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Category Archives: Clarity

Everybody lies


lie [lahy]
noun

1. a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; an intentional untruth; a falsehood.

2. something intended or serving to convey a false impression; imposture.

I loved the TV show House. Well, the first few seasons of it, anyway.

I’m a nerdy Sherlock Holmes fan, so when the creators of House took the general DNA of Sherlock Holmes and put it into the character of a grumpy addict who also happened to be a brilliant doctor, I was sold. (Plus, Hugh Laurie is a genius as Dr. Gregory House. Go listen to his actual voice – you’re freaked out he’s not American, right?! Because it sounds wrong? But I digress.)

One of the basic tenants of House’s belief system is that everybody lies – particularly patients. In fact, it’s a quote: It’s a basic truth of the human condition that everybody lies. The only variable is about what. The reason why he’s able to diagnose the craziest diseases (but not vasculitis; it’s never vasculitis) is because he doesn’t allow his patients to hide behind the white lies that they tell out of embarrassment or unwise desires to keep something a secret from a loved one.

While most characters on the show think it’s a pathetic way to live, it seems to serve House well. I mean, he’s miserable and all that (addict!), but in terms of being a successful diagnostician – it’s the only way to go.

Part of the reason why House hhouseas his worldview is because he lies to himself constantly. By projecting his tendency to lie to himself unto other people, he therefore justifies his actions and can wallow in his misery.

Other characters get mad at House about his worldview because it so often turns out to be true and makes them question their beliefs. They lie to themselves by pretending a situation or person is a certain way, and then are disappointed when the picture they’ve painted in their minds is the opposite.

So why do I bring up House?

I bring this up because people in the working world need to accept the fact that everybody lies. Not to the extent that House believes, but it’s there. In varying degrees…it’s there.

  • We lie about what happened on a project: “I have no idea who approved that approach, but it doesn’t sound like something I would say.”
  • We lie about our motivations: “I’m taking that job to make a difference! Oh, does it pay more? I had no idea.”
  • We lie about leaving a horrible job: “Next time she says something like that, I’m gonna quit!.” [she says something like that] “Next time…”
  • We lie about why we rated an employee too high: “It has NOTHING to do with the fact I think they deserve a higher raise.”
  • We lie about why we rated an employee too low: “It has NOTHING to do with the fact that this employee proved I was wrong about something.”
  • We lie about employment decisions: “HR said I had to fire you. If it were up to me, I would never do that….”

We lie to cope with tough situations. We lie to cover our butts. We lie to spare feelings or soften the blow. We lie to connect to others. We lie to look smarter than we are. We lie to look dumber than we are. We lie to get ahead at work. We lie to pick our battles.

We lie. We lie. We lie.

I want to make this next point loud and clear, okay: THERE ARE DEGREES OF LYING AND LYING 100% OF THE TIME IS A DICK MOVE, SO DON’T DO IT. I do not, in any way, condone a sociopathic narcissist who lives his/her life telling one lie after another.

Got it? Good.

Some lies make it necessary to live in a society. If we were 100% transparent all the time, it might work – but only if we could tell the truth about never taking anything personally. And we know how much of a lie that can be, right? On the flip side, society can’t survive if we lie 100% of the time either. That’s why we all walk a tightrope. Most of the time, we don’t even realize we’re lying.

I am not a miserable, paranoid person. I don’t think everyone is out to lie every time they open their mouth. I am constantly awestruck by our ability as humans to show compassion, love, support, selflessness – all of it. I tend to think overall, humans are pretty damn cool and have the capacity to be amazing. And we also have the capacity to lie. A lot. About lots of things – most of them tiny, stupid things that don’t matter at all. (Hell, I could be lying right now – how would you know?)

So how do we deal with all the pretty little liars out there? Do we give up and start lying more? Of course not.

Try this. Give people some grace. Give yourself some grace.

When you catch someone in a lie, find out why. Have you created a safe environment? Or do people feel like they have to lie in order to survive around you? Do you fail to reward truthiness? Do you only award people who tell you what they want to hear? Are you, yourself, as truthful as you could be? Are you honest with others? Are you honest with yourself?

And if a person continues to show a pattern of lying despite the work you’ve done to establish trust, then get them out of your life. You are under no obligation to lie to yourself to condone constant lying that hurts you or your organization.

Everybody lies.

The best way to survive and thrive is to acknowledge that…and then move on from there to build relationships with people who matter so they tell the truth when it’s most important.

The most common lie is that which one lies to himself: lying to others is relatively an exception.
~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Truth begins in lies.
~ Gregory House, MD

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2016 in Clarity, Self-Awareness

 

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Resolutions and the wisdom of Boo

Some folks hate the “On This Day” feature of Facebook. Personally, I kind of like it. It’s interesting to see how little life seems to change year to year…or how much change can happen over 5 years.

On today’s look back from “On This Day”, I came across this post from December 28, 2015. It was about our dog, Bamboo (Boo for short).

She’s got a skin condition called sebaceous adenitis. It’s primarily cosmetic, but can lead to skin infections, which means she’s on medication AND we give her a weekly baby oil bath (the process takes about 2.5 hours). She does not enjoy this process.

Through it all, she has remained a friendly, goofy, loving, trusting, stubborn, impish, challenging, fuzzy goofball.

Boo’s rules for a happy life:

  • Nap when you get sleepy
  • If someone is in your spot, stare at them until they move
  • Smack your food dish until someone puts something in it (Or tells you to stop it…but only stop after the third threat)
  • Be too cute for people to stay mad at you
  • Snuggle with the people you love
  • Play with your toys – especially when other people want to be too serious
  • Walk away from people who annoy you

I think this post is going to stand as my resolutions for 2016 and beyond.

Boo is pretty smart for a dog.

Happy New Year, everyone!

IMG_3307

Christmas Day 2015

 

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2015 in Clarity

 

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Who is your feedback for…really?

Last night, I sang in a holiday concert with my local community chorus. I love singing, especially Christmas music, and especially with other people who love it, too. We’re not professional or anything, but we have a great time and typically, that’s all that matters.

After the concert, one of the audience members came up to tell me he thought we did great and he liked my solos (I had solos. I’ve got a music background, but that’s not super relevant to this post). I thanked him and said I hope he enjoyed the concert. He then proceeded to tell me that I should really pin my hair back because it’s distracting. And then walked off.

Um…thanks?

This incident wasn’t horrible – I think the guy thought he was giving helpful advice. And he really did enjoy the concert. It just sounded too much like other “feedback” I’ve gotten in my career, especially as a speaker. I’ve yet to speak anywhere (at a conference, as a facilitator internally, etc.) where appearance wasn’t brought up in the feedback. That could be shoes, clothes, whatever. And then there are the comments of “I didn’t learn anything new.”

I bring this up not to rant, nor do I begrudge those folks their right to share their thoughts. After all, I ask for that feedback, right? I bring it up because leaders and employees talk about feedback all the time but I don’t think it’s working. not-listening

Employees say they want feedback, then get surly when they get the truth.

Leaders say they give feedback, yet so often it’s either too vague or too “nice” to make a difference.

Feedback doesn’t work when it’s done with the wrong intentions. Employees who ask for feedback only if it’s positive are just looking for an ego stroke. Leaders who give vague feedback are just trying to check a box without having to have the difficult conversations. Even worse are the leaders who give only negative (please don’t try to call it “constructive” all the time) feedback because they feel threatened by a strong employee.

Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re thinking about asking for and/or giving feedback:

  • Be specific about what you’re looking for: a blanket request for feedback results in all manner of crazy responses. Instead, give the responders some context. “I’m trying to improve my eye contact in meetings. How did I do?” Or “In my last project, I felt like I struggled a bit with organization. How might I get better at that?”
  • Make the feedback actionable by the recipient: When you’re giving feedback to someone, make sure it’s something they can control. Telling someone the lights were bad in the ballroom doesn’t help. They don’t do the lighting. Nor is it helpful to give feedback about the way the finance department handled the hand-off to them in their project. Unless they run the finance department, they can’t really do anything about that. Instead, you can give them suggestions on how to better prepare the materials so that finance is ready to accept the handoff.
  • Find the trends in the feedback: We’re human beings – we like to think we’re AMAZING. And perfect. And special unicorns. So when we get feedback that stings, we look for reasons to reject it.  We think that person doesn’t like us, or they don’t know us, or they don’t know what they’re talking about. But when 5 people tell you similar things about your performance or behavior, you might want to take it to heart a bit. Look for the repeated themes and take the feedback with an open mind.
  • Check yo-self: Why do you want to give someone feedback? Is their behavior a career-limiting issue? Or are they just doing something differently from how YOU would do it? Really think about the intent of your feedback. It should be about helping the other person reach their full potential – not to make you look and/or feel better.

When you can ask for and receive feedback without ulterior motive, and with a pure heart, you will have reach feedback nirvana. Until then, just keep an eye on your motivation.

You may be surprised by how well the feedback works.

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2015 in Clarity, Engagement

 

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Expanding horizons

This is my plea that everyone – employees and leaders alike – learns how to think outside of themselves.

That they look beyond their personal role to see how they impact the world around them.

That they try to improve the processes they work within.

That they reach out to those they work with to offer support when needed.

That they reach out to those they work with to offer a kick in the butt when needed.

That they step back and think about how the offhanded comment they made in a crowded room might have been interpreted.

Earth_GlobeThat they realize that they made a positive difference in the lives of the people they interact with.

That they see their value in the world and know it spreads beyond those who see them every day.

That they recognize their power to influence…and use their power for good.

That they learn how to say “no” so that others say, “I understand.”

That they win with humility.

That they lose with grace.

That they never lose their love of learning – or that they discover it in the first place.

That they remember that every single person they interact with is going through something in their lives that others don’t know.

That they see the potential of the team, organization, and community that they are a part of – and want to help everyone reach that potential.

That they want to build, not destroy.

That they learn that success comes in many forms.

It is my hope that everyone – employees and leaders alike – realize it’s not all about them.

It’s about us.

 
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Posted by on November 17, 2015 in Authenticity, Clarity, Self-Awareness, Teamwork

 

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Measuring What Matters (the missing piece)

Leaders:

If you know what a KPI is, give yourself a pat on the back. If you have a balanced scorecard, a visual management system, a dashboard, or some other way to track said KPIs, even better. With all this talk of Big Data and ROI and other data-loving phrases, you probably feel like a big damn deal. Bully for you.

Now – what if I were to go to your team and ask, what are your KPIs? Would they be able to answer?

Could they point to the balanced scorecard and confidently explain what it means? Can they describe how the data is trending? Tie their day-to-day work to the metrics?

If the answer to those questions is NO, then you are failing to measure what truly matters.

Business has fallen in love with metrics and scorecards and trends and graphs. Analysts are the new rock stars, the secret weapon of a strategic plan. Throw in the ability to build a visual tool, and that analyst becomes The One (like Neo, or Eddie Murphy in that awful movie with the bald kid). Executives want to see pictures, a snapshot, a cross-section of what’s going on in the business. It needs to look cool, to look smart. [Think I’m exaggerating? Look at how much infographics have exploded recently. You can argue chicken or egg – but leaders want them.]

Visit www.savagechickens.com!

Unfortunately, these metrics often fail to make a meaningful connection to the people who actually do the work. They report numbers because they have to in order to make the pretty graphs, but then they turn back to their “real work” and don’t think about what the data is telling them. They are just trying to keep the work moving and ensure they meet their deadlines.

That’s where the leader comes in.

If the metrics truly matter, you will talk about them. Every day. Every team meeting. Every project launch. Every project wrap up.

If the numbers tell you a story about the business, share that story with your employees. Why the numbers are important. What they tell us about our impact on the business, the customers, the employees.

We leaders pretend like it’s the employees fault they don’t know what the metrics are. For goodness’ sake, we posted them on the shared drive!  What more do those darn employees want?!

Employees want – nay, need – context. And employees want – nay, need – their leaders to be the primary voice to provide that context. Supposedly leaders know what their employees do and the day-to-day reality of their world. Who better to be able to provide that line of sight from the work to the metric? Who better to explain why these metrics are helping the business improve? Who better to motivate employees to reach the target state?

At some point, you will notice that the metrics are not moving, or are moving in the wrong direction, or don’t seem to tell the right story. So what happens then?

That’s where the employees come in.

Your employees can help you understand whether your metrics are telling you what you really need to know about the business. They will share whether they think the KPIs make sense, and whether the targets are realistic…or even important. Your employees are the conduit through which the metrics come to life.

So the next time you start pontificating on the importance of your scorecard, think about the last time you looked at it with your team. If it’s been too long, stop pontificating and start communicating.

THAT’S what matters.

Metrics are for doing, not for staring. Never measure just because you can. Measure to learn. Measure to fix.

– Stijn Debrouwere

 

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2015 in Clarity

 

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‘Do you want to play Questions?’ (your secret weapon)

Have you ever read/saw Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead?  It’s an amazing play turned into a very good movie about two of the throwaway characters in Hamlet whose claim to fame is that they are outwitted by the brooding prince and executed in England.

In one scene, the two play a game called “Questions” – they must, not so surprisingly, only speak in the form of questions. Hesitation, statements, or non sequiturs are not allowed.  If someone goofs, the other person scores a point (or forfeits, or however you want to play it).

In the play, the scene is meant to further illustrate the limits of language and futility in seeking existential knowledge.  But what it also does is remind us of the POWER of asking questions.

As leaders and as employees, we can benefit from playing our own version Questions when holding important conversations or when confronted with a potentially sensitive situation.  These conversations are filled with potential land mines – your innocent statement or observation could set the other person off because you didn’t know where they were coming from.If-you-ask-cp1weq

Forcing yourself to focus on questions rather than statements has a number of benefits.  You signal you’re willing to listen. Good questioning invites the other person in.  Questioning indicates you’re seeking understanding, rather than imposing your interpretation of events. When you ask questions, you actually have to listen to what the other person is saying, so that your next question makes sense in the context of the conversation.  And an added bonus, asking questions increases the chance that the other person might find their own solution.

There is, however, an art to using the questioning technique effectively.  After all, simply asking “How did that make you feel?” or “So you’re saying that customer was rude to you?” can sound condescending if that’s all you say.  Just follow the Questions rules:

  • No statements: Move the conversation forward with a question rather than your own statement. [And yes, I know that you will have to use SOME statements.  Just try to minimize them.]
  • No repetition: Stay engaged, pay attention.  If you find yourself repeating the other person’s words back to them, or ask the same question over and over, RE-ENGAGE.
  • No synonyms: It’s just a fancy way of repeating.  Show off.
  • No rhetoric: The intent of the questions is to seek clarity, not to stump the other person.  Does this mean every question you ask will be answered? No. But you should give them a fair chance.

So the next time you are in a scenario that could get messy, try following Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s example.  Give yourself a deduction every time you break the rules and see how it turns out.  You might be surprised that all it took to defuse the situation was a few good questions.

“Words, words. They’re all we have to go on.”
― Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2014 in Clarity, Managing Up, Self-Awareness, Skillz

 

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Secret to success? Answer the question that’s asked

Business meetings can be evil things – long, aimless, soul-sucking gatherings where little is accomplished yet much is said.

You can point to a number of reasons:

  1. No one made an agenda
  2. Everyone is on their smartphones, checking email
  3. Someone brought donuts

Okay…maybe it’s not the donuts.  But if you pay attention, you’ll notice a pattern as people talk (and talk and talk).

No one answers any questions.

Oh sure, when someone asks a question, another person inevitably says something that’s supposed to sound like an answer.  There may be big words, emphatic gestures, perhaps even an attempt to gain buy-in (“Right?”).  Rarely, though, is the answer one that matches the question.

And yet…every so often…a hero emerges.

Someone who heard the question, considered it, and…miracle of miracles…ANSWERED IT ON ITS OWN MERITS.

This person looks like a freakin’ genius.

IF-YOU-COULD-8bclg7

Why would something as simple as answering a question matter?

  • It shows you listened: By addressing the concerns of the asker, you demonstrated an ability to pay attention rather than sing that little song to yourself in your head.  Listening = good.  Singing SexyBack in your head = bad.
  • It shows you care: Okay, it doesn’t make you a saint or anything, but addressing someone else’s concerns rather than advancing your own agenda is perceived as teamwork, leadership, and/or smartness.
  • It moves the meeting forward: Think about the circular nature of most business meetings. Sally says a general statement about how a process doesn’t work, Johnny asks what specifically isn’t working, Ted launches into a monologue about the state of technology in Western Europe…and then Sally mentions how the process doesn’t work.  If Sally or Ted would have said, “Well, Johnny, when you launch the workflow, it goes to the wrong person,” there’s a good chance the group could move on to solutions.  Instead, Ted got on a soapbox and Sally is rending her garments, keening about the process. [Ed. Note: Drama much?]

So how do you make sure you answer the question asked?

  • Pay attention: I know, right?  Be more obvious.  But it’s the truth.  And if there is an awkward pause because you suspect someone asked you a question and you weren’t listening, admit it and ask them to repeat the question.
  • Rephrase: Oldie but goodie.  This doesn’t mean you REPEAT the question, especially if it’s short (“so, you’re asking me if I ski?”). If the question is complex or not well-asked (it happens), take a moment to say something like, “I want to be sure I understand what you’re asking..”
  • Keep it short: The longer you talk, the more likely you are to get off on tangents.  Stick to the point and make yourself shut up once you’ve addressed the matter at hand.
  • Confirm: After you finish answering the question, ask, “Did that answer your question?” That way, the asker can get additional clarity without having to interrupt the next person who starts talking.

I know.  It’s pretty obvious.  But as we all know, common sense isn’t always common practice.

Next time you’re in a meeting, pay attention to the questions asked and the answers given.  Chances are, the person who actually answers the question that is asked is on the fast track to success.

Have a question you want answered? Ask it in the comments!

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2014 in Clarity, Executive Presence, Skillz

 

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