Direct statements

We all have things we wish we could come right out and say, but often don’t for our own reasons. We may want to preserve a relationship, not hurt someone’s feelings, or reveal what we truly think. We beat around the bush hoping that they might pick up what we’re trying to say. Usually, this strategy does not work.

The problem is that we want to communicate something but we have fear or uncertainty in our head or heart. We feel a sense of pause and we don’t say what we wish we could. So we either say nothing at all, aka silence, or say a bunch of stuff to lighten the blow.

Adopting a shared language

One of the tools that can help us grow as leaders and with our teams is adopting a shared language. What’s cool about working with a small group is that you can set rules for that specific set of people. While you can’t control everything in your life, organization, or larger structure, you can control your direct circle of influence. An easy way to do that is to develop a shared language that your group understands and can use when needed.

No one is going to assign you the task to “develop a shared language.” This is something that you must take ownership of and make happen the next time you gather. It’s kind of like a more serious version of an inside joke. Your group gets what you’re saying, but if you weren’t a part of that group, you might be a little confused. Of course, as your group grows, it’s important to share the shared language, just like a nice friend will explain the inside joke to you.

Shared language solutions

Brene Brown has a phrase in Dare to Lead that goes like this: “clear is kind, unclear is unkind.” This is kind of a mantra or anthem to say that unclarity is not going to be tolerated. By beating around the bush, you may think you are being kind, when in reality, your lack of clarity is damaging the group. Better to be clear about what you think than bury your true thoughts deep down inside you.

Henry Cloud in Boundaries for Leaders notes that a Fortune 500 business uses the phrase “just give me the 10%.” This is a way of saying, “can you please skip the BS?” In a situation where someone is obviously hedging around an issue, you can give them the freedom to be clear and kind by asking them to give you the 10%, or what is really on their mind.

The David Allen Company used to say “Silence means we are OK with what’s going on.” Silence can be a terrible thing to deal with in leadership and in relationships. But who said silence has to be miserable? Declaring that everyone is going to agree on what silence means helps everyone. This comes with an implicit expectation that people WILL speak up if they have an issue. Otherwise, the silence communicates approval and support. The trick is to practice this and to ask people to speak up, otherwise, their silence communities they are OK with what’s happening.

How the way we end conversations leads to confusion or action

Have you ever worked with someone who uses confusion and complexity and avoids action? Instead of figuring out the next thing to do, they talk about how big a problem is. Instead of taking action, they freeze.

I had a work colleague that used this tactic. In critical conversations, she would talk at length about many different angles of an issue. We would discuss the tensions that caused a particular problem but rarely reached a solution. She would conclude these unproductive conversations with a signature phrase “yeah, isn’t this complicated?”

Yeah, isn’t this complicated” is a way of saying, this situation is overwhelming, I don’t know what to do. It’s a way of saying, “the work we are doing takes effort, but I don’t want to do anything.”. Instead of figuring out an action plan and doing stuff, yeah, it’s complicated was a way of avoiding movement.

Avoiding movement

Avoid movement is safe. No action buys us time. We don’t have to face tensions with people and do the difficult emotional work of deciding.

Moving toward action: how to end conversations with helpful phrases

Instead of leaving a conversation confused, we should seek clarity. I like Brenee Brown’s phrase: “clear is kind, unclear is unkind.” We must define and create projects, not complain about problems. We can organize our projects by deciding who owns it, deciding who is going to take the next step, and by when. It takes a little more effort, but the end result is a much.

Here are some helpful questions that may help you end conversations toward clarity:

  1. Who owns this?
  2. How will we know if this is a success?
  3. What does success look like to you?
  4. How can I help?
  5. What do you want me to do?

There will always be opposition

Have you ever encountered someone who doesn’t agree with your point of view or see things the same way you do? I’m sure you’ve experienced the tension that lies when you have an idea but know someone is going to challenge you. This is what makes the world a beautiful place, but it can annoy us and stress us out. We can probably agree with this statement: there will always be someone who does not approve our work.

So, if it’s true there will always be opposition, how then might we adjust our behavior?

If it’s true there will always be at least one person who doesn’t like what we’re up to, what might we need to consider in our mindset and thinking?

If it’s true all people will not see things the same way we do, what’s next?

Adjusting our behavior

One of the ways we can deal with opposition is to adjust our behavior. As humans, we have the ability to change the narrative, change our thinking, and see the world differently. Some of this happens in our thinking patterns or in the invisible world. Some of this happens in the external or physical world. How we behave exists in both of these worlds.

Since there will always be opposition, make an agreement with yourself that you will not sulk or get discouraged when you hear someone who doesn’t like what you said. There will always be people who don’t get you, and you knew that beforehand! If you didn’t know that, it’s true, right? We can’t live every moment of our lives in terms of those who oppose us.

Since there will always be opposition, change your surroundings. Switch things up. You don’t have to have your desk in that dark corner. Your room does not have to be painted that color. Make a simple tweak to your surroundings to help you remember you have the ability to change your surroundings. Charles Duhigg illustrates this in his book Smarter Faster Better where he describes how members of the military were given the ability to rearrange the furniture in their living quarters. This gave each person a sense of autonomy and a deeper sense of control. You can do the same.

Since there will always be someone who doesn’t like your work, decide now that you won’t let that freeze you up. The last thing you should do is freeze up and stop making stuff. That’s what the opposition wants. Decide on the front end that you will create art. If there are people who don’t get it, as Seth Godin would say, it wasn’t for them.

Mindset and thinking questions... (Invisible world)

As you think about your internal dialogue or your invisible world, you can structure how you want to think about your work.

How much attention are you going to give the opposition? Decide before it destroys your day.

How much attention will you give your support team? Know who they are so you can run to them in emergencies.

What voices ultimately matter most in your life? Brené Brown suggests having a 1 inch by 1 inch piece of paper with the voices that are most encouraging in your life. It’s small on purpose. Let them know they are on your square and keep them close, especially when you feel discouraged.

What’s next? (Physical world)

If it’s true there WILL be opposition, Get to work. What are you waiting for?

Stop complaining. You knew this wouldn’t be easy.

Butt in chair. Thanks, Anne Lamott

Find out what inspires you — and come back to it when you’re discouraged. Keep a rainy day file.

Decide to focus

The Focused State” is something you may be looking to reach. You may have reached it once or twice before but find that it’s hard to replicate and reproduce on command.

You may blame your boss, spouse, or lack of time. You’ll blame anything and anyone. I’ve been there.

Choosing to focus takes effort.

Focus takes discipline and perspective to make good decisions on what you need to focus on and why it is appropriate for right now.

But what we often miss with focus is that it’s a decision. You and I must DECIDE to focus — to quiet the voice that says we need to be working on something else.

Focus is a decision

When you make the decision to focus, you direct your attention away from the trivial and toward a topic. You block out distractions and clarify the win. You decide what will consume your attention and how far you need to get before you’re willing to let up.

Choose to focus

You have a choice today. You can decide to focus. Or you can let someone else do it for you.

Influence and impact

One thing you can keep in mind each day is that you have influence and impact as an individual person. It can be common to think that on your own, you can’t impact or change much anything unless you’re in an “official” position of leadership. 

It turns out that the most influential individuals leverage their influence exactly where they are right now. They don’t wait for a fancy role or revised title or larger paycheck.In other words, they influence and impact people exactly where they are now.

Within your sphere, you have the ability to start or continue a conversation with others about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it... 

Within your sphere, you have the ability to sense negativity and frustration, and help people to better understand what’s happening... 

The big question then is, are you aware of your influence? Are you using it?

Asking “how might we” questions

A powerful tool to help your leadership is to ask great questions. Yes, there is such a thing as a bad question. In school, teachers sometimes say there’s no such thing as a bad question. Good advice for young students. Bad advice for adults. There are many WRONG questions that we can ask that we don’t need to be asking. There are WRONG questions we can ask about our spouse or about how things are in the world. Here’s another example of a bad question:

Zoom example of a BAD question.jpg
No. You suck. Bad question.

Change your question, change your focus. 

HOW MIGHT WE...”  questions

How might we...” questions allows the brain to engage in the higher-level thinking of the brain instead of operating out of the lower-level “fear” mindset.

In your personal life ...

  • How might I find ways to get 7–8 hours of sleep each night?
  • How might I find more energy each day?
  • How might I go deeper in my relationships?
  • How might we find more ways to spend time together?
  • How might we create a less stressful environment in our home?
  • How might we spend less time on screens?

In your role as a leader... 

  • How might we better serve our customers and clients?
  • How might we motivate and employees and staff?
  • How might we create a fantastic experience for everyone?
  • How might we best communicate this idea?

Start asking these questions today!

The best thing is you don’t have to buy anything or learn anything else to start using “how might we” questions. 

A powerful extension is to make sure your whole group or team is asking the same question together. Change the questions, change the focus. 

This post was inspired by Jake Knapp’s book, Sprint