Voice: The Gift of a Question

askquestions
Part 2 in a series on Voice. (Part 1: Voice of Accountability)

Why do people ask questions at work? Is it because they weren’t paying attention? Might they be new to a job or process? Could they be curious? Is it possible they are seeking to understand before offering an idea?

Think about the last five questions people at work have asked you:

Did it matter who was asking the question, when or how the question was asked? Did you respond differently according to the who, when, or how?

Now, think about the last five questions YOU asked others at work.

What was your reason for asking those questions? Were the responses given in a way you were expecting?

Being asked questions is a daily part of the work environment; it’s important to consider the impact of how we hear, react, and respond to questions asked of us during our busy day.

Tips for Receiving Questions at Work

  • Assume positive intent
  • Assure the questioner that it is “ok” to ask questions and that you appreciate them asking
  • Use appreciative inquiry; seek to understand the why behind the question
  • Consider the impact if the question had not been asked
  • Ask for time to consider the person’s question and get back to him/her; it’s okay not to have an answer right away

Your response to questions has the power to encourage – and discourage – others from asking questions and perhaps seeking your input in the future. Are you seeing the gift in the questions being asked of you?

Voice: Accountability Speaks

Part 1 in a series on Voice. 

Communication is loud, whether through words, actions, or silence.  After a return to the corporate world, the concept of ‘voice’ has been a consistent source of reflection; the voice that is heard and the voice that is not. Where can you use your voice? Where do you make yourself heard?

The Voice of Accountability: Owning Outcomes

At work, every one has a role to play. Part of the reason we were hired is to bring our voice as a contribution to ‘getting things done’.  There is the the voice of expertise in a skill that you bring, but just as importantly, there is the voice of accountability.  Consider a few common workplace scenarios – do any of these questions resonate for you?

Scenario 1: When you’re on a work team, and others are not doing what they said they’d do.

  • Do you ask them why?
  • Do you share the impact it is having on others’ work?
  • Do you wait for the boss to do it?
  • Does your boss do it?

Scenario 2: When you collaborate with others on a project, and credit is given to only one person.

  • Do you give credit to others who helped you?
  • What do you say if others’ take credit – or don’t acknowledge – work you have done?
  • Do you hold others’ accountable for recognizing others’ efforts?
  • Do you hold yourself accountable?

Scenario 3: When you see something broken or have an idea for improvement on a process, a team dynamic, a product.

  • Do you bring it forward to your boss or do you complain to others on your team?
  • Do you brainstorm with others on ways to fix it?
  • Do you seek a solution to the issue?
  • Do you examine the role you may play in making things better or different?

These and countless other scenarios allow your voice – or your silence – to be heard. Consider the impact your voice has on yourself, and on others in the workplace.

  • What does the voice in your head say to you if you are silent? If you are not?
  • What is the message your silence portrays to others?
  • What message is sent to a team if some are not held accountable?
  • Are you sharing the voice you want? 

The voice of accountability comes with many choices. The choice to speak, to act, to be silent, to not respond. Each of these choices contributes to your voice in the workplace.

What is your voice? 

Image credit: thingswesay.com

In or Out?

team_icon_freepub domain

Today marks three years of being “back inside.” Working as an employee inside of an organization, that is, after 7 years of being an “outside” consultant as an owner of my own learning & development firm. First, let me acknowledge that I am forever grateful for having the space & opportunity to choose – I chose to become a consultant, and I chose to return to corporate. I kept a journal for the first year of both experiences, and spent a bit of time reading through my reflections, and here is the first of several:

#1: Team is what you make it. Trust is essential. One of the downsides of being a consultant is that you may not have a team to work with on a daily basis; there is a necessary boundary between consultant & client that is different from peer work teams.

  • As a consultant, I created my own teams by prospecting for too much work and then hiring consultants to team up with me, at least for the length of the project. It was great to work together, and to blow off steam as inevitable changes to project scopes occurred.
  • As an internal employee working on a geographically dispersed team, I was reminded of the importance of role clarity in shaping (positively or negatively) team dynamics. Being the sole person with that type of job on the team…or in the organization, is a challenging space to be, I was reminded. More on that in another post.

Team is a feeling of trust, camaraderie, whether you are on the outside, or on the inside. The Center for Creative Leadership shares a model for team trust based on the Three C’s: Trust in Capability, Trust in Character, Trust in Communication (https://www.ccl.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/why-trust-is-critical-team-success-research-report.pdf).

No matter where your “team” is formed – on the inside or the outside, your sense of belonging, cultural fit, and commitment is affected by how you answer these questions about yourself and your team:

  1. Do I trust the capabilities of others on my team? My own capabilities? How can I help others grow? Can I trust them to help me grow?
  2. Do I trust the character of others on my team? How does my own character show up? Is there consistency in behavior? Do our team members honor commitments they’ve made? Do we have a shared goal – and commitment to that goal?
  3. Do I trust communication that happens on the team? Is information shared freely & proactively? Transparently? Can I admit mistakes? Can others? Do I trust the people on my team, and do I add or detract from trust in a work relationship?

One of the main reasons I rejoined the corporate world was for the sense of team – a set of shared experiences of people who work together toward a common goal. In the end, I (re) learned that team is what you make it.

Keep on Shooting

shootbasketball

Sometimes, we don’t “get things right” on the first, second, or even multiple attempts. How do you keep persevering when things aren’t going your way, or seem more challenging than you expected?

Recently I attended my son’s 7th grade basketball game. Both teams just began their seasons within the last 2 weeks, and were pretty evenly matched opponents. It was a close score throughout the game.

If you’ve spent time watching or participating in sports, you have probably experienced a game where an athlete appears to be having an “off” game.

My son was having one of those days on the offense side of his performance. His defensive game was fantastic, resulting in several steals and assists toward teammate’s scoring buckets. On the other hand, he could not seem to score a basket on any of his own shot attempts! One time, the basketball circled the rim nearly a full 360 degrees before falling off – no points other than via free throws. His smirk of chagrin and quick shake of the head showed he was well aware of his struggle during his several attempts for a basket.

The game went into overtime. At the end of overtime, it was still tied. The teams then compete via “sudden death”, where the first team to score becomes the winner of the game. The other team had the ball first, but missed their shot. Back down the court they went. The ball passed from my son to a teammate, and the shot was missed. Our team rebounded the ball, and passed it to my son.

He took the shot. Swish. His team won! The team was excited and rushed him on the court. His perseverance to keep playing his best, to keep taking the shot, was critical during a pressure situation.

Lessons from the game:

  1. Keep Shooting. Sometimes when we don’t succeed fast, we stop trying. Instead, keep working for your best angle toward the basket – toward your goal.
  2. Keep Your Chin & Your Grin Up. Find ways to “shake it off” and remain committed to your goal. A sense of humor about a situation, no matter how bleak (or public, as in a court full of peers and parents), can go a long way.
  3. Play the Long Game. Define long-term success, celebrate the little successes along the way, and learn from the missed opportunities. Work with your team to adjust your plays to get the results you want.

No matter what, keep shooting. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

Say What?

communicationfarce

I was born with a hearing loss. As a kid, I wore hearing aids in both ears, and as one might imagine, the teasing was merciless. I will never forget my first day of high school as a 13 year old, walking into my first period history class and Sam, a boy on whom I had a crush, saying loudly, “Hey look! It’s the deaf girl!”

Wearing hearing aids was not high on my list as a teen, and I did not wear them all through my undergraduate days, though I could have used them in those 100+ people lecture halls. The moment I realized I didn’t care anymore that I have only 60% hearing in one ear, and 68% in the other? The day I became a parent. I didn’t want to not be able to hear my son calling me, or be able to hear school performances (microphones and large echoing gymnasiums are not my friend when it comes to being able to hear). Now, I don’t care who knows: I sometimes struggle to hear.

The reality? According to the National Institute for Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/statistics/pages/quick.aspx ), one in eight people in the United States aged 12 years or older has hearing loss in both ears, based on standard hearing examinations.

That being said, in the spirit of creating increased awareness, I offer a few tips for the workplace that may help all people have better heard conversations:

1. Ups and Downs. Avoid conversations in stairwells where heels are clacking, many people are using the stairs at the same time, and you are unable to look at the person to whom you’re speaking.

2. Flush First! Please do not have work-related conversations while in the restroom. It’s uncomfortable for many reasons, poor acoustics aside.

3. Music/Other Background Noises. Conversations or presentations where people are speaking with music in the background can make it difficult to hear. Consider this when having work conversations or designing training programs or eLearning courses with music accompanying audio.

4. Whispering Woes. If you need to share some information that you don’t want everyone to hear, don’t whisper in the cubicle; find a place to have the conversation privately so that you can speak in a normal tone and volume.

5. Phone Ps & Qs. On conference calls, hold each other accountable for practicing good phone etiquette, such as: muting the phone when not speaking, saying your name before stating your comment (not all people can differentiate voices easily), and not having side conversations that mute the speaker’s voice.

6.  ABCs and 123s. A simple way to ensure people are getting the right information is to, where possible, say numbers and letters in such a way that there is no mistaking them. For example, B and P (or S and F) may sound alike via the phone or even in person, to someone with a hearing difficulty. Why not say, “B as in Boy, P as in Popsicle?” Consider numbers: Nine-five-two, fifty-six-oh-three. I have to ask, did you say “5 – 6-0-3, or 6-6-03?” When giving directions, say, “get off the elevator on floor 5” rather than “fifth” floor.

7. Check In vs. Call Out. If you are aware that a person on your team has a hearing loss, check in with him/her on occasion to see if how things are working is in a way that they can hear. It’s not necessary to single out the person in a meeting by saying, “Gabriella, can you hear?” (This happens more than one might think.)

8. Face Time. On occasion, I am asked, “Are you ok? You look mad.” I had a boss ask me this after a conference room meeting filled with many attendees, plus those on speaker phone. I was so surprised. Actually, I had been concentrating so hard to hear that apparently my brows were furrowed. I work very hard not to do this now; I am not always successful, but at least my boss understood that my face meant, “focused” and not “furious.” Have you ever learned a foreign language? Had to concentrate so hard just to understand what the speaker was saying? That is my reality, particularly in situations where acoustics are poor, or the setting is made up of many competing sounds. Which leads me to #9.

9. Be curious. You may be amazed the things you learn from someone who has a physical difficulty. For example, I often hear BETTER than others in a crowded cafeteria where I am facing the person to whom I’m listening, because I read lips. I will never forget the graduate advisor who thanked me for teaching him about what a person goes through to get accommodation when he/she can’t hear in a university setting. I never thought about it that way before, and it reinforced my resolve to never be ashamed to say, “I’m having trouble hearing you. Can we have this conversation when we get to the bottom of the stairs?”

Yes, I have a hearing loss. Yes, I am listening, and I want to hear you and be successful in my working relationships. Will you hear me?

Cracks in the Sidewalk

grid

When you are walking in a public place in a group, what happens when you see another group coming toward you? Do you:

  • Compress your group to walk single file so the other group can pass without shifting?
  • Keep walking 2-4 people wide so that the other group needs to walk single file?
  • Shift to the right, but keep walking 2-4 people wide, so that both groups may pass?
  • Do nothing and let the other group figure out how to make it past your group?
  • Stop in the middle of the sidewalk, oblivious of the needs of others on the sidewalk?

Some people tend to be the ones who flex to allow others to have room on the sidewalk, while others tend to be the ones who want others to have to flex around them. Other people make room for both groups to be on the sidewalk, and others do nothing to acknowledge or flex to incoming groups.

This same attitude translates into daily work life. Let’s ask the question this way: When new teams and/or individuals join your organization, or join a project team, how do you flex your behavior so that both of you know where you “fit” on the sidewalk? Do you:

  • Create space for both groups to pass with little interaction necessary?
  • Actively create space for everyone to fit, with both groups flexing to accommodate needs?
  • Wait for others to come to you, you were here first?
  • Not concern yourself; your roles are different?

Ask yourself these questions, and then ask your team. Ask those outside your team how they see interactions with your group. Are there cracks in the sidewalk? Ask yourselves, does anyone deserve more or less space on the sidewalk?

Pull It Up to the Front

There is an old saying that goes like this; “out of the mouths of babes, oft times come gems,” which essentially means that children have been known to say insightful things. Recently, my

basketball

Recently, my eight-year-old son and I took advantage of a beautiful day to take the dog for a long walk. During our walk, the subject of the previous night’s basketball practice arose.

My son was describing strategies, positions, reactive strategies, and many other pieces of information about how the game of basketball is played.

My son was describing strategies, positions, reactive strategies, and many other pieces of information about how the game of basketball is played.  After about 20 minutes of chatter about such things, peppered with my questions, I said, “Wow, Logan! You really have to keep a lot of things in mind at the same time. I don’t know how you remember all of that in the midst of a game.”

His answer certainly surprised me. “Well, mom,” said Logan, “you see, it’s really easy. You know your brain, it’s pretty big. So what I do when I have a game or practice is, I bring all the basketball stuff to the front of my brain. I take all the other stuff out, and shove it to the back of my brain, so it doesn’t get in the way.”

I asked him, “How do you do that?” The answer was, “Well, I just focus really hard on what I am doing – it gets easier to just pull it (the basketball “stuff) to the front after you practice it for a while. Then, you just play basketball and everything is clear.”

Did my son just describe the concept of attention density in an amazingly simple story?

brain

 What we choose to focus on is where the increased density of our attention occurs. It’s no secret that allowing ourselves to be distracted by emails, texts, phone, or meetings can impact our ability to be productive and make decisions.

Neuroscience research shows that we actually can make circuitry changes in the brain with our thinking patterns. Attention density is a way of focusing on something to come to a decision or increased clarity.

A simple example of this is the experience we often have after we purchase a new car, or even a new cellphone. Suddenly, we see our exact same car or cell phone everywhere, because now we are paying attention to that item.

What we choose to focus on is where the increased density of our attention occurs. It’s no secret that allowing ourselves to be distracted by emails, texts, phone, or meetings can impact our ability to be productive and make decisions. Neuroscience research shows that we actually can make circuitry changes in the brain with our thinking patterns. Attention density is a way of focusing on something to come to a decision or increased clarity. A simple example of this is the experience we often have after we purchase a new

How might this idea of attention density impact how we design learning materials? For that matter, how might it impact the way we allow our teams to structure their day? The idea of time for reflection and focus during our work and learning processes is where I see the potential for increasing attention density.

To learn more about the fascinating research on neuroscience and attention density and its implications for business, innovation and leadership, access the Neuroleadership Institute. For myself, when I find myself needing to focus, I now mentally picture myself pulling information to the front of my brain, and shoving the irrelevant information “to the back.”

The Office is Closed Today

The new year is almost here. Have you loaded your organization’s annual holidays into your calendar yet? Of course you have. This next question is a bit more challenging. How does your organization work with contingent staff when it comes to holidays where the office is closed?

office chair.jpg

At first glance, the answer may appear obvious; everybody knows what days organizations are typically closed, right?

Not so fast. Here are some additional tips to ensure your organization and your external staff are on the same page for the holidays:

  • Contingent staff do not typically get paid for holiday time. Does your project budget allow for contingent staff to work 40 hours during a holiday week if so desired, or do you estimate billable project hours based on the office being closed one day (or more) that week?
  • Do you need your contractor to put in 40 hours during the holiday week, due to project constraints? When do you set this expectation?
  • Does your project timeline factor in access to key employees during a holiday season? For example, will your contract staff be able to hold meetings or get information from people if half the office is gone the Friday before Memorial Day?
  • Do you know what your contractor’s holiday plans are, and how they may impact the project? What expectations do you set for getting this information in advance?
  • Who at your office is responsible for ensuring that contractors know which days your office is closed?
  • Does your company have additional days where the office is closed that may not be as common in other industries? For example, a consultant I know once showed up for work at a large global organization on Good Friday; she had no idea the organization was closed that day!

At the end of the day, it is important that the project owner and the contingent staff are clear about the expectations of availability before, during, and after the holiday(s).

Contractors do not typically get paid for holidays as they are not working, but may assume they can still work 40 hours that week. You may be assuming they will not bill 40 hours that week. To avoid disappointment in an otherwise fabulous organization-consultant relationship, have the conversation before the day the office is closed.

What Do They Have in Common?

What do the topics of “followership, teambuilding, and content review” have in common? Keep reading for my suggested answer.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend and volunteer at the American Society of Training & Development’s fourth Regional conference. During this time, I attended three breakout sessions on different learning topics; followership, teambuilding, and content review.

The Followership session was a discourse on a proposed model of four types of employees who follow a leader in an organization. The idea was that employees are either a) yes people, b) slackers, c) criticizers, or d) self-starters.

The Teambuilding session discussed the idea of the parts of a team that can make or break the team. For example, mission/goals, roles, work processes, and relationships are components of a team, and according to the presenters, are also possible areas where teams can break down.

Last but not least, I attended a session on Managing the Content Review Process. We looked at ensuring that our projects have a proper review cycle so that clients/learners are satisfied with the end result.

What common thread weaves through all of these sessions?

Answer: Setting expectations.

Session 1: Followership
How do managers develop their employees, manage expectations, and encourage employees to bring their strengths to the table? As an employee, how are you clarifying your expectations within your workgroups? Do you expect your boss to give you answers or solve difficult situations, or do you handle it to the best of your ability and let the boss know the result? If you have a critique of a situation, do you simply point out the flaw, or do you also propose a solution?

Session 2: Teambuilding
How are teams set up, and how are roles defined so there is minimal confusion as the project evolves? What happens if something goes well? What happens if something does not go well?

Session 3: Managing Content Reviews
How do we prepare project reviewers to give much needed feedback that is specific and timely? Are roles clearly defined so people know where they can benefit the project most? Do people understand the consequences of not providing reviews on a project? Are the right people reviewing the project?

Setting expectations with people we work with, whether we are the lead or the one being led, is crucial to success. Understanding the purpose of our role and the work to be done means that we are free to execute on our responsibilities. Creating a secure environment in which people can discuss both successes AND failures without fail creates a sense of “where do I fit and why do I matter” for all players on the job, on the team, and on the review process.

So, how are we going to work together? Let’s start there!