Category Archives: Coaching Skills

Twinges in the Stomach

Charlie was in my office yesterday. We talked about mostly nothing for a half a minute, when I suddenly became uncomfortable. Something happened inside of me, mostly with my stomach. I wasn’t in discomfort, but there was a significant twinge.

The twinge in my stomach was caused by a short silence, a white space in the conversation. I asked a question about Charlie’s last meeting with his boss. There was no response from Charlie. Silence in a conversation often causes a momentary awkwardness.

I don’t know where this conversation is going next? I thought I knew, but I don’t know now. I wish I knew, but I still don’t know. I hope this conversation get some direction soon, because this awful silence is killing me. BOOM. My stomach told me we were talking about something more important than the weather.

My automatic (unconscious) reaction was to avoid. Do anything to make this feeling go away. The silence was awkward. The automatic (unconscious) response was simply to “talk.” Make the silence go away. If I talk, the silence will be gone, the awkwardness will be gone and I won’t feel this way. Talking would also likely steer the conversation back to a discussion of the weather.

Channel the reaction. My bio-response to Charlie was a twinge in the stomach. The twinge told me that this conversation had potential to be more meaningful. I could avoid it or I could engage. Avoidance would be easy, simply talk to fill the silence, talk about anything.

OR,

I could engage, and let the silence continue. I could let the silence do the heavy lifting to move this conversation to the next level. Something significant had happened between Charlie and his boss and Charlie needed to talk about it. We could have talked about sports, or we could have engaged in a meaningful discussion that had real impact on Charlie.

The twinge in the stomach gives the Manager a heightened sense of intuition and the possibility to channel the reaction to a more productive outcome. Listen to the twinges, watch for white space in conversations.

Unspoken Collusion

“I got your back. Don’t worry, I will not call you out on your mistake. In return, I expect you to keep silent on my mistake.”

Unspoken collusion.

Sounds like a loyalty statement, AND it is built on deception.

“I got your back. I will call you out on your mistake, especially if it impacts the team. I will not mince words, I will give you the feedback I think you need to improve, AND I will be there to support you, encourage you. I expect you to do the same for me. Do not allow me to think that no one notices when I screw up. Help me see (reality). Help me hear the words I need to hear to perform at a higher level.”

Spoken cooperation. Conscious dialogue.

Sounds like a loyalty statement, AND it is built on a search for the truth.

A Remarkable Why

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
In our country, we’re not educated to give positive feedback, not even at school. And it’s so much easier to see faults than to see strengths. Hopefully the next generation of managers gets their people to smile in a more natural embedded way. Out of experience, I know I perform better when people give me positive feedback rather than being a bully.

I don’t believe appreciation is taught in any country, at least not as a subject in school. Yet, positive reinforcement is one of the most powerful management tools.

Response:
What gets reinforced, gets repeated.

I often ask, “Who, here, has been getting too much appreciation from their boss at work.”

The Appreciation Rule
Appreciation must be honest and sincere. Honest and sincere appreciation contains two parts.

The first part is to tell the team member specifically what you observed (as a strength, a desirable behavior, a positive attitude). The second part (the sincere part) is to say why. Why was your observation remarkable?

That’s it,
A specific what.
A remarkable why.

A team member shows up for work early. It sounds like this –

I see you arrived ten minutes early for work today. It’s important to be on time. I just wanted you to know that I noticed.

What gets reinforced, gets repeated.

The Tell

Justin greeted me at the front door. His energy level was up and he had that telltale smile.

“Justin, how can you tell the difference between positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement? In terms of response from the team member?”

Justin searched for the answer. He retraced his steps, thinking about interactions he had with his team. I interrupted his thought.

“Let me ask the question differently,” I said. “How can you immediately tell the difference between positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement? What is the immediate response to positive reinforcement?”

Justin was thinking way too deeply for the answer.

I continued my interrogation. “Yesterday, you described yourself as politically incorrect and I said ‘I appreciate your honesty.’ Do you remember?”

Justin cracked a smile. “Yes, I thought you were going to give me a lecture on negative reinforcement. Instead, you started talking about my honesty.”

“See, you did it.”

“Did what?” Justin replied.

“You smiled. The immediate response to positive reinforcement is a smiling face. Many managers think they are delivering positive reinforcement to their team members, but I see scowls in return. Positive reinforcement invites a smile. If you don’t get a smile, you didn’t connect.”

Warm and Fuzzy

“But I am not the kind of person who is all warm and fuzzy,” explained Justin. “If someone does a good job, that is what they get paid for. Why do I have to get all blubbery? It just feels goofy.”

“As a manager, when someone makes a mistake, do you have to correct them?” I asked.

“Well, yes. That’s what a manager does.”

“And when you correct them, do they do it right, or do they just do it well enough not to get yelled at?” I prodded.

Justin smiled and nodded. “It’s strange, in the short run, they do better, but it doesn’t take long for them to backslide, take a short cut on a process, skip a step. It keeps me pretty busy, checking their work.” He wasn’t being defensive, just matter of fact.

“So, it feels funny, giving honest and sincere appreciation, but it feels okay providing a little negative feedback?”

Justin grimaced. He didn’t like the way that sounded. “I suppose you are right, but that is just the way I am.” In a way, he felt justified, even sat up straighter when he said it.

“I appreciate your honesty, Justin.” I smiled.

Justin couldn’t help it and cracked a smile back. “I thought you were going to tell me I was politically incorrect.”

“I am looking for something much more than political correctness. Being politically correct won’t make you a better manager. That’s why I focused on something more powerful, your honesty. Honesty will make you a better manager. Honest and sincere appreciation.”

Constructive Criticism?

“Never criticize, condemn or complain,” – Dale Carnegie.

To provide corrective feedback or constructive criticism may spring from a noble intent, AND the effort is futile, likely counterproductive to correcting a behavior or increasing the level of performance.

As a manager, are you required to deliver both positive feedback and corrective feedback?

Yes.

Delivering positive feedback is the easier of the two.

It is the corrective feedback that consternates most managers. Sometimes, delivering corrective feedback is so uncomfortable that managers avoid the conversation altogether.

Managerial effectiveness does not come from telling people what to do. Managerial effectiveness comes from asking the most effective questions.

Positive feedback – a strength I saw in your project, was your adherence to the schedule you created in the planning stage. The reason I say that is most people don’t have a plan, even if they do, they rarely use it to effectively guide the project.

Corrective feedback – if you had to do the same project again, what would you do differently? What impact would that have on the outcome of the project? If you made that change in the project, how would that look in the planning stage? What change would that make to the schedule? Who would need to be in the loop about this change?

The most effective managers are those that ask the most effective questions. And, it doesn’t sound like criticism.

Told You Once, Told You a Thousand Times

“I don’t care that they hate the rule, but safety is safety, and the rule is the rule,” Rory explained.

“What’s your point?” I asked.

“The point is, I tell the guys, over and over, they have to wear their hard hats on the job site, but I hear, as soon as I am gone, they take them off. I know the hats are hot, but the job site is a dangerous place. Besides, if OSHA drops by, there is a hefty fine.”

“It’s seems like all your efforts are having the opposite effect of what you want. You sound like a behaviorist who has no children.”

“I have kids, what do you mean?” Rory resisted.

“If you have kids, then you know the futility of scolding over and over. I bet you even tried raising your voice. Probably had the same impact,” I said. “If I told you once, I told you a thousand times.

Rory chuckled. “Yeah, you’re right. I just don’t know. I mean, these guys are grown adults. You would think they would listen to reason.”

“You think you are talking reason. I would bet the crew hears your reason as rules. And they hear your instructions as scolding. People learn faster and retain more in a positive environment than they do when they are criticized. Is the point of the conversation to demonstrate how angry you can get, or to persuade them to wear safety helmets, even when you are not around?”

Shift the Coaching

Arguments pit two people at loggerheads against each other. The interchange consists of declaratory statements that contradict.

Arguments shift to exploration when the declarations turn to questions. You will likely never persuade with declaratory statements. You will likely only influence with exploratory questions.

Declaratory statements can be ignored, interpreted, misinterpreted or rejected.

Questions require consideration, reflection and critical thinking.

Henry’s Feedback System

Henry took the pushpins out of yesterday’s report and tacked today’s report in its place. This was a new initiative to provide statistical feedback to the floor. On the report were numbers indicating percentage of capacity, scrap overages and mean time to complete. Next to today’s number were the accumulated numbers for the month and the year. Each section of the report had a snappy little graph in color.

When Henry told me about his idea to provide daily feedback to his production floor, I was quite interested. When I saw the posting, I had more questions. I asked Henry to identify his three weakest links on the floor. That was easy, Henry pointed them out immediately.

I asked Henry to take the posting and get some feedback from his three chosen technicians. “How are we doing?”

Individually, the three studied the sheet, then slowly shook their heads. “I don’t know, I guess we’re doing okay, my supervisor isn’t yelling at me.”

Henry was disappointed. He worked hard on his charts. I asked him, “In what way could you present something that everyone will understand, quickly and easily?”

Henry finally settled on one number, today’s units produced. If the number was better than target, it was green. If it was below target, it was red. Next to it, in black, was tomorrow’s target. One week later, everybody understood. Henry’s feedback system was a success.

New Role, New Authority?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I was recently promoted as lead tech of a lab. My boss feels I undermine her for things I do without discussing them with her first. I explained directions for another technician, so she could speak to patients with more clarity. I was told I undermined my boss because of this. I asked our director, in front of my boss, if she was aware of an issue and I was told that I undermined my boss because I asked without consulting her first. I wonder if it’s a lack of trust or if I undermine her without meaning to?

Response:
Yes. It is both a lack of trust and you undermine your manager without meaning to. The solution is in the question. You must build trust AND stop undermining your manager. In your new role, you have new and specific accountability and authority. Unfortunately, these are rarely defined and that is where the trouble begins.

You have appropriate accountability and authority and your manager has a larger (longer time span) accountability and authority. Your manager is working in a longer time span context, aware of things you may not know. This is why the manager-team member relationship is so important (and often fragile).

Monthly 1-1 conversations with your manager work to bridge that gap. For you, in your role, to be in alignment with your manager, you have to understand the larger context of your manager. The only way to find out is to talk about it.

Following is an example of discussion elements for your next 1-1 with your manager.

Whose Decision Is It?
With accountability, comes authority. Whose decision is it? Is it yours or your manager’s? If you don’t talk about it, you won’t know. Here is a framework for the discussion.

  • Which decisions are reserved exclusively to my manager?
  • Which decisions are reserved to my manager, AND based on my input?
  • Which decisions are mine, but have to be discussed and approved by my manager?
  • Which decisions are mine, but I have to tell my manager before I pull the trigger?
  • Which decisions are mine, but I have to tell my manager, after I pull the trigger?
  • Which decisions are mine, and I don’t have to tell my manager?

As a new lead technician, you have new accountability and new authority. That new authority has to be defined.