Turning bad experiences into valuable lessons

We were discussing a certain consulting method, in short: creating solutions by starting out from bad client experiences. Identifying emotional hiccups is quite easy as negative emotions are stored quite well in the brain. A customer will recall those moments in more detail than a smooth process with no interferences. Once you have a negative incidence, solutions are created to change the process and reduce bad client experiences.

You can use this technique also for our life. Think for a moment: what can you remember from last week?

Most likely, all situations coming to your mind will be connected to emotions – quite often negative emotions. And this is a good entry point, to learn something new about yourself. Take some time and find out what created the bad emotion. What influenced your mood so intensively that you can recall it even today? What did you believe about yourself in that moment?

This technique is used in coaching, too. It is about creating awareness. Awareness about the underlying story that is happening while your emotions where triggered. And once you understand the underlying story, you can actively choose to stay in your mindset or change your thoughts and self-belief.

For instance, if you are triggered by words or behaviour of your colleague, your reaction says more about yourself than about your colleagues’ behaviour. It is very likely that your colleague didn’t even want to trigger you. He/she just did what they did. But it is your self-talk that is triggered, e.g. by commenting on how stupid that person is. It is very likely, that your are the one, having the need of proofing not to be stupid.

In essence, every moment you are experiencing an intense negative emotion at work, you can use the awareness that is created by that incident to learn more about yourself and grow inwardly.

‘Move talk’ – winning the asshole-style

Do you remember the last time you gave a presentation and someone in the room made an inadequate, non-content-related comment? Everyone laughed and you felt overwhelmed. Somehow you got out of concept and your presentation was weakened. Afterwards you were frustrated and you would have loved to say or do anything.

In literature you can find this concept being named ‘high talk’ (content related talk) that was hit by a smalltalk comment. It is done by people in the room who cannot challenge your content but who know how to discredit you as a person or in your role – and if you are not prepared, you lose your technical point to a simple joke. You can answer this type of interference either by a smalltalk comment yourself – or you use ‘move talk’, e.g. walking slowly to the respective colleague and look at her/him without saying anything. Once the silence is there, going back to your professional part.

In times of video calls, communication changes. Due to muted microphones, the classical ‘jokes’ that should intimidate the presenter are vastly eliminated. This is deliberating for all people who are afraid of these comments in the room. I believe, our communication culture gets more inclusive in a way. Even people who are not well trained in public speaking, will be less interrupted when speaking up in video calls.

But when it comes to ‘move talk’, many aspects are still working. This is relevant to know because in classical settings, you could answer ‘small talk’ with small talk or even go to the more intense ‘move talk’. But if the first interference already is in ‘move talk’, the classical communication guidelines and ideas don’t work anymore.

How does ‘move talk’ look like in video calls?

In a smaller group, when all screens are visible, ‘move talk’ can be seen by people ignoring the camera, e.g. demonstratively using the phone. More intense is leaving the desk while still having the camera on. These examples aren’t ‘move talk’ in itself – but when the discussion is requiring attention or a decision by a leader and that person is acting that way, it is a message.

What do you do when hit by ‘move talk’?

It highly depends on who is hitting you in which moment with ‘move talk’. Let’s look at two constellations.

The opponent

There are people who will profit from you failing, e.g. a colleague wanting your topic or position. Unluckily, there can also be people who just want you to fail – not because they want to step in but just because they don’t like you. When these people start using ‘move talk’, they want to disturb, so that you feel insecure and lose your point. In any case, ignore the ‘move talk’. Concentrate on the people, who need hearing you. You will not change the opponent – especially not when talking to them or calling out their behaviour. Walk on, don’t even bother.

The decider

If the person who needs to decide, confronts you with ‘move talk’, it will depend how well you know that person. If you need their concentration and they don’t give it to you, you might wanna ask: “It seems, it is a bad time to address this topic. Should I postpone and find a new date for talking?” Maybe they are having a bad time and a new date will make it better. If you don’t have the freedom to ask for postponement, make your point and end. If you need a decision, you could propose the next steps, e.g. “if I don’t hear otherwise, I will do x, y, z and give you an update afterwards.” This puts you in a position of movement – and the decider would need to get active if she/he really doesn’t like it. From my experience, leaders who are bored and don’t feel entertained enough, will act with ‘move talk’. Although the behaviour is quite annoying, those leaders are easy to play as you have a lot of freedom doing your style. Just don’t expect them to help, support or appreciate you. Just keep moving.

On your own journey of becoming a leader, you can decide how do you want to use those techniques in your communication style. It is good to know them when presenting and being ‘attacked’. Using these methods to discredit others in the first place, should be deeply considered as you are destroying trust in yourself. People will not like working with you, when they are not sure whether you will ‘attack’ them with communication methods.

You can change the world today

Here is a true story from the 70s. We are in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge are in charge and rule the country brutally. Within 4 years up to two million people die. In those years, a baby is found by a swiss lady working for the red cross. The baby lays abandoned near the road to die. The forces of the Khmer Rouge are close and the lady decides quickly: she rescures the little baby girl, takes her to Switzerland and finds parents for adoption.

Roughly 35 years later, that former baby girl is now a highly educated, healthy woman – with a family of her own. She and her husband visit her roots – being in Cambodia for the first time. They fall in love with the country and the people. They decide to move to Cambodia and start an NGO that helps hundreds of kids and teens every week to get education, food and a vision for their life. Hundreds are blessed today, because one lady back in the 70s takes an abandoned baby girl from the street – without fearing the consequences.

I have heard the story many times. I have been to the NGO in Cambodia. And still, I am in awe every time I think of that storylining again. That one woman fleeing the Khmer Rouge changes a whole generation of Cambodian people today who live in that area.

It leads to the question: Are you aware that the decisions you take today can influence many people in the future?

What if the young professional you are training today, becomes the next head of a big department? What did that person learn from you and most likely will use in his/her leadership style?

What if you could speak potential and positivity in your team mates instead of bringing your emotional ‘bad-hair-day’ to work? You have a position today – no matter how insignificant you might feel. And it is up to you how you fill your work day and interaction with clients and colleagues.

Let’s think of this for a moment: Everytime you consider the long term perspective, a lot of the current hustle becomes irrelevant. The emotionally nagging moments get flattened when you think of what good can come out of it.

You lost an important client? – That’s bad. But how do you react? And who is watching? What kind of an example are you?

You could pick a fight with a colleague – or you surrender and ‘loose’ this one argument for winning a favour in the future?

You have an impact on your team mates everyday. You choose what kind of an example you want to be.

Wanna keep your job?

Interestingly, there are some people who will always tell you how much they have to do, how stressful their job is and when coming to complaining about colleagues and bosses the day doesn’t have enough hours to contain their words. It seems, their whole life is awful and punished by the few people around them. Often I am wondering, whether they are aware that one part of their misery is the constant echo of their stressful workday in their private lives!?

But aside from crashing the atmosphere at home, most likely their job isn’t that bad after all – at least they haven’t changed positions or applied for a new role. Most likely, a huge part of their complain is letting everyone know how important and unexchangeable they are in their position. Which opens room for a change of perspective: how does their boss and colleagues see that person? Does he/she contribute to the team success? What is the effect of the complain of that person towards the team mates?

Even the brightest mind and the deepest content of a colleague is overruled by a bad attitude. Someone complaining much – regardless the topic – stresses the team more than the actual work will contribute. People will see and learn from that behaviour – managing around colleagues whose attitude is counterproductive. In turn, when it comes to team size reduction – these people won’t have anyone speaking up for their important contribution to the team success despite their story of having so much stress and hence, being so important.

So, if you want to be part of the crew kept on board, think of this: your teammates and leads need you to do your job. They need you to take responsibility for your tasks so that they can trust you and your results. Very often you can decide what ‘your job’ involves. One major part is fixing problems. Often these problems won’t be part of your initial job description. But if you are known for a mindset that thinks of solutions instead of complain, your teammates and leads will love to work with you and will do anything, to keep you in the team.

Why does my boss earn so much money?

“Whether my boss is there or not – it doesn’t make any difference”, I recently heard someone say. It displays the missing transparency of what is a boss’ job. One thing that is quickly mentioned in this discussion, is the high salary that one gets for being in a management position. And most likely, the person mentioning the money, is the one trying to reach a management position, too.

Unluckily, this perception of a boss not doing anything useful to the companies cause, leads to many new managers following that same approach – not realizing of how mistaken they are.

So, if you want to become a successful person in a managing role in your company, think of the following ‘to dos’ and check whether you are willing to do them. For sure, you will find people in your organisation that are in management positions not doing the named points. But you can decide for yourself, what kind of leader you want to become.

Take decisions

One essential part of a management position is the responsibility of taking decision. People will come to you with options, but it will be your responsibility of choosing on how to proceed. You can probably recall several ocasions in which the respective leader did not take a decision – and how harmful the result was.

Taking decisions makes you vulnerable in a way. People will know where you stand and what opinion you have. This is why many leaders refrain from taking a decision. Often this comes in shades of procastination or delegation of the decision to a gremium or lower rank.

But lets be clear: part of the salary of a management role is the responsibility for taking decisions – even the controverse and hard ones.

Give feedback

As long as all your team members are working fine, reaching their goals and have no conflicts, feedback sessions are easy. Giving praise and appreciation is the fun part of feedback. But if destructive behaviour of single people are destroying the atmosphere or weak results are torpedating the company results, it becomes tough.

Addressing destructive behaviour can result in conflict Рand conflict needs energy, time and clear guidance. And this is for sure part of the management role and salary. Yet, a lot of managers refrain from walking into this métier. They neither want to spend the time nor their energy in confronting people with feedback. They are rather hoping that the problem somehow goes away.

Unluckily, un-feedbacked bad behaviour will expand and eventually kill the atmosphere; resulting in low cooperation, less delivery quality and in the end high attrition.

What helps is ‘radical candor’ as Kim Scott names it (see her book ‘Radical Candor’). Radical Candor means being totally clear about the content while having the heart of developing the person who gets feedback. No sugar coating. But also no condemnation. Setting clear boundaries and rules for the team and giving freedom for everyone to develop. It’s hard, as it requires a lot of self-reflection of the leader. But it is part of the management role.

Think ahead

Ideally, leaders don’t only focus on the present but have an idea of where they want to be in 5 or 10 years from now. They are not consumed by all problems at hand but have the capacity of thinking several steps ahead. They can anticipate what impact their decision might have.

This ability as well as the time of getting to a well-thought-through decision is part of the their job. As hence, is displayed in their salary.

If you like to have a boss with the named qualities, take action and become that boss yourself.

Air time: how to get more time from your boss

“My boss hardly talks to me.” “I don’t get any air time.” “It’s almost impossible to get an appointment with my boss.” – these complaints can be heard quite often. The consequences are obvious: little interaction leads to little growth in the relationship and, in consequence, the promotion goes to a colleague – that surprisingly got more time of interaction with the boss.

So what can you do in order to get more time with your boss – and especially one-on-one time in which you can proof your abilities and let him/her see of what you are capable of.

Let’s change perspectives for that matter. Why should your boss talk to you?

Think about this question. If you feel it’s his/her f*** job to listen to you – you might be right, but that doesn’t get you what you want. So again: What is it that your boss hears/sees/experiences when she/he is talking to you?

From what I have experienced in and heard of many of those talks, it goes as follows: a lot of complain… then some mediocre chit-chat… and quite often a demand for more responsibility, a new role or even the promotion. The first will be overheard by your boss because there is too much negativity in life anyways. The second is irrelevant for him/her – and by the time you start demanding something, the mind of your boss spins about ending this talk soon. Therefore, let me ask you – and please be honest: What is in this talk for your boss?

Your boss is a human being as well. He/she is working under constant pressure, too. And when you are one of the many interactions that intensifies the daily pressure… it is only human nature when he/she avoids talking to you.

If you could be one of the positive interactions for your boss during that day – she/he will love to talk to you in the future. If he/she can trust, that there will be fun and laughter involved when talking to you: be assured that they are looking forward to talking to you.

But bringing in a positive atmosphere is only a one part. Even more important is: be relevant! Ideally you belong to the solution of your boss’s problem. If you are the go-to-person for problem-solving, your boss will know your capabilities and worth.

Let’s talk about examples: If your boss knows that team building is important but neither have the time nor the creativity to do anything, be the person organizing the team event. Ask her/him what should be on the agenda, bring in ideas and make sure that he/she looks good when opening the event. For sure, be mindful not to become the event planner forever, but use the event to proof your skill set in project management. In addition, use the time bonding with your boss and let him/her feel important.

This type of working with your boss can be done in any change situation in your team or company. Classically, people will resist change – and your boss needs to implement the changed processes and procedures. If you act as a change agent, you can solve some of your boss’s problems without much effort and get the recognition you are thriving for.

Once you are known to your boss, become relevant for a certain topic or skill. Be the one, your boss asks when it is about… tax, regulatory questions, IT functions in your new system – you name it. Either you are already an expert – so leverage on your existing knowledge. Or you are an expert in the making – then find relevant topics around you, get skilled and support your boss.

Most likely, inwardly you sense some unrighteousness: your boss should be the one taking time for you. People development is part of the job description (and salary) of most leading positions in business – therefore, it feels fair if more effort is done on the leadership side. Yet, reality is that most bosses neither take the time nor have the awareness what they could do differently. And that shouldn’t stop you in working with your boss in a way that builds the relationship in a positive way.

Your ugly ego kills your career

That young drama student’s statement moved me: If you go on stage to celebrate yourself, your ugly ego shines through and kills your performance.

We were sitting next to each other at a concert and chatted during the breaks. She was still in university and not a professional, yet, but from what we had seen on stage, I could realize how true her observation was.

The singer’s voice was marvelous. The looks perfectly tuned. Yet, you could feel there was a show ongoing instead of being in love with the singing itself. Although everything was perfect, it did not move the heart – rather the opposite.

With the next song, my mind wandered. Isn’t it the same in business? How much do we dislike colleagues showing off their egos?

And then again … am I showing off at times, too? Isn’t it part of what we do in business? Performing on the stage of numbers, charts and business plans?

There seems to be a fine line between doing a good job and showing off the ego. How can you check yourself on which side of the line you are acting?

One parameter seems to be your intention. Why are you doing what you are doing, e.g. giving feedback, talk about a colleague or praise your own contribution.

When giving feedback, the ideal intention is to let the other person grow and become a better version of himself/herself. Inwardly, you can feel this urge to see the other person prosper. This is why you would even give ‘hard feedback’ – ‘hard’ in the sense that you don’t like giving the feedback, but you know the other person will profit from it. In contrary, when you want to make the other person feel bad – or maybe just feel superior towards the other person – it is a strong indicator that your ego is showing off and that you should refrain from giving feedback.

When you talk about a colleague, question yourself to whom this talk is beneficial. If you speak praise and raise the other person up, it’s a good one. When letting others know, how much better you are … you just might show the ugly side of your ego and you do not even profit from your behaviour.

Business requires that you sometimes tell others what your contribution was in a certain setting. Do it without exaggeration. Be precise. But don’t take all the glory for yourself. If you are that good, others will tell you soon enough without your self-promotion.

Just as the performer on the stage is disliked by the audience for his/her ugly ego, your career will be limited as colleagues and bosses won’t promote you, leave your teams and start avoiding you, if you continue to be a show off.

Successful team leads focus on these topics

It’s a never ending discussion: should you focus on strengths or weaknesses when developing yourself and others?

What is your opinion? How do you develop yourself? And in consequence: how do you develop your team?

Research shows that 20% of your team will disengage from their work, when you as their manager focus solely on their weaknesses. While only 1% disengage when you focus on their strength (see Strengthsfinder 2.0 from Gallup, 2007, p. IV). There is just one thing that is even worse than focussing on weaknesses or strengths: ignoring your people completely. Research shows that 40% of your staff disengages in their work when not being developed at all.

But what are strengths, you can find in yourself? What are the focus areas you could search for in your team?

Here are some examples – pulled together from classical ressources like Johari adjectives, strengthsfinder or MBTI:

  • Straight communication
  • Analytical correctness
  • Love for detail
  • Ambition to win
  • Stick to rules
  • Focus on deadlines
  • Good time management
  • Feeling for team atmosphere
  • Vision for project setup
  • Courage to speak up
  • Persistence in argument

All of these strengths bring in positive and negative situations within a team. Your job as a manager is to find the right spot where each person can shine.

Same is true, if you feel unhappy in your current position. Maybe you cannot work according to your strengths and you need a change. Analyse who you are and what you need – and then find the place where you fit in.

It’s just a small nugget to give you food for thought. Dig deeper through the named sources if you want to develop yourself in this area.

Why anonymous feedback sucks

We need to get out of hiding! Out of the offices with closed doors where everyone knows everything about everyone – except for having the guts to approach people directly.

Lately I used our feedback tool to get feedback from people I worked with the past year. I generally like to develop myself and I love to check third party views with my personal perception – therefore I eagerly waited for the results. But I got very disappointed.

The anonymity of the feedback disconnected the context from my behaviour. Hence, my brain tried to think of situations where the written feedback might fit. But my memory could only rely on its consciously saved content – and who knows whether my brain remembered the right moments this anonymous feedback targeted at!? Chances are high that I might have said or done something not realizing what the effect on other people were. This is why we need feedback in the first place: to become aware of topics we aren’t aware about.

In consequence, I would have loved to get input for change, but after reading the feedback I had no idea how to change what behaviour in which context towards which colleague. I guess, I am not the only one that finds anonymous feedback inadequate for personal development.

But personal development is only one aspect why anonymous feedback was introduced to the HR tool box. Another focus is the feedback giving person. People should be given the chance to voice their opinion. Let’s explore that aspect.

Let’s think back to Kindergarten and school. We were animated to state our opinion. It was important to set boundaries and communicate our will. It is part of a healthy development. Even in university we engaged in discussions – trying to find a common opinion and discover new aspects of a matter.

And then we start a career… all of a sudden voicing our opinion hits a political context and we somehow assume that we will be ‘persecuted’ when we speak up. The classical mindset of ‘Who likes whom’ and ‘who gets the next promotion’ evolves. Everyone focuses on staying silent – and yes, the comments of many managers animate juniors to quickly shut up. As far as I have seen, most people hate this type of communication. And behind closed doors – without ‘the manager’ – everyone is honest and expresses disgust about the dishonest obedience people use just to get the next promotion. And yet, everyone follows the rules.

Instead of fixing the root problem – a toxic working culture in which people are afraid to speak up, or managers don’t ask for feedback openly – tools like ‘anonymous feedback’ were introduced to somehow manage around the toxicity. People can speak up – but only once a year, only in a fixed Q&A report, only anonymous and only when they are asked to fill in the questionnaire.

On paper, companies have a ‘feedback culture’ – but within the teams a deep dissatisfaction with the communication and collaboration can be found. This dissatisfaction leads to disengagement, low quality of deliverables, resistance in walking the extra mile, passive-aggressive behaviour and high attrition.

I am wondering, who wants to build a career like this!? Having people in the team who actually hate certain aspects about the manager’s behaviour but never tell him/her because he/she has a certain position at this moment of time in this particular company.

How can a different approach look like?

Feedback is independent from hierarchy. Feedback must be open, clear and immediate. When feedback is given, it must focus on behaviour – not on a person – and have a connection to a recent situation. The heart and mindset of the feedback giver is as important: strongly rooted in the urge of developing people by feedback – and not telling anyone to be wrong for the sake of feeling superior.

I am well aware that it isn’t easy to develop this feedback culture working in a company that fosters anonymous feedback. But I am certain that we need to get back to the basics when we want to have thriving teams: have an opinion and express it – independent from hierarchy.

And we need to get out of hiding. Out of the offices with closed doors where everyone knows everything about everyone – except for having the guts to approach people directly.

If we truly cared about the people around us – including ourselves – we would be open to receive feedback and we would be bold enough to call out bad behaviour.

[inspired by Kim Scott, Fierce Leadership]

My manager doesn’t care

“My manager doesn’t care about me”, is a complain I hear quite frequently. This is by far not limited to my company or country. Everywhere around the globe young professionals articulate the same concerns about the leadership in their company. Their superiors don’t show interest in people development, career progression or personal well-being – except for themselves, of course.

Interestingly, when I think back to my first years in the workplace, my generation complained about the exact same thing. It’s not a new phenomenon. Yet, the people that complained back then about their managers, are now the generation that is being complained about. Somehow my generation didn’t learn anything from their experiences.

So the question stands out: What can you learn from your managers that don’t care about you? Are you willing to be different?

Different means to actually care about others. About their development, their career and their personal well-being. Are you willing to put down your egoism in which everything needs to rotate around you? This means, even let go of the complain that your managers don’t care enough.

If you don’t like how you being lead, in which way could you be different?

“But I am not in a management position”, is the general answer. Poor excuse, I’d say. In order to change your mindset from “I, me, mine” to “you, yours” you don’t need anything but a firm decision. Whom can you help – without speculating about the potential impact on your promotion? What positive words can you bring into a conversation? Where is the next moment to appreciate a colleague? How do you want to show up in meetings?

Honestly, the whole discussion about “my manager doesn’t care” displays how much you put yourself first, too. You are in no way different than your manager – and once you are in a management role, chances are high, that you won’t care for your people. Because caring for others need to be trained. And it needs to be trained early – ideally in moments when no one is watching and you don’t benefit from it.

I challenge my team with a quite practical task: each meeting room or office will be cleaner when we leave as it was before. And we won’t complain! And we do it even at 10 o’clock at night when no one is watching. Why? Because it is a constant reminder that we need to care for others – although we don’t get applause.

So, how do you challenge yourself? Challenge will hurt a bit. Mostly in your ego. And it is important. The moment you feel this inner pain of “that’s unfair”, “but I wanna be seen” and “I really don’t like doing it right now”, you know that you are on the right way. The path where you keep your ego in check. And that will lead to a position where you are able to care about others wholeheartedly.

So, today is the day. Get your training started by thinking of your colleagues and team members first. What can you do to enhance their day? How can you contribute to their career?