Three ways in complex times to ensure you’re in the same conversation with others (April 2, 2020 issue)

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I hope you find this week’s actionable insights relevant to your life in these complex times.

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Master difficult conversations

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Covid-19 and the end of the Billionaire/Navy Seal exemplar

In books about leadership and high performance, billionaires and Navy Seals are everywhere. This billionaire shows you how to optimize your energy. That team of Navy Seals demonstrates group flow states. Sexy sells, and publishers and authors assume that you and I consider these the sexiest role models.

At least up until now.

I hope that Covid-19 changes this. Isn’t it time to give billionaires and Navy Seals a rest? Can we let tomorrow’s examples of leadership and performance come from the health professions, medical supply logistics, the quality movement, grocery store supervisors, and home delivery?

Do this, and we’ll learn new ways of coordinating action, building trust, and embodying our deepest virtues.

In stressful times, ensure you’re in the same conversation as everyone else

Classic Seinfeld moment: Jerry and Elaine are in the diner. Jerry’s describing a bizarre incident from his day. Elaine is talking about something else. Neither is listening to the other. They go back and forth like this for 30 seconds. It’s so ridiculous that we laugh.

This happens constantly in organizations. You’re in a meeting with five other people. You think you’re in the same conversation, but you’re actually in five different conversations. One person is brainstorming. Another is assessing a past event. Yet another is negotiating what to do next. And so on.

Isn’t it hard enough to understand each other when we’re in the same conversation?

Name the Conversation, a leadership micro-habit

Example: People hear you say three words, interpret it as a request, and then rearrange their priorities to make you happy. Three weeks later, you discover this and say, “…but I was just thinking out loud!” 

If this has happened to you, you’re not alone. As you rise in the organization, this misinterpretation occurs more quickly and by more people. You think you’re exploring possibilities. Everyone else thinks you want something done.

There’s a conversational micro-habit perfect for this situation. I call it Name the Conversation. Here are the steps:

  1. Name the Possibility Conversation. Before you think out loud, say “This is a possibility, not a request” or “Let’s have a possibility conversation about this.” People will put down their To Do Lists and join you in imagining “what if.”
  2. Name the Request. Before you ask someone to do something, say “I have a request.” This will signal to people that it’s time to listen for the what, when and why of what you are asking—and ask for clarification if they don’t understand.
  3. Self-correct. If you forget steps 1 and 2 and leap into the conversation (which at first you will do 98% of the time out of habit), no worries. Simply pause the conversation and clarify your intent. “Just to be clear, I’m making a request.” Or “Let me clarify: right now, I’m not asking you to do anything. Let’s just explore options.”

Cheerfully real,
Amiel Handelsman

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