by renita kalhorn
From the time we start school around the age of five, we learn very quickly that there’s only one right answer: 2 + 2 = 4. And it pays to know what it is. Our identity gets increasingly wrapped up in knowing the right answer and we’re conditioned by society that we’re just supposed to know, in no uncertain terms, everything from what career to choose and who to marry, to what to say to in a difficult conversation with a partner or what’s going to happen in the board meeting.
And even though we live in the most uncertain, unpredictable time in the history of mankind ever, nobody tells us that it’s okay to not know. So we all walk around pretending that we do know and hoping we won’t get busted.
As usual, Dilbert knows what I’m talking about.
(Just to be clear, I’m not talking about fact-based knowledge. When the CFO gets on an earnings call with analysts, he better know what the current financials are — but he doesn’t have to know where the economy is going to be in nine months and exactly how that will affect the company’s sales in Asia. We want our doctor to know how to treat a common condition — but she doesn’t have to know exactly the cause of a rare combination of symptoms and the surefire way to treat them.)
The thing is, being in a place where we think we should know spits us out of the present moment. To be wholly present, we have to be willing to step into the unknown, where we’re not trying to control our future based on past experiences. That’s when we plug into the big database in the sky, get access to Infinite Intelligence. That’s what happened with Einstein: after he had his flash of insight into the theory of relativity, he then had to go back and learn the math to explain what he intuitively understood.
So here are some things I know about “not knowing:”
- Slow down and shut up. Ask the universe/God/whatever higher power you believe in for guidance — and then pay attention. The answer might come in a song, a movie, a book or an old friend that you haven’t seen for awhile.
- Get used to the feeling of unfamiliar. Our body craves the adventure of the unknown. A photographer friend says he loves that feeling of butterflies in his stomach when he’s on a shoot that tells him: “I’m about to do something creative.”
- Acknowledge what you do and don’t know. Even the most prickly conversation will go better if you say: “Here’s what I know based on the information I have. You have different information than I do so I’m curious to hear your point of view.”
It’s not “all or nothing.” You don’t know have to know every single step on the path before taking action. In fact, you can just get excited about finding out what the next step is.
Really, it’s okay to not know.
by carolyn mathews
(posted in 2011, our readers rated this as one of our all time favorite posts so here it is again)
Mention a 360-degree feedback process to those who have experienced it and you will likely witness the rolling of eyes, apparent cringing, or the telling of personal horror stories. This is what I witnessed almost across the board when I told people my dissertation topic. (For the record, its title is, “Enhancing the 360-Degree Feedback Process: A Strengths-based Approach.”) If you read this blog, you likely work in an upper-management/executive position within your organization. Just as likely, you have participated in a 360-degree feedback process, as both a rater for someone else or as the person being rated (the “ratee”). I have been through the process myself. So, it was with some trepidation that I signed up for the Center for Creative Leadership’s (CCL) Assessment Certification Workshop.
My trepidation was borne from my skepticism regarding the process, not from the assessment products offered by CCL. Research shows in many cases, 360s are mishandled from the start in terms of stated purpose, accountability, and psychometric properties. I am happy to report that CCL addresses all of these concerns in their training of consultants, coaches, and HR professionals. Indeed, according to a colleague in the class who experienced the CCL products and process within his organization, when CCL professionals are brought in to run a 360-degree feedback process, they emphasize and explain these elements before any assessments start.
Okay, so having established some 360 ground rules, we know to declare a clear purpose to all participants (preferably developmental as opposed to administrative). We also know that accountability on the part of the raters, the ratee, and the organization is crucial for employees to view it as something from which they will benefit. Further, we recognize that a psychometrically sound instrument, one that has been validated and reflects the organization’s values, strategies and goals, is crucial for the success of this process. But what is a positive psychology coach like me supposed to do with a process that traditionally focuses on deficits rather than strengths?
The 360-degree feedback process is often used as part of an annual appraisal process, and as such, there is a tendency for organizations and managers – and the ratees themselves – to concentrate on deficits while virtually ignoring strengths. Strengths represent what is “right” or going well for the employee. Therefore, we tend to pay little attention to these non-problems. Instead, there is collective focus on what’s wrong, also known as (with a positive spin) “room for improvement,” or “opportunities.” No matter what we call this deficit target, research by the Gallup organization shows that the greatest opportunities for success come not from focusing on what’s wrong, but by emphasizing what’s right.
Does this mean as managers, HR professionals, or coaches we must ignore a person’s lack of skills or behavioral concerns? I don’t believe so. The use of positive psychology in the workplace is not meant to suggest we can ignore problems in favor of the positive. Positive psychology in the workplace provides a holistic approach; one that asserts the “biggest bang for the buck” comes from the acknowledgment and use of strengths as a way to build creativity and collaboration, solve problems, and even address areas those “opportunities” for improvement.
So how can you incorporate a strengths-based approach into a traditional 360-degree feedback process?
Ongoing management: Address problem areas immediately, instead of waiting for this annual feedback process. This is the responsibility of management, and one that often slides further down the “to-do” list. No one likes to be the “heavy.” However, if issues are addressed when current, it will appear more relevant to your direct report than a mention months later in the comments section of the 360 questionnaire.
Before the 360-degree feedback process: Assure your team that the purpose of the 360 process is for developmental purposes (not administrative) and will be considered along with other information gleaned throughout the year.
During the feedback session: Use the feedback related to strengths to discuss how your direct reports can rectify problem areas. This helps align the solution needed for the organization with the person’s personal values, which may result in longer-lasting change. In addition, ask them to imagine ways that using one or two strengths exclusively may turn it into a weakness. A balanced approach is best.
After the feedback: Collaborate with your direct reports on their development plans, based in part on the feedback they received. Ask them to suggest goals that not only relate to the organization’s overall mission, but also will incorporate their personal strengths. My research shows an integral link between elements of positive psychology, positive organizational behavior, and a successful 360-degree feedback process. Adding a strength-based component puts that personal stamp on the goal, making it meaningful.
Ultimately, the 360-degree feedback process is an efficient way to track someone’s development, how well they play with others, and to help direct their developmental goals. And, it can be used in a way that emphasizes positive opportunities for success.
by renita kalhorn
“I think of intelligent optimism as a discipline, the rigorous discipline to stay in the state of mind of possibility.” Ben Zander, The Art of Possibility
A few weeks ago I was up in the Boston area for meetings, and visiting my dad in Concord. Today, around 5:30 pm — rush hour – we were driving toward the city to pick up my sister at the airport. There had been quite a bit of discussion beforehand about what time we should leave to take into account the traffic and as we headed in, sure enough, there were lines of cars in every direction.
“Look at all the traffic!” I kept exclaiming (because I’m from New York where, you know, we hardly have any). “There’s only one person in each car! It’s bumper to bumper! How do they do this everyday!?” And then my dad demonstrated why he’s a master of the silver lining. “Well, let’s just be glad that all these people have jobs,” he said.
If you’re someone who believes in looking at things just the way they are, you probably find perennially positive types like my dad annoying and Pollyanna-ish. Come on, be realistic, you’re thinking.
The thing is, there is no one, singular reality. There’s always an alternative view and we get to decide what it is. When you’re driving down the street, you can notice all the potholes — or, just as realistically, how much of the street is pothole-free. You can fixate on the “no thanks” you got from the potential investor/client — or, on the fact that you had a meaningful two-hour discussion.
When you’re able to home in on the brighter side (and it takes practice, for sure), you’re more likely to keep on going in the face of difficulty, to not give up. Studies show that pessimists are more often right — in fact, there is no solution to this problem! — but optimists, by virtue of their persistent nature, are ultimately more successful. (In a study of law students, Suzanne Segerstrom, PhD, found that a person’s level of optimism in the first year of law school corresponded with his or her salary 10 years later. On a 5-point optimism scale, every 1-point increase in optimism translated into a $33,000 annual increase.)
So how can you get better at this “look on the bright side” thing if it doesn’t come naturally? Anytime something unwanted happens, practice finishing this sentence: “Well, at least…”
“Well, at least I didn’t spill coffee on my suit/dress.” “Well, at least I was able to meet with the CEO.” “Well, at least I had the courage to ask for the raise.” “Well, at least I finished the race.”
If you can’t find a positive slant, ask a natural optimist; they’ll find an angle. Like Henry, my four-year-old nephew, said about his classmate: “She’s kind of mean and bites…but she can count to ten.”
As coaches, we commit to “walk the talk.” As such, we embrace living lives that are balanced and fulfilled, both personally as well as professionally. Part of this balance means we take time to enjoy the summer holidays. While we will continue to work on a number of assignments and remain dedicated to our partnership with wonderful clients, we will take the month of August off from writing our blog. If you have some time and wish to explore some of our past blogs, simply scroll down and check out the Archive.
If you, too, are able to make this a month when you slow down the rhythm of life, take a step back and enjoy the beautiful season with family and friends – congratulations! This is another step towards building sustainable happiness and well-being. And leaning back breeds creativity – as seen in August’s The Economist: In praise of laziness. C u in September!
a highly effective + ridiculously under-utilized technique for getting people to (gladly) give you what you want
by renita kalhorn
Recently I was coaching a group of Navy SEAL officer candidates. Obviously, with all the hours of fitness training and time they’re dedicating (some of them drive four or five hours each way to the gatherings), they all want very much to be offered a SEAL contract. They also want to avoid the fate of an earlier candidate who told the board, with sincere intention and intensity, how much he wanted to be a SEAL and the extreme sacrifices he had made to get there – and who, ultimately, was declined.
He made the mistake that many people make when they are asking for something, whether it’s an introduction, an interview, a job or a raise. They state their case from the least compelling point of view possible: their own.
“Going to business school will help me transition from consulting to finance.”
“I need this raise because we’re having another baby.”
“I want to pick your brain so I can get my book published.”
No matter how sincere or earnest the reason, guess what the listener (at least subliminally) is thinking: “Yeah, so what? Why should I care?”
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD
So that’s the paradox: to get what you want, you have to momentarily set aside your own desire and put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
Because the most effective way to get someone’s attention is to position your request from their point of view. (Isn’t that what works with you?) Show someone that helping you get what you want is somehow relevant to them and they will be much more receptive to listening to what you have to say. (Savvy parents get this when they say to their children: “If you are dressed and ready to go in 10 minutes then you’ll have time to get an ice cream cone before we run errands.”)
To be able to empathize with and understand what’s important to another person even as you have your own urgent wants — now that is a useful and powerful skill.
COMMITTED BUT NOT ATTACHED
First, put aside your attachment to what you want. (Go ahead, just put it right over there.)
Now look at the situation from their point of view: try to understand what they want, why they want it and how they feel about things. It takes ingenuity and patience to think it through (especially if you don’t know them well) but a little strategic forethought does wonders to remove obstacles.
Here’s what presenting your case from the other person’s point of view looks like:
Want the job? Explain how hiring you will make their life easier and make them look good — not why you want to leave your current job. (In the case of the Navy recruiting board, yes, they want men who are dedicated to becoming a SEAL, but more importantly they want someone who has a balanced outlook and will be a good fit with the SEAL community.)
Want someone to take your cold call? Acknowledge that their time is valuable: “I know you’re busy so I’ll make this brief. I’m calling to see if I might be able to help you save money on your company’s health insurance.”
Want more time to produce a deliverable? Instead of telling the client you’re backed up until Friday (your POV), tell them it’s in their best interest that you take the time to thoroughly research the case in order to deliver the most informed advice possible and avoid issues down the line.
Want to ask a favor via email? Start by talking about the person you’re writing to: thank them (for inspiration, insights or information – it doesn’t have to be earth-shaking to be gratifying) or comment on a recent accomplishment (check their Linkedin account, blog or Google). No-one — no matter how famous or busy — is going to stop reading about how great they are! Once you’ve established a relevant connection, they’ll be much more receptive to helping you.
Of course, this all presumes that there is overlap between what you want and what they want, that there are mutual benefits to be had. Taking some time to think strategically from the other person’s point of view will help them see the connection and smooth your path to getting what you want.
by carolyn mathews
Most of us have likely heard the suggestion to “think positive” when we are in tough or distressing situations. For some people, this may truly be more difficult than for others. Although well meaning, suggesting positive thinking may result in a rebound effect.
Researchers at Michigan State University have discovered brain markers that indicate a propensity toward positive or negative thought. In other words, we tend to be hardwired biologically. The researchers recorded brain activity while showing graphic images to study participants. Positive thinkers showed less brain activity than negative thinkers. What’s more, the request to decrease negative emotions backfired to make negative emotions worse, shown by increased brain activity.
The take-away? Suggesting to people that they think more positively in tough situations or transitions probably won’t work. If they were hardwired for this, they would probably be doing it already. (This, in part, is what concerns me about the self-help, positive thinking industry. But I digress…) What works better, according to lead researcher, Jason Moser, is to have the person “think about the problem in a different way, to use different strategies.”
As a positive psychology practitioner, one of my first strategies to help someone navigate a major life transition would be to employ relevant character strengths, such as creativity, judgment, bravery and hope. (Other character strengths may also be useful for some people in considering the problem differently, too.)
Creativity: Thinking of novel and productive ways to conceptualize and do things.
Judgment: Thinking things through and examining them from all sides.
Bravery: Not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty or pain.
Hope: Expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it.
Boosting the use of these strengths in difficult times may be just what is needed to help the person navigate the tough times without the added (and useless) pressure of also having to “think positive.” Even if they are not among your top character strengths, they can be boosted. For brief definitions of these suggested character strengths, see below. Then, think about ways you can use them as you find yourself reacting to difficult situations. They may just help move you from negative thinking to useful thinking.
Source: VIA Institute on Character. For more complete definitions of these character strengths, or to learn more about other character strengths, go to www.viacharacter.org
by carolyn mathews
It has been a while since I last posted here. Mostly, that was due to changes in my professional life. The changes are positive (more transitions), yet it left me uncertain which direction to take with my writing. Things are settling down in that regard.
I can also blame one of my clients, who unbeknownst to her, influenced the lack of posts here. During the holidays, this client went on a social media diet in response to coming down with a bad case of “social media fatigue.” Working fulltime and also running her own business, her time feels precious. Yet she found herself drawn to social media not only to post, but also to read others’ posts to stay on top of things, socially and professionally. For her, the answer was to unplug. No photos of her dog (whom she loves very much). No checking to see what others were doing in their daily lives. No reading blogs. No posting about her business.
Many unplugged days later, my client found that although the world moved on without her postings, she was no less informed about the important things. And, her business did not fold. This revelation prompted her to make some changes. First, she hired an intern to take over the social media strategy for her business. For her personal postings, she decided in the New Year her use of social media would involve being mindful and intentional about what she shared. Additionally, she was willing to try curtailing her use of social media by checking in and posting briefly only three times a day. The result? She feels more relaxed and is getting more done in the workplace and in her personal life.
Which brings me full circle back to my lack of postings on my blog, Facebook page, and Twitter account. I have always intended to share information that inspires, drives change, and/or entertains. Intentional? Check. Mindful? I wasn’t sure. I felt pressure to “post early and often” enough to remain in view. Why? Social media experts suggest business owners post frequent blogs; and newsletters; and tweets; and photos to remain top-of-mind. I followed this advice. However, I find myself deleting many of these from other sources because I feel too overwhelmed by the amount of information I receive. It wasn’t that I found no value in their messages; it was simply too much from too many sources. If I felt this way, what about my “followers”? Could the social media experts be wrong? I don’t know.
What I do know is that by following my client’s lead, I feel refreshed. My business still exists and continues to flourish. I am now both, mindful and intentional, in my use of social media. This means that you may hear from me less often sometimes, and more often during other times. My posts still aim to inspire, drive change, and entertain. And I will mindfully consider how often I post, and my reason for it, as I consider the receivers of this information.