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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

You're Not the Only One

Every time I share the 12 common barrier patterns with new clients, they feel relief. Although they are admitting to a barrier pattern or two that holds them back from being what they really want to be, they immediately realize they aren't abnormal.

There are 12 barrier patterns that hold back good people. For introverts, the most common pattern is Never Feeling Good Enough. Subconsciously, this pattern keeps us from public speaking, from networking well, from asking for the sale and from handling conflict.

Introverts are very thoughtful, reflective people, the kind most people would appreciate taking leadership and presentational roles, or buying something from. The fact that they don't make a practice of the above nerve-wracking patterns leads them to think they cannot do these things. Yet each of the above communication-based activities are quite learnable. The longer we introverts avoid learning to plan, prepare and practice these communication-focused activities, the longer we feel Not Good Enough.

I am so glad I was encouraged to plan, prepare and practice public speaking, and then theatre techniques, and then networking strategies and then business development activities and then conflict management. I now feel Good Enough to help other introverts, like me, break down their communication barriers while feeling purposeful and relieved. Feeling Good Enough is a life-enriching pattern. Ready to join me in learning how to use it?

Friday, November 19, 2010

He Set the Tone; Team Responded

What does someone who leads with an Everything's Black and White approach usually see from his direct reports? Yep, frustration.

A client of mine knows this about himself and is actively working on his own professional development to overcome the problems that pattern brings on. A very intelligent young man, this executive has an engineering mindset which brings huge value to the organization from a results standpoint. But he's managing people now, too.

His efficient, curt responses generate misunderstanding. What's important to him is quality, credibility, accurate data and results. As a leader he is gifted for the strategic focus. Yet when it comes to communicating, he misses the mark with people who aren't wired the way he is.

Earlier this month he shared a challenge he's been moderating - a schedule that accomodates several shifts and helps each feel valued. In talking with representatives from each side he ran into problems trying to - as an expert - offer a solution that logically makes sense. Not relating well to the impact it would make on those living with the solution, he demonstrated his lack of sensitivity to the gray area - that area unknown to him.

Fortunately he offered an opportunity for each of the parties to jointly meet for a problem-solving session that he was willing to facilitate. At the time he and I met, this session was a week away. He knew he needed to let them talk things through and capture their thoughts on poster sheets. He knew they were the most qualified to identify what they wanted. He was hoping they could come to conclusions without him.

What my young engineer needed help with was how to set the tone and continue the tone throughout the meeting that would lead to a creative, valuable experience. From his point of view, he was ill-equipped. Yet when I shared some simplistic attitudes to focus on, he was terrified.

There are 3 attitudes that lend to HIGH connectibility between speakers. Enthusiasm, Curiosity and Humility.

Since enthusiasm would miss the mark for a meeting with people nearly at each others' throats, only curiosity or humility seems appropriate. Our executive has difficulty showing vulnerability, so the attitude he was most intrigued by is curiosity.

In brief, instead of trying to demonstrate his expertise when a problem arises, I suggested he explore further by asking questions of those present. This could help with clarification, with understanding the importance of the focus and with digging deeper to uncover the real issues. Not only would this attitude allow him to act as a facilitator vs. an expert, it would bring the discussion back to the interested parties and allow them to engage in the problem-solving. Otherwise, as a Black and White patterned thinker often does, our young engineer would have stopped conversational flow repeatedly by expertly pointing out all the answers. No creativity would have room in that expert tone. No willingness to listen and share would have been tolerated.

Secondly, he began to recognize that the more willing he was at suggesting his own behaviors were sometimes in error, it allowed others to feel safe in reporting the same way.

What he told me later was, "Before I entered the meeting I kept telling myself - remember curiosity and humility." It seems he saw it was important to set the tone for himself as well as for the group.

He opened the meeting in this way:
As you know, I wanted to bring us all together to discover ways we can resolve our scheduling issue. You are all much more suited to coming up with the solutions than I am. As you've already observed, I am limited in understanding the impact some of my ideas have on others. So I need your help in drawing these conclusions.

I am here to listen, to encourage you to share honestly and respectfully and to embrace any conclusions you draw that seem to respect all present. When it's appropriate, I will step in. Yet mostly I see it's important for you each to share and for me to learn from you.

Evidently, this tone created a relaxed atmosphere instead of a contentious one. It allowed him to go through the meeting asking key questions - demonstrating his attitude of curiosity. And one of the most definable moments for him, in his reporting it to me later, was the time he interrupted to say, "That's what I made a huge mistake about. I apologize for that. I didn't realize the impact it would have on you."

He said, "I could feel them shift in their chairs and quietly whisper among themselves. It was obvious to me that they never expected me to be that vulnerable. You were right, Merri. Humility is a huge connector. It led them to a turning point in a later meeting."

Later on in the week he stood in front of all the employees to announce the solution. After doing so, some loudly criticized him for the solution. At that point, two of the shift representatives from the earlier meeting came to his defense, explaining the rationale behind the decision.

"Wow. They never would have defended me before." For someone who operates in a Black and White pattern, that was a moment of revelation. His ablity to validate the perspectives of others set an extremely positive tone. As a result, the team responded.

Today, our executive is continuing to observe people and take care to use curiosity in his dealings with them. And sometimes he will even use humility. What a leveling agent. For him, it allowed people to see eye to eye and connect hand to hand.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Polishing Your Act

My father had a regular routine on the weekends, about monthly, of polishing his shoes. Perhaps since I'm a process-loving person, I enjoyed watching this routine. It started with setting up a space for several pairs of shoes to sit - whether on the floor in front of him while he sat in his favorite chair, or on an ottoman in front of him. Next, he pulled out the appropriate colors of shoe polish - usually black, cordovan and maybe dark brown. Next came the polishing cloth and brush as well as a soft rag.

Dad always began the process by dusting the residue off each of the shoes with his soft rag, prepping them as the shoe polish directions state - "Apply to clean shoes." Next, he would dip his polishing cloth into the appropriate polish color, swirl the color onto the shoe from heel through toe, side to side, carefully applying along the edges, through the tassles or among the shoe lace holes. Carefully inspecting his work for thorough coverage, he would then set down each shoe with applied cream onto a paper towel, aware that the shoe polish would rub onto the ottomon or floor if not protected. Since the "setting" process takes several minutes, his attention to many shoes at once usually allowed him to make good use of his time. Once he had polished 2 sets of shoes, the first was now ready for buffing.

Whether his shoes were patterned or smooth was the deciding factor on using a brush or a rag for the buffing. Although he could buy a rotating buffing brush, Dad preferred the manual approach of "elbow grease" to do justice to the polishing effect. There's much more pleasure through the process when applying our own pressure than relying on the mechanisms of a tool.

Today I help individuals polish their act, whether when handling tough conversations, when business building through networking, or when speaking in public. Many of the same techniques we apply that my father taught me through his shoe-polishing process.

When polishing your act, these are the key techniques to apply:

1. Start with a clean surface. In the case of speaking well or having confidence in yourself, this means begin with an open attitude. An open attitude accepts feedback and allows it to stick.

2. Apply the soft rag to remove the dirt - don't be too hard on yourself when you see problems. Simply rub out the flaws and move on.

3. Choose the appropriate tone for the impact you want. Address the circumstances with humility, curiosity and enthusiasm. Whichever makes sense.

4. Uncover the barrier patterns that stand in your way. If you need to remove some rough edges, dig deep to do what is necessary. Get real about them. Then break them down. Like dirt on shoes that makes the polish mar the effect,these patterns will continue to hold you back until you break them down.

5. Allow the polishing process to take time to really set well. Plan what to focus on, prepare the steps, and then practice.

When you create polish, not only your shoes shine, your spirit does. You have a slight dance in your step as your soul connects to a more purposeful way of being. When you are polished, you definitely put "your best foot forward".

Thursday, November 4, 2010

What I Believe about Coaching

So many of us are looking for the magic bullet. Whether to attack incompetence, ineffectiveness, self-doubt or lack of strategy. We want help. And the bottom line beneath this is our feeling of inadequacy.

We want to feel adequate to others. We want to have our voice heard. We want to erase the past and move into the future by focusing on our present need.

Today there are VOLUMES of coaches. Business coaches, life coaches, athletic coaches, team coaches, relationship coaches. This, to me, clearly indicates our society's desire to seek help. Which reflects either a driven ambition or a desire to finally get recognition.

What I believe about coaching, which reflects my belief in community, has to do with tapping into a willingness to slow down. This isn't a simple process, yet the ability to slow down, to idle while pausing to reflect, gives us tremendous capacity to accept what the divine/universe is giving us.

When we are in the driver's seat of our automobile, accelerating toward the top of an overpass in a busy highway, we are alarmed when we suddenly enter fog. Our impulse is to brake the momentum. Unless we brake and then decelerate, we will crash. Whether we are emotionally overwhelmed by our lack of visibility and turn the wheel towards an embankment, or whether we strive to push forward and bang into a suddenly visible vehicle, our momentum suddenly appears costly. The only thing for us to do when we are startled by our circumstances is to slow enough to assess the situation.

The same is true about how we handle our life - professional or personal.

We all have within us exactly what we need to handle our circumstances. Perhaps this means intellect. Maybe it means intuition. Could also be the heart to reach out for assistance. Coaching is a process that helps us slow down to discover what we already have that can apply to our current surroundings.

As a coach, I come ready to ask useful questions. Questions about how we operate, what works for us, and other areas that give clients a chance to assess their skills, attitudes, behaviors and habits. From these questions come profound truth and key reflection designed to give individuals a chance to drive up that embankment without fear.

Coaching is another form of GPS. Instead of supplying answers, it supplies tools. And just like any handy-person knows, giving someone a tool gives them the means to get back to work (or to life, or to love, or to peace).

Are you in a fog right now? Maybe engaging a coach is your next vital step. Vision about ourselves is crucial to handling circumstances with confidence.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Not a Time to Hibernate

I began an entrepreneurial business after I had established a workaholic mentality - committing over 60 hours a week to my career, for I answered to nobody and was willing to fill my time with responsibilities. Soon I shifted careers, opting for the adventure of creating and designing my own coaching practice vs. teaching high school. No longer was I surrounded by others who were competing for the recognition I sought. Finally I could be sole decision-maker, in charge of my own time and driven by my interests vs. someone else's schedule. Little did I know it would spin me wildly off my path of best business sense.

As any business owner does, I needed someone to bounce ideas off, to encourage me during challenging times and to hold me accountable to what I determine to carry out. But what I committed to was safety, reflection and comfort zone activity. This means I acted based on what I knew about business (which wasn't much). I stayed safe. I didn't wish to call strangers and sell myself. I didn't like to speak about the fees involved in my services, and I had difficulty influencing people to take me on without a track record of success. Yet I still stayed in my comfort zone. This was one of the deepest ruts my business was in - all based on my lack of comfort with asking for help. In theory, I hibernated.

I had some good resources around me - people who could advise me on developing a business plan, creating a marketing strategy, testing out and/or selling my services, yet I didn't feel right asking for help. Would it cost me something? Actually, it cost me more to not ask. Time - that great equalizer, flew by without my getting any smarter. I hadn't asked for help. Content that I would just figure things out, I stayed "inside", dozing away my resources.

Not until I heard a keynote speaker relate her story of asking for help from a team of strategic business associates - others, who, like me, needed help - did I realize that it isn't a deficit on my part to not know things. Others commonly experience this! But it is a huge deficit to not ask for help. In life, I have repeatedly experienced that success comes from turning to others and saying,
"Could you give me some ideas?"
This awakens my thinking, breathes new life into my decision-making and keeps me from "napping".

This realization finally led me to starting a Master Mind group of business owners who want to make changes and are willing to get vulnerable to accomplish it. After only a few short months we all saw the value - we were personally supported and challenged while our businesses began to grow into a larger dimension. We had begun applying steps after hearing other members' perspective about either marketing, personnel, strategy, business building, closing a sale or other related challenges. From these steps we saw ourselves choose either to avoid the challenge (and continue making mistakes), problem-solve through it or crash.

I have learned that business is all about gaining perspective - which to me means, starting from my own point of view and attaching others' to it. My business then moves from a cave to a clearing. I have learned to share my perspective, ask others there's, and then make smarter decisions by applying strategies that continue to use good resources.

When I'm at my best, I look about me, becoming present to who is there and how they think. When I'm at my worst, I hibernate.

It's that time of year that nature goes into hibernation mode - and I vow to avoid it! I prefer to stay strong, stay alive and enjoy the experience. But to do so, I have to connect. This intention will work if I remember who is around me and then purposefully connect with them - ask for their experiences with a similar challenge, for how they conquered certain difficulties or avoided a negative circumstance. Asking for help, and then valuing it enough to get clear about the details establishes goodwill.

Getting out of my cave is good not only for professional development. It's good for business.