Stop Being So Binary

When you ask ‘yes/no’ questions, you are often only looking for two possible answers.  Sure – that’s more efficient. And everyone these days wants to be getting things done more quickly.

But it limits the information you get before you even get it! And information is incredibly useful.

Asking different questions helps you become a different kind of person and probably a better leader – a more thoughtful person who can end up with a better outcome.  Not only can you get a better result, you also engage others more effectively, learn more about others and how they think, and even develop your own thinking and problem solving skills.

This non-binary mindset requires that you increase your awareness of the questions you usually ask (the ones that can be answered by ‘yes’ or ‘no’) and mentally pivot to ask open ended questions.

Rather than ‘connecting the dots,’ ask questions like a naïve detective. Imagine yourself as my most favorite pseudo-naïve detective – Columbo (played brilliantly by Peter Falk)

True, he’s a little annoying with all of the questions he asks, seemingly about little minute ‘throw-away’ details but that is how he solved the crime: paying attention and asking questions. Always polite, genuinely nice, he is also very smart and very, very, good at what he does. Truly intrigued and genuinely curious — that’s how an effective problem solver poses questions.

So what happens if you move from a narrowing mindset to an expansive mindset? You move from ‘hurry up/let’s get to an answer fast’ to a ‘let’s learn’ mindset. NOTE: If time is of the essence, go with speedy. If you are eager to find innovative solutions to challenging situations, asking open-ended questions is a better route to take.

Leaders often use an internal sense of time pressure – both real and imagined – coupled with subtle or overt threats or directives to others to take action. If no immediate threat exists, opt for developing a dialogue that support collaborative learning and creative problem solving.


  • What is another way to look at this?

  • What is the best thing to do in this situation?

  • What else might happen?

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Home Work Home Work Home Work Home – ME

If you are constantly seeking parity between work and home you may feel like you are on a quest in search of an elusive ‘holy grail’; it must exist out there somewhere!

Since just about every professional (both full time and part time) have some kind of life outside of the workplace, it makes sense to examine what balance is, what it isn’t, and how you can get it.

There is no magic involved and more importantly, what works for one person simply will not work for another. It doesn’t really make sense to compare your work/life formula for balance to someone else’s. Given the reality that work and life are in constant flux, creating different pressures on at different times, I propose this simple way to look at keeping a sense of balance in your life:


Periodically assess the demands on your time: What are the demands on your time at work and at home? What things are you involved in that are ineffective uses of your time at home and at work?

Prioritize the demands on your time: Are you doing the right things first? Do you know what the most important tasks are or do you handle the easy things first, the biggest things first, or the loudest things first?

Develop the skills you need to increase your efficiency: If you have a tough time ending conversations, you may need assertiveness skills. If you spend significant time worrying about things that may happen, perhaps some stress management training would help. If you miss deadlines, time management or project management skills are an area that might be to your advantage.


Techniques that can help create a sense of balance include:

  • Positive Self-Talk can serve as a reminder that you have managed in the past to handle challenges and this is just another in the series;
  • RET (Rational Emotive Therapy) can reframe beliefs you have that create emotional reactions into more logical beliefs that don’t create as much internal chaos;
  • Letting Go of Perfectionism and not allowing “Perfect” to get in the way of “Good” – sometimes the only person who sees any difference between those two things is you;
  • Protect the Essential things that are crucial to you because those are truly rare things and are critical to your values and standards.
  • Supportive Relationships in key areas of your life (Work, Family, Friends and Community) reduce the sense of isolation that can lead to stress and frustration. Have 3-5 people in each group that you can go to if you are in need.

That elusive sense of balance will be created BY you FOR you. It isn’t always easy to manage the demands of work and home. Knowing THAT is an essential part of having some peace of mind.


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Engaged: Near or Far

Employee engagement is what organizations are focused on today and the success or failure to create an engaged workforce lies squarely between the manager and the employee. It’s been said that people join organizations but stay because of management. The factors that impact employee engagement can include:

  • Being treated with respect
  • Work – Life balance
  • The kind of work that people do
  • The quality of co-workers
  • The quality of leadership
  • Base pay
  • Providing a good service to others
  • Career potential
  • Flexible working arrangements
  • Benefits
  • Learning and development opportunities

Since the quality of all of the above listed aspects can mean different things to different people, managers need to engage their employees in a conversation about how they view where their employer sits with regard to these factors. That is how they can assess how their efforts to engage are going. While a manager may not be able to impact some of them, the conversation goes a long way toward making the difference in how engaged employees truly are.

But what if you are working with employees who are working remotely? Is it any different?

In working with managers who manage employees that don’t conduct their work in the office, I often hear about the challenge of creating strong connections with other team members and with other parts of the organization for the employee. The best manager’s ask themselves on a daily basis “What can I do today that will remove obstacles for my people and support their progress?”

What can a manager DO to facilitate an employee’s success?

  • C’mon People Now Get Together – Occasionally, get everyone together. Being in the same room allows people to interact in a way they can’t using technology.
  • See Me – Use video technology. Use Skype, FaceTime or any other video vehicle so tht people can see the face that foes with the voice they are talking with.
  • What Time Is It? – Create regular check-in times. Not for checking up, but for checking in. Ask about obstacles, progress, deadlines, and what’s needed by them as well as by others from them. Remote employees should be as accessible as they would be working down the hall.
  •  Celebrate! – Wins and successes always should be noted. Acknowledge and celebrate people’s efforts.
  • Rules – Create protocols and practices for communicating. Where to store documents and data so that others can access them, how often to update people, deadlines and expectations should all be known to everyone.
  • Connect the Dots – Connect what people are doing to the goals of the team, the department, and the organization on a regular basis.  People need to see a clear line between what they are doing, the customer, and the success of the organization.

If it doesn’t appear to your employees are engaged, think about what role you might be playing in that missed connection. Near or far – the manager is often the key connection that either engages or allows detachment.

When your employees see that what they do daily matters; that’s engagement. It won’t matter if they are down the hall, down the street, or in another state.

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Show Them They Have Value

It doesn’t seem to matter what industry, organizational level, or number of years a manager has in their job; the biggest error I see the boss making is thinking that they need to have all of the answers.

It’s not just exhausting for the boss, it’s counterproductive for the role of a boss. If you truly want to get the job of ‘getting work done through others’ done well, you will need to engage your workforce so that they feel valued.

Sure, you can give them ‘atta boys’ and ‘atta girls,’ and provide clear and concise direction, but that isn’t a strategy to truly engage them The best way to show people that they are important is to ask for their input when you are problem solving.

And not just so you can check the box and tell yourself ‘There! I’ve asked them for their ideas first. Now I can do what I wanted to do’.    

The job of the manager is to facilitate the development of their employees, not just make decisions and assign work. As the boss, you are not the one to whom all problems should come for solutions. You are one who is supposed to be developing problem solvers.  If you think that a great manager is to the person to come up with the best solutions, think again!

 Tips for Effective People Management

  • Know how your employees differ. Ask them to describe their ideal manager to learn who hopes for firm direction and who wants more autonomy; then treat them accordingly.
  • Ask more questions for employees who seek to be more involved. Ask them to come to you with options for solutions, not only problems.
  • Ask more questions to find out what they think. Then be quiet and listen to what they have to say.
  • Manage expectations by making your role clear. Make sure they (the ones who want a more directive boss) understand the benefits of your taking a more facilitative and supportive role. Explain that you want to engage them and foster broader ownership rather than be the ‘one with all the answers.’
  • Hold regular one-to-one meetings and ask them what went well and what didn’t since your last meeting. Encourage them to think of at least 2 things they did that they are pleased about. When you move to what hasn’t gone well, use questions to encourage ideas for improvement out of them. What will they do differently the next time around?
  • Think strategically about which decisions you have to make and which decisions need to be drawn out of others.
  • Don’t keep all the ‘fun and ‘sexy’ stuff for yourself. Delegate genuine developmental challenges.

Often remind managers that one size will not fit all. To manage people effectively, broaden your role and include being a catalyst. Flex your style for the needs of different employees. If you don’t develop your talent, they may look for someone else somewhere else who will

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Who Wants the Truth?

Recent requests:

  • A Manager is preparing his team for unprecedented growth. He wants them to be ready for it immediately. Can this be accomplished in a half-day retreat?
  • A Director can’t do it all. She can’t seem to delegate responsibilities, wants to avoid pain and risk, and must develop her staff while also freeing up her time. Can this be accomplished in one meeting?
  • A Vice President wants people to go through training and must see the evidence of the transformation in people’s on-the-job behaviors. What is the maximum number of people that can go through training at one time? Can it be accomplished in 90 minutes?
  • A CEO is making a major presentation to the industry media and wants professional polish and hopes to experience rousing applause and a high level of interest. Can I review his materials online and send him a critique with suggestions?
  • An Entrepreneur is pitching to potential investors and the goal is to generate cash flow and excitement. Can we meet over coffee, so I can hear the key points and then offer improvement feedback?

I’m delighted that these folks want to engage my services. They want to achieve their goals. They just don’t want to simply engagement my services …. they want our work together to be fast, pain free, easy, inexpensive and brilliant.

What they really want is a not-so secret weapon I’ve been known to bring with me to keynote presentations, training programs and one-on-one sessions. It has appeared with me in magazines; I keep a supply in my office, and know where I can get more if I run short. It’s Magical Pixie Dust.

I also have a magic wand that I wave. I possess bags of the glittery material and when I pull them from my briefcase there is usually a giggle of recognition and relief. People admit that this is why I’ve been called in to help.

I’ll confess that pixie dust gets all over everything. In fact, it sticks to almost any surface like super glue. It’s almost impossible to vacuum up. There is something else about it that I’ll share with you — it simply doesn’t work. I’m not Tinker Bell and my pixie dust doesn’t help you fly.

I know that this is what people really want.  I then become the bearer of bad news and a disappointing truth. In a world where information is a mouse click away, the expectation out there is that behavior change can happen as quickly. People want the pill that makes them better, a real life half-hour makeover show that changes the dump into a palace and the loser into a champion. A big part of my job is helping people understand how behavior change actually takes place.

The truth often hurts!  Learning new information, motivating people, and getting them to practice new behaviors (with feedback about performance and possible corrective action) takes time. And practice. And feedback.

Not everyone wants to learn new things. Many people are a real challenge to motivate, and some people will never be as skilled as they (or we) would like. There are folks who say they will try and work at improving their skills but they won’t. It’s not important enough to them, it seems to be too hard, takes too long, or is too uncomfortable.

Some people might be able to improve but they don’t. It’s also possible that they can’t improve. They give it a half-hearted try, get distracted, or think adequate performance is good enough.

 Return on Investment Attenuates Over Time
When I work with clients to accomplish behavior change (whether it is for skill improvement or the creation of strategies) their interest and enthusiasm grows and often peaks at the end of our time together.  Afterwards, they stay excited, focused and optimistic, for day, weeks or months thereafter.

But then, the phone, the boss, deadlines, the in-box, and the real back-on-the-job world attack. My client postpones for the present his/her resolve to apply the principles we worked on together.  Without ongoing reinforcement, performance feedback, one-on-one sessions, clinics, and reinforcement, what is left is the residual ROI. If the goal is to maximize this residual ROI, it makes sense to have a realistic picture of how hard behavior change is and how long it will take. For true goal achievement, performance improvement and behavior change  people need to practice, receive feedback, make adjustments, and have someone ‘hold their feet to the fire’ in order to truly change behavior and have that change stick.

People rarely change radically as a result of going to a training program, attending one consulting session, or watching a presentation. Instead, they display small increases in effectiveness. With ongoing support, these small increases result in effectiveness. And it’s that increased effectiveness is skills that trickle down to the bottom line.

I have to confess to prospective clients that miraculous conversions don’t result from working with me for one session. It comes from the harder work of keeping at it. The payoff comes from applying new information or practicing a new skill in a regular way – and that is where my efforts in reinforcement and ongoing support make the real magic happen.

I want magical pixie dust too. I still hope that my IT guru will fix my technology challenges immediately and over the phone (which I’ve seen him do!).  I’d prefer that my weight loss goal be accomplished by the end of the week. And it would be great if I could know all about a new management trend without doing any reading or research.

A more realistic view and the consistent application of your strategy or skill is the magic that creates improved performance and goal attainment. No pixie dust required!


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After I’m Gone

Loss and death are part of the human experience. Authors have written wonderful prose about the impact of a person on their life or the influence that grief and sadness had on them.  There are movies that reveal the eloquence and poise of those who speak at funerals that are rarely seen in our real non-movie lives. Poets are often quoted or songs are played and we marvel at how lyrical and moving it seems.

Some see the death on another as a wake-up call for their own life: life is short. Don’t waste a moment. Do what you want, say what you want, and live the way you want. There is no day but today. Live a life of intention.

The other day I had a sobering thought: what will people say about me when I am gone?

While I know that this is out of my control, I found myself thinking about what I was doing with my time and how that translated into what people saw, and what they thought about what they saw.

I’m not suggesting that you should live your life with what others think always at the forefront of your mind. In fact, I often advocate the notion that you should do what is right for you. Don’t worry so much about what others are doing or saying about what you are doing. But when it’s all said and done –what might they say? And what does that have to do with organizations, managers, and employees?

Everyone believes they see the world with great accuracy. It helps us get around and function if we think we are right about most things. If we didn’t, we’d be second guessing ourselves, doubting even the most basic of observations, and many of us would simply refuse to leave the house! So we go off into the world with what we think is a pretty good understanding of who we are and who others are.

Our understanding of others is based on what we observe and what we hear. Our experience allows us to create a picture of not who they are, but who they are as we experience them. This explains why you might loath someone I adore.

Our understanding of ourselves is based on a history too, but it’s an internal history based on our thoughts and feelings. These tend to be subjective (rather than objective) and can explain why being late doesn’t bother you while it drives me up a wall.

Imagine everyone that populates your life: family, friends, colleagues, customers, neighbors, the boss, the vendors  – it can be quite a crowd. Now imagine that TIME magazine interviewed them for a special issue after you were gone.

What do you think they would say about you? Does your self-perception match what others think? What did you mean to them? How did you impact them? What have they lost now that you are no longer around? What will they remember most about your interactions?

What’s your reaction to this mental exercise? If you are less than thrilled with the outcome, it allows you to figure out what you have to do to get from where things are now to where you want them to be. You’re reading this – so you are still here!  Those who are still here have the capacity to change things to affect the future. In workshops, I help managers and employees create or improve an existing vision for their organization. Defining or re-calibrating the mental picture of your future can shift what people do on a daily basis.

Not every shift needs to be major. You may only need to call more often, smile more often, or write a thank you note more often. Maybe you only have to make eye contact, put away the phone or keyboard, and listen.  If that’s what it took to shift the outcome to something closer to what you hope for, why wouldn’t you do it?

I read that Robin Williams had a rider as part of his performance contract that specified that anyone who hired him had to also agree to hire a specific number of homeless people for the event or movie. It changed the writer’s view of him profoundly. When I read about it, it changed mine as well.

I realize that this is one of the lessons that Dickens intended when he wrote “A Christmas Carol.” After Scrooge has viewed his present and future, he realizes that it isn’t too late to change the outcome of his life by changing the way he lives. His vow to ‘keep Christmas in his heart every day of the year’ changes not just him, but those around him as well.

I refer to this phenomenon as ‘synthetic learning.’ This is what happens when you learn not from your own experience, but from seeing, hearing, or reading about something that has happened to someone else. When that learning is integrated into your behavior, it can change what you do. And that’s what makes a difference to others.

And that impact can last long after you’re gone

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I’ve Fallen – And No One Looks Up!

I was walking along a familiar and crowded route recently when I fell. I can’t tell you why I thought there was one more step though I could easily blame it on my glasses. I usually wear contacts but opted for my trifocals instead. I was not listening to music, gazing at a smartphone screen or talking to the person I was with. I was just walking.

And then I wasn’t.  I was on the ground.

Two people rushed immediately to my aid and helped me get back on my feet. I assured them I was fine. I could feel my knee begin to swell and my arm and hand throb a bit, but no skin or bones had been broken. No clothing ripped.

I looked at the people I had fallen down next to; they were totally focused on their smartphone screens. They did not look up as I fell, after I fell, or when I was helped back up. (And in case you are wondering – these folks did not appear to me to be in their 20’s. )

One study reports that the average person checks their device an average of 85 times a day, spending a total of five hours surfing the internet and using APPs.  That is almost a third of the time a person spends awake! Another study found that people were on their phone are almost twice as much as they thought they were! And a third study reports that people check their phones every 6 1/2 minutes – which roughly translates into 150 times a day!

It may be that NOT looking at the smartphone screen actually can create feelings of anxiety. If we are stressed out both because of technology and because we are not plugged in to technology, we are caught in a no-win situation. With the distraction of having the constant connection to social media, email, texts, and news, people can gain a short term comfort. No need to feel anxious because you are never really alone — unless there is anxiety due to the fear of missing out on something that might be going on without you.

Are you afraid to leave the house without your phone? There is a term for this: nomophobia! It means no mobile phone phobia.  For hundreds of years we have managed to connect with others face-to-face.  Now we seem unable to enjoy life in the moment without sharing with others that we are enjoying life in the moment.

Isn’t that what the practice of mindfulness is all about? It is the habit of paying attention  in a focused way. With purpose, you are in the moment. When you are doing something you are focused on doing that one thing.

So if you are sitting and someone falls near you, you can notice and help them up.

Or maybe next time I’ll aim to fall ON them instead!



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Can You Disagree Without Being Disagreeable?

Can you disagree with someone and not come to blows? Not raise your voice? Not think they are stupid? Avoid having them think that you are stupid?

We seem to be ready to go to opposite corners these days. Managing conflict well requires a set of skills. How the issue is handled is often more critical than the issue itself. Learning how to speak your mind requires a clear set of some rules of engagement. No hitting, no spitting, no threats of bodily harm! You don’t have to pick up your ‘bat and ball’ and vow never to return. We all can manage friction better with some clear guidelines.

Pick the Hill: You don’t have to jump into the ring every time you get annoyed or irritated. If the issue is one that really matters you should definitely speak up.

Get Clarity: Sometimes it’s important to get clarity on what the real issue is for the other person so ask to be sure. They may be annoyed that you are late but the issue is really that they don’t feel that you respect them (because if you did, you’d be on time.)

Sip the Soup, Cool the Soup: Inhaling and exhaling is a good way to take a beat and calm down. When things get emotional, conversations can get tense.

Own It: Talk about your own feelings, thoughts and opinions. Your side of things can be about your reaction rather than their action.

Don’t Take It Personally: During disagreement, it can feel like the other person is saying negative things about you. Try to keep the conversation focused on the issue, not the person.

Use Facts: If you have the facts, name your source. We can come to different conclusions about the facts, but facts don’t have versions.

Get Off Stage: Disagreements with an audience can be embarrassing. Onlookers can create a situation where the conversation can escalate or embarrass. Go somewhere where you have privacy.

Common Ground: Where there is common ground, there is a foundation to build on. Find a reason to build something.

Aim to Hear & Be Heard:  It may be that the conversation ends in détente. It’s more important to focus on mutual understanding.

Words Matter: Watch the language you use. Absolute statements (always, never) can put someone on the defensive.

When you don’t agree the conversation doesn’t need to become harsh. Agree partially (I agree with you to a point but –). Soften the disagreement (I’m sorry, I can’t agree with that.) Employ a general doubt (I don’t know if that makes sense.) Avoid the negative (I don’t think that I can agree with you).

Get better at speaking up and you’ll be able to turn conflict into conversation.

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Succeed with the Boss

Once upon a time (also known as the ‘old days’), companies operated from the top down. The boss told you what to do and you did it. Today, professionals are encouraged to show initiative and many don’t wait for the boss to make a decision or provide direction. With the pressures and constraints the boss is working with in our ‘get  done more with less’ workplace, workers need to work together with their boss, not simply for their boss.

What that requires from employees at every level is a skill set that allows them to manage the boss effectively. Effective communication is an essential part of managing another person. It doesn’t matter whether you are managing down, laterally, or up, and your organizational level won’t matter that much either. Managing a boss requires understanding the world in which they operate, their needs as an individual, their strengths and weaknesses, and the pressures and constraints they deal with on the job.

I provide one-on-one consulting with people who are work with a boss they find especially challenging. One client told me that in 25 years of work, they had never encountered this situation before. My response was “And now you have.” No matter how long you’ve been a professional, how old you are, or how varied you life experiences – there can be times when a new person or situation encountered can create a hurdle. It can be frustrating. It can even create anger, fear, or resentment. But wishing for things (them!) to be different is a poor strategy won’t create a satisfactory solution.

Some ideas about how can you develop this essential skill set and manage your boss more successfully:

  • Spend some time observing the boss. What do they well? What areas are they weak in?
    Then: Anticipate the weak areas so that they do not cause you a problem. If they are terrible at meeting deadlines, start asking for what you need earlier than when you actually need it.
  • Talk with your boss about goals. Learn about their priorities. Ask them to identify the critical issues in the department.
    Then: Ask how you can help the team with those things.
  • If your boss (or you) telecommute or spend a fair amount of time out of the office, you have less time for your relationship and more time for work. Your boss may have a lot of priorities and you are only a small piece of them. Make sure you have a regular time to connect.
    Then: Always have an agenda for your regular time together so you are getting information you need to have, not just receiving information.
  • Figure out your boss’s style, pace, energy and likes. Are they a morning person? Do they like reports, emails, voice mails or meetings? Are they fast paced or slow and methodical?
    Then: Match their energy. Every time you do, you are creating rapport.

To manage a boss successfully, the first step is to stop hoping for them to be a different person.

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Battle Better

I’ve seen an uptick in requests for training programs on how to have difficult conversation or manage conflict well. These topics have always been offered because they are a basic interpersonal skill that is called on for more in the workplace.

Unless you work with people who were raised exactly as you were raised, went to your school, and had the same financial advantages or disadvantages you did – there are going to be areas where you think differently and have different perspectives and ideas. That can lead to friction.

And that’s not even considering our current political times.

Can you increase your ability to be tolerant? By definition, tolerance requires difference so could you be more tolerant of those who don’t agree with you? If you vehemently oppose those who differ from you, you want to suppress them but if you tolerate them, you don’t try to.  And if you want to govie up on the whole thing – you might just work to avoid them. Not so easy to do at work

In the workplace politics, religion, and lifestyle choices are NOT topics that get the product or service out the door. But there are times when friction not only can’t be avoided, it needs to be dealt with effectively in order to get through it and on to the business at hand.

There are things we can do to reduce the vitriol and volume:

  • Why are you having the conversation? If there is no supportive purpose – beware.
  • Yelling doesn’t make the words any different. Aim for keeping the volume down and the tone civil.  Model the way you want others to speak to you no matter how the other person is talking. Civility and respect count for a lot.
  • State your view on the topic or issue. Don’t make it about the other person. If it’s your opinion, own it. If it’s how you heard it or interpreted it – say so.   Try using phrases like “I think,” I’d prefer,” or I’d like.”
  • Forget about selling your point of view. It is unlikely that any one is going to buy it. Don’t assume the other person will see or understand your point of view. Instead, aim to make it a learning conversation where you are asking questions to understand how they think the way that they do. You don’t have to agree but you can understand.
  • Forget about right and wrong. Binary choices create a win-lose proposition. Instead, think about what you hope to accomplish and move forward with a goal in mind.

You can be gracious and agree to disagree. You can be open and mention that you now have some new things to think about. If things get too difficult, you can take a break and go get a drink of water.

Always give yourself permission to end the interaction if you are feeling beaten up or disrespected. You don’t have to let friction or difficult conversations stop you from working well with others.

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