The Reactive Culture
My kiddo has a day off from school and enjoys beginning their morning with YouTube. I can't quite argue, I spent a bit of time watching the news. The difference I hope we encounter is that kiddo is making choices about what is put in front of those eyes and I am passively listening to what people deem is worthy of delivering from news desks.
As I am fluttering around, I listen for content. I enter the room and ask:
Me: Are you watching someone else watch a video and react to it?
Kiddo: And, now you're watching me react to a video that they are reacting to watching.
Points for meta-awareness! And...a question immediately emerged: Are we merely a reactive society? Our opinions & judgments seem to be the way culture contributes here in America. Except, there has to be someone doing the "thing" in which we all are entitled to care about, speak about, rip on, etc. Or, are the things just folks doing life? I think about my social media feeds and the channels on YouTube that are literally called: so-and-so reacts or that's the purpose of their channel: reacting. And, I've noticed...the bigger the reactions, the better the audience numbers. Hype ensues and I see the impact in my kiddo...reactions are expressed in meme form: "This is me when I see something cringy" (stands feet apart, hands lifted to the waistline with palms facing up, crinkled up nose and mouth and eyes narrowing)." Also in kiddo's emotional responses, cue my folks saying, "you're making a mountain out of a molehill!" I have my own cringy reaction to that...but, I see the point...everything is "big" or you might not get noticed.
Emoji's, trolling commentators, memes, channels...all ripe for reaction while watching others live life.
Can we try interacting?
The answer is always..."TRUST."
The trust we have in people and in organizations comes, in part, from believing that they do care.”
I don't like to dabble at the poles of the spectrum: "Never________________Always."
And, here I am. I grow tired of data repackaged to fit your program, whatever the title is.
I read ONE more article about the health of organizations. Now, thanks to Gallup, we have pre-pandemic data to contrast organizational performance in a pandemic and forecast what's next.
And, why do we care? Because they are in the Fortune whatever category. So, let's emulate their success.
I get it. We all need benchmarks to strive for; efforts that yield success; the secret sauce that has oozed out from the latest data set.
BUT! Are we looking in the right places? The latest data reveals that empathy from managers and trust in employees to work remotely WERE the key ingredients in the sauce.
But, this is nothing new. We've heard it before. The importance of emotional intelligence in managers. The importance of TRUST in organizations, trust in business relationships between colleagues, managers, AND customers. Yet, we want steps...strategies...quick fixes. How do you operationalize trust? Why would anyone put money into an emotional, intangible, 'how do we measure it?' initiative?
BECAUSE IT IS THE SECRET SAUCE!
So, while you chalk it up to employee engagement, or the manager (Yes, I'm speaking to you, Gallup), you're overlooking the most important quality to build, the one cited in research (Yes, Gallup, you) the bedrock of an organization: TRUST.
Trust impacts our brains, our behaviors, and mindsets. It's the common denominator in relationships. And relationships are HOW work gets done!
Yes, it takes work. Yes, it's ongoing...not a ONE AND DONE strategy. Yes, you can build it. Yes, you can measure it.
When has there ever been a better time? The pandemic has re-shaped so many institutions, organizations, and HOW work gets done.
Social justice, racial equity, and diversity and inclusion efforts are more prevalent! Imagine trying to redefine your culture, create safety for these efforts, implement any new policy/procedure, or interrupt how you do business without TRUST?
Props to those who have seen the impact, collected data, and have done the work to convince others of the value to organizations!
A quick read that includes resources:
Why Trust Matters at Work (shrm.org) by Dori Meinart, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)
"The Speed of Trust The One Thing That Changes Everything," Stephen M.R. Covey
"The Business Case for a High-Trust Culture," a 2016 report by Great Place To Work: Business_Case_for_High_Trust_Culture.pdf (greatplacetowork.ca)
"The 2018 Trust Outlook," by The Trust Edge Leadership Institute: 2018-Trust-Outlook.pdf (trustedge.com)
ONE Conversation at a Time
The world has changed a lot in a year...the last time I entered a blog post!
I pause to think about how much has changed, how I've changed.
A pandemic and racial revolutions have called folks onto the carpet of what really matters internally and externally. Lip service is no longer enough. True action is what's desired. I am bursting to write today's note because I think they are intertwined.
Here's a slice of my own story.
In my family and friend's circles, I was known as "the brutally honest one." It became wide-known, if you wanted the brutal truth, "Ask Brandy, she'll tell you." And, I obliged.
Positives: in general, people believed I was telling them the truth. They trusted me to be honest about my thoughts, feelings, beliefs, etc. People relied on me as others weren't so candid.
Negatives: Oftentimes, the truth I was dropping was brutal...and I wanted nothing to do with the aftermath. It was akin to dropping verbal hand grenades. People avoided me because of the pain.
I sure was courageous... to share MY truth...so I thought.
It is courageous to speak up. It is cowardly to use "truth" as a shield to hide behind. I used my truth as a shield...think of the popular phrase, "The truth hurts." I remained blameless and refused to be held accountable for the resulting, usually negative, aftermath...all in the name of truth. The stories I'd tell myself: They needed to hear it. How could they not see it? I'm just the messenger. Nobody else was telling them! I'm a good person for speaking up.
This mimics the current climate of the day from our nation's leadership to social media to Internet trolls. Justification phrases such as "I'm just sayin'," "I'm just telling it like it is," and "Sorry, not sorry." all contribute to putting up a shield; a lack of personal accountability for what’s left over when you drop your “truth bomb.”
And, that’s the trouble…truth is subjective. Also, when you become a mouthpiece for telling hard truths, you gather others who want you to do it for them. In my family, I ran for office and was elected (as some of my wise professors used to say). I tried out this behavior, was subsequently rewarded and reinforced by family and friends to hold this position and continue the behavior. I was, quite frankly, an a$$hole.
Speaking up is courageous. Hanging in there to engage with your impact is courage magnified. Maybe you have a better term for it. Maybe it's courage matured.
Why tell this story now? As someone who did a 180°turn after becoming aware of my jerk status, I shut down and became afraid to share what was on my mind. I feared my own impact.
Fear can keep you imprisoned or show up as a self-aggrandizing shield.
This is what I sense in the world currently. We need some serious conversations and actions around race relations and our political system. Folks seem to be showing up at either end of the spectrum: spouting off at the mouth or afraid to speak up.
I’ve been at both. It doesn’t serve you, others around you, our communities, or the nation.
Find your middle. How?
Care about others, including those not like you. Yes, it’s a prerequisite if you want to manage your impact!
Anchor in care and curiosity.
Share your intention and fear, if it’s present (fear of offending, looking ignorant, losing your temper, hurting another, etc.).
Be open and willing to learn.
Check your ego. Be willing to be wrong/disagreed with.
Give your lip service. Then, stick around for how what you said affects others. That will create meaningful conversations on how to unify for change.
Wounds and their purpose.
Sorry for the poor video quality...hope it doesn't impact you receiving the message!
Yesterday was about relationships and organizational culture. Giving and receiving feedback was the example of how behaviors get made into policies/norms in an organization. As promised, today’s post will contain tips on how to effectively give/receive feedback.
Feedback inherently is neither right nor wrong. It is given through the lens of one person who has a whole set of mental filters on how they see the world.
For the giver:
Always start with this question posed to yourself:
Why am I giving this feedback?
If your answer is to be in service to another, such as assisting them in becoming more effective, please proceed.
If your answer is to get someone to stop doing something that’s bothering you, then that is called reporting impact. Instead of calling it feedback, try this:
“Hey, BB, I am having an issue and hope you can assist with it. I am having trouble concentrating. When I hear your phone notifications throughout the day, it breaks my state of concentration and affects my productivity. Would you be willing to silence it or turn down the volume?”
If they say, “No,” then at least you explored that solution to your problem. Or, you could ask for their ideas on how to make the environment work for both of you. No traction? Move on.
Now that you’re clear…ASK PERMISSION! Ask the intended receiver if you can give them some feedback. If they aren’t ready, ask when.
Keep it behaviorally specific. Describe the behavior. Report impact/thoughts/emotions. Get curious—ask what’s going on for that person, their motivation, intentions. Request for a different behavior/action.
Ex: I saw you typing on your phone during the meeting. When I see that, I think you’re not present with what’s being discussed or you’re communicating your thoughts elsewhere. Is that what’s going on or is there something else happening? I would like to see you giving your attention to the speaker and share your thoughts/feelings here in the hopes that it will make these meetings more interesting and productive. Will you refrain from using your phone during the meeting?
Focus on the now. No piling on (building up examples from the past to lay on a person in the now). This can destroy trust (“Why haven’t you said anything until now?”) and create emotional overload while trying to process all of your past examples. Namely, you’ll lose them in the moment to taking a trip inside their head. P.S. don’t fill your rucksack…it’s weighing everyone down.
Be confident in giving it alone—now is not the time for allies. In fact, if members of a group publicly agree or add in on your feedback, please ask them to refrain. That will only create more piling on in multiple directions.
For the receiver:
You can take it or leave it. This is not a coping mechanism approach. This is based on those aforementioned mental filters, which develop based on one’s experiences. For example, I had given feedback to a senior leader in a 20-person group training session that her verbal contributions were often and lengthy. I asked her to shorten her contributions and how often she spoke. Another person spoke up and said that her examples and stories helped them understand and apply the material. She then had two sets of data to draw from in shaping her behavior.
May be applicable in certain contexts. For example, speaking large quantities of words may be beneficial in some settings and hindering in others, e.g., a full day retreat versus a 30-minute meeting.
Emotional reaction is likely to occur. We are meaning-making beings, which includes how we see and feel about ourselves. We accept and publicly embrace positive emotions that come along with our positive feedback. Not so much with negative feedback. If you find yourself responding with high emotions, first try and self-regulate as listening goes down when emotions go up. You’ll need access to your brain’s executive function ONLY to ask clarifying questions. Do not defend, justify, or rationalize. Under those defensive postures is a need to understand. If you can do that internal work quickly, do so. If you cannot, you have two choices: 1. Ask the speaker to repeat what was said so you can ensure you’ve heard it (even writing it down can be a way to make sure you got it and regulate your emotions). 2. Report out that you’re overwhelmed with this new information and you need some time/space. Boundaries are important.
Say, “Thank-you.” This phrase comes naturally after positive feedback. Try it with negative feedback as well. A person spoke up, hopefully in the interest of helping you become more effective. That takes courage and vulnerability. Treat it like a gift.
Notice how most of these examples can create openings or strengthen your relationships. IF…
· You’re truly solution-oriented
· Genuinely curious about another
· Vulnerable enough to check out your assumptions
· Not attached to being right.
Speaking of which…what did I miss? Please add your tips/experiences/disagreements in the comments. Thank you.
Hearing this word probably stirs up feelings inside of you. It does for me. And, it does for organizations. Have you ever heard the expression… “praise in public, criticize in private?” This has generated a cultural norm, that this is the correct way of interacting with another where there are more than two participants. Is this the “right” way?
I believe that most norms/policies were created because of one instance. Picture it…one instance where someone gave another person critical/corrective feedback in front of others and it went poorly. So, a norm/policy was enacted to curb this behavior. Why? It was probably uncomfortable for those who witnessed it and severely uncomfortable for the one receiving it. This instance probably created some interpersonal residue and fear. I get it. To minimize the impact, make a rule that says, “Don’t criticize in public.”
I also believe that this is a symptom—it’s not the diagnosis. Meaning, the inability to deliver feedback well is not the issue. It’s the culture. The culture consists of relationships, operating norms, how we get things done, roles/goals, values, etc. If the culture isn’t one that supports flubs or airs hurt feelings, then we’ll never build our skills. Giving and receiving feedback IS a skill. Too many times we believe we have to perfect our skills before we can practice them. False. Life is the playground/practice field. Get monkeying around.
Do you have a trusted colleague/relationship at work? If not, start there. Have a real conversation about your relationship…
Do you trust me? If not, what behaviors do you need to see to build trust?
What types of things can I come to you with?
I’m looking at trying on some new skills. Would you be willing to give me some feedback on three ways I am or am not performing this new skill?
***I realize these are all questions that are geared for oneself. To build an effective relationship, you must inquire about and support the other. AND, to build relationships/trust, especially in the working environment, it’s helpful if someone extends some vulnerability. So, in these examples, that someone would be you. Read the room. If someone seems utterly shocked that you’re asking them for anything, circle back and work on building the relationship!
I began with FEEDBACK. Tomorrow I will be providing some skill building tips on how to give feedback effectively. Today, make building the relationships the norm.
PERCEPTION & IMPACT…
While having dinner last night with my kiddo, we talked about how things were going.
Me: “How are you doing?”
Kiddo: “Pretty good. But, I could be better.”
M: “What do you mean? How could you be better?”
K: “If I could go back to being a baby, things would be better. More people would want to be with me. More people would come up and say, ‘Hi.’”
Me, heartbroken: “How do you know that?”
K: “People are always coming up to babies, but not to me.”
Me: “It’s not you, it’s them. Babies bring out something in people, a newness, hope, awe of discovering new things. If you went back, you wouldn’t have been able to tell me this awesome discovery you just had.”
I then went on to tell kiddo how I had done the exact thing he complained about that day. While at the library, there were at least 10 kids there. I paid particular attention to a baby, listening to the coo’s, gurgles, and fussing. I did watch a few kids give an impromptu puppet show, but otherwise the other kids were just there, like books on the shelves.
I wanted to solve these feelings of inadequacy and inattention for my kiddo. I started focusing on reasons…some people are baby people, some are not…some people stay away from kids to avoid sending the wrong message…etc. Pulling myself out of my reasons and justifications, I was able to make the parallel between material from The Arbinger Institute. Their books, “Leadership and Self-Deception” and “The Anatomy of Peace” discuss how mindset drives behavior. These books talk about how we see others: as people like us versus objects. It’s a deeper sense that refers to our “way of being.” (For more info, seek out the books and visit https://arbingerinstitute.com)
I was definitely seeing most of these children at the library as objects, not as people who have hopes and dreams as valid as mine. After all, I was there with a list of things to accomplish…hello, awareness!
I get it. I get that he feels ignored and invisible: object-like.
I get that our behaviors are an outward extension of what’s going on for us, including how we view the world and the nouns—people, places, and things in it. Today, be mindful of how you’re engaging with your surroundings…because a 6 ½ year old can pick up on it and it’s leaving an impact!
Attempting to work from home while sharing the same space with my kiddo—who began Summer break.
Day one began with sadness that there was no school. What?! I have spent 75% of school mornings:
1. Convincing said kiddo about the value found at school when, "I don't want to go to school!!!" is uttered.
2. Nagging kiddo to get ready in a timely fashion.
3. Lecturing about the importance of being on-time.
4. Teaching about responsibility & the privilege of obtaining an education.
I'm guessing this may be familiar territory for other parents...And...I feel frustrated that this small human did a 180° turn on me today!
Sound familiar? Even if you don't have any children, perhaps you've experienced this behavioral switcheroo from what you’ve established as the norm between you and another human.
What I didn’t account for was the change itself. Consider organizations. Change projects come and go, with varying degrees of success. Search on-line and you’ll find a popular 70% failure rate of change projects in organizations. You’ll also find best strategies to make change successful. Good on paper. In action?
Let’s review my situation.
Did leadership communicate the vision? I told my kiddo what the expectations were for Summer. This is okay…but is it compelling?
Did leadership communicate the expectations and how the change would impact kid’s daily work? I stated there were continued school learning objectives, life goals, and exercise. I did not state how the daily impact would look.
Did leadership ask for buy-in and support? Uh-oh, this was a top-down initiative. I did not include kiddo in creation of the vision, nor did I ask for kiddo’s commitment.
These are only a few questions to ask of yourself when involved in change projects. To summarize, I created a vague vision with no structure or buy-in. What’s fascinating is I thought I was preparing kiddo for the change while giving the freedom to select when to do the daily expectations. It backfired. I took the kid from clearly structured time intervals to open-ended days without providing the skills needed or executive function to be successful.
Essentially, I went from a micro-managing leader who instructs at every turn to getting out of the vehicle entirely with little direction to continue.
Small wonder I’m seeing erratic behavior from change whiplash.
I am fascinated by pictures and happenings in our world and nature.
I choose brick pattern photos to illuminate the pathways in which we, humans, organize. They tend to be bottom-up, hopefully rooted in strength. They tend to display pathways on how they were built and how they interact. They tend to crack & discolor, with the mortar and brick chipping away. Yet, they stand. Until some wonderous form of nature-human or Mother-brings them down.
All of this reminds me of organizations. Humans build them, they get weathered, and maybe someone tends to them until it's time for a renovation or vintage becomes cool again. Or, worse, they stand vacant.
I feel sad looking at abandoned buildings. I think of the promise they once held, the energy from the people who inhabited them, and the work discontinued.
Nature is my hope. I enjoy watching ants organize, plants expand, and lifecycles emerge. They are successful at being & doing which reminds me of the simplicity of being alive. They also recognize the strength of interdependency. I am in awe when I see natural "foes" working together in nature (see plover bird & crocodile). They persevere.
We create. Do we maintain or innovate? Stand vacant? How are your pathways working for you? Is your view of a "foe" getting in your way of a mutually exclusive benefit?
Time to check-in. Hope these questions help.
Brandy Boak has worked in organization development since 2007. Enhancing the "human" part of organizations has been the biggest payoff for herself and others.