FYI Here is your code of conduct

This was the title of an email sent out recently to a surprised worker whose job involves Diversity and Inclusion. It was a story told during a discussion of the 3 tenets of Workplace Fairness: Proactivity, Communication and Collaboration.

 

An effective code of conduct results from a collaborative process and will reflect the personality and culture of your workforce.

An effective code of conduct results from a collaborative process and will reflect the personality and culture of your workforce.

When we are busy, it is easy to take shortcuts in consultation with potentially dire results. We invented the word proactivity to describe the ongoing, preventative, and proactive process which engages employees within all levels and departments of an organization to consult. The Code of Conduct is a great example; let’s take two scenarios.

Manager A, cognizant of the pressures on her staff’s time and resources, takes on the grunt work of developing the code of conduct. Her thinking is that since most of it is common sense, people will be relieved because everyone is pushed for time. She does recognize that participation is the key to engagement. So, once she has done most of the legwork, she asks volunteers to review, discuss and fine-tune the final document. She is happy to note that there are very few changes proposed to the original document, and she emails it out “FYI” to the full group and staples it to the bulletin board of the lunchroom.

Manager B is not particularly fond of policy and conduct discussions, but recognizes their importance. So, partly out of a desire to offload the task, and partly out of a desire to engage people in the process, he allocates the first 10 minutes of every staff meeting to a Code of Conduct discussion. It takes a few months, but eventually they finalize a document and ceremoniously hang it in the lunchroom during their monthly potluck.

People take ownership of language. Manager A’s language may be clear and sensical, but it is not her staff’s language. When there are bumps in the road, she will be held to a high standard for owning, acting and leading with her code of conduct. Conflict seeks somewhere to lay blame. Manager A and her code of conduct become easy targets.

Manager B involves everyone from the beginning, and as a group, they stand a better chance of holding each other to account for their Code of Conduct. Though he risks Code-of-Conduct-saturation and boredom by drawing it out, there are high rewards for keeping the discussion front and centre, and ensuring there is group buy-in.

Consultation and collaboration require being open to new information and a commitment through all stages of a discussion, not just the final review.

Listening Hygiene and Rituals

My job is to listen. When I am working it is probably the single most important part of my job.  People talk to me, and it is my job to hear them, and then to provide evidence that I hear them. This can be very freeing because people do not always want solutions or advice.  Active listening, often, is enough to help people gain clarity for good decisions.

Connected by Conversation

One day in June I was rushing to get out of the house to travel to Edmonton.  Tripping back and forth between car and office in a mad attempt to get organized, I was pulled up short when the phone rang. Ignore? Answer?  I chose to look more closely at the call display and noted positive sign of my offspring.  “Hello?” “Mom? I need to talk.”

First response (internal): Not now.  I have a long drive in front of me, and I am sure already that I will be late for that dinner, and I know I have forgotten something, but I haven’t quite figured out what it is…

The Second and more appropriate response required relying on my listening hygiene.

I have been testing a new theory recently. I have noticed a parallel between good sleep hygiene and what I will call listening hygiene.  For me sleep hygiene is about managing or executing on a daily basis a few key things at bed time:

  • external stimulation
  • internal stimulation
  • ritual

Listening hygiene is similar.  Listening Hygiene is developing and practicing routines and rituals which you can count on for self-managing internal and external stimulation, and for preparing yourself to listen.

Upon hearing my daughter’s voice, I slowly sat down in a chair and placed a free palm on my desk, carefully regulating my breathing as I did so. “What’s up?” As I focussed on my palm channeling thoughts into my desk, my voice became calm and moderated, and I began to set aside my proverbial shopping list. It is akin to counting to 10 when you are angry, exercising your brain’s cerebral cortex and allowing yourself to channel rational thoughts rather than emotional ones.

Effective listening hygiene, like sleep hygiene, requires self-awareness and practice. When you are listening effectively, it is all you are doing; it requires suspension of your agenda and total trust that the speaker is doing the best they can with what they know.

You need a routine and a ritual you can rely on even in times of stress.  As I heard my daughter say that she does not plan to return to school in September, it was only practice and awareness that saved me from jumping to judgement and unwarranted conclusions.  Good listening hygiene will work for you when you most need it, and your relationships will benefit.

 

Is the decision maker in the rooom?

Someone came to me today with a conflict and I think as we talked about it, I learned as much or possibly more than she did.  I learned about the importance of the decision–maker.

It seemed straightforward at first. This is the kind of conflict which you hear about often in the workplace.  “I am concerned about the tone and the language in the emails I am receiving from this person and I am honestly wondering if she is deliberately trying to undermine me.”  That sense of paranoia about the motivations of another, the suspicion about language and tone, these are very familiar concerns in conflict world.

Here's lookin' at YOU, sweet-stuff!

In this classic scenario, I normally advocate a direct conversation with the individual involved to start with. After all, that individual is the one who has the ultimate authority to change their own behaviour.  It is usually best to approach the most direct source you have access to for all kind of reasons – it will prevent the situation from escalating; it will eliminate the sense of possible blind-siding or circumventing which will harm the relationship further; and very importantly, it provides a critical opportunity to learn more about the other side of the story and gain a deeper understanding that will help build a stronger relationship.

But a more important point came up as we began to debrief and explore the situation.  I began with some questions:

  • What is the ultimate and ideal change you would like to see?
  • What evidence will you have when it has occurred?

Well, these questions broadened the scope significantly.  In fact, the concern was not about the emails at all, but about the changing nature of the relationship between the two organizations each of these people work for.

More questions followed:

  • Who has the authority to influence these changes that you have identified?
  • How do you believe your previous relationship with this person has influenced your perspective of this situation?

This is always a tightrope walk. It is almost never a bad idea in a gentle, honest, open and specific way to address your concerns directly with an individual.  But it is a very good idea to examine what the nature is of you relationship with that person, and the bigger picture.

In this case, because of the previous history of the two involved, because of their roles, and the nature of the relationship of the two organizations they work for, it became clear through questioning and exploring that the best move would be to turn concerns over to another who has the authority to address the bigger picture. The dialogue would not be about the behaviour of one individual, but rather about the changing roles of the two organizations in their working relationship.

Take the time to prepare before entering into a difficult conversation. Examine your own assumptions, and critically look at your role and your authority. Ensure that the decision-maker who has the authority to induce change is in the room from the beginning.

Leaders can learn from Scot Beckenbaugh

Toronto Maple Leafs player scoring goal agains...

Toronto Maple Leafs player scoring goal against Detroit Red Wings, Stanley Cup Playoffs, 1942 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When it comes to resolving disputes, leaders can learn from Scot Beckenbaugh.

There may be mixed feelings to the news of returning hockey this week, but one thing is for certain: we can all learn something from Scot Beckenbaugh, the mediator who managed the NHL talks in a frenetic and final 48 hours this weekend.

Define your role.

Beckenbaugh’s experience is in the business of negotiating labour disputes in a wide range of industries for the US Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. He does have extensive experience with sports negotiations, but his business is not hockey.  He has declined interviews and comments about the talks this week.

  • You can support good dispute resolution by making a deliberate decision yourself about when and how to get involved.  Support those with the authority who are most closely involved and have the expertise to own the content, the final decision, and the stories. Be transparent about your role.

Listen openly and critically.

Winnipeg Jets Defenseman and union negotiator Scott Hainsey told reporters that “Scot was great for a number of reasons…When it got to points where you didn’t know what to do next – or you had an idea but you didn’t know if it might upset the other side – you could go to him and talk to him about it and there was a way to work your ideas through a third party who was able to really help the process.”

  • Asking powerful and provocative questions and listening actively to the answers will help others clarify their thinking. You will learn a lot too, and when the decision is finally made, you will understand if and when it is the right one, and when it is necessary to step in.

Remain loyal to the process.

Over a 48 hour period and in marathon days Beckenbaugh held both sides to the process.  There was not enough trust for parties to meet face to face, so Beckenbaugh managed the process by shuttling between them, building trust in his engagement, and in the process of conciliation.

  • Decide on an appropriate process for reaching a resolution and hold everybody to it.  Even when you don’t have a ready answer you can demonstrate leadership by managing an effective process to get to one.

Providing ready answers and solutions is the easy part of being a leader. The mature and effective leader knows when to step back and how to empower others to reach their own conclusions. Active listening will aid understanding for all, and strategic choices about your role and the process will foster good long-term decisions.

I took the Standout Strengths Test Today

I took the Standout Strengths Test today (http://standout.tmbc.com/gui/somMain).  I was introduced to it by Janine Gilmour at our recent Workplace Fairness Luncheon.  My top two strengths, according to the test, are Creator and Connector.  So the greatest value I bring to the team is my “gift for knowing the special formula to release unexpected synergies between people, teams and ideas.” I begin by asking “What do I understand?” and I am not good at snap decision.  Yes. I can agree with that.  And yes, it is true that though I often present like this outgoing extrovert, in fact I need time on my own to think and re-energize.  The strengths test confirmed that.

Paper Bark - Carole Grogloth, Molokai Hawaii

We learned from Janine that these strengths are hard-wired.  The big question is, how do you leverage your own strengths?  Janine was very frank about her own experience leveraging her strengths and how she got there.  She shared examples of the mistakes she has made learning the hard way and the challenges she has faced, and that won the group over.  It takes courage and conviction to meet your challenges head on and to master them.  It takes even more courage often to talk about those mistakes in a public forum.

In her presentation, Janine revealed the holy half-dozen intrinsic motivations: mastery, autonomy, feedback, self-determination, affiliation and recognition.  I recognize these and I call them the heavy hitters because when people are in conflict, it is often one of these that is missing (along with, inevitably, trust).

Daniel Pink talks about these too in his book Drive.  Now this is a book worth exploring if you haven’t already.  Pink reminds us that after we are earning enough to make a living, we won’t be motivated by more money, we need autonomy, mastery and purpose.   (Check out this animated video of his description here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc).

So how do you leverage your strengths?  You need to set great goals.  OK. Here is one I get caught up in because I am always evaluating feasibility and do-ability.  Maybe that isn’t necessary.  My friend Nancy’s great goal is “World peace one conversation at a time.”  I need to work on mine… Stay tuned.

You need to foster motivation (see above).

You need to overcome obstacles.  I was a sales rep once upon a time, and a significant part of sales training is overcoming obstacles.  I learned that to overcome, you actually need to acknowledge and listen.

You need to adopt a master mindset.  This is all about the positive possibilities in the future.  My standout strengths test indicates that I think in terms or possibilities – “ Wouldn’t it be great if?”  So that is a good start.

What do you need to work on?  I am going to think about my great goal and get back to you on that one and I would love to hear yours!  Comment below.

If you would like to learn more about the Standout 9 Strength Test, contact Janine Gilmour. www.touchstoneadvisoryservices.com.

When does it pay to be indirect?

Consider this list of words: prevaricate, pussyfoot, quibble, shirk, sneak. They resonate with negative connotations. They also all describe what you might call idiomatically “beating about the bush”, another phrase with a negative connotation.  We are acculturated in the western world to believe that the more assertive and direct we are the more effective and business-like we are. We are often rewarded for directness, sometimes indirectly by way of compliance.

When does it pay to be indirect?

We are culturally loaded. Our communication and conflict styles are influenced by our world view, or factors such as:

  • The environment (public/private and intimacy or familiarity)
  • The topic and our commitment to it
  • Our culture (upbringing, religion, sex, age, language, job, community, family environment)
  • Our speaking code
  • Our listening code

Our world view also wires how we speak and listen to each other, and dictates or influences our assumptions.  In our western world view we value the individual, and we value directness.

Indirect communication has a higher value in cultures which also place a higher value on community than the individual. As our communities become more diverse it is becoming increasingly important to question our assumptions and reactions to certain communication styles.

Your EQ will help you respond more effectively.  Consider yourself, the other, and the situation.  Emotional intelligence and self-awareness opens our eyes to how our cultural loading influences how we hear and respond. We can learn to adjust, though at times that adjustment will feel quite counterintuitive. For example it is difficult to practice an indirect gaze when speaking or listening, when we are used to a direct one. Change starts with questioning our assumptions about another’s speaking and listening habits.

Let’s talk about face-saving. In a culture which values direct communication, face-saving may be perceived as negative behaviour. What is it? When we recognize it is happening, how do we respond appropriately and effectively? For a start, let’s recognize that it is not necessarily a negative behaviour.

Face-saving may reveal itself in many different forms. Here is some typical behaviour, what might be behind it, and some tactics which will help to improve communication:

What you notice: quiet, withdrawn behaviour.
What might be behind it: A desire to preserve privacy and reputation, and secure approval from you or from others.
What to do:

  • Offer your ideas.  “I am wondering if you have ever considered…”
  • Define the topic in neutral, business like terms, and maintain focus in the conversation on the topic.
  • Use positive language.

What you notice: defensive, protective behaviour.
What might be behind it: A desire to protect others in their community and their and the community’s reputation.
What to do:

  • Be inclusive of others.
  • Provide space and time to allow check-ins with other stakeholders.
  • Be patient.

What you notice: openly agreeable behaviour, compliance.
What might be behind it: A desire to preserve peace, and maintain community.
What to do:

  • Build relationships. Take the time to get to know each other in relationship over meals, coffee.
  • Reinforce the value of open communication and transparency.
  • Gently confront discrepancies and apparent discontinuities. “I am confused. Can you help me understand…”

For further reading, check out this article by John Ng on mediation http://www.mediate.com/articles/the_four_faces_of_face.cfm#_ftn14, and articles/interviews by Stella Ting-Toomey http://commfaculty.fullerton.edu/stingtoomey/index.htm.

Keep Calm and Carry On

One of the leading questions from my class this week was: how do you stay calm? And how do you not get emotionally involved in conflict? I usually respond that this is a journey for many of us. It certainly has been for me. I know that when I perceive a threat I run, or freeze in the moment and am never quite sure what to say. I find it very difficult to engage when emotions are running high. The key is full body listening, and a desire to change, or to at least engage in conversation.

I will never forget my first conflict resolution class. It was quite a revelation to discover that conflict could be good. I still remember that sense of disbelief and awe that anyone could feel that way.

My initial light-bulb moment led to a journey in confidence and skill-building. It has been valuable to me to intellectualize it. I was relieved to learn about the hard-wired physiology of fight and flight. Once I could describe my reactions biologically and normalize them, I was free to get practical.

I offer my students the analogy of a stake in the sand. I remember planting that stake as a child and measuring the creeping or receding tide. Our path to better communication in conflict is like that. We have to take small manageable steps and measure them against a marker. It is a skill-building journey that, like that of the tide, creeps further up the beach as we practice, and then gently recedes again when emotions are running or we are not deliberately working at it.

The practical skills that are most important to me now prepare me to listen without being defensive. I have moved that stake in the sand a long way up the beach. And preparing myself to listen means that I also have the skills to keep calm and carry on.

I set a time for important conversations, and do not let myself get dragged in on the spot.

I walk to clear my mind, and enter a room in advance so I can sit at the blank table and lay my hands palm down in a meditative posture, allowing my busy thoughts to run away through my hands into the table.

I know and remind myself constantly that listening is a job. It is a job you can only do well when you do not have anything else to do.

I write a list of things that are important to me, or that I have to learn, decide on, or do, before the conversation begins. Setting them aside gives me the freedom to listen to another side and ideas while knowing my own thoughts are safe.

I convince myself to be open new stories. Once I have written my thoughts down, I have to remind myself that I may change my mind or alter my thinking. I have a judging hat which I can remove only with difficulty. When I feel judgmental, I deliberately tell myself to be curious. What motivates this person to act or behave this way? Why am I reacting so strongly to it?

Listening acutely and with full body attention is an act of suspension for me, because the act of allowing myself to fully take in what I am hearing and empathize with the speaker, forces my own thoughts into suspension. I think it helps to visualize full detachment from your thinking. Maybe thoughts are tidied into a tethered hot air balloon which is allowed to float up into the sky. You can retrieve them easily, but they are out of reach.

Hot-air-balloon

Image via Wikipedia

Full body listening is hard work. It can be exhausting. But once someone feels heard, understood and acknowledged, they will be ready to hear your side, and you can bring that tethered hot air balloon of thoughts back to earth, and sort through the pieces that are most relevant and appropriate to share. You have won yourself a hearing.