Tag Archives: Crucial Conversations

Truth and Grace: How to Share?

The C12 Group focused on the issue of trust in this month’s business segment. Trust is a foundational element of our relationships in the workplace, family, friends, churches, schools, government, military and pretty much anywhere two or more people interact. One of the first building blocks of trust is engaging with truth. In addition to engaging with truth is engaging with grace. We in America are certainly being challenged today to engage each other with truth and grace. The double edged sword of technology allows us to share our thoughts and opinions very easily, but also in a way that can be harsh and demeaning. How do we engage with each other, pointing out when the truth is being misunderstood, but doing it in a way that doesn’t damage or even sever the relationships that are important for us to keep?

Let’s start with man’s definition of each of these terms. As is common in the English language, there are nuances to the definition of a single word. From Merriam-Webster, the definition of truth: the real facts about something; the things that are true; sincerity in action, character, and utterance; the body of real things, events, and facts; a transcendent fundamental or spiritual reality. Again, from Merriam-Webster, the definition of grace (relevant to what I am sharing): unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification; disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency; the quality or state of being considerate or thoughtful.

For me, all truth starts with the foundational truths that God exists, that He created the universe, including us, that He has a plan for the human race and that we are active participants in that plan. The foundational source of these truths that God revealed to us is the Bible. Abraham Lincoln said, “In regard to this Great Book, I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Savior gave to the world was communicated through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man’s welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it.” Reply to Loyal Colored People of Baltimore upon Presentation of a Bible on September 7, 1864 (Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 7:542). The apostle Paul writes in 2nd Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.” (2 Timothy 3:16 NLT).

When we engage in any relationship one of our tendencies is to assume wrong motives for the other person’s words or actions. This is especially true when engaging in social media, texting or emailing interactions because the amount of communication is very limited compared to an in person engagement with conversation and body language. There is a lot of personal history that we may know nothing about which has shaped this person’s view of the world and what truth they have been exposed to. This is one of the reasons I try to start new relationships, especially important ones, with sharing our respective life stories from birth to present day.

The foundational truth of grace is that God loves us so much that He gives us something we don’t deserve, eternity with Him, otherwise known as Heaven. That gift is only available through the acceptance of Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior, which does require submission. Another aspect of that truth is that if we reject the gift, reject God and reject Jesus Christ as lord and savior, then we reject the outcome and will not spend eternity with Him, otherwise known as Hell. These are eternal decisions, not taken lightly. “And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.” (1 John 5:11-12 NLT).

If we are Christians who have accepted these truths, then how do we conduct ourselves in these personal engagements, sharing truth and grace? The Bible gives us instructions to do that. “Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:25 NLT).

Returning to the point about understanding motives, let me give you a practical example. I intensely dislike cigarette smoking (note I prefer these terms instead of “hate” which is a strong word, often wrongly applied). What is my history with this issue that is affecting my view of smokers? I did not like cigarettes the first time I tried them as a teenager. The odor is quite intense in a bad way for me. And most importantly, it is a fact that cigarettes cause cancer. My grandmother and father both died of cancer (not from cigarettes) and my wife is a cancer survivor. I have been and am in relationships with people who smoke. I know that quitting is very difficult and I empathize with that difficulty. But, the outcome of not quitting could literally be death. When I have a crucial conversation with someone about their smoking habit, I try to engage them by sharing what has shaped by view and try to help them see the truth of what they are doing and the truth of the potential consequences to themselves and their families. I don’t like their actions, but I do in fact love them as people and I am trying to engage them in a way that demonstrates that.

The same methods can be applied to any relationship and any discussion of differing views. Let’s civilly and respectfully share our stories forming our views and in the process share the truths that God has and continues to reveal to us each day. There are many opportunities today to have these discussions around marriage and family; the role of government in our lives; the freedom to live out our faith every day in every place, not just one day in one place; interacting with the world; and abortion to name a few. I have previously written about a great book with practical advice on how to have these crucial conversations: https://marcjmartin.wordpress.com/2014/04/23/get-better-at-having-difficult-conversations/.

If you are a disciple of Christ, then fill yourself each day with God’s truths from the Bible so you can continue to grow in sharing the truth with grace. Gather with fellow disciples in groups of three or four regularly and challenge each other to grow in these areas. Pray for wisdom and discernment each day. “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” (James 1:5 NLT).

If you are not a disciple of Christ, investigate these truths with an open heart and open mind. Thanks to technology (another gift from God) we can easily access many places to do that. The best source again is the Bible and you can start in the book of John: https://www.bible.com/bible/116/jhn.1.nlt. Talk to someone you know who is following Christ and you see that person living it out in a God honoring way. Feel free to contact me as well.

Here are some other resources:

http://www.timothykeller.com/books/the-reason-for-god

http://www.josh.org/resources/free-book-downloads/

http://godlife.com/

 

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Three Difference Makers for Your Organization

In my roles of business owner and C12 Group Chair, I’ve had the opportunity to work on strategic plans and the execution, or lack of execution of those plans in a number of organizations. I’ve noticed three difference makers for an organization that can help move from the lack of execution group to the group that is executing. I can’t claim that these are my ideas, I’m not that smart. Also, as Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, “Nothing under the sun is truly new.”

The three things are:

  1. Plans are not clear and simple.
  2. There is a lack of clarity among the leaders in the organization.
  3. People don’t know how to communicate, especially in difficult conversations.

Let’s take a look at each of these one by one.

Plans are not clear and simple.

Plans tend to be at one end of opposite spectrums, either non-existent or too many pages of unclear goals. Starting from nothing is often easier than backtracking from plans that are overly complex with unclear goals.

“The bigger your company gets, and the faster it’s growing, the harder it is to get everybody on the same page. The problem, of course, is that there isn’t a single page around which to align. Instead, there are likely more than a dozen pages, actual and imaginary, along with memos and emails, each purporting to describe your company’s mission, vision and strategy. Further, many of these messages may be riddled with unclear and even contradictory statements about who your company is, what it does and how.” – Verne Harnish, “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits”

I’ve settled on a two to three page plan using elements of Harnish’s plan and elements from Jim Horan’s “One Page Business Plan”. My plan template consists of a vision and mission statement, core values listed and described, a brand promise, a short description of the current situation, a short growth vision paragraph, three year goals, one year goals and quarterly goals. The goals should be 3-5 and no more than a sentence or two. They must be SMART; specific, measurable, action oriented, realistic and time bound (deadlines). Part of the specific description should include the name of the employee who “owns” that goal. It’s important to leave the quarterly goals blank until you are entering the next quarter. For example, when in the first quarter, your goals for the second, third and fourth quarters should be blank. You enter goals into those quarters as you approach them.

There is a lack of clarity among the leaders in the organization.

The management team needs to create this plan together so there is clarity among the team which will need to be communicated to the rest of the organization. The best method is to go off site for a one to two day session. Use a facilitator if you’ve never been through this exercise. Once the plan is finished, it needs to be shared with everyone in the organization as much as is practical. The management team should be meeting weekly, working to execute the plan, checking in on progress with the “owner” of the goals.

If the management team is having difficulty creating the plan due to a lack of clarity among the team, Patrick Lencioni recommends discussing the answer to six critical questions, checking for alignment. If the leadership team is aligned on these six critical questions, then the team can lead the organization more effectively. Here are the six questions:

  1. Why do we exist?
  2. How do we behave?
  3. What do we do?
  4. How will we succeed?
  5. What is most important, right now?
  6. Who must do what?

Lencioni describes this at length in his book “The Advantage”. Once the team is aligned on those questions and the plan is agreed on the team must over communicate clarity and reinforce clarity to the rest of the organization. This is one of the biggest challenges today because of the massive amount of information we deal with on a daily basis. John P. Kotter in “Leading Change” drove home this point with these statistics:

Total amount of communication going to an employee in three months = 2,300,000 words or numbers. Typical communication of vision over same period = 13,400 words or characters (one 30 minute speech, one 60 minute meeting, one 600 word article or one 2,000 word memo). Vision communication percentage = 0.58%.

Keeping the message simple and communicating it often, repetitively is key to successfully bringing clarity.

People don’t know how to communicate, especially in difficult conversations.

While working on your plan with your team you will probably run into situations where there is some conflict. Why does that happen? Usually, it’s because there is a misunderstanding of facts or motive and our emotions are kicking in. Our body’s response is to either fight or flee, neither of which are conducive to a good conversation.

An extremely helpful book on how to change that is “Crucial Conversations” by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler. Here are some of the goals the book offers to help you achieve:

  • Prepare for high stakes situations
  • Transform anger and hurt feelings into powerful dialogue
  • Make it safe to talk about almost anything
  • Be persuasive, not abrasive

An important concept shared is that everyone involved in the conversation must feel safe. Everyone needs to share all the information that they have in their head, contributing to the “pool of shared meaning”.  This is not the time for winners and losers. This book is quite a contrast to the style we see played out on our TV and computer screens on a daily basis. I believe it’s an effective style that can benefit anyone, not just business owners and managers.

If you are leading an organization, get copies of “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits”, “The Advantage”, and “Crucial Conversations” for you and your leadership team. Read them together and then get to work on the concepts in each book, transforming your organization into one that has a plan and is executing that plan successfully.

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Is Your Organization Healthy?

Have you ever heard the term “organizational health”? In 2012 Patrick Lencioni wrote “The Advantage” addressing this topic. He wrote “Organizational health will one day surpass all other disciplines in business as the greatest opportunity for improvement and competitive advantage.” What is organizational health? It’s how cohesive the leadership team in the organization is and how well they are communicating with each other and the rest of the organization. Lencioni uses a four discipline model to describe his concept of organizational health. The first discipline is to build that cohesive leadership team, which is difficult and takes time. You are after a high level of mutual trust, the ability to have crucial conversations, commitment to the team and peer to peer accountability.

Where do you start if you think your team isn’t that cohesive? An exercise I use to get people to a higher level of trust quickly is the life story exercise. Each person takes 15 minutes and shares their life story, chronologically covering these questions along the way:

  • Where and when were you born and grew up?
  • What did your parents do for a living?
  • College or work?
  • When and where did you meet your spouse?
  • Children? Grandchildren?
  • How did you end up in the area if you are from somewhere else?

I have yet to see this not result in improved communication among the team members. They often find points of commonality or something difficult or even tragic that someone overcame. Even people who have been working together for years usually don’t know their co-workers life story. Building relationships is crucial to building trust and that takes spending time together.

The other three disciplines Lencioni describes are all related to clarity. The first is clarity among the leadership team. This can be somewhat measured by bringing them all together in a room and discussing the answer to six critical questions, checking for alignment. If the leadership team is aligned on these six critical questions, then the team can lead the organization more effectively. Here are the six questions:

  1. Why do we exist?
  2. How do we behave?
  3. What do we do?
  4. How will we succeed?
  5. What is most important, right now?
  6. Who must do what?

Once the leadership team is clear and aligned on these questions, they can effectively lead the rest of the organization. This is done by executing the other two disciplines, over communicate clarity and reinforce clarity. Note that the word “clarity” is part of three out of the four disciplines Lencioni describes as elements of a healthy organization. Communicating clarity is something I see many organizations struggling with. It was something I struggled with myself in running an IT company prior to becoming a C12 Group chair. Keeping the message simple and communicating it often, repetitively is key to successfully bringing clarity and health to your organization.

Lencioni provides some tools to help you evaluate your organization’s health at his website www.tablegroup.com. There is a survey you can take to get an idea of where you are and the resulting report will give you some suggestions on beginning the process to improve your organizational health. Reading the book is a good idea, of course. Another book that you should read and use as resource for the first discipline of building your cohesive team is “Crucial Conversations” by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler. It will help you immensely with the inevitable conflict that will arise as you work through the six critical questions. Their techniques will help in any conversation that is difficult, in any situation or setting.

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Get Better at Having Difficult Conversations

One of my C12 Group members has recommended the book Crucial Conversations multiple times over the last two years, usually in response to an issue a member was having with another person.  Since this member always has good advice and the book is on the C12 Group recommended reading list I finally bought it and recently finished reading it. My member keeps recommending it for a good reason; it offers invaluable advice on how to improve our skills in important conversations, whether those are in business, family or other situations where the discussion could turn into an unhealthy or unpleasant confrontation.

Here are some of the goals the book offers to help you achieve:

  • Prepare for high stakes situations
  • Transform anger and hurt feelings into powerful dialogue
  • Make it safe to talk about almost anything
  • Be persuasive, not abrasive

The book is well written and uses multiple stories to illustrate how the tools can be used in all aspects of life, not just business. Here’s a list of some common examples from the first chapter:

  • Ending a relationship
  • Talking to a coworker who behaves offensively or makes suggestive comments
  • Asking a friend to repay a loan
  • Giving the boss feedback
  • Critiquing a colleague’s work
  • Asking a roommate to move out
  • Dealing with a rebellious teen
  • Discussing problems with sexual intimacy
  • Confronting a loved one about a substance abuse problem
  • Giving an unfavorable performance review

This list gives you an idea of what the term “crucial conversations” is referring to. Actually, these tools can be useful in any conversation, because sometimes we enter into a conversation thinking it’s a normal one, but surprisingly turns into a crucial one. Why does that happen? Usually, it’s because there is a misunderstanding of facts or motive and our emotions are kicking in. Our body’s response is to either fight or flee, neither of which are conducive to a good conversation. How do the authors suggest we overcome these tendencies?

An important concept shared is that everyone involved in the conversation must feel safe. Everyone needs to share all the information that they have in their head, contributing to the “pool of shared meaning”.  This is not the time for winners and losers. There are seven principles described in the book, guiding you to more successful conversations.

The first one is “Start with the Heart”. We often start these conversations with wrong motives. We need to focus on what we really want out of the conversation. Instead, we end up slipping into looking for ways to win, punish or keep the peace. Keep in mind what you really want for yourself, the others in the conversation and the relationships involved.

The second principle is “Learn to Look”.  What you are looking for are signs that the other person or people are not feeling safe and are moving toward the fight or flight emotional response.  In addition to awareness of the others in the conversation, you also have to be aware of your own emotional response and heading that off before you get to your typical style under stress. This chapter includes a test to help you determine what style you usually default to. My personal style tends towards the silence mode.

The third is “Make it Safe”. This is where the tools and skills start to really make a difference, bringing everyone in the conversation into a safe place of mutual purpose and mutual respect. This is the part of the conversation where you need to make sure the others know that you don’t have a malicious or selfish intent. You may need to apologize or use contrasting to clarify any misunderstandings.

Fourth is “Master My Stories”. This principle is focused on mastering yourself, recognizing when you are moving into the fight or flight mode and doing something about it. The first thing to do is analyze the “story” you are telling. Ask yourself some of these questions:

  • What am I pretending not to know about my role in the problem?
  • Why would a reasonable, rational and decent person do this?
  • What should I do right now to move toward what I really want?

Depending on the answers to these questions, you may need to retrace your steps and add additional information that would be helpful to the conversation.

The fifth principle is “STATE My Path”. STATE is an acronym for Share your facts, Tell your story, Ask for others’ paths, Talk tentatively, Encourage testing. The first two parts of the acronym are where you state the facts you know and the conclusion that you have come to that is based on your knowledge of those facts. After that, you invite the other people to share their facts and conclusions, again making it safe for them to do so. The key to talking tentatively is to find a balance between being too soft or too hard in your statements. The “encourage testing” part of the conversation is where you encourage the person to offer facts that help us clarify what we believe about the situation.

Next is “Explore Others’ Paths”. This part of the book focuses on more methods to use when the conversation is not going well and the others have moved into fight or flight mode. As you can imagine, most of the time is spent discussing ways to improve your listening skills, including expressing interest in their opinions, respectfully acknowledging their emotions, paraphrasing their story to clarify understanding and finally expressing your best guess at what they are thinking if they haven’t been able to successfully share that.

Finally, “Move to Action”. Once the people involved in the conversation have come to a shared conclusion that something has to be done, it is time to move into the part of the discussion where decisions are made and they are documented. The first question to answer is how are decisions going to be made? Command, consult, vote or consensus are the four decision methods described. The second question is the assignment question. Who is going to do what, by when and what is the follow up to make sure it’s done?

This book is quite a contrast to the style we see played out on our TV and computer screens on a daily basis. I believe it’s an effective style that can benefit anyone, not just business owners and managers. Look again at the list of common “crucial conversations”. Don’t you think it would be helpful to be prepared to have one of these conversations at some point in your life? Take a step of self-improvement and get this book, you won’t be disappointed.

The authors (Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler) have augmented the 2012 edition with videos and articles on the VitalSmarts web site. Grenny will again be speaking at the 2014 Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit.

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