Connect On Common Ground

Last week we talked about the fact that connecting is more skill than natural talent. I shared with you 5 factors that will help you make connections with people.  The bottom line in each of those and any other connection factor is common ground. Finding common ground is what connects you with others. It’s usually pretty easy to spot what makes us all different from each other. But we connect when we find what we share in common.

In his book called Am I Making Myself Clear?  Terry Felber says that people have different representational systems based on the five senses that provide the primary basis for their thoughts and feelings. For example, if several people walked down the beach together, their recollections of the experience would be very different based on their representational system. One might remember how the sun felt on his skin and sand on his feet. Another might remember the look of the water and the vivid colors of the sunset. The third might be able to describe the sounds of the ocean and birds, and another, the smell of the salty air and the tanning lotion of nearby sunbathers. Each of us creates a framework for the way we process information. Felber says, “If you can learn to pinpoint how those around you experience the world, and really try to experience the same world they do, you’ll be amazed at how effective your communication will become.” That’s basically the same thing as saying find common ground.

Four Barriers to Finding Common Ground

What might prevent us from finding common ground with people? John Maxwell, in his book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, identifies these four barriers to finding common ground:

Assumption– “I already know what others know, feel, and want.” “All miscommunications are a result of differing assumptions.” —Jerry Ballard.

Arrogance– “I don’t need to know what others know, feel, or want.” Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis observed, “Nine-tenths of the serious controversies that arise in life result from misunderstanding, from one man not knowing the facts which to the other man seem important, or otherwise failing to appreciate his point of view.”

Indifference– “I don’t care to know what others know, feel, or want.” Comedian George Carlin joked, “Scientists announced today that they had found a cure for apathy. However, they claim no one has shown the slightest bit of interest in it.”

Control– “I don’t want others to know what I know, feel, or think.”

Four Choices That Will Help You Find Common Ground

Be Present – Spend time with people. How will you ever get to know someone or find common ground if you don’t spend time together? Two subpoints to this one:

  • Be Present Informally – allow yourself to “waste time” with people. The time spent in casual or fun conversation and activity reveals more potential common ground than when it’s all about the work.
  • Be Present Mentally – Connection doesn’t happen by osmosis due to physical proximity alone. You have to get out of your own head (or device) and engage in the moment.

Listen – If you’re on the beach with someone, to use the example from Felber, listen to how they’re describing the experience. Are they seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling? Is that the same experience you’re having? If so, common ground! If not, could you adjust your way of experiencing it to see what it’s like to be them? You have to listen to the other person first in order to find common ground.

Ask Questions – This is another form of listening. In fact, in another post, I call this “listening with your mouth.” Asking questions shows the other person that you’re engaged in the conversation, that you’re interested in what they have to say (in other words, in them), and it helps you find out more about them by inviting them to expand on what they’re saying.

Be Humble – Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself less. That frees up your mind to think of others more. Humility begins with awareness. Who am I thinking about in this moment? What is my motive for this action? Then it involves a choice. What is the other person thinking about? What are they experiencing? When you make that choice enough times, it becomes a habit. When you habitually think of others first, it becomes your character, how others know you. I put Be Humble last on the list for emphasis because it is really the first step in connecting with people.

Leading Change – Part 4

Over the last few posts I’ve written about what causes people to fear change and how to address those fears in a way that helps them buy into you as a leader. Now the question is how do you make change happen? When you recognize the need for change and are aware of the fears that cause people to resist change, what steps can you take to implement the change?

For this I’m borrowing an outline from a very helpful book called, How Did That Happen?: Holding People Accountable for Results in the Positive, Principled Way, by Roger Connors and Tom Smith. Here are the steps:

F.O.R.M. The Change

The letters in this acrostic represent four questions. Is the change, first, Frameable? Does it fit within the Vision, Mission, and Values of the organization? How can you formulate and focus the change in a way that makes organizational sense? Why is this change happening?

The “O” asks,  “Is this change Obtainable with the current resources?” That’s not necessarily a Go-No Go question. It’s simply necessary to understand what steps may be needed to obtain additional human or other resources to implement the change.

The “R” asks if the change is Repeatable.  In other words, is it stated simply enough to be easily communicated among the people involved. A 1,500-page dissertation may provide a detailed plan to implement a change, but no one will be talking about that over lunch. A short, easy-to-remember statement, like “Four new products by Q4” can easily spread among people.

Finally, is the change Measurable? What ratios will change, or what will you count, to see how the change is progressing? How will you know if the change has been effective?

Communicate the Change

Poor communication is one of the most common complaints in organizations. If communication is important during normal operations, how much more important is it during change? The single most important thing people need to understand in order to get behind a change is, “Why?” When people really understand why a change is happening and buy into it, the rest is downhill. When you combine “why” with the empathy I wrote about last week it becomes a powerful motivator.

You also need to make the “what” clear. Your slogan needs to be understood before it will be repeatable. You don’t have to read the entire dissertation to everyone, but make sure everyone knows enough detail to make sense of what’s happening. Include the “how” and any clarifications around “who” and “where”, be sure to cover all that in your communication. Finally, “By When.” Setting a deadline makes the change more concrete and sets a tone for urgency.

Another important thing to communicate during change is the resources available to people to help them manage the change both professionally and personally. You may have teams of experts, either internal or consultants, available to help people professionally. You may also have an Employee Assistance Program available to help them manage stress. Be sure to communicate this as well as the Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why.

Align The Change

Check in with people to see how well aligned they are with the change. Alignment is different from “complyment.” When people comply, they may be doing it because you said so or because there is no alternative. When people align, they get behind the change with a positive attitude about the future.

Ask your people to rate their level of alignment on a scale of 1 – 10. If they say they’re less than 10, take some time to explore what’s keeping them from aligning. Is it a fear you can help them face, or do they need more clarification about the why? This is the opportunity to demonstrate your empathy with them and build their buy-in to you.

Inspect the Change

Build into your change management plan scheduled inspection points along the way. These are opportunities for you to check progress to see if things are on track. If they are, you have an opportunity to celebrate and congratulate. That’s always fun and motivating.

On the other hand, course correction is par for the course in most situations. Did you know that an airplane with a well-laid flight plan is off course over 90% of the time? Weather conditions, turbulence, and other factors cause it to get off track. However, the pilot receives continuous feedback and makes adjustments to get the plane back on the flight plan. Course correction provides learning opportunities and can build resilience among your team.

I wrote last week that creating positive change is the ultimate test of leadership according to leadership coach and author, John Maxwell, in his book Developing the Leader Within You 2.0.  If you seek to understand the fears and other factors that cause people to resist change, work to help gain buy-in, FORM, Communicate, Align, and Inspect your change, you will be far more successful at passing the test by creating that positive change.

Leading Change – Part 3

Creating positive change is the ultimate test of leadership according to leadership coach and author, John Maxwell, in his book Developing the Leader Within You 2.0. To create change you need buy-in.  “Buy-in” is a phrase that comes from the stock market. It means to purchase shares of a company by which you are not employed. So, you are willing to invest your hard-earned money to bet on the success of a company over which you have no control. You must certainly believe in the prospects of that company if you’re willing to do that. That’s how the phrase came to mean “agreement to support a decision or direction.” Creating change requires that key people buy-in to what you’re proposing with your change idea.

Here’s another interesting point from John Maxwell, “People buy into the leader, then the vision.” That’s what he calls “The Law of Buy-In” from his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.  If people believe in you, they are more likely to believe in the change you’re trying to create.

How do you get people to buy into you? One way is to demonstrate that you understand their fears associated with change. In my last two posts, I described four fears associated with change.

1. Fear of Awkwardness
2. Fear of Leaving Comfort Behind
3. Fear of Ridicule
4. Fear of Isolation

What are some things a leader can do to demonstrate sensitivity to these fears when introducing change?

Have a Good Reason

People want to understand the “Why?” We can see that from the title of Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.  Why are you considering this change? Change for change’s sake is not a good idea unless everyone is already bought into the idea and there is usually a creativity reason behind that.

The reason may be as urgent as a “burning platform,” which means the consequences of maintaining the status quo are so dire that change must be embraced. Or, the reason may be far less urgent but equally as important, like a huge opportunity that will bring growth and expansion to your organization.  In either case, people are much more likely to embrace the change when they understand why you are proposing it.

Review the Past

My family has moved several times. We’ve lived in 9 states and one foreign country (so far). Our youngest daughter, Janessa, builds strong friendships with a few people and has had a hard time leaving them when we’ve moved.

Each time we face a new neighborhood and school, she is afraid of not having any friends. We have encouraged her by asking her about the friends she just left behind. “Do you remember when we moved there,” we ask, “do you remember when you first met that friend? You didn’t even know they existed before that day, and now they’re such a good friend.” That will happen again. You will meet new friends and they will become close, too.

Reviewing the past can help face the future. Whether your team or organization has had a history of success to point to, or there has been failure,  the experience of the past can embolden people to face change. Pointing to the past tells people they can do it again. They can experience success or survive failure and be stronger for it, again.

Acknowledge the Pain

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck studied mindset in education. She has found there is a difference between the outcomes of students who have a “fixed mindset” and those who have a “growth mindset.” A fixed mindset believes that things like talent and intelligence are fixed and unchangeable. A growth mindset, on the other hand, believes that through dedication and work, these abilities can be developed and strengthened.

One key is to focus not on how “smart” a child is, but on the effort they put into a certain project. Effort more than outcome encourages growth. “Smart” is fixed, effort can be endless.  That’s why Dweck encourages focusing on effort, to encourage a growth mindset.

The point for our purpose is that when encouraging a growth mindset, we acknowledge that things will be difficult, but we never forecast failure. We say,  “this is going to be a challenge, but I know you/we can do it.” Acknowledging the pain demonstrates your credibility which gives people reason to believe in you. It also lets them know you believe in them.

These three things; having a good reason, reviewing the past, and acknowledging the pain will help alleviate the fears associated with change and set you up well for taking the next steps which we’ll talk about next week.

Leading Change – Part 2

Last week we left off in the middle of talking about four things people fear about change.  The first was that change makes people feel awkward and uncertain. The second was they tend to focus on what they will have to let go instead of what good the change may bring. That brings us to the other two fears that cause people to resist change.

Ridicule

On March 2, 1962, basketball great Wilt Chamberlain did something no one else had ever done. He scored 100 points in a single game. That night Chamberlain scored 28 of those points at the free-throw line (he made 28 out of 30). What’s significant about that is Chamberlain’s lifetime free throw average was 51 percent. What was different that night? He experimented that night with the “granny shot.” Instead of shooting his free throws from overhead like most people, he tried something that had made another NBA star, Rick Barry, very successful. He shot underhanded, swinging his shot up from between his knees. It worked.

Despite the success he experienced with this different way of shooting, Wilt Chamberlain gave up the “granny shot.” He went back to his old, much less successful shooting style. Why? In his own words from his autobiography, “I felt silly, like a sissy, shooting underhanded. I know I was wrong. I know some of the best foul shooters in history shot that way. Even now, the best one in the NBA, Rick Barry, shoots underhanded. I just couldn’t do it.” As I read about this story I didn’t see evidence that he was actually ridiculed. Nevertheless, his fear of ridicule drove him to make a very bad decision not to change.

Isolation

During this year of pandemic, we’ve often heard the phrase, “We’re all in this together,” haven’t we? The lifestyle we’ve adopted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been a huge, uncomfortable change. It was forced upon us by factors outside our control. Change like that tends to make people feel isolated, like they’re going through it alone. We human beings are programmed for community and interaction and isolation feels scary. During the pandemic, people have not only felt isolated by the change, many times we have been physically isolated. That’s why we keep hearing the reminder that we’re all in this together. It’s an attempt to calm the fear of isolation.

It doesn’t have to be a pandemic that may actually isolate us to make us feel isolated. When we are faced with a need to change, one that we didn’t initiate out of a desire to grow, we tend to internalize it and feel like we’re going through it alone. Even if the entire organization is going through the same thing, I can feel like nobody understands how this change is affecting my life. I can feel isolated and alone which is another reason people resist change.

Conclusion

Awkwardness and uncertainty, Letting go of something comfortable, fear of ridicule, fear of isolation. These are all real reactions to changes that come from outside us. If we want to lead change successfully, we would do well to acknowledge these feelings. We’ve felt them ourselves, after all, haven’t we? Understanding where resistance comes from will help us better introduce and navigate through change as leaders.

Next week, we’ll talk about how understanding these fears in our people can help us lead change more effectively.

Leading Change – Part 1

Here’s something I’ve often wondered about. According to Daniel Pink and others, people are intrinsically motivated by “mastery.” Mastery means getting better at things. There is an almost universally inherent desire, a drive if you will, to get better at things we enjoy. Yet, people also seem, almost universally, to hate change. How can both be true?  Winston Churchill said, “To improve is to change, so to be perfect is to have changed often.” Not all change is growth, but all growth is change. How can people drive for improvement and growth but, at the same time resist change?

I think John Maxwell is on to something when he wrote, “People do not naturally resist change; they resist being changed.” When the change is something I initiate because I see the benefits and it’s something I enjoy or at least want to improve, I’m all for it. But, if the change feels out of my control, or is being imposed on me, I resist. Maxwell writes about a two-frame cartoon in which the leader asks, “Who wants change?” and every hand is raised. But in the second frame, when he asks, “Who wants to change?” not one hand is raised.

We want the benefits of positive change, but don’t want the pain of making any changes ourselves. If we want our team or organization to grow or improve, that will require change. How do we as leaders create change? If our people feel like it’s being imposed on them, they will be resistant. How, then, do we lead change? A good starting place is to understand why people resist change. Here are two of four reasons to consider. (We’ll cover the others next week)

Awkward and Self-Conscious

I’d like you to try something. Fold your hands together with your fingers interlaced. Now, look at your hands. Which thumb is on top? No big deal, right? Now, reverse that. Interlace your fingers with the other thumb on top. How does that feel? Awkward, right? I’ll bet you even had to think for a second to do it. I use that exercise when I teach habit formation. So much of what we do is by habit and changing it feels unnatural and awkward. I’ll bet your first impulse when you interlaced your fingers the unnatural way was to switch back to what was comfortable.

Whenever we learn something new, it feels awkward and unnatural at first. If you’ve ever played a sport or an instrument you know what I mean. We do drills to turn awkward new skills into habits. When that happens, the skill you’re focusing on becomes part of your game or part of your music-making. It’s no longer awkward, it’s a habit.

The problem is that nobody likes to feel awkward especially in front of other people. We become self-conscious and embarrassed. That’s why people are often more comfortable with old problems than with new solutions. Author and speaker, Marilyn Ferguson put it like this, “It’s not so much that we are afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it’s that place in between that we fear … It’s like being between trapezes. It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. there’s nothing to hold on to.”

What Will Be Lost

Our youngest son, Jordan, loves clothes. Every so often we’d see him come home wearing a new outfit. He loves bargains, too. He always brags about how little he paid for this or that article of clothing. One of his favorite clothing outlets is the Goodwill store. He finds all kinds of treasures there. Paying little means collecting a lot. One day, after seeing inside his closet and drawers, my wife informed him that he could no longer simply add to his collection. Now, “if you buy something, you have to get rid of something.” That actually put a stop to the new stuff for a while. He didn’t want to let go of anything.

People often fear change because they are focused on what they will have to give up. Authors Eric Harvey and Steve Ventura have written about this.

“The fact is, we all carry a certain amount of counterproductive cerebral baggage that weighs s us down … and hold s us back.

Our loads include everything from once valid beliefs and practices that have outlived their usefulness and applicability–to misinformation and misconceptions that we’ve accepted (and even embraced) without much examination or thought.

Why care about “baggage?” Because it negatively impacts us, the people we work with, the environment we work in, and the results we get. Simply stated, whatever we accept and believe determines how we behave…and how we behave determines what we achieve (or don’t achieve).

Their solution? “Our brains are like closets. Over time they are filled with things we no longer use–things that don’t fit. Every once in a while they need to be cleaned out.”

Harvey and Ventura are correct, of course, about the need to clear out the old stuff. The problem is that people don’t usually focus on the new stuff that might be better. They usually focus more on how hard it will be to give up their old stuff.