What are the 3 words that managers find hardest to say?

They are possibly the 3 words that parents find hardest to say to children.  They are 3 words that teachers very rarely say to their students.

They are not “You’re the Best”. They are not “I love you”.  What might they be?

Confused…

The 3 hardest words for a manager to say are “I don’t know.”

The need to act under the lack of full information does not give the excuse of not needed to do the work.  One must do the work to examine the data that is available, to seek advice from wise counsel, to speak to others who have experience; but the analysis once done, must end.  A decision must be taken by the leader.

Orchids are not Fragile

I am reading Nassim Taleb’s latest book “AntiFragile” at the moment.  I received 2 gifts of this book for Christmas – I do hope it is not because I am generally seen as “fragile” and in need of some increased strength…

I remember a conversation with my friend Xavi, who runs a gardening business.  We were talking about Orchids.  He explained “there is a widespread idea that Orchids are difficult plants, they are fragile.  This is not true.  Any plant that has survived the millions of years of evolution to survive in its form today is in no way fragile.  It is not suited to certain environments, but it is not fragile.”

Most complex organic systems not only survive uncertainty, chaos, disorder, time… they thrive.  They grow stronger though dealing with their environments.  There are forests that need fire – certain trees can only grow past a certain point if they face fire.  A human muscle will atrophy if not used, it will grow stronger through being worked, through being damaged.

Modern education equates volatility with risk, equates non-standard with failing.  Statisticians hate the outliers.

Nassim’s central idea is that we cannot predict risks, but we can predict a system’s capability to cope with risk.  We cannot predict an earthquake, but we do know whether the 400 year old cathedral or the poorly built modern apartment block will fall first.  We cannot predict a financial crisis, but we can predict which bank will fail first.  We cannot predict loss of employment, but we can see which human will come back strong the fastest.

Leading in the Real World

The real world has surprises.  Hemmingway said that the “true” parts of his stories were the most un-believable.  Fiction is never as crazy as reality.

There are 3 things a good leader must learn to be able to do:

  • Act under Uncertainty
  • Take the Painful Decisions
  • Own the Decision

Acting Under Uncertainty

I teach a class towards the end of the course on the MBA program where my objective is to create uncertainty.  As the students give their answers, I give no expression, neither verbal nor non-verbal as to whether I agree with their answer.  This creates tension in the class.  The students are used to a class where they say their answer and the professor either writes it up on the board or grimaces.  If the professor writes it up, I got the answer right.  If the professor grimaces, I change my answer until I get a nod and a note on the board.

I believe education from “The All-Knowing Professor” creates a dangerous tendency for future leaders.  In the real decisions of life, there is nobody there to nod their head, nor to say “no” or “incorrect”.  There are many people making lots of noise, and the leader needs to commit to their course of action without achieving 100% consensus, or 100% of the information that could prove the course of action.  Leaders must be able to do enough work to be fairly sure they have a good course of action, and then commit to that course of action; and get others to commit.

If MBAs are learning always to wait for someone else to give then certainty, then they are not learning to lead.  We need to ensure that tomorrows leaders are getting practice in the world of uncertainty.  They are getting practice at having to move forward without all the information.

Taking the Painful Decisions

Odysseus must choose between definitely losing a few of his men by passing closer to Scylla, or possibly losing all of his men passing nearer to Charybdis, the whirlpool.  There was no “good” alternative.  MBA cases, video games, TV series tend to allow the hero to find a “good” outcome.  They allow the business to survive with nobody losing their job.  They allow the main character to finish the journey and get back to a comfortable life.  If you have a good option and a bad option, this is not a decision.  It is obvious.  A leadership decision is always between 2 bad options.

Many of school’s choices are between a good and a bad outcome.  Most of life’s choices are between two bad outcomes.

Own the Decision

When I was young, 12 or 13 years old, I was once caddying for my father.  We were at a par 3 and we discussed what club to hit.  I suggested a 7 iron.  He thought it was not enough, but after a pause, took the 7 iron anyway.  He had a look at the green, the flag.  He took a few practice swings. He stood up to the ball.  He swung the club making good contact with the ball.  It soared up and was in line with the pin.  It hung in the air for 2, 3 seconds… and then dropped…  15 meters short, landing in the sandy bunker.

He made a pained grunt and as he returned the club to me I said “sorry, I gave you the wrong club”.  He said, “No, you are the caddy, but I am the golfer. I chose wrong.”  At the time I remember feeling bad.  I felt that I wasn’t “respected” by him, that he didn’t treat my advice as serious advice.  Now I think that he acted then as he has always acted.  He owned the decision.  I gave advice, but at no point did it become my “fault”.  He owns his decisions, whether in golf, in business or in life.

Blainroe golf club 15th hole, where I learnt my golf

Learning to take responsibility for the choice, where it is the leader themselves who must choose, is a challenge.  It takes psychological maturity to own a decision that cannot necessarily be justified with the data.  It takes psychological strength to deal with the slings and blows of others who have not had to take the decision.  Leadership is solitary.  Any education of leaders must help the leader find the mental strength necessary to be alone.

Being alone and being lonely are different.  Alone is a choice.  Lonely is the desire to have someone else to take away the burden.

A good leader has mentors, friends, advisors…  but when the decision comes, it is they and they alone who are responsible.

Increasing your Question to Answer ratio

In an uncertain world, the art of “Muddling Through” is of greater importance than the art of long-term strategic planning.  Dealing with the chaos requires accepting the chaos, and then taking quick steps to understand the map, the compass.  In management life, giving answers shrinks our understanding; asking questions increases our understanding, our capacity to adapt.

How many of your statements are answers and how many are questions?

The person asking the questions is in control of the conversation.  It is hard to remain open to other’s ideas.  It is hard to stop saying what it is that I want to say, and giving the other what it is that they need to hear.

The Best Questions…

  • The best Leadership Question:  “What is the next right thing to do?”
  • The best Teaching Question: “What do you think?  What other options do you see?”
  • The best Coaching Question: “You have achieved what you set out to accomplish.  Imagine yourself there.  What does it feel like?”
  • The best Friendship Question: “How are you?”
  • The best Parenting Question: “What was the best moment of your day?”
  • The best Sales Question: “(I understand that price is important.)  What other criteria are important in making this decision?”  (The implicit question: “What are you comparing this to?”)

These questions come from my blog series The Origin of Leaders over at ActiveGarage.com.

What do you think?

Let me see how many times I can say “I don’t know.  What do you think?” today.

So… in the comments below…  What do you think?

You finish your pitch and the customer says: “Your product is too expensive!”.  You arrive home, you’re a few minutes late: your partner says “You are always late!”.  At a dirty plate left on the table: “you never wash the dishes!”

What do you say in this moment?

How do you handle objections?  It is possible to take proactive control of your emotional state.  You can practice a habit of not reacting like a viper snake or a cornered bear.  It will improve how you sell, it will improve how you manage… and it will improve the quality of your relationships.

Aikido Conversation

An Aikido Dojo

I posted a short video yesterday to my YouTube Channel explaining a concept that I teach in my class on persuasion: “Aikido Conversation”.

From: “What I want to say”

The most important step in persuasion is being able to leave behind “what I want to say” and move to what “they need to hear”.  It requires emotional control that we don’t have as standard.

To: “They need to hear”

When someone gives you an objection, or accuses you of something – the real issue is underneath, not at the surface.  If you react with what “I want to say” you will have a fight, you will lose the opportunity to understand what is really at issue.

How to deal with Objections

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ylH5emU7JRA]

Transcript of the Video:

You finish your pitch and the customer says: “It’s quite expensive”… “Your product is too expensive!”

You arrive home, you’re a few minutes late: your partner says “You are always late”

At a dirty plate left on the table: “you never wash the dishes”

What do you say in this moment?

Most of you, and myself included, went through 14 years of school where we were taught one way to respond to questions:

Teacher asks questions “how do you spell cat?”
Student: “C A T”

Teacher: “what is the biological process called osmosis?”
Student puts hand up explains in detail the process through which cell membranes allow water to go from one side to the other.

So for 14 years you’ve been taught that you provided an answer to a question. If you went to university you probably had another 3,4 years where you gave answers to questions…  but in real life, in persuasion in getting to what the other person is really about, what their needs really are the worst thing you can do is give an answer to question. If someone says “your product is too expensive” and you said “no it’s not! it’s only €1000” you’ve lost every chance to understand what else is behind their reasoning.

If you get home and your partner says “you’re always late!”

“No no no! Tuesday I definitely was here on time”… you’re gonna have a crap weekend

You’ve had 14, if not 18 years of training that you answer questions and it’s going to cause fights in your home life, it’s going to cause problems at work, it means you’re not selling anything.

Because when someone says your product is too expensive, that’s not what their real issue is.  When someone says “I will have to speak to my boss” that’s not what their real issue is.

If we had lots of time here I would create a little role-play thing because what happens here in our model of the human brain: the stem, emotion

When your partner says “you’re always late” emotion goes up and what happens is this part disconnects. The way to make someone stupider is insult them, object to them tell them they are wrong. When asked a question there’s an emotional reaction.

Emotion up, Intelligence down

and the higher emotion goes
the lower thinking goes

so if you don’t practice this response you’re not going be able to do it in the moment.  if you don’t practice repeatedly how you’ll respond to

  • “you’re always late!”,
  • “you never wash the dishes!”,
  • “you never do your part of the share!”
  • “your product is too expensive!”,
  • “your competitor is better!”,
  • “you failed us 3 years ago!”
  • “I don’t trust your company!”

if you don’t practice this habit of not giving an answer. You’re not going to be able to do it in the heat of the moment.

So i would say this: when you are asked a question or given an objection what I want you to do is say “I understand”, and repeat in your words what they’re saying:

Them: “your product is too expensive!”

You: “I understand that money is an important factor for you, What other criteria will be used in taking this decision?”

You understand… and you give an open question back. I call this “Conversation Aikido”

Martial Arts

Martial Arts are about using the energy, the force of the opponent against them. In Judo, if someone punches you pull their arm and you allow the energy to keep flowing.  In Karate… don’t be where the energy is arriving.  In Aikido the concept is you go towards the punch, go towards the energy

If someone punches you, if someone asks you a question, if someone objects or says you’re wrong: The Aikido method is go towards and see the world from their view.

In Aikido you learn to go towards the punch, dodge it, and look and you are seeing the world in the same direction as the person who’s attacking you.

“I understand”

It takes some habit to start to be able to give “I understand” and fill in good words so practicing

  • “you’re always late!”…
  • “I understand you feel frustrated”
  • “I understand you feel let down”
  • “I understand…”

You will have to work on this quite a few times over the next 10 years to find the set of words that captures what the other person feels, what’s behind it

  • “What can we do now?”
  • “What happened during the day?”,
  • “What would you like to talk about?”,
  • “What can we do this weekend?”

so that is the way that instead of when you get punched, walking straight into the punch, having a very bad weekend;  when a client says “you’re too expensive!” and you say “No we are not!”: You learn nothing:

  • about who else they are considering
  • what other criteria are important
  • what process they have gone through
  • who else is involved in the decision

I hope that, and this takes 14 years of it being drummed into you… 4 more, 18 if you went to university.  It’s gonna take you at least 18 years to get out of the habit of responding to questions with answers

We live in an uncertain world and we don’t have the answers but by giving the answer we shut down the possibility of hearing what’s really going on in the other person’s mind, in the other person’s business, what other things are going on; so if someone says:

“your product is too expensive” -> “I understand that money is an important criteria for you what other things are important in this decision?”

“I’ll have to talk to my boss in this” -> “Hey, this is an important decision I understand you want to get everyone involved”  “When can I come and meet with you and your boss together?”

…that’s a bit of a closed question…

but the habit here is being good at “I understand” and accepting the energy that is coming from the other person and then giving back an open question

and I guarantee that if you do it 4 times: the answer to your 4th open question begins to be what’s the real underlying need issue, interest of the person that you’re listening to.

20121120-121048.jpg

How do I become a better listener? Become aware of what level you are listening at.

There are 5 levels of listening:

  1. not listening
  2. hearing the noise, waiting for silence
  3. hearing the words, preparing my response
  4. hearing the meaning from my point of view
  5. hearing the emotion, meaning and point of view of the other person.

Level 5 requires complete attention and is very tiring. It is not necessary that you always listen at this level.

There are times my daughter is talking and she just needs to know that I am here in the room with her. There are other moments when she is sharing something important that has happened and will benefit from level 5 listening.

It is too tiring to always listen at level 5.

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Tobias Rodrigues

This is a guest post by Tobias Rodriguez. Tobias runs seminars on Conflict Management and is a leading member of Toastmasters in Barcelona. Follow him on twitter [twitter-follow screen_name=’conflictmentor’] or check out his blog.

An ancient Greek storyteller, called Aesop, said: An Eagle was soaring through the air when suddenly it heard the whizz of an Arrow, and felt itself wounded to death. Slowly it fluttered down to the earth, with its life-blood pouring out of it. Looking down upon the Arrow with which it had been pierced, it found that the shaft of the Arrow had been feathered with one of its own plumes. “Alas!” it cried, as it died.

Moral of Aesop’s Fable: We often give our enemies the means for our own destruction

The stories we tell ourselves shape our conflicts

The moral of Aesop’s fable is equally true when it comes to conflicts: We often give conflicts the means for our own frustration and breakdown. How? With the stories we tell ourselves about the situation, the other person and especially ourselves. For instance, we often surrender to the impulse of telling ourselves that certain situations will never change, that certain people are hopeless and that we ourselves don’t have what it takes to make it work. This means that, like in Aesop’s fable, we are giving the conflict the power to control us, and thus setting ourselves up for a breakdown. It means, we are preparing ourselves to interact with someone who is hopeless (whether he or she is or not). It means, we are determining that whatever efforts we make, we are intrinsically bond to be a slave to our own inability. With this mindset, the kind of results we can expect is rather obvious!

Voltaire said that common sense is not so common. This is a great example. We know that if we don’t believe in ourselves, there is no chance of achieving our goals. And yet, when we’re dealing with conflicts, the stories we tell ourselves often carry the moral “whatever you do, this is going nowhere.”

Let’s change that! The following are the three stories you can choose to tell yourself when you’re in a conflict. Using these stories, you’ll become empowered to see the conflict in a new light, stop perceiving the other person as fierce enemy, and recognize within yourself the skills and tools to manage the situation.

A conflict is an encounter of apparently incompatible forces

This is my definition of a conflict and I highly recommend it. A definition establishes the meaning of a specified thing. And positive definitions mean positive meanings. Thus, a positive definition of conflict is crucial for effective management. Among other things, this definition does two positive things for you:

  • it frames the conflict in terms of “compatibility / incompatibly,” instead of the more common “right or wrong” and “good or bad.” These latter terms are much more rigid to work with, because they are profoundly imbedded in us, while differing to some extent from person to person.
  • it places the focus on what appears to be (“apparently”), thus making the conflict a joint challenge instead of a rival fight: “Let’s see if these forces are in fact compatible or not.”

“The person is not the problem. The problem is the problem” — Michael White

This is also a fantastic story! Imagining that a person is the problem that needs fixing is a risky business, because to fix the problem you’ll need to change the person, and… good luck with that! (I find that people don’t tend to change that easily.) On the other hand, if we look at the conflict as a third party, as an independent object, as a “thing” with a life of its own, we can focus on understanding what effects the conflict has caused on our lives, and how we feel about that. The end result is that the recurring language of blaming and guilt, accusing and shame, criticizing and defensiveness will disappear! New air will invade our minds and enable new understandings.

Conflicts mean we care

This is perhaps the best story of the three, and the most enigmatic. It’s true that some people sometimes do wrong things for the wrong reasons on purpose. That is sometimes. If you take a good look at a good part of the conflicts you experience, you’ll discover otherwise. We’ll see that for some reason or another, we get into conflicts because we care and because the other party also cares. At some fundamental level, there is interest and concern, which means that we are not insignificant to the other person. On the contrary, conflicts mean you are that important to other person that he or she is willing to struggle with you for some good (think about: you would struggle with someone if they were insignificant to you?). And this is a whole new story, because it lets you acknowledge what you have in common and how much you both value it. A whole new frame for a conversation, I would say…

Just like Aesop’s story has come a long way to positively shape our lives, the positive stories we tell ourselves are the glue that keep our dream of happiness together.

Me, Geert Hofstede, My Dad

I spent the last 3 days with Prof Geert Hofstede in Finland.  He is 82 years old and still passionate and excited about his work.  He is the 4th most cited Social Scientist of all time (and the only one of the top 5 that is still alive).  His major contribution has been in the area of culture.

What is Culture?

Geert Hofstede defines it as “the collective programming of the mind distinguishing the members of one group or category of people from another”. The “category” can refer to nations, regions within or across nations, ethnicities, religions, occupations, organizations, or the genders.

The 6 dimensions of National Culture

(from Geert Hofstede)

Prof. Geert Hofstede speaking to us at Espoo, Finland

Power Distance (PDI)
Power distance is the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. This represents inequality (more versus less), but defined from below, not from above.

Individualism (IDV)
Individualism on the one side versus its opposite, collectivism, is the degree to which individuals are integrated into groups. On the individualist side we find societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after her/himself and her/his immediate family. On the collectivist side, we find societies in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, often extended families (with uncles, aunts and grandparents) which continue protecting them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.

Masculinity (MAS)
Masculinity versus its opposite, femininity, refers to the distribution of emotional roles between the genders which is another fundamental issue for any society to which a range of solutions are found. The assertive pole has been called masculine and the modest, caring pole feminine. The women in feminine countries have the same modest, caring values as the men; in the masculine countries they are more assertive and more competitive, but not as much as the men, so that these countries show a gap between men’s values and women’s values.

Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI)
Uncertainty avoidance deals with a society’s tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity. It indicates to what extent a culture programs its members to feel either uncomfortable or comfortable in unstructured situations. Unstructured situations are novel, unknown, surprising, different from usual. Uncertainty avoiding cultures try to minimize the possibility of such situations by strict laws and rules, safety and security measures, and on the philosophical and religious level by a belief in absolute Truth: “there can only be one Truth and we have it”.  The opposite type, uncertainty accepting cultures, are more tolerant of opinions different from what they are used to; they try to have as few rules as possible, and on the philosophical and religious level they are relativist and allow many currents to flow side by side.

Long-Term Orientation (LTO)
Long- term oriented societies foster pragmatic virtues oriented towards future rewards, in particular saving, persistence, and adapting to changing circumstances. Short-term oriented societies foster virtues related to the past and present such as national pride, respect for tradition, preservation of “face”, and fulfilling social obligations.

Indulgence versus Restraint (IVR)
Indulgence stands for a society that allows relatively free gratification of basic and natural human drives related to enjoying life and having fun. Restraint stands for a society that suppresses gratification of needs and regulates it by means of strict social norms.

Country Values
This is a sample of the values on these 6 dimension for a range of countries.  The full list of countries is available as an excel download here.

Country
PDI
IDV
MAS
UAI
LTO
IVR
Africa East 64 27 41 52 32 40
Africa West 77 20 46 54 9 78
Arab countries 80 38 53 68 23 34
Australia 36 90 61 51 21 71
China 80 20 66 30 87 24
France 68 71 43 86 63 48
Germany 35 67 66 65 83 40
Great Britain 35 89 66 35 51 69
Greece 60 35 57 112 45 50
Ireland 28 70 68 35 24 65
Italy 50 76 70 75 61 30
Japan 54 46 95 92 88 42
Netherlands 38 80 14 53 67 68
Romania 90 30 42 90 52 20
Russia 93 39 36 95 81 20
Spain 57 51 42 86 48 44
U.S.A. 40 91 62 46 26 68

Cultural Awareness

I lived in Ireland til I was 14, then USA til 16, then London til 18.  We spoke the same language in each place, but it took a year or so until I really understood the kids and teachers around me.  The explicit stuff is easy, it is the implicit, assumed stuff that is really dangerous in creating misunderstanding.

“I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.” George Bernard Shaw
Beware of Pigs

One tool of “pigs” in manipulative persuasion is the rhetorical fallacy.  A fallacy is a deliberate mis-use of logical argument.  You’ll find them regularly in political, social and family “discussions”.  Don’t get drawn in to a debate centered on a fallacy.  Ignore the fallacy and re-connect with the argument.

Ski Trail 4496Here are eight common rhetorical fallacies:

  • Slippery slope – “If we let Europe regulate our banks, next we will all be speaking German“. This fallacy connotates a small (reasonable) step with a much larger (unreasonable) outcome.
  • Sweeping Generalization – “Smoking kills; therefore all smokers are suicidal“. This generalizes one element of a decision to smoke in absence of the broader set of reasons for smoking.
  • Hasty generalization – “Everyone I know likes chocolate; therefore everyone likes chocolate“. My sample is not representative of the larger population.
  • Straw man – “If we just open up our borders, every beggar, lazy and crazy will be here tomorrow.”   This is a false argument that avoids the real issue.
  • False choice – “You’re either with us, or against us.”  This statement presents 2 options when in reality 3 or more choices exist.  Another common example: “If you really loved me, you would…
  • Argument from authority – “Because I’m your father“.  There is no logic involved.  This is not an argument.  
  • Argument from force – “Give me the toy or my big brother will beat you up.”  No argument, just the threat of force.  It can be subtle.  
  • Ad hominem attacks – “Vote for me because the other guy is a liar.”  A personal attack, ignoring the actual argument.


Beware the Pigs Inside

These are used by other people, but I sometimes find that some of my own inner reasoning falls into the fallacy structure.  As I reflect on my own thinking processes, I watch carefully for use of these fallacies.  My ego loves to come up with self-serving but false logic to prove my “rightness”.

Have you spotted any fallacies today?