Here are a few creative ways to get the emotions out. Any number of these may work for you—so pick one you like, or try them all. (Preparation is also important—if you could use some help in that area, see my earlier post on Preparing for A Challenging Conversation.)
This is a 30-minute “brain dump” in which you simply write down anything and everything that comes to you. This stream-of-consciousness style keeps you from making a real discourse out of your thoughts, and frees you to just “get the emotions out,” regardless of how incoherent they may be. Most authors suggest doing this writing longhand as opposed to on a keyboard. The purpose is to clear your mind.
Write whatever your head says and don’t edit yourself. If you go blank, write dots on the page until something comes into your head, and then write whatever shows up. Keep writing. Then, when you’re done, throw it away. Physically destroy the paper. Sometimes the more physical action feels more “real.” Burn the paper, if it helps.
The process is the important thing, not the product. The point is to do something that gives you enough relief that you can have the conversation without the distraction of strong emotions that you haven’t addressed yet.
Email to No One
This is similar to fast writing in that you won’t be keeping it, but here you are writing the email intentionally and specifically—as if you were saying all the hard things you need to say to this person or telling your best friend how you feel. Having those thoughts and feelings out where you can look at them helps dissipate the emotional impact of them. It may also clarify any still-foggy areas.
IMPORTANT: Make sure you don’t put anyone’s address in the “To:” box!
The good thing about email is that if you don’t save it, and you don’t send it, it goes nowhere. Once you’re done writing and you feel some relief, delete the email permanently. Then when you have the actual conversation, you can set these feelings aside, knowing you’ve already gotten them out and dealt with them.
When you can take the time to write down your thoughts on paper, sometimes they become clearer. Even a little bit of this can be useful. The difference between journaling and fast writing is that the journal is intended for future review. You may find it useful to reflect later on what you were thinking before the conversation and how things changed afterwards.
Your journal entry doesn’t have to be shared with anyone. This can be especially helpful for more introverted people who really aren’t comfortable letting others in on their personal thoughts and feelings.
Talking to a Trusted Friend
All of us get by with a little help from our friends. This is one of those things a good friend can do for you. Make sure the friend isn’t entangled in the issue you need to talk about—just someone you trust to help you get your emotions out without judgment. What you need is a chance to work things out verbally. If you want advice, that’s fine, but if it’s not useful at this point, let your friend know what you need before you start.
A Picture Paints a Thousand Words
Even if you believe you have no artistic talent, making a picture of what you’re feeling can go beyond trying to talk about it. You may just be scribbling, but you can express your feelings deeply by scratching out lines or painting colors on a receptive surface. If it feels dark, make it dark. If it feels sharp and angular, make it sharp and angular. You can make it look angry, hurt, frustrated, afraid, concerned—whatever you’re feeling.
Then, when you’re done, once again, leave your emotion there. Now you can set the art aside, or destroy it—whatever feels best.
Lots of people feel great emotional relief when they do something physical. A good workout can help clear your head before a difficult conversation. Go for a run or a bike ride, or shoot some hoops. Swimming always helps me clear my head.
I hope these ideas have helped. What other ideas do you have to let go of the emotional baggage prior to having a challenging conversation?
About the author:
John Hester is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies who specializes in performance and self-leadership. You can read John’s posts on the second Thursday of each month.
In most workplaces the “F” word is taboo. There are some words you just don’t say out loud and the “F” word tops the list. Leaders, in particular, are afraid to even think about the “F” word, much less say it in public. Experienced leaders have learned that mentioning the “F” word is like opening Pandora’s Box. You flip the lid on that bad boy and you’re in for a world of hurt. Some things, including the “F” word, are just better left unsaid.
I think that needs to change. Leaders need to use the “F” word more. Much more.
I used to be afraid of the “F” word until I learned better. Now I find myself using the “F” word whenever I get the chance. Here are four reasons why it’s important for leaders to use the “F” word – feelings – in the workplace (you didn’t really think I was talking about that “F” word, did you?!):
1. It recognizes reality – People don’t check their feelings and emotions at the office door. Every one of your employees is a walking, talking, bundle of thoughts and emotions that affect the way they “show up” at work. Even though every manager in the world wishes that people kept their personal lives at home and didn’t bring their issues to work, that’s just not realistic. Everybody, including you and me, have issues in our lives that affect our work performance. Maybe it’s a sick child, an ailing parent, marital problems, financial pressures, <insert challenge here>, you name it – we all have ups and downs in life. Effective leaders have learned to be emotionally intelligent and understand the need to manage the whole person, not just the faceless/mindless “worker” that shows up to do a job.
2. It builds trust – There is no more important leadership competency than building high-trust relationships. There is very little chance for success in the leader/follower relationship without a solid foundation of trust. One of the core elements of a trustworthy relationship is “connectedness.” People trust you when they know you care about them as individuals and not just workers being paid to do a job. Acknowledging emotions, maintaining open communication, and recognizing/rewarding people for their accomplishments are key behaviors in building trust. You can’t build trust without using the “F” word.
3. It fosters engagement – Research has shown there are 12 primary factors in creating passionate employees at work. By “passionate” I mean engaged employees that are willing to be good corporate citizens, perform at high levels, and devote their discretionary energy to accomplishing their goals and those of the organization. Two of those 12 factors are relationship-focused: connectedness with leader and connectedness with colleagues. Like the theme song from the old TV sitcom “Cheers” says, “You want to go where everybody knows your name.” People need rewarding interpersonal relationships with their coworkers to be fully engaged on the job. Employees also want and need a supportive and personal relationship with their boss. Of course this varies by personality types and other factors, but everyone wants to have a positive and productive relationship with their leader. You have to talk about feelings if you want to have engaged employees.
4. It helps manage stress – People need an appropriate emotional outlet at work to share their concerns and frustrations. There needs to be a “safe zone” where people can voice their feelings without fear of recrimination, and in order for this to be possible, there has to be a high level of trust. Admittedly this can be scary. If there aren’t proper boundaries in place, venting can quickly turn into gossiping, whining, complaining, and general negativity. That’s why I think it’s important for leaders to take charge on this issue and create a culture where their people feel safe in coming to them to share these concerns. People are going to vent about their frustrations whether the leader chooses to be involved or not. Why not be purposeful about creating a system, process, or structure to positively channel these feelings? (Oops, there I go…using the “F” word again.)
The world at work has changed dramatically over the last 25 years. The “F” word used to be off-limits. Everyone understood that a person showed up for work, punched the clock, did their job, punched out, and went home. There was no namby-pamby talk about feelings, engagement, well-being, or happiness at work. You want to be fulfilled? Get a hobby outside of work. That will fulfill you.
Nowadays there is much less separation between a person’s personal life and work life. Technology has blurred the boundaries between those areas and it’s created new dynamics in the workplace to which leaders have to adapt. Whether you like it or not, leaders have to know how to deal with feelings in the workplace. Get used to it, you’re going to have start using the “F” word more. Much more.
Randy Conley is the Trust Practice Leader at The Ken Blanchard Companies and his LeaderChat posts appear the last Thursday of every month. For more insights on trust and leadership, visit Randy at his Leading with Trust blog or follow him on Twitter @RandyConley.
Alexa took her current post in 2010. That year she led her group to earn Best Retail Operation for the region, going from worst-to-first in a single year. Along with a public award, Alexa received a “Far Exceeds” rating on her annual performance appraisal.
Unfortunately, at the time of her next review, Alexa’s group was slightly below its Key Performance Indicators (KPI) targets and so her boss rated her performance as only “Meets Expectations.” It turned out to be a case of poor timing as the group rebounded and by year’s end had once again won Best Retail Operation.
An important and tangible difference
For Alexa, the difference between “Meets Expectations” and “Far Exceeds” was important—and tangible. In her company, a rating of Far Exceeds meant the employee had a greater chance of a promotion in the next 12 months, a greater opportunity to participate in juicy cross-functional projects that C-level executives track, and a larger base salary and bonus package for the coming year.
Alexa’s boss apologized for the 2011 rating and said he would make it up to her in the 2013 review. Unfortunately, the damage was done; Alexa interpreted her boss’s decision as unfair given her history of taking a last place group to first place in less than a year, and then repeating that high performance. Her boss said nothing could be done.
The impact of that interpretation was that Alexa went from being highly interested and innovative in her role to being more or less disinterested—just going through the motions. She said, “You rate me as Meets Expectations, and I will meet expectations. Nothing more.”
Leading with Optimal Motivation
When talked with about this, Alexa was immovable, so deep was the sense of betrayal. In considering ways to help her, a purely rational, left brain, traditional business analysis of this situation would have us evoking some version of the Nike slogan—Just Do It. In other words, “Alexa, change your attitude, accept your boss’s apology, and get back to it.”
But, that’s probably a fantasy at this point. Alexa now perceives the performance management system as unfair, so she feels hurt by it and wary of it.
Our Optimal Motivation process suggests a different approach. Instead of suggesting that she just get over it, we would recommend that Alexa’s leader’s work would be to address how Alexa feels, and to help her reconnect with her passion for delighting customers, her passion for making the workplace amazing for her employees, and the important financial and competitive contribution her group makes to the welfare of the entire organization. Her manager, then, would be engaging with Alexa in a series of Motivational Outlook Conversations.
What Would You Do?
That’s our approach (and we would be happy to talk with you more about that) but for now, let’s make this interactive.
- What would you do to help Alexa return to the proverbial sunny side of the street?
- How would you engage her manager?
- What changes do you think her manager would want to make so that she or he is successful with Alexa?
Use the comments feature. It would be great to hear your thoughts and how you would address this situation.
About the author:
The Motivation Guy (also known as Dr. David Facer) is one of the principal authors—together with Susan Fowler and Drea Zigarmi—of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ new Optimal Motivation process and workshop.
That’s a limiting perception. The job of managing people includes managing roles, goals, and day-to-day performance. Redirection is a part of that process.
In some ways it’s like flying airplanes where flight plans are set and frequent corrections in the air keep the airplane on course. The goal is a smooth flight that will arrive at the desired destination safely. But a surprise bout of turbulence may force the plane to change altitude to find smoother air space.
The same is true in the workplace. We all hope for a smooth ride in the course of achieving our goals but people sometimes experience turbulence and need “in-flight” corrections, too. This type of correction is what I call redirection.
A Closer Look at Redirection
A redirection is used for learners in a “can’t do” situation, not in a “won’t do” situation. With constantly evolving priorities, technology, and demands, many a worker is learning something new every day. Add in unclear vision, goals, or roles, and a worker can fall behind or make mistakes.
How should a new manager approach a person who needs redirection? Ken Blanchard shares a five-step process in his bestselling book, Whale Done! The Power of Positive Relationships.
Here are Ken’s five steps for redirection:
- Describe the error objectively, without blame and without drama. Example: “Your report was two hours late.” No eye-rolling, desk-pounding, or sarcasm. Just the facts.
- Describe the negative impact of the error. Example: “As a result, I had to cancel an important meeting because I did not have the data I needed in time.” Again, no emotion. Just the facts.
- If appropriate, take the blame for not being clear. Example: “I was giving you a lot of direction about several projects at once. Perhaps I wasn’t clear about the absolute deadline for your report.” This is an important step and can be a powerful, face-saving, loyalty-building action to take. It’s entirely possible that a new manager was not clear or specific enough.
- Go over the task or goal again. Example: “To be sure that I am clear this time, let me review with you what I need and when I must have it. I need….” It’s important to give very specific information and also to get agreement that what you are asking for is possible.
- Express continued trust and reaffirm your belief in the person’s abilities. Example: “Now that we have talked about this, I’m sure we’ll have no problem next time.” People need to know that an error will not permanently taint them.
It’s normal to occasionally get off course—especially when you are learning a new skill or taking on new goals and projects. Redirection is a natural part of the process even though it can be uncomfortable at times. As Winston Churchill said, “I am always ready to learn, but I do not always like being taught.” When a correction is required, this 5-step redirection can get things back on track.
About the author:
Cathy Huett is Director, Professional Services at The Ken Blanchard Companies. This is the third in a series of posts specifically geared toward new and emerging leaders.
Most challenging conversations are more effective when we take the time to prepare for them. I’d like to suggest five things you can do to be better prepared to guide your next challenging conversation to a successful outcome.
Gather the relevant information.
First of all, collect the relevant information pertaining to the topic of the conversation—the who, what, and why. Ask yourself:
- Who do I need to talk to?
- What is the problem?
- Why might this problem be occurring?
Envision the desired outcome.
Imagine the best possible outcome. If the conversation goes well, what will be the result? Be specific as you visualize this. Being keenly aware of your intentions will make preparation easier—and keeping those intentions in mind will guide the conversation in the direction you want it to go.
Anticipate the other person’s reactions and your response.
Think about ways the other person might react to the conversation to guard against the possibility of being blindsided by their words or actions. If you have considered their probable reactions and determined how you will best respond , you will be ahead of the game. Remember, though, that you can’t predict every reaction—even from someone you know well.
Pay attention to logistical issues.
The environment surrounding a difficult conversation can affect its outcome. A bit of forethought and preparation can have a significant positive impact. Here are some best practices for handling the logistics of the conversation.
- Schedule more than enough time – 30 minutes more than you expect.
- Hold the conversation in a private, safe, neutral location if possible.
- Make sure you will not be interrupted.
- Turn all phones and devices off.
- Have tissue available if tears are a possibility.
- Have a glass or bottle of water handy.
- If the conversation is with a direct report, be prepared to give the person the rest of the day off if needed—and do not have the conversation at the end of the day on Friday.
Decide if the conversation is worth having.
Note that I put the decision about actually having the conversation last. Sometimes you find that the conversation itself is not as important as the deliberations you went through to prepare for it. What you really needed was to sort out your own thoughts and feelings. After all of your preparation, if you determine that you don’t need to have the conversation, you will lose nothing by changing your mind.
What other ideas do you have for preparing for challenging conversations?
About the author:
John Hester is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies who specializes in performance and self-leadership. You can read John’s posts on the second Thursday of each month.
In a special presentation on The Leader’s Guide to the Executive Brain Homan-Blanchard will be sharing the latest findings from neuroscience research and its impact on leader behavior.
- The Six Surprising Truths about Your Brain—find out what your brain needs for optimal functioning, what stresses it, and how to manage situations when you are overwhelmed or exhausted.
- Seven Laws of Extreme Brain Care—how you can arrange your workday to make better decisions and achieve new levels of self-control.
- Creating the Brain-Friendly Environment—the six critical dimensions that must be managed to help you—and your people—fire on all cylinders.
The webinar is free and seats are still available if you would like to join over 800 people expected to participate.
Immediately after the webinar, Madeleine will be answering follow-up questions here at LeaderChat for about 30 minutes. To participate in the follow-up discussion, use these simple instructions.
Instructions for Participating in the Online Chat
- Click on the LEAVE A COMMENT link above
- Type in your question
- Push SUBMIT COMMENT
It’s as easy as that! Madeleine will answer as many questions as possible in the order they are received. Be sure to press F5 to refresh your screen occasionally to see the latest responses.
We hope you can join us later today for this special complimentary event courtesy of Cisco WebEx and The Ken Blanchard Companies. Click here for more information on participating.
Research in the fields of social, positive, and industrial/organizational psychology has repeatedly found that employees thrive best in work environments that allow them to think for themselves, and to construct and implement decisions for one course of action or another based on their own thinking and volition. The research is also clear that we suffer when we feel overly constrained, controlled, or coerced in our effort to produce high quality and high volumes of work.
The Power of Autonomy
In complementary terms used in the Optimal Motivation program, when we experience high quality autonomy at work (as well as relatedness and competence), we are more likely to be more creative, more positively energetic (as opposed to relying on stress energy) and more easily focused on accomplishing any task or goal, no matter how short-term, tactical, and mundane—or long-term, strategic, and magnificent. While leaders repeatedly report they want such creativity and focus from employees, employees repeatedly report how difficult leaders often make it for employees to feel those things.
For example, during a recent keynote presentation, several frustrated participants offered detailed examples of policies, procedures, and both overt and tacit cultural rules that make it difficult for them to feel free, creative, and positively energetic as persistently as the work demands. Nonetheless, a traditional leader response to such frustration is to tell the employees to stop complaining and adjust in some way so they feel less frustrated. Of course, by all means let’s all learn how to source our own sense of autonomy no matter what we are faced with. As if on cue in that conversation, one participant made precisely that a point by citing Viktor Frankl’s experience in a concentration camp as evidence of the kind of transcendence that is possible even in the most extreme environments. It’s a story to live by, to be sure.
Leaders Stepping Up
But, I think we also should be talking about the extent to which managers and executives actively step up to the challenges of changing policies and procedures—and organizational systems—that foment such frustration. Too many executives take a “deal with it” stance, rather than a stance of “let’s look into how we can modify or change this so you don’t have to spend so much mental and emotional energy coping with it like that anymore.”
Willing executives could see such a response as adding moral substance to their leadership, since it would shift from focusing only on what the executives want from employees (to just deal with it and get on with the work) to focusing more on what they want for their employees (a work environment that makes it easy for employees to autonomously commit themselves to meaningful, high quality, and high volume work.)
Leader, Would You Like to Shift?
Blanchard research shows that employees generally respond positively to this leadership upgrade with greater intentions to work at above average levels, to endorse the organization, and to stay with the organization longer. So, with such employee and organizational advantages, managers and executives, what have you got to lose?
About the author:
The Motivation Guy (also known as Dr. David Facer) is one of the principal authors—together with Susan Fowler and Drea Zigarmi—of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ new Optimal Motivation process and workshop. Their posts appear on the first and third Monday of each month.
“Every task we perform that requires executive functions like planning, analytical problem solving, short- term memory, and decision making is handled by the prefrontal cortex of our brain,” says Madeleine Homan-Blanchard, master certified coach and co-founder of Coaching Services at The Ken Blanchard Companies in a new article for Ignite!.
“It’s where we choose our behaviors and then act according to how we choose. But in order to keep our brain operating effectively for ourselves, we have to keep our prefrontal cortex nourished and well-rested,” explains Homan-Blanchard.
“Our prefrontal cortex is a resource hog in terms of glucose and rest. Its performance is also impacted by hydration, exercise, and sleep. In some ways it’s like a gas tank. Every decision we make—from the mundane to the most critical—uses up a little bit of gas.”
“That’s why it is so important to know yourself and know how to schedule certain kinds of activities when your brain is going to be at its best. You want to schedule planning, brainstorming, and other creative activities while your brain is fresh. What you don’t want to do is schedule a meeting or a challenging conversation where you’re going to have to use a lot of self-control at the end of a brutal day.”
The one time when no answer is the best answer
Roy Baumeister, professor of psychology at Florida State University and co-author of the best-selling book, Willpower, says that the people who are known for making the best decisions are usually considered the most well-balanced and the smartest people. But, he notes, what may be really be true about those people is that they just know when not to make to make a big decision.
Homan-Blanchard echoes that opinion and also has some advice for couples.
“You know the old adage that in marriage, you shouldn’t go to bed angry? Well, that’s wrong—especially for couples who work a lot, have kids, and have bills piling up. Having a serious discussion, and trying to reach resolution to an argument, late at night, is really a bad idea.”
So is forging ahead when someone comes running into your office demanding a big decision at 6:30 in the evening when you’re packing up and walking out the door, explains Homan-Blanchard. “The only decision for a leader to make in that position is to wait until the morning, because, chances are, you are not capable of making a good decision in that moment. Unless you’ve previously thought about it, made the decision, and just haven’t reported it back, that’s different. But if you actually haven’t made the decision yet, it is unwise because it simply won’t be the best decision.”
Three strategies for better decision-making
For leaders looking to improve the quality of their thinking and decision making, Homan-Blanchard recommends a couple of strategies.
- Set limits. Identify your best times for creative, innovative, and challenging work situations. Create, protect, and utilize those times for your most difficult tasks.
- Create processes and routines. The more routine that you can create for yourself, the more “gas” you can save for other decisions.
- Practice extreme self care. Don’t underestimate the importance of proper rest and good nutrition.
Clear, calm, well-reasoned thinking is a hallmark of all good leaders. Don’t forget the physical dimension of mental processes. Take care of your brain so it can take care of you.
To read more of Homan-Blanchard’s thinking and advice check out her complete interview here. Also take a look at a webinar that she is conducting on April 3, The Leader’s Guide to the Executive Brain. It’s free, courtesy of Cisco WebEx and The Ken Blanchard Companies.
On his first day back after his training, the plant manager noticed a Technical Service Executive in the lab having a discussion with an external contractor. While she was wearing safety glasses, the contractor was not. The manager has a no tolerance policy as far as safety is concerned and his normal response would be to call the technician to his office and in his words, “read her the riot act.”
According to the manager’s self-assessment: “I am known to blow a fuse (or two) when safety rules are flouted, however, I managed to keep my cool and decided to test my training.”
He asked the technician to his office and could see that she was worried about his reaction. But instead of leading with his dismay and disappointment, he started by explaining that he had just received some training on motivation. He shared key concepts with her. He then asked her if she thought that the rule to wear safety glasses, even when there was no experiment on, was “stupid” as there is no danger to the eyes. Did she feel imposed upon to wear safety glasses as she had no choice?
Since the technician was invited to have a discussion rather than “dressing down,” she was open and candid. She explained that she had a two-year old child and she was extremely concerned about lab safety as she wanted to reach home safe every evening. To the manager’s great surprise, she also shared that in certain areas, she would prefer even more, not less, stringent safety measures. For example, she suggested that safety shoes should be required for lab experiments that are conducted at elevated temperatures.
But when it came to wearing safety glasses when no experiments were being conducted, she just could not understand the rationale and did, indeed, resent the imposed rule. As a result, she didn’t feel compelled to enforce it, especially with an external contractor. The manager said he understood her feelings and went on to provide the rationale that the intention was that wearing glasses would become a force of habit, just like wearing a safety belt in the car.
The manager said he saw the light dawn in her eyes.
When it comes to your leadership and the motivation of those you lead, consider:
1. Self-regulation is a requirement if you want to lead differently—and better. Challenging your natural tendencies and patterns of behavior provides you with more options on how to lead. The new choices you make can be rewarding and productive for you, but especially for those you lead. As the plant manager reported: “I am sure if I had just followed my normal instincts and given her a piece of my mind, I would have been met with a hangdog look, profuse apologies, and a promise not to ever do this again. And it probably would have happened again. She would have gone away from my office with feelings of resentment and being imposed upon and I would also have had a disturbed day due to all the negative energy.”
2. Admit when you are trying something new. Be honest about expanding your leadership skills. People will appreciate your sincere and authentic efforts. Says the plant manager: “Suffice it to say that in my view, my little experiment was a success. I have since shared what I learned with many of my team members and plan to have more Motivational Outlook Conversations with them in the coming weeks.”
3. Remember that as a manager you cannot motivate anyone. What you can do is create an environment where an individual is more likely to be optimally motivated. Ask (and genuinely care about) how a person is feeling, help them recognize their own sense of well-being regarding a particular issue, and provide them with rationale without trying to “sell” it.
Other take-aways? Please share!
About the author:
Susan Fowler is one of the principal authors—together with David Facer and Drea Zigarmi—of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ new Optimal Motivation process and workshop. Their posts appear on the first and third Monday of each month.
In their latest post for Fast Company online, management experts Scott and Ken Blanchard share that, “One of the big mistakes we see among otherwise promising managers is the self-limiting belief that they have to choose between results and people, or between their own goals and the goals of others. We often hear these people say, ‘I’m not into relationships. I just like to get things done.’”
“Cutting yourself off, or choosing not to focus on the people side of the equation, can—and will—be a problem that will impact your development as a leader.”
Have you inadvertently cut yourself off from your people? Many leaders have. It’s usually because of time pressures, or a single-minded focus on results—but sometimes it’s also a conscious choice to create “professional distance” that allows you the emotional room to make tough choices.
That’s a mistake say the Blanchards. “The best working relationships are partnerships. For leaders, this means maintaining a focus on results along with high levels of demonstrated caring.”
They go on to caution that, “The relationship foundation has to be in place first. It’s only when leaders and managers take the time to build the foundation that they earn the permission to be aggressive in asking people to produce results. The best managers combine high support with high levels of focus, urgency, and criticality. As a result, they get more things done, more quickly, than managers who do not have this double skill base.”
Don’t limit yourself—or others
Don’t limit yourself, or others, by focusing on just one half of the leadership equation. You don’t have to choose. In this case you can have it all. Create strong relationships focused on jointly achieving results. To read the complete article—including some tips on getting started—be sure to check out Getting Your Team Emotionally Engaged Is Half The Leadership Battle. Here’s How To Do It