Realism: Pessimism's worst Enemy.

Optimism and Pessimism rule

I am fed up with all those messages about optimism on twitter. It’s like you have to be optimistic. I choose not to be. I am a realist. And I am fine with that. But it seems not done.  You are an optimist (and you’d better be!) or a pessimist. The glass is half full or half empty. The glass cannot be… “half”. One cannot look at it both ways.

Optimism versus pessimism, and realism.
Optimism versus pessimism, and realism.

 
Where is the realist was in his story?, I asked somebody.  I am getting frustrated about his absence. The answer came after a few seconds. Had I pushed a sensitive button?

“You certainly must be a pessimist hiding behind so-called ‘reality’… I know your kind…”

After this jumping to conclusions, my appetite to continue the conversation had gone.

In praise of pessimism

I let go of the topic until yesterday. I was happy when @koenfucius tweeted about pessimism. Finally a different voice. @koenfucius tweeted something very interesting.

I could not believe my eyes. After so much “forced” optimism in my timeline, finally there was “another” voice. I totally concur with this quote from an article by Bryan Appleyard.

Sadly, pessimism gets a bad press. Because it is assumed to be the same as, or an inevitable aspect of, depression. As the happiest and most well-adjusted person I know is a devout pessimist, I find this idea ridiculous. My friend delights in life precisely because he expects nothing of it. If he happens upon something good or beautiful, then it is a bonus, a miracle. His days are full of discoveries and consolations. His sense of humor is hilarious. Mostly a knowing nod of recognition to bad news and false hopes. One of his favourite expressions is the typically vintage “Mustn’t grumble”. He is, I need hardly add, a joy to be with.

I love people who put optimism into perspective. They do not say all the time how wonderful everything is. I appreciate good doses of “low expectations” now and then. And I love it when a good sense of humour comes on top of all this. I would not dare to use the word cynicism.

Pressure

You can feel the pressure to be optimistic everywhere. This is certainly the case on social media. Look at the endless twitter feeds about the wonders of everything. Check the groups on facebook full of people gathering together to save the world and spread beauty by gathering together. This is not just irritating, it’s sinister.
But, for me, the most perverted story on optimism came in the form of a book on management. Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Smile or Die”: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World.
Although I live in Europe, I’ve read this book. I was glad the article provided by @koenfucius also refers to it. Specifically because Barbara finally “allows” one magic word that I have missed so far. You can find it in this quote, in bold and italics 😉

She points out that the neo-optimism to which we are now subjected is not, as many claim, some foundational American value. The US Declaration of Independence and the US constitution are neither pessimistic nor optimistic: they are realistic – above all, about human nature.

What a relief. My natural preference has finally been accepted by someone. Realism is part of the media vocabulary.

Realism in corporate Life

But is realism also part of corporate life ?
I know very cynical corporate leaders, who are not pessimistic at all. That does not make them optimists.
I know very positive corporate leaders, who are not… optimistic at all. That does not make them pessimists.
The corporate reality is much more nuanced than any school of optimism could be. And definitely when it tries to be on social media.
I think the following elements are crucial:

  • Corporate taboos:

    A taboo seems to exist around pessimism, also in companies. One is not allowed to be pessimistic publicly. One can imagine however what happens behind the screens, certainly in times of economic crisis. The more one feels the push towards collective positivism in public, the more one will embrace the “other side” in  private circumstances.

  • Bad will versus corporate good will:

    A realist on social media is confronted with a lot of bad will. Once you add a third party, you screw up the beautifully designed classification pessimist-optimist. Then you are no longer a friend in social media.
    Companies have more mercy. It’s not tolerable to be pessimistic. But everybody will understand and align with you when you say you have a realistic point of view on things. The positive people in the room may be irritated by not enough optimism. But instead of criticizing, they will help you in rephrasing some of your bullet points in more optimistic phrases. They will even do this during the meeting. We are a great team after all. Thank you guys!

  • Naivety:

    Let’s not be naive. As optimistic we want to be we’re all humans. And humans have the annoying habit to be human. Certainly when business, private life or both are under pressure. Then we will just be who we are. Nothing more, nothing less.
    Some will fall back on their natural optimism. I respect that if it’s authentic.
    Some fall back on their natural pessimism. I respect that too but that would be a pity.
    Some go back to realism. I respect that, if it’s true realism and not an undercover operation for hidden optimism or pessimism.

Integrity is the conclusion

Just be yourself. Try to be as positive as you can. Don’t overdo if it does not feel right.
Allow yourself to be realistic when you should, without the prejudice of pessimism.
Pessimism is realism’s worst enemy. But allow yourself to be pessimistic when you must. You’re human. Pessimism can be powerful. To feel the contrast with the other moods can be a great learning experience.
 
 

Johari reveals your blind Spots.

About the Unknown

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.

Donald Rumsfeld, former US Secretary of Defence.

Donald Rumsfeld said this during a press conference. I believe it was about the war in Iraq. I don’t know if he was aware about it, but with this quote he played with a framework that I like:  The “Johari Window”.

 The Johari Window

The Johari window is a technique created in 1955 by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham. It helps people to better understand themselves and their relationship with others. It was Charles Handy who called this concept the Johari House (Johari: Jo + Hari, parts of names of the developers) with four rooms.

  • The Arena is the part of ourselves that we see and others see.
  • The Blind spot contains the aspects that others see but we are not aware of.
  • The unknown is the unconscious part of us and is seen by neither ourselves nor others.
  • The Façade is our private space, which we know but keep from others.

And if we translate these house and rooms into a window, it looks like this
Johari Window

Confrontation

I use it to confront people and help them to accept and understand the “blind spot”. This is an area of things you do without having a clue. And for others it’s very clear.
Or what to think about the “unkown” area. Here are the things that do exist in the relation between you and the others, without anyone consciously knowing about them. That’s pretty scary if you ask me.
The other parts are more conventional. Things that are clear for everybody in the “arena”.
Things you consciously choose not to show or share with others. So you are the only one to know the and you choose to keep them behind your “façade”.

Purpose

What is the purpose of using this tool ? I sometimes use it during feedback exercises.
I start such a session with an “empty” Johari window. Ideally, during the conversation chemistry rises and there is trust. On those moments, my interlocutor and I may get inspired and we are willing to “open up” more than in usual circumstances.
That is generally the moment where the Johari window is really inviting to share with each other:

1. Feedback

Feedback about what is clear for you about the other, but what may not (yet) be clear for the other. This will certainly help the other to become more aware and develop on those blind spots.
“You really talk a lot… If there is one hour available, you talk 50 minutes in general”
“Really… Good lord… I was not aware about that, thank you…”

 2. The things you’ve always chosen to hide.

You should never feel obliged to share the things you’ve always chosen to hide and certainly when it’s about your private life. But a moment may arrive when it feels as the right thing to do. Then you’ll share things you’ve never shared before with that person. Not only as a token of strong trust,  but much more because it simply feels as the right thing to do, on those moments.
“Well, I have never shared this with anyone here before, but the reason I have difficulty in dealing with people having a lack of patience, is because my ex-husband was like that as well. And the divorce has been quite painful, and still is… So it’s certainly not an excuse, but you may understand my behavior better now… I am sorry”
“Oh no need to apologize, thank you for the trust. This must be difficult for you… And yes, this will make life easier, by at least understanding the cause…”

3. Anything else ?

Any other concerns, impressions, convictions, emotions or observations that come on the table. They may stimulate awareness on the things you and your interlocutor do not know consciously about. But that have impact on the relation or collaboration between the both of you.
“I am not exactly sure why, but it seems like every time we talk about the branding of the new product, we get distracted… we never make an action list, we never succeed to focus…”
“Yes, indeed, now that you mention it… That is true, indeed… And yes, why is a good question… I don’t know… Are we believing enough in this new product ourselves ? We all said yes in the meeting, but we had a lot of discussion before that… I thought we had that behind us, but perhaps, we haven’t yet… I am not sure”
“Oh, glad we you have the same impression… At least we can talk about it now more openly and perhaps find out the real issue sooner or later”

Conclusion 

My suggestion is to actively invite each other to discuss these kind of topics. To make use of the Johari window. By filling it in together, and by repeating this exercise at regular moments, you will visualise and achieve a great evolution. Topics that were once all closed and unknown are now much more open. You are aware and invited to explore further.
This movie clearly explains once more.

 
 
 

Houston, we have some conflicts!

conflicts
I have been coaching some people through conflicts recently. I saw them taking up various behaviors. Going from yelling to each other, to manipulating each other. To end up simply avoiding or even physically running away from conflicts. And there was me, trying to fix things.
No, of course not. Only the partners in a conflict can fix it. For themselves and for each other. My mission was to make existing conflicts “visible” and somehow “negotiable”. I do this by coaching team members; first individually, and then in group. I learned once more that conflicts art part of our work and life. One cannot live or work without facing conflicts now and then. Conflicts are very normal and human. They have always existed and they will continue to exist. Even better: they should always exist!
Conflicts can be of very high value! They can trigger breakthroughs one would never have without conflicts. (And sometimes they make you write blogs). It’s hard to imagine when you’re busy having fights, that the long-term conflicts cause changes, including positive ones. Many people will probably agree. But in a real conflict,  people are not very enthusiastic. We can see the benefits of conflicts, but we are usually not too fond of going through them. We don’t like conflicts in general.

Conflicts

What is in fact a “conflict”? My personal definition: Any situation in which your concerns, desires, needs, ideas, values, or objectives differ from those of another person. So it is possible that two persons are in conflict with each other without any visible demonstration of it. Conflicts are a natural part of life and no one’s “fault”. Their results however are not naturally predetermined. They may:

  • escalate and lead to unproductive results;
  • be resolved and lead to even better performance;
  • be avoided and continue to exist ‘underground’;
  • take many other forms, change of form, and go on for years…

Two basic reflexes

Once there is a conflict, what happens usually? We naturally respond to conflicts in one of these wo ways:

  • You want to “get away from the conflict”. You become aware the other person has e.g. another vision. You become aware that sooner or later this will cause frictions. For now you decide not to do anything and just wait and see. Or the other person clearly states his/her vision is “obviously” the only one correct. You seriously disagree and would like to react, but for now you decide not to…
  • You are ready to “take on anyone who comes your way”. Imagine the same person with a differing vision. You walk straight to him/her, telling clearly you disagree and that you expect him/her to follow your vision.

None of these two responses is good or bad. They are personal responses. They must never be judged. It’s very important however that we learn that we can choose. We can and should intentionally and deliberately choose our response to conflicts.

Conflict management

You can indeed manage conflicts by choosing how to deal with them.
Conflict management starts from the principles that:

  • Not all conflicts can or should necessarily be resolved;
  • A set of styles and modes allows to decrease unproductive escalation and increase productive outcome.

By choosing a conflict style and modes, we are more likely to solving the problem at hand.

Conflict styles and modes

Source: Introduction to Conflict Management, Thomas & Thomas
The two basic styles of all conflict-handling modes are “Assertiveness” and “Cooperativeness”. Assertiveness indicates your willingness to push through “your way”. Cooperativeness indicates your willingness to go for a “common way”.Within the framework of these two basic styles, there are five conflict-handling modesYour conflict mode is in general the result of your skills and the situation you’re in.
 
Thomas Kilmann Conflicts

  • Competing

    “My way or the highway”

    The competing mode is high on assertiveness and low on cooperation. This mode is appropriate when quick action needs to be taken. When unpopular decisions need to be made. When vital issues must be handled, or when one is protecting self-interests.

  • Avoiding 

    “I’ll think about it tomorrow”

    The avoiding mode is low on assertiveness and low on cooperation. This mode is great when you have issues of low importance. To reduce tensions and to buy some time Or when you know your limitations and allow others ownership.

  • Accommodating

    “It would be my pleasure”

    The accommodating mode is low on assertiveness and high on cooperation. It’s a good mood to show you’re reasonable. To develop performance and to create good will. It also helps to retreat and maintain perspective, or to keep peace. Some people use the accommodating mode when the issue or outcome is of low importance to them.

  • Compromising

    “Let’s make a deal”

    The compromising mode is moderate on assertiveness and moderate on cooperation. This mood is ideal when issues of moderate importance need to be resolved. When resolution needs to be reached with equal power and strong commitment. When temporary solutions are acceptable or necessary. When there are time constraints and competing/collaborating have not worked…

  • Collaborating

    “Two heads are better than one”

    The collaborating mode is high on assertiveness and high on cooperation. Recommended when solutions need to be integrated. When learning needs to happen and when perspectives needs to be merged. Or when commitment needs to be gained or relationships need to be improved.

Nothing new ?

I am quite sure this framework is not  a “revolution” for most people. They have learned through life and experience to deal with conflicts in certain ways.Less sure for me is if they’re happy all the time with their way of dealing with conflicts. And if they are aware it’s all about choosing an appropriate mode. It’s not about always reacting in the same way, because they’re used to that.
Are you most of the time consciously choosing one of the possible modes ? Or are you adapting to how others make choices ?
Do you have a preferred mode you use more than the other modes ? Are you happy with that mode ?
All these modes are “ok” on condition that you make conscious choices, each time you use them. If you don’t feel happy about this, it probably means you should choose differently or vary a bit more in the use of the modes.
 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2P9jW4_Q8s
Choosing and being able to adopt other styles, requires of course some skills. I will write about these skills in one of my next blogs.
 
So in the meantime, Houston, we have some conflicts. And that’s OK.
 
 
Read also on hrchitects:
Conflict equals Opportunity 

Are you a 70-20-10 Development Leader ?

boatA new development model?

70:20:10 is a framework for development, developed in 2002 by Charles Jennings. He is a global and creative expert on development solutions. The basis of this model is research that covers 5 decades.  It’s a strategic model for learning and development. The basis of the model is that to develop, people need to be (1) aware of a current or future need and (2) feel motivated to do something about that need. Awareness comes from experience. It can come from feedback, mistakes, watching other people’s reactions, failing, feeling not being up to a task. Experience is the single most important source for development.
According to the model, development comes

  • 70% from experience: on-the-job,  tasks and problem, tough challenges.
  • 20% from feedback and coaching: social, informal learning, feedback from people (often the manager).
  • 10% from formal learning: courses, reading.

 

Development
The 70:20:10 Learning Pyramid

It’s not about the exact numbers.  The numbers can vary depending on the company or the industry. It’s about the idea. This model of development goes beyond the classroom and formal training. It promotes the workplace as a place of development. That is extremely important.

Why now ?

The idea behind 70:20:10 are not new. So why is the model relevant today? Organizations understand that formal training alone won’t make the difference. To understand the limitations of the 10%’ is one thing. Implementing a development strategy with the 70% and 20% is another. This model offers a truly integrated and holistic approach for development. And as organisations are facing new challenges, they need to leave old paradigms behind and adopt new ones. This requires new ways of development. This requires faster learning. This evolution requires radical changes in the development landscape. And that’s why the 70:20:10 offers an attractive framework for development
Just a few examples of how learning is evolving.
Learning Paradigms

The development leader

70:20:10 provides a framework to both HR and leaders. A leader might already use the 70:20:10. But there is always room for improvement. The framework can help leaders to adopt various development roles.

  1. Development through stretching assignments (70%)

    Experience is the true teacher. A leader can shape experience. 
People learn the job on the job.
    Increased business speed makes learning on the job vital. To stay ahead people need to learn faster, better and smarter. People learn to do a tough job by doing it. A Stretching assignment stimulates development. It pulls people out of their comfort zone. Small mistakes and errors must be tolerated, encouraged and celebrated !

    The only thing worse than learning from experience, is not learning from it.

    It’s all about matching the right experience to the employee’s development stage.
 If managers know the work environment and the employee they can match the (stretching) experience to the employee. Learning on the job is no longer exclusively individual. The best way to solve complex problems is to collaborate.
    Managers should stimulate peer-learning. Everyone faces the future together. Partnership and pro-active collaboration are key. to learn and to reach common goals faster.

  2. Development through Community Learning (20%)

    Learning is social. People learn with and through others. Effective leaders urge their people to “buddy up” on projects. They can motivate to shadow others and to learn from peers. They can foster collaboration beyond silos. They can stimulate learning through common goals. And last they can invite people to take part in professional networks inside or outside the organization.
    People tend to learn well in an environment that encourages conversation.
    Leaders play an important role in launching and nurturing professional communities. They can ask an engaged employee to even start a community. Learning communities are self steering. Members share professional interest and have similar responsibilities. Sharing best practices and ideas is crucial for development.

  3. Development through coaching (20%)

    Managers do not need to be the best teachers. They need to be great coaches.
    Coaching aims at providing many things like:

    • Individual attention and personal support
    • Improved communication among team members
    • Discovery and development of potential
    • Acceleration and maintenance of positive changes
    • Peek performance from people and teams

    Coaching is not always one-on-one. Managers can also coach teams. Team coaching is right when dealing with real organizational challenges; or when there are complex work issues . The leader should ask reflective questions and listen. He or she encourages the team to take action and to solve the problem.

  4. Development through overall Learning Improvement

    Formal learning (10%)  still has its merits. Leaders boost the impact of formal learning by doing one single thing: Setting clear expectations before the training takes place. This increases  the impact of training immensely. It also makes it much more sustainable. 
Clear expectations will make learning more meaningful for the employee. People are naturally motivated to do things they find meaningful. They will walk the “extra mile”. They will take pride in demonstrating what they’ve learned at work.

Conclusion.

Leaders are responsible for developing their people. They spend time on this. They gain time through developing more delegation opportunities. Leaders prepare employees for the daily challenges. They make them more resilient for change. They give them the right opportunities to leave their comfort zone. This is priceless.
70:20:10 is a very interesting model. It brings development into the business and into the workplace. The line manager becomes the driver of people development. Development is no longer the domain of HR alone.
By working together, you can apply the 70. Or you can judge that the 20 is the right approach. Or you can apply both of them together. If you become aware of this, you can become even more pro-active in people development.
You could e.g. simply put the 70:20:10 pyramid on a wall in a meeting room. You can have regular conversations with your people about how to make it come “alive”. You could then coach your people. You can check if they need further 70% or 20% and how to organize this.
That would be truly sustainable. Much more than simply sending them to a training. So are you a 70:20:10 development leader?

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Meaningful Conversations as Key to Engagement and Retention

Meaningful1

Once, I worked as an HR manager for a financial services firm. We introduced the idea of meaningful conversations. The aim was not to suggest that most of the conversations were meaningless, but to stress the importance of good, high quality conversations to high engagement.
We did not invent this concept on our “HR-cloud”. The idea was based on the analysis of many exit interviews. This analysis revealed very clearly that issues in the relations, conversations, coaching, chemistry and trust between boss and employee were the first reason why people become disengaged and leave.
Point taken, but how do you create or fix those things ?
You don’t.
Obviously you cannot create or fix a relationship of trust between people. They have to do that themselves. But you can create a context and culture that enables and stimulates all this.

Cultural Changes

There is another challenge: it takes time. Creating a (new) culture takes at least 5 years in my experience. It requires some tough changes in terms of leadership, behaviours, paradigms etc. As an HR professional you cannot just sit and wait for cultural changes. You need to take initiatives.
An excuse often heard is “Why bother introducing new tools and programs if our culture is not ready?” This may be a valid argument. However, it is also true that the creation of a new culture is never a linear process that needs to be completed first before anything else can be done. It is more a continuous learning and experimental process. This process can be stimulated by “adding” now and then something. Even when one may not yet be 100% ready yet. No guts, no glory…
That’s why we at that time decided to start building a “coaching culture”. The first concrete step in that direction was the launch of the meaningful conversation. We were fully aware that some line managers would probably react a bit confused or even resistant as if it were “again something new from HR”.

Meaningful conversations

After having read into the work of John Whitmore and having inquired with the internal stakeholders, we defined it like this:

Coaching is a meaningful conversation based on an attitude and a set of skills that help engaging with others, and help people develop the necessary competencies and confidence to improve their performance and achieve their potential.

We also made it part of a larger framework of possible situations where meaningful conversations are highly valuable.

Meaningful Conversations
Meaningful Conversations

At a first presentation, the management team showed appreciation for:

  • the bridge towards engagement and performance in the definition of coaching. Some managers perceived coaching to be very “soft” and not very performance related.
  • the suggestion, mentioned in the framework, that meaningful conversations are not only to be used towards employees and colleagues, but also towards clients and candidates ! One and the same concept for so many interlocutors !

Of course, it is not because this was positively welcomed, that a coaching culture emerges. Nor will one be overwhelmed by a sudden surge of meaningful conversations all over the place.

Trust

It is critical that organisational feedback flows from the CEO all the way to the employees on the field and back. Not only does this promote transparency and trust. It also fosters dialogue and conversation at the local level about how individuals and teams can improve employee engagement.
If the engagement and trust levels are low, I suggest getting outside help for holding these conversations. The most important outcome from these conversations is that the employees learn and dare to talk openly about whatever is on their mind. If the employees do not feel safe, then there is no point in having the conversations.
Average trust levels usually are the result of the fact that certain areas have less trust than others or that certain managers have earned less trust than others.

The key element of a meaningful conversation: Listening

I will not bore you with lists. Experience has learned me that a very important skill towards creating a safe environment and enabling meaningfulness is “listening”. Good, active listening. Nothing less and certainly nothing more, as an excellent, non judgmental start of a meaningful conversation.
How do you start with listening ?
Based on our own, already earlier used internal manuals, we created this overview. The first level is “attending” (listening for starters). The highest level is “Listening with intuition” (listening for the experienced).

Listening Skills
Listening Skills

Last but not least, we created workshops with very easy, accessible exercises. This helps to make all this come alive.
Did we create miracles ? Certainly not.
Did we create a new culture ? Not entirely.
Did we offer some first steps towards new, more appropriate behaviour ? We certainly did.
And this was also confirmed by an exit ratio slightly going down and by some managers actively daring to share their positive experiences with listening and with meaningful conversations!
 
 
 

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