The Things We Do For Love – Like Work Too Much

Airplane Oxygen 11848773_sYesterday, at Agile Coach Camp Canada, I had the privilege of leading a group conversation about taking care of yourself as a coach.

The Big Idea is like the instruction flight attendants give us, “If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask first, and then assist the other person.” As coaches – or as anyone – we don’t have much to give others if we don’t take care of ourselves.

The coaches who gathered for the session agreed that people attracted to the work of helping others often put our own needs behind those of our teams and our organizations. That habit can result in fatigue, stress, and burnout. It impacts relationships both at work and at home.

Here’s the list we built in the conversation:

What can we do to take care of ourselves?
Notice when you’re feeling depleted.
Show yourself some compassion.
Give yourself some space.
– Close the door
– Go for a walk – preferably outside, in a pleasant place
– Physical activity – “I bike to work.”
– Announce it, in a light way. “I let the team know I may be a bit of a Grumpus today.”
Do something you enjoy and are good at
– “I do some real, individual coaching. That lets me see I’m making a difference. It’s almost like a gift to myself.”
Use your network
– “I call another coach and I know I’m not in this alone.”
– “I get coached myself. It’s time I have to focus on me.”
Make your work and success visible
– Personal kanban
– Read your fan mail
– List your successes
– Find a win, however small
Spend some time in reflection
– Journalling
– Mindfulness practice
Let people know what’s fun for you
Manage expectations
– yours and others
– “Accept that our work is messy and it’s a journey.”
Say “no” to more work
– “If you can’t say “No” then your “Yes” can turn into a “Maybe” ”
– “I’d rather disappoint you now, with a “No,” than disappoint you later by being unreliable.”
Gratitude
– Think of things you’re grateful for
– Practise thanking – and accepting thanks
– Appreciate it when others thank you – and show it
– Savour the kudos
Know your purpose and only do what’s aligned with that
Spend some time just doing nothing
– “The brain needs to rest just like any muscle.”
Hugs
– More hugs

One in our group, Gitte Klitgaard, was on her way to a tech conference in New York where her talk was “Stress and Depression – The Taboo and What We Can Do About It.” A link to an earlier version of that talk is at vimeo.com/106927863

Our conversation reminded us that we need to recognize we’re human and show ourselves the empathy and compassion we show our teams and coaching clients.

Note: If you are an agile coach and have never been to an Agile Coach Camp, plan on attending one when you can. They are impossible to describe and they are amazing. There’s one, this weekend, in Calgary, Alberta and one coming up in Washington, DC, August 1st.

Communication Kata #2 – Share Your Intention

Intentions2If you’ve ever said or heard, “That’s not what I was trying to do,” an intention check might have helped your interaction.

It’s a three step process.

Step 1

This kata starts, like so many things in communication, with self-awareness. The first step is to know what you are trying to achieve. If your internal thoughts are muddy, there’s no way your communication will be clear. Ask yourself, “What do I really want here?” Know your goal for the interaction.

Sometimes you’re just curious. Sometimes you want the other person to do something. Sometimes you need them to know something. Or you want to recognize something they’ve done.  But knowing your purpose is the first step to clear communication.

You might also want to check that your intentions are honourable. Working with a client on this recently, she realized, when she checked her intentions that, what she was about to say was really a form of retaliation for something a colleague had said the previous day.  When she examined what she really wanted she moved to what was good for the team and the project.

Step 2

Once you’re clear on your intention, the next step is to share it. People can’t read your mind. What happens if people don’t have the facts about something? Yeah, they make stuff up.

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What’s Your Communication Style?

At It’s Understood, we have lots of projects on the go. One that’s occupying much of my (Sue’s) time is completing Talk To Me: A User’s Guide To Workplace Communication. I aim to make it available, in February, as a Kindle eBook. (If people like it, we’ll publish for Kobo, iPad, Blackberry Playbook and in traditional book format.)

One of the communication concepts the book tackles is that people have distinct communication styles. Each of us is unique, yet our differences are somewhat predictable.

In my communication coaching, I often use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) as a starting point in exploring relationships. That reliable and validated assessment is wonderful, but I needed something simpler to use in workshops and presentations. So I created Communication Styles as a way to highlight the different ways people like to receive and share information, especially in conversation. It’s a fun way to discover why individuals respond differently to your message – and to figure out how to present your ideas so they’ll be understood.

We’ve created an online version of the assessment and a special report that explains how it works. You’ll find the link on our web site (look to your right). It’s free. I love that price. Just sign up with your name and email – and have fun.

As a bonus, signing up also gets you our occasional email update “Be Understood.”

 

Give them a reason to pay attention!

Cartoon about a conversation that's not workingHere’s a post from Sue’s writing blog that applies to conversation as well as writing.

In my line of work, eavesdropping is research. That may sound like a lame excuse for (rudely?) listening in on other people’s conversations; however, sometimes, they’re simply too loud to ignore. A research opportunity showed up, this week, as I overheard a chat between some people we’ll call Manny and Franny.  . .

Read the rest at Sue’s writing site.

Contrary to popular belief, SLACK is not a four-letter word.

“It’s possible,” Tom DeMarco writes, “to make an organization more efficient without making it better. That’s what happens when you drive out slack.”

The myth of efficiency

The relentless pursuit of efficiency has the unintended result of eroding our effectiveness. Daily, our attention is consumed by the immediate and the urgent. Overall the consequence is less time spent thinking as we are consumed by doing. The capacity to think, create and innovate has been driven out of organizations along with the perceived slack. Somewhere along the line “slack” has become a bad thing.

PuzzleEfficient puzzle?In his book Slack, Tom DeMarco illustrates the issue clearly with a simple puzzle. The challenge is to move the numbered tiles into numeric order.

Filling the empty space achieves an impressive 11 per cent ‘efficiency’ gain but renders us incapable of solving the puzzle. We have no room to move. No slack.

The need for reflection

Our brains filter out most of the sensory data we encounter daily. Yet the connections we make between the information that does register don’t always happen automatically. Sometimes we need to think things through to build relevance, connections and insight in response to what we experience.  For knowledge workers, in particular, this is critical. Gaining insight from thinking is hard cognitive work. We don’t respect the time and conditions needed to do it well. Interrupting a programmer who is working with a complex mental map of a system is guaranteed to cost time and effort  to reconstruct the cognitive state he or she needs to work well.

To a degree, this is influenced by cultural norms. In some countries, a worker sitting quietly at his or her desk, deep in thought, is unlikely to be approached. In North America it’s an invitation to be interrupted.

Stop being busy

The inability to carve out time for reflection can be self-inflicted. We sometimes make poor choices about where to spend the currency that is our attention. A powerful ‘litmus-test’ is a simple question: Is this useful or merely interesting? Pausing to ask this question can steer us to more effective use of our limited attention, time and energy.

Decide where to spend your attention

So how do we create slack for ourselves? There are many sources of advice on time management and setting priorities. Stephen Covey’s matrix has stood the test of time as a useful approach. Assessing activities by contrasting importance and urgency gives us a visual guide to what’s consuming our attention. Working to spend more time in the upper right quadrant (the reflection space) provides the slack we need to think about how to address the important and urgent events in our lives more effectively.

Don’t confuse the issue with facts!

talk_to_wallHave you ever tried to win someone over with a clear, fact-based proposal only to have them become even more fixed in their current (in your view, misguided) position?

Earlier I wrote about the resistance to give up ideas being as difficult for us as giving up more tangible things we own.

A useful variation of this notion is examined  in an essay called How Facts Backfire. by Joe Keohane in the Boston Globe.  A key insight: “In reality, we often base our opinions on our beliefs, which can have an uneasy relationship with facts.”

The essay looks at the findings of political scientist Brendon Nyhan, who studied the puzzling behaviour of people who become more entrenched in their beliefs when confronted by contradictory facts. Unfortunately, this behaviour is as common in the workplace as it is in the political arena that Nyhan examined. Our default position in the “rational” business world is to make fact-based decisions based on clear evidence. When we propose change based on the facts of a given situation we’re often puzzled when met with “irrational” resistance.

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