• The Power of Clarifying Questions

    Recently I received an email from a colleague that felt a little ‘loaded’.  Most of the email made sense, but there was one sentence that really struck a wrong cord with me.  I was tempted to fire back my initial emotional response, but as I was typing it struck me that maybe I misunderstood what the sender was trying to say.  I deleted my original response and asked for clarification instead.  The sender sent back a quick response further clarifying what they meant, and just as I thought, I had misunderstood what the sender was trying to say.

    How often does that happen in communication?  In today’s digital society, it is easy to misinterpret what someone is trying to say through an email or text.  In digital communication we are missing some key ingredients of the full message:  tone, body language, and emotions to name a few. In my example above, when I took the time to ask one simple question, “Can you please clarify what you meant when you said this  __________?”, it saved a lot of time and energy by not focusing on the wrong things.  By taking a few extra moments to truly ‘listen’ to the sender, I was able to better understand what they were trying to say.

    Truly listening means taking in the full message to ensure maximum understanding. How do we do
    that well?  What does that require of the Receiver?  It requires us to pay attention to the Sender’s:
    * Words
    * Body Language
    * Tone of Voice
    * Emotion
    * Intention

    What does all this tell me? If I’m truly listening, it tells me what their intended message is (their true meaning), or as close to it as possible. It’s our responsibility as the Receiver to really get at that intention.  As Receivers, if our intention is to look out for the best interest of others, we can demonstrate this by truly listening to understand the Heart (or intention) of the sender. What do they really mean? What is behind the words they are saying – or not saying?

    Clarifying questions helps us as leaders to truly listen to others.  The goal of asking a clarifying question is to get additional information so that we fully understand the sender’s intended message – what they meant to say, which is not always just what they actually said.  Also, these types of clarifying questions should be “heart-based” questions. Meaning, that the intention of the question is not to judge, or to add further content into the conversation. Heart-based questions should only be asked to further understand the information provided by the sender.
    So what is the intent of Clarifying?
    * Helps you to obtain more information
    * Allows you to fill in the gaps when the person gives an incomplete message
    * Solicits more detail from the sender so the receiver can get a more clear picture

    Let’s look at an example of a question that someone might ask to clarify their understanding.
    * Could you please elaborate on that?
    * Tell me more about…
    * What did you mean when you said…?
    * Are there specific…?

    The next time you receive an email that strikes a wrong cord with you, ask your sender to clarify what they meant using one of the examples above.  You may be surprised to learn you had misinterpreted the intention behind their message.

    Michelle Cummings, Co-Founder, CEO, and Chief Creative Officer

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  • Feedback is Personal

    This month we are focusing on the Voice and Ears of a leader, or in other words, how we talk and listen to each other. There is a mounting body of evidence from researchers and practitioners that tell us positive words and interactions with others are at the heart of engagement and strong performance. And yet, sometimes we have to give feedback that is not always a positive experience. It’s simply part of being a leader. So a question we’ll explore in this article is “how do we say the hard stuff while also engaging others?”

    First, we have to understand the power of our words. Whether we are aware of it or not, our words either encourage or discourage others. The word encourage means to inspire courage in others. The word discourage means to cause someone to lose courage. Take a moment and imagine someone who you respect and look up to, someone who is important to you. Imagine sitting in front of this person and they say these words:


    “You are incompetent.”

    “I don’t trust you.”

    “I’ve lost respect for you.”

    What emotions do you feel now? How do you feel about yourself? What are you motivated to do as a result of these emotions? For most of us, when we hear this kind of feedback from someone important to us, we feel angry, sad, misunderstood, and betrayed. Our natural response is to fight back, flee from the situation or freeze in place. But the last thing we want is to believe it’s true or do something about it. I remember the last time I got feedback from a friend that wasn’t pleasant to hear. I felt deeply betrayed and angry. The more I thought about it the angrier I got. I wanted to justify my behaviors, I wanted a new friend, I wanted to rewind and pretend I never heard the feedback. The last thing I was ready to do at the time was actually accept the feedback and do something about it.  Now, imagine someone important to you says these words:

    “I believe in you.”

    “You’ve got this.”

    “You are amazing.”

    What emotions do you feel now? How do you feel about yourself? What are you motivated to do as a result of these emotions? Contrary to my friend who gave me harsh feedback, I had a boss who was very good at giving positive feedback. He told me how important I was, he shared how confident he was in my abilities and he communicated his trust for my decision-making ability. This is a boss that I would have followed off a cliff.

    Here is the thing about feedback. It is personal. Even when we don’t intend for our words to be personal, they are. Feedback is our way of describing how the other person shows up in our world. Even when we use factual data in our feedback we strike the emotional chords of the other person. Our words have emotional weight.

    When we give feedback, no matter what our message is, our goal should be to encourage – inspire courage – in others. Therefore, the skill necessary to inspire courage is: Say what needs to be said in a way that others will hear it, with respect and concern for the other person while staying true to the virtue of the message.

    Some specific things we can do to increase our skill in giving feedback include minimize the threat we represent, show empathy, use exploratory languages rather than absolutes and demonstrate compassionate persistence. What are some other ways of sharing tough feedback that have worked well for you? Send us your ideas and they might end up in our next newsletter!

    ~Personify Leadership

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  • The Courage to Address Participant Behaviors

    Today we’re going to talk about Facilitator Courage.  Specifically we’re going to talk about the courage it sometimes takes to address disruptive participant behaviors.

     If you’ve been a trainer for any period of time, chances are you’ve encountered some disruptive participant behaviors a time or two.  These behaviors can sometimes throw you off your game and even derail your entire training.  It can take courage to address these behaviors, and having some strategies in your back pocket can really help you – and the other participants – stay on task, without sweeping the issue under the rug.  Watch this short video below where co-founder Michelle Cummings gives a few tips on how to address the ‘Negative Nancies’ that may be in your trainings.

    Watch this video as Michelle Cummings addresses strategies for addressing Participant Behaviors in class.

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  • Why Pain Matters in Leadership

    As leaders, we face tough situations every day.

    We’re asked to make tough decisions, have tough conversations, take on tough workloads, inspire tough people and achieve tough goals. There are emotionally-charged conversations to hold. Deadlines are tight and the pressure is on.

    In each and every one of these situations, taking action involves discomfort — and pain. Giving a coworker feedback that she’d rather not hear? This will be painful. So will receiving feedback that brings to light areas where you, too, need to make improvements. Or taking a stand on an unpopular position because you believe, fundamentally, that it’s the right thing to do.

    But not all leaders are capable of doing the tough stuff. What separates a good manager from an exceptional leader is the willingness to move to action by facing any challenge rather than avoid it, delegate it or run from it.

    This is why pain — and the courage required to accept pain as part of the process of fully engaging — is crucial to leadership.

    The best leaders can:

    ●     Recognize when they are feeling pain, or anticipate times when they might.

    ●     Navigate and overcome the fear of pain.

    ●     Resist the temptation to avoid pain by either avoiding the situations that provoke it, or reacting in a way that’s defensive or insecure.

    ●     Move thoughtfully to action rather than reacting when faced with tough situations or people.

    The good news — as we lay out in our book THE COURAGEOUS LEADER — is that we all have the power to tap into the courage this requires.

    What about you? What particular situations, conversations or challenges do you tend to avoid as a leader in order to shield yourself from pain?

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  • I Believe In You and Want You to Succeed

    I’ll never forget facilitating a class with a group of leaders on the topic of difficult feedback. About half way through the class I noticed the group starting to squirm a little, looking uncomfortable and a bit unsure what to do with themselves. I looked around the room to see what might be happening to create this discomfort but nothing seemed apparent. Although I continued to facilitate it started to feel almost pointless. I was losing the groups interest and I was completely unsure as to what I was doing wrong. I was sensing frustration from them and I was definitely frustrated. Finally, one woman had the courage to stand up, lead me out into the middle of the hallway and point out that the third button down on my white, tailored shirt was undone and my shirt was gaping wide open. I was mortified! I quickly put myself back together and reunited with my class whom were all completely relieved that finally the cat was out of the bag. I was no longer working against my own interest trying desperately to connect with a group that was trying desperately to overlook me as much as possible.

    Think about how much energy we waste by skirting around the real issue. Often, when we choose to withhold feedback we think we are being nice or diplomatic, but in reality were just being flat out scaredy pants. The true irony of this story is withholding feedback from people who would otherwise benefit from it is not a nice thing to do. Far from it! Feedback is what allows us to see what is otherwise invisible to us. It is a powerful flashlight that allows us to work in the light rather than the dark. Giving feedback is a respectful and caring way to say I believe in you and I want you to succeed. Without it we give others a false sense of security in their less than desirable performance.

    Being courageous enough to provide useful feedback means saying what needs to be said, rather than what is easier to say, and saying what needs to be said, rather than what is easier for the other person to hear. In our personal lives and at work, we need to give and receive feedback before, during and after tough times. Tough times are situations or people that cause us some level of discomfort or pain. We give feedback before tough times so that we can prevent the tough time from happening or mitigate the extent to which we experience it. During tough times, giving and receiving feedback helps us to be more clear and move through our challenges more quickly. After tough times, we need feedback to help us learn from the experience. When we give and receive feedback either before, during or after tough times, we are adding meaning to the situation around us, helping ourselves and others to transform our pain into a growth experience.

    What are some of the situations where you are withholding necessary feedback because you don’t want to say what needs to be said or where you are concerned the other person may not want to hear it? What are the consequences if you do not provide the feedback? Chances are we are better off speaking up in the long-term even if there is a short-term pain involved in the process.

    ~Personify Leadership

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  • The Courageous Leader book is here!

    We could not be more excited to tell you that The Courageous Leader is now available!  Listen below as Angela shares a few insights from her new book:

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  • Courageous Conversations 

    So what is a courageous conversation?  It is saying what is needed to be said in a way that others will hear it, with respect and concern for the other person.  It means minimizing the threat that you represent while still staying true to the virtue of your message.  Watch Angela as she shares strategies for having a courageous conversation.


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