That time he didn’t cancel his request [New Post]

When historians look back at my son’s outburst after I wiped his nose with a Kleenex (described last week), they will highlight his rage and my awkward response. A classic case of resenting unwanted help.

But what if things had turned out differently? What if I had found a way to put the mucus back in his nose—and keep it there? (You managerial experts know why: first attract, then retain). And what if, during the time I was prototyping this innovation, my son had changed his mind yet not informed me?

“Daddy, I don’t want the mucus in my nose!”

History books would have recorded this incident differently. Chapter 7: An Uncanceled Request Starts a War. In this rendering, my son would be the villain, and I would be the furious one.

Sound familiar? It’s the most frustrating thing. You get something done for another person. You take care to deliver “to spec.” Then, when you give it to them, they say, “Thanks, but I didn’t need that after all.”

People give this different names: “He’s jerking me around.” “She’s doesn’t care.” “I don’t trust him.” “She is oblivious.”

Or simply WTF!

These responses are understandable yet unproductive.

Ascribing motivation to the other person in this situation has two flaws:

  1. You don’t know their intent, only what they did.
  2. It’s not actionable. What are you going to do, say to them “Stop jerking me around?” How’s that going to turn out?

I prefer to call their behavior failing to cancel a request. It’s both more accurate and more actionable.

Here’s what I mean by canceling a request: They ask you to do something, then change their mind. The responsible thing for them to do is immediately reach out to you and say, “You know that thing I asked you to do? I just learned that I don’t need it any more. I’m canceling my request.” They can apologize, add a bunch of niceties, and so on, but the key is to say “request cancelled!”

Benefits

Canceling a request has three benefits:

  1. You can redirect your energies to other commitments.
  2. You know they respect your time so you feel better—maybe not happy, but also not resentful.
  3. They don’t have to avoid you in the hallway.

The same holds true if you are the one canceling the request.

Upshot

  1. If people fail to cancel a request to you, don’t call them names. Ask them to cancel their requests in the future.
  2. If you do this to others, stop. Instead, as soon as you know you don’t need something, let them know.

Why people resent your help [new post]

Helping others succeed in their jobs requires more than generosity. You need to understand what matters to them. For example, have you ever started counseling a direct report about his career and then noticed that he wanted to bolt the room? Or given a peer resources for her big project, then found yourself on the receiving end of a stiff arm?

That’s not fun. Surely, there is better way to give people the help they actually want. What is it?

The Case of the Runny Nose

I got a clue to this mystery a few months ago with my then four-year-old son. His nose was running, but he wasn’t doing anything about it. Like a good parent, I grabbed a Kleenex and gently wiped his nose. Easy peasy, right?

Not according to my son.

“Daddy, I want my mucus back.”

Ugh.

“It’s in the tissue.” I opened it up to show him.

“No, Daddy. I want my mucus back in my nose!”

That’s a new one, I thought. How do you get mucus back in the nose? I starting racking my brain for possible methods.

“Daddy you are stupid!”

Could you simmer down? I’m trying to figure out a way to defeat gravity and reverse your body’s natural physiological processes?

“Daddy why are you so stupid?

“Look, Z, I know you’re upset. Give me a minute.” Doesn’t he know that I’m working hard on his original request? I don’t have time for new questions. Plus, I haven’t yet figured out why I am so stupid.

“Daddy why are you a butt face?”

“Z, you know that in our family that’s not how we talk about people.” This isn’t going well. And I’ve lost my train of thought.

“Daddy I don’t like you.”

No good deed goes unpunished. 

I grabbed the Kleenex, marched into the kitchen, and threw it into the trash can.

Surely there is a better way to give people the help they want.

My mistake in this situation (one of many) was to wipe my son’s nose without first asking him. I acted physically without first making an offer. My son had no opportunity to signal whether or not he wanted my help. Because I didn’t make an offer, he had no freedom to accept my offer, decline it, or make a counteroffer (“Hand me the tissue. I’ll wipe it myself”). He experienced me as acting on him unilaterally rather than with him in a spirit of mutuality.

Lessons

I was reminded of five principles of helping people through offers.
  1. People like to choose whether or not to receive help.
  2. Making an offer gives them an opportunity to choose.
  3. To make an offer powerful, ground it in what matters to them—something they actually want or care about.
  4. There is no promise without an acceptance. Offer + Acceptance = Promise
  5. The other person has four legitimate ways to respond to your offer: accept, decline, counteroffer (a different What and/or When), and promise to reply later.

So the next time you are tempted to counsel someone about their career—or wipe their nose—ask yourself: what is a powerful offer I could make right now, and do I think they will be open to it?

Stop Agreeing To Unclear Requests [New Post]

Unclear requests wreak havoc in organizations, families, friendships, and civic life.

This is particularly true when the one receiving the request blindly says “yes.”

What is an unclear request? It’s when you ask me to do something but are vague about what you want.

Scenario A: Omission of the “What.”

Imagine that you are the design manager for a team creating a new product for the home refrigerator. When attached to the fridge, it senses when the door isn’t closed all the way and emits a sound. When Henry Homeowner hears this sound, he knows to go back and find out what’s blocking the door.

I’m your lead designer, and we have a preliminary conversation about the product and what it will do. You close by saying to me, “Give me something by Thursday at 5pm.”

I think to myself, Hmm, I don’t really know what “something” means, but that’s what they pay me to do, and I don’t want to look stupid by asking a question. So I say, “You got it, boss.”

I work hard on this for three days, and on Thursday afternoon give you what you asked for. Ten minutes later, the phone rings. “That is not what I asked for” you say with audible frustration. I feel dejected and angry. What a waste of time!

Scenario B: Omission of the “When.” 

Same product, people, and situation. But this time, you say, “Give me a 3D prototype with basic specs next week.”

When I hear this, I understand what will satisfy you and know that it’s urgent. So I shift my schedule around to allow me to get you the prototype by next Friday at noon, five hours before your deadline.

On Wednesday morning, you knock on my door. “Where’s the prototype?” you ask.

My throat tightens, and pressure mounts in my forehead. In a low apologetic voice, I reply, “I’m working on it.”

The frown on your face tells me that this isn’t the answer you were looking for. “I told you I needed it this week. We’re already halfway through the week.”

Oops.

Scenario C: Omission of the “What” and the “When.” 

Same product, people, and situation. This time, you say, “Give me something ASAP.”

Although I don’t know what will satisfy you or when you want it, I agree to the request.

What happens next: as the saying goes, I get my just dessert.

Who messed up? 

When it’s time for the team’s annual Broken Trust Awards, which one of us gets to walk away with a medal?

The answer, of course, is both. You receive the Fuzzy Duddy Award for making the unclear request. I get the Dummy Award for accepting it.

What can I do differently?

The obvious answer is to resent you for being so unclear. You’re the manager. You’re supposed to know what you’re talking about. Stop jerking me around!

Or, I can own up to my part of the situation. The next time you make an unclear request, I choose to do one of the following:

  • Ask for clarification. “I get what you’re looking for and want to make sure I understand when exactly you want it. You said ‘next week.’ When during the week did you have in mind?”
  • Propose something more specific. “OK, so you want something by Thursday at 5pm. I want to make sure that we are on the same page in terms of what you want. If I gave you a table of features and benefits, will this work for you, or did you have something else in mind?”
  • Promise to propose something more specific. “I’ve got the timeframe and understand that it may not be clear exactly what you’re looking for. What I’d like to do is take two hours and come back to you with a proposal for what I’ll have for you by Thursday at 5pm. Will this work for you?”

 

Episode 67: Lies, Authority, And Assessments With Chris Chittenden [The Amiel Show]

How is a lie different from an ungrounded assessment, and why does this matter in leadership? Where does a leader’s authority come from? What happens when you provide a well-grounded assessment that doesn’t matter to anyone listening?

I have a hunch that your answers to these questions will help you understand the peculiar and disturbing state of politics in the United States today.

This week on the podcast, Chris Chittenden joins me to make sense of these questions. Chris and I previously spoke about real accountability. This time, he helps me use his powerful ontological lens to understand the age of Trump and simultaneously provide clarity about leadership in organizations.

Highlights

  • 12:00 It’s easy to mix up assertions and assessments. Don’t do it!
  • 17:00 Assessments help us see what’s good or bad for us
  • 20:00 Five steps to grounding an assessment
  • 30:00 Obamacare, shifting standards, and the meaning of words
  • 43:00 Certainty, autonomy and the fall of empires
  • 50:00 The President’s conditional promises
  • 1:00:00 Who actually gives the President authority?
  • 1:05:00 The role of “fake news” in shaping assertions and assessments
  • 1:25:00 When a country’s executive function has a damaged prefrontal cortex

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Episode 57: Servant Leadership At Zingerman’s With Ari Weinzweig [The Amiel Show]

Ari Weinzweig

In 2003 Inc magazine called the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses the “coolest small business in America.”

Step inside the Zingerman’s Deli or any of its other businesses, and you’ll quickly see why. There is a buzz in the air. An aliveness. Customers and employees alike seem genuinely happy to be there. It’s as though there are secret air ducts bringing dopamine (the “feel good” neurotransmitter”) into the building and taking cortisol (a stress hormone) out.

And the food? Well, it is amazing. And world famous. In 2007 Bon Appetit gave its Lifetime Achievement award (an honor rarely bestowed—past winners include Alice Waters and Julia Child) to Zingerman’s cofounders, Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw.

From a financial perspective, Zingerman’s pulls in $50 million a year. As my father would say, “not too shabby!”

Zingerman’s has a special meaning to me. It’s in my hometown, Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Deli opened during my teenage years when trying to fit an overstuffed roast beef sandwich into the mouth became a thrilling challenge. Today, every time we go back to Ann Arbor to visit, I take my sons there two or three times–even if the visit is only a few days long!

As a customer, I’m satisfied. As a student of leadership, I’m curious: what goes on behind the scenes to make this business so special? How do the leaders treat employees? How do employees interact with each other? What are the rules of the game that make the outcomes so extraordinary?

Cofounder Ari Weinzweig has explored these questions in a series of books called Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading. The latest just came out and is called A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to the Power of Beliefs in Business.

In this week’s episode, Ari and I talk widely and deeply about all of this–and share some laughs along the way.

I think you’ll enjoy Ari’s clarity, energy, and Chicago accent. Please do the show a favor and share with friends who love food, care about leadership, and/or enjoy feeling alive.

Highlights

  • 18:00 Treating staff like customers – each one is different!
  • 23:00 Ari pours water for thirsty employees
  • 27:00 Peer-to-peer versus parental relationships
  • 34:00 Anarcho-capitalism
  • 40:00 Energizing the workplace
  • 46:30 Front-line employees know the numbers and manage the business
  • 52:00 Determining who will manage is a peer-to-peer decision
  • 1:00:00 Ari uses daily journaling to stop ruminating
  • 1:02:30 The Three Good Things exercise

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The more we use authority, the less effective it is.

–Ari Weinzweig, Co-founder of Zingerman’s  Tweet this quote

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Episode 56: Charles Feltman On The Four Kinds Of Trust [The Amiel Show]

Charles_Feltman_2016_3 (2)

When you say that you “trust” someone–or that someone else “trusts” you–what exactly do you mean? We toss the word “trust” around left and right. We make major life decisions based on it. But what does the word actually mean?

If you want to improve relationships and outcomes at work and beyond, a simple unified view of “trust” just doesn’t cut it.

According to this week’s guest, Charles Feltman, there are four different dimensions to trust: competence, reliability, sincerity, and care.

What happens when you trust someone’s reliability but not their sincerity? Or how about when someone trusts your sincerity but considers you incompetent at a particular activity?

The distinctions that Charles offers in this interview–and in his wonderful book The Thin Book of Trust–can literally change how you make sense of your leadership. And life.

Please listen in and share with friends.

Highlights

  • 9:30 Who gets to decide how trustworthy you are?
  • 16:30 The big problem with the trust/distrust distinction
  • 18:30 Four assessments of a person’s trustworthiness
  • 22:30 What if you’re competent and sincere, but not reliable?
  • 28:30 Drive by requests
  • 40:00 Enemies of trust in sincerity—telling probable truths
  • 51:30 Let key people know where you are not competent
  • 56:00 Approaching someone you don’t trust
  • 1:02:00 What if you sense someone doesn’t trust you?

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Trust is making something I value vulnerable to another person’s actions.

–Charles Feltman  Tweet this quote

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