“I’m leaving” and then the confessions flow. Several times I’ve transitioned from a company to another company and I’ve learned more about true feelings in these moments than I had during my entire tenure. People, all the sudden, become friendlier. They confided things that had happened at the company or ways that they had felt. And then when I arrived at the new place, the same thing happened. The “let me tell you” comes out. One by one, individuals stop by the door or the desk to bring me up to speed.
I call this phenomenon Confessions at the Door.
You’ve experienced it. I bet you have. Even at home, that neighbor you never knew very well until the For Sale sign went up in your yard – you now know everything about their family, life, and future aspirations.
At work, just the other day, I had a client tell me about all the people making confessions to them before she left to take a new job. They talked about changing meetings or resolving issues that they felt strongly about – yet, they had never said anything to the individuals that could actually help shift the experiences.
As we talked about how she would enter her new position, the wheels began to turn and she mentioned that confessions were already happening there, too. She had shown up for a meeting and people caught her privately in the hall and began to share about history and the ruts of the organization.
How do we shift these untimely confessions?
I’ve often wondered: what makes it so safe for people to share how they truly feel with us once we are leaving?
Most times, these thoughts and feelings would’ve helped improve team morale, company communication, provide insight and guidance that would have steered us into a healthier culture. And we would have felt more supported and less alone on an island. Isolated in our experience. Feeling that no one cared nor noticed.
So what do we need to do to have earlier confessions?
Let’s think about the types of environments we’re creating in our meetings and conversations. Everyone brings unique giftedness and perspective and it’s up to us to draw it into the conversation. Create culture that welcomes voices into the conversation. It’s also up to each one of us to find ways to share our voices without creating defensiveness or placing blame.
How the Cortisol Spike Happens
We must each take ownership of what we’re creating and how we show up. Often, leaders will hide behind their own personal style of conducting business, or personally communicating. This doesn’t seem to work anymore. As difficult as it may be, we have to consider the people that are on the receiving end of our communication. We have to be willing to shift in our style in order to create a more connected interaction.
As team members, we can’t solely blame leadership anymore. Our water cooler conversations aren’t helping anyone. In fact, they only serve to heighten the experience without resolution or problem solving. We are retriggering the cortisol spike in each other with every visitation to the past, rather than using the energy to move our organization or culture forward.
If the past didn’t work – how do we make it better? All of us.
We must ask questions. Constantly ask questions. This supports a more trusting environment.
We have to be open to questions. Telling others how to do something can save time but it will not teach them how to think through problems so that they can do it themselves.
We have to be aware of our landing on others. Our words, tone, tempo, and non-verbals will color our interactions and our interpretations.
We have to think in terms of WE rather than You or I. What do we need? What do we think? What are we willing to commit to?
It truly is an ongoing process – one that I am still mastering.
When we co-create this environment and experience, the “too late” confessions will become fewer. People will talk sooner rather than later. We will teach others that this is how we choose to interact and be in relationship. Water coolers will be met with supportive and encouraging conversations and doors won’t be needed for confessions. Everyone impacts connection, conversations, and communication. We are creating the experience together. If we think about each other, we will create the trusting, more open environment that we desire and everyone deserves.
Think about all the times you have been in a meeting and you ask a question, only to have absolutely no one respond. They are sitting there looking at you with blank stares. You know that they are thinking something – anything. Your heart may begin to race – your mind begins to swirl – and you just wish that one person would lend their voice to the conversation.
What could be getting in the way?
People need time to think. Internal and external processors are quiet for different reasons. External processors may not want to blurt and internal processors may need time to formulate thoughts. So, how do you make blurting okay and provide space for thinking? One possibility is sending the agenda ahead of time. Then, let’s think about it and formulate some questions or come with information that supports the conversation.
Empowerment can happen on both sides of this equation. Calling into the Circle!
People seem to want a seat at the table without recognizing the responsibility of being called into the circle. Often, clients say “I don’t want to be called out.”
And yet, if we have been invited to the table, we need to bring our energy, voice and ideas.
And sometimes as leaders or facilitators, when the wall of silence hits us, we either move on without a response or we resort to calling on people randomly. We either have those go to people that we know will talk or we call on those quiet people that haven’t said anything because we have an inclination that they have something of value to say. This can land on a person as being called out.
You’re not getting called out – You’re getting called in.
As a leader, you’re not calling out – You’re calling in.
Meetings take a lot of our time and can be vital – And we need these sessions to be productive. At ARTiculate: Real&Clear, we coach that the goal is to be more efficient and effective. This happens by calling people into the circle.
So, let’s be prepared to call people into the conversation and as a meeting attendee, let’s be prepared to participate and be heard. Let’s dialogue with each other rather than resigning ourselves to a monologue.
And if you find that, as a leader, your voice is dominating the meeting without hearing others, we can help you with that.
As leaders, we can be talking at others without taking the time to hear them. Listening is a powerful a tool for calling others into the conversation. Sometimes, we already have our minds made up and we merely want to inform them of a decision or a strategic direction. Sometimes we ask questions and they know that our minds are already made up. So. Let’s provide space for questions.
Sometimes, as participants, we have learned not to think out loud for fear of having our idea shut down. By accepting all responses as options, rather than shutting down the creative strategic thought process, we may find more meaningful dialogue. The ideas don’t have to be the best option nor the one that will be taken as the strategic direction – they just have to be the one that shows a participant that they have been called into the circle – their voice matters.
Let’s get our dialogue going. We want to hear you. Come into the circle with your energy, your ideas, and your voice.
Most of us get that soft skills, including communication, listening and empathy, are key to our success in life and work.
So why do we still need so many studies proving their importance?
Because – perhaps – the unpredictability, the individual variations and the vulnerability of soft skills make us uncomfortable. There’s an “ick” and “ugh” factor that most folks won’t admit. We think we know how to communicate, so why do anything more than that?
We all have soft skills – which doesn’t mean they’re excellent nor that we’re excellent using them.
If you’re not working to improve your soft skills, you’re already falling behind in the competitive workspace.
Our work environments tend to be more diverse and a heightened awareness and skill set serves us and others around us.
Top notch soft skills are necessary for the really hard communication situations: navigating conflict, seeing things from a different perspective, truly listening to others so that they feel heard, moving through meetings with high emotions, etc.
The Collins English Dictionary defines the term “soft skills” as “desirable qualities for certain forms of employment that do not depend on acquired knowledge: they include common sense, the ability to deal with people, and a positive flexible attitude.”
Hard skills are the ones often defined as “teachable and acquirable” skills that are needed for the workplace.
First off, soft skills most definitely need to be taught and acquired – if communication were truly about common sense then the “ick” and “ugh” factor wouldn’t exist.
Learning soft skills is about moving toward others instead of making them come to you. If you aren’t working on your soft skills, you aren’t paying attention to others – you are asking folks to come to you – not meeting them halfway.
Don’t be distanced by the term “soft” – and also don’t try to change it. Let’s embrace the soft, vulnerable and openness. The hard and soft skills are connected – interdependent upon each other. There is no weakness in soft skills, there is no inherent strength in hard skills.
It’s about learning to communicate with others who are different from us. Soft skills are advanced training for surviving in the world.
What are the benefits of soft skill training?
The benefit, and sometimes we say the necessity of soft skill training, is because we need to learn how to communicate effectively and efficiently, not just nicely.
Nice is about us caring for ourselves, and kind is about caring about others. Additionally, most of us have only learned to communicate with those similar to us. We’ve not learned to finesse communication when a variety of differences are present – including, but not limited to gender, race, ethnicity, past work experience, where we grew up, were we went to school, etc. And that’s really only for the dominant culture – because most people, other than the dominant culture, have had to learn and adapt and fine-tune intense soft skills for their message to be heard and not be misunderstood or interpreted as offensive.
The more diverse our workplace becomes, the more important training around soft skills needs to be. Because self-awareness is one of the key factors of soft skill training, and one of the key factors of good leadership, we have to learn how to give and receive feedback about how we’re really coming across. Soft skills allow us to be self aware and self reflective, curious and intentional – for impact. We call it, “the key tool of SCI-Fi.”
If you have masterful hard skills yet no one can work with you and you can’t share ideas, then you’re really not as helpful as you could be. And vice-versa, if someone is able to master their soft skills and can match you in the hard skill department, then they will be promoted, hired, invited onto amazing projects.
Let’s reclaim the softness of soft skills instead of seeing it as a negative bias.
Softness comes from a gentleness and a vulnerability. The world is demanding that our leaders be authentic and open – that does not mean over sharing but there’s a power in a softness and openness.
We’re tired and running from party to party, planning for the new year, and then we add family and intense business discussions as we strategize for better outcomes…
A quick reminder: Communicate with kindness.
Naughty or nice? How about kind?
We know about kind. There’s so much written on it —
And then at the holidays we get all about naughty or nice.
Seems innocent enough – it’s in a children’s poem after all.
It’s just words –
Words matter – how you talk to yourself and others matters.
The tone you use with yourself and others matters.
Be courageous – be kind.
Nice is about you,
Kind is about the other.
If someone has eggnog on their shirt, do you tell them? Or do you find yourself saying, “Oh goodness I wouldn’t want them to feel embarrassed”, or “I’d feel badly”. That’s being nice: nicely ignoring something that would be better for the other in the long run. But isn’t it polite? Oh, that tricky polite excuse.
How do you feel when you leave a holiday gathering and realize the whole time you were buttoned incorrectly, or had lipstick on your teeth, or had been telling a joke that the host didn’t appreciate and no one said anything? And these are surface things. Or what if you offended someone and instead of having a real, kind, caring conversation, they walked away holding resentment or even anger about it?
If you find yourself excusing your action or inaction as being more polite or not embarrassing the other person, you might simply be taking the nice, easy road out.
Nice can be surface, glossy, easy.
Kind often drops in more deeply, vulnerably and takes courage.
Be kind – it’s as simple and as hard as that.
Quick end of year–holiday-socializing-business-family reminder:
Communicate kindly to yourself and others.
Call on courageous and heart-centered kindness in your communication.
When your words have greater impact than you expect or intend.
There’s Alex and there’s me.
I see us as colleagues in a small office.
When I share info, ask a question, brainstorm, problem solve – communicate in any way – I assume I’m communicating as a collaborator – which has an assumed equality to the relationship.
I see that I’m communicating directly across – with a peer.
But – some important factors.
I’m her boss
I own the company
I’m twice her age
I am fast and intense
I’m an external processor and she is an internal processor
Hmmmm. I have to realize a few things that I didn’t acknowledge for a long time.
We are not speaking directly across. She receives my words from a height differential.
And, as they make their way down to her, they gain speed and weight – and land heavily. More heavily than I intend them to.
When I ask my co-owner, “Where’s that email?“ it lands quite differently than if I ask Alex.
I realized this is something I term The Alex Effect.
The reality is the factors mentioned above change our relationship.
The Alex Effect needs to be considered in your leadership communication. You think because you treat everyone the same they all see you the same way – they do not. They see you as the boss, the owner, the leader, the influencer. The person with more status and power.
The Alex Effect changes the impact. Your intention is the same. Your landings are different.
The only way to change the impact, the landing, is to change what you say and/or how you say it. It matters. Think about your choices around these items:
Tone – Your tone can amplify or minimize the dynamics of your conversation.
Intensity – Be aware of both your voice and body – proximity, volume and speed have an impact on the message.
Vocabulary – Choose carefully and wisely and use your word choice to soften your landing.
Be curious – Asking questions, gathering opinions and creating a monologue vs a dialogue goes a long way in creating real collaboration.
Transparency – Sometimes you just need to own it. It’s okay – transparency creates trust.
Think about the dynamics of your group and how The Alex Effect works in your environment. If you don’t think about it you can unintentionally do harm to your relationships and the Alex in your life.
Stop defending past behavior or you’ll miss the growth opportunity
Instead, use your energy to move forward.
Time and time again, we work with a client who is sent to us, or seeks us out, because of feedback they have received around how their communication is landing on others. Something they are doing is impeding their potential.
I’ve seen a leader completely deny the important feedback he is receiving about increasing his effectiveness. Instead, he is concentrating on his 3 direct reports and what they should be changing.
To move forward, our first step is to be super curious about the feedback we receive. And to avoid the energetic black hole of constantly defending why the communication choices occurred.
Don’t waste energy defending how you communicated yesterday, instead invest in curious conversations about how you can communicate better today. Take intentional steps to the future while avoiding defensive steps to stay in the past.
Of course, there are reasons why you choose to communicate in a specific way. Analyzing the reason why can be helpful as long as it does not keep you in a cycle of justification.
When you get feedback or suggestions – activate SCI-FI
Self-aware – notice what happened or is happening that elicited the information.
Curious – seek the source. Does it have merit? Could it be helpful?
Intentional- choose new and informed techniques for clear and effective communication
Humbly receive the seeing. Openly receive the attention and the connection to others and that allows you to be present and have presence. This is one of the hardest steps. It is a move deeper and more vulnerable than the allowing of step of one. If we stop at Pillar 3, People: Seeing Others, we can get stuck in Human Resting Face – an intense outward energy. We are seeing others, but without the reciprocal energy of receiving others seeing us, we can create a wall around ourselves that does not allow the power of our presence to move freely. Receiving others softens our gaze, creates a transparency and a real sense of being present.
So HOW do we open ourselves to receive others seeing us?
Receive people seeing you. Embrace the comfort and awkwardness of the situation. This allows those seeing you to feel more comfortable looking at you. This is similar to the first Pillar, Position: Allow Yourself To Be Seen, but it is deeper than just being seen. It is an acceptance of the gaze, an acknowledgment of the other person, and an invitation to be present. Hold the space for people seeing you. This is the tricky one. Presence is created by both seeing and being seen. Arrogance is often felt from those who want to be seen, though they don’t really let you see who they are, and they spend no time seeing you beyond the surface. For this one, we suggest be vulnerable and open – and receive. If we stop on Pillar 3, People: See Others, we are often perceived as harsh and/or having Resting Human Face. We want to move beyond. Exhale and breathe in deeply. This helps us to be open and receive. Be brave and vulnerable and vulnerably brave.
So, presence – Yes, you do know it when you see it and experience it. The truly great leaders and connectors in our world have allowed themselves to be seen while seeing others. There is neither pretending nor hiding the fullness of who they are. Their presence is seen, felt and experienced by all of us when they enter and leave the room. You can be too!
The past month we have been exploring the Pillars of Presence. The first two Pillars are: Position: Allow Yourself To Be Seen and Permission: Decide How You Want to be Seen. Through consciously choosing how we want to be seen, and by vulnerably opening ourselves up to others, we actively begin to step into the power of our individual presence. Activating the power of our presence is not only about allowing ourselves to be seen, it is also about intentionally seeing others.
Pillar of Presence 3: People, See Others
Step boldly forward and see others — presence is a two way street that is built on seeing and being seen. Truly see people around you in all their fabulousness and beauty complete with faults and shortcomings. See them.
Others are empowered when we see them. Notice how ticket agents and children and others who assume you won’t see them, come alive with a sparkle in their eye and shift in their tone of voice when you see them. Are you seeing your co-workers? Really seeing them? Think about someone you may not be seeing completely and make a commitment to changing your interaction the next chance you get.
As children we are often scolded for pointing out others — for seeing them. “Stop that, it’s rude.” We learn notto see. Looking at others often morphs into seeing others. We are programmed not to see others, to let others be in their own world and not intrude by noticing them. But is this truly polite?
We challenge ourselves to step boldly forward and see others. It’s a two-way street and here is where seeing and being seen join to make presence come to life. Truly, people are amazingly unique individuals and are waiting for someone else to acknowledge them as they are. We owe it to each other to see each other!
Note, in our work, when folks are truly seen for who they are, often tears flow. It’s a relief and a release to be seen.
So HOW can we begin to truly see the people around us?
Really see others. Don’t just look at them – see them. Make eye contact. And more. Smile. Breathe them in. Feel them. Give full human grace to each and every one – -see beyond the surface to the amazing person standing before you.
For the next few weeks practice the first 3 principles – Allowing yourself to be seen, deciding how you want to be seen, and seeing others. We will be talking about #4 in the next issue. I would love to hear about your experience!
A couple of weeks ago, we began an exploration of the Four Pillars of Presence. The first Pillar being Permission: Allow Yourself to be Seen. When we are vulnerable and seen as our authentic self, we create space for others to be themselves. In this way, presence invites presence. Being open, vulnerable, and present in the moment are components of stepping into and embracing the power of your individual presence.
However, we don’t just allow ourselves to be seen, we must also make conscious choices that affect how we are seen which leads us to our second pillar.
Decide How You Want to be Seen
We do judge a book by its cover. This draws us to pick it up, read the back cover and dive into the book. The curb appeal of a house draws folks into wanting to check out the inside. When we think about ourselves, what cover do we want to share with the world? People look at us, and in a matter of seconds, they decide if they want to get to know us, believe us, trust us, or think we have something to offer them. They are looking at our cover, which is only partly our clothing/costuming. It is also our energy and attitude. If we show up – open and authentic – then it is easier for them to know what they will find inside. We want to make it easy for folks to wantto know us. So, ultimately, we do decide how we want to be seen.
For example, a VP can walk into a meeting and her energy is prickly. She seems unaware or unconcerned about how she is showing up. She is off-putting, oozing irritation and others don’t feel comfortable giving attention to her. People respond to her “book cover.” Many times they display, and even outright mention, that they have no desire to read further. In contrast, another VP walks into a different meeting, also harried from the day, and though irritated, invites connection and permits others to seeher – difficult energy and all. People moved toward her, not away.
So HOW can we begin to take control of how we are seen and experienced by others?
Consciously choose your visual and energetic representation. This is the package you come in. How do you want to show up? Write this down. Say it out loud. Tell a trusted friend. Decide what to wear in clothing, as well as the attitude that walks through the door. Remember you want to make it easy for folks to know you. Keep breathing. These choices are not arrogant. They are choices about who you are. You give yourself permission to be who you are, who you want to be, and you give those around you permission to see you.
Be brave and give it a try! Pick something you want to focus on and choose how to been seen. It may be your next team meeting, or the next time you are getting to know neighbors. Make choices around how you want to be seen. I would love to hear about your experiences!
Actors often exude presence – that is their job. Are they more confident? Not always. They are more comfortable. They are trained to see others and to let themselves be seen. They become comfortable with their voices being shared, their bodies in space, and sharing their feelings. Actors rehearse and practice seeing others – observing and really seeing them, not only on the surface, but more deeply, more expansively, more holistically.
Many factors are connected to and influence Your presence.
In actor training, there are four foundational elements that create a base of presence. We call them the Pillars of Presence.
Permission – allow yourself to be seen
Claim Personality – decide how to be seen
See People – see others
Receive – others seeing you
Over the next few weeks we will explore the Pillars of Presence and provide you with some actionable steps as you embrace the power of your own individual presence.
Pillar of Presence 1:
Allow Yourself to Be Seen
In order to have presence you have to be seen. In our society we are often taught that looking at others is rude. Question: how are others going to see us unless they look and when they look, are we present? We must resist our early training around politeness and allow ourselves to be seen. We need to drop the shield and be available, visible, and see-able, not in an arrogant manner, but by simply switching an internal button. Then you are seen. When seen, you have a presence that can be felt.
Think of the people in your life that are comfortable with being seen. They create an energy that is easy for us to be around. Why? Because they are vulnerably allowing others to see them being themselves while also allowing others to be themselves.
So HOW can we begin to work on this?
Consciously let people see you — it’s a mind adjustment. Know that a smile is often a mask. So, allow your breath to ground you. Exhale and let the breath back in. Keep your body open — notice and honor the fact that your arms and hands may try to cover you up to keep you safe. Give yourself permission. Let yourself be seen – simply seen.