Talk Like Spock– to improve your communication skills

When you “talk like Spock,” the iconic character from Star Trek, you are:

  1. Taking emotion out of the conversation.
  2. Listening carefully and analytically to what others have to say—with an open mind.
  3. Stating facts, not feelings.
  4. Realizing that conflict can spur growth.
  5. Coming to reasonable conclusions that are supported by facts.
  6. Agreeing to work together to solve problems.
  7. Treating others with respect even if you disagree.

Talk like Spock—who was good at listening carefully and saying few but very accurate words. This article is a continuation of our New Year’s Resolution suggestion to become better communicators. Are we talking to “the other side’ yet? Are we even trying? It’s unfortunate when we won’t communicate at all on some subjects. Some feel compelled to shut down conversation, because we simply “won’t change each other’s minds.” Discussion over. That is what goes on in some businesses and in our government today. That—and the fact that some people just want to undermine the “other side” –no matter what. Remember that leading a team and governing starts with all of us, and we need to be good examples. We need to hire/vote in people who want to work together—not against each other. You can hire someone who has the same basic beliefs as you, but if that person cannot communicate well and work with all others, nothing will happen. Progress gets undermined by a constant tug of war. Welcome problem solvers who are eager to listen to all ideas, not just their own.

Spock was half human and half Vulcan, which is why he would not let emotion take over reasoning. We are perhaps too human, acting on feelings and aligning ourselves only with like-minded people to the detriment of everyone. As nice and easy as it is to think that everything is just black and white; right or wrong, that is a simplistic view of a very complex society.

So before you lash out at someone who has a different opinion– think. The ability to reason is what sets us apart, so we should do it more often. Set aside differences. Start learning about other points of view. Gather facts and make your own decisions. Then communicate ideas to solve problems instead of perpetuating or escalating them. Never resort to name calling or swearing. This just sets everything back even further. Try talking to the “other side.” And keep trying even if you get shut down.

 

Foster a TEAM Attitude and Culture

What happens when you are part of a team, but are excluded from giving input or receiving information? The team ultimately fails. It is not that easy to foster a team culture- and sadly, human nature is at the heart of the problem.

We all have opinions on how things should be done and what we should do to succeed. Those who are like-minded tend to bond together; it is very satisfying to have your opinion validated by others. We all want to be “right.” Those who do not share our views are often shut out—and they form their own exclusive group(s)—with people who are like-minded. These splintered factions fuel their own agendas by the notion that others are “against them.” They build passion for their cause when there is a common “enemy.” It is so sad when people fabricate this “us against them” mentality.  Unfortunately, what ensues are closed-door meetings, which leave the other group(s) understandably suspicious. If there was ever any trust, it erodes. Respect for each other goes by the wayside. Even worse, communication with all team members starts getting very selective and may even stop. Does this sound familiar?

This happens in teams of every size unless you can all foster a culture of openness and finding common ground first—in order to move forward, which should be everyone’s goal. There must be open discourse and an agreement to disagree. Ground rules for the team must include sharing everyone’s ideas and ultimately working together to progress. Respect for each other must be maintained; if we devolve into name-calling that just fuels more division. What is the point of that?

Some say we need to be “adults” about this, but children are often better at collaborating than adults. So maybe we should think about what it was like to be a child and not have any preconceived notions about each other. Don’t shut doors, but be open to learning new things.  If everyone on your team felt this way, you’d be way ahead of the curve.

Ideas for New Team Leaders

If you are new to leading a team, or perhaps your team has changed: different members; a change in the number of teammates; new goals. It’s a great time to take a moment to reflect upon how to unite the team for best efficiency, performance and results.

Here is a short list for your consideration:

  1. If you have managed a group before, what do you think your team members would say about you and your leadership style? Try to build upon the positive and work on the skills that you may be lacking.
  2. If coming in to lead a new team, do not make snap decisions—which you may regret later. Take time to get to know the people and the issues. Use the first month to assess everything. Talk to everyone. No one wants or expects you to turn everything upside down immediately. Doing so just creates wariness, insecurity and does nothing to build trust.
  3. Treat everyone with respect—and that includes people who do not agree with you. Do not discredit or belittle those who challenge your ideas. Be glad they are trying to contribute to solutions. The mark of a great leader is one who leads by example, works with others to achieve results, and ultimately turns naysayers into supporters –who will help.
  4. Have patience. This may be one of the most difficult things to master and use effectively. Even if you believe you have the greatest ideas, if no one is following, supporting or listening, you’ll achieve very little results.
  5. Grow a thicker skin. As a leader, you will never please everyone. Those who oppose your ideas may not always communicate gracefully or well. Do not take it personally. It is not worth the time or effort and will only make you appear immature and vulnerable if you do.
  6. Smile. The power of a positive countenance is immeasurable.

Be a great boss to your team and set a good example. The holidays are a perfect time to reflect on being better…

  1. Create good will—not hate. It is up to all of us. This requires communicating—not isolation. “Peace on earth, good will toward men.” What does this really mean? Sometimes it feels like it means just to the people who are like ourselves—not everyone. Kindness doesn’t cost a thing, but unfortunately it is not always given freely.
  2. Remember that “Talk is cheap”—this is a positive statement as well as a negative one. You can use it for good or bad—it’s up to you. How often have you thought of something nice about a person—but failed to tell them? All the time. Why is that? Also—we are quick to recognize mistakes and slow to appreciate doing well. This is true at home as well as in the workplace.
  3. Whatever happened to just being happy to receive a gift? Now everyone is judgmental and returns things, exchanges things, etc. I can understand if the sweater does not fit, but the weird object d’art that someone chose for you—just graciously accept it and be glad they even took the time to think about you.
  4. Be glad that you are in a position to give. And remember that giving does not have to involve spending money. I feel sorry when I can’t give everyone what they would like to have at Christmas—including the expense expectations that I think they have. We all need to get over it. I should feel good about giving anything and not continue to figure out how much I spent or didn’t spend on each person. We can’t help it.
  5. We need to slow down. Too many fatal accidents and too many mistakes are made because we are operating at a faster and faster pace. This also increases stress and blood pressure. It would be a lot healthier if we gave ourselves more “cushion”—and not pack every day as full as possible.

Don’t Let Post Election Anxiety Hurt Your Team

It’s Thanksgiving– Keep Talking and Supporting Each Other       The election is over, but the uncertainty, divisiveness and questions remain. Colleagues, friends and relatives who are on different sides of the issues (and supported different candidates) are questioning each other’s intelligence, thought processes and whether they really know each other at all. Trust and in some cases civility have eroded, and our tendency is to withdraw from speaking to or even being with those who don’t share our opinions. But this is the worst thing that could happen. When we are divided and don’t seek common ground in order to move forward, we just make matters worse. This is sadly very evident in the rash of hate crimes that have started occurring across the county.

You MUST continue to communicate with all your co-workers. Your job and the effectiveness of your team may depend upon these people skills, which are now being put to the test. You should not isolate yourself from friends who don’t agree with you. After all, you may have spent years doing things together and building a host of wonderful memories. Is that worth just throwing away? No, it’s not.

How do you get past this? Time certainly will help, but “go high”—like Michelle Obama said, and reach out. Go and actively support issues that matter to you. Talk to your colleagues and friends. Share Thanksgiving with those you love. Maybe you can’t talk politics right now, but you can find positive things to share and to rebuild your relationships on.

For co-workers, talk about events that you shared, successes that your experienced together in the past, upcoming goals and how to reach them together. Steer away from what divides you at this time. The same for friends and family—talk about fun trips and occasions that you shared, what you are currently doing, fun hobbies, the kids, the holidays. Keep it positive.

IF you feel compelled to talk about the election, approach it knowing that the discussion could be negatively charged. So, you want to go into it with some “ground rules:”

  1. I would really like to hear your opinion on why you voted this way. Maybe I could learn something.
  2. Let’s keep it factual and unemotional if at all possible. Leave out words like “How could you…?” That is a put-down.
  3. Are there things that we actually do agree upon? What are they?
  4. And if it does get uncomfortable, let’s agree to table the discussion until we can talk about it calmly without so much emotion. You must realize that you may never have this discussion at all.

Remember that truly the most important thing you will ever do in life is Communicate. If we stop doing that, we will cease all positive forward movement—which is the key. Let’s work together to stay together and make progress– together.  “Thanksgiving” after all, is a word of action.

Good Leaders Can Use Conflict to Build a Great Team

Few things divide teams more than disagreement. We experience this in personal life as well as business and politics.  Poor leaders believe in creating problems and divisiveness by telling everyone how bad things are. They bully people into agreeing with their ideas and are dictators not leaders. Though people may follow along for a while, this is an extremely poor and disastrous way to lead a team—or a nation. For too long, many of our “leaders” have succumbed to digging in their heels and refusing to make any progress unless it was their way. Is this your boss? Is it you?

There will always be differences of opinion, and that diversity can make great teams if conflict is seen as a way to get the best results—not a “right or wrong” fight. Good leaders know this and promote this way of thinking. There MUST be communication and everyone should strive to contribute to that dialogue. Here is the mindset that will drive positive results and higher functioning teams:

  1. Build on what is positive first and find common principles. Do not simply tear down the past—especially if you are a new boss and have no history with the company.
  2. Respect your team members. Those who disagree are not “the enemy.” Many on your team may have more experience than you; don’t discount their contributions. Name calling and bullying is the worst thing you can do—and will only serve to dismantle the team and undermine success as well as trust.
  3. Ask your team to see conflict as a way to move forward—not a paralyzing force. Patrick Lencioni, in his book- The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, writes about “fear of conflict.” This is what allows some managers to get their way much of the time—when it is not always the best way. People don’t want to rock the boat. They are afraid of being fired. They think that sharing an opposing opinion is a waste of time. As a boss, if you foster this kind of thinking, you are doing your team and yourself a huge disservice.

This diagram illustrates how we should see conflict. At the far left is “artificial harmony” where everyone just agrees with everything. We know everyone has lots of opinions, but they are not sharing them, and therefore as a resource of ideas and knowledge, these people are limited—not supportive team members. On the far left is very destructive conflict, in which people are openly attacking each other personally – which includes childish name-calling and degrading comments.

conflict-continuum

 

The middle of the diagram is the “ideal conflict point.” It is still constructive, but it represents having a variety of divergent ideas—without trying to destroy the personal integrity of team members. This is what great leaders should strive for and ask of their teams.

  1. Establish common goals and ideals. If your team is in total disarray (and most are not), start with your mission statement. This establishes your purpose and why you are together as a team. This has to be the basis for progress, and you must agree that progress toward goals is necessary—otherwise, there is no reasons for your existence as a team. In government, you always hear about “reaching across the aisle,” but this is more than just talking one-on-one. This is setting a common platform for everyone.
  2. Agree that it is ok to disagree. This is how a team comes up with a myriad of ideas on how to solve an issue and move forward. However, again the ultimate goal must be to move forward.
  3. Learn to compromise. This is not a bad word. If we do not learn to compromise, then instead of progress, you foster inactivity; no movement forward or backward. And those who refuse to learn about compromise and change will ultimately see their teams, businesses or indeed governments decline and fail.

How to Be a Bad Boss–is this you?

By Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer

Recall your worst day at work, when events of the day left you frustrated, unmotivated by the job, and brimming with disdain for your boss and your organization. That day is probably unforgettable. But do you know exactly how your boss was able to make it so horrible for you? Our research provides insight into the precise levers you can use to re-create that sort of memorable experience for your own underlings.

Over the past 15 years, we have studied what makes people happy and engaged at work. In discovering the answer, we also learned a lot about misery at work. Our research method was pretty straightforward. We collected confidential electronic diaries from 238 professionals in seven companies, each day for several months. All told, those diaries described nearly 12,000 days – how people felt, and the events that stood out in their minds. Systematically analyzing those diaries, we compared the events occurring on the best days with those on the worst.

What we discovered is that the key factor you can use to make employees miserable on the job is to: simply keep them from making progress in meaningful work.

People want to make a valuable contribution, and feel great when they make progress toward doing so. Knowing this progress principle is the first step to knowing how to destroy an employee’s work life. Many leaders, from team managers to CEOs, are already surprisingly expert at smothering employee engagement. In fact, on one-third of those 12,000 days, the person writing the diary was either unhappy at work, demotivated by the work, or both.

That’s pretty efficient work-life demolition, but it leaves room for improvement.

Step 1: Never allow pride of accomplishment. When we analyzed the events occurring on people’s very worst days at the office, one thing stood out: setbacks. Setbacks are any instances where employees feel stalled in their most important work or unable to make any meaningful contribution. So, at every turn, stymie employees’ desire to make a difference. One of the most effective examples we saw was a head of product development, who routinely moved people on and off projects like chess pieces in a game for which only he had the rules. Another way is making sure to point out mistakes and shortcomings. Doing this publically is even better.

The next step follows organically from the first.

Step 2: Miss no opportunity to block progress on employees’ projects. Every day, you’ll see dozens of ways to inhibit substantial forward movement on your subordinates’ most important efforts. Goal-setting is a great place to start. Give conflicting goals, change them as frequently as possible, and allow people no autonomy in meeting them. If you get this formula just right, the destructive effects on motivation and performance can be truly dramatic.

Step 3: Give yourself some credit. You’re probably already doing many of these things, and don’t even realize it. That’s okay. In fact, unawareness is one of the trademarks of managers who are most effective at destroying employees’ work lives. As far as we could tell from talking with them or reading their own diaries, they generally thought their employees were doing just fine – or that “bad morale” was due to the employees’ unfortunate personalities or poor work ethics. Rarely did they give themselves credit for how much their own words and actions made it impossible for people to get a sense of accomplishment. You may be better at this than you think!

Step 4: Kill the messengers. Finally, if you do get wind of problems in the trenches, deny, deny, deny. And if possible, strike back. Here’s a great example from our research. In an open Q&A with one company’s chief operating officer, an employee asked about the morale problem and got this answer: “There is no morale problem in this company. And, for anybody who thinks there is, we have a nice big bus waiting outside to take you wherever you want to look for work.”

Teresa Amabile is a professor and director of research at Harvard Business School. Steven Kramer is a developmental psychologist and researcher. They are coauthors of The Progress Principle.

What weakens a team and what can you do to fix it?

Whether you realize it or not, we are all part of at least one “team.” This can be a work group, a family, a social group or community service committee. There will always be changes, people and incidents that work to improve or weaken your team. Things that could work against your team include:

  1. Toxic personalities who knowingly or unknowingly hurt your team’s effectiveness.
  2. Bad luck. Let’s face it, we can’t control every aspect of our lives.
  3. Inability to communicate with team members. This could be for a variety of reasons.
  4. Lack of commitment. Within a team there will always be varying levels of commitment to the team and its projects/goals.
How do you deal with some of these issues? Obviously, you cannot do much about luck, but the answer to fixing the other problems can be summed up in one word: Communicate.
This answer may seem trite or simplistic However, communicating well is one of the most difficult skills, and it does not come naturally to most people. You can learn how to diffuse difficult situations, bring people around to agreeing, and boost commitment– all from being an effective communicator. Learning how will also make you an extraordinary leader.
This requires thought and engagement with others. Unfortunately, a lot of people would rather walk away or cut a team member from the group before communicating. This does nothing to help the core issues, and may even make things worse.
So how do you start? Yes, you could take a class, but jumping in, practicing and getting experience are the most valuable. For example, start with one problem. Let’s say you have a team member who belittles others, is extremely loud in expressing opinions and is very divisive. Even if you are not the team leader, there is no reason why you cannot talk to this person (except you stopping yourself from doing so). However, don’t attempt the conversation without some forethought and possibly some homework…
1. What do you want the outcome of your conversation to be? This is the key. Many people start talking without taking this into account at all and simply go by the seat of their pants and how they happen to feel that day. Establishing in your mind the desired outcome will give you a framework for style of communication (soft or loud; dictating or persuading; etc. etc.), the words you should convey, and where is the best time and place to engage this person.
2. Have your facts in order. If you are going to “build a case” to convince someone to change their behavior, facts are important and powerful. Don’t guess and don’t make up things that can easily be disproved.
3. Appeal to a person’s sense of “good.” Everyone wants to be well thought of and seen as a valuable individual. Make sure you mention the person’s contributions and traits that are assets (for example, “people listen to you”).
4. Talk about changing behavior to benefit the team— not about how bad or negative the person is. Make the idea of changing beneficial for the person (ex: “I think that if you soften your approach, you would be able to garner more support for your ideas.” This instead of, “you are always yelling at everyone and taking up valuable time.”)
5. Be as specific as you can. Suggest concrete changes in behavior and a time frame for changing. People don’t just change in a day.
6. Give people options. Maybe they dislike the team so much, they want to leave. That is an option too.
7. Whatever you do, you must talk to the person causing the issue– not gossip or complain about him/her behind their back. Then, you are just adding to the problem not the solution.
8. Revisit and recognize. One conversation is probably not enough. Keep the conversation going by checking in from time to time. If the person is doing better and the team is thriving, please remember to recognize this publically.
Yes, this all takes time and effort. It’s very easy to say “It’s just not worth my time.”— and stay silent. But if we all took the time and effort to communicate more effectively, the world would be a much better place.