Two-Minute Mentor #3: Where at all possible, defend your people in public and reprimand in private

Richard Branson of the Virgin Group When Richard Branson, founder and chairperson of the Virgin Group, was seven years old, he took some 50 pence in loose change from his father’s table and walked over to a candy store. The shopkeeper suspected Richard and wanted to call his mischief. The shopkeeper called Richard Branson’s father and asked him to come down to the store. The shopkeeper told the dad, “I assume your son has taken this, that you didn’t give it to him?” Richard Branson’s dad seemed irritated at this suggestion. He retorted back to the shopkeeper, “How dare you accuse him of stealing!” Although the senior Branson knew Richard had taken the 50 pence, he avoided humiliating his son in the open. Back home, Richard Branson admitted he had taken the coins from his dad and swore never to take money again without permission.

Idea for Impact

Most people are conscientious enough to recognize their mistakes. They do not want to be humiliated or shamed in the presence of peers and team members. Nor do not need their managers, parents, or other authority figures to ram mistakes down their throats.

When you think you can nail someone’s mistake in the open, take a breather and give a face-saving opportunity for the other. Avoid the temptation to put them down in public. In the privacy of one-on-one meetings, listen to their points of view, describe the impact of their ideas and behaviors, encourage them to reflect on their mistakes, and correct themselves.

When in Doubt, Do

Analysis Paralysis

One of the most insidious obstacles to achievement is our tendency to give in to the pessimistic voices in our heads that advocate caution and forethought before making decisions. Instead of accepting failure as an inherent possibility in any undertaking, we tend to espouse inaction in order to weigh every fact against possible outcomes. We are thus predisposed to devising excuses for our indolence.

Admittedly, further deliberation is justified in some cases, but with a vast majority of our decisions, we tend to overestimate the stress we might experience after making a difficult choice. The longer we spend on making a decision, the less productive we are. Beyond a reasonable amount, obsessing over choices causes analysis paralysis, as in the fable of the fox and the cat.

Idea for Impact: No good comes from hesitation and inaction. The only things you will regret in the future are the things you don’t do today. So, instead of dragging it out, act decidedly on an opportunity before it ceases to be one. Take a few low-risk steps and watch your confidence grow. The consequences are likely to be far less extreme than the cost of comfortable inaction.

Follow the “10-Minute Dash” technique to get a task going and overcome procrastination.

Two-Minute Mentor #1: Argue like the Wright Brothers

Wright Brothers: Orville and Wilbur

The Wright brothers, most notable for inventing powered flight, also enjoyed developing their critical thinking by fiercely debating with each other.

Wilbur and Orville found debating and challenging each other’s viewpoints was a constructive way to identify solutions to a myriad of problems or resolve their interpersonal conflicts.

The Wright brothers often took two different sides of an argument, debated the subject, then switched sides and debated the opposing argument. Orville Wright once narrated, “Often, after an hour or so of heated argument, we would discover that we were as far from agreement as when we started, but that each had changed to the other’s original position.”

Idea for Impact: Only when you contrast your point of view with an opponent’s does your own make sense. Use the Wright Brothers’ technique of double-sided debate to question your own preconceptions about an issue and appreciate alternative perspectives.

Albert Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 Rule of Personal Communication

7-38-55 Rule of Personal Communication

In communication, a speaker’s words are only a fraction of his efforts. The pitch and tone of his voice, the speed and rhythm of the spoken word, and the pauses between those words may express more than what is being communicated by words alone. Further, his gestures, posture, pose and expressions usually convey a variety of subtle signals. These non-verbal elements can present a listener with important clues to the speaker’s thoughts and feelings and thus substantiate or contradict the speaker’s words.

The most commonly and casually cited study on the relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages in personal communication is one by Prof. Albert Mehrabian of the University of California in Los Angeles. In the 1970s, his studies suggested that we overwhelmingly deduce our feelings, attitudes, and beliefs about what someone says not by the actual words spoken, but by the speaker’s body language and tone of voice.

In fact, Prof. Mehrabian quantified this tendency: words, tone of voice, and body language respectively account for 7%, 38%, and 55% of personal communication.

The non-verbal elements are particularly important for communicating feelings and attitude, especially when they are incongruent: if words and body language disagree, one tends to believe the body language.

Pre-Wiring Presentations: Preventing Surprise Reactions If a speaker’s words and body language differ, listeners are more likely to believe the nonverbal communication of the speaker, not his words. For example, if a person states, “I don’t have a problem with you!” while avoiding eye-contact, looking anxious, and maintaining a closed body language, the listener will probably trust the predominant form of communication, which according to Prof. Mehrabian’s findings is non-verbal (38% + 55%), rather than the literal meaning of the words (7%.)

I have two arguments against the oversimplified interpretation of the “7-38-55 Rule.” In the first place, it is very difficult to quantify the impact of tone of voice and body language on the effectiveness of communication. Secondly, such quantifications are very subjective and cannot be applied as a rule to all contexts. Prof. Mehrabian himself has cautioned,

“Total Liking = 7% Verbal Liking + 38% Vocal Liking + 55% Facial Liking. Please note that this and other equations regarding relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages were derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes (i.e., like—dislike). Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable.”

This study is a convenient—if not accurate—reminder that nonverbal cues can be more valuable and telling than verbal ones. Therefore, to be effective and persuasive in our verbal communication—in presentations, public speaking, or personal communication—it is essential to complement our words with the right tone and voice and the appropriate body language.

Respect People for Who They Are

'Respect People for Who They Are, Not for What Their Titles are' -- Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airlines

“Respect People for Who They Are, Not for What Their Titles are”

In “The Best Advice I Ever Got” article in Fortune magazine, Herb Kelleher, founder and recently-retired Chairman of Southwest Airlines, discussed the importance of respecting and trusting people.

“One piece of [my mother’s] advice that always stuck in my mind is that people should be respected and trusted as people, not because of their position or title. Frequently, position or title did not reflect the true merits of a person.”

“Thanks to her advice, in the business world I try not to judge anyone by superficial standards. I try to approach them with an open mind. I’m very interested in their ideas. … You ought to be open to listening to people. Show that you care about them as individuals, not just as workers. You know how some people are always looking over your shoulder to see if there’s somebody more important behind you? Well, one of the things that I’ve tried to do–if I’m talking to a person, that person is the only person in the world while we’re talking. They’re owed that.”

[Note: Image of Herb Kelleher with mechanics courtesy of Southwest Airlines]

Call for Action

Our personal and professional lives are not solo acts. Every endeavour includes an active involvement and support of the people in our lives: parents, spouses, children, friends, bosses, employees and peers. Respect and trust are the foundation of connecting with people and building relationships. As managers and leaders, respect for people is fundamental to engaging them and getting things done. Yet, we live in a world obsessed with judging the significance of individuals based on the superficialities of appearance and social order.

  • Have an open mind. Accept people for who they are and respect their individuality.
  • Develop your listening skills. When listening to another person, think that he or she is the only person in the world.
  • Be compassionate and kind. Never treat people as a means to an end.

Never Surprise Your Boss [Managing Your Boss #2]

Managing your boss: never surprise your boss

Bosses Dislike Surprises–Positive or Negative

The world of work is awash with relentless changes, troubles and crises. In the midst of these uncertainties, your boss does not need surprises from you or any of her employees.

Bear in mind that your boss’s output is the aggregate of the outputs of all the members of her organization. She must be in complete control of her goals and be able to answer her boss’s questions about the status of her organization’s projects and progress made on the latest crises. Consequently, she does not expect to be blindsided by good or bad news on your projects. She needs to know the status of each of your significant projects, and the challenges and opportunities therein.

Keep Your Boss in Line

Never surprise your boss: Keep your boss in line A surprise is simply the difference between a previously-identified goal of a project and its apparent result. Give your boss a heads-up: have a conversation with her about forthcoming opportunities or mounting problems as soon as you perceive these variations in the output of your work.

Suit your boss’s preferred style of communication. If she is organized and detail-oriented, she may prefer comprehensive written reports itemizing the status of your projects, financial expenditures, and, performance against set goals and budgets. In contrast, if she is informal and perceptive, she may just need you to summarize the status of your projects in an email each week.

Pre-wire Your Boss Prior to Meetings

In meetings that include your boss, her boss, peers or customers, never introduce a contentious topic or discuss positive or negative details of your project without preparing your boss ahead of the meeting.

Make it a habit to meet with you boss prior to such meetings, show her drafts of your presentations and seek her comments and inputs. By ‘pre-wiring,’ or, discussing your findings and recommendations with key decision-makers ahead of a group presentation, you ensure their support for your conclusions and avoid surprise reactions or disagreements. See my earlier ‘Ideas for Impact’article for details on the technique of pre-wiring.

Be the First to Let Your Boss Know

As a rule of thumb, your boss should first learn about any surprise from you–not from her peer, her boss, customer or consultant. Recognize that, occasionally, you may not have discussed certain facts or figures with your boss solely because these details appeared irrelevant or unimportant to you. However, others may be experienced enough to foresee the consequences and, much to your chagrin, bring up the details with your boss. If your boss asks, “Carrie from accounting told me … why you didn’t tell me that?” acknowledge that you did not foresee the consequences. Learn from your lapses and discover how you could read such trends.

Managing your boss: Clarify mutual expectations early and often

Clarify Mutual Expectations Early and Often

If you see a need to reassess your goals and priorities on a project, bring it to the attention of your boss. Involve her in evaluating the challenges so that she feels just as accountable in redefining your common goals and priorities. Be prepared to clarify your thoughts and offer alternative solutions.

Realize that It’s a Matter of Trust

The relationship between you and your boss is a sensitive one–one that hinges on mutual cooperation, credibility and trust. Trust is a virtue that depends on the predictability of your behavior, honesty and dependability. If you surprise the boss repeatedly without forewarning, she may begin to mistrust you.

Concluding Thoughts

Your boss is important to you because she is the primary source of approval of your work. And, the relationship with your boss is a critical aspect of a favorable work atmosphere and your job satisfaction.

Success in building a relationship with your boss does not come easily. It begins with recognizing that this relationship hinges on open communication, cooperation, and credibility. The onus is on you to effectively manage this key relationship and achieve the best results for yourself, your boss and the organization.

Never keep your boss in the dark.

Don’t Let Perfect be the Enemy of Done

Don't let 'Perfect' be the enemy of 'Done'

Google’s Marissa Mayer on Perfection

In an interview with the Fast Company magazine, Marissa Mayer, Vice President of search products and user experience at Google, compares two product launch strategies:

Some [programmers] like to code for months or even years, and hope they will have built the perfect product. That’s castle building. Companies work this way, too. Apple is great at it. If you get it right and you’ve built just the perfect thing, you get this worldwide ‘Wow!’ The problem is, if you get it wrong, you get a thud, a thud in which you’ve spent, like, five years and 100 people on something the market doesn’t want.

Marissa Mayer, Google's Vice President for search products and user experience Others prefer to have something working at the end of the day, something to refine and improve the next day. That’s what we do: our ‘launch early and often’ strategy. The hardest part about indoctrinating people into our culture is when engineers show me a prototype and I’m like, “Great, let’s go!” They’ll say, “Oh, no, it’s not ready.” … They want to castle-build and do all these other features and make it all perfect. I tell them … to launch it early on Google Labs and then iterate, learning what the market wants–and make it great. The beauty of experimenting in this way is that you never get too far from what the market wants.

By releasing new products and features before they are completely refined, as ‘beta’ releases, Google and other technology companies can gain significant advantages over the competition. The products can be marketed earlier and initial users can identify problems with unfinished products and suggest new product features. A case in point: Google’s popular ‘Gmail’ or ‘Google Mail’ application has remained ‘beta’ since April 2004.

The approach of releasing ‘half-baked’ products is limited to certain industries and products. And, for sure, these ‘beta’-products are expected to include all the critical functional features expected of the product. Airlines will not fly a new aircraft that has not yet passed comprehensive tests and regulatory certification.

‘Perfect’ Is Often THE Enemy of ‘Done’

When you aim for perfection, you discover it’s a moving target.
George Fisher

Fighting perfection to get things done On our personal and professional initiatives, we tend to wait for the perfect time, the perfect team, or the perfect conditions. The end-result is that we never get started on the initiative. If we do start and then aspire for a perfect design, we may never get done.

Some of us, yours truly included, are chronic perfectionists. We tend to be excessively self-critical and demanding of ourselves. Our struggle for perfection habitually turns into an endless quest for making ‘better’ a ‘little better.’ Any state of perfection ceases to exist when we question the perfection–when we ask how perfect the perfection is.

Make ‘Perfect Enough’ the New Perfect

We need to accept the prospect of compromises to our goals and aspirations. We need to acknowledge that our expectations are often excessive and uncalled for. When we develop a ‘good enough’ or ‘perfect enough’ mindset, we realize that imperfection is, after all, a negotiable outcome. There will always be a chance to improve.

Credits: Marissa Mayer’s photo courtesy of Google

How to Make Eye Contact [Body Language]

Keeping Good Eye Contact: President John Kennedy (JFK) with Jackie Kennedy

Humanity is imparted on us by actions and language and by looks and glances. We start to comprehend humanity soon after birth in the eyes of our parents, our siblings, and other loved ones. The glances of their eyes have profound meanings—even the subtlest of glimpses could convey emotions of love and hostility, cheerfulness and anxiety, approval and disapproval. The glances elevate us from our insignificance and instinctively make us feel more significant. In “La vie commune. Essai d’anthropologie generale,” Bulgarian-French philosopher and essayist Tzvetan Todorov declares,

The child seeks its mother’s eyes not only so that she will come to feed and comfort him but because the very fact that she looks at him gives him an indispensable complement: it confirms his own existence … As if they recognized the importance of this moment – though such is not the case – parent and child can look at each other’s eyes for a long time. Such an action is totally exceptional in the case of adults, when looking at each other’s eyes for more than ten seconds can only signify one of two things: both partners are either going to fight or make love.

Eyes are the Mirror of the Soul

“The eyes are the mirror of the soul.”
– A Yiddish Proverb

Our eyes play a major role in our interpersonal communication. The eyes express our moods and reactions more overtly than does other body language. Largely, observant people can attempt to understand our attitudes through the nature of our eye contact, our facial expressions, and body language.

When we meet other people, we usually observe their eyes first. When we speak, we tend to look other’s eyes. In return, we expect our audience to look at our eyes and pay their undivided attention. Hence, making and keeping good eye contact with others is an important habit.

President John F. Kennedy’s Technique for Eye Contact

The Reader’s Digest guide ‘How to Write and Speak Better’ notes a technique used by President John F Kennedy.

When people look and listen they tend to focus on one eye rather than both. Kennedy, however, would look from eye to eye when he listened, softening the expression in his own eyes at the same time, and so giving the impression that he cared greatly about the speaker’s feelings.

Trick: Make a Mental Note of Their Eye Color

The ‘ Success Begins Today‘ blog cites a technique from Nicholas Boothman’s book, “How to Connect in Business in 90 Seconds”

Eye contact and smile … it’s a simple courtesy and leads to a relaxed conversation. If you tend to be a shy person, this may be somewhat difficult for you. You may tend to look down or away when greeting someone. This can break the conversation right away.

When you meet or greet someone for the first time, just make a mental note of their eye color. This simple technique is amazingly effective. If you are looking for their eye color you’ll automatically make eye contact for a second or two.

Keeping Eye Contact in Conversations

Keeping Eye Contact in Conversations

When people maintain eye contact during a conversation, others usually interpret the eye contact as a sign of interest, confidence, honesty, compassion, and sympathy depending on the nature of the conversation. Failure to maintain eye contact may be interpreted as signs of suppression of emotions or truth, distraction, disagreement, confusion, reticence or lack of interest. Further, when people react to blame or accusation or are provoked into defensiveness or aggressiveness, their eye contact increase considerably—often, their pupils dilate.

Individual Differences

Many people, due to innate shyness or cultural background, tend to evade or curtail eye contact. They do not realize that, even if they are sincere and confident, their lack of eye contact could inadvertently communicate insincerity and lack of self-assurance.

Cultural Differences

The amount of eye contact varies dramatically in different cultures. In Asian cultures, for instance, where formal social structures (age, experience, social status, etc.) exist, eye contact with somebody superior can be offending. In some parts of India, men and women do not keep eye contact with their in-laws, out of respect. In most cultures, a longer eye contact while interacting with the other gender may be read as a sign of intimacy and expression of interest.

Eye Contact - Gender Differences

Gender Differences in Eye Contact

  • Between men, prolonged eye contact may signal aggression or intent to dominate–especially so during acquaintance or if the men are not completely familiar with each other’s expectations. Although more contact is tolerable as a relationship grows, eye contact needs to be broken often.
  • Women tend to maintain better eye contact in conversations with other women–more so with friends and family than with strangers. Generally, women interpret eye contact as a sign of trust and compassion.
  • Prolonged eye contact, an intent-look in particular, between men and women may quickly be interpreted as a sign of intimate interest. In the absence of romantic interest, concentrated eye contact must be avoided.

Avoid Staring and Gazing into Somebody’s Eyes

Staring or gazing at other individuals is typically awkward, sometimes intimidating. Never overdo an eye contact. Break eye contact often.

Idea for Impact: Learn to Keep Eye Contact

People who keep good eye contact are usually seen as personable, self-assured and confident. In the context of cultural backgrounds of the people around you, consider what messages your eye contact and body language may be unconsciously communicating about you. A firm handshake and a smile at the onset of a meeting, and eye contact throughout your conversations can establish a good impression of you.

Effective Delegation: Delegate Outcomes, Not Just Tasks

Effective Delegation: Delegate Outcomes, Not Just Tasks

Delegating Outcomes

Delegation, the art of getting things done through other people, is one of the key building blocks of effective management. Managers who cannot delegate effectively tend to lack the time for their key responsibilities and often fail to manage their team well.

When managers ask a team member to do something, they usually describe the tasks in terms of specific methods/actions. Executive coach Barry Zweibel describes the pitfalls of this common approach.

Effective Delegation: Delegate Desired Outcomes, Results When we delegate tasks–that is [discuss] assignments in terms of processes or steps to take–we run the risk of people doing exactly what we say, but still not getting the job done as we hoped. But if we delegate desired outcomes–that is what we want to result from the assignment–it’s more likely that that’s what will be accomplished.

Barry presents three examples:

  1. When a customer complaint needs to be addressed, instead of “Here, go talk to this person,” try, “Here, go make this customer happy again.”
  2. When a vendor order needs to be expedited, instead of “Here, go track this order,” try, “Here, go insure the successful – and timely – delivery of this order.”
  3. When recent sales figures are below expectations, instead of “Here, go research this report,” try, “Here, go determine what needs to be done to get these numbers back on track.”

Effective Delegation: Explain Context and Broaden Perspective

Call for Action

Clearly, by delegating outcomes–with the authority and resources needed,–you enhance a team member’s responsibility to get the job done.

  • By explaining the outcome of an assignment in reference to the relevant context, you broaden the team member’s perspective on the problem. This increases his/her ability to absorb the assignment and be an integral part of the outcome and the consequent achievement.
  • Do not tell a team member what actions to take or how to complete an assignment. This approach fof micromanaging work is not empowering–it certainly limits the team member’s initiative. Give him/her an opportunity to own the assignment and work in his/her own unique way.
  • If the team member asks for advice on what steps to take, offer a few options and allow him/her to choose the appropriate option. In general, people hate to be told what to do. Thus, providing a few options empowers the team member to explore these options further and decide on the best path by himself/herself.

The key to effective delegation is to approach delegation as an offer to present to a team member, not a demand to be made. Delegating outcomes–not just tasks–helps managers skillfully present assignments to their team members and empowers them to get the job done.

What the Deaf Can Teach Us About Listening


Lessons of Silence

Bruno Kahne, a corporate consultant for the aeronautical industry, shares how deaf people helped his corporate clients be effective communicators. His article appears on the website of the strategy+business magazine, published by management consulting firm Booz & Company. See full article or PDF file. Below is a summary of the article.

Through their “handicap,” deaf people develop certain communication skills more thoroughly than most hearing people, which make them uncommonly effective at getting their point across. When they interact with one another, deaf people act in ways that let them communicate more rapidly and accurately than hearing people.

To improve your “hearing,” consider some of these lessons from our experiences and training sessions.

  1. Effective Communication » Paying Attention Do not take notes. You will be more present in the interaction and you can concentrate more. And the more you do it, the better you remember.
  2. Don’t interrupt. A deaf person ensures that he or she first understands the other speaker before trying to be understood. Try this the next time you’re in a business discussion, ideally one in which there’s some tension — let the other person finish what he or she has to say, then silently count to three before responding.
  3. Say what you mean, as simply as possible. Deaf people are direct. They reveal not only their thoughts, but also their feelings, both positive and negative, more clearly than hearing people do, as they express them with their whole bodies. Similarly, the deaf are often far better than hearing people at finding the most economical way to convey their message.
  4. When you don’t understand something, ask. Deaf people feel completely at ease saying “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand.” Those of us with hearing aren’t nearly as willing to admit confusion or lack of comprehension. We often sit silently in meetings while our colleagues use acronyms or technical jargon we don’t grasp because we think asking for clarification is a sign of weakness.
  5. Stay focused. The deaf cut themselves off from any distractions, they don’t multitask, and they focus their attention entirely on the conversation.

Overall, the most inspiring thing about communication with deaf people — and the behavior most worth emulating — is their incredibly strong desire to exchange information efficiently and without adornment.

Call for Action

Effective Communication » Listening All of the suggestions in the article are trite and obvious. When I discuss such desired behaviors in my seminars or during one-on-one coaching sessions, I can sense my audience negligently declaring, “I know that.” My response is usually along the lines of “Sure, you know that. And, tell me how and where do you apply these ideas in your everyday interactions?”

Most of the articles I write on this blog are about simple ideas. I hope my articles serve as a reminder of key principles and help you tune-up your communications and behaviors. As you read through my articles, instead of declaring, “I know that,” ask, “How do/can I apply these principles in my everyday interactions?” Take responsibility for the effectiveness of your communications and your ability to influence and get the results you desire.

***Via ‘I can see what they’re saying,’ Doc Searls at Harvard