#Gratitude #Leadership #EmployeeEngagement

Assumptions, Projection, and Other Ways to Kill Engagement at Work
Assumptions, Projection, and Other Ways to Kill Engagement at Work 1080 722 Jason Lauritsen

A wise friend is fond of saying, “If only people would conform to our expectations of them.”

It’s her way of reminding us (and probably herself) that much of the drama that exists in our lives with other people starts with us. And that if we’d accept people for who they are and where they are instead of projecting on them how we think they “should be,” everyone would be happier.

Throughout my career, most of my most frustrating experiences at work were rooted in my frustration that someone, usually my boss, wasn’t behaving in the way I wanted them to.

I’ve had bosses who couldn’t communicate with me in the way I wanted. Others who couldn’t create a vision for me in the way I wanted it. Others who didn’t support me or my development the right way.

In most of these cases, my response to these unmet expectations can be summarized in one word: drama. I got frustrated, irritated, and sometimes angry. This, in turn, invited my bosses to be frustrated, irritated, and sometimes angry with me.

The irony in all of this is that in nearly every case, my boss and I actually wanted the same thing. In fact, they usually were trying to help me get what I wanted.  They just couldn’t do it in the specific way I thought they should.

So…drama. What a waste.

Projecting our expectations of others to behave or be only the way we think they should damages a relationship. When relationships suffer at work, our engagement takes a hit.

Another enemy of engagement making assumptions. Just last week, I was worrying that something I’d said had offended someone close to me. I stressed about it for a day before finally apologizing.

It turns out, I hadn’t offended this person at all. It was a faulty assumption I’d created in my mind..

We make assumptions all the time, particularly when someone behaves in a way that we didn’t anticipate.

  • Why didn’t she speak up to defend me?
  • Why did they schedule that meeting without including me?
  • Why didn’t they keep me in the loop on that?

When things like this pop up, our default reaction is to assume the worst.

  • She’s trying to distance herself from me.
  • They are trying to undermine me.
  • There must be something shady going on.

Negative assumptions lead to drama in relationships.

What to do?

Assumptions and projections are something I’ve wrestled without throughout my life. As a result, I notice how frequently these happen at work. It’s so common that we don’t even notice that it is happening a lot of the time.

Solving for these issues isn’t easy because it’s so ingrained in our human nature. But there are mindsets and practices I’ve found to be incredibly helpful.

  1. Be clear about what you need and ask for it. In any relationship, when the other person isn’t behaving the way you expect, check in with your own expectations. What is it exactly that you need from this person that you aren’t getting? Maybe you need your spouse to help with the chores without you feeling like you have to prod. Or maybe you need your boss to give you more space to do your job. Regardless of what it is, be crystal clear on what you need, why you need it, and how having it would affect you. Then, share that with the other person.Most of the time, the other person wasn’t clear on your needs and is willing to work with you to find a way to make it happen. It may not be exactly as you imagined, but as long as you get what you need, you’ll be happier.
  2. Assume positive intentions. When someone else behaves in a way that you didn’t expect or doesn’t make sense to you, instead of making an immediate, worst-case assumption, interrupt your thinking. Remind yourself that the other person probably has positive intentions and means no harm. I like to practice this with my kids. When we encounter someone who does something rude (like cutting us off in traffic), instead of my default response, “A-hole!” I say something like, “Wow, they must be in a hurry. I hope everything is okay.”My kids will occasionally make up stories about what might be going on (“they are rushing to the hospital” or “they are late to work”). This simple act of interrupting a negative assumption and replacing it with a positive one is a powerful way to eliminate drama before it starts.
  3. Have the conversation. All too often, we get caught up in this drama vortex. We project our unreasonable expectations on others. They don’t behave as we expect them to, so we attribute some shady intentions to them and soon, it feels like we are at battle.I’ve been through this cycle before, feeling like I was at battle with someone at work, without the other person even knowing it was going on. It all happened in my head. I had transformed this person into my nemesis without ever even having a conversation with them about whatever was bothering me.
    In my experience, whenever I started to feel this cycle coming on, the best way to beat it was to figure out what was bothering me and go talk to that person about it. The conversation can be pretty simple: “Jeff, in the meeting yesterday when you responded to my proposal the way you did, it felt like you hadn’t really considered it and had no plan to do so. I hope that’s not what you intended because my team and I put a lot of work into it. It didn’t feel good to me, so I wanted to just come and talk it through with you.”

    So much of our workplace angst could be resolved if we’d just have the conversations like these instead of harboring our negative assumptions and letting them fester.

Engagement flows when our relationship with work and those who do it is healthy and positive. This isn’t always easy, but it’s always worth it.

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What Really Matters?
What Really Matters? 1024 512 Jason Lauritsen

Last week, our community experienced something that you hope no community anywhere ever must. A car crash took the lives of four high school girls and left a fifth in the hospital in serious condition and a lifetime of healing ahead of her.

The community is reeling, trying to make sense of this tragedy. A mother of one of the girls who died is a friend of ours. In the past week, we’ve been to a celebration of life ceremony for the four girls and a funeral for our friend’s daughter.

It’s heavy stuff. We have been trying to make sense of how best to help and be supportive of our friend, her family, and the community. It’s hard to know. But we keep trying.

It has been a painful reminder of how fragile life is and how suddenly it can be taken from us. Anytime a senseless tragedy like this happens, it always prompts me to reflect on an important question.

What Really Matters?

We get so distracted by the minutiae of our lives. The small annoyances can occupy such large chunks of our attention. And, we allow our time to be washed away by our daily routines.

As we stood at the celebration of life ceremony, watching a video that had been created of photos and videos of the girls together and with their families, this question seemed extra poignant.

The answer for me this week was time with my family. Time with the people who I love most on the planet. That’s what matters.

So, my schedule changed. For the first time in so long I can’t remember, our entire family (including the 22-year-old) made time to go to the zoo together. And then on a separate day, we all went to see a movie together. Another morning, the younger kids and I went out for a hike together.

In the wake of this tragedy in our small community, I found a reminder to do what matters most. And while my heart still aches for our friend and my community, my heart is also full from being with my people.

What Really Matters?

This is such a powerful question. When you really sit with it for a while, it’s hard to escape the truth that we spend so much of our time on things that don’t matter so much–in life and at work.

It’s a question that prompts focus. It’s a question that cuts through the distractions.

It shouldn’t be asked only in times of tragedy or crisis. It can be equally powerful when you are trying to chart the path forward with your team at work. It is also powerful when you feel overwhelmed in work or in life.

Time is our most important resource. It is finite and non-renewable. Being intentional about how we spend it is, perhaps, one of the most important things we can learn to do if we want a happy, fulfilling life.

I hope that you can find a few minutes today or sometime soon to consider this question.

Because you really matter. And your time is precious.

feedback, feedforward
Moving From Feedback To Feedforward
Moving From Feedback To Feedforward 1024 512 Jason Lauritsen

I can still remember when I first heard about “feedforward.” It was in a presentation by Marshall Goldsmith at one of the first HCI Summits many years ago.

The concept sounded weird and a little gimmicky. But, it stuck with me.

At its essence, the idea was that while feedback was oriented towards criticism of past performance, feedforward instead provided suggestions for future improvement. People dislike criticism while they tend to more openly embrace suggestions that can be incorporated in the future. Simple enough.

While it seemed like a nice concept, I didn’t really do much with it after this first exposure. I still gave feedback the same way I always had.

Fast forward seven or eight years where I find myself at another conference listening to Marcus Buckingham. He again introduced the idea of feedforward. His approach was slightly different, but the idea was the same.  Suggestions instead of criticism.

The idea again appealed to me and this time I started experimenting with it with my team. And it seemed to work. While I was happy about the positive outcomes, I didn’t really understand why this was supposed to work so much better. I had been told my entire professional career that feedback was vital.

Yes, giving feedback was going to suck and often hurt. But, it IS “the breakfast of champions.” So they said.

To get ahead, you needed to learn to embrace the pain of feedback and try to figure out how to absorb it and learn from it.

I was skeptical that this “softer” feedforward approach might just be a way of softening the experience to feel better while losing the bigger impact. This was in spite of personally seeing the positive short-term results when I used it.

But then I found the neuroscience research that helped me understand why we have such a hard time with feedback.  Here’s a quick excerpt from my book describing one of the most interesting findings:

Recent neuroscience research suggests that our brain reacts to “social” threats similarly to physical threats. Perception of negative social comparison or being treated unfairly have been shown to trigger a brain response similar to physical pain. (Lieberman, Matthew D., Eisenberger, Naomi I. et. all, 2009) This would help explain why we tend to react defensively to critical feedback–particularly when we think it may be unjust or threatening to our social status at work. It’s a natural, biological response to avoid pain.

Our brain appears not to differentiate between social and physical pain. In other words, feedback can feel both psychologically and physically painful. No wonder we want to avoid it.

And to make matters worse, there’s research showing how we tend to overestimate our strengths while overlooking our weaknesses. Thus amplifying how socially threatening any critical feedback can seem. More threat, more pain.

This is why feedback is such an awful experience most of the time.

Work is frequently designed like a big social game of comparison to our peers. It’s a zero sum game if you want to advance. You need to be perceived as better than the people around you. Feedback will rarely feel non-threatening when you are playing such a high-stakes game.

Once I understood these factors, the true magic and power of feedforward finally revealed itself.

Criticism of past performance (which cannot be changed) creates a social threat response. This leads to an immediate defensive reaction as your brain and body try to find their way back to safety. When we are defensive, we can’t hear and process information constructively.

The approach of providing suggestions for improving future performance prescribed by feedforward disarms the social threat response. The exchange is oriented towards providing ideas for how the individual can improve or make a greater impact in the future. Not only does this reduce defensiveness, but it also creates autonomy for the receiver. They are in control and can decide what to do next.

Here are the steps I would recommend if you’d like to start experimenting with it yourself:

  1. Identify an opportunity for improvement. Think specifically about what happened and what kind of actions the individual could take to be better in the future.
  2. Request permission to provide some suggestions. This isn’t a requirement, but I’ve found that this step further enhances the effectiveness of feedforward. When we are asked first if we’d like suggestions, it further disarms any possible defensive response. “Hey Jason, I was thinking about our meeting this morning. I jotted down a few ideas for how I think you could get more traction with your next presentation. Would you be interested in hearing my thoughts?”
  3. Share one to three things that you feel would be helpful to them in the future. Providing some context for how these suggestions can help is good, but avoid any discussion of what they “did wrong” or “messed up.” If they open up and ask specific questions related to their past performance, provide observations but refrain from sharing judgment. Feedforward usually starts something like this, “When you are presenting an idea to a group, one of the approaches I’ve found to be successful is …”
  4. Watch for and reinforce evidence of progress. When you see the individual experimenting with or implementing suggestions in the future, heap on the praise and recognition. Before long, they’ll start coming and asking for more suggestions. Sidenote: when someone asks you for feedback, what they are really asking you for is suggestions for how to be better in the future.

There’s been a lot of focus recently on teaching managers to be coaches. If you have ever had the opportunity to observe a good sports coach working during practice or games, you have probably noticed that most of what they do is provide instruction and suggestions for how to perform better on the next play. They know that spending too much time criticizing past performance will just demoralize the athlete and doesn’t help them improve. Coaching is fundamentally about switching from feedback to feedforward.

Bottomline: Stop criticizing people for past performance that they can’t change and start focusing on giving them the insights they need to be better on the next play.

Words of Gratitude
Words of Gratitude 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

In the work relationship, few things are more powerful or important than appreciation and acknowledgment. Knowing that someone recognizes our efforts and cares that we showed up each day is vital.

And one of the most effective ways to create this experience for others at work is through expressions of gratitude. Expressing gratitude to others not only has a positive impact on them, but it also has positive side-effects for you.

In the U.S., when the month of November arrives, we begin to think about the Thanksgiving holiday. A number of years ago, I was inspired by a friend to use this holiday as a time of reflection about who and what I was grateful for (more on this later). Part of that reflection for me has been to send notes of appreciation to those who have had an impact on my life in the past year.

It is a wonderful and uplifting exercise each year. And, it helps remind me of how powerful expressions of gratitude are on human relationships.

This year, in hope of inspiring you to adopt a practice of expressing gratitude both at work and in your life, I’m going to write my notes of gratitude as blog posts. My goal is to publish a note of gratitude each day between now and Thanksgiving.

I hope each one serves as a nudge to take a moment and reflect on who and what you are grateful for each day. When it involves a person, I hope you will take the extra step to share your appreciation. Your relationships will benefit as a result.

Today, I want to express my gratitude specifically to my friend, Don MacPherson.

It was Don who provided me the nudge to start my annual Thanksgiving exercise of sending these notes. A number of years ago, I heard Don speak about how he would make phone calls ON THANKSGIVING to people as a way of expressing his appreciation to them.

I will admit that I thought he was a little bonkers when I first heard this. But when I found myself on the receiving end of one of his calls, it really moved me. And then I understood.

Don is a smart and caring leader who I am privileged to know. Every conversation I have with Don leaves me both smarter and a lot to think about.

If you don’t know Don yet, I would urge you to check out his new podcast called 12 Geniuses. You can find it on iTunes, Stitcher or on his website. It is good stuff.

Thank you, Don. I am grateful for you.