How Clearly Are You Communicating? How Do You know?

One of the things we probably take for granted is how we communicate with others so that we don’t bother to check whether the receiver of our communication really understood our message as we intended.

What do you understand by the text exchange below?  Beth and Carol are fictitious names. The context is Beth is an assistant working in a business services company called Star, Inc. She is coordinating the workshop with the Carol who is a free lance consultant and the facilitator. It’s Monday morning the week prior to the workshop conduct dates. The workshop is scheduled to run on Friday-Saturday of the following week.

Beth:  Hi Carol. Our client has a question. They are asking if until when they can confirm if they wish to be part of the Program?

Carol:  Hi Beth. Are they asking about until when individual participants can confirm, or are they asking if they want to push through with the program or not?

Beth:  They are asking if until when they can confirm if they want to push through with the program or not.

Carol:  Oh, so the program is not confirmed by the client as yet. I suggest that the you contact Business School ABC for a Leadership Program instead as they may have more faculty and flexibility to changing schedules. Regret I must decline already. I trust that Star understands.  Thanks!

Beth:  This is noted. Thanks.

Carol accepted another engagement after the text exchange.  Four days later, Beth again texted Carol asking about the workshop materials.  Both were upset. Carol for having needlessly lost the engagement. Beth now panicking on how to tell her boss about the situation and problem of no facilitator with the workshop scheduled for next week

Luckily for Beth and Star, Inc., Carol contacted her colleagues and found someone to refer to take her place as facilitator as she was no longer available due to the miscommunication mix up.

The miscommunication was that Beth later said she was referring to the online leadership assessment, which Carol suggested to include in the workshop, and not the program or workshop itself.  That is,  until when can the client decide whether they will push through with the online assessment or not.

Carol, on the other hand, understood that the client was having second thoughts about pushing through with the Leadership Workshop the following week. The client had previously moved the dates a number of times. Besides, Carol already knew that the client decided not to use the online assessment when the client account manager of Star, Inc. informed her 3 days before Beth texted the question.

Just considering the actual text messages, how would you have understood what Beth was asking, the responses of Carol, and what the end of the conversation meant?

Ok, you get the picture.  So what is the lesson for Beth?  What is the lesson for Carol?

We can take simple things for granted and think that we’ve communicated clearly, only to find out later that we have not.  Picking up the phone and talking instead can help make points clearer.

Giving Feedback to Develop Your Team

How often do you give feedback to your team and individual team members?  What type of feedback do you give them?  If and when you give feedback, are they mostly informal or formal?  Think back to last week and write down who you gave feedback to and whether it was positive or negative feedback. Giving constructive and actionable feedback can make a difference in improving performance.

Perhaps for many, the word feedback conjures up images of unpleasant experiences of one’s immediate superior dishing out negative feedback or criticisms about one’s performance.  It does not have to be this way.  If your superior is not very good at giving you feedback, break the chain or vicious cycle of perpetuating the negatives and demoralizing your own team and team members.

Be the team leader that fosters development. Break the cycle. Be intentional. Be the guiding light that sparks positive energy and action in your team. Everyday is a fresh opportunity to turn yourself and your team around, to refocus on performance and behaviors that can be improved through helpful feedback.

Some tips on providing constructive and actionable feedback involve changes in your approach such as the following:

  • Focus on the behavior and not the person
  • Be specific and not general: STAR is useful here – Situation, Task, Action, Result
  • Encourage change instead of attacking or blaming
  • Put your relationship with your team and team members first instead of yourself
Simple steps that you can use include:

  • Describe the behavior as concretely as possible
  • Get the team’s/team members’ view of how the behavior affects others positively or negatively, who are affected and what are the implications on performance quality and cost, as well as relationships
  • Give your own view of how the behavior affects others and the team’s performance
  • Get the team’s/team member’s inputs on what needs to change and how in order to achieve better results
  • Give your onw inputs including a description of the desired behavior and performance levels and outcomes
  • Agree on the next steps, who will do what by when, what support might be needed, and follow-up, follow-up, follow-up

Knowledge without application is a waste.  It’s time to put these tips and steps into action this coming week. Identify team members who have performance issues or dysfunctional behaviors that hurt their or their team’s ability to deliver their best.  Bullet point your specific observations and key messages, and schedule a feedback meeting with each individual. Better do it sooner than later. Start a new cycle, a virtuous cycle of giving constructive and actionable feedback.

Goals vs. Dreams

Kung Hei Fat Choi!  It’s Chinese New Year and the general forecasts from Feng Shui masters can make an interesting read.  For most of us, this is probably more a fun thing to do and we don’t really believe these forecasts.  Or, maybe we choose to believe if the forecasts are positive and about developments that we like, and we choose not to believe when the forecasts aren’t all that palatable.  In any case, we can have fun reading and talking about these.  Is one’s fortune in the stars, one’s zodiac sign and or one’s horoscope? 

In one TV series episode that I recently saw, the protagonist facing an impossible challenge was told that he was lucky that things worked out his way.  He retorted that he didn’t believe in good luck and said that he made his own luck. This mindset of us helping create our own opportunities is definitely better than a fatalistic one where you may believe that you are just at the receiving end of good or bad fortune.  Focus on our sphere of influence, on the things that matter and where we have impact on.

Another line from the same protagonist caught my attention as well, “I don’t have dreams, I have goals. And I’m ready to move on to the next one.”  There’s nothing wrong with having dreams as dreams tend to be bigger and more distant in the future.  But unless you break down your dreams into milestones that drive you forward one major step at a time, then maybe your dreams will remain dreams. 

The morale of the story?  As you review and write down your goals for your development, your career, your life, make it a point to write SMART goals or break them down into specific milestones. That way, you’ve made your own yardstick to know when you’ve reached them and ready to move on to the next one.

On Setting Goals for Yourself and Your Team

Whether in leading oneself or a team, identifying SMART goals can help you focus your efforts and that of your team.  When you feel lost or adrift, having lost your steam, take pause and think about your goals. What do you really need and want for yourself? What do you really need and want for your team?

SMART has become a popular and well known acronym for setting goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.  Yet, it is easy enough to forget this and sometimes, when you are not accomplishing anything or when your team is not working together synergistically, the root of the problem may be that you and the team have lost sight of the goals, or the old goals need to be revisited and changed.

If you find yourself getting too busy on busywork, avoid the potential activity trap by taking time out to identify what are truly most important for you.  Who do you want to become?  What do you want to achieve?

What do you want?  This can be a very powerful question that many don’t ask themselves. If you know what you want and why, the rest follows.

So, what do you want this 2016?  How does this fit into your career plans, your overall life plan?  Write down your goals now. Don’t worry about wordsmithing them at this time. It’s more important to capture what’s in your heart. You can always refine them later.



“If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.”

Still on Essentialism by Greg Mckeown…  I like the idea of “if it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.”  It does help simplify and clarify making decisions.  True enough, many tempting good opportunities do come our way and it can sometimes be difficult to discern and say no.

Having clear criteria to make selection decisions can help us pick and focus on what’s most important instead of making too many choices that result in spreading ourselves too thin and then missing the more desirable and important opportunities that may come later.

The key, according to Mckeown and TED speaker Derek Sivers in his piece “No more yes. It’s either HELL YEAH! or no.” as Mckeown mentions in his book Essentialism, is to use a simple technique for becoming more selective in the choices we make…that is, put the decision to an extreme test:  if we feel total and utter conviction to do something, then we say yes.  If not, then we say no.  If the answer is not a definite yes, as Mckeown quotes another leader, then it should be a no. This does actually help.  The bottom line is what’s most important to us.

When a tempting good opportunity comes, like an attractive project, if you don’t feel like it’s the right one for you, then it probably really isn’t. Sure, giving it more thought and reflection helps. And soon as you know in your mind and in your heart that it is not what your are looking for and not what you really want, then just let it go. This keeps you open and free for the right one when it comes along.

When the nagging thought that you might be wrong grips you, that you might be missing out on something great, why not sleep over it and revisit it the next morning?  Well, just remember to let go sooner than later so that you don’t end up uselessly obsessing and wasting precious time over it.

Decide what criteria you are going to use to consider and accept the opportunity. Such criteria varies and depends on each person.  Mckeown recommends you identify three minimum and three extreme criteria to evaluate the opportunity.  When it passes these, then it’s a yes go ahead.  He suggested that you write down at least three minimum criteria and three extreme criteria that the opportunity must pass. He also suggested, for instance, three possible questions to consider:  What am I passionate about? What taps my talent? What meets a significant need in the world?

Had I learned to think and decide this way much much earlier in my life, I may have been able to make better decisions faster. It’s not too late to start now because, as the saying goes, today is the first day of the rest of my life.

On Becoming an Essentialist vs. a Nonessentialist

My sister gave me a copy of the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mckeown for Christmas and I had put on the night table beside my bed.  I had a number of books to finish and so postponed starting it until two weeks ago.

It was a good thing that I began to read it sooner than later. It has helped open my eyes. I like several key messages which are so true. These are some of the ones that resonate.

Yes, I want to be an essentialist! Am I investing myself in the right activities? Which problem or opportunity do I want? That depends on what my immediate, short-term and long-term goals are. I suppose that I was, sometimes still am, guilty of wanting to have it all. With limited resources, time being the most important, I must admit that it makes sense to make hard choices about what to focus on. This starts with discerning my most important goals, and activities follow. Less but better. There’s no point in trying to do to many things and not doing well in the most critical ones. Better to focus on a few that make a difference and where I can make a difference.

Cut out the trivial many. This will be quite a challenge. After taking the HarvardX Course on Unlocking the Immunity to Change: A new Approach to Personal Improvement, one of the the things I realized was that I just had too many activities lined up and it wasn’t easy to decide which were real priotities. Now, also realizing that, let’s face it, the reality is such that there are always trade-offs and that we can’t choose to do everything, I’m able to help myself eliminate more of the activities that matter less.

Now, this one is a gem among gems. Apparently, Peter Drucker had told Jim Collins, author of the business classic Good to Great, that he could either build a great company or build great ideas but not both, and that Collins chose ideas. McKeown continues with the observation that Collins still has only three full-time employees in his company, yet his ideas have reached millions of people through his writing. I started to think, well couldn’t he do both? Hold on, that’s precisely how a nonessentialist thinks: I can do both. Again, there are, and will be, trade offs. So, better to make a choice, avoid spreading oneself too thin, and instead to maximize one’s success and contribution. Less is better. Less is more.

Create space to escape and explore life. Space to read. Space to concentrate. Space to think. This I think I am a little better at, but there is always room for improvement. It’s encouraging to know that some very well known and famous entrepreneurs deliberately carve out such space regulary to help them refresh themselves, discover new ideas, and learn new things. A good tip is to plan and schedule creating space in your calendar and stick to it.

I have a long way to go to being a true essentialist, one who thinks that almost everything is nonessential and being able to distinguish between the vital few from the trivial many. I am nevertheless happy that I’ve become more self aware of my nonessentialist beliefs, assumptions, and actions.  Telling myself that my “big” nonessentialist assumptions are not true (e.g., “Everything is important. I can do everything.”),  I can gain distance from them, test and modify them.  I can be less captive of my big assumptions, overcome my immunity to change in this area, and move a few steps closer to an essentialist “self-authoring mind.”

Free HarvardX Course: Unlocking the Immunity to Change: A New Approach to Personal Improvement

Hello 2015!  Time does fly too fast!  Every year, many of us make New Year’s resolutions on self improvement, yet how many of these do we actually realize? If we pause to reflect and honestly admit to ourselves that we often fall short rather than succeed, then learning about and applying the Immunity to Change process to yourself can make a huge difference to help you be more successful with your goals.

I’ve finally had the opportunity to read the book Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey.  I decided to check the authors’ website at that time and discovered that they were just about to conduct an experimental research based online class on the Immunity to Change (ITC) process and how effective it might be if taught in an online course. It was a free course by HarvardX on What a great experiential way to learn about the Immunity to Change approach and process, in addition to reading about it!

I signed up to the course HarvardX: GSE1.1x Unlocking the Immunity to Change: A New Approach to Personal Improvement and completed the 13 weeks, starting September 16 and ending December 15, 2014. I enjoyed the learning experience with Kegan and Lahey giving many short video lectures throughout the course to explain the key concepts,  and with volunteer students who are sharing their Immunity to Change X-rays as they create them one step, one column, one week, at a time…in class.  The discussion forum was a great way to learn from and with other course participants. The online Change Diary was a truly a useful tool in helping us learn and apply the ITC process to

I learned a lot from the course.  These include, but are not limited to the following:

  • How to create your own Immunity to Change Map or “X-ray” and how to apply the ITC process to yourself.
  • One reason we fail at our self improvement goals is that we often apply a “technical approach” to change when what is needed is an “adaptive approach.  That is, we try to change our behaviors without first learning and observing our assumptions that impact our efforts. We need to realize when each approach may be appropriate for us.
  • The assumptions that we may not be aware of may actually be acting as our ITC immune system because they support other goal(s) that are competing with our expressed self improvement goal.
  • It is only when we become conscious of such assumptions, when they may or may not be true, and how they affect us, that we can begin to free ourselves from their hold on us.
  • It is more effective to focus on “the one big thing” that really makes a difference for us and work on that, rather than trying to unsuccessfully tackle several self improvement goals simultaneously.
  • That personal change takes time, we can backslide, and it helps when we are kind to ourselves as well.  How much time? It depends on your self improvement goal…and be ready to give yourself 3 months to 6 months or even a year to work on it and make the change second nature to you.
  • You need reinforcement and support from your significant others and those who you interact with in the context of your self improvement goal.

The first few weeks focused on helping us identify and choose a self improvement goal to work on during the 13-weeks and completing our ITC Map or “X-ray.”  After completing our ITC Map, we then focused on creating simple experiments to help us observe our behaviors and test our assumptions, how true or false they were, and how they affected us in relation to expressed self improvement goal, and how explore how we might free ourselves from such assumptions that have a hold on us.

Briefly shown below is the focus of each week  of the online course.

  • Week 1: Welcome and Orientation
  • Week 2: Choosing an Improvement Goal
  • Week 3: Completing the First Half of Your Immunity to Change Map
  • Week 4: Completing the Second Half of Your Immunity to Change Map
  • Week 5: Self Observations
  • Week 6: Continuum of Progress
  • Week 7: Biography
  • Week 8: Designing your first test
  • Week 9: Running and interpreting your first test
  • Week 10: Designing your second test
  • Week 11: Running and interpreting your second test
  • Week 12: Hooks and releases
  • Week 13: Ending well
  • Plus a 2-week grace period to complete course activities for those who may have fallen behind.

If you’re interested to learn more about this free online HarvardX course and join the next free run, if there is one, visit these links:

If you just want to watch all the videos and sample the course materials, that’s ok. However, if you want to make the most of it,  make sure you block off at least 2-3 hours a week in your calendar and complete the activities and write them up in your Change Diary.  It’s difficult to catch up if you fall behind because you do need each week to watch the lectures and participant sharing, do the exercises, reflect, observe, write, and participate in the online forum.

In the meantime, you may want to dive into the book Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey.