How to Make Sure You’re Heard in a Difficult Conversation

I'm honored to host this excerpt from Amy Gallo's new book, HBR Guide to Managing Conflict at Work.  Amy is a contributing editor at Harvard Business Review and a wise woman. 

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How to Make Sure You’re Heard in a Difficult Conversation

Your words matter.

A difficult conversation has to be a two-way street. You’re unlikely to come to a resolution if you don’t hear the other person out. But equally important when addressing a conflict is getting your message across. So after you’ve thoroughly listened to your counterpart, increase the likelihood that they will see things your way by doing the following.

Own your perspective

If you feel mistreated, you may be tempted to launch into your account of the events: “I want to talk about how horribly you treated me in that meeting.” But that’s unlikely to go over well.

Instead, treat your opinion like what it is: your opinion. Start sentences with “I,” not “you.” Say “I’m annoyed that this project is six months behind schedule,” rather than “You’ve missed every deadline we’ve set.” This will help the other person see your perspective and understand that you’re not trying to blame him.

Explain exactly what is bothering you and follow up by identifying what you hope will happen. You might say, “I appreciate your ideas, but I’m finding it hard to hear them because throughout this process, I’ve felt as if you didn’t respect my ideas. That’s my perception. I’m not saying that it’s your intention. I’d like to clear the air so that we can continue to work together to make the project a success.”

Dorie Clark, author of Reinventing You, says that you should admit blame when appropriate. “It’s easy to demonize your colleague. But you’re almost certainly contributing to the dynamic in some way, as well,” Clark says. Admitting your faults will help set a tone of accountability for both of you, and your counterpart is more likely to own up to her missteps as well. If she doesn’t, and instead seizes on your confession and harps on it—“That’s exactly why we’re in this mess”—let it go.

Pay attention to your words

Sometimes, regardless of your good intentions, what you say can make the issue worse. Other times you might say the exact thing that helps the person go from boiling mad to cool as a cucumber. Here are some phrases that can help make sure you’re heard:

  • “Here’s what I’m thinking.”
  • “My perspective is based on the following assumptions . . .”
  • “I came to this conclusion because . . .”
  • “I’d love to hear your reaction to what I just said.”
  • “Do you see any flaws in my reasoning?
  • “Do you see the situation differently?”

There are some basic rules you can follow to keep from pushing your counterpart’s buttons. Of course you should avoid name-calling and finger-pointing.

Your language should be “simple, clear, direct, and neutral,” says Holly Weeks, author of Failure to Communicate. Don’t apologize for your feelings, either. The worst thing you can do “is to ask your counterpart to have sympathy for you,” she says. Don’t say things like “I feel so bad about saying this” or “This is really hard for me to do,” because it takes the focus away from the problem and toward your own neediness. While this can be hard, this language can make your counterpart feel obligated to focus on making you feel better before moving on.

Liane Davey, author of You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done, provides two additional rules when it comes to what you say:

  • Say “and,” not “but.” “When you need to disagree with someone, express your contrary opinion as ‘and.’ It’s not necessary for someone else to be wrong for you to be right,” she says. When you’re surprised to hear something your counterpart has said, don’t interject with a “But that’s not right!” Just add your perspective. Davey suggests something like this: “You think we need to leave room in the budget for a customer event, and I’m concerned that we need that money for employee training. What are our options?” This will engage your colleague in problem solving, which is inherently collaborative instead of combative.
  • Use hypotheticals. Being contradicted doesn’t feel very good, so don’t try to counter each of your counterpart’s arguments. Instead, says Davey, use hypothetical situations to get him imagining. “Imagining is the opposite of defending, so it gets the brain out of a rut,” she says. She offers this example: “I hear your concern about getting the right salespeople to pull off this campaign. If we could get the right people . . . what could the campaign look like?”

Watch your body language

A lot of people unconsciously convey nonverbal messages. Are you slumping your shoulders? Rolling your eyes? Fidgeting with your pen? During your conversation, pay attention to your facial expression, arms, legs, and entire body, and take stock of the overall impression you’re giving.

Do the same for your counterpart. If her nonverbal cues are sending a different message than what she’s articulating, ask about it. For example, you might say, “I hear you saying that you’re fine with this approach, but it looks as if maybe you still have some concerns. Is that right? Should we talk those through?”

Change the tenor of the conversation

Sometimes, despite your best intentions and all of the time you put into preparing for the conversation, things veer off course. You can’t demand that your counterpart hold the discussion exactly the way you want.

If things get heated, don’t panic. Take a deep breath, mentally pop out of the conversation as if you’re a fly on the wall, and objectively look at what’s happening. You might even describe to yourself (in your head) what’s happening: “He keeps returning to the fact that I yelled at his team yesterday.” “When I try to move the conversation away from what’s gone wrong to what we can do going forward, he keeps shifting it back.” Then state what you’re observing in a calm tone. “It looks as if whenever the sales numbers come up, you raise your voice.” Suggest a different approach: “If we put our heads together, we could probably come up with a way to move past this. Do you have any ideas?”

If it seems as if you’ve entered into a power struggle in which you’re no longer discussing the substance of your conflict but battling over who is right, step back and either try one of the phrases or questions from the “Pay Attention to Your Words” section above or talk about what’s not working. Say, “We seem to be getting locked into our positions. Could we return to our goals and see if we can brainstorm together some new ideas that might meet both our objectives?” Here are some other phrases that help to productively move the conversation along:

  • “You may be right, but I’d like to understand more.”
  • “I have a completely different perspective, but clearly you think this is unfair, so how can we fix this?”
  •  “I’m not sure how this connects to what we’ve been talking about. Can you help me make the connection?”
  • “I’d like to give my reaction to what you’ve said so far and see what you think.”
  • “This may be more my perception than yours, but when you said ‘X,’ I felt . . .”
  • “Is there anything I can say or do that might convince you to consider other options here?”

You can’t force your counterpart to appreciate, understand, or even just hear your perspective. But using the tactics above increases the chances. Getting your point across, coupled with hearing your colleague out, is a necessity if you want to reach a resolution.

This article was adapted from HBR Guide to Managing Conflict at Work and How to Make Sure You're Heard in a Difficult Conversation.

Amy Gallo is the author of the HBR Guide to Managing Conflict at Work, a how-to guidebook on handling conflict professionally and productively. She is a contributing editor at Harvard Business Review, where she writes and develops ideas for the web, magazine, and press. She covers a range of topics with a focus on managing conflict, managing yourself, leading people, and building your career. Having worked with dozens of organizations and written about workplace dynamics for over a decade, Amy is particularly interested in situations in which relationships fall apart and how to repair them. Before working as a writer and editor, she was a consultant at Katzenbach Partners, a strategy and organization consulting firm based in New York (later acquired by Booz & Company, which is now Strategy&). She is a graduate of Yale University and has a master’s from Brown University. 

Can You Be Data-Discerning, Not Data-Driven?

Everyone says we must be data-driven.  I have trouble with that phrase, as discussed before.   Too often, we're making decisions based on the data presented...as is.  We're not asking the hard questions behind the data.

When I was at Bell Labs, we used to ask, "How much did you pay for that data?"  You can get data to say whatever you wanted depending on how it is presented and calculated, on what you show and what you don't.  

Before you start making decisions on the data in front of you, ask why it is the way it is, what's driving those numbers, what was the context, the constraints, the demographics, the sample size, the timeframe and frequency, etc. 

For instance, a company says it promotes more of its people than its competitors,  but perhaps it's 50yrs older? Perhaps its twice as large so the overall numbers are bigger? Perhaps it hasn't  in the past 5 yrs but given the number it had the previous 30, the overall number is still big.  Perhaps, perhaps - if you don't ask, you won't know and you could make decisions that are yes, based on the data in front of you, but not on the story behind that data. 

"Be Data-Discerning, Not Data-Driven"

I propose we start being data-discerning, not data-driven.... you may be surprised at what new insights you discover! 

The Hedgehogs' Dilemma

The Hedgehog’s Dilemma is a metaphor for the problems we have developing relationships. Look around our professional and personal lives; examples are everywhere.  My friend and colleague, Ian Gonsher, uses design thinking to solve the dilemma with applications for humans of all ages.  I bet you can think of ways to make it apply to you – at work and elsewhere.

HedgeHog's Dilemma by Ian Gonsher

from

Mills-Scofield, LLC

Ian Gonsher does research and teaches at Brown University focused on the design process and creative practice, including Design Studio and Entrepreneurship Engineering Design projects in the School of Engineering and Designing Humanity-Centered Robots in Computer Science with Michael Littman where Legos are prototyping tools.  Ian was instrumental in the development and expansion of Brown Design Workshop and several cross-disciplinary projects spanning the humanities, sciences, Medical School and RISD such as The Creative Scholar’s Project and the Creative Mind Initiative.  Some of his very cool projects have been in Make Magazine, he’s been published in Harvard Business Review and is the co-founder of Critical Designs-Critical Futures on how design thinking and activism can spur social innovation.

5 Reasons these 3 Steps Will Get You Those Top 4 Results

The Wizard of Oz © Turner Entertainment Co.

We love lists. If we do these 3 things, everything will be alright: our customers will shower us with accolades, our employees will ooze engagement and innovation and we will be profitable beyond belief. 

It doesn't work that way.  The path is not linear. It's not a set of prescribed turns to get to your destination. It's circuitous, it's emergent, and it requires thought.  So stop with the lists and start with the thinking...

If you want to lead, think... if you want to manage, keep reading those lists.

Why CEOs have Liberal Arts Degrees

Some of today's top CEOs were history, political science, sociology, chinese and music majors in college. They are leading global airline, chemical, healthcare, pharmaceutical, and financial companies, among others. There are very practical reasons for a Liberal Arts degree, and Samanee Mahbub (Brown '18) thinks the reasons are crystal clear.  Let's hear it from her. 
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A “Practical” Liberal Arts Degree

“Samanee, what on earth are you going to do with a history degree? I’m not sending you to college to become a historian.”

Those were the words my mother told me when I mentioned the idea of switching from the ever so pragmatic economics major to my newfound passion in studying the past. Not exactly resounding support.

As a college student in this technological era, I’ve felt the constant burden of having to pursue a “practical” degree. My uncle pushes engineering. My brother insists I take computer science. My dad says if I don’t like STEM, then economics is the best option for a woman who wants to pursue business. Yet my mind doesn’t light up the same way in microeconomics as it does learning about the overlapping women’s movement, anti-war movement and civil rights movements of the 1960s.  

Educating myself about the fall of the Roman Empire may not provide direct, transferable skills to the corporate office, the quirky startup, or any particular field of work. But I argue it gives me something even better: critical thinking skills.

Critical thinking skills. Quite the buzzword these days. The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking defines it as an “intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.” I have a much simpler and arguably, more relevant definition: the ability to rationally use a mental toolkit to analyze a situation with which one might not have had previous experience.

History provides me with this mental toolkit. Through my classes, I’ve been forced to question the intentions of authors of primary sources, understand biases present within my readings and even my professor, observe the tone of speakers in context to their audience, and seek out further information to support the claims I make when I write my history papers. Now let me change some of the words in this paragraph and show you how my history major will prepare me for the business world.

Through my classes, I’ve been forced to question the intentions of [investors who want to pursue a particular M&A deal], understand biases present within [reports that do not recognize key factors that affect a company’s growth], observe the tone of my [interviewer] in context [of my interview], and seek out further information to support the claims I make when [I recommend a company to diversify their revenue streams in order to save their bottom line].

The situations I study in history are different, but as seen above, the skills used are the same. History, philosophy, sociology, or any liberal arts degree will not prevent me from pursuing a career in business. These disciplines provide me with a tool kit to navigate any situation I am presented, and in my opinion, make me a better employee.

So I’m going to take that Shakespeare class (or maybe not), I will learn about Karl Marx’s theory of alienation, and I’m going to delve further into Middle Eastern history. These are my passions. Even though they don’t directly align with my career aspirations, they will not take me out of the game. A career advisor once told me that those who pursue liberal arts majors and enter finance, consulting or technology are not the exceptions. They are the norm.

Therefore, I urge everyone who loves the liberal arts to pursue their passion. These pursuits are not lost in a world where STEM is rising. You will succeed because of the thinking skills you’ve acquired. And if you’re still not convinced, just remember, the CEO of Goldman Sachs is a government major.

Samanee Mahbub is originally from Bangladesh but has explored over 19 countries.  She's dreams of leading her country out of poverty.  While in high school, she started a 50-student organization supporting Acid Survivors Foundation to help rehabilitate burn survivors of acid attacks.  She is now the core programming director for the Brown Entrepreneurship Program and Head of Design for The Intercollegiate Finance Journal.  She's spending the summer in Dhaka doing microfinance. 

If You Can't Deal with Conflict, Can You Lead?

Dan Rockwell, also known as Leadershipfreak, writes a daily blog that is simply astounding with wisdom and insight - you must sign up! With his permission, I'm reposting a rather critical one that all leaders must read and address.  When we don't deal with conflict, we inflict great damage on our organization.  Here's how to address it. Thank you Dan, for letting me repost! 
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12 WAYS TO OVERCOME FEAR AND CONFRONT LIKE A MASTER

March 7, 2015

Excellence requires confrontation.

Leaders who can’t confront:

  1. Live with nagging frustration.
  2. Fall below their potential.
  3. Lead unremarkable organizations.

4 reasons you avoid confrontation:

  1. Self interest. What if they get upset with you?
  2. False compassion. Real compassion confronts. False compassion avoids.
  3. Beliefs that confrontation is cruel. If confrontation isn’t helpful, don’t do it.
  4. Concern you won’t confront well.

12 ways to overcome fear and confront like a master:

  1. Believe in the ability of others. Protecting people prolongs weakness.
  2. Commit to serve others and make things better. Stress decreases the more you focus on serving others and bringing value.
  3. Reflect on past successes and failures, before confrontation. What worked? What didn’t work in the past? Confront your own failures or you’ll repeat them.
  4. Define what you want, but don’t practice (over-rehearse) what you say. Too much rehearsal makes you sound fake.
  5. Expand perspective. Pain limits perspective. All you think about is the toothache. Remember the big picture.
  6. Develop alternatives and chose one. Don’t look for “the” way. Find “a” way.
  7. Agree on issues. Confrontation means bringing up issues someone hasn’t acknowledged.
  8. Respond to defensiveness by asking, “What am I missing?”
  9. Use their language. One of the most challenging things I’ve heard was a simple question that contained my own words. I mentioned something I’d like to do, but had put on the back burner. He asked, “How could you move this to the front burner?” I immediately felt responsibility.
  10. Limit scope. “Everyone feels this way,” expands issues. “Here’s what I need from you,” narrows conversations to the immediate realm of control.
  11. Focus on what matters. Leaders who argue insignificant points stall progress. Ego needs to win all the time.
  12. Build relationships that withstand confrontation. How would you treat teammates today, if you knew confrontation was coming next month?

 How might leaders confront like pros?

Light the Fire and Clear the Path


In Jon Mertz’s new book, Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders, Jon talks about Soul Sparks:

“Soul sparks are those small ignitions of inspiration that fan into big changes, new directions, or fresh works. They come from deep down inside. Make your body and mind shake with excitement. These are soul sparks.” 

I am blessed to have had bosses who saw soul sparks in me and gave me opportunities to develop and spread them. These bosses mentored and supported my soul sparks up to the highest levels of the company and made sure I succeeded.  They viewed their job as lighting the fire and clearing the path for me.  Because that was how I was managed and led from the start of my career, because that was really all I personally and gratefully knew, that was how I managed and led others; how could I know otherwise?

Just as one candle lights another and can light thousands of other candles, so one heart illuminates another heart and can illuminate thousands of other hearts. ~ Leo Tolstoy

In my career, I’ve helped clients ignite soul sparks and surpass goals we thought were long shots.  I’ve had C-suiters give air cover to employees with soul sparks that when implemented changed industries, delivered value propositions for their customers’ customers and created opportunities for new hires and employee growth.   Needless to say, this is fun, rewarding and keeps sparks spreading.

Perhaps most joyful has been fueling soul sparks with Millennials I’m privileged to mentor who also mentor me.  Serendipitously, many of their stories are posted on Swearer Sparks! I love “my” Millennials sense of entitlement.  Yes! Entitlement –of being entitled to pursue their soul sparks to change the world and ignite soul sparks in others.  

Soul Sparks challenge orthodoxy

Sidney Kusher founded CCChampions as a junior in college to match kids going through the horrors of cancer treatment with pro athletes and heroes, to help them feel like champions.   Sidney’s soul spark changes the lives of these kids, their families, their doctors and nurses and their “champions” in ways he never could have anticipated.  And it changes the lives of those of us who have been a part of this journey.   I’ve been privileged to help Sidney keep the spark going when the daily frustrations of managing a staff, fundraising, and emotional drain of cancer’s reality take a toll. But soul sparks cannot be contained.  Soul sparks are contagious.  I don’t know who benefits more – Sidney when I help him be the leader at 24 I wasn’t at 30 or me from his wisdom, honestly and authenticity.  Despite the rapid growth of kids in need without the rapid growth in staff to support it, CCChampions March Madness March to Friendship surpassed all expectations and broke records – raising enough funds to support 40 new kids with cancer! 

Soul Sparks ignite when the focus is on others, not on oneself.

Jayson Marwaha and Han Sheng Chia started MED-International as sophomores in college providing medical equipment and tools for maintenance in emerging markets.  They started in Zanzibar with incubators and X-ray machines that were too ‘old’ for us in America.  Computer science and engineering students caught the spark, developing tools to track and repair equipment so it could be up and running to save and heal lives.  MED tried to grow into other emerging markets, but no viable business model emerged. After a summer of research in Tanzania and Ghana, they realized that to scale and impact patient care, they needed to be on the ground most of the time.  As a board member, I should have pushed shutting the business down earlier, since there was no viable path to profitability.  As a mentor, I knew they needed to come to that conclusion on their own, having tried all possibilities.  In the end, they created an elegant, gracious and compassionate solution – they open-sourced the software so it can be used in any hospital anywhere in the world.  In the four years MED was running, it saved lives.  Not many of us can claim that.

Soul Sparks are real.  They drive us to innovate and to make an impact.  So what will you do to ignite the Soul Spark in others? Find a way, because it will ignite a spark within you!

 

This post is part of a community-wide initiative on Soul Sparks celebrating the launch of Jon Mertz’s book, Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders.  Please read it and visit his site, Thin Difference

52 Ways to Build Trust

Many thanks to Barbara Kimmel of Trust Across AmericaTM for letting me contribute to Trust Inc.: 52 Weeks of Activities and Inspiriations for Building Worldplace Trust (Vol 3.).  My mantra, Experiment-Learn-Apply-Iterate, is a way to start building trust in one's own capabilities and one's team (pg 29).  Get the book, try out these various ways and you'll be surprised at how it works! (And if you want, buy Vol 1 & 2 as well (ok, i'm in Volume 1 too)).

How Uncertainty Can Actually Build Trust

Sometimes using what is ambiguous and unknown can build trust.  By experimenting, learning, applying and iterating we build trust in ourselves and each other.  Give it a try!  Thank you Barbara Kimmel and Trust Across America - Trust Across the World for the opportunity to be part of #TRUSTGiving2014.

"Taking risk requires trust – to discover, try, re-try, be okay with uncertainty, imperfection and even fail.  That’s why learning how to inexpensively and quickly Experiment-Learn-Apply-Iterate is critical to building trust."  Read on....

5 Lessons from an Office on the Edge

Kris Ansin is the executive director of Mali Health Organizing Project - an amazing company increasing access to primary maternal and child healthcare in Mali.  This past year, Mali repelled an Islamic coup and had it's first case of Ebola, hopefully contained.  To say Kris lives in a complex and complicated world is an understatement. This is his story of what he's learned living and working at the edge.
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I have a passion for exploring the world’s corners – those places far away from a Wall St, Main St, or any another familiar boulevard. These corners have been the places and times where I’ve learned the most about the world and myself. For the last three years, I have satiated this string of my DNA with an unconventional job – as Executive Director of a small NGO addressing maternal and child survival in slums of Mali, West Africa, where health outcomes are among the lowest in the world. Despite this unconventional “corner” office, the lessons I’ve learned (or in some cases, those imposed by necessity) have been profound, and many seem applicable in myriad professional settings.

More and more offices exist at the corner, situated in the messy confluences of cultures and technologies and in the borderlands of traditional disciplines.  As a millennial leader, I see the ways our generation’s coming of age in the workforce has prepared us to lead from these spaces, to support a more inclusive and empathetic framework, and to embrace failure as an inevitable process towards achievement.

Delegation

Every time I have assigned someone a task, rather than taking it on myself, the net effect – short-term, long-term, or both – is decidedly positive. As my grandfather, my own mentor in management, would remind me, “delegate, but don’t abdicate.” Far from the desertion of tedious tasks or monotonous busywork, this means giving team members control and independence, and constantly cleaning the edges of my own plate that, almost by definition of the role, will constantly overflow. Identifying the right person for the right job at the right time is not always obvious and itself merits deliberate thought.  This process feels more like the conducting of an orchestra than the delivery of orders or obligation. Effective distribution of accountability and responsibility, then, leads to better musicians, increased practice, more time in the spotlight, and most important, harmony.

The Danger of Assumptions

So often dissonance, disappointment, or disaster is a result of poor communications. In this job, it’s necessary to navigate differences in language, culture, and distance. It is easy for messages to be lost or distorted with such obvious traps. The recipient of a message, for completely legitimate reasons, understands in a wholly difference context than its original intention.

Assumptions, conscious or not, frequently contribute to poor communications, and I’ve tried to make that admission to myself in my interactions – often, I have no idea what another person is thinking. I have to ask, and I have to make time for the answers, and both steps are equally important. The difference between interest and position (thank you, Getting to Yes) is often clouded, but if you ask enough and listen more, the way forward can also become clear.  Last, if possible, I save important conversations for when there is no computer screen separating me from others. Despite technology’s accomplishments, there is no substitute for physically being in the same space.

Motivation

I can’t outcompete anyone, or nearly anyone, when it comes to employee compensation. It’s a troublesome and common trend in nonprofits but particularly in a small organization with a startup attitude. What I’ve found, however, is traditional views of compensation don’t reflect how people behave in – or towards – this organization. Other factors, like meaningful work, a wide degree of autonomy, and strategic recognition (both internal and external) seem to be more powerful drivers.  The ability to offer an environment replete with these conditions have nullified, or at least mitigated, what would commonly be seen as an Achilles heel. We have to pay something, and expect compensation levels to reach more equitable levels as we grow, but more meaningful forms of motivation have boded well for this organization. Interns are given real responsibilities (with real results), staff are trusted and given their own budgets to plan and manage, and a mission-driven attitude is permeable when staff members collaborate, focusing on a shared pursuit. Employee of the Month, annual Family Days, professional development stipends, the distribution of meat to field staff at the end of Ramadan, and FedEx Days are all ways we have built this culture of compensation beyond bottom line.

All of me

Professional roles in Mali are rigid. Structure and formality are common in the professional context, and if I were graded based on this rubric, I’d fail. Just ask my staff. Rather, during my extended stays in our field office, the traditional divide between work and life blurs. For me, this is a positive development. Bosses in any culture hold a degree of power and can encourage interactions that are artificial or soul-sucking (One NYT Sunday Review article just cited the fact that in a typical day, spending time with one’s boss is the #1 unhappiest activity one can perform).  Allowing my staff see a more personal side of me has led to a more intimate and productive office.  They can laugh, and appreciate, when I stammer through local languages, and helping me to navigate unfamiliar moors provides space for them to lead. They come to know me better when I share personal experience, or spend time with them in an informal setting. And in turn, they can be more of themselves, and bring more of themselves, to our shared cause.

The F-word

Addressing child survival is no small undertaking. If progress were easy, this challenge, and the many like it, would undoubtedly have been solved. But behind a simple problem are often complex influencers that necessitate sophisticated solutions. Which carries greater risk. In the nonprofit sector, results are often necessary within a calendar year, and in a business setting, quarterly earnings often inform value and success. Real progress however, is more messy and less linear. We have to innovate, test, fail, and try again, in order to ensure a true impact on such a societal problem.  Yes, evaluation is important and progress is our goal, but failure is an important part of the process, and too often swept under the rug. In traditional contexts, failure is the opposite of success; instead, failure must serve as a tool that helps achieve a goal, a course-correction that must be recognized and understood, not reduced and forgotten. The challenges of today require a redefinition of failure, and young leaders are poised to carry that torch. Having lived in a short time in the context of incredible forces of progress and regression, we realize both the consequences and the opportunities. Both are great. To find success, we have to fail.

BIO:  Kris Ansin is the Executive Director of the Mali Health Organizing Project, increasing access to quality primary care in peri-urban communities, the world's fastest growing populace. Through health saving and financing initiatives, strengthened systems between communities and clinics, and quality improvement programs at local health centers, Mali Health is developing a sustainable and participatory model of healthcare delivery in resource-strained environments. Kris grew up in Massachusetts, holds a Masters of Public Health in International Health and Development from Tulane University in New Orleans, and has worked with a number of large and small organizations in Africa and South Asia. As Executive Director, he is responsible for crafting Mali Health’s strategic vision, communications, programs, financing, and fundraising. He divides his time between the US and Bamako, Mali.

A version of this was originally published in Switch and Shift.

Where's Your Purple Crayon?

In thinking about next week's Creative Mind Lecture, designing our careers and paths and companies, I remember a classic archetype ~ Harold and the Purple Crayon! So, Where is your purple crayon? And what are you doing with it? 

© Crockett, Johnson “Harold and the Purple Crayon.” 1955 HarperCollins 

Are You Becoming Your Boss?

First post in Linkedin! Are you becoming your boss? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Have you asked your people? 

"Before you start complaining about your boss, stop and think. Sometimes, we unwittingly take on the traits we resent in our boss with our people. And, sometimes, hopefully most times, we take on traits we love the best in our bosses with our people! Here are four traits I learned from the best (and almost only) bosses I ever had and hopefully taught my people." read more

Insatiably Curious with Infinite Pie

Thanks to an introduction by Dorie Clark, I met Alan Fawcett which led to this very fun interview on Infinite Pie(great name).  Give a listen and laugh along (and hopefully learn a little)...

"From the moment I started speaking with Deborah Mills-Scofield I could hear her passion and enthusiasm for the things we were about to discuss, and we certainly discuss a lot.  Deb describes herself as insatiably curious and addicted to learning, and I can see why.  We talk about her love for books and reading, her time at Brown University (past and present), cognitive science, learning and development, and management principle, and how they can all be applied personally and professionally...There are many lessons throughout this conversation.  Of course there is ‘what’ Deb shares, but as importantly there is ‘the way’ that Deb shares them."

Control is for Beginners.....

My latest HBR post. Yes, control really is for beginners.  You don't get 'jazz' with control...only with freedom. After seeing Carl Størmer's story at BIF9 and an intense & casual chat with my friend, and daughter's jazz voice teacher, Kim Nazarian of the New York Voices, I have a very different view of management, leadership, creativity, innovation and the music of life.  Please read and comment....

ODE to Innovation

One of the most amazing leaders I’ve ever met, Mike Waite, President of Menasha Packaging Corporation, believes his job is making sure his people get to live their dreams.  While profit, revenue, shareholder value etc. are critical, without his people’s ability to turn dreams into reality – for customers and for themselves – there is no revenue, profit or anything else…simple…and too rare.  Mike is Menasha’s ODE, Official Dream Enabler. 

Dreams allow us to think of what could be, of what is possible - maybe not probable, but possible.  That’s why dreams are innovation’s fuel.  We know what happens to organizations that don’t innovate - look at the 1990 Fortune 100 list. 

We are innately creators and dreamers.  Somewhere along the way, for most of us, we are taught, encouraged, required to push those inherent capabilities to the back and obey the status quo (e.g., public education).  So how do we become an ODE to innovation?

My friend Whitney Johnson’s book, Dare, Dream, Do, provides a framework for becoming an ODE to our people and ourselves.  It provides a roadmap for risking to and realizing dreams – both for individuals and more broadly organizations.  If individuals aren’t allowed to dream, how can teams and organizations?

Three quotes in the book stick in my mind:

  • “The only safe harbor is our convictions…because it ensures we are honest to our core values.” For dreaming - innovation to have a positive impact, it must be based on values and integrity.  As we are finally recognizing from the financial crises and our youth’s response to ‘Corporate America”, without providing meaning and purpose, there is no sustainable money and profit;
  • “Sometimes we set out to be competent.  At other times our competence is simply the unintended consequence of doing what needs to be done…” We’ve been hiring for skills first and maybe culture and passion.  It’s time to turn that around.  Skills can be taught – enhancing a culture and bringing passion to work? Not so much; 
  • “Hell is a place where nothing connects with nothing.” T. S. Eliot commenting on Dante’s “Inferno”: As many of you know, connecting, networking is in my DNA.   Dreams and innovation are not solo events; they are team sports.  How you encourage, support, reward teams around common passions will determine how well you delight your customers…and your people.

Do you define your role, your success, by the ability of your people, let alone yourself, to dream? 

Do you allow your people, yourself, the freedom and autonomy to turn dreams into reality?

Can you become an ODE to Innovation? Start reading Whitney’s book – for your people, yourself, even your family.  And then you can start turning dreams into reality.  So, go – Dare, Dream, Do.

I Don't "Have it All" - Yeah!

After some tweet and email discussions with Anne Marie Slaughter and Cali Williams Yost about Anne Marie’s article on The Atlantic, and the uproar about Marissa Mayer becoming Yahoo’s CEO while she is pregnant, I decided to weigh in.  Finally, we are having an honest discussion of “having it all” instead of perpetuating a fairly tale.  While this has mainly been viewed as a ‘woman’s’ issue, it is a very human issue.

The phrase “having it all” is a huge part of the problem.  First, no human being can have it all, regardless of gender.  Second, as an advocate of Buber’s “I-Thou”, the focus of “having it all” is on I, not Thou.  I firmly believe that focusing on “I” always leads to disappointment (in ourselves and others), dissatisfaction with one’s life and an addiction to seeking satisfaction and happiness.  It leads to judging others and ourselves by what we don’t have but want, what we feel we are entitled to and what we did or didn’t do.  It leads to a treadmill of keeping up and keeping ahead.  It reinforces a binary world of it’s “me” or “them” - either/or – not “us”, not “and”.   Throughout my career, when I focus on the “Thou”, helping my clients’ solve challenges and innovate resulting in growth, jobs, philanthropy, the “I” takes care of itself.  When I focus on the needs of others, clients, entrepreneurs and students I mentor, my network, my own business grows as well, allowing me to do more “Thou”… a virtuous and incredibly rewarding (oh, “I”!) cycle.

My journey of work+life has been blessedly based on “I-Thou” + “AND”, very progressive for its time. Growing up in Bell Labs, I was very spoiled with a great deal of freedom, intellectual stimulation, and no sense of gender discrimination.  It was a discovery ‘factory’ that sought AND solutions.  My bosses were mentors who led with “I-Thou”:

  • One put his credibility on the line to promote me, a 22yr old ‘kid’, to a level that required a Ph.D. or at least MS, making me the first, if not one of, to get to that level without the required degrees;  
  • Another measured his success on his people’s success (output) and impact (outcome); he was one of the most admired, and loved, managers and had one of the highest promotion rates.

When I said I was quitting to move to Oberlin, OH to marry my husband in 1988, AT&T/Bell Labs offered to move me if I wouldn’t quit…another “I-Thou” moment.  My management made the case for paying to move me to Oberlin and pay for weekly commutes than lose me.  For 9 years I flew to NJ every week and to Europe or Asia monthly, was given a laptop with global network access, a cell phone and a fully equipped home office.  When I had children, with fabulous maternity-leave and benefits, I returned to work from home, no travel, part-time – keeping my same level and responsibilities. I was able to do very meaningful, impacting work because I demonstrated my talent and my management recognized my worth.

I love what I do. I am passionate (and blessed) about the impact my work can have on my clients’ business, employees and communities, my mentees, “portfolio companies” - professionally, organizationally and even personally.  I find it difficult to separate my passion for my ‘work’ from my passion for ‘life’ and hope to impart that to my children.  I pray they find an ‘avocation’ that integrates the various aspects of their lives.  I want them to know that they can impact the world in many ways – from career to marriage to parenthood to friendships etc.; that their solution is an AND, not Either/Or.  The workplace is evolving, in fits and starts as it fights the status quo, to make this goal more achievable than in the past. 

We’ve all make trade-offs in our lives.  It’s impossible not to.  Anne Marie Slaughter’s essay makes it clear that these are personal choices that require honest and straightforward discussion without judgment.  This is not to say that we don’t have an issue with women’s accessibility to influence and power in the ‘corporate’ world.  We do.  But we need to ease up on prescribing and focus on enabling solutions that meet the needs of the working person as a whole: as an employee, parent, spouse, sibling, child, community member, etc.   It’s messy – welcome to the 21st C!  Everything is a ‘mess’ – and what a blessing!  This messiness is the foundation of change, transformation and innovation.  Perhaps we needed to reach this point to finally create flexible, agile, nimble solutions that don’t discriminate between “work” and “life”.  This is the century of AND not Either/Or…of trying to ‘give it all’ vs. ‘have it all’.

So, what can you do to evolve to an “I-Thou” management style, culture, habit? How can you leverage that to help you and your employees create an AND solution? How can you avoid creating a false choice of Either/Or? How can you change your perspective and leverage the opportunity this ‘mess’ provides to create incredible outcomes for Thou’s?

Colliding Towards Innovation

My previous post on serendipity and randomness has caused a #RCUS (Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects via Saul Kaplan)!  Many of you have commented, shared personal experiences of Random “happy accidents” and cited “serendipity” research.  Thank you!

Let’s look at the 2nd letter – C: Collisions.  It originated in the early 15th Century as the Middle Frenchcollision from the same period of Latin collisionen, “a dashing together”. The definitions imply a variety of outcomes: 1) the act or process of colliding; a crash or conflict; 2) Physics: a brief dynamic event consisting of the close approach of two or more particles, such as atoms, resulting in an abrupt change of momentum or exchange of energy [emphasis mine].  While the first definition is rather violent, and innovation can arise from major clashes and conflicts, the 2nd definition is closer to type of Collision in #RCUS.

Think about the people you have met, collided into (virtually or literally), and the relationships and results – personal and professional.  Here are but a very few, examples:

  • A friend of mine deliberately collided with a very cute guy on the NYC subway (not Random) and 25 yrs. later, they are still married with a kid going to college.
  • Last year, I was on a flight, buried in my reading, as was the guy next to me.  For some serendipitous reason, we started chatting and now he’s a great client making a remarkable positive impact on his people.
  • Through 3 different collisions, I collided with the creator of My Little PonyÒ.  Sid Good is a terrific guy, fellow alum, makes me laugh a lot and together we’re working on some interesting ways to transform our region (and he’s going to BIF7!).

What do these have in common? In each of these, the collision caused a big change of momentum, an exchange of energy to say the least.  Something ‘new’ came from each of these: relationships, kids, ways to work, corporate cultures, products, and ways to collaborate.  The sum of the parts is indeed greater than the parts. The Collision formed new ‘stuff’ – intangible and tangible.  It’s not just about running into someone and having a nice chat; it’s about running into someone that creates enough energy to create more energy and more collisions.  That’s what is so exciting and energizing.  When you meet someone and create something together, isn’t that just amazing? It’s almost hard to express how profound it can be. This has, blessedly, been the story of my life at many levels, so I’m a little enthusiastic.  The power of the collisions’ outcomes can create solutions to wicked problems, can change ghettos into urban neighborhoods, can transform a stagnant corporation into a living company, can create vaccines for horrid diseases, and can change just one life.

So, my usual question – what collisions have been transformative for you? How did they happen? What new ‘thing’ came from them? Where will your next collision come from? Please continue to share your Randoms and Collisions in the comments, on twitter, or to me!  #RCUS on!