A Search For Common Ground – Part One: Authentic Discourse

A Search For Common Ground – Part Two: Overcoming Resistance

A Search For Common Ground – Part Three: Conversations That Work!

Jacob and Phil wrestled with each other in friendly but intense disagreement about a range of issues: power, government, same-sex marriage, religion, media, morality, race and more. Each often felt misunderstood and couldn’t understand why.

“You’re Not as Crazy as I Thought (But You’re Still Wrong),” written by Phil Neisser and Jacob Hess, presents an engaging look at a conversation that launched a sustained dialogue between Jacob, a professor, and Phil, a nonprofit leader. [Read more…]

Living Brave Interview Series: Brene Brown Interviews Oprah Winfrey

It was Lucille Ball who said, “I’m not funny. I’m brave.” And so she was. It took a lot of courage in those days, especially for a woman, to do all of the wonderfully “nutty” things that she did.

In the first taped episode of her “Living Brave” series, Brene Brown interviews Oprah Winfrey, and courage takes on a very different meaning in a conversation that is fascinating and illuminating. We don’t often get to hear Oprah answering personal questions and sharing fairly intimate details about her life and her “own truth.”

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Brown, whose latest book is Rising Strong, asks Oprah some pointed questions, the first of which is what vulnerability means to her. The answer: “It is being willing to express the truth no matter what — the truth of who you are. The essence at the core of what you are feeling at any given moment. Being able to open up your soul and let it flow so that other people can see their soul in yours.” That’s pretty powerful, I think, and as the interview progressed, I had a glimpse of seeing my soul in Oprah’s.

When asked by Brown to give an example of what she still feels vulnerable about, Winfrey shared that it’s “not having conquered the whole weight struggle — balancing what it means to be a strong powerful woman in the world juxtaposed with trying to control what you are eating.”

Brown and Winfrey talk about stories — those we create about others and those we create about ourselves, or that others create about us and how we deal with them.

When asked about what fear she still struggles with, Winfrey said, “I’ve worked on the disease to please a lot.” Reading and introspection helped Winfrey learn how to live an “intentional life.” She no longer makes decisions unless she thinks about what her true and pure motivation is for doing something. “The intention informs the cause, and the reason for doing the action is what actually is going to show up in your life. It will come back to you.” Winfrey’s example: “I realized I was often doing things for people who kept coming back for more and I didn’t understand it.” It finally became clear that the intention was she wanted to be liked. Wow, does that sound familiar. Yes, folks, even Oprah felt the need to please.

I found this discussion about bravery and courage to be so important for all us to hear and to really think about. I was particularly affected by Winfrey’s answer to the question: “So what do you do if you want to lead a brave life and not disappoint anyone?” Her answer: “You cannot live a brave life without disappointing people.” It does take courage — especially for people pleasers — to make decisions they know are going to disappoint people, but do it anyway to be true to themselves.

The discussion continues with fascinating topics that include the physics of vulnerability, taking falls and rising again, the two “shame tapes” and how to understand that sometimes the world is “reflecting you back to you.” Says Winfrey: “No one is saying anything about you that you haven’t thought about yourself.”

I urge you all to listen to the conversation. It’s powerful, honest and brave. Oprah Winfrey,  Brene Brown, and yes Lucille Ball, have each found the courage to live her truth.

Candor In The Workplace: Good News, Bad News

A recent Wall Street Journal article* about the need for blunt feedback in the workplace got my attention. I immediately posted it on Facebook, hoping to start a conversation about it.

The writer’s premise? “It’s time for workers to drop the polite workplace veneer and speak frankly to each other, no matter what.” Referred to as “radical candor” or “front-stabbing,” it is believed to help employees “stop trying to be nice all the time and start speaking up about sub-par work or work-life balance.”


Here’s the thing. Transparency and candor in the workplace are absolutely good and important. The tangible and intangible costs of lack of engagement and collaboration within an organization are substantial. Unfortunately, candor and honest feedback can be destructive when used as, or perceived as, weapons.

Creating and sustaining an honest and transparent culture where individuals are safe to speak truthfully without doing or sustaining damage is the challenge. Most people understand how to recognize and resolve a problem. Many do not realize that respecting the dignity of others or repairing a compromised relationship is often at least as important as solving that problem.

I have no quarrel about the benefits of constructively addressing performance and conducting issues with open and honest communication. With radical candor however, employees are expected to defend themselves or change when confronted with a direct, painful critique of their ideas or behavior. While it is better to address someone directly and honestly, people need to believe in the good intentions of the person providing the feedback.

Even white lies are lies. Time for a little candor?
Even white lies are lies. Time for a little candor?

Accurate evaluations and comments are important for career advancement and personal growth. “Mokitas” — truths that everyone knows and are afraid to say aloud — are often used. Employees are encouraged to speak up and share them without fear of retribution.

Frank, truthful and honest feedback is a good means of getting things out in the open so people know where they stand — their roles and responsibilities, as well as their contribution to the enterprise. However, criticism without consideration of another’s feelings can be hurtful and destructive. Individuals need to trust the constructive purpose of the feedback in order to receive the critique as intended.

Honest, accurate feedback and critique are valuable commodities because we can never see ourselves as others see us — usually everyone sees us differently. Having the opportunity to repair, recover, learn and grow is priceless.

Of course, many subjects are controversial and need to be discussed. Individuals want to be heard, to at least have the existence of their interests and beliefs recognized. Resentment grows when employees feel intimidated, keeping their mouths shut about subjects that management decides are beyond discussion or dispute. The lack of transparency causes people to disengage, feel devalued and alienated, become distracted and stressed while sins of omission become commonplace.

Open dialogue shines the light of day on workplace conversations and relationships and inspires collaboration, commitment and loyalty.

* “When Nice is a Four-Letter Word,” by Rachel Feintzeig. Wall Street Journal, Thursday, December 31, 2015

“PinocchioProfile” by Mrkgrd – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Clear, Credible Communication

Would you choose to build your house on sand or on a rock? Since sand shifts and erodes, it’s clearly the rock that would provide a solid and predictable foundation.

Building on a rock won’t eliminate issues such as wind, rain and storms, but in most cases, your well-built house will withstand the elements.

In much the same way, a relationship based on a foundation of trust and consistency can also withstand and recover from storms of misunderstandings, disagreements and confusion.

Because mind reading is not possible, we need to rely on and learn how to communicate clearly and concisely with words and actions that are congruent and devoid of discrepancies or conflicting messages.

Also critical to a clear message that gains trust is the alignment of words, non-verbal cues and actions. Said another way — Do what you say! Trust, respect and credibility are earned by consistent congruence between words and actions over time.

All too often, however, what you communicate to someone is not necessarily what they “hear.” While you may know what you meant, the other person may have understood something different. It is, therefore, incumbent upon you to verify that a listener received your intended meaning. And, the best way to do that? Ask the listener to restate what they understood in their own words.

Sad to say, most of us do not confirm our understanding of messages. Rather, we often tend to assume shared meanings of words and an approximation of the information conveyed.

Understanding is the purpose of communication! And so, the speaker and listener should mutually engage to reach common ground as a basis for discussion. Agreement is not required, but acknowledgment of another’s perspective is.

A little negotiating may be needed in order for each person to be clear about the essence of the issue or the topic, the objective facts, or even the purpose of the talk. The main thing is to keep the main thing as the main thing — have only one conversation at a time. Stay focused and on track. An attitude of openness, good will and a desire to learn is needed for successful communication.

Tips for rock-solid communication

  1. Talk about one issue at a time.
  2. Be clear about the specific outcome you seek.
  3. As a listener, paraphrase the speaker’s message.
  4. As a speaker, ask what meaning has been understood.
  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
  6. When things don’t add up, clarify.
  7. Notice whether non-verbal cues match words.
  8. Be present; give your complete attention.
  9. Do not react; think before you respond.
  10. Be honest. Be authentic. Be yourself.

A sign on an office door in a neighborhood church reads,

For anyone who has children and doesn’t know it, there is a childcare center on the first floor.

You see the problem? Even though this sign is kind of funny, the message is not clear and does not inspire confidence.

As a speaker, be clear about your meaning. Then, stand in the listener’s shoes to imagine how your message will be received.

Build your relationships on a solid foundation of clear, credible communication that will earn trust — a priceless commodity.

Introversion Comes Out Of The Closet

Since author Susan Cain published her groundbreaking book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” there has been an abundance of information about introverts and introversion. What it means. How it is different from extroversion. And, lists of many famous people who are known to be introverted.

One thing that has emerged — something I had not really thought about before — is the long-standing negative connotation of the word “introvert.” I think about the great number of people who carried the “stigma” of that label and how important it is for all of us to shift that perception.

I decided to do a bit of research about what it means to be introverted and to dispel the all-too-frequent misunderstandings about introverts. By the way, some of the famous introverts include Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, Adele, and Salvador Dali. Clearly achievement is not necessarily related to personality and/or temperament. So, here are a few thoughts.

  • One of the most common misconceptions is that shyness and introversion are the same thing. According to Cain, shyness is the fear of negative judgment and introversion is a preference for quiet, minimally stimulating environments. Even an extrovert can be shy.
  • The classic distinction between introverts and extroverts is that introverts recharge their batteries by being alone, while extroverts recharge them in company — often, a lot of company. Many introverts have great social skills, but they still feel depleted by too much socializing.
  • Quiet, thoughtful and occasionally skeptical people, introverts can appear to not like people. However, most introverts can be quite social. They are often quietly content when alone and value calmness, serenity and enjoy being with people in smaller doses than do extroverts.
  • Introverts really do like to talk, but prefer to think before speaking and to listen closely to what is being said before contributing. If too many people are present, introverts will sometimes have a hard time entering the conversation and will decide to remain silent. This sometimes happens to a friend of mine at professional meetings. To be “heard” she will often write a report about her thoughts and suggestions after the meeting and distribute it to participants.
  • Quietness does not equal stupidity, just as loudness does not equal intelligence. If folks really pay attention, they would realize that introverts often have a great deal of useful knowledge and information to contribute.
  • Although introverts can work in groups, they often do their best work alone. While they will sometimes shut down in larger groups of people when they feel their voice isn’t being heard, introverts do excel in small group situations.
  • Introversion is not an affliction or something that can be “cured.” It is an inborn deeply embedded personality temperament, mostly determined by genetics.
  • Introverts are thought to be poor public speakers; however, while some may not like speaking in large group settings, many introverts are naturally gifted speakers. They also generally spend more time preparing for speeches and presentations rather than “flying by the seat of their pants.”
  • Although not necessarily comfortable in crowded spaces, introverts love experiencing new places, people, and things.
  • Most often introverts function on a much more even keel than extroverts and are able to acknowledge multiple perspectives objectively, even during times of stress.
  • Because they are good listeners and don’t complete with extroverts, introverts can be quiet but confident leaders.
  • And for those who might think that extroverts are happier than introverts, personality type does not pre-dispose you to be either happy or unhappy.

The good news is that now, introversion is “out of the closet.” Business leaders, educators, scientists, and others are, indeed, rethinking the workplace environment, the classroom, how we brainstorm, and how include quiet children, to name just a few shifts in the changing landscape. No matter how quiet or reserved introverts might be, their voices are now more understood, acknowledged and clear.