Handling Put-Downs at Work

I’ve been traveling the last few weeks, but back to home base.  My latest blog on Big Think takes a look at how to deal with put-downs.  Most of us drive home many days of each year thinking about what could have been said in challenging situations.  I wrote Comebacks at Work, with Chris Noblet, for those of you interested in the longer version of ways to make those days less frequent — how to respond effectively to offense and insult on-the-spot. But for a glimpse of a general approach to such situations, you might check out http://tinyurl.com/mohaxhx 

I’m planning to write more on this topic.  Back soon with that.  Also, if you stopped by after reading the Big Think blog, you might check out the “Categories” list in the right column of this page for more comebacks and ways of dealing with confrontation, choice points, dust ups and political games.

Posted in Comebacks, Confrontation, Dust Ups, Gotcha!, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Are You An Unapologetic Feminist? Emma Watson Shows What That Looks Like For Young Women

If you watched actor Emma Watson’s speech to the United Nations last Sunday, you saw a strong, young woman do her part to make “feminism” constructively meaningful again.  In a few minutes, she did what many women and men have feared doing much of their lives.  She referred to herself as a feminist without an ounce of apology in tow.  ”I’m not one of those ugly, men-haters” was not added to her revelation.  In fact, she made clear that the word “feminism” has been and is now about equality of women and men.  In her speech, she invited men, particularly young men, as part of the HeForShe campaign to join her as feminists to improve the dire economic and domestic conditions under which so many women live.  As Watson explained, these conditions will not improve around the world until men and women join together to make it happen.

I hope you’ll take a moment to read this blog.  Perhaps feminism is being reinvented and it’s very beautiful in many ways.

Posted in Tutorials for Women | 1 Comment

The Power of Framing

Today on Big Think I wrote about how framing can enhance persuasion — and also romance — as the latter is certainly a form of the former.  Framing in conversation suggests or imposes a type on the interaction.  Is this a game, serious talk, just passing the time, getting to know each other, or any of a host of other possible types of conversation? By knowing the type of conversation, most of us are at least somewhat familiar with the rules — within our primary culture.  In the blog, you’ll find an example of violating the romance frame.  This is how many relationships meet an untimely end.

To the extent that we enter conversations with others without regard for framing, the risk of things going wrong is high.  Take a look at the blog.  See what you think.  Perhaps tomorrow you’ll want to insert some frames into your conversations to make sure you and the other person or people involved are on the same track.  It’s possible to overdo this.  That’s for sure.  But ignoring it altogether is even more problematic.  It’s one of those techniques we all know about, but often forget to employ.

Posted in Choice Points, Influence | Leave a comment

Do You Work For a Monster?

If so, you may find some solace and tips in the blog I posted yesterday on Big Think, “The Vulnerability of Power.”  It’s natural to think that power, once obtained, grows.  But, in actuality, those in power, especially the predictable among us, put themselves in power jeopardy all the time.  It takes an astute observer to determine where the vulnerability lies and how to manage someone with real or perceived power or to do your part to take that power away.

People with power are vulnerable, too, because those with less of it observe them carefully — far more so than the powerful who may assume that they no longer need to be so observant.  This makes them vulnerable.  Stop by Big Think to see if you can change the way power is lorded over you.

Posted in Influence, Politics | Leave a comment

Would You Like To Be More Persuasive?

I’ve started my persuasion and negotiation classes with some important key points about both.  Among these is the one discussed at Big Think.  When we prepare to persuade, we often consider what we want to achieve and then decide the best argument to make that happen.  In actuality, effective persuasion is usually much more incremental than that.  If you think of persuasion in incremental terms, you’re more likely to lower your frustration level and raise your effectiveness.  Take a look here to see if your way of thinking about persuasion is hindering or facilitating.  Whether you’re trying to convince a teenager to use his or her phone less often, presenting an idea to your boss or motivating people working for you, an incremental approach is often the best.

Posted in Influence, Leadership, Managing Your Boss, Politics, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

To Whom Did You Give Power Today?

At Big Think today I wrote about the power we give to others who least deserve it. Happiness, success, and sense of self worth are influenced by dependence on others.   And so, we should choose wisely the people on whom we depend for what matters most.

Sometimes giving away power makes sense.  It’s important to trust.  As human beings we have social and physical needs.  We may want praise, understanding, support, care, financial backing, love, commitment or any of a host of other things.  The question to ask is whether we are seeking them from the right people.  Going over and over to a dry well for water is unproductive at best.  Depending on people unable or unwilling to provide what we need is similar.  In the latter case, however, we give people the power to make us miserable when with a little rethinking we could do so much better.


Posted in Choice Points, Influence, Politics | Leave a comment

On The Loss Of Robin Williams – The Anatomy of Humor

On Huffington Post I blogged today about the loss of one of the funniest men ever.  His passing stands in stark contradiction to the joy he brought.  And yet humor is a great healer.  Williams noted that in an interview.  In the midst of adversity, humor is a comforting companion.  I remember that after being diagnosed with breast cancer in my early thirties my humor teacher ratings were off the charts.  I always inject humor, often spontaneously, into teaching and speaking, but apparently even more when times are particularly hard.  Does that make the humor disingenuous?  No.  It shows, as if we hadn’t noticed, why we have humor in the first place.  It lightens the darker days, lifts when least expected and sparkles our interactions.

I remember my father and mother having a disagreement.  My father called from the living room to the kitchen, in all seriousness, that he knew she was drawing his face in her hand and slapping it.  I fell off the sofa laughing.  The image was ridiculous.  They forgot their differences.  My mother came into the living room, looked at my father and proceeded to trace his face into her palm before giving it a good punch.  You had to be there.  It was hysterical.  And we never forgot it.  My mother would use her right index finger many times after that pretending to trace his face in her left hand.  It always brought a smile.

Humor is the best companion to sadness and a great dissipator of anger.  It lightens and lifts.  Robin Williams was exceptionally blessed to have such a companion and we were equally blessed that he shared it with us.  Despite years of battling depression, he made us smile.  Perhaps he was so gifted because he carried an awareness of the darkness.  He fought it valiantly and to the benefit of generations to come.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Learning Leadership from Warren Bennis

This past week my colleague Warren Bennis passed.  He was an exceptional scholar, a generous mentor, an excellent teacher and speaker, who taught by example and scholarship what it means to be a true leader.  Two paragraphs from the University of Southern California memoriam captures the primary thrust of Warren’s work on leadership:

“Bennis’ work was based on the notion that truly inspiring and powerful leadership lies in promoting openness and discussion, and allowing room for others to shine. Fundamentally, he believed in valuing people, and his contributions to creating a more human and humane business world are the cornerstone of his legacy.”

“Enfolded within Bennis’ approach to teaching and scholarship was his ability to implement his ideas, and connect theory with application. This was epitomized by his observation that leadership cannot be taught, but it can be “caught.” As a leader, he taught by enactment and example. As an adviser to countless students, numerous colleagues, CEOs of major national and international corporations, he imparted wisdom by living out his leadership philosophy.”

Warren had little regard for people who flaunted their status.  He was as interested in students as he was in presidents.  He believed in providing opportunities for others to excel.  I often found articles in my USC mailbox with notes attached indicating that he thought of one of our discussions when he’d read it and so passed it along.  You wondered how he found time to think of the many people he cared about and they about him.  One day when walking back from lunch, he told me that each week he set aside time to thank people or to share articles.  It’s so easy to let opportunities like that pass, to allow our relationships to flounder because there is so much to do every day.  Warren took the time to stay connected in ways that demonstrated he’d truly thought of you and of ideas you’d shared on your last meeting.

Disagreeing with Warren fascinated him far more than mimicking his words or nodding in response.  He wanted to know why you thought differently, and learned every day from people far junior to him.

As Associate Director of The Marshall Leadership Institute and Director of the Institute’s Presidential Fellows Program, I worked closely with Warren.  Leadership for Warren was about connecting, not in a shallow way as so many of us do each day, but really touching the lives of others and being touched in return.  This is not to say that he did not stand up for what he believed.  He did.  But when I wrote The Secret Handshake he made a point of telling me that he particularly liked an idea expressed early in the book.  I’d written:

There are just too many smart, capable people out there.  The hard truth is that the ones who get ahead are usually those who know how to make highly placed people feel good about having them around.

I can’t even begin to describe the number of times Warren influenced my work and life in positive ways.  After one disappointing event, he called me at home and said, “It’s not like you to take something like this sitting down.  Feel bad for a day, maybe two, and then fight for what’s right.”  That’s what I did.

He was an exceptional man whose extensive work on leadership will influence people forever.  Some of us were fortunate to know him as a person and that was truly a gift.

Posted in Leadership | Leave a comment

How We Limit the Calibre of Our Thinking

When I teach persuasion or negotiation, the first day of class I write a word on the board.  That word is “assume.”  It is the enemy of effective persuasion and negotiation, and yet most of us rely on assumptions much of each day.  Some are necessities.  We need to assume that the sun will rise and set, other drivers will stay largely in their lanes and when they signal left will not go right.  We assume certain rules will be followed lowering the risk for all.

Then there are assumptions about people.  Many of these are based on very sparse evidence, inferences, generalizations and often stereotypes.  I wrote yesterday about the hazards of stereotypes.  Like all patterns, they can become modes of thought that cease to be challenged.  When that happens, our choices are influenced by very weak observations.

Not only are stereotypes potentially harmful as we see throughout the world now, they limit the complexity of our thinking.  They’re like crutches that we’ve continued to use long after we could have been moving fine without them.  They cause us to limp when we could run.  Stereotypes hold us back.  They demean others and reduce us to small thinking.

There are ways to break out of reliance on stereotypes.  These ways are much like those we’ve discussed regarding “choice points” and unwanted repetitive episodes (see categories of blogs in right column).  Breaking free of stereotypes, at least not allowing them to function as fact when so often they are largely fiction, raises the calibre of our thinking.

See Big Think blog here http://bit.ly/1tG2RMa

Posted in Choice Points, Unwanted Repetitive Episodes | Leave a comment

Vulnerability as a Skill

“The Power of Vulnerability” is my latest post on Big Think.  We don’t often think of vulnerability as anything other than something to be avoided.  Yet, communication cannot work effectively if none of the parties involved is willing to relinquish some power.  Paul Watzlawick and his colleagues developed a perspective on communication which included recognizing utterances as complementary or symmetrical.  If two people are constantly trying to one-up each other, retaining power over the direction and nature of talk as well as the relationship, then disagreement, argument and even dissolution of the relationship are almost inevitable.  When people engage in some degree of complementary interaction in which power is occasionally given to the other person, then listening and learning from each other is given a chance.

Here is where vulnerability comes in.  If you must always be in control or be right when interacting with others, unless they are obsequious, in awe or frightened of you, the likelihood is that they will either resist by countering your one-up moves with their own (symmetrical), retaliate in some way, or leave the relationship entirely.  The skillful communicator knows that other people must be given a chance to be right and to lead conversations.  Being wrong or not having seen what the other person provides, and admitting that, can do wonders in opening communication and improving relationships.

And so, it pays to look at how you talk to others — even to children.  It’s easy to fall into habits of being in charge or, as discussed in the Big Think blog, defensive routines.  In my studies with colleagues at UMass Amherst and in subsequent books, problematic patterns are often called “unwanted repetitive episodes” (URPs).  The most effective way to break out of such patterns is to say something slightly different — to utter the unexpected.  It’s fascinating to watch how even small tweaks of our normal modes of interacting with others can change the entire course of conversation and even of relationships.

We are constrained by others in our lives, by their communication choices.  This is especially true at work if bosses are overbearing.  But we always have the prerogative to extricate ourselves from such ruts.  First, you have to notice you’re in them.  Then the fun and benefits begin as you alter what the other person expects you to say or do.  This is not manipulative.  It’s engaging in thoughtful instead of  reactive communication.

Rather than get angry at someone with whom you disagree, occasionally saying something like “I’d never thought of it that way” can do wonders.  ”I can’t say I agree entirely, but I see your point” is another option.  Sometimes the other person will attempt to draw you back into the URP or routine, because that is what they know when communicating with you.  So, it may at times take a couple or several  unexpected comments to change the course of conversation.  Skillful communication requires having the patience to do this and taking the time to practice.

Posted in Choice Points, Managing Your Boss, Uncategorized, Unwanted Repetitive Episodes | Leave a comment