treat other people because of the assumptions we make about their intentions and abilities:
When we to try understand someone’s behaviors, we tend to base our explanations on what we think we see. We make a quick assumption given the limited data we have, and if the assumption seems logical we accept it as fact.
In one of my old social psychology textbooks, the authors (Brehm, Kassin, and Fein) explain that when judging another’s behaviors, our explanations come in the form of us making either personal or situational attributions. In other words, we make assumptions about whether the success or failure of another’s actions were do to his own skill and ability, or whether he lucked out or got burned because the environment had set him up for automatic success or failure.
The authors note that where we typically err in our attributions is through the use of cognitive heuristics (rules of thumb that allow us to make quick, but often erroneous assumptions) and the fundamental attribution error, in which we overestimate the role of personal factors on the impact of a situation.
In other words, the assumptions we make based on our own logic is often wrong. So the next time you’re in the position to praise, acknowledge, condemn, or dismiss the results someone’s actions, ask yourself whether you might be making an inaccurate assumption, and why. If things went well did you overestimate his contribution because you like him? If they didn’t go so well did you so for unfair reasons?
I had an experience the other day that kind of shook me up. I shared a couple of opinions on someone’s Facebook post and got blasted by a bunch of people I don’t know. Normally I don’t particularly care about other people’s opinions, but for whatever reason it was different this time. Actually, I don’t think it’s because I cared about their opinions, but rather because I couldn’t handle their closed-mindedness and the hate they were giving off.
My wife has always advocated the “be the change you want to see in the world, but don’t shake things up” attitude. My son is the opposite: believing very strongly that if you have something to say you say it – and pay no attention to the haters. In principle I agree with him; in reality I think I’m starting to adopt the attitude of my wife. Maybe my skin is getting thinner with age.
At any rate, I’ve heard a lot about the persecution people suffer when they stand up for what they believe is right. I understood it in theory, but I finally got a very little taste of it the other day. This little taste stayed with me in a big way for couple days now, and I can’t imagine being someone on the front line of it every day.
For these people I have the greatest respect, and I wish I had their strength of character. And maybe I’ll build up to that. But in the meantime I think I’ll try to be the change I wish to see in the world without shaking it up too much with others. My son would call that cowardly; my wife would call it wise. I guess I’ll have to find my own way
Communication in the workplace has to do with how we interact with our colleagues on many different levels simultaneously. It has to do with how we plan and convey the messages we want to give, both verbally and nonverbally; and with how we listen to, interpret, and respond to others’ messages.
And one way to characterize the successful execution of this is to say that we’ve engaged in effective dialogue.
We can call these interactions many things, of course: discussions, conversations, arguments, etc. – but I quite like the term ‘dialogue’ as it’s defined in Clutterbuck’s (2007) book, Coaching the Team at Work. Here he defines it as “approaching an issue with as open a mind as possible, with a view to understanding other people’s perspectives and perhaps creating a new perspective”.
This is a pretty powerful definition, I think. It highlights the fact that we all have our different viewpoints, values, and beliefs that have been shaped by everything we’ve ever experienced – and that we carry these with us everywhere we go, into every interaction we have.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course, but it can be a dangerous thing if we don’t recognize it and deal with it appropriately. It’s important to acknowledge, and even celebrate, the fact that we are coming from a very different place in many ways from the person sitting across the table from us – and vica-versa. With an open mind we can embrace our differences as well as our similarities; and we can identify and capitalize on the unique experiences that everybody brings to the table.
And, as Clutterbuck points out, we have the opportunity to shape these diverse perspectives into a new perspective.
I believe that these “new perspectives” should be the primary goal of dialogue. They can serve as the underlying philosophy that creates and guides a more effective culture for the partnership or team. (Because culture happens everywhere, all the time; with or without our conscious input. So we really should be proactive about it.)
Culture is a word we use to explain how we see and do things together. It speaks to our collective understandings about the explicit and implicit rules, roles, expectations, and protocols that govern how we approach problems together and how we interact with one another. If not handled actively, honestly, and purposefully, we leave the culture that develops to chance. And as we all know, that can be an ugly thing.
So the bottom line is that we can, and should, take charge of shaping our culture – and that we can do so by learning to engage in effective dialogue. It starts with cultivating our own sense of self-awareness; and it continues by keeping an open mind in trying to understand and integrate the healthiest and most helpful viewpoints, values, and beliefs of all involved.
I recently presented a workshop on intergenerational communication in the workplace; where I talked about various communication styles and how the generations could work better together by understanding their similarities and differences.
In retrospect, one thing I could have included was a discussion of the role of crystallized versus fluid intelligence (as originally proposed by psychologist Raymond Cattell). I didn’t, however, and so here’s as good a place as any to mention it…
If the terms crystallized and fluid intelligence aren’t familiar to you, here’s the idea: the former refers to accumulated knowledge gained from previous learning and experiences. The latter involves abstract reasoning and the ability to problem-solve novel situations. As we age, our crystallized intelligence increases as we experience and learn more things; but our fluid intelligence decreases.
In an environment where different generations are working together we can use this knowledge to our advantage. For example, the older members of the team could provide information about the historical context of a problem (i.e., how it came to be; what has and hasn’t worked in the past) etc.; while the younger members could use this knowledge to brainstorm new and creative solutions (while not having to reinvent the wheel.) In other words, both groups can bring the best of their brain-power to the table; working together to develop creative and progressive solutions based on sound principles and time-honored wisdom.
There is lots of information to be found about generational differences; but not as much about how these differences can be acknowledged, celebrated, and used in a productive way. It’s definitely an area worth paying attention to as people continue to work longer while the younger generations are entering the workforce.
What is you leadership style?
The study of leadership is certainly not a new one, and there are almost too many theories to count. A quick internet search, however (psychology.about.com), identifies that most of the different leadership theories that have emerged over the years can be classified into a handful of major types:
“Great Man” Theories
Relationship Theories/Transformational Leadership
Management theories/Transactional Leadership.
There are various theories and models listed under each type, and they’re well worth looking into. The style of leadership you adopt can either be a success or a failure, depending upon a myriad of factors: what works with one personality in one environment may not work in the next. Understanding the theories listed above (and any others floating around out there) can help you clarify what you believe to be true about leadership, and how you might best approach your own leadership development.
Within any of these theories, however, the individual leader and his or her preferences also need to be taken into account. In addition to the leadership theories that have been studied, there are also many leadership “styles” listed in the literature. Again, a quick internet search identifies some of the more common ones discussed:
Autocratic or Authoritarian Leadership
Participative or Democratic Leadership
Again, these appear to be some the most prominent; but there are other leadership styles identified in the literature that would be worth researching for yourself. I’ve included these ones in particular for two reasons: one because they seem to have the most written about them; and two because these are the styles I see most often in my own leadership coaching practice.
Unfortunately I see examples of Authoritarian Leadership more often than I’d like; where the leader makes decisions unilaterally and often unfairly. And outside of military or paramilitary organizations, this never works. The other styles listed can be more or less effective depending on the environment, culture, and people involved; and you’d be wise to know the difference.
Transformative Leadership is one of the more contemporary styles to be identified, and is often touted as one of the most effective. It is about inspiring others and sharing a greater vision. This type of leadership is great, of course; but it’s often best balanced by a Transactional Leadership style based on role compliance and incentives for achievement. Of the styles listed above, my own bias falls toward Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership; where the leader is able to adjust his or style in response to the unique situation or task at hand.
So what is your leadership style?
Communication and leadership go hand in hand: in order to be good leaders we need to be good communicators. But unfortunately this isn’t always the case in the leadership ranks.
When I started coaching some time back, I made it my mission to absorb as much information as I could about communication and leadership: devouring books on leadership models, leadership coaching, business, etc. I interviewed leaders on different levels in different sectors, and noted their common themes and struggles. I spoke with numerous teams to hear their experiences…
Eventually I hit that place of circular learning: where whatever you read or do, you encounter the same themes. The ‘nothing new under the sun’ phenomenon (or what they refer to in some research models as ‘saturation’).
And really, the themes are not difficult: if you ask a bunch of lay-people what types of leadership communication and relationship styles they believe to be most effective, they would come up with similar ideas.
So I began to think that this was too easy: that this knowledge isn’t rocket science, and that the paradigm shift from a harsh micro-management, or a disconnected, style of leadership to a more effective ‘people-centered’ approach clearly must have already happened without me. I thought that maybe I missed the ball and that I’d have to redefine my niche.
But to this day, whenever I speak with teams, I know that I was way off base with my presumption. Over and over I continue to hear the same complaints: a lack of strong leadership – particularly in terms of unclear, autocratic, or even no communication.
I know that there are also some very effective leadership styles that aren’t exactly what you’d call ‘people-friendly’ – and that different situations call for different responses. But all in all, I think we know what works best for the majority of circumstances and environments.
But why do many of us revert to old habits, or continue to do what goes against what we know to be a better way?
We do this for a number of reasons. First of all, because we’re human. And most of us are not villains: we do what we need to do to get the job done quickly for the higher good or common goal – whether our delivery is popular or not (and this certainly does take some courage). We also tend to revert back to automatic ways of being when we’re under stress.
And change is hard.
But to sustain a change we need to remain conscious of the alignment, or misalignment, of our intentions and our actions – and we need to understand and buy into why it might be important to practice a more people-centered approach (hint: things like morale and retention; better group cohesion leading to better initiatives; reduced conflict and stress – you get the idea).
We need to purposely and consistently examine our habits, patterns, and beliefs – and not be afraid to venture out of our comfort zones to experiment with different styles.
As leaders, this ‘venturing out’ is quite often our norm. So why not in the areas of interpersonal relationships and more emotionally-intelligent communication?
The best way to do this is to ask for specific and honest feedback from those most impacted by our actions: by asking how we come across now, and what might work better (and, of course, being willing to hear it). In addition, hiring a coach to help identify developmental opportunities, and staying on track with them, can be a very effective strategy.
I wrote an article the other day for another publication about how to build trust – and I posted it again here. The request I received was specifically in regard to building trust within business teams, but I think the answer is applicable to all relationships regardless of context:
A solid level of trust is paramount to any situation where individuals and teams need to reach a common set of goals. And the cornerstones of trust are assertive communication and consistency in behavior.
People often confuse “assertive” with “aggressive”, but they couldn’t be any different. Assertive basically means standing up for one’s own rights while respecting the rights of the other. Aggressive, on the other hand, means standing up for your own rights while disrespecting or disregarding the rights of the other.
(These are both different from passivity: the third style of communication. Being passive simply means allowing your own rights to be violated in your interactions.)
So with this definition in mind, assertive communication implies interactions that are clear, direct, respectful, and purposeful. In order for people or teams to develop trust between one another, both parties need to know what they want from their interactions; and they need to communicate their needs and desires in a way that is understood. They also need to be sure that they understand the other party’s positions and requests, and they need to be focused on outcomes that best meet the interests of all involved.
(Of course this isn’t always possible, but the more all parties strive for this ideal the greater levels of trust will be built.)
In addition to this assertive communication, trust requires a high degree of behavioral consistency. In other words, in order to build trust people need to “walk the walk and talk the talk” in a variety of situations over time – and they need to have a solid track record of integrity and results.
Basically stated, when we know what to expect of one another – and we’re usually happy with the results of their actions – trust is maintained. (And as they say, trust takes forever to develop but is broken at the drop of a hat.)
So in order to fortify and develop trust between one another, we need to regularly engage in assertive communication and be consistent in our behaviors – and we can only do our own part in this equation; modeling this way of being in the hopes that that’s how others will begin to interact with us.
And on a final note, it also helps if we can develop some sort of relationship with the people around us: people do business with people they know, like, and respect. Sharing a bit of ourselves and building rapport with others in a meaningful way can help us all interact more assertively and consistently.
A big part of developing and strengthening your relationships is about really knowing the important people in your life. We all know many people on a superficial or even friendly level; but how much do we really know about who they are under the exterior we see and interact with every day?
I got thinking about this question after receiving an email from my mother some time ago. The structure of the email was that it asked a bunch of personal questions, and you were supposed to fill it out and send it onto your friends. Your friends were then able to see how much they knew about you; as well as learn some new things they didn’t know.
Truth be told, I was a little surprised (and more than a little ashamed) that seventy-five percent or so of the answers completed by my mother was new information to me.
My mother’s responses contained some obvious things I couldn’t help but know after being acquainted with her for 40 years; but there were also a lot of things I would only have known had I actually asked. It made me realize that I actually know very little about the people in my life outside the regular stuff I see every day.
Despite “knowing” certain people in my life for many years, I realized that within each one resides a whole world I’ve never seen: a world filled with hopes and dreams; likes and dislikes; goals and fears; victories and disappointments.
Within each one lies a history of choices and experiences that have shaped who they’ve become, and have brought them to where they are today: experiences rich with lessons to be shared and morals to be embraced.
I hope that you’ve put more effort into knowing the important people in your life than I have. If not, think about how much more enriched your life could be; simply by asking them about the things they don’t generally share for the sake of casual conversation.
In the previous article we looked at getting clear on what you want to accomplish in your relationships, and why. The next step to developing the connections in your life is to examine what you’re bringing to the table…
The way to strengthen or develop a relationship is to identify what is already working – or at least the possibilities and potential – as well as an awareness of what isn’t. We can then maximize the positive aspects of the relationship while working together to develop and practice more adaptive alternatives to what’s broken. Exactly how to do this is beyond the scope of this article (and is explored in depth in Building Better Relationships) – but a good place to start is looking at how you relate to others:
Having this awareness helps foster successful relationships because it gives you the opportunity to identify what you do well, as well as identify new behaviors to try on. It also fosters insight into which types of personalities, environments, and situations you prefer.
Knowing this allows you to make some conscious decisions and plan accordingly. It allows you to decide with whom and where you can easily develop relationships, and with whom and where you choose to step out of your comfort zone (or not). You can decide which relationships will come more naturally and easily; and which will take more time, energy, and skill.
Begin by looking at the relationships you’ve had in the past. Start with your childhood and move forward to the present day. Here are some example questions to ask yourself:
Who was your best friend? Why?
Who did you get along with best in your family? Why?
Who were your favourite teachers? Bosses?
What drew you to various romantic partners or adult friendships? What sustained them?
Who do you feel most comfortable around currently?
Who makes you challenge yourself to be a better person? How?
Think of all the people in your life, past and present, that you connected with on the deepest levels. What were the common features of these relationships? Of these people? Of the situation you were in together?
What was your contribution?
Now think about who you’ve had the most difficult times with. What made it difficult? What part did you play in this?
Think about what your answers to these questions mean: after you’ve decided what you want from the relationships in your life – and which relationships you want to work on – think about what it is that you’re bringing to the table.
Think about how you typically relate to others in a variety of circumstances; and decide which traits and habits to build upon, which to change, and which to let go of completely.
Solid and meaningful relationships are critical to our happiness and success. The connectedness we experience with others provides comfort when we need it; intellectual stimulation when we want it; and reciprocity of love when we share it. It allows us to get our needs met and to meet the needs of others.
We’re all in this thing together and we need one another: humans are social animals. When we develop the relationships in our lives we become filled with abundance and prosperity. And the further we branch out of our small troupes to connect with others in meaningful way, the better off we all are.
But a wider circle of connectedness begins with strengthening the connections in our immediate environment. And even before that it starts with an understanding of our needs…
What exactly do you want from your relationships? What are your goals?
- Do you want to strengthen the existing connections in your home or work life? Or maybe just one or two in particular?
- Do you want to be more effective at getting along with others in general? Or just have more quality people in your life?
- Do you want to expand your social circle for personal and/or business reasons? Or do you just want to overcome your shyness?
And why do you want these things?
- To experience more enjoyment in your life?
- To shield yourself from feelings of loneliness?
- To foster greater levels of confidence?
The list could go on with any number of reasons, but I ask these questions to help you begin to get really clear about the ‘whats’ and ‘whys’. The clearer you can be about your purposes, the stronger your intentions – and the more likely it is that change will happen.
So decide what it is you’d like to accomplish with your relationships, and why. And choose a specific target. Decide what the ideal outcome for this relationship (or set of relationships) would look like, and start to think about ways to make it happen!
In the next set of articles we’ll build upon this reflection by examining how you relate to others, and how well you know the people in your life. We’ll also examine the process of building trust – one of the most important cornerstones of any meaningful relationship.